seamus dubhghaill

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


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IRA Commander Seán Mac Eoin Captured at Mullingar

Seán Mac Eoin, Irish Republican Army (IRA) North Longford commander, is captured at Mullingar on March 1, 1921 and charged with the murder of a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) detective, dealing a severe blow to the IRA in that area.

Mac Eoin is born John Joseph McKeon on September 30, 1893 at Bunlahy, Granard, County Longford, the eldest son of Andrew McKeon and Catherine Treacy. After a national school education, he trains as a blacksmith at his father’s forge and, on his father’s death in February 1913, he takes over the running of the forge and the maintenance of the McKeon family. He moves to Kilinshley in the Ballinalee district of County Longford to set up a new forge.

Having joined the United Irish League in 1908, Mac Eoin’s Irish nationalist activities begin in earnest in 1913, when he joins the Clonbroney Company of the Irish Volunteers. Late that year he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and joins the Granard circle of the organization.

Mac Eoin comes to prominence in the Irish War of Independence as leader of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column. In November 1920, he leads the Longford brigade in attacking Crown forces in Granard during one of the periodic government reprisals, forcing them to retreat to their barracks. On October 31, Inspector Philip St. John Howlett Kelleher of the RIC is shot dead in the Greville Arms Hotel in Granard. Members of the British Auxiliary Division set fire to parts of the town. The following day, Mac Eoin holds the village of Ballinalee situated on the Longford Road between Longford and Granard. They stand against superior British forces, forcing them to retreat and abandon their ammunition. In a separate attack on November 8, he leads his men against the RIC at Ballinalee. One constable is killed and two others are wounded.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1921, a joint RIC and British Army patrol consisting of ten policemen appears on Anne Martin’s street. According to Mac Eoin’s own testimony at his trial he is in the house in partial uniform, wearing Sam Browne belt and revolver with two Mills No. 4 bombs in his pocket. Owing to some females being in the house, he has to get out as to not endanger them. He steps out on the street and opens fire with his revolver. The leading file falls and the second file brings their rifles to the ready. He then throws a bomb, after which he sees that the entire force has cleared away, save the officer who was dead or dying on the street.

On February 2, 1921, the Longford IRA ambushes a force of the Auxiliaries on the road at Clonfin, using a mine it had planted. Two lorries are involved, the first blown up, and the second strafed by rapid rifle fire. Four auxiliaries and a driver are killed and eight wounded. The IRA volunteers capture 18 rifles, 20 revolvers and a Lewis gun. At the Clonfin Ambush, Mac Eoin orders his men to care for the wounded British, at the expense of captured weaponry, earning him both praise and criticism. He is admired by many within the IRA for leading practically the only effective column in the midlands.

Mac Eoin is captured at Mullingar railway station on March 1, 1921, imprisoned and sentenced to death for the murder of an RIC district inspector in the shooting at Anne Martin’s street in January 1921.

In June 1921, Henry Wilson, the British Chief of the General Staff (CIGS), is petitioned for clemency by Mac Eoin’s mother, his brother Jemmy, and the local Church of Ireland vicar, but passes on the appeals out of respect for the latter two individuals. Three auxiliaries had already given character references on his behalf after he had treated them chivalrously at the Clonfin Ambush in February 1921. However, Nevil Macready, British Commander-in-Chief, Ireland, confirms the death sentence describing Mac Eoin as “nothing more than a murderer.”

While imprisoned Mac Eoin is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1921 Irish general election, as a TD for Longford–Westmeath. He is eventually released from prison, along with all other members of the Dáil, after Michael Collins threatens to break off treaty negotiations with the British government unless they are freed.

Mac Eoin joins the National Army and is appointed GOC Western Command in June 1922. His military career soars after the Irish Civil War. He is appointed GOC Curragh Training Camp in August 1925, Quartermaster General in March 1927, and Chief of Staff in February 1929.

Mac Eoin resigns from the Army in 1929, and is elected at a by-election to Dáil Éireann for the Leitrim–Sligo constituency, representing Cumann na nGaedheal. At the 1932 Irish general election, he returns to the constituency of Longford–Westmeath, and continues to serve the Longford area as TD until he is defeated at the 1965 Irish general election.

