seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Soloheadbeg Ambush

The Soloheadbeg ambush takes place on January 21, 1919, when members of the Irish Volunteers, which becomes the Irish Republican Army (IRA) later that year, ambush Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers who are escorting a consignment of gelignite explosives at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. Two RIC officers are killed and their weapons and the explosives are seized. As it happens on the same day that the revolutionary Irish parliament first meets and declares Ireland’s independence, it is often seen as the first engagement of the Irish War of Independence.

In April 1916, during World War I, Irish republicans launch an uprising against British rule in Ireland, called the Easter Rising. They proclaim an Irish Republic. After a week of heavy fighting, mostly in Dublin, the rising is put down by British forces. About 3,500 people are taken prisoner by the British, many of whom had played no part in the Rising. Most of the Rising’s leaders are executed. The rising, the British response, and the British attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland, leads to an even greater public support for Irish republicanism.

In the 1918 Irish general election, the Irish republican party Sinn Féin wins a landslide victory in Ireland, gaining 73 out of 105 seats in the British Parliament. However, in its election manifesto, the party has vowed to set up a separate government in Ireland rather than sit in the British Parliament. At a meeting in Dublin on January 21, 1919, Sinn Féin establishes an independent parliament called Dáil Éireann and declares independence from the United Kingdom.

That same day, an ambush is carried out by Irish Volunteers from the 3rd Tipperary Brigade. It involves Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, Seán Hogan, Séumas Robinson, Tadhg Crowe, Patrick McCormack, Patrick O’Dwyer and Michael Ryan. Robinson is the commander of the group that carries out the attack and Treacy coordinates the planning of the attack. The unit involved acts on its own initiative as had they had to wait for a response, even if it is affirmative, it might come too late.

In December 1918, they receive information that there are plans to move a consignment of gelignite from Tipperary British Army barracks to the Soloheadbeg quarry. They begin plans to intercept the consignment and Dan Breen’s brother Lars, who works at the quarry, receives information that the consignment is to be moved around January 16, 1919. They anticipate that there would be between two and six armed escorts, and they discuss different plans. If the escort is small, they believe they can overpower the RIC officers without firing a shot. Gags and ropes are hidden in the quarry, so that should officers surrender they can be bound and gagged. The planning for the ambush takes place in the ‘Tin Hut,’ a deserted semi-derelict house at Greenane.

Each day from January 16 to 21, the men chosen for the ambush take up their positions from early in the morning to late afternoon and then spend the night at the deserted house. Seven of the Volunteers are armed with revolvers while Treacy is armed with a small automatic rifle. On a rainy January 21, around noon, Patrick O’Dwyer sees the transport leaving the barracks. The consignment of 160 lbs. of gelignite is on a horse-drawn cart, led by two council men and guarded by two RIC officers armed with carbine rifles. O’Dwyer cycles quickly to where the ambush party is waiting and informs them. Robinson and O’Dwyer hide about 20 yards in front of the main ambush party of six, in case they rush through the main ambush position.

When the transport reaches the position where the main ambush party is hiding, masked Volunteers step out in front of them with their guns drawn and call on the RIC to surrender. The officers can see at least three of the ambushers. One officer gets down behind the cart and the other apparently fumbles with his rifle. According to the Volunteers, the officers raise their rifles to fire at them but the rifles do not fire. The Volunteers immediately fire at the officers, and it is believed that Treacy fires the first shot. Both officers, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, native Roman Catholics, are killed. MacDonnell (50) of Belmullet, County Mayo, is a widower with five children. O’Connell is unmarried and a native of Coachford, County Cork.

As planned, Hogan, Breen and Treacy take the horse and cart with the explosives and speed off. Tadhg Crowe and Patrick O’Dwyer take the guns and ammunition from the dead officers, while Robinson, McCormack and Ryan guard the two council workers, Ned Godfrey and Patrick Flynn, before releasing them once the gelignite is far enough away. Initially the explosives are hidden in a field in Greenane. They are moved several times and are later divided up between the battalions of the brigade.

The ambush is later seen as the beginning of the Irish War of Independence. The British government declares South Tipperary a Special Military Area under the Defence of the Realm Act two days later. There is strong condemnation from the Catholic Church in Ireland. The parish priest of Tipperary calls the dead officers “martyrs to duty.”

