seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Cathal Brugha, Revolutionary & Politician

cathal-brugha-1Cathal Brugha, Irish revolutionary and republican politician, dies in Dublin on July 7, 1922 from injuries received two day earlier when shot by Irish Free State forces on O’Connell Street.

Brugha is born Charles William St. John Burgess of mixed Roman Catholic and Protestant parentage in Dublin on July 18, 1874. He attends Colmkille Schools until 1888 when he is admitted to Belvedere College. He intends to study medicine but this does not come to fruition after his father’s business fails in 1890. He is seen as an austere figure, not very different from Éamon de Valera, and is known not to smoke cigarettes, swear or drink alcohol.

In 1899, Brugha joins the Gaelic League, and he subsequently changes his name from Charles Burgess to Cathal Brugha. He meets his future wife, Caitlín Kingston, at an Irish class in Birr, County Offaly, and they marry in 1912. The marriage produces six children. He becomes actively involved in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in 1913 he becomes a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers. He leads a group of twenty Volunteers to receive the arms smuggled into Ireland in the Howth gun-running of 1914.

Brugha is second-in-command at the South Dublin Union under Commandant Éamonn Ceannt in the Easter Rising of 1916. On the Thursday of Easter Week, being badly wounded, he is unable to leave when the retreat is ordered. Brugha, weak from loss of blood, continues to fire upon the enemy and is found by Eamonn Ceannt singing “God Save Ireland” with his pistol still in his hands. He recovers over the next year, but is left with a permanent limp.

Brugha proposes a Republican constitution at the 1917 Sinn Féin convention, which is unanimously accepted. In October 1917, he becomes Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and holds that post until March 1919.

Brugha is elected as a Sinn Féin MP for the County Waterford constituency at the 1918 Irish general election. In January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs refuse to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assemble at the Mansion House in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament called Dáil Éireann. Owing to the absence of Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, he presides over the first meeting of Dáil Éireann on January 21, 1919.

Brugha is elected Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann at its first meeting on January 21, 1919, and he reads out the Declaration of Independence in Irish, which ratifies “the establishment of the Irish Republic.” On the following day he is appointed president of the ministry pro tempore. He retains this position until April 1, 1919, when Éamon de Valera takes his place.

Brugha has differences with Michael Collins, who, although nominally only the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) Director of Intelligence, has far more influence in the organisation as a result of his position as a high-ranking member of the IRB, an organisation that Brugha sees as undermining the power of the Dáil and especially the Ministry for Defence. He opposes the oath of allegiance required for membership of the IRB. In 1919, his proposition that all Volunteers should swear allegiance to the Irish Republic and the Dáil is adopted.

At a top-level IRA meeting in August 1920, Brugha argues against ambushes of Crown forces unless there is first a call to surrender, but it is dismissed as unrealistic by the brigade commanders present. He also has the idea of moving the front line of the war to England, but is opposed by Collins.

On January 7, 1922, Brugha votes against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. During the Treaty debates, he points out that Collins has only a middling rank in the Department for Defence, which supervises the IRA, even though Griffith hails him as “the man who had won the war.” It is argued that, by turning the issue into a vote on Collins’ popularity, Brugha swings the majority against his own side. Frank O’Connor, in his biography of Collins, states that two delegates who had intended to vote against the Treaty changed sides in sympathy with Collins. Brugha leaves the Dáil and is replaced as Minister for Defence by Richard Mulcahy.

In the months between the Treaty debates and the outbreak of Irish Civil War, Brugha attempts to dissuade his fellow anti-treaty army leaders, including Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey, from taking up arms against the Free State. When the IRA occupies the Four Courts, he and Oscar Traynor call on them to abandon their position. When they refuse, Traynor orders the occupation of the area around O’Connell Street in the hope of easing the pressure on the Four Courts and of forcing the Free State to negotiate.

On June 28, 1922, Brugha is appointed commandant of the forces in O’Connell Street. The outbreak of the Irish Civil War ensues in the first week of July when Free State forces commence shelling of the anti-treaty positions.

Most of the anti-Treaty fighters under Traynor escape from O’Connell Street when the buildings they are holding catch fire, leaving Brugha in command of a small rearguard. On July 5, he orders his men to surrender, but refuses to do so himself. He then approaches the Free State troops, brandishing a revolver. He sustains a bullet wound to the leg which “severed a major artery causing him to bleed to death.” He dies on July 7, 1922, eleven days before his 48th birthday. He had been re-elected as an anti-Treaty TD at the 1922 Irish general election but dies before the Dáil assembles. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


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Birth of Kevin Christopher O’Higgins, Politician

iohiggs001p1Kevin Christopher O’Higgins, Irish politician who serves as Minister for Economic Affairs from January 1922 to September 1922, Minister for External Affairs from June 1927 to July 1927, Minister for Justice from August 1922 to July 1927 and Vice-President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State from 1922 to 1927, is born in Stradbally, Queen’s County (County Laois since 1922) on June 7, 1892. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1921 to 1927 and is a Member of Parliament (MP) for Queen’s County from 1918 to 1921.