During a long political career Mac Eoin serves as Minister for Justice (February 1948 – March 1951) and Minister for Defence (March–June 1951) in the First Inter-Party Government, and again as Minister for Defence (June 1954 – March 1957) in the Second Inter-Party Government. He unsuccessfully stands twice as candidate for the office of President of Ireland, against Seán T. O’Kelly in 1945 and Éamon de Valera in 1959.

Mac Eoin retires from public life after the 1965 general election and dies in Dublin on July 7, 1973.


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Ballinalee Raid in Search of Seán Mac Eoin

The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) raid a cottage near Ballinalee, County Longford, on January 7, 1921 looking for Seán Mac Eoin. Mac Eoin opens fire from the cottage, killing District Inspector Thomas McGrath, wounding a constable, and escaping.

Mac Eoin is a soldier and eventual politician of the Fine Gael party. He is commonly referred to as the “Blacksmith of Ballinalee.” He is born John Joseph McKeon on September 30, 1893 at Bunlahy, Granard, County Longford, the eldest son of Andrew McKeon and Catherine Treacy. He joins the United Irish League in 1908. His Irish nationalist activities begin in earnest in 1913, when he joins the Clonbroney Company of the Irish Volunteers. Late that year he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood and joins the Granard circle of the organization.

Mac Eoin comes to prominence in the Irish War of Independence as leader of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column. On November 4, 1920, his column holds the village of Ballinalee situated on the Longford Road between Longford and Granard. They stand against superior British forces, forcing them to retreat and abandon their ammunition. In a separate attack on November 8, he leads his men against the RIC at Ballinalee. An eighteen-year-old Constable Taylor is killed. Constable E. Shateford and two others are wounded. The story is that the small garrison sings “God Save the King” as they take up positions to return fire.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1921, a joint RIC and British Army patrol consisting of ten policemen led by an Inspector, with a security detachment of nine soldiers, appears on Anne Martin’s street. Mac Eoin’s own testimony at his trial, which is not contested by any parties present, states, “I was at the table writing when I was informed of the advance of the party. My account books were left in this house for safety. I was in partial uniform, wearing Sam Browne belt and revolver with two Mills No. 4 bombs in my pocket. Owing to some females being in the house, I had to get out as I could not endanger them by putting up a defence in the house, and as this Officer and Police Force had already signified to my sister and mother their intention to shoot me on sight, I decided to give them a run for their money. I stepped out on the street, about three paces directly in front of the oncoming force, and opened fire with my revolver. The leading file fell, and then the second file in the gateway brought their rifles to the ready. I then threw a bomb, and jumped back behind the porch to let it burst. When it had burst and the smoke had lifted, I saw that the whole force had cleared away, save the officer who was dead or dying on the street.” The casualties from this incident are District Inspector Thomas McGrath killed and a police constable wounded.

Mac Eoin is captured at Mullingar railway station in March 1921, imprisoned and sentenced to death for the murder of RIC District Inspector McGrath in the shooting at Anne Martin’s street in January 1921. Michael Collins organises a rescue attempt in June 1921. Six IRA Volunteers, led by Paddy Daly and Emmet Dalton, capture a British armoured car and, wearing British Army uniforms, gain access to Mountjoy Prison. However, Mac Eoin is not in the part of the jail they believed and, after some shooting, the party retreats.

Within days, Mac Eoin is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1921 Irish general election, as a TD for Longford–Westmeath. He is eventually released from prison, along with all other members of the Dáil, after Collins threatens to break off treaty negotiations with the British government unless he is freed. It is rumoured that Sean Mac Eoin serves as the best man at Collins’ wedding.


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Donal Billings Convicted of Possession of Explosives

Donal Billings of St. Bridget’s Court in Drumlish, County Longford, a 66-year-old man who put a bomb on a bus during Britain’s Queen Elizabeth‘s visit to Ireland in May 2011, is convicted on December 15, 2016 at the Special Criminal Court of possessing explosives and is sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison.

Justice Tony Hunt describes it as an outrageous, dangerous and highly irresponsible act, which recklessly exposed the 31 people on the bus, as well as the emergency services, to the very significant risk of injury or death. He says it was no thanks to Billings that this did not occur.

Billings is also found guilty of four counts of making bomb threats, including one claiming there were two mortars in Dublin Castle during the State banquet for the queen.

