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


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Construction of Royal Hospital Kilmainham Begins

royal-hospital-kilmainhamThe first stone of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Kilmainham, Dublin, is laid by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, on April 29, 1680. Completed in 1684, it is one of the finest 17th-century buildings in Ireland.

The hospital is built by Sir William Robinson, official State Surveyor General of Ireland for James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to King Charles II, as a home for retired soldiers of the Irish Army and continues in that use for over 250 years. The style is based on Les Invalides in Paris with a formal facade and a large courtyard. The Royal Hospital Chelsea in Chelsea, London is completed two years later and also has similarities in style. A priory, founded in 1174 by Strongbow, exists on the site until the English close it down in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s.

The Richmond Tower at the end of the formal avenue leading to the Royal Hospital is designed by Francis Johnston, one of the leading architects of the day. This gateway originally stands beside the River Liffey at Bloody Bridge (now Rory O’More Bridge), but has to be moved after the arrival of the railway in 1844 increases traffic congestion. Johnston places his personal coat of arms above the arch, concealed by a piece of wood painted to match the stone, his idea being that his arms would be revealed to future generations after the wood becomes rotten. However, his little trick is uncovered when the gateway is taken down for removal. The coat of arms currently on the gateway is that of the Royal Hospital.

The Royal Hospital Kilmainham graveyards, including Bully’s Acre, are 400 metres to the west. A cross-shaft in the former cemetery may be the remains of a boundary cross associated with a ninth-century monastery located at this site.

Following the creation of the Irish Free State the Royal Hospital is considered as a potential home for Oireachtas Éireann, the new Irish national parliament. Eventually it is decided to keep parliament in its temporary home in Leinster House. The Hospital remains the home of a dwindling number of soldiers, before being variously used by the Garda Síochána and as a storage location for property belonging to the National Museum of Ireland. The large statue Queen Victoria which used to stand in the forecourt of Leinster House, before its removal in 1947, is stored in the main courtyard of the Hospital, as are various state carriages, including the famously spectacular State Coach of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The Royal Hospital Kilmainham is finally restored by the Irish Government in 1984 and controversially opens as the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). Some people working in heritage organisations criticise the decision to demolish the eighteenth-century barrack rooms in one section of the quadrangle to create open spaces for the IMMA.

Every year on the National Day of Commemoration, the Sunday nearest July 11, the anniversary of the Truce that ends the Irish War of Independence, the President of Ireland, in the presence of members of the Government of Ireland, members of Dáil Éireann and of Seanad Éireann, the Council of State, the Defence Forces, the Judiciary and the Diplomatic Corps, lays a wreath in the courtyard in memory of all Irishmen and Irishwomen who have died in past wars and on service with the United Nations.

In recent years, Royal Kilmainham Hospital has become a popular location for concerts during the summer months. Acts such as Blur, Leonard Cohen, The Flaming Lips, Jack White and Public Enemy have played within the grounds in the past.

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Birth of James Connolly, Republican & Socialist Leader

James Connolly, Irish republican and socialist leader, is born to Irish-born parents in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 5, 1868. He spoke with a Scottish accent throughout his life.

Connolly has an education up to the age of about ten in the local Catholic primary school. He then leaves and works in labouring jobs. Due to economic difficulties, he joins the British Army at age 14, falsifying his age and giving his name as Reid. He serves in Ireland with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Regiment for nearly seven years, during a turbulent period in rural areas known as the Land War.

Connolly develops a deep hatred for the British Army that lasts his entire life. Upon hearing that his regiment is being transferred to India, he deserts. He meets a young woman by the name of Lillie Reynolds and they marry in April 1890, settling in Edinburgh. There, Connolly begins to get involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, but with a young family to support, he needs a way to provide for them. He briefly establishes a cobbler‘s shop in 1895, but this fails after a few months.

By 1892 Connolly is involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, acting as its secretary from 1895. During this time, he becomes involved with the Independent Labour Party which Keir Hardie had formed in 1893.

Connolly and his family move to Dublin, where he takes up the position of full-time secretary for the Dublin Socialist Club. At his instigation, the club quickly evolved into the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). The ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of pivotal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism.

While active as a socialist in Great Britain, Connolly is the founding editor of The Socialist newspaper and is among the founders of the Socialist Labour Party which splits from the Social Democratic Federation in 1903.

A combination of frustration with the progress of the ISRP and economic necessity causes Connolly to emigrate to the United States in September 1903. While in America he was a member of the Socialist Labor Party of America (1906), the Socialist Party of America (1909) and the Industrial Workers of the World, and founded the Irish Socialist Federation in New York, 1907.

On his return to Ireland in 1910 he is right-hand man to fellow-syndicalist James Larkin in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. In 1913, in response to the Great Dublin Lockout, he, along with an ex-British officer, Jack White, found the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), an armed and well-trained body of labour men whose aim is to defend workers and strikers, particularly from the frequent brutality of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. He also founds the Irish Labour Party as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress in 1912 and is a member of its National Executive.

