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


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Death of Liam Tobin, Irish Army Officer & IRA Intelligence Officer

Liam Tobin, officer in the Irish Army and the instigator of the Irish Army Mutiny in March 1924, dies in Dublin on April 30, 1963. During the Irish War of Independence, he serves as an Irish Republican Army (IRA) intelligence officer for Michael CollinsSquad.

Tobin is born William Joseph Tobin at 13 Great Georges Street in Cork, County Cork, on November 15, 1895, the eldest son of Mary Agnes (nee Butler) and David Tobin, a hardware clerk. He has two younger siblings, Katherine and Nicholas Augustine Tobin, also born in Cork. His family moves to John Street in Kilkenny and then to Dublin. He goes to school in Kilkenny and is an apprentice in a hardware shop at the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. As a participant in the Rising he fights in the Four Courts garrison under Edward Daly. He is arrested, court martialed, and sentenced to death but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. He is a prisoner in Kilmainham, Mountjoy, Lewes, Dartmoor, Broadmoor and Pentonville prisons. He is released in June 1917.

In early 1919 Tobin becomes Collins’ chief executive in the Intelligence Directorate handling the many spies in Dublin Castle, including double agent David Neligan. Nancy O’Brien works for Under-Secretary for Ireland James Macmahon, decoding messages sent from London. Each day between 2:30 and 3:30 she passes any information acquired to either Tobin, Joseph McGrath, or Desmond FitzGerald. Tobin is involved in planning the assassinations of British soldiers, informants, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and operatives of MI5. He constructs detailed profiles of everyone remotely connected to the British government, often using Who’s Who, The Morning Post, and The Times, a newspaper that describes him as “one of the most formidable of [the] Twelve Apostles.”

In October 1921, Tobin travels with the Irish Treaty Delegation as part of Collins’ personal staff.

Tim Pat Coogan and James Mackay have examined Tobin’s involvement in the assassination of British Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. Wilson’s public tirades about Collins is evidence of mutual personal dislike between the two men. In May 1922 Collins tells Tobin “We’ll kill a member of that bunch” to the news of “bloody pogroms” in Belfast. Wilson is intimately involved with the Ulster loyalist cause, including the Curragh Mutiny and the establishment of the Ulster Special Constabulary. Just before the shooting, Coogan places Tobin in London. He meets courier Peig Ni Braonain at Euston Station collecting a document that has been sent from Dublin. Returning to Dublin before the incident, he is jubilant when he tells defence minister Richard Mulcahy about Wilson’s death. Mulcahy is appalled and threatens to resign.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Tobin is appointed deputy director of intelligence in the new state and assigned to the Criminal Investigation Department based at Oriel House. However Collins soon replaces him with Joseph McGrath. Tobin is placed on the Army Council and is Director of Intelligence from September 1922 until his appointment as Senior Aide-de-Camp to the new GovernorGeneral of the Irish Free State, Tim Healy, in November 1922. The position provides an apartment in Viceregal Lodge.

In October 1922, Tobin’s brother Nicholas, a Free State captain, is accidentally shot dead by his own troops during the raid and capture of a bomb making factory at number 8 Gardiner’s Place, Dublin.

Tobin believes in the stepping stone doctrine which sees the Treaty as a stage towards full independence. With the outbreak of the Irish Civil War he remains loyal to Collins and takes the Pro-Treaty side. He leads in the fight against the Anti-Treaty IRA in the south. Disillusioned with the continuing hostilities and in the aftermath of the death of Collins, he forms an association called the IRA Organisation (IRAO) or “Old Irish Republican Army” to distinguish themselves from the anti-treaty insurgents.

Richard Mulcahy, the new Irish defence minister, proposes to reduce the army from 55,000 to 18,000 men in the immediate post- Civil-War period. Tobin knows his own position is to be affected and shares the perception that the Irish Army treats former British officers better than former IRA officers. On March 7, 1924, Tobin, together with Colonel Charlie Dalton, sends an ultimatum to President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State W. T. Cosgrave demanding an end to the army demobilisation. The immediate response is an order for the arrest of the two men on a charge of mutiny. The cabinet, already wary of the Irish Army, orders an inquiry and appoints Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to the army command.

On March 18, the mutineers assemble with hostile intent at a Dublin pub. An order is made to arrest the mutineers and the cabinet demands the resignation of the army council. The generals resign, affirming the subservience of the military to the civilian government of the new state.

In later years, Tobin rebuilds relations with his Civil War foes and joins Éamon de Valera‘s Anti-Treaty Fianna Fáil party. He joins up with Joseph McGrath to form the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in the 1930s. Many other former army comrades find work in this lottery. He leaves the Sweep in 1938. After World War II, he becomes Superintendent of the Oireachtas for the Irish Dáil.

On October 14, 1929, Tobin marries Monica “Mona” Higgins at the Church of the Holy Family, Aughrim Street, Dublin. They have two daughters, Máire and Anne Tobin. Following the death of his father, David, in 1956, Tobin’s health declines, resulting in his death in Dublin on April 30, 1963.

Tobin is portrayed by actor Brendan Gleeson in Neil Jordan‘s biopic Michael Collins.


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Birth of Thomas Addis Emmet, Lawyer, Politician & Revolutionary

Thomas Addis Emmet, Irish and American lawyer and politician, is born in the Hammond’s Marsh area of Cork, County Cork, on April 24, 1764. He is a senior member of the revolutionary republican group Society of United Irishmen in the 1790s and Attorney General of New York 1812–1813.

Emmet is a son of Dr. Robert Emmet from County Tipperary (later to become State Physician of Ireland) and Elizabeth Mason of County Kerry, both of whose portraits are today displayed at Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery. He is the elder brother of Robert Emmet, who is executed for leading the Irish Rebellion of 1803, becoming one of Ireland’s most famous republican martyrs. His sister, Mary Anne Holmes, holds similar political beliefs.

Emmet is educated at Trinity College, Dublin and is a member of the committee of the College Historical Society. He later studies medicine at the University of Edinburgh and is a pupil of Dugald Stewart in philosophy. After visiting the chief medical schools on the continent, he returns to Ireland in 1788. However, the sudden death of his elder brother, Christopher Temple Emmet (1761–1788), a student of great distinction, induces him to follow the advice of Sir James Mackintosh to forsake medicine for the law as a profession.

Emmet is a man of liberal political sympathies and becomes involved with a campaign to extend the democratic franchise for the Irish Parliament and to end discrimination against Catholics. He is called to the Irish bar in 1790 and quickly obtains a practice, principally as counsel for prisoners charged with political offenses. He also becomes the legal adviser of the Society of the United Irishmen.

When the Dublin Corporation issues a declaration of support of the Protestant Ascendancy in 1792, the response of the United Irishmen is their nonsectarian manifesto which is largely drawn up by Emmet. In 1795 he formally takes the oath of the United Irishmen, becoming secretary in the same year and a member of the executive in 1797. As by this time the United Irishmen had been declared illegal and driven underground, any efforts at peaceful reform of government and Catholic emancipation in Ireland are abandoned as futile, and their goal is now the creation of a non-sectarian Irish republic, independent from Britain and to be achieved by armed rebellion. Although Emmet supports this policy, he believes that the rebellion should not commence until French aid has arrived, differing from more radical members such as Lord Edward FitzGerald.

British intelligence infiltrates the United Irishmen and manages to arrest most of their leaders on the eve of the rebellion. Though not among those taken at the house of Oliver Bond on March 12, 1798, Emmet is arrested about the same time, and is one of the leaders imprisoned initially at Kilmainham Gaol and later in Scotland at Fort George until 1802. Upon his release he goes to Brussels where he is visited by his brother Robert in October 1802 and is informed of the preparations for a fresh rising in Ireland in conjunction with French aid. However, at that stage France and Britain are briefly at peace, and the Emmets’ pleas for help are turned down by Napoleon.

Emmet receives news of the failure of his brother’s rising in July 1803 in Paris, where he is in communication with Napoleon Bonaparte. He then emigrates to the United States and joins the New York bar where he obtains a lucrative practice.

After the death of Matthias B. Hildreth, Emmet is appointed New York State Attorney General in August 1812, but is removed from office in February 1813 when the opposing Federalist Party obtains a majority in the Council of Appointment.

Emmet’s abilities and successes become so acclaimed and his services so requested that he becomes one of the most respected attorneys in the nation, with United States Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story declaring him to be “the favourite counsellor of New York.” He argues the case for Aaron Ogden in the landmark United States Supreme Court case of Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824) relating to the Commerce and Supremacy clauses of the United States Constitution.

