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


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Execution of Major Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith

geoffrey-lee-compton-smithMajor Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith (DSO) of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers is captured and executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 30, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Compton-Smith was born in 1889 in South Kensington, London. After finishing school, he decides not to follow the family tradition of studying law. He actually wants to become an artist, but his father insists that he join the army. He studies at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and during World War I his regiment is sent to France. In 1917 he is wounded at the Battle of Arras, but he continues to fight on. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). In 1919 he is sent to serve in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence.

In 1919 Compton-Smith is commander of the British Army base at Ballyvonane, near Buttevant, but he is also an intelligence officer. As an officer he also sometimes presides over courts martial. In January 1921, for instance, three IRA volunteers are tried by him for involvement in the ambush at Shinanagh, near Charleville, and he sentences them each to six months.

February 1921 is a bad time for the IRA in County Cork. They suffer major losses at the ambushes at Clonmult and Mourne Abbey, and several volunteers are taken prisoner, four of whom are sentenced to death. The IRA believes that these death sentences might be commuted if a British officer is held as a hostage. This leads to the capture of Compton-Smith. On April 16, 1921 he travels to Blarney, supposedly on a sketching trip but actually to meet a nurse in Victoria Barracks with whom he is having an affair. The IRA has spies in Victoria Barracks who likely tip off the IRA that Compton-Smith is coming to Blarney. A squad led by Frank Busteed easily capture him after he gets off the train.

Busteed then meets with Jackie O’Leary, the IRA battalion commander. It is decided that Donoughmore is the perfect place to keep a hostage, because parts of the parish are remote and the IRA is strong there.

On April 18, under the cover of darkness, Compton-Smith is transferred by car to Knockane House, an abandoned big house in Donoughmore. The following night he is moved again, this time by pony and trap, to Barrahaurin, a remote townland in the Boggeragh Mountains. He is kept there for the last eleven days of his life, on the small farm of Jack and Mary Moynihan. He is held prisoner in a shed, always under guard. Every evening he is brought into the house, where he eats and stays at the fireside. He and his guards have conversations about history and politics.

The four IRA prisoners are executed on April 28, 1921. On April 30, O’Leary informs Compton-Smith that he is going to be executed. He then writes a final letter to his wife. He tells her that he will die with her name on his lips and her face before his eyes and that he will “die like an Englishman and a soldier.” He also writes a letter to his regiment and one to Lt. General Strickland.

After finishing his letters, Compton-Smith is led up into Barrahaurin bog behind the Moynihan house, to a place where his grave had already been dug, and is given a final cigarette. In his witness statement Maurice Brew writes, “When removed to the place of execution he placed his cigarette case in his breast pocket of his tunic … He then lighted a cigarette and said that when he dropped the cigarette it could be taken as a signal by the execution squad to open fire.”

It is not until late May, following the discovery of the cache of letters in a Dublin raid, that the Compton-Smith family is informed of his death. His father, William, then starts a campaign to find his son’s body. He wrote letters to MPs and to the British Army, seeking information and help. He also writes to Erskine Childers but gets no reply. He offers a reward of £500 for information, but only The Irish Times agrees to print his advertisement.

In November 1921 a cousin of Compton-Smith’s wife, Gladys, meets Michael Collins in London and asks him for help in finding the body. Correspondence between Collins and the Compton-Smith family suggests that Collins is trying to help in 1922, but he fails to get any results before he is assassinated at Béal na Bláth later that same year.

On March 3, 1926 Compton-Smith’s grave is discovered by the Gardaí. The newspapers report that the remains, because of the conditions of the bog, “were not so badly decomposed as to render identification impossible.” The body is brought to Collins Barracks in Cork. On March 5 the Gardaí send a telegram to the Compton-Smiths, informing them that the body has been located.

The reburial of Compton-Smith is carried out with great dignity on March 19, 1926. The Irish Army escorts the coffin from Collins Barracks to Penrose Quay, where British forces from Spike Island take the coffin on board a boat. While the boat travels down the River Lee, the Irish Army’s guard of honour presents arms and sounds the “Last Post.” The British then bring the coffin to Carlisle Fort, near Whitegate, where it was buried in the in the British Military Cemetery with full military honours.


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The Funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

The funeral of Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is held before a huge crowd at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on August 1, 1915.

Rossa’s body had been returned from New York City where he died June 29. He had been exiled by the British for his Fenian activities in 1871. While in exile, Rossa manages to alienate many of his former Fenian colleagues, including his good friend John Devoy, with his uncompromising advocacy of violence to end British rule in Ireland. Perhaps his attitude is due in part to the harsh treatment he receives in British prisons as well as scenes he witnesses while helping to distribute relief in his native County Cork during the Great Hunger.

In the late 1870s, he organizes the “Skirmishing Fund,” which finances the infamous Fenian dynamite campaign in England. When he dies in New York on June 29, 1915, he is estranged from most in the Irish republican movement.

Rossa’s funeral is one of the seminal events in the revival of the Irish republican movement in Ireland. During the three days when Rossa lays in the vestibule of the City Hall, encased in a coffin with a plate glass lid, thousands of citizens pass by to pay their final respects.

The coffin is conveyed from the City Hall in the four-horse bier in waiting at 2:25 PM and fifteen minutes later the cortège starts, headed by a guard of honour of the Irish Volunteers with rifles, a mounted guard being supplied by the same body. The coffin is thickly covered with wreaths and an open carriage behind is also filled with floral tokens, while many of the contingents carry wreaths to be placed on the grave.

The procession, in marching four deep at a slow pace, takes a little over fifty minutes to pass the corner of Dame Street into George’s Street. A conservative estimate of those who actually take part in the procession give the numbers as exceeding 6,000 and there must be at least ten times that number lining the streets.

The funeral comes into College Green at about 3:00 PM, headed by a body of Volunteers with the St. James’s Band. It is nearing 6:00 PM when the hearse passes through the main gates of Glasnevin Cemetery. The avenue leading to the mortuary chapel is lined by detachments of Volunteers. The prayers in the chapel are said by the Rev. D. Byrne, chaplain. Several priests then accompany the coffin to the grave, which is situated just beyond the eastern fringe of the O’Connell circle, close to the graves of two other prominent Fenians, John O’Leary and James Stephens.

Patrick Pearse gives an address at the graveside which has resounded with republicans down through the years. The final words of his oration provide them with one of their most enduring slogans, “Ireland unfree will never be at peace.”

A firing party then fires a volley, the Last Post is sounded and wreaths are laid on the grave.


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State Funeral for Former Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey

A State funeral is held in Dublin at noon on June 16, 2006 for former taoiseach Charles J. Haughey followed by burial at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton.

Large crowds turned out for the proceedings including VIP guests, members of the Fianna Fáil party and members of the Oireachtas, who begin arriving at the church at 10:00 AM, although some members of the public begin queuing for a chance to get into the church as early as 8:00 AM. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, accompanied by his aide-de-camp, arrive at 11:45 AM, followed shortly afterwards by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Catherine Byrne. Many members of the public watch and listen to the service outside the church on loudspeakers and big screens.

Approximately 2,000 people pack into the large church for the two-hour service, which includes contributions from members of Haughey’s family and from the Fianna Fail Teachta Dála (TD) Brian Lenihan, Haughey’s friend P.J. Mara and the poet Brendan Kennelly. The majority of seating in the church is reserved for friends of the Haughey family and members of the public from the Dublin North Central constituency that he represented for nearly 40 years.

The requiem Mass is celebrated by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, and by Haughey’s brother, Fr. Eoghan Haughey, OMI. Minister of State Brian Lenihan, the son of former tánaiste Brian Lenihan, conducts the first reading, while the second reading is delivered by Haughey’s daughter Eimear Mulhern. Members of Haughey’s family, including his son, Ciarán, and old friends such as his former political adviser, P.J. Mara, read prayers. Haughey’s son, Seán, who inherited his father’s seat in Dáil Éireann, gives his personal reflections on his father’s life as does poet Brendan Kennelly near the end of the ceremony.

After the solemn Requiem Mass, the coffin is removed from the church by Military Police pallbearers from the 2nd Military Police Company at Cathal Brugha Barracks, followed by President Mary McAleese and her husband, the immediate Haughey family, the Lord Mayor, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste Mary Harney.

The funeral cortege forms outside the church. Soldiers drawn from the 2nd Eastern Brigade battalion carry the Tricolour and the brigade’s flag, escorted by 24 military cadets from the Curragh Military College. Military Police pallbearers carry the coffin to the graveside, where they remove the Tricolour before the prayer service begins.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern delivers a graveside oration in which he says Haughey was “blessed with a strong intellect, natural charisma and driving spirit which was to make him the dominant public figure in the late 20th century Ireland.” A Naval Service firing party fires three volleys over the grave, while the Defence Forces‘ Band plays the Last Post and Reveille.