A meeting of the Executive of the Irish Volunteers takes place shortly thereafter. On January 31, An t-Óglach, the official publication of the Irish Volunteers, states that the formation of Dáil Éireann “justifies Irish Volunteers in treating the armed forces of the enemy – whether soldiers or policemen – exactly as a National Army would treat the members of an invading army.”

In February 1919 at a Brigade meeting in Nodstown, Tipperary, Brigade officers draft a proclamation, signed by Séumas Robinson as OC, ordering all British military and police forces out of South Tipperary and, should they stay they will be held to have “forfeited their lives.” GHQ refuses to sanction the proclamation and demands it not be publicly displayed. Despite this it is still posted in several places in Tipperary.

In order to avoid capture, Breen, Treacy, Hogan and the other participants are forced to stay on the move for the following months, often hiding in the barns and attics of sympathisers.

A monument (pictured) has been erected at the site of the ambush, and each year a ceremony of remembrance is held there.


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Death of Gobnait Ní Bhruadair, Irish Republican & Lifelong Radical

Gobnait Ní Bhruadair, Irish republican and lifelong radical, dies in Sneem, County Kerry, on January 16, 1955. She campaigns passionately for causes as diverse as the reform of nursing, protection and promotion of the Irish language and the freedom of Ireland from British rule.

Ní Bhruadair is born the Hon. Albinia Lucy Brodrick on December 17, 1861 at 23 Chester Square, Belgrave, London, the fifth daughter of William Brodrick, 8th Viscount Midleton (1830–1907), and his wife, Augusta Mary (née Freemantle), daughter of Thomas Fremantle, 1st Baron Cottesloe. She spends her early childhood in London until the family moves to their country estate in Peper Harow, Surrey in 1870. Educated privately, she travels extensively across the continent and speaks fluent German, Italian and French, and has a reading knowledge of Latin.

Ní Bhruadair’s family is an English Protestant aristocratic one which has been at the forefront of British rule in Ireland since the 17th century. In the early twentieth century it includes leaders of the Unionist campaign against Irish Home Rule. Her brother, St. John Brodrick, 1st Earl of Midleton, is a nominal leader of the Irish Unionist Alliance from 1910 until 1918 when he and other Unionists outside Ulster establish the Irish Unionist Anti-Partition League.

The polar opposite of Ní Bhruadair, her brother is consistent in his low opinion of the Irish and holds imperialist views that warmly embrace much of the jingoism associated with social Darwinism. The young Albinia Lucy Brodrick conforms to her familial political views on Ireland, if her authorship of the pro-Unionist song “Irishmen stand” is an indicator. However, by the start of the twentieth century she becomes a regular visitor to her father’s estate in County Cork. There she begins to educate herself about Ireland and begins to reject the views about Ireland that she had been raised on. In 1902 she writes about the need to develop Irish industry and around the same time she begins to develop an interest in the Gaelic revival. She begins to pay regular visits to the Gaeltacht where she becomes fluent in Irish and is horrified at the abject poverty of the people.

From this point on, Ní Bhruadair’s affinity with Ireland and Irish culture grows intensely. Upon her father’s death in 1907 she becomes financially independent and in 1908 purchases a home near West Cove, Caherdaniel, County Kerry. The same year she establishes an agricultural cooperative there to develop local industry. She organises classes educating people on diet, encourages vegetarianism and, during the smallpox epidemic of 1910, nurses the local people. Determined to establish a hospital for local poor people, she travels to the United States to raise funds.

There Ní Bhruadair takes the opportunity to study American nursing, meets leading Irish Americans and becomes more politicised to Ireland’s cause. Upon her return to Kerry she establishes a hospital in Caherdaniel later in 1910. She renames the area Ballincoona (Baile an Chúnaimh, ‘the home of help’), but it is unsuccessful and eventually closes for lack of money. She writes on health matters for The Englishwoman and Fortnightly, among other journals, is a member of the council of the National Council of Trained Nurses and gives evidence to the royal commission on venereal disease in 1914.

Ní Bhruadair is a staunch supporter of the 1916 Easter Rising. She joins both Cumann na mBan and Sinn Féin. She visits some of the 1,800 Irish republican internees held by the British in Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and writes to the newspapers with practical advice for intending visitors. She canvasses for various Sinn Féin candidates during the 1918 Irish general election and is a Sinn Féin member on Kerry county council (1919–21), becoming one of its reserve chairpersons. During the Irish War of Independence she shelters Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers and consequently her home becomes the target for Black and Tans attacks.