Emmet dies on November 14, 1827 while conducting a case in court regarding the estate of Robert Richard Randall, the founder of Sailors’ Snug Harbor, a home for needy seamen in Staten Island, New York. He is buried in St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery churchyard in the East Village, New York City, where a large white marble monument marks his grave.


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Murder of Vincent Patrick Fovargue

Vincent Patrick Fovargue, a company officer in the Dublin brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence, is shot dead at a golf course near London, England by the IRA on April 2, 1921. The IRA accuses him of being a British spy.

Fovargue is born on August 22, 1900 at 2 Rutland Place, Clontarf, Dublin, to Robert Fovargue, an engineer/fitter, and Elizabeth (Lillie) Larkin.

An intelligence officer with the 4th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA in the Ranelagh area, he is captured by the British Army in Dublin. Under interrogation, he allegedly leaks information that results in the arrest of the other members of his unit a few days later. In return for this information, the Intelligence Corps allegedly allow him to escape during a staged ambush in Dublin’s South Circular Road.

This attempted ruse however does not go unnoticed by Michael Collins‘ informants in the Crown’s security forces. On the night of the escape, Detective Constable David Neligan of the Dublin Metropolitan Police‘s “G” Division is on duty in Dublin Castle when he is passed a telephone message on a police form. The message, issued by the British Military Headquarters, states that a “Sinn Féin” suspect named Fovargue had escaped from three Intelligence Corps officers in a car while en route to prison. It gives a description of his appearance and asks that the British Army be notified in the event of his recapture by the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

Joe Kinsella is the I/O of the 4th Battalion. He is temporarily transferred to take care of munitions under Seán Russell for a few weeks and Fovargue is put in his place. In Kinsella’s statement to the BMH, he writes:

“From the outset I personally did not place a lot of trust in him, because on the morning that he took over from me he appeared to me, to be too inquisitive about the movements of Michael Collins and the GHQ staff generally. He wanted to know where they could be located at any time. He said that he had big things in view, and that it would be to the advantage of the movement generally if he was in a position to get in touch with the principal men with the least possible delay. From his attitude I there and then formed the opinion, rightly or wrongly, that he was inclined to overstep his position. I did not feel too happy about him and I discussed him with Sean Dowling. It transpired that my impressions of this man were correct. I told him of two meeting places of Intelligence staff, one of Company Intelligence held at Rathmines Road and one of Brigade Intelligence held at Saville Place. A short time after giving him this information both these places were raided…I was now confirmed in my suspicions that Fovargue was giving away information. He was later shot in England by the IRA.”

Neligan is not fooled by this either, as he explains:

“Now if they had said that this man (who was completely unknown to both of us) had escaped from one I.O. it might have sounded reasonable enough. But to tell us that an unarmed man had escaped out of a motor-car in the presence of three presumably armed men was imposing a strain on our credulity. Both of us thought this story too good to be true.”

The two men retype the message and pass it to Collins the following day. Meanwhile, Fovargue has been sent to England where he adopts the alias of Richard Staunton. Fovargue has in fact been sent to England by Intelligence Corps Colonel Ormonde Winter to infiltrate the IRA in Britain.

Sean Kavanagh, a Kilkenny IRA man, claims that Fovargue is put in a cell with him in Kilmainham in 1921 in order to try to extract information from him.

On April 2, 1921, a boy walking on the golf links of the Ashford Manor Golf Club in Ashford, Middlesex discovers the body of Fovargue, who had been shot through the chest. Discovered near the corpse is a small piece of paper on which had been scribbled in blue pencil the words “Let spies and traitors beware – IRA.”

In the Neil Jordan film Michael Collins, Fovargue’s assassination is depicted onscreen. Fovargue is tracked down while working out at the golf course, allowed to say the Act of Contrition, and then fatally shot by Liam Tobin (Brendan Gleeson).


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Birth of William James “Willie” Pearse

William James “Willie” Pearse, Irish republican executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising, is born in Dublin on November 15, 1881. He is a younger brother of Patrick Pearse, a leader of the rising.

Throughout Pearse’s life he lives in the shadow of his brother to whom he is devoted and with whom he forms a particularly close relationship.

