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


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Death of Historian Thomas P. O’Neill

eamon-de-valera-biographyThomas P. O’Neill, Irish historian who wrote Éamon de Valera‘s official biography with Frank Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford, dies in Dublin on March 2, 1996.

Born in County Carlow, O’Neill is educated at St. Mary’s Knockbeg College and University College Dublin (UCD). While assistant keeper of the National Library of Ireland, he is asked to undertake the work on de Valera. Frank Gallagher, head of the Government Information Services and later a member of the library’s staff had been working on a biography for several years but dies in 1962 without completing the work.

De Valera knows of O’Neill’s reputation as a historian and asks him to undertake the project. A contract is signed with the publishers in 1963, and O’Neill moves to Áras an Uachtaráin to work on the book. He is later joined by Lord Longford as co-author.

O’Neill’s other works include a biography in Irish of James Fintan Lalor and a major study of the Great Famine, which establishes his reputation as a historian.

After the completion of the de Valera work, O’Neill is appointed lecturer and later professor of history in University College, Galway. On his retirement, he returns to live in Dublin, where he renews his association with the National Library, becoming a strong supporter of its expansion.

O’Neill continues historical research until shortly before his death. He discovers evidence that the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic was signed by the seven signatories at the home of the president of Cumann na mBan, Jennie Wyse Power, in Henry Street, Dublin, before the Easter Rising and not merely printed in Liberty Hall from an unsigned manuscript on Easter Sunday.

O’Neill is survived by his wife, Marie, and six children. His funeral Mass takes place at St. Joseph’s Church on March 5, followed by his interment at Shanganagh Cemetery.

(From: “Biographer of de Valera dies at 74,” The Irish Times, Monday, March 4, 1996)


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Formation of the Irish Citizen Army

The Irish Citizen Army (ICA) is formed on November 23, 1913, at the height of the Dublin Lockout. Its purpose is to enable the locked-out men to defend themselves in clashes with the Dublin Metropolitan Police and to counteract the demoralizing effects of unemployment by providing discipline, cohesion and purpose. The idea of forming a force apparently is first formally proposed in 1913 by Captain James Robert “Jack” White, an ex-army officer from County Antrim, who had been educated at Winchester College and Royal Military College, Sandhurst. During a speech in August, James Larkin had already suggested that the workers form a force. He publicly repeats this instruction on November 13. James Connolly likewise urges the men to train “as they are doing in Ulster.” Two weeks later drilling begins. According to the ICA constitution, its members are to “work for an Irish republic and for the emancipation of labour.” Larkin is anxious that those who enlist should not only espouse these principles but also be members of unions recognised by the Irish Trades Union Congress.

Despite competition from the Irish Volunteers, which launches on November 25, 1913, ICA membership quickly surpasses 1,000. However, after the dispute is over in January 1914 and the men return to work, the “army” all but disappears. But it is Connolly above all who, after his appointment as its commandant and as leader of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, rescues it from terminal decline and welds it into a potent force and potential weapon for his own use. He determines its structure, vets its officers and imposes a rigid discipline. He also demands an ideological commitment to revolution and the goal of an independent Irish socialist republic. The force’s guiding principle is that “the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested by right in the people of Ireland.” Its membership remains small but it is otherwise superior to the much larger Irish Volunteers in its unity of purpose, lack of factional and ideological division and in the quality of its training.

After the outbreak of World War I, Connolly has become increasingly committed to fomenting an insurrection in Ireland. This is reflected in his military preparations with the ICA. He uses its headquarters, Liberty Hall, as his base. Fearing he might act on his own, and recognising the merits of collaboration, the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council informs him of their own clandestine plans for a rising and an agreement is reached.

During Easter week of 1916, 219 ICA men fight alongside over 1,300 from the Irish Volunteers. As the appointed leader of both forces in Dublin, Connolly skillfully ensures that the ideological and social divisions and personality clashes, which have hitherto blighted their relationship, are largely overcome. ICA forces are mainly concentrated at the General Post Office (GPO), the College of Surgeons and Dublin’s City Hall. They win volunteer admiration for their professionalism, dedication, and ruthlessness. Two of their leaders are subsequently executed – Connolly and Michael Mallin, the ICA Chief of Staff. Constance Markievicz, Mallin`s second-in command, is reprieved. Others are imprisoned or interned. The ICA is not revived after the insurrection. The new leadership of the ITGWU focuses instead on building up the union, safeguarding members’ wages and improving working conditions.


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Birth of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, Republican & Nationalist

Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, Irish republican and nationalist known as The O’Rahilly, is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on April 22, 1875.

O’Rahilly is educated in Clongowes Wood College. As an adult, he becomes a republican and a language enthusiast. He joins the Gaelic League and becomes a member of An Coiste Gnotha, its governing body. He is well travelled, spending at least a decade in the United States and in Europe before settling in Dublin.