Along with Dr. Kathleen Lynn she works with the Irish White Cross to distribute food to the dependents of IRA volunteers. By the end of the Irish War of Independence she has become hardened by the suffering she has seen and is by now implacably opposed to British rule in Ireland. She becomes one of the most vociferous voices against the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 6, 1921. She becomes a firebrand speaker at meetings in the staunchly republican West Kerry area. In April 1923 she is shot by Irish Free State troops and arrested. She is subsequently imprisoned in the North Dublin Union, where she follows the example of other republicans and goes on hunger strike. She is released two weeks later. Following the formation of Fianna Fáil by Éamon de Valera in 1926, she continues to support the more hardline Sinn Féin.

In October 1926 Ní Bhruadair represents Munster at the party’s Ardfheis. She owns the party’s semi-official organ, Irish Freedom, from 1926–37, where she frequently contributes articles and in its later years acts as editor. Her home becomes the target of the Free State government forces in 1929 following an upsurge in violence from anti-Treaty republicans against the government. She and her close friend Mary MacSwiney leave Cumann na mBan following the decision by its members at their 1933 convention to pursue social radicalism. The two then establish an all-women’s nationalist movement named Mná na Poblachta, which fails to attract many new members.

Ní Bhruadair continues to speak Irish and regularly attends Conradh na Gaeilge branch meetings in Tralee. Although sympathetic to Catholicism, she remains a member of the Anglican Church of Ireland, and regularly plays the harmonium at Sneem’s Church of Ireland services. Described by a biographer as “a woman of frugal habits and decided opinions, she was in many ways difficult and eccentric.” She dies on January 16, 1955, and is buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Sneem, County Kerry.

In her will Ní Bhruadair leaves most of her wealth (£17,000) to republicans “as they were in the years 1919 to 1921.” The vagueness of her bequest leads to legal wrangles for decades. Finally, in February 1979, Justice Seán Gannon rules that the bequest is void for remoteness, as it is impossible to determine which republican faction meets her criteria.


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O’Connell Bridge Civilian Shootings

On January 13, 1921, British troops manning a checkpoint at O’Connell Bridge, Dublin, during the Irish War of Independence, open fire on a crowd of civilians, killing two and seriously wounding five.

Martha Nowlan, a cashier in a local restaurant, and James Brennan, a 10-year-old boy of Mary Street, are killed and five others are wounded when soldiers open fire on O’Connell Bridge, where they have been mounting checks for motor vehicle permits and licences. An English journalist who observes the incident says he saw a soldier on a lorry put his rifle to his shoulder and fire. Nowlan, 22, from Phibsborough, is shot through the left lung and is pronounced dead on arrival at Jervis Street Hospital. Brennan is shot through the centre of the forehead with the bullet coming through the top of his skull.

The incident follows an attack on a lorry carrying six Auxiliary cadets the day before on nearby Bachelor’s Walk. According to an official account, four bombs and a number of revolver shots were directed at the lorry, which was heading in the direction of the Phoenix Park. None of the cadets were killed and only one suffered minor injuries. Onlookers view the police officers’ escape as something of a miracle as the attack extended over a distance of 100 yards and involved two separate groups.

Women and men are seen throwing themselves on the path to avoid the bullets and splinters. A tram conductor named J. Doyle is also slightly wounded in the incident.


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The Pickardstown Ambush

The Pickardstown Ambush, an action by a combined Waterford force against a British Army patrol at Pickardstown, takes place near the town of Tramore, County Waterford on the night of January 7, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The ambush follows a feint attack on the Tramore Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks.

The ambush is conceived by Irish Republican Army (IRA) East Waterford Officer Commanding (OC) Paddy Paul, who gathers volunteers from the local Dunhill and Waterford City units of his command, as well as West Waterford OC Pax Whelan and West Waterford flying column OC George Lennon. This makes for a total of fifty men although several are armed only with shotguns.

An attack is made on the RIC barracks in the town, and the British military garrison in Waterford quickly dispatches forty troops in four Crossley tenders. However the ambush has been badly planned with the result that the British troops are able to make a determined counterattack. Two IRA volunteers, Thomas O’Brien and Michael McGrath, are reportedly taken away and shot by members of the Devon Regiment. Two other volunteers are wounded. One British soldier and one Black and Tan are wounded.

A memorial is later erected on the ambush site. In later years, local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) fields are named after the two dead IRA men.

(Pictured: Members of the Irish Republican Army East Waterford Brigade)


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Birth of George Plant, Member of the Irish Republican Army

George Plant, Irish Republican Army (IRA) member who is executed by the Irish Government in 1942, is born into a Church of Ireland farming family in Fethard, County Tipperary, on January 5, 1904.

Plant is the second eldest child and son in a family of six children. His parents are John William Albert Plant, a farmer, and Catherine Hayden.

One Sunday in 1916 George and his older brother Jimmy are arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) after being seen speaking to two well known republicans, Seán Hayes and Dan Breen. In custody the two brothers are beaten and mistreated resulting in a hatred of the RIC. He serves with the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and with the Anti-Treaty IRA in the Irish Civil War.

In 1923 George and Jimmy leave Ireland for Canada and the United States but continue as active IRA members. In 1929 they return to Ireland and carry out a bank raid in Tipperary on behalf of the IRA. They are arrested two days later at the family farm and subsequently sentenced to 7 years in prison. They are released in a general amnesty after the Fianna Fáil and Éamon de Valera election victory in 1932. He is a strong supporter of Seán Russell. In 1939 following the outbreak of World War II, known in Ireland as The Emergency, de Valera is determined to maintain Irish neutrality and is not going to allow the IRA to jeopardize this. The IRA links with Germany and campaign in Britain are severely straining Anglo-Irish relations so emergency legislation is introduced.

Russell, the IRA Chief of Staff, dies in August 1940 after taking ill on board a U-boat and Stephen Hayes from County Wexford becomes IRA Chief of Staff. In late August 1940 an address on Lansdowne Road Dublin is raided by the Garda Síochána. Among the men arrested is Michael Devereux, a 24-year-old married truck driver from County Wexford who is also Quartermaster of the IRAs Wexford Brigade. He is released after three days without charge. Shortly afterwards Gardaí in County Wexford find an IRA arms dump. Many in the IRA suspect that Devereux had turned informer, so Stephen Hayes orders Devereux’s execution. George Plant and another man, Michael Walsh from County Kilkenny, are ordered to carry out the order. Devereux meets Plant and Walsh who tell Devereux that Tom Cullimore, the Wexford Brigade’s OC is blamed for the arms dump and that they have shot him. They order Devereux to drive them to an IRA safe house at Grangemockler in south County Tipperary. Devereux, believing he is the prime suspect in a murder, stays willingly at the safe house. A week later, on September 27, 1940, Devereux is invited to go for a walk with Plant and Paddy Davern, the owner of the safe house. Somewhere along the walk Plant accuses Devereux of being an informer and shoots him dead. Plant is arrested nine weeks later on suspicion of IRA membership and brought before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin. On February 10, 1941 Radio Éireann broadcasts a radio appeal for Michael Devereux on behalf of his wife.

In September 1941 Stephen Hayes is accused of being an informer by a group of Northern IRA members led by Seán McCaughey. He manages to escape to a garda station. Shortly afterwards a large force of Garda Síochána and Irish Army descend on the area around the Davern farmhouse where they find Devereux’s car buried under an onion bed and eventually discover Devereux’s body, a year to the day after his death. Two weeks later, Plant, already in prison on IRA membership charges, is charged with Devereux’s murder. A trial is held with a senior IRA officer, Joseph o’Connor, also charged with Devereux’s murder. The first trial collapses after two days when Paddy Davern and Micheal Walsh, two of the prosecution witnesses, refuse to give evidence. This result leads to the court issuing a nolle prosequi order which should have meant the end of the affair, however both men are rearrested and recharged with the same offence, under Emergency Order 41f. Minister for Justice Gerald Boland transfers the case to a Special Military Court with army officers acting as judges. In addition to Plant, Paddy Davern and Michael Walsh are also now charged with Devereux’s murder. The second trial begins at Collins Barracks, Dublin in February 1942 with Seán MacBride, a former IRA Chief of Staff and future government minister as the defendant’s barrister. Davern states his original statement was given at gunpoint but under the new order even statements given under duress are admissible. The court only has two sentencing options – death or acquittal. Joseph O’Connor is acquitted and despite MacBride’s best efforts the other three are sentenced to death. Davern and Walsh have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, and are both released in 1946.