Pearse inherits his father’s artistic abilities and becomes a sculptor. He is educated at the Christian Brothers School, Westland Row. He studies at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art under Oliver Sheppard. He also studies art in Paris. While attending the Royal College of Art in London he gains notice for several of his artworks. Some of his sculptures are to be found in St. John’s Cathedral in Limerick, the Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba in Letterkenny and several Dublin churches. He is trained to take over his father’s stonemason business, but gives it up to help Patrick run St. Enda’s School which he founds in 1908. He is involved in the arts and theatre at St. Enda’s and aids the overall running of the school.

Pearse follows his brother into the Irish Volunteers and the Republican movement. He takes part in the Easter Rising in 1916, always staying at his brother’s side at the General Post Office. Following the surrender he is court-martialed and sentenced to death. It has been said that as he is only a minor player in the struggle it is his surname that condemns him. However, at his court martial he emphasizes his involvement.

On May 3, 1916, Pearse is granted permission to visit his brother in Kilmainham Gaol, to see him for the final time. However, while he is en route, Patrick is executed. He is executed on May 4. He and his brother are the only two brothers to be executed after the Easter Rising.

There are many more public commemorations of Patrick Pearse than of William. In 1966, Dublin’s Westland Row railway station is renamed Dublin Pearse railway station to honour both brothers. Pearse Square and Pearse Street in Dublin are renamed in honour of both, Pearse Street (then Great Brunswick Street) having been their birthplace. Many streets and roads in Ireland bear the name Pearse. Few name William, but there is a Pearse Brothers Park in Rathfarnham. The bridge over the River Dodder on the Rathfarnham Road, between Terenure and Rathfarnham is named after them and carries a plaque depicting the brothers in profile.

Brothers Pearse Athletic Club, founded in Rathfarnham, is named after the two brothers. A number of Gaelic Athletic Association clubs and playing fields are named after both Pearses, and at least one after William.


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Birth of Seamus O’Donovan, IRA Volunteer & Nazi Collaborator

James O’Donovan, a leading volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Nazi collaborator also known as Séamus or Jim O’Donovan, is born on November 3, 1896 in County Roscommon. He is best known for his contacts with the Abwehr military intelligence of Nazi Germany.

O’Donovan is an explosives expert and reputedly invents the “Irish War Flour” (named after the flour sacks in which it was smuggled into Dublin aboard ships) and “Irish Cheddar” devices. He subsequently becomes IRA Director of Chemicals in 1921. During the Irish War of Independence he is imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison and Kilmainham Gaol and later interned in Newbridge, County Kildare.

In addition to fighting in the Irish War of Independence, O’Donovan fights on the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War. In 1930 he becomes manager at Electricity Supply Board (ESB) headquarters in Dublin.

In August 1938, at the request of IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell, O’Donovan writes the S-Plan, a bombing campaign targeting the United Kingdom. In his unpublished memoirs he writes that he “conducted the entire training of cadre units, was responsible for all but locally-derived intelligence, carried out small pieces of research and, in general, controlled the whole explosives and munitions end” of S-Plan. During this time he and Russell are the only GHQ members of the old IRA still in the organisation.

As “Agent V-Held”, O’Donovan visits Germany three times in 1939 on behalf of the IRA. On February 28 he negotiates an arms and radio equipment delivery at the Abwehrstelle in Hamburg. On April 26 he concludes a new arms deal with the Abwehrstelle and establishes, with the help of a Breton, a secret courier connection to Ireland via France. On August 23, he receives the last instructions for the event of war.

On February 9, 1940, Abwehr II agent Ernst Weber-Drohl lands at Killala Bay, County Sligo aboard U-37. He is equipped with a ‘Ufa’ transmitter, cash, and instructions for O’Donovan, who by this time is the chief IRA contact for Abwehr I/II. The transmitter is lost upon landing, but when Weber-Drohl reaches O’Donovan at Shankill, Killiney, County Dublin, he is able to deliver new transmission codes, $14,450 in cash, and a message from “Pfalzgraf Section” asking that the IRA concentrate its S-Plan attacks on military rather than civilian targets.

O’Donovan becomes increasingly enamoured of Nazi ideology during this time, and visits Germany three times. In 1942 he writes an article arguing that Ireland’s future lay in an alliance with a victorious Germany and attacks Britain and the United States for being “centres of Freemasonry, international financial control and Jewry.” Even long after the pact with the Germans falls apart, he continues to express his sympathy for the Nazi regime. His son, Gerard O’Donovan, recalls that every Saturday night a visitor would come to the family home and send messages to Germany.