When the Easter Rising begins on April 24, 1916, Connolly is Commandant of the Dublin Brigade. As the Dublin Brigade has the most substantial role in the rising, he is de facto commander-in-chief. His leadership in the Easter Rising is considered formidable. Michael Collins says of Connolly that he “would have followed him through hell.”

Connolly is sentenced to death by firing squad for his part in the rising. On May 12, 1916 he is taken by military ambulance to Royal Hospital Kilmainham, across the road from Kilmainham Gaol, and from there taken to the gaol, where he is to be executed.

Connolly has been so badly injured from the fighting that he is unable to stand before the firing squad. He is carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher. Instead of being marched to the same spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he is tied to a chair and then shot.

His body, along with those of the other leaders, is put in a mass grave without a coffin. The executions of the rebel leaders deeply angers the majority of the Irish population, most of whom had shown no support during the rebellion. It is Connolly’s execution that causes the most controversy. The executions are not well received, even throughout Britain, and draw unwanted attention from the United States, which the British Government is seeking to bring into the war in Europe. Prime Minister H. H. Asquith orders that no more executions are to take place, an exception being that of Roger Casement as he has not yet been tried.


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The Great Dublin Lockout

great-dublin-lockoutThe Great Dublin Lockout, a major industrial dispute between approximately 20,000 workers and 300 employers, begins in Dublin on August 26, 1913 and lasts until January 18, 1914. It is often viewed as the most severe and significant industrial dispute in Irish history.

Irish workers live in terrible conditions in tenements. The infant mortality rate among the poor is 142 per 1,000 births, extraordinarily high for a European city. Poverty is perpetuated in Dublin by the lack of work for unskilled workers, who lack any form of representation before trade unions are founded.

James Larkin, the main protagonist on the side of the workers in the dispute, is a docker in Liverpool and a union organiser. In 1907 he is sent to Belfast as local organiser of the British-based National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL). His tactic of the sympathetic strike are deemed highly controversial and as a result Larkin is transferred to Dublin.

Larkin sets about organising the unskilled workers of Dublin which is a cause of concern for the NUDL, who are reluctant to engage in a full-scale industrial dispute with the powerful Dublin employers. They suspended Larkin from the NUDL in 1908. Larkin then leaves the NUDL and sets up the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), the first Irish trade union to cater for both skilled and unskilled workers.

Another important figure in the rise of an organised workers’ movement in Ireland at this time is James Connolly, an Edinburgh-born Marxist of Irish parentage. In 1911, Connolly is appointed the ITGWU’s Belfast organiser. In 1912, Connolly and Larkin form the Irish Labour Party to represent workers in the imminent Home Rule Bill debate in Parliament.

Foremost among employers opposed to trade unionism in Ireland is William Martin Murphy, Ireland’s most prominent capitalist, born in Castletownbere, County Cork. In 1913, Murphy is chairman of the Dublin United Tramway Company and owns Clery’s department store. Murphy is vehemently opposed to trade unions, which he sees as an attempt to interfere with his business. In particular, he is opposed to Larkin, whom he sees as a dangerous revolutionary.

The resulting industrial dispute is the most severe in Ireland’s history. Employers in Dublin lock out their workers and employ blackleg labour from Britain and elsewhere in Ireland. Dublin’s workers apply for help and are sent £150,000 by the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) and other sources in Ireland, doled out dutifully by the ITGWU.

The “Kiddies’ Scheme,” allowing for the starving children of Irish strikers to be temporarily looked after by British trade unionists, is blocked by the Roman Catholic Church and especially the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who claim that Catholic children will be subject to Protestant or atheist influences when in Britain. The Church supports the employers during the dispute, condemning Larkin as a socialist revolutionary.

Guinness, the largest employer and biggest exporter in Dublin, refuses to lock out its workforce. It has a policy against sympathetic strikes and expects its workers, whose conditions are far better than the norm in Ireland, not to strike in sympathy. Six who do strike are dismissed.

Strikers use mass pickets and intimidation against strike breakers, who are also violent towards strikers. The Dublin Metropolitan Police baton charge worker’s rallies, including a rally on Sackville Street which results in two deaths and over 300 injuries. James Connolly, Larkin, and ex-British Army Captain Jack White form a worker’s militia, the Irish Citizen Army, to protect workers’ demonstrations.

For seven months, the lockout affects tens of thousands of Dublin families. The lock-out eventually concludes in January 1914, when the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Britain rejects Larkin and Connolly’s request for a sympathetic strike. Most workers, many of whom are on the brink of starvation, go back to work and sign pledges not to join a union. The ITGWU is badly damaged by its defeat in the Lockout, and is further hit by the departure of Larkin to the United States in 1914 and the execution of Connolly, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916.

Although the actions of the ITGWU are unsuccessful in achieving substantially better pay and conditions for workers, they mark a watershed in Irish labour history. The principle of union action and workers’ solidarity has been firmly established. No future employer would ever try to “break” a union in the way that Murphy attempted with the ITGWU.