Just one week after sentence is passed, Plant is executed in Portlaoise Prison by a six-man firing squad drawn from the Irish Army. Much bitterness is caused by the treatment of Plant’s relatives. Neither his wife or mother or infant son are allowed to visit him in the week before his execution. Censorship ensures there is little mention in the newspapers so his family only learns of his execution from a brief radio broadcast shortly before they receive a telegram. He is buried in the grounds of Portlaoise Prison, but is reinterred in 1948, when he is buried with full IRA military honours in his local church St. Johnstown in County Tipperary, and a Celtic cross is erected over his grave.

Plant’s wife moves to the United States where she remarries. His brother Jimmy dies in London in 1978. The Plant’s family farm is now part of the Coolmore Estate.


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Death of Stephen Hayes, Member & Leader of the IRA

Stephen Hayes, a member and leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) from April 1939 to June 1941, dies in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, on December 28, 1974.

Hayes is born in Enniscorthy on December 26, 1902. During the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), he is commandant of the Wexford Brigade of Fianna Éireann. He takes the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War (1922-23), during which he is interned.

Hayes is active in Gaelic Athletic Association circles in Wexford. In 1925, he helps Wexford win the Leinster Senior Football Championship. He also serves as secretary to the county board for ten years, from the 1920s to 1930s.

Hayes joins the IRA and is on the IRA Army Council in January 1939 when it declares war on the British government. When IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell departs on IRA business to the United States, and subsequently to Nazi Germany, Hayes becomes IRA Chief of Staff. His time in office is marred by controversy and it is widely believed that he serves as an informer to the Garda Síochána.

Hayes sends a plan for the invasion of Northern Ireland by German troops to Germany in April 1940. This plan later becomes known as Plan Kathleen. He is also known to have met with German agent Hermann Görtz on May 21, 1940 in Dublin shortly after the latter’s parachuting into Ireland on May 5, 1940 as part of Operation Mainau. He is known to have asked Görtz for money and arms to wage a campaign in Northern Ireland, although shortly after this meeting the original Plan Kathleen is discovered. The discovery of the plan leads to the acceleration of joint British and Irish military planning for a German invasion known as Plan W.

Another meeting on August 15, 1940 on Rathgar Road, Dublin organised by Hayes and attended by senior IRA men Paddy McGrath, Tom Harte and Tom Hunt, is also raided by the Garda Síochána.

McGrath and Harte are both arrested and tried by Military Tribunal, established under the Emergency Powers Act 1939. They challenge the legislation in the High Court, seeking a writ of habeas corpus, and ultimately appeal to the Supreme Court of Ireland. They are represented in the courts by Seán MacBride. The appeal is unsuccessful and they are executed by firing squad at Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison on September 6, 1940.

On June 30, 1941, Northern-based IRA men kidnap Hayes, accusing him of being a spy. By his own account, he is tortured and “court-martialed” for “treason” by his comrades, and would have been executed, but he buys himself time composing an enormously long confession. He manages to escape on September 8, 1941, and hands himself in to the Garda for protection.

The Officer Commanding (O/C) of the IRA Northern Command, Seán McCaughey, is convicted on September 18, 1941 of the kidnapping. After a long hunger and thirst strike in Portlaoise Prison, he dies on May 11, 1946.

Hayes is later sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by the Special Criminal Court on account of his IRA activities.

Within IRA circles, Hayes is still considered a traitor and an informer. One of the main allegations against him is that he informed the Garda Síochána about IRA arms dumps in Wexford. However, this is later blamed on a Wexford man named Michael Deveraux, an officer of the Wexford Battalion of the IRA who is subsequently abducted and executed by an IRA squad in County Tipperary on Hayes’ orders. George Plant, a Protestant IRA veteran, is later executed in Portlaoise Prison for Devereux’s murder.

After his release, Hayes resumes his clerical position at Wexford County Council. He dies in Enniscorthy on December 28, 1974.


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Birth of Jeremiah Joseph “Ginger” O’Connell, Irish Revolutionary

Jeremiah Joseph “Ginger” O’Connell, Irish revolutionary, active in the Irish War of Independence, and later a senior officer in the Defence Forces, is born in Ballina, County Mayo, on December 21, 1887.

