seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Darrell Figgis, Writer, Sinn Féin Activist & Parliamentarian

Darrell Edmund Figgis, Irish writer, Sinn Féin activist and independent parliamentarian in the Irish Free State, dies in London on October 27, 1925. The little that has been written about him has attempted to highlight how thoroughly his memory and works have been excised from Irish popular culture.

Figgis is born at Glen na Smoil, Palmerstown Park, Rathmines in Dublin, on September 17, 1882, the son of Arthur William Figges, tea merchant, and Mary Anne Deane. While still an infant, his family emigrates to Calcutta, India. There his father works as an agent in the tea business, founding A. W. Figgis & Co. They return when he is ten years of age, though his father continues to spend much of his time in India. As a young man he works in London at the tea brokerage owned by his uncle and it is at this time that he begins to develop his interest in literature and literary criticism.

In 1910 Figgis, with the help of G. K. Chesterton, who wrote the introduction to his first book of verse, joins the Dent publishing company. He moves to Achill Island in 1913 to write, learn the Irish language and gain an appreciation of Irish culture, as perceived by many of his contemporaries to uniquely exist on the western seaboard. On his detention following the 1916 Easter Rising, he and the publishing house parted company. Subsequently, he establishes his own firm in which he republishes the works of William Carleton and others.

Figgis joins the Irish Volunteers in Dublin in 1913 and organises the original Battalion of Volunteers in Achill, where he had built a house. While in London, he is contacted by The O’Rahilly, who acquaints him with the arms dealers who had supplied the Ulster Volunteers. In this way he becomes part of the London group that discusses the financing and supply of German rifles for the Volunteers. He travels with Erskine Childers, initially to Belgium and from there to Germany, to make the purchase of the army surplus Mauser rifles. He then charters the tug Gladiator, from which the arms are transferred at sea to the Childers’ yacht Asgard and Conor O’Brien‘s Kelpie.

At this time the Royal Navy is patrolling the Irish Sea in anticipation of imminent war with Germany, and Figgis is tasked with taking a motor boat to Lambay Island to signal to the Asgard the all-clear. By his own account, he is unable to persuade the skipper of the pilot vessel to put to sea as one of the worst storms in many years is raging. Due to luck and the skill of the crews, the three over-laden yachts arrive at their destinations. Figgis, accompanied by Seán McGarry, watch Asgard helplessly from Howth pier until Erskine decides to take a calculated risk and sails into the harbour. Against the odds, the conspiracy to buy rifles in Germany and land them safely in Ireland has succeeded. A large party of Volunteers, on their way to Dublin with rifles and ammunition is confronted by a detachment of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and Dublin Metropolitan Police. With their route blocked, Figgis and Thomas MacDonagh engage the officers in an attempt to distract them.

Although Figgis does not participate in the 1916 Easter Rising, he is arrested and interned by the British authorities between 1916 and 1917 in Reading Gaol. After his release, he returns to Ireland. At the 1917 Sinn Féin Ardfheis he and Austin Stack are elected Honorary Secretaries of the party. The conference sees Éamon de Valera replace Arthur Griffith as President of the party. Shortly after, Figgis is one of four recently released internees who travels to the South Longford constituency to campaign for Joseph McGuinness in the by-election caused by the death of John Phillips. The overwhelming victory of the Sinn Féin candidate over the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) nominee marks the beginning of the eclipse of the latter party by the former party. In May 1918, Figgis is arrested for his alleged part in the spurious German Plot a second time and again deported to England. In 1918, he becomes editor of the newspaper The Republic.

From September 1919 to 1921 Figgis heads the Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland. At this time a serious rift between Figgis and Michael Collins, then Minister for Finance, becomes a matter of public record. This close attention of Collins will pursue Figgis in his later activities on the Constitution Committee. While he is participating in a Dáil Court at Carrick-on-Shannon, the proceedings are interrupted by a British Army raid. An officer named Captain Cyril Crawford summarily condemns Figgis and Peadar Kearney to be hanged. He orders rope for the purpose, but another officer intervenes and Keaney and Figgis are set free.

Figgis supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He is extremely critical of the Collins/De Valera Pact for the June 1922 Irish general election which is an attempt to avoid a split in the Sinn Féin party and, more importantly, in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). On May 25, 1922 he attends a meeting of the executive council of the Farmers’ Union and representatives, of business interests, and encourages them to put forward candidates in constituencies where anti-Treaty candidates might otherwise head the poll. As he is a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle National Executive at the time, he is expelled from the party.