O’Rahilly is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, which is organized to work for Irish independence and resist the proposed Home Rule. He serves as the IV Director of Arms. He personally directs the first major arming of the Irish Volunteers, the landing of 900 Mausers at the Howth gun-running on July 26, 1914.

O’Rahilly is not party to the plans for the Easter Rising, nor is he a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but he is one of the main people who train the Irish Volunteers for the coming fight. The planners of the Rising go to great lengths to prevent those leaders of the Volunteers who are opposed to unprovoked, unilateral action from learning that a rising is imminent, including its Chief-of-Staff Eoin MacNeill, Bulmer Hobson, and O’Rahilly. When Hobson discovers that an insurrection is planned, he is kidnapped by the Military Council leadership.

Learning this, O’Rahilly goes to Patrick Pearse‘s school, Scoil Éanna, on Good Friday. He barges into Pearse’s study, brandishing his revolver as he announces “Whoever kidnaps me will have to be a quicker shot!” Pearse calms O’Rahilly, assuring him that Hobson is unharmed, and will be released after the rising begins.

O’Rahilly takes instructions from MacNeill and spends the night driving throughout the country, informing Volunteer leaders in Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, and Limerick that they are not to mobilise their forces for planned manoeuvres on Sunday.

Arriving home, O’Rahilly learns that the Rising is about to begin in Dublin on the next day, Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Despite his efforts to prevent such action which he feels can only lead to defeat, he sets out to Liberty Hall to join Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Countess Markievicz, Seán Mac Diarmada, Eamonn Ceannt and their Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army troops. Arriving in his De Dion-Bouton motorcar, he gives one of the most quoted lines of the rising, “Well, I’ve helped to wind up the clock — I might as well hear it strike!”

O’Rahilly fights with the General Post Office (GPO) garrison during Easter Week. On Friday, April 28, with the GPO on fire, O’Rahilly volunteers to lead a party of men along a route to Williams and Woods, a factory on Great Britain Street, now Parnell Street. A British machine-gun at the intersection of Great Britain and Moore streets cuts him and several of the others down. Wounded and bleeding badly, O’Rahilly slumps into a doorway on Moore Street, but, hearing the English marking his position, makes a dash across the road to find shelter in Sackville Lane, now O’Rahilly Parade. He is wounded diagonally from shoulder to hip by sustained fire from the machine-gunner.

The specific timing of O’Rahilly’s death is very difficult to pin down but understanding can be gained from his final thoughts. Despite his obvious pain, he takes the time to write a message to his wife on the back of a letter he received from his son in the GPO. It is this last message to Nancy that artist Shane Cullen etches into his limestone and bronze sculpture. The text reads:

Written after I was shot. Darling Nancy I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street and took refuge in a doorway. While I was there I heard the men pointing out where I was and made a bolt for the laneway I am in now. I got more [than] one bullet I think. Tons and tons of love dearie to you and the boys and to Nell and Anna. It was a good fight anyhow. Please deliver this to Nannie O’ Rahilly, 40 Herbert Park, Dublin. Goodbye Darling.


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Birth of Activist & Feminist Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington

hanna-sheehy-skeffingtonJohanna Mary “Hanna” Sheehy-Skeffington, Republican activist and feminist, is born in Kanturk, County Cork, on May 24, 1877.

Sheehy is the eldest daughter of Elizabeth McCoy and David Sheehy, an ex-Fenian and Member of Parliament (MP) for the Irish Parliamentary Party, representing South Galway. One of her uncles, Father Eugene Sheehy, is known as the Land League Priest, and his activities land him in prison. He is also one of Éamon de Valera‘s teachers in Limerick. When Hanna’s father becomes an MP in 1887, the family moves to Drumcondra, Dublin.

Sheehy is educated at the Dominican Convent on Eccles Street, where she is a prize-winning pupil. She then enrolls at St. Mary’s University College, a third level college for women established by the Dominicans in 1893, to study modern French and German. She sits for examinations at Royal University of Ireland and receives a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1899, and a Master of Arts Degree with first-class honours in 1902. This leads to a career as a teacher in Eccles Street and an examiner in the Intermediate Certificate examination.

Sheehy marries Francis Skeffington in 1903, and they both take the surname Sheehy Skeffington, which they do not hyphenate but use as a double name. In 1908, they found the Irish Women’s Franchise League, a group aiming for women’s voting rights.

Sheehy-Skeffington gets into numerous scuffles with the law. She is jailed in 1912 for breaking windows of government buildings in support of suffrage as part of an IWFL campaign. That same year she also throws a hatchet at visiting British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. She loses her teaching job in 1913 when she is arrested and imprisoned for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle and assaulting a police officer in a feminist action. While in jail she goes on hunger strike and is released under the Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act but is soon rearrested.