O’Connell is born to Jeremiah Ambrose and Winifred O’Connell. He is nicknamed “Ginger” because of his red hair. His father is a national school inspector, so the family lives in Sligo, Derry, Longford and Belfast, and he attends a succession of primary schools. He studies at University College Dublin (UCD) where he receives a BA and a first class MA. He is a member of the Literary and Historical Society at UCD, and has an interest in boxing.

O’Connell is living in Cavan with his father, his sister Mary Margaret, his brother John Aloysius and two servants, Mary Burke and Rose Anne O’Reilly, at the time of the 1911 census, when he is 23. He is working as a Solicitor’s Apprentice, can read and write as well as speak both English and Irish, and is single. His mother is not living as it is recorded that his father is a widower.

O’Connell spends some time in the United States Army, serving with the 69th New York Infantry Regiment between 1912 and 1914. He returns to Ireland in 1914 and joins the Irish Volunteers, becoming Chief of Inspection in 1915. He travels the country organising volunteer corps, as well as contributing to the Irish Volunteer’s journal and delivering lectures on military tactics to both the Volunteers and Fianna Éireann. He also delivers a series of lectures about the famous Irish battles to the Gaelic League in Dublin. He is not a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) as he believes that soldiers should not be a part of secret societies.

At the time the 1916 Easter Rising, O’Connell is operating in Dublin under instruction from Joseph Plunkett. He is dispatched to Cork by Eoin MacNeill to try to prevent the Rising. Following the Rising, he is arrested and held in Frongoch internment camp from April to July 1916. In 1918 he is again arrested and interned, spending time in Wandsworth Prison with Arthur Griffith for the alleged involvement in the fabricated German Plot.

During the Irish War of Independence, O’Connell is a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) headquarters staff, as Assistant Director of Training and, after the killing of Dick McKee in 1920, as Director of Training. He coordinates, and is the principal lecturer, for a training course for military officers. The course is run clandestinely in the premises of the Topographical Society on Gardiner Street in Dublin. A sympathetic doorkeeper allows the group in at night when the society is not present. Topics delivered by O’Connell include tactics, ordinance and engineering.

In the IRA split after Dáil Éireann ratifies the Anglo-Irish Treaty, O’Connell takes the pro-Treaty side. He is made Deputy Chief of Staff in the National Army. On June 26, 1922, he is kidnapped by anti-treaty forces in reprisal for the arrest of an anti-treaty officer. His kidnapping is a precipitating factor in the formal outbreak of the Irish Civil War, when government pro-treaty forces two days later attack anti-treaty forces occupying the Four Courts. He survives the fighting and spends the rest of the civil war as General Officer Commanding the Curragh Command.

Following the Irish Civil War, the National Army is reorganised, and as part of that O’Connell is demoted from general to colonel. He subsequently holds a variety of positions: chief lecturer in the army school of instruction (1924–1929); director of no. 2 (intelligence) bureau (1929–1932); OC Irish Army Equitation School (March–June 1932); quartermaster-general (1932–1935) and director of the military archives (1935–1944). He also publishes articles on Irish and foreign military history and tactics in his time as a military historian. He marries Gertrude McGilligan, and they have two children together – one son and one daughter.

O’Connell dies of a heart attack at the age of 56 on February 19, 1944.


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Birth of Pádraig McKearney, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Pádraig Oliver McKearney, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) paramilitary volunteer, is born on December 18, 1954.

McKearney is raised in Moy, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, in a staunchly Irish republican family. Both his grandfathers had fought in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence, his maternal grandfather in south County Roscommon and his paternal grandfather in east County Tyrone. He is educated at local Catholic schools in Collegeland, County Armagh, and Moy, and later goes to St. Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon.

McKearney joins the Provisional IRA and is first arrested in 1972 on charges of blowing up the post office in Moy. He spends six weeks on remand, but is released due to insufficient evidence. In December 1973 he is arrested again and later sentenced to seven years for possession of a rifle. He is imprisoned in Long Kesh Detention Centre and later in Magilligan Prison. During this time, a younger brother, Seán, also an IRA paramilitary, is killed on May 13, 1974. He is released in 1977 but is sentenced to 14 years in August 1980 after being caught by the British Army with a loaded Sten gun along with fellow IRA member Gerard O’Callaghan. That same year an older brother, Tommy McKearney, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier who worked as a postman in 1977, nearly dies on hunger strike after refusing food for 53 days. Another brother, Kevin, and an uncle, Jack McKearney, are both murdered by Loyalist paramilitaries in revenge attacks upon the family.