Soon after the signing of the Treaty, the necessity of quickly drafting a constitution for the proposed Free State becomes apparent. It is intended by Arthur Griffith that Figgis will chair the Constitution Committee, but this proposal is vetoed by Collins who nominates himself for the position specifically to minimise Figgis’ influence. The animosity between Collins and Figgis remained an undercurrent of the project. In the end, Collins decides the job should go to Captain David Robinson but this did nothing to heal rift between Figgis and James G. Douglas.

In the 1922 and 1923 Irish general elections Figgis runs and is elected an independent Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin County constituency. While still a TD, he stands in the 1925 Seanad election to Seanad Éireann, where he polls only 512 first preferences.

In December 1923, it is decided that a committee be established to investigate the means by which a public radio broadcasting service should be operated in the Free State. A central issue of contention is whether the service should be run and controlled directly by the State or operated commercially by an Irish Broadcasting Company. The latter option, it is suggested, would follow the model adopted in the UK by the establishment of the BBC. Figgis is co-opted onto the committee, and this decision leads to a series of allegations resulting in the new State’s first corruption scandal of which Figgis himself is the focus. The allegations result in his resignation from the Broadcasting committee and the launching of a second enquiry. He strenuously denies any impropriety.

On November 18, 1924, Figgis’s wife Millie commits suicide in the back of a taxi in Rathfarnham using a Webley revolver given to them by Collins following the 1922 assault. A year later, his new love, a 21-year-old Catholic woman named Rita North, dies due to complications when a doctor tries to surgically remove an already dead child. The court, after investigating her death, determines that she died due to peritonitis, an inflammation in the lining of the abdominal cavity. The public, however, jumps to the conclusion that she died in a failed illegal abortion.

Figgis himself commits suicide in a London boarding house in Granville Street on October 27, 1925, just a week after giving evidence at North’s inquest. He had been staying at the Royal Automobile Club until the day before his death, as is usual when he visits London. A small group of mourners comprising close family and friends attend his interment at the Hampstead Cemetery in West Hampstead, London.

The by-election caused by his death is won by William Norton of the Labour Party.


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The Battle of Aughrim

The Battle of Aughrim (Irish: Cath Eachroma), the decisive battle of the Williamite War in Ireland, is fought on July 22, 1691, near the village of Aughrim, County Galway. It is fought between the largely Irish Jacobite army loyal to James II and the forces of William III. The battle is possibly the bloodiest ever fought in the British Isles with 5,000–7,000 people being killed. The Jacobite defeat at Aughrim means the effective end of James’s cause in Ireland, although the city of Limerick holds out until the autumn of 1691.

After heavy mist all morning, Dutch officer Godert de Ginkel, who is leading William’s forces, moves his forces into position by about two o’clock in the afternoon, and both sides cannonade each other for the next few hours. Ginkel planns to avoid fully joining battle until the next day. He orders a probing attack on the Jacobites’ weaker right flank led by a captain and sixteen Danish troopers, followed by 200 of Sir Albert Cunningham‘s 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons. The Jacobite response demonstrates the strength of their defence, but also means that the attackers are no longer able to break off the engagement as Ginkel had planned. A conference is held at about 4:00 p.m. Ginkel still favours withdrawing, but the Williamite infantry general Hugh Mackay argues for an immediate full-scale attack.

The battle is joined in earnest between five and six o’clock. In the centre, the largely English and Scots regiments under Mackay attempt a frontal assault on Major-General William Dorrington‘s infantry on Kilcommadan Hill. The attackers have to contend with waist-deep water and a tenacious Irish defence of the reinforced hedgelines. They withdraw with heavy losses as the Jacobites pursue them downhill, capturing colonels Thomas Erle and Henry Herbert.

On their left centre, the Williamites advance across low ground exposed to Jacobite fire and take a great number of casualties. The Williamite assault in this area, led by St. John’s and Tiffin’s regiments and the Huguenot foot, is driven back into the bog by the Irish foot fighting with clubbed (reversed) muskets. Many of the attackers are killed or drowned. In the rout, the pursuing Jacobites manage to spike a battery of Williamite guns. The Jacobite regiments of the Royal Irish Regiment of Foot Guards and Gordon O’Neill are said to have fought particularly strongly. The musketry is so intense that “the ridges seemed to be ablaze” according to Andreas Claudianus, a Norwegian fighting with the Danish infantry.