Being free from her teaching job enables Sheehy-Skeffington to devote more time to the fight for suffrage. She is influenced by James Connolly and during the 1913 lock-out works with other suffragists in Liberty Hall, providing food for the families of the strikers.

She strongly opposes participation in World War I which breaks out in August 1914, and is prevented by the British government from attending the International Congress of Women held in The Hague in April 1915. The following June her husband is imprisoned for anti-recruiting activities. He is later shot dead during the 1916 Easter Rising after having been arrested by British soldiers.

Sheehy-Skeffington refuses compensation for her husband’s death, which is offered on condition of her ceasing to speak and write about the murder. Rather, she travels to the United States to publicise the political situation in Ireland. In October 1917, she is the sole Irish representative to League for Small and Subject Nationalities where, along with several other contributors, she is accused of pro-German sympathies. She publishes British Militarism as I Have Known It, which is banned in the United Kingdom until after the World War I. Upon her return to Britain she is once again imprisoned, this time in Holloway prison. After release, Sheehy-Skeffington attends the 1918 Irish Race Convention in New York City and later supports the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish Civil War.

In 1926, Sheehy-Skeffington becomes a founding member of Fianna Fáil and is elected to the party’s Ard Comhairle. During the 1930s, she is assistant editor of An Phoblacht. In January 1933, she is arrested in Newry for breaching an exclusion order banning her from Northern Ireland. At her trial she says, “I recognize no partition. I recognize it as no crime to be in my own country. I would be ashamed of my own name and my murdered husband’s name if I did…Long live the Republic!” She is sentenced to a month’s imprisonment.

Sheehy-Skeffington is a founding member of the Irish Women Workers’ Union and an author whose works deeply oppose British imperialism in Ireland. Her son, Owen Sheehy-Skeffington, becomes a politician and Irish Senator.

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington dies in Dublin on April 20, 1946, at the age of 68 and is buried with her husband in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Death of Lily Kempson, Last Survivor of the Rising

lily-kempsonLily Kempson, aged 99, the last surviving participant in the 1916 Easter Rising, dies in Seattle, Washington, on January 22, 1996. Born into the ranks of Dublin’s poor, Elizabeth Ann `Lily’ Kempson shares two rooms with her 92-year-old grandmother, her parents, and eight siblings.

Early on the morning of April 24, 1916, Lily dresses quietly so as to not disturb the other family members. Leaving undetected, Lily never returns home.

When Lily arrives at Liberty Hall, preparations for the Rising are already well underway. Weeks earlier Constance Markiewicz and other women members of the Citizens Army, perhaps Lily amongst them, had stacked grenades and ammunition in the basement. Now this weaponry, already dispersed throughout the city, is to be used to defend the proclamation of an Irish Republic.

The initial plan for women to primarily take care of the wounded is scrapped. Attached to the Red Cross unit, Lily Kempson and her female comrades are swiftly incorporated within the main body of the fight. Lily is armed with a revolver. A handful of women, who have already played a key role in securing access to St. Stephens Green, set about evacuating civilians and guarding the gates. The insurgents dig in but they were unable to secure surrounding buildings because of a chronic shortage of personnel.

As dawn breaks on Tuesday morning, Lily is awakened by the rattle of machine gun fire. The British have occupied the Shelbourne, a hotel overlooking the park. The insurgents hold the Green for less than twenty hours. Throughout the week-long siege of Dublin, Kempson acts as a courier for Patrick Pearse and the other men inside the General Post Office (GPO).

The superior firepower of the British and the strategic advantage of the Shelbourne make evacuation of the park as inevitable as it is urgent. A line of retreat has been secured. In an advance party of three men and three women, Lily Kempson accompanies Constance Markiewicz and Mary Hyland to seize the College of Surgeons, a sturdy building overlooking the north of the Green. It is here the Green’s contingent makes their heroic last stand, holding the ground for five days. They surrendered only after receiving a dispatch directly from the General Post Office. As their contingent prepares to surrender, Lily is chosen to carry the garrison’s last dispatches to addresses throughout the city.

In the immediate aftermath of The Rising, the Kempsons’ Dublin home is raided by the British army but Lily is not to be found. Lily makes the decision to leave Ireland when her name appears on a British list of wanted suspects. Using her sister’s passport, she travels to England and boards a ship to New York. From New York, she then sails on to Seattle where she meets and marries a fellow Irishman, Matt McAlerney. They have seven children, 34 grandchildren, and 116 great-grandchildren by the time Lily passes away.

In her final years she attracts the attention of the local American press. Each Easter she briefly becomes a celebrity as her story of being the last survivor is retold.