A man of intellectual power, O’Higgins is described by William Butler Yeats as “a great man in his pride confronting murderous men.” He is in fact murdered by maverick republicans while on his way to church.

Educated at University College Dublin, O’Higgins is apprenticed to his uncle, a lawyer. Following the Easter Rising in 1916, he joins the Sinn Féin nationalist movement and is imprisoned. In 1918, while still in jail, he is elected to Parliament from Queen’s County, and in the next year he becomes assistant to the minister of local government, William Thomas Cosgrave. He goes on to become a prominent member of Cumann na nGaedheal.

O’Higgins supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty with Great Britain that creates the Irish Free State. In 1922 he is appointed Minister for Economic Affairs and Vice-President of the Executive Council. He helps to draft the Irish Free State constitution and secures its passage through Dáil Éireann, lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. Working for a united Ireland within the British Commonwealth, he plays an important part in the 1926 Imperial Conference. He also prominently represents the Free State in the League of Nations.

As Minister for Justice, O’Higgins establishes the Garda Síochána police force and takes summary measures to restore order following the civil war between the Free State forces and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). His role in the execution of 77 republicans in 1922–23 makes him many enemies, as does his sardonic wit, his inflammatory speeches during the civil war, and his curtailment of the liquor trade.

On Sunday, July 10, 1927, O’Higgins is assassinated at the age of 35 on the Booterstown Avenue side of Cross Avenue in Dublin, while on his way to Mass at the Church of the Assumption. The assassination is carried out by three anti-Treaty members of the IRA, Timothy Coughlan, Bill Gannon and Archie Doyle, in revenge for O’Higgins’ part in the executions of the 77 IRA prisoners during the Irish Civil War.

None of the three assassins is ever apprehended or charged, but Coughlan, a member of Fianna Fáil as well as the IRA, is killed in 1928 in Dublin by a police undercover agent whom he is attempting to murder. The other two benefit from the amnesty to IRA members issued by Éamon de Valera, upon his assumption of power in 1932. Gannon, who dies in 1965, joins the Communist Party of Ireland and plays a central role in organising Irish volunteers for the Spanish Civil War. Doyle remains a prominent IRA militant and takes part in various acts in the early 1940s. He lives to an old age, dying in 1980, and continues to take pride in having killed O’Higgins.


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The Coagh Ambush

coagh-county-tyroneThe Coagh ambush takes place in Coagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on June 3, 1991, during The Troubles, when a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) active service unit from its East Tyrone Brigade is ambushed by the British Army‘s Special Air Service (SAS) while on its way to kill a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The ambush results in the deaths of all three IRA men involved.

The series of killings which lead to the Coagh ambush begin on April 26 1988, when a 23-year-old UDR soldier from Coagh, Edward Gibson, is shot dead by an IRA unit at Ardboe while at work for Cookstown Council on a bin lorry. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by murdering Phelim McNally, brother of local Sinn Féin councillor Francie McNally, on November 24, 1988. This is followed by an IRA attack upon a car maintenance garage business owned by retired UDR soldier Leslie Dallas on March 7, 1989, in which Dallas, along with two civilian pensioners that are in the premises at the time of the attack, are all murdered by machine gun fire from a passing vehicle, the IRA attackers driving off afterwards cheering as reported by eyewitnesses in the vicinity.

The tit-for-tat campaign around Coagh continues on November 29 1989, when UVF gunmen attack a pub owned by IRA member Liam Ryan, shooting Ryan dead. A customer in the premises is also killed in the incident. On March 8, 1990, part-time UDR soldier and construction worker Thomas Jamison is killed by the IRA in a gun and grenade ambush attack on a lorry he is driving near Donaghmore, while delivering concrete to a British Army base. On March 3, 1991, the Ulster Volunteer Force carries out an attack at the village of Cappagh, killing three IRA members. On April 9, 1991, the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade shoots dead Derek Ferguson in Coagh, a cousin of local Member of Parliament Reverend William McCrea, stating afterward that he was a paramilitary with the Ulster Volunteer Force. Ferguson’s family subsequently refutes that he had anything to do with Loyalist paramilitarism.

At 7:30 AM on June 3, 1991, three Tyrone IRA paramilitaries, Tony Doris (21), Michael “Pete” Ryan (37) and Lawrence McNally (39), drive a stolen Vauxhall Cavalier from Moneymore, County Londonderry to the village of Coagh, crossing the border of counties Londonderry and Tyrone, to kill a part-time Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, who is in his civilian life a contractor that works with the security forces. Their intent, however, is known to the British security forces, having been revealed by either a Crown agent within the IRA itself or from covert technical surveillance. In consequence a detachment from the British Army’s Special Air Service is lying in wait on both sides of Coagh’s main street, and also in a red Bedford lorry at the scene.

The stolen car is driven by Doris towards the centre of the village, its journey from Moneymore being tracked on the ground and in the air. At the scene of the ambush the British Army has set up a “decoy” target for the IRA to go for in the form of an SAS trooper who is pretending to be their intended victim, sitting in his car at a regular spot while waiting to pick up a friend on their way to work, which IRA intelligence had established as a behavioral pattern of their intended victim. When the stolen car carrying the IRA men approaches the scene, the Special Air Service detachment opens sustained automatic fire upon it from close range. Doris is immediately hit and the out-of-control car crashes into two nearby parked cars. The shooting continues until the car explodes in flames. According to an eyewitness, one of the IRA men in the car returns fire from within the vehicle after the crash.

Some reports claim at least two of the IRA men attempt to exit the crashed car and are subsequently found lying half out of its doors by the later police investigation of the scene. Relatives of the IRA men subsequently state that they had received information from the scene that two of the IRA attackers had fled on foot from the car after the crash, but had been pursued after and shot down by the British Army in the vicinity, with their bodies being taken back to the car, which is subsequently reported to be riddled with over 200 bullet holes. A Royal Ulster Constabulary crime-scene report states that a balaclava belonging to one of the IRA men is found some distance away from the vehicle.

The bodies of Doris, Ryan and McNally are badly burned and have to be identified by police using their dental records. Two rifles are recovered from within the burned-out stolen car and subsequent police forensic examination reveals that they had both been used in the multiple murders at Leslie Dallas’s garage in March 1989.

(Pictured: Looking towards Coagh village, from the County Londonderry side)


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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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Resignation of John Miller Andrews, 2nd Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

john-miller-andrewsJohn Miller Andrews, the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, resigns on April 28, 1943 and is succeeded by Sir Basil Brooke, later Lord Brookeborough.

Andrews is born in Comber, County Down, on July 17, 1871, the eldest child in the family of four sons and one daughter of Thomas Andrews, flax spinner, and his wife Eliza Pirrie, a sister of William Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff. He is named after his maternal great-uncle, John Miller of Comber (1795–1883). As a young man, with his parents and family, he is a committed and active member of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. He regularly attends Sunday worship in the church built on land donated by his great-grandfather James Andrews in his home town Comber.

Andrews is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In business, he is a landowner, a director of his family linen-bleaching company and of the Belfast Ropeworks. His younger brother, Thomas Andrews, who dies in the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, is managing director of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Another brother, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, is Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

In 1902 Andrews marries Jessie Ormrod, eldest daughter of Bolton stockbroker Joseph Ormrod at Rivington Unitarian Chapel, Rivington, near Chorley, Lancashire, England. They have one son and two daughters. His younger brother, Sir James, marries Jessie’s sister.

Andrews is elected as a member of parliament in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, sitting from 1921 until 1953 (for Down from 1921–1929 and for Mid Down from 1929–1953). He is a founder member of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, which he chairs, and is Minister of Labour from 1921 to 1937. He is Minister of Finance from 1937 to 1940, succeeding to the position on the death of Hugh MacDowell Pollock. On the death of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, in 1940, he becomes leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

In April 1943 backbench dissent forces him from office. He is replaced as Prime Minister by Sir Basil Brooke. Andrews remains, however, the recognised leader of the UUP for three more years. Five years later he becomes the Grand Master of the Orange Order.  Throughout his life he is deeply involved in the Orange Order. He holds the positions of Grand Master of County Down from 1941 and Grand Master of Ireland (1948–1954). In 1949 he is appointed Imperial Grand Master of the Grand Orange Council of the World.

From 1949, he is the last parliamentary survivor of the original 1921 Northern Ireland Parliament, and as such is recognised as the Father of the House. He is the only Prime Minister of Northern Ireland not to have been granted a peerage. His predecessor and successor received hereditary viscountcies, and later prime ministers are granted life peerages.

Andrews serves on the Comber Congregational Committee from 1896 until his death, holding the position of Chairman from 1935 onward. He dies in Comber on August 5, 1956 and is buried in the small graveyard adjoining the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.


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Phillip O’Reilly Surrenders to the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland

settlement-of-ireland-1653The last major body of Irish Catholic troops under Phillip O’Reilly surrender to the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland at Cloughoughter in County Cavan on April 27, 1653. This marks the end of the Irish Confederate Wars which began in 1641.

Colonel Philip O’Reilly is a member of parliament (MP) for County Cavan in the Parliament of Ireland from 1639 to 1641, and a leading member of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

O’Reilly’s father, grandfather and several other ancestors are chiefs of the O’Reilly clan and Lords of Breifne O’Reilly. His mother is Catherine MacMahon. He resides at Bellanacargy Castle in the barony of Tullygarvey, near to present day village of Drung. Bellanacargy castle, anciently referred to as Ballynacarraig because it was built on a carraig (rock island) situated in the middle of the River Annalee, is destroyed in May 1689 by Williamite forces led by Thomas Lloyd.

As a young man O’Reilly serves for some time in the Spanish army but returns to Ireland. He is appointed Commissioner of the Peace in 1625 and High Sheriff of Cavan in 1629. He is elected as MP for County Cavan in 1639.

During the Parliamentary session of 1640 O’Reilly is enlisted by Rory O’Moore in the plot to start a rebellion against English rule in Ireland. O’Moore is a distant relation as his sister Cecilia O’Moore is married to O’Reilly’s first cousin, Tirlagh O’Neill. On