In 1940, O’Donovan is involved in setting up Córas na Poblachta, a minor Irish republican political party which proves unsuccessful.

O’Donovan dies in Dublin on June 4, 1979.


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The 1923 Mountjoy Prison Hunger Strike

On October 13, 1923, following the end of the Irish Civil War, Michael Kilroy, O/C of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners in Mountjoy Prison, announces a mass hunger strike by 300 prisoners. It soon spreads to other jails and within days 7,033 republicans are on hunger strike.

On the same day, the prisoners in Kilmainham Gaol go on hunger strike, and Ernie O’Malley writes eloquently of it in his book on the Civil War, The Singing Flame. He notes that “practically all volunteered; some were exempted, including myself, but I refused this concession.”

Previously, the Irish Free State government had passed a motion outlawing the release of prisoners on hunger strike. Dan Downey had died in the Curragh on June 10, and Joseph Witty, only 19 years old, also died in the Curragh on September 2. However, because of the large numbers of Republicans on strike, at the end of October the Government sends a delegation to Newbridge Camp to speak with IRA leaders there.

It soon becomes apparent that they are not there to negotiate the strikers’ demands, but rather to give the prisoners the Government’s message: “we are not going to force-feed you, but if you die we won’t waste coffins on you; you will be put in orange boxes and you will be buried in unconsecrated ground.”

O’Malley writes, “Any action was good, it seemed, and everyone was more cheerful when the hunger strike began. We listened to the tales of men who had undergone previous strikes and we, who were novices, wondered what it would be like. We laughed and talked, but in the privacy of our cells, some, like myself, must have thought what fools we were, and have doubted our tenacity and strength of will. I looked into the future of hunger and I quailed.”

All negotiations to curtail the strike are abandoned and the strike goes forward. Poorly planned, within weeks many are going off strike, but by the end of October, there are still 5,000 on strike. O’Malley does not know what effect the strike will have, but he feels he cannot ‘let the side down.’ “Hunger striking was an unknown quantity for me. I did not approve of it. I was frankly afraid, but I could not see boys of sixteen and eighteen take their chance whilst I could eat and be excused. Now, even though one thought one’s death could be of use, there was no passive acceptance. It was a challenge, a fight, and again resistance was built up……The mind would suffer more than the body. The struggle in the end would be between body and spirit.”

On November 20, Denis “Denny” Barry dies in the Newbridge Camp, and Andrew Sullivan dies in Mountjoy on November 22.

When Barry dies, the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, refuses to let his body lie in a Cork church. When Terence MacSwiney died on hunger strike in 1921, Bishop Cohalan had written in The Cork Examiner, “I ask the favour of a little space to welcome home to the city he laboured for so zealously the hallowed remains of Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney. For the moment, it might appear that he has died in defeat. Was Robert Emmet’s death in vain? Did Pearse and the other martyrs for the cause of Irish freedom die in vain? We bow in respect before his heroic sacrifice. We pray the Lord may have mercy on his soul.”

At the death of Denis Barry two years later, the very same Bishop Cohalan writes, “Republicanism in Ireland for the last twelve months has been a wicked and insidious attack on the Church and on the souls of the faithful committed to the Church by the law of the Catholic Church.” Denis Barry is not afforded a Catholic burial.

With the deaths of Barry and Sullivan drawing no positive response or concessions from the Free State government, the IRA command orders the strikes ended on November 23.

O’Malley writes that the strike ended with no promises of release, “we had been defeated again.” While the strike itself fails to win releases, it does begin a slow start of a programme of release of prisoners, the State being worried about the political impact of more deaths, though some prisoners remain in jail until as late as 1932.

O’Malley, writing of Tom Derrig who is in Mountjoy, relates that one of the strikers there, on the last day of the strike, had asked a doctor, “What day of the strike is this?” The doctor replies, “The forty-first.” The striker says, “Be cripes! We bate Christ by a day!”

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, http://www.stairnaheireann.net)


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Birth of John Dillon, Last Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party

John Dillon, a Member of Parliament (MP) for over 35 years and the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) in the struggle to secure Home Rule by parliamentary means, is born in Blackrock, Dublin on September 4, 1851. Through the 1880s he is perhaps the most important ally of the greatest 19th-century Irish nationalist, Charles Stewart Parnell, but, following Parnell’s involvement as co-respondent in a divorce case, he repudiates Parnell for reasons of political prudence.

Dillon is the son of the former “Young IrelanderJohn Blake Dillon (1814–1866). Following the premature death of both his parents, he is partly raised by his father’s niece, Anne Deane. He is educated at Catholic University School, at Trinity College, Dublin and at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. He afterwards studies medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, then ceases active involvement in medicine after he joins Isaac Butt‘s Home Rule League in 1873

Dillon is a member of the British House of Commons during 1880–1883 and 1885–1918. For his vigorous work in the Irish National Land League, which seeks fixed tenure, fair rents, and free sale of Irish land, he is imprisoned twice between May 1881 and May 1882. He is Parnell’s fellow inmate in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin from October 1881. For six months in 1888 he is imprisoned for aiding William O’Brien, author of the “plan of campaign” against high rent charges by English absentee landlords in Irish farming districts.

When Parnell is named co-respondent in Captain William Henry O’Shea’s divorce suit in 1890, Dillon and O’Brien at first affirm their support of him, but they finally decide that he will thenceforth be a liability as party leader. The party then splits, the anti-Parnellite majority forming the Irish National Federation, of which Dillon serves as chairman from 1896. In 1900, however, he agrees to join a reunited party under the Parnellite John Redmond.

During the prime ministry of Arthur James Balfour (1902–1905), Dillon comes to believe that the British Conservative government intends to grant Irish reforms without independence, thereby “killing Home Rule by kindness.” In 1905 he advises Irishmen to vote for Liberal Party candidates for Parliament, and, after the Liberals had taken office that year, he supports their reform program.

Throughout World War I Dillon vehemently opposes the extension of British military conscription to Ireland, both because that measure would strengthen the agitation by the more extreme nationalist Sinn Féin party and because he never accepted the view that British imperial interests necessarily coincided with those of Ireland. After the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, he protests against the harsh measures that ensue and, in the House of Commons, makes a passionate speech in defense of the Irish rebels.

Upon Redmond’s death on March 6, 1918, Dillon, who had broken with him over Irish support for the British war effort, succeeds him as Irish Parliamentary Party leader. By that time, however, the party has been discredited and in the 1918 Irish general election Sinn Féin wins easily. On losing his House of Commons seat to Éamon de Valera, the future president of the Republic of Ireland, he retires from politics.

Dillon dies in a London nursing home at the age of 76, on August 4, 1927. He is buried four days later in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. There is a street named after him in Dublin’s Liberties area, beside the old Iveagh Markets. One of his six children is James Mathew Dillon (1902–1986), a prominent Irish politician and leader of the National Centre Party and of Fine Gael (1957–1966) and also servers as Minister for Agriculture (1954-1957).


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Death of Séamus O’Donovan, IRA Volunteer & Nazi Collaborator

James O’Donovan, a leading volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Nazi collaborator also known as Séamus or Jim O’Donovan, dies in Dublin on June 4, 1979. He is best known for his contacts with the Abwehr military intelligence of Nazi Germany.

Born on November 3, 1896 in County Roscommon, O’Donovan is an explosives expert and reputedly invents the “Irish War Flour” (named after the flour sacks in which it was smuggled into Dublin aboard ships) and “Irish Cheddar” devices. He subsequently becomes IRA Director of Chemicals in 1921. During the Irish War of Independence he is imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison and Kilmainham Gaol and later interned in Newbridge, County Kildare.

In addition to fighting in the Irish War of Independence, O’Donovan fights on the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War. In 1930 he becomes manager at Electricity Supply Board (ESB) headquarters in Dublin.

In August 1938, at the request of IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell, O’Donovan writes the S-Plan, a bombing campaign targeting the United Kingdom. In his unpublished memoirs he writes that he “conducted the entire training of cadre units, was responsible for all but locally-derived intelligence, carried out small pieces of research and, in general, controlled the whole explosives and munitions end” of S-Plan. During this time he and Russell are the only GHQ members of the old IRA still in the organisation.