The court hears that on May 16, 2011, following a phone call to Longford Garda station, gardaí stopped a bus travelling from Ballina to Dublin at Maynooth. They find a well-made bomb in a bag in the luggage hold with gunpowder, petrol, a timing power unit, battery and a fuse, which if it had exploded could have caused seriously injured or killed the passengers and driver. Threats were also made that there were bombs on another bus and at the Sinn Féin headquarters in Dublin but none were found.

Billings is identified as the caller though phone records, notes, a SIM card and a mobile phone. Two days later he makes another call saying that two mortars have been left in Dublin Castle set for 8:00 PM, during the State banquet for the queen. “I am a member of the Republican Brotherhood Squad A”, he says. “This is for the Queen of Blood, War in Iraq.” Because of the first bomb, the threat is taken very seriously, but no more explosive devices are found.

Two days later a third call threatens there are two more bombs in the toilets in Cork Airport, but again nothing is found.

Billings is identified as a suspect that day and put under surveillance before being arrested at a supermarket car park in Longford. He tells gardaí he had found the SIM card in the car park.

Following the trial, during which interpreters are used to translate proceedings into Irish, Billings is convicted of making bomb threats and possessing explosives. He has previous convictions for possessing explosives in Northern Ireland in 1973 and is sentenced to eight years in prison. He also spent four years in Libya.

(From: “Man sentenced over bomb on bus during Queen Elizabeth’s visit,” RTÉ.ie, the website of Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Thursday, December 15, 2016)


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Thomas McMahon Sentenced to Life for Mountbatten’s Assassination

Thomas McMahon, former volunteer in the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and one of the IRA’s most experienced bomb-makers, is sentenced to life in prison on November 23, 1979 for the assassination of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and three others (two children and an elderly lady) at Mullaghmore, County Sligo.

McMahon plants a bomb in Shadow V, a 27-foot fishing boat belonging to Mountbatten at Mullaghmore, near Donegal Bay. Lord Mountbatten and the others are killed on August 27, 1979 when the bomb detonates. The other victims are Doreen Knatchbull, Baroness Brabourne, Mountbatten’s elder daughter’s mother-in-law, his grandson Nicholas Knatchbull and 15-year-old crewmember Paul Maxwell.

McMahon is arrested by the Garda, the Republic of Ireland‘s police force, two hours before the bomb detonates at a Garda checkpoint between Longford and Granard on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle.

The IRA claims responsibility for the act in a statement released immediately afterwards. In the statement from the organisation they say, “This operation is one of the discriminate ways we can bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country.”

McMahon is tried for the assassinations in the Republic of Ireland, and convicted by forensic evidence supplied by Dr. James O’Donovan that shows flecks of paint from the boat and traces of nitroglycerine on his clothes. He is sentenced to life imprisonment for murder on November 23, 1979, but is released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Following his release, Toby Harnden in Bandit Country: The IRA & South Armagh (1999) reports that McMahon is holding a tricolour in the first rank of the IRA colour party at a 1998 IRA meeting in Cullyhanna. However, according to a BBC report, McMahon says that he left the IRA in 1990.

McMahon twice refuses to meet John Maxwell, the father of Paul Maxwell, who seeks him out to explain the reasons for his son’s death. In a May 2011 interview for The Telegraph, Maxwell states that he had “made two approaches to McMahon, the first through a priest, who warned me in advance that he thought there wouldn’t be any positive response. And there wasn’t. I have some reservations about meeting him, obviously – it might work out in such a way that I would regret having made the contact. On the other hand, if we met and I could even begin to understand his motivation. If we could meet on some kind of a human level, a man to man level, it could help me come to terms with it. But that might be very optimistic. McMahon knows the door is open at this end.”

McMahon likewise refuses requests from Nicholas Knatchbull’s twin brother, who lost an eye in the same explosion. The latter, however, has forgiven McMahon and other members of the IRA who committed the act.

McMahon’s wife has stated, “Tommy never talks about Mountbatten, only the boys who died. He does have genuine remorse. Oh God yes.”

McMahon lives with his wife Rose in Lisanisk, Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. He has two grown sons. He helps with Martin McGuinness‘s presidential campaign in 2011, erecting posters for McGuinness around Carrickmacross.


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Execution of Bartholomew Teeling

bartholomew-teelingBartholomew Teeling, Irish republican who is leader of the Irish forces during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, is executed at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin on September 24, 1798.

Teeling is born in Lisburn, County Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland in 1774 and is educated at the Dubordieu School in Lisburn and at Trinity College Dublin. His younger brother, Charles Teeling, goes on to be a writer. In 1796 he enlists in the Society of United Irishmen and travels to France to encourage support for a French invasion of Ireland.

Teeling returns to Ireland on August 22, 1798 as chief aide-de-camp to General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert and lands at Killala Bay between County Sligo and County Mayo with French troops. On August 28 the combined forces capture Castlebar and declare the Republic of Connacht. The Franco-Irish troops then push east through County Sligo but are halted by a cannon which the British forces have installed above Union Rock near Collooney.

On September 5, 1798, Teeling clears the way for the advancing Irish-French army by single handedly disabling a British gunner post during the Battle of Collooney in Sligo when he breaks from the French ranks and gallops towards Union Rock. He is armed with a pistol and shoots the cannon’s marksman and captures the cannon. The French and Irish advance and the British, after losing the cannon position, retreat towards their barracks at Sligo, leaving 60 dead and 100 prisoners.

During the Battle of Ballinamuck at Longford, Teeling and approximately 500 other Irishmen are captured along with their French allies. The French troops are treated as prisoners of war and later returned to France, however the Irish troops are executed by the British.

Teeling is court-martialled by Britain as an Irish rebel and for committing treason. To positively identify him, the authorities enlist William Coulson, a damask manufacturer from Lisburn, who identifies him as a son of Luke Teeling, a linen merchant who lived in Chapel Hill, Lisburn. Bartholomew Teeling is hanged at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin on September 24, 1798.

In 1898, the centenary year of the battle, a statue of Teeling is erected in Carricknagat. One of the main streets in Sligo, which accommodates the Sligo Courthouse and main Garda Síochána barracks, is later named Teeling Street also in honour of Bartholomew Teeling.


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Death of John Patrick Wilson, Fianna Fáil Politician

john-wilsonJohn Patrick Wilson, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as Tánaiste from 1990 to 1993, dies in Beaumont, Dublin on July 9, 2007, the day after his 84th birthday. He also serves as Minister for Defence and Minister for the Gaeltacht (1992-1993), Minister for the Marine (1989-1992), Minister for Tourism and Transport (1987-1989), Minister for Communications (March 1987), Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (March-December 1982), Minister for Education (1977-1981) and Teachta Dála (TD) for Cavan (1973-1992).

Wilson is born in Kilcogy, County Cavan on July 8, 1923. He is educated at St. Mel’s College in Longford, the University of London and the National University of Ireland. He graduates with a Master of Arts in Classics and a Higher Diploma in Education. He is a secondary school teacher at Saint Eunan’s College and Gonzaga College and also a university lecturer at University College, Dublin (UCD) before he becomes involved in politics. He is also a Gaelic footballer for Cavan GAA and wins two All-Ireland Senior Football Championship medals with the team, one in 1947 at the Polo Grounds in New York City. He is a member of the teachers trade union, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and serves as president of the association.

Wilson is first elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1973 general election for the Cavan constituency, for Cavan–Monaghan in 1977 and at each subsequent election until his retirement after the dissolution of the 26th Dáil Éireann in 1992. He is succeeded as Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan by his special advisor, Brendan Smith, who goes on to serve as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 2008 to 2011. In 1977 Jack Lynch appoints Wilson to Cabinet as Minister for Education. He goes on to serve in each Fianna Fáil government until his retirement, serving in the governments of Jack Lynch, Charles Haughey and Albert Reynolds.

In 1990 Wilson challenges Brian Lenihan for the Fianna Fáil nomination for the 1990 presidential election. Lenihan wins the nomination but fails to be elected President and is also sacked from the government. Wilson is then appointed Tánaiste. He remains in the cabinet until retirement in 1993. Although the 26th Dáil Éireann is dissolved in December 1992, he serves in Government until the new government takes office.

Following his retirement from politics, Wilson is appointed the Commissioner of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains by Bertie Ahern. This position entails involvement with members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) to assist in finding the bodies of the disappeared who were murdered by the Provisional IRA during The Troubles.

John Wilson dies at St. James Hospital, Dublin on July 9, 2007, one day after his 84th birthday. His funeral takes place at the Good Shepherd Church at Churchtown, Dublin. President Mary McAleese is one of a number of prominent figures among the mourners, while Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is represented by his Aide-de-Camp.


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“The Beauty Queen of Leenane” Wins Four Tony Awards

the-beauty-queen-of-leenaneAfter being nominated in six categories, Galway’s Druid Theatre Company wins four Tony Awards on June 8, 1998 for its production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a 1996 comedy by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh.

The play receives its world premiere when the Druid Theatre Company opens the production at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway on February 1, 1996. It then tours Ireland, stopping off in Longford, Kilkenny and Limerick. It transfers to London‘s West End, where it opens at the Royal Court Theatre on February 29, 1996.

The Druid production returns to Ireland to embark on an extensive national tour, playing in Galway, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Fermanagh, Donegal and Derry amongst others. The play returns to London where it is revived at the Duke of York’s Theatre on November 29, 1996 for several months.

The play is produced as part of Druid’s Leenane Trilogy, which includes two other plays by Martin McDonagh, in 1997 where it plays as part of another Irish and UK tour, which includes stops at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin and the Royal Court Theatre in London again.

The play receives its American premiere opening Off-Broadway on February 11, 1998, presented by the Atlantic Theatre Company at the Linda Gross Theater. It transfers to the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway where it opens on April 14, 1998. It receives six Tony Award nominations, winning four for Best Supporting Actor (Tom Murphy), Best Actress (Marie Mullen), Best Supporting Actress (Anna Manahan), and Best Director (Garry Hynes), the first female recipient of a Tony Award for directing a play.

The play is produced in Australia in 1998 and again in 1999. The 1999 production is a tour by the Royal Court Theatre Company, appearing at the Adelaide Festival Centre (May – June 1999) and Wharf 1 (July 1999) and directed by Garry Hynes. The production returns to Ireland in 2000 as part of a final national tour.

The play is revived in July 2010 at the Young Vic Theatre in the West End, starring Irish actress Rosaleen Linehan. The production transfers to Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre where Linehan reprises her role opposite Derbhle Crotty. It then returns to the Young Vic for another run, closing in September 2011.

The Druid Theatre Company presents a revival in 2016–2017. The production starts in Ireland in Galway at the Town Hall Theatre in September 2016, and then tours to The Everyman in Cork, the Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick and the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. The play then tours in the United States starting in November 2016. The play runs at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in November 2016 then opens at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City, running from January 11, 2017 to February 5. The production returns to Ireland, playing at The Gaiety Theatre from March 28 to April 15, 2017.


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Construction Begins on the Royal Canal

royal-canal-old-mill-dublinConstruction begins on the Royal Canal on October 24, 1789. The canal is originally built for freight and passenger transportation from the River Liffey in Dublin to Longford.

In 1755, Thomas Williams and John Cooley make a survey to find a suitable route for a man-made waterway across north Leinster from Dublin to the River Shannon. They originally plan to use a series of rivers and lakes, including the Boyne, Blackwater, Deel, Yellow, Camlin, and Inny and Lough Derravaragh.

Work commences in 1789 and lasts 27 years before finally reaching the River Shannon in 1817, at a total cost of £1,421,954. Construction is unexpectedly expensive and the project is riven with problems. In 1794 the Royal Canal Company is declared bankrupt. The Duke of Leinster, a board member, insists that the new waterway take in his local town of Maynooth. The builders have to deviate from the planned route and necessitate the construction of a ‘deep sinking’ between Blanchardstown and Clonsilla. The diversion also calls for the building of the Ryewater Aqueduct, at Leixlip.

royal-canal-kinnegadThe canal passes through Maynooth, Kilcock, Enfield, Mullingar and Ballymahon has a spur to Longford. The total length of the main navigation is 145 kilometres (90 miles), and the system has 46 locks. There is one main feeder, from Lough Owel, which enters the canal at Mullingar.

In 200 years it has been maintained by eight successive agencies – the Royal Canal Company, the Commissioners of Inland Navigation, the New Royal Canal Company, Midland Great Western Railway Company, Great Southern Railways, CIÉ, and the Office of Public Works.

The canal falls into disrepair in the late 20th century, but much of the canal has since been restored for navigation. The length of the canal to the River Shannon is reopened on October 1, 2010, but the final spur branch of the canal to Longford Town remains closed.

(Pictured: Royal Canal as it enters Dublin city centre (left) and Royal Canal in rural County Westmeath north of Kinnegad (right)