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


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Birth of Con Cremin, Irish Diplomat

con-creminCornelius Christopher Cremin, Irish diplomat, is born in Kenmare, County Kerry on December 6, 1908.

One of four children, Cremin is born to a family that operates a drapery business. His brother, Francis Cremin, becomes a leading academic canon lawyer who frames a number of key church documents. He is educated at St. Brendan’s College, Killarney and from 1926 at University College Cork, where he graduates with a first-class degree in Classics and Commerce.

Around 1929 Cremin is awarded the post-graduate University College Cork Honan scholarship. By 1930 he has attained a degree in economics and accountancy. For the following three years he studies in Athens, Munich and Oxford, having attained a traveling scholarship in Classics. He subsequently enters the Department of External Affairs, having succeeded in the competition for third secretary in 1935.

In April 1935 Cremin marries Patricia O’Mahony. His first position in Dublin involves working with Frederick Henry Boland on the League of Nations portfolio. In 1937 he is sent abroad on his first posting to Paris. There he works under the “Revolutionary Diplomat” Art O’Brien, until the latter retires in 1938. Sean Murphy later becomes his Minister. Ireland declares neutrality on the outbreak of World War II and Murphy and Cremin report on the developments in France throughout the Phoney War.

After the fall of France, the Irish legation is the last to leave Paris except for the American Ambassador, on June 11, 1940. After traveling to Ascain the legation eventually makes its way to the new French Capital, Vichy, where it sets about looking after the needs of Irish citizens, many of whom have been interned, as they have British passports and have been sending political reports. The political reports are of the highest value and insure that Irish continue to observe pro-Allied neutrality throughout the war.

In 1943 Cremin is sent to Berlin to replace William Warnock. Prior to his arrival the Legation is bombed. As Chargé d’affaires in Berlin, he is responsible for sending back political reports and looking after the interests of Irish citizens. He attempts, unsuccessfully, to assist some European Jews. He does however send full reports on the Nazi treatment of the Jews in Europe. Warned to leave Berlin before the Soviets arrive, he spends the last weeks of the war near the Swiss border.

In 1945 Cremin is sent to Lisbon, where he meets authoritarian president António de Oliveira Salazar and attempts to revive Irish trade as well as reporting on the various unsuccessful coups against Salazar.

After returning to Ireland in 1946 he is involved in preparing Ireland’s Marshall Plan application and tracing the development of Ireland’s post war foreign policy. He has a distinguished career representing Ireland in many foreign missions and at the United Nations.

After retiring Cremin remains chairman of the Irish delegation to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. After his first wife dies he marries again in 1979. He dies in Kenmare on April 19, 1987, survived by his wife, three daughters, and a son.

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The Headford Ambush

headford-ambushThe Headford Ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on March 21, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The battle lasts almost an hour and fourteen people are killed – nine British soldiers, two IRA volunteers and three civilians.

The guerrilla war in County Kerry escalates rapidly in the spring of 1921. The county is occupied by the British Army, Auxiliary Division and Black and Tans paramilitary police, as well as the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). For the previous several months they have been burning suspected Republicans’ property and shooting suspected IRA sympathisers. By early 1921, they have begun rounding up male inhabitants of nearby towns and villages and searching for IRA suspects.

On January 23, in response to the IRA’s assassination of RIC District Inspector Sullivan, 1,000 soldiers and armed police surround Ballymacelligott, arrest 240 men and march them to Tralee for questioning. British forces, especially the Auxiliaries, also carry out a number of reprisal shootings of local civilians. The IRA sets up full-time guerrilla units, known as flying columns, to avoid arrest and to assemble units capable of taking on British patrols. IRA GHQ in Dublin also sends an organizer, Andy Cooney, to Kerry to oversee the setting up of flying columns. On March 2, under Cooney’s direction, the 2nd Kerry Brigade sets up its own flying column under Dan Allman and Tom McEllistrim. On March 5, McEllistrim leads 20 volunteers from the column to a successful ambush at Clonbanin, in which they co-operate with Cork IRA units, killing four British soldiers including Brigadier General Hanway Robert Cumming. Buoyed by their success in Cork, the 2nd Kerry Brigade tries on a number of occasions to ambush British forces in Kerry itself.

On March 21, an IRA party of the 2nd Kerry Brigade is billeted about four miles from the Headford railway junction when they hear that British troops are returning by train from Kenmare to Tralee. As the train does not go directly to Tralee, the British have to change trains at Headford, making them vulnerable to ambush. Allman, commanding 30 volunteers, reaches the junction only 12 minutes before the train, which is carrying 30 soldiers of the 1st Royal Fusiliers. The railway staff just has time to flee before the train pulls into the platform, where its passengers have to change trains for Tralee. Alongside the soldiers, the train is packed with cattle and pig farmers on their way back from the market in Kenmare. Most of the civilians have already got off when the British soldiers begin to disembark. Allman himself tries to disarm a Fusilier but shoots him when he resists. This is the signal for the IRA to open fire on the British troops.

One of the first British casualties is Lieutenant CE Adams DCM, who is shot dead when he appears at the carriage door, as are several other soldiers who are standing in front of the engine. The surviving British troops open fire from the train while those who have got off scramble underneath it for cover. In the ensuing close-quarter firefight, conducted at a range of just 20 yards, three civilians and two IRA volunteers, including Allman, are killed. Two-thirds of the British force is estimated to have been killed or wounded. Most of those killed are hit in the initial firing. Afterwards, the IRA gunmen have no direct field of fire into the troops who are hidden under the train.

MacEllistrim calls on the survivors to surrender and when they refuse, the IRA begins to move in to finish off those who keep shooting by throwing hand grenades under the train. Just as they are doing so, another train pulls into the junction carrying another party of British troops. The IRA column has used most of its ammunition and is forced to retreat, escaping toward the hills in the south.

(Pictured: British soldiers searching a train in County Kerry, 1921)