As “Agent V-Held”, O’Donovan visits Germany three times in 1939 on behalf of the IRA. On February 28 he negotiates an arms and radio equipment delivery at the Abwehrstelle in Hamburg. On April 26 he concludes a new arms deal with the Abwehrstelle and establishes, with the help of a Breton, a secret courier connection to Ireland via France. On August 23, he receives the last instructions for the event of war.

On February 9, 1940, Abwehr II agent Ernst Weber-Drohl lands at Killala Bay, County Sligo aboard U-37. He is equipped with a ‘Ufa’ transmitter, cash, and instructions for O’Donovan, who by this time is the chief IRA contact for Abwehr I/II. The transmitter is lost upon landing, but when Weber-Drohl reaches O’Donovan at Shankill, Killiney, County Dublin, he is able to deliver new transmission codes, $14,450 in cash, and a message from “Pfalzgraf Section” asking that the IRA concentrate its S-Plan attacks on military rather than civilian targets.

O’Donovan becomes increasingly enamoured of Nazi ideology during this time, and visits Germany three times. In 1942 he writes an article arguing that Ireland’s future lay in an alliance with a victorious Germany and attacks Britain and the United States for being “centres of Freemasonry, international financial control and Jewry.” Even long after the pact with the Germans falls apart, he continues to express his sympathy for the Nazi regime. His son, Gerard O’Donovan, recalls that every Saturday night a visitor would come to the family home and send messages to Germany.

In 1940, O’Donovan is involved in setting up Córas na Poblachta, a minor Irish republican political party which proves unsuccessful.

O’Donovan dies in Dublin on June 4, 1979.


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Death of William O’Brien, Journalist & Politician

William O’Brien, Irish nationalist, journalist, agrarian agitator, social revolutionary, politician, party leader, newspaper publisher, author and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, dies suddenly on February 25, 1928 at the age of 75 while on a visit to London with his wife.

O’Brien, who is for several years second only to Charles Stewart Parnell among Irish Nationalist leaders, is born on October 2, 1852 in Mallow, County Cork. He is perhaps most important for his Plan of Campaign (1886), by which Irish tenant farmers withhold all rent payments from landlords who refuse to lower their rents and instead pay the money into a mutual defense fund on which evicted tenants can draw.

O’Brien shares his primary education with a townsman with whom he is later to have a close political connection, Canon Patrick Augustine Sheehan of Doneraile. He enjoys his secondary education at the Cloyne diocesan college, which results in his being brought up in an environment noted for its religious tolerance. He greatly values having had this experience from an early age, which strongly influences his later views for the need of such tolerance in Irish national life.

A journalist from 1869, O’Brien is appointed editor of the Irish Land League’s weekly United Ireland by Parnell in 1881. In October of that year the British authorities suppress the paper and put O’Brien in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, along with Parnell and others. There he draws up a No Rent Manifesto, which, when read at a Land League meeting, results in the outlawing of the League. Released from prison in 1882, he resumes the editorship of United Ireland, and in 1883 he is elected to the British House of Commons, remaining there until 1895. His “plan of campaign” is disavowed by Parnell but nonetheless stirs up fierce agitation. To suppress the movement, the British government passes the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act 1887, under which O’Brien is jailed again.

For some time following the Katherine O’Shea divorce case (1889–90), in which Parnell is correspondent, O’Brien attempts to mediate between the Parnellites and their opponents, although he sides with the majority in rejecting Parnell’s continued leadership of the Irish Home Rule struggle. In 1902 he supports the Land Conference, which secures agreement between landlords and tenants’ representatives and results in George Wyndham‘s Land Purchase Act (1903), which is designed to turn Irish tenant farmers into occupying owners.

In 1898 O’Brien founds the United Irish League, and in 1910, after control of that group passes to the Parnellite John Redmond, he establishes the All-for-Ireland League in opposition to the older organization. Most of his personal following, however, join Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin party by the end of World War I.

Retiring from political life, O’Brien contents himself with writing and declines Éamon de Valera‘s offer to stand for Fianna Fáil in the 1927 general election. He dies suddenly at the age of 75 on February 25, 1928 while on a visit to London with his wife. His remains rest in Mallow, and one of the principal streets in the town bears his name to this day. His head-bust overlooks the town Council’s Chamber Room and one of his finest portraits hangs in University College Cork.