The Jacobite right and centre holding firm, Ginkel tries to force a way across the causeway on the Jacobite left, where any attack would have to pass along a narrow lane covered by Walter Burke’s regiment from their positions in Aughrim castle. Four battalions led by Lieutenant General Percy Kirke secure positions near the castle, following which Sir Francis Compton‘s Royal Horse Guards get across the causeway at the third attempt. Dorrington, having earlier withdrawn two battalions of infantry from this area to reinforce the Jacobite centre, are faced only with weak opposition, reaching Aughrim village. While a force of Jacobite cavalry and dragoons under Henry Luttrell have been tasked with covering this flank, their commander orders them to fall back, following a route now known locally as “Luttrell’s Pass.” He is later alleged to have been in the pay of William, though it seems most probable that Luttrell withdrew as he had little or no infantry support. The cavalry regiments of Henri de Massue, Lanier, Langston and Robert Byerley also cross the causeway, attacking Dorrington’s flank.

Most commentators, even those sympathetic to William, judge that the Irish foot fought exceptionally well. Appearing to believe that the battle could be won, General Charles Chalmot de Saint-Ruhe is heard to shout, “they are running, we will chase them back to the gates of Dublin,” before riding across the battlefield to direct the defence against the Williamite cavalry on his left wing. However, as he rides over to rally his cavalry, he pauses briefly to direct the fire of a battery, and is decapitated by a cannonball. His death is said to have occurred around sunset, shortly after eight o’clock.

After Saint-Ruhe’s death the Jacobite leave, devoid of a senior commander, collapse very quickly. The regiment of Horse Guards leave the field almost immediately, followed shortly by the cavalry and dragoon regiments of Luttrell, Dominic Sheldon and Piers Butler. Chevalier de Tessé attempts to head a cavalry counter-attack but is seriously wounded shortly afterwards. The Jacobite left flank is now exposed. Mackay and Thomas Tollemache also attack again in the centre, pushing the Jacobites towards the hilltop. Burke and his regiment, still holding the castle, are forced to surrender. Most of the infantry remain unaware of Saint-Ruhe’s death, however, and John Hamilton‘s infantry on the Jacobite right continues to counter-attack, fighting the Huguenot foot to a standstill in an area still known locally as the “Bloody Hollow.” At around nine o’clock towards nightfall the Jacobite infantry are finally pushed to the top of Killcommadan hill and broke, fleeing towards a bog in the left rear of their position, while their cavalry retreat towards Loughrea.

Patrick Sarsfield and Butler briefly try to organise a rearguard action but as in many battles of the period most of the Jacobite casualties occur in the pursuit, which is ended only by darkness and the onset of mist and rain. The defeated infantry are cut down by the Williamite cavalry as they try to get away, many of them having thrown away their weapons in order to run faster.

In addition to the rank and file the Jacobite casualties and prisoners include many of its most experienced infantry officers. The dead include brigadiers Barker, O’Neill and O’Connell, and colonels Moore, Talbot, O’Mahony, Nugent, Felix O’Neil and Ulick Burke, Lord Galway. The two major-generals commanding the Jacobite centre, Hamilton and Dorrington, are both taken prisoner, Hamilton dying of wounds shortly afterwards. Though the killing of prisoners to prevent rescue is a common practice at the time, Jacobite soldiers are accused of having “cut to pieces” colonel Herbert after his capture. One contemporary Jacobite source, Charles Leslie, alleges that about 2,000 Jacobites are killed “in cold blood” with many, including Lord Galway and colonel Charles Moore, killed after being promised quarter.

An eyewitness with the Williamite army, George Story, writes that “from the top of the Hill where [the Jacobite] Camp had been,” the bodies “looked like a great Flock of Sheep, scattered up and down the Countrey for almost four Miles round.”

Estimates of the two armies’ losses vary, but they are extremely heavy overall. It is generally agreed that 5,000–7,000 men were killed at Aughrim. Aughrim has been described as “quite possibly the bloodiest battle ever fought in the British Isles,” but earlier medieval battles, although poorly recorded, may rival this battle in casualty numbers. At the time, the Williamites claimed to have lost only 600 and to have killed fully 7,000 Jacobites. Some recent studies put the Williamite losses as high as 3,000, but they are more generally given as between 1,000–2,000, with 4,000 Jacobites killed. Another 4,000 Jacobites deserted, while Ginkel recorded 526 prisoners taken of all ranks. While Ginkel had given word to Dorrington that the captives would be treated as prisoners of war, general officers were instead taken to the Tower of London as prisoners of state, while the majority of the rank and file were incarcerated on Lambay Island where many died of disease and starvation.

Aughrim is the decisive battle of the conflict. The Jacobites lost many experienced officers, along with much of the army’s equipment and supplies. The remnants of the Jacobite army retreats to the mountains before regrouping under Sarsfield’s command at Limerick. Many of their infantry regiments are seriously depleted. The city of Galway surrenders without a fight after the battle, on advantageous terms, while Sarsfield and the Jacobites’ main army surrender shortly afterwards at Limerick after a short siege.


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Birth of Robert Lloyd Praeger, Writer & Librarian

Robert Lloyd Praeger, Irish naturalist, writer and librarian, is born on August 25, 1865 in Holywood, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland.

From a Unitarian background, Praeger is raised in Holywood and attends the school of the Reverend McAlister and then the nearby Sullivan Upper School.

Praeger works in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin from 1893 to 1923. He co-founds and edits The Irish Naturalist, and writes papers on the flora and other aspects of the natural history of Ireland. He organises the Lambay Survey in 1905-06 and, from 1909 to 1915, the wider Clare Island Survey. He is an engineer by qualification, a librarian by profession and a naturalist by inclination.

Praeger is awarded the Veitch Memorial Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1921. He becomes the first President of both An Taisce and the Irish Mountaineering Club in 1948, and serves as President of the Royal Irish Academy for 1931–34.

Praeger is instrumental in developing advanced methodologies in Irish botany by inviting Knud Jessen, the acclaimed Danish expert in Glacial and Post-Glacial flora, to undertake research and teaching in Ireland. This leads to the establishment of ‘paleoecology‘ as a distinct field of study in Ireland.

A vice-county system is adopted by Praeger dividing Ireland into forty vice-counties based on the counties. However, the boundaries between them does not always correspond to the administrative boundaries and there are doubts as to the correct interpretation of them.

Praeger dies on May 5, 1953 and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery, Dublin, together with his wife Hedwig. His younger sister Rosamond Praeger is a sculptor and botanical artist.

(Pictured: Portrait of Robert Lloyd Praeger by Sarah Cecilia Harrison, National Museums Northern Ireland)


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Birth of Donagh MacDonagh, Playwright & Writer

donagh-macdonaghDonagh MacDonagh, Irish writer, judge, presenter, broadcaster, and playwright, is born in Dublin on November 22, 1912. He is the son of Irish nationalist and poet Thomas MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is still a young child when his father is executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising. Tragedy strikes again when his mother dies of a heart attack a year afterwards while swimming at Skerries to Lambay Island, County Dublin on July 9, 1917. He and his sister are then cared for by their maternal aunts, in particular Catherine Wilson.

His parents’ families then engage in a series of child custody lawsuits as the MacDonaghs are Roman Catholic and the Giffords are Protestant. In the climate of Ne Temere, the MacDonaghs are successful.

He and his sister Barbara, who later marries actor Liam Redmond, live briefly with their paternal aunt Eleanor Bingham in County Clare before being put into the custody of strangers until their late teens when they are taken in by Jack MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is educated at Belvedere College and University College Dublin (UCD) with contemporaries Cyril Cusack, Denis Devlin, Charles Donnelly, Brian O’Nolan, Niall Sheridan and Mervyn Wall. In 1935 he is called to the Bar and practises on the Western Circuit. In 1941 he is appointed a District Justice in County Mayo. To date, he remains the youngest person appointed as a judge in Ireland. He is Justice for the Dublin Metropolitan Courts at the time of his death.

MacDonagh publishes three volumes of poetry: Veterans and Other Poems (1941), The Hungry Grass (1947) and A Warning to Conquerors (1968). He also edits the Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1958) with Lennox Robinson. He also writes poetic dramas and ballad operas. One play, Happy As Larry, is translated into a number of languages. He has three other plays produced: God’s Gentry (1951), Lady Spider (1959) and Step in the Hollow, a piece of situation comedy nonsense.

MacDonagh also writes short stories. He publishes Twenty Poems with Niall Sheridan, stages the first Irish production of “Murder in the Cathedral” with Liam Redmond, later his brother-in-law, and is a popular broadcaster on Radio Éireann.

MacDonagh is married twice, to Maura Smyth and, following her death after she drowns in a bath whilst having an epileptic seizure, to her sister, Nuala Smyth. He has four children, Iseult and Breifne by Maura and Niall and Barbara by Nuala.

Donagh MacDonagh dies in Dublin on January 1, 1968 and is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery.