seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Assassination of Tomás Mac Curtain

Tomas-mac-curtainTomás Mac Curtain, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, is assassinated in Cork, County Cork on March 20, 1920, which is also his 36th birthday.

Thomas Curtin is born at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey, County Cork, on March 20, 1884, the son of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan. He attends Burnfort National School. In 1897 the family moves to Cork City, where he attends the North Monastery school.

Mac Curtain, as he later becomes known, is active in a number of cultural and political movements beginning around the turn of the 20th century. He joins the Blackpool, Cork branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, becoming its secretary in 1902. He has interests in music, poetry, history, archaeology and Irish history. He works in his early career as a clerk, and in his free time teaches Irish. In 1911 he joins Fianna Éireann, and is a member of the Irish Volunteers.

He meets Elizabeth Walsh (Eibhlís Breathnach) at a Gaelic League meeting and they marry on June 28, 1908. They have six children, five of whom survive into adulthood. The family lives over 40 Thomas Davis Street, where Mac Curtain runs a small clothing and rainwear factory.

In April 1916, at the outset of the Easter Rising, Mac Curtain commands a force of up to 1,000 men of the Irish Volunteers who assemble at various locations around County Cork. From the volunteers headquarters at Sheares Street in the city, Mac Curtain and his officers await orders from the volunteer leadership in Dublin but conflicting instructions and confusion prevail and as a result the Cork volunteers never enter the fray. A tense stand-off develops when British forces surround the volunteer hall and continued for a week until a negotiated agreement leads to the surrender of the volunteers’ arms to the then Lord Mayor of Cork Thomas Butterfield on the understanding that they will be returned at a later date. This does not happen however and Mac Curtain is jailed in Wakefield Prison, in the Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and in Reading Gaol. After the general amnesty of participants in the Rising 18 months later, Mac Curtain returns to active duty as a Commandant of what is now the Irish Republican Army.

By 1918 Mac Curtain is a brigade commander, the highest and most important rank in the IRA. During the Conscription Crisis of 1918, he actively encourages the hiring of the women of Cumann na mBan to cater for Volunteers. He is personally involved with Michael CollinsThe Squad that, along with a Cork battalion, attempt to assassinate Lord John French, whose car is missed as the convoy passes through the ambush positions. Despite the setback he remains brigadier of No.1 Cork when he is elected Lord Mayor. He is elected in the January 1920 council elections as the Sinn Féin councillor for NW Ward No. 3 of Cork, and is chosen by his fellow councillors to be the Lord Mayor. He begins a process of political reform within the city.

In January 1919, the Irish War of Independence starts and Mac Curtain becomes an officer in the IRA. On March 20, 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain is shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of men with blackened faces, who are found to be members of the Auxilaries along with unknown members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by the official inquest into the event. In the wake of the killing, which is in revenge for the shooting of a policeman, Mac Curtain’s house in Blackpool is ransacked.

The killing causes widespread public outrage. The coroner’s inquest passes a verdict of willful murder against British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and against certain members of the RIC. Michael Collins later orders his squad of assassins to uncover and assassinate the police officers involved in the attack. RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the attack, is fatally shot, with Mac Curtain’s own revolver, while leaving a Protestant church in Lisburn, County Antrim on August 22, 1920, sparking what is described by Tim Pat Coogan as a “pogrom” against the Catholic residents of the town.

Tomás Mac Curtain is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.

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The Funeral of Hugh Coveney

hugh-coveneyThe funeral of Hugh Coveney, politician and former Lord Mayor of Cork, takes place at St. Michael’s Church in Blackrock, Cork on March 18, 1998.

Coveney is born into one of Cork‘s prosperous “merchant prince” families on July 20, 1935. He is educated at Christian Brothers College, Cork, Clongowes Wood College and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. He works as a chartered quantity surveyor before entering politics.

Coveney is interested in yachting throughout most of his adult life. His yacht Golden Apple of The Sun, designed by Cork-based designer Ron Holland, is a successful competitor in the Admiral’s Cup in the 1970s. A later 50-foot yacht, Golden Apple, is used by the family for the “Sail Chernobyl” project. The family sails around the world to raise €650,000 for Chernobyl Children’s Project International, a charity which offers assistance to children affected by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Coveney is Lord Mayor of Cork from 1982 to 1983. He is first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael Teachta Dála (TD) for Cork South–Central constituency at the 1981 general election. He loses his seat in the first general election of 1982 but regains it in the second election in the same year. He loses his seat again in the 1987 general election and does not contest the 1992 general election. He is elected to the Dáil again in 1994 in a by-election.

Coveney is first appointed to the Cabinet in 1994 under John Bruton. He is appointed Minister for Defence and Minister for the Marine. However, he is demoted to a junior ministry the following year after allegations of improper contact with businessmen.

In March 1998 it becomes publicly known that the Moriarty Tribunal has questioned Coveney about whether he had a secret offshore account with Ansbacher Bank, a bank which had become notorious for facilitating tax evasion. Ten days later, on March 13, 1998, Coveney visits his solicitor to change his will. The following day, he dies in a fall from a seaside cliff while out walking alone. His son, Simon Coveney, insists that his father had never held an Ansbacher account. It later emerges that Hugh Coveney had $175,000 on deposit in the secret Cayman Islands-based bank. The account was closed in 1979.

Simon Coveney is later elected to succeed his father in the resulting by-election on November 3, 1998.


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Founding of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland

american-committee-for-relief-in-irelandThe American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI) is founded through the initiative of Dr. William J. Maloney and others on December 16, 1920, with the intention of giving financial assistance to civilians in Ireland who have been injured or suffer severe financial hardship due to the ongoing Irish War of Independence.

The Committee is only one of several U.S. based philanthropic organisations that emerge following World War I with a view to influencing the post-war settlement from their perspective of social justice, economic development and long term stability in Europe. Some of them concentrate their efforts on events in Ireland, and while activists of Irish ethnicity are well represented, membership is far from confined to Americans of Irish heritage. Apart from the ACRI, bodies such as the American Commission on Irish Independence and the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland raise money and attempt to influence U.S. foreign policy in a manner sympathetic to the goal of Irish secession from the United Kingdom.

This period of Irish political radicalism coincides with a Red Scare in the United States. Jim Larkin, an Irish trade unionist, who has been closely associated with James Connolly in Ireland and with the Wobblies in the U.S., is serving a five-year sentence in Sing Sing prison for promoting his socialist agenda. While his political views differ fundamentally from most of the Sinn Féin leadership, Irish republicanism is seen by many of the American establishment as based on a questionable ideology. During the Irish War of Independence, the activities of Irish-American fund-raising organisations are viewed with suspicion and kept under close scrutiny by the intelligence services including J. Edgar Hoover, head of the General Intelligence Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. U.S. policy towards Irish concerns, initially hostile or at best indifferent, become somewhat less so following the 1920 U.S. presidential election and the landslide victory of Warren G. Harding over James M. Cox.

Following the burning of parts of Cork on December 11, 1920 by elements of the British security forces known as the Black and Tans, approaches are made by the city’s Lord Mayor, Donal O’Callaghan, to the American Red Cross for humanitarian assistance. The society, having taken advice from President Woodrow Wilson, the British embassy, the Foreign Office and the British Red Cross, decline at this time to act on his appeal. Numerous organisations and committees across the United States, operating independently in raising humanitarian aid money for Ireland realise that their funds will not be channelled through the U.S. Committee of the Red Cross and so another distribution channel is needed.

Five days after the inferno at Cork, a widely publicised meeting takes place at the Banker’s Club in New York City. It is organised by William Maloney with the intention of establishing a single nationwide organisation. It will have as its goal, explicitly and solely for the purpose of humanitarian relief, the raising and distribution in Ireland of $10 million. The body which soon emerges styles itself “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland.” One of its founding members, Levi Hollingsworth Wood, approaches a Dublin-based businessman and fellow Quaker, James Douglas, requesting his assistance in the local distribution of the funds on a non-partisan basis. In Ireland, Douglas speaks with Laurence O’Neill, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who in turn contacts senior members of Sinn Féin to inform them of the wishes of the American Committee. These meetings culminate in the establishment of the Irish White Cross, for the purpose of local distribution of the Committee’s funds.


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The Cork Opera House Fire

cork-opera-house-fire-1955The Cork Opera House is destroyed by fire on December 12, 1955. It is originally built in 1855, and is built on a template that the architect had used for the exhibition buildings at the Irish Industrial Exhibition. Since then it survives the burning of much of Cork by British forces in 1920.

“The final curtain has fallen. The Cork Opera House is no more. A hundred years of stage history has come to an end. Never had the last moments of any drama, played on this stage, such an audience as last night’s farewell one. In heavy rain, a vast crowd stood silently as flames enveloped a proud landmark in our city. They watched it from the short first burst of fire on its roof until the building crumbled before their eyes.”

So reads the main news in The Cork Examiner on Tuesday, December 13, 1955, after the disastrous fire tore at the heartstrings of the people of Cork, leaving the city without a major theatre for the first time in 250 years. It is the boast of the Opera House that its tradition is continuous. When fighting in the South was at its bitterest, even when most of Cork was burned down, the Opera House kept running, only closing for pantomime rehearsals and in Holy Week. It is during the rehearsals for the forthcoming Christmas pantomime that the fatal fire starts. Fortunately, all people are evacuated, but the building built entirely from wood does not stand a chance from the merciless fire. What begins as an electrical fault blazes into an inferno within minutes. Soon the skyline of the city is lit up as the fire does its worst.

Ten years later, on February 23, 1963, the tender of Messrs. O’Shea, South Mall is accepted for the rebuilding of the Opera House. A month later the work begins and the foundation stone is laid by Lord Mayor Seán Casey on June 21, 1963. The citizens watch the building construction with keen interest as the new building gradually takes shape. Finally the day arrives for the casting aside of hoardings and scaffoldings.

Immediately controversy begins regarding the much disputed North-Wall. Unfavorable comment and criticism is levelled at the lack of architectural or artistic embellishment on the exterior of the new building and the square, squat tower on top of the roof designed to ease set changing. This is a very natural reaction as the old Opera House had a very special place in the hearts of Corkonians of every generation during its existence. Most of the criticism is uninformed, for few are aware of the difficulties, financially and technically, that the project incurred. Despite the criticism about the exterior appearance, everyone who has an opportunity to inspect the interior of the theatre can find no fault. There is nothing but praise for the design, the decor, the layout of the seating accommodation and, above all, the intimate atmosphere which has been a traditional part of the venerable old building, and which is now faithfully preserved in the new.


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Death of Irish Hurler Christy Ring

christy-ringNicholas Christopher Michael Ring, better known as Christy Ring, an Irish hurler whose league and championship career with the Cork GAA senior team spans twenty-four years from 1939 to 1963, dies at Morrison’s Island, Cork, on March 2, 1979.

Ring establishes many championship records, including career appearances (65), scoring tally (33-208), and number of All-Ireland medals won (8), however, these records are subsequently bested by Brendan Cummins, Eddie Keher, and Henry Shefflin respectively. Ring is widely regarded as one of the greatest hurlers in the history of the game, with many former players, commentators, and fans rating him as the number one player of all time.

Born near Cloyne, County Cork, Ring first excels at hurling following encouragement from his local national school teachers Michael O’Brien and Jerry Moynihan. He first appears on the Cloyne GAA minor team at the age of twelve before later winning a county minor championship medal with the nearby St. Enda’s team. A Cork Junior Hurling Championship medal with Cloyne follows, however, a dispute with club officials sees Ring join Glen Rovers GAA in Blackpool in 1941. Over the next twenty-six years with the club, Ring wins one Munster Senior Club Hurling Championship medal and fourteen county senior championship medals. As a Gaelic footballer with the Glen’s sister club, St. Nicholas’ GAA, he also wins a county senior championship medal. He retires from club hurling at the age of forty-six following a victory over University College Cork GAA in the 1967 championship quarter-final. Over the course of his senior championship career Ring estimates that he played in 1,200 games.

Ring makes his debut on the inter-county scene at the age of sixteen when he is picked on the Cork minor panel for the All-Ireland final. In spite of victory, he is denied an All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship medal as he is Cork’s last non-playing substitute. Still eligible for the grade in 1938, Ring collects a set of All-Ireland and Munster Minor Hurling Championship medals as a member of the starting fifteen. An unsuccessful year with the Cork junior hurlers follows before he makes his senior debut during the 1939-40 league. Over the course of the next quarter century, Ring wins eight All-Ireland medals, including a record four consecutive championships from 1941 to 1944, a lone triumph in 1946 and three additional consecutive championships from 1952 to 1954. The only player to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup three times as captain, he is denied a record-breaking ninth All-Ireland medal in 1956 in what is his last All-Ireland final appearance. Ring also wins nine Munster medals, four National Hurling League medals, and is named Hurler of the Year at the age of thirty-eight. He plays his last game for Cork in June 1963. After indicating his willingness to line out for the team once again in 1964, Ring fails to be selected for the Cork team, a move which effectively brings his inter-county career to an end.

After being chosen as a substitute on the Munster GAA inter-provincial team in 1941, Ring is an automatic choice on the starting fifteen for the following twenty-two years. He scores 42-105 as he wins a record eighteen Railway Cup medals during that period, in an era when his skill and prowess draw crowds of up to 50,000 to Croke Park for the annual final on St. Patrick’s Day. Ring’s retirement from the game is often cited as a contributory factor in the decline of the once prestigious championship.

In retirement from playing Ring becomes involved in team management and coaching. As a mentor to the St. Finbarr’s College senior team, he guides them to their first two All-Ireland and Harty Cup triumphs in 1963 and 1969. At club level Ring is instrumental as a selector with Glen Rovers when they claim their inaugural All-Ireland title in 1973, having earlier annexed the Munster and county senior championship titles. It is with the Cork senior team that he enjoys his greatest successes as a selector. After an unsuccessful campaign in his first season on the selection panel in 1973, Ring is dropped the following year before being reinstated in 1975. Over the next three years Cork claims three successive All-Ireland titles.

Ring is most famous for his scoring prowess, physical strength, and career longevity. He remains the only player to have competed at inter-county level in four different decades. Often the target of public attention for his hurling exploits, in private Ring is a shy and reserved individual. A teetotaller and non-smoker throughout his life, he is also a devout Roman Catholic.

On Friday, March 2, 1979, Ring has a scheduled appointment with his doctor and former teammate Dr. Jim Young in Cork city centre. As he is walking past the Cork College of Commerce on Morrisson’s Island at 3:30 PM he suffers a massive heart attack and collapses. He is taken by ambulance to the South Infirmary Hospital but is pronounced dead on arrival.

Ring’s sudden death and the scenes which follow at his funeral are unprecedented in Cork since the death of the martyred Lord Mayor of Cork Tomás Mac Curtain in 1920. He is posthumously honoured by being named on the Hurling Team of the Century in 1984 and the Hurling Team of the Millennium in 2000, while he is also named as the Century’s Best Hurler in The Irish Times.