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Founding of the Ladies’ Land League

Anna Parnell, younger sister of Irish Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, founds the Committee of the Ladies’ Land League, an auxiliary of the Irish National Land League, in Dublin on January 31, 1881. The organisation grows rapidly. By May 1881 there are 321 branches in Ireland, with branches also in Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The organization is set up to take over the work of the Irish National Land League after its leadership is imprisoned. They raise money for the Land League prisoners and their dependants. They encourage women to resist eviction from their cottages. If families are evicted, the Ladies’ Land League provides wooden huts to the evicted families.

The ladies find themselves with additional work late in 1881. The Land League has started its own paper, United Ireland, in August 1881, but towards the end of the year the government tries to close it down. William O’Brien, the editor, continues to smuggle out copy from Kilmainham Gaol, but it falls to the ladies to get it printed. This is done first in London and then for a while in Paris. Eventually the ladies print and circulate it themselves from an office at 32 Lower Abbey Street.

On Sunday, March 12, 1881, just more than a month after the formation of the league, a pastoral letter of Archbishop of Dublin Edward McCabe is read out in all the churches of the diocese. It condemns the league in the strongest terms, deploring that “our Catholic daughters, be they matrons or virgins, are called forth, under the flimsy pretext of charity, to take their stand in the noisy street of life.” McCabe is not representative of all bishops, particularly Archbishop of Cashel Thomas Croke, a strong supporter of the original league. Croke publishes a letter in the Freeman’s Journal challenging the “monstrous imputations” in McCabe’s pastoral.

The dissension is revived somewhat in the summer of 1882. McCabe, now a Cardinal, and another bishop try to have a public condemnation of the Ladies’ Land League inserted into an address by the Catholic Bishops of Ireland in June. The other bishops resist on the basis that it would probably do more harm than good. They content themselves with expressing their hope that “the women of Ireland will continue to be the glory of their sex and the noble angels of stainless modesty.” When newspapers interpret this as a condemnation of the league, Croke writes again to the Freeman’s Journal to deny that this had been the intention of the bishops.

The order banning the Irish National Land League makes no direct reference to the Ladies’ Land League but many police officers try to insist that the ban includes the women’s group. Eventually, on December 16, 1881, Inspector General Hillier of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) orders the police to stop the women’s meetings. Anna Parnell defiantly issues a notice to all Ladies’ Land League branches in the country calling on them all to hold a meeting on January 1, 1882.

The prominent resident magistrate, Major Clifford Lloyd, claims that the huts built for evicted tenants are being used as posts from which the evicted tenants can intimidate anyone who attempts to take over their vacated holdings. In April 1882, he threatens that anyone attempting to erect huts will be imprisoned. That month, Anne Kirke is sent down from Dublin to Tulla, County Clare, to oversee the erection of huts for a large number of evicted tenants. Lloyd has her arrested and imprisoned for three months.

The government does not wish to be seen to use the Coercion Act to imprison women, but another stratagem is used. In December 1881 21-year old Hannah Reynolds is imprisoned under an ancient statute from the reign of Edward III, the original purpose of which was to keep prostitutes off the streets. The statute empowers magistrates to imprison “persons not of good fame” if they do not post bail as a guarantee of their good behavior. Since Reynolds claims her behavior is good, she refuses to pay bail and spends a month in Cork gaol. In all, thirteen women serve jail sentences under this statute.

On May 3, 1882 Parnell and other leaders are released from jail after agreeing to the Kilmainham Treaty. This includes some improvement in the 1881 Land Act. He now wishes to turn his attention more to the Home Rule question. The Irish National Land League is replaced by the Irish National League. Parnell also wants to see an end to the Ladies’ Land League. There had been increased violence while he was in jail and he sees Anna as too radical. The organization has an overdraft of £5,000 which Parnell agrees to clear from central funds only if the organization is dissolved. At a meeting of the Central Committee on August 10, 1882 the Ladies’ Land League votes to dissolve itself. Anna Parnell herself is not in attendance at that meeting having suffered a physical and mental collapse after the sudden death of her sister Fanny the previous month.

The records of the Ladies’ Land League are lost to history in 1916. Jennie Wyse Power, who had served on the Central Committee, had kept them in her house in Henry Street, Dublin. When fire spreads from Sackville Street during the 1916 Easter Rising, her house is destroyed and the records perish in the blaze.

(Pictured: Lady Land Leaguers at work at the Dublin office)