seamus dubhghaill

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


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Martial Law Declared in Ireland

martial-law-april-1916The United Kingdom declares martial law in Ireland for one month on April 25, 1916, the day after the commencement of the Easter Rising. A curfew is imposed from 8:30 PM until 5:00 AM. Anyone spotted on the streets during the hours of darkness are to be shot on sight. The trams stop running at 7:00 PM and the theatres and cinemas close by 8:00 PM. Those rushing for trams leaving the city centre have to pass through a stop-and-search military cordon.

The Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, is an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising is mounted by Irish republicans in an attempt to end British rule in Ireland, secede from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic. This takes place while the United Kingdom is heavily engaged in World War I. It is the most significant uprising in Ireland since the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Organized by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), the Rising begins on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, and lasts for six days. The following day the British Government immediately declares martial law in Ireland. Members of the Irish Volunteers, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse and joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 members of Cumann na mBan, seize key locations in Dublin and proclaim the Irish Republic independent of the United Kingdom. There are actions in other parts of Ireland, however, except for the attack on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks at Ashbourne in County Meath, they are minor.

With vastly superior numbers and artillery, the British army quickly suppresses the Rising and Pearse agrees to an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April, 29, 1916. Most of the leaders are executed following courts-martial, but the Rising succeeds in bringing physical force republicanism back to the forefront of Irish politics. Support for republicanism continues to rise in Ireland in the context of the ongoing war in Europe and the Middle East and revolutions in other countries, and especially as a result of the Conscription Crisis of 1918 and the failure of the British-sponsored Irish Convention.

In the 1918 Irish general election, republicans, by then represented by Sinn Féin, secure an overwhelming victory, winning 73 Irish seats out of 105 to the British Parliament, on a policy of abstentionism and Irish independence. The following year Éamon de Valera escapes from Lincoln Gaol to become party leader. On January 21, 1919 they convene the First Dáil and declare the independence of the Irish Republic. Later that same day the Irish Republican Army, organised by Minister for Finance and IRB president Michael Collins, begins the Irish War of Independence with the Soloheadbeg ambush.

(Pictured: Rebel prisoners are marched out of Dublin by the British Army)


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Éamon de Valera Elected President of Dáil Éireann

eamon-de-valeraÉamon de Valera is elected President of Dáil Éireann (Príomh Aire) at the third meeting of the First Dáil on April 1, 1919.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that the Dáil is the parliament of a sovereign state called the “Irish Republic,” and so the Dáil establishes a cabinet called the Ministry or “Aireacht,” and an elected prime minister known both as the “Príomh Aire” and the “President of Dáil Éireann.”

When the First Dáil meets in the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin on January 21, 1919, de Valera is the president of Sinn Féin and thus the natural choice for leadership. However, he is imprisoned in England so, at the second meeting of the Dáil on January 22, Cathal Brugha is elected as the first Príomh Aire on a temporary basis. De Valera escapes Lincoln Gaol in February and is then elected to replace Brugha at the Dáil’s third meeting.

As leader, de Valera visits the United States from June 1919 to December 1920. His aim is to gain both popular and official recognition for the Republic and to obtain a loan to finance Dáil Éireann and the War of Independence. By the time of his return, de Valera has won public but not official support for the Republic and has raised a loan of $6 million.

After the election of the Second Dáil in 1921, de Valera resigns on August 26 and is immediately re-elected under the new title of President of the Republic. He then remains in office until January 1922 when, against his wishes, the Dáil votes to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty. De Valera resigns and submits his name for re-election but is rejected by the house, which instead elects Arthur Griffith, who supports the Treaty, by a vote of 60-58.

On January 16, 1922, the British government implements the Treaty and appoints a new Irish administration called the Provisional Government. The Dáil decides that the new administration will operate in parallel with the existing institutions of the Irish Republic, which the British do not recognise. Therefore, as the Irish Civil War begins the country has two leaders, Arthur Griffith as President of Dáil Éireann and Michael Collins as Chairman of the Provisional Government. Collins is also Minister for Finance in Griffith’s cabinet. This anomalous situation continues until Griffith and Collins both died suddenly in August 1922, Collins being assassinated by anti-Treaty irregulars and Griffith dying of natural causes. W.T. Cosgrave becomes Chairman of the Provisional Government on August 25 and, when he is also elected as President of Dáil Éireann in September, the two administrations are merged.

On December 6, both the Irish Republic and the Provisional Government come to an end as the new Constitution of the Irish Free State comes into force. The new Irish Free State has three leaders, the King as head of state, the Governor-General as the King’s representative, and the President of the Executive Council as head of government. W.T. Cosgrave is appointed as the first President of the Executive Council on the same day.


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Éamon de Valera Escapes from Lincoln Gaol

boland-collins-devaleraÉamon de Valera, along with Seán McGarry and Seán Milroy, escape from Lincoln Gaol in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England on February 3, 1919.  The escape plot is engineered by fellow Sinn Féin members Harry Boland and Michael Collins (pictured to the left of de Valera).

After his participation as a leader of the Easter Rising of 1916, de Valera is arrested and sentenced to death for his role in the uprising, but the sentence is later commuted due to his American citizenship. Following his release from prison in 1916, he quickly gains fame on the Irish political scene, ultimately becoming the leader of Sinn Féin. He also gains notoriety amongst the British political elites, which ensures his eventual re-arrest and imprisonment in Lincoln Gaol.

De Valera is sent to Lincoln Gaol presumably for his participation in a “German Plot” against the British. Once incarcerated at Lincoln, de Valera, wanting to embarrass the English, quickly begins to plan his escape with the assistance of Milroy and McGarry. Irish Republicans on the outside, including Boland and Collins, also assist in the planning.

Open fields surrounded by barbed wire are to the rear and east of the prison. The Republicans hope to use this to their advantage by sneaking de Valera through a rear door. The plans are sung in Gaelic to de Valera through a window in his cell by a fellow Irish inmate in order to confuse the guards. The first song tells him of the escape route and the second gives him instructions to obtain a copy of the master-key for the prison.

De Valera, being a deeply religious man, is active in the prison’s chapel from the beginning his internment. Using his connections within the chapel, over time he manages to steal candles from the altar. While Mass is being read, he “borrows” the master-key of the chaplain and makes an impression of it in the candle wax. The mould is then wrapped in paper and tossed over the prison wall so a duplicate can be made.

The key is duplicated and smuggled back into the prison concealed in a cake and the escape begins on the evening of February 3, 1919. While Collins and other members of Sinn Féin cut through the barbed wire, a group of Irish girls are sent to flirt with the prison guards to ensure they are preoccupied. With the guards’ attention diverted, de Valera, wrapped in a fur coat, McGarry, and Milroy are able to walk to the back door of the prison and, after some difficulty with the key, walk away from the prison.

They stroll down Wragby Road to the Adam & Eve Pub where a taxi driver, unaware of who his passengers are, awaits them. De Valera is swiftly moved to the railway station where they split up. Collins and Boland catch a train to London from St. Mark’s while the rest drive to Worksop where another innocent taxi driver drives them to Sheffield. De Valera then returns to Ireland briefly before traveling on to the United States. The prison officials, realizing that the men will be virtually impossible to locate, concede defeat after a one day search of the city.

The escape from Lincoln Gaol is major news and is covered in all the national papers. Prison officials blame the escape on the ability of special prisoners to interact with the general prison population. The escape proves to be an important moment in Irish history – when a cake, a wax key, and some pretty Irish girls help spring the future Irish president from Lincoln Gaol.