On September 25, 1983 McKearney takes part in the Maze Prison escape along with 37 other prisoners. At the beginning of 1984 he rejoins IRA activity in his native East Tyrone with the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He advocates the commencement of the “third phase” of the armed struggle, the ‘strategic defensive,’ in which the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Ulster Defence Regiment and British Army would be denied all support in selected areas following repeated attacks on their bases. In 1985 Patrick Kelly becomes commander of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade and it is under his leadership that this strategy is pursued. Remote Royal Ulster Constabulary bases are attacked and destroyed, and building contractors who try to repair them are targeted and sometimes murdered, as occurs with the attack on the Ballygawley barracks in December 1985, which results in the death of two policemen, and The Birches police station in August 1986.

McKearney is shot dead by the British Army on May 8, 1987 during an IRA attack that he is taking part in upon Loughgall police station, which also claims the lives of seven other IRA members. His body is buried at his hometown of Moy.


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Birth of Richard Barrett, Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Richard Barrett, commonly called Dick Barrett, a prominent Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer, is born on December 17, 1889 in Knockacullen (Hollyhill), Ballineen, County Cork. He fights in the Irish War of Independence and on the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War, during which he is captured and later executed on December 8, 1922.

Barrett is the son of Richard Barrett, farmer, and Ellen Barrett (née Henigan). Educated at Knocks and Knockskagh national schools, he enters the De La Salle College, Waterford, where he trains to be a teacher. Obtaining a first-class diploma, he first teaches at Ballinamult, County Waterford but then returns to Cork in early 1914 to take up a position at the St. Patrick’s Industrial School, Upton. Within months he is appointed principal of Gurrane National School. Devoted to the Irish language and honorary secretary of Knockavilla GAA club, he does much to popularise both movements in the southern and western districts of Cork. He appears to have been a member of the Cork Young Ireland Society.

From 1917, inspired by the Easter Rising, Barrett takes a prominent part in the organisation and operation of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). By this time he is also involved with Sinn Féin, in which role he attends the ardfheis at the Mansion House in October 1917 and the convention of the Irish Volunteers at Croke Park immediately afterwards.

Through planning and participating in raids and gunrunning episodes, Barrett comes into close contact with many GHQ staff during the Irish War of Independence, thereby ensuring his own rapid promotion. He is an active Irish Republican Army (IRA) brigade staff officer and occasionally acts as commandant of the West Cork III Brigade. He also organises fundraising activities for the purchase of weapons and for comrades on the run. In July 1920, following the arrest of the Cork III Brigade commander Tom Hales and quartermaster Pat Harte, he is appointed its quartermaster. He is arrested on March 22, 1921 and imprisoned in Cork jail, later being sent to Spike Island, County Cork.

As one of the senior officers held in Spike Island, Barrett is involved in many of the incidents that occur during his time there. After the truce is declared on July 11, 1921, some prisoners go on hunger strike but he calls it off after a number of days on instructions from outside as a decision had been made that able-bodied men are more important to the cause. In November, Barrett escapes by row boat alongside Moss (Maurice) Twomey, Henry O’Mahoney, Tom Crofts, Bill Quirke, Dick Eddy and Paddy Buckley.

Following the Irish War of Independence, Barrett supports the Anti-Treaty IRA‘s refusal to submit to the authority of Dáil Éireann (civil government of the Irish Republic declared in 1919). He is opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and calls for the total elimination of English influence in Ireland. In April 1922, under the command of Rory O’Connor, he, along with 200 other hardline anti-treaty men, take over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They want to provoke British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them. They hope this will restart the war with Britain and reunite the IRA against their common enemy. Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to vacate the building. However, on June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison had kidnapped J. J. O’Connell, a general in the new National Army, Collins’s soldiers shell the Four Courts with British artillery to spark off what becomes known as the Battle of Dublin. O’Connor surrenders following two days of fighting, and Barrett, with most of his comrades, is arrested and held in Mountjoy Gaol. This incident marks the official outbreak of the Irish Civil War, as fighting escalates around the country between pro- and anti-treaty factions.

After the death of Michael Collins in an ambush, a period of tit-for-tat revenge killings ensues. The government implements martial law and enacts the necessary legislation to set up military courts. In November, the government begins to execute Anti-Treaty prisoners, including Erskine Childers. In response, Liam Lynch, the Anti-Treaty Chief of Staff, gives an order that any member of the Dáil who had voted for the ‘murder legislation’ is to be shot on sight.

On December 7, 1922, Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales is killed by anti-Treaty IRA men as he leaves the Dáil. Another TD, Pádraic Ó Máille, is also shot and badly wounded in the incident. An emergency cabinet meeting is allegedly held the next day to discuss the assassination of Hales. It is proposed that four prominent members of the Anti-Treaty side currently held as prisoners be executed as a reprisal and deterrent. The names put forward were Barrett, O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey. It is alleged that the four are chosen to represent each of the four provinces – Munster, Connacht, Leinster and Ulster respectively, but none of the four is actually from Connacht. The executions are ordered by Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins. At 2:00 AM on the morning of December 8, 1922, Barrett is awoken along with the other three and informed that they are all to be executed at 8:00 that morning.

Ironies stack one upon the other. Barrett is a member of the same IRA brigade as Hales during the Anglo-Irish War, and they were childhood friends. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’ wedding a year earlier. The rest of Sean Hales’ family remains staunchly anti-Treaty, and publicly denounces the executions. In reprisal for O’Higgins’ role in the executions, the Anti-Treaty IRA kills his father and burns his family home in Stradbally, County Laois. O’Higgins himself dies by an assassin’s hand on July 10, 1927.

The executions stun Ireland, but in terms of halting the Anti-Treaty assassination policy, they have the desired effect. The Free State government continues to execute enemy prisoners, and 77 official executions take place by the end of the war.

Barrett is now buried in his home county, Cork, following exhumation and reinternment by a later government. A monument is erected by old comrades of the West Cork Brigade, the First Southern Division, IRA, and of the Four Courts, Dublin, garrison in 1922 which is unveiled on December 13, 1952 by the Tánaiste Seán Lemass.

A poem about the execution is written by County Galway clergyman Pádraig de Brún.


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The Kilcommon Ambush

On the morning of the December 16, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence, an eight man Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) foot patrol under the command of Sergeant Thomas Bray, leaves the barracks at Kilcommon Cross, County Tipperary, to retrieve mail from the Post Office in Kilcommon village, a mile away.

As they approach the crest of a hill on the narrow road between the Cross and the village, approximately twenty men of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) 1st Tipperary Brigade open fire on them. The object of the attack is apparently quite simple – to kill members of the police, and in particular Sergeant Bray.

The ambush, although triggered early, is successful, with the deaths of four of the constables and the serious wounding of one other. The remaining three policemen are able to take cover and return to the barracks, including the Sergeant. Two RIC rifles are lost and there are no casualties on the IRA side.

The dead constables are Patrick Joseph Halford (27) of Meath, Ernest Frederick Harden (21) of Essex, Albert Holman Palmer (24) of Surrey, and Arthur Smith (22) of London. Constable Alfred Edwin Bundy of Gloucestershire is seriously wounded and requires hospital care. He is pensioned out early, in June 1921, as a result of his injuries.

There is some suggestion that the local IRA units are not at all keen on an ambush in their area, for fear of retribution. The brigade commanders push ahead with it however, and the inevitable ‘unofficial reprisals’ are carried out, with the killing of some livestock and the burning of some dwellings, including the home of one of the IRA volunteers.

The total strength in Kilcommon RIC Barracks at this time was around 16 police. Most of them are British recruits – Black and Tans – and under the control of only one Sergeant. Immediately after the ambush a further six men are drafted in as replacements.

Two of the eight police involved in the incident that day remain to be identified. But present in Kilcommon barracks during the period are two constables who are later to have careers in the Palestine Gendarmerie, Arthur Charles Howard and Arthur Fisher. Fisher becomes an officer in the Arab Section of the Palestine Gendarmerie and later the Transjordan Frontier Force (TJFF).

(From: “The Kilcommon Ambush, 16 December 1920” by Peter Mc, The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum, irishconstabulary.com | Pictured: The vicinity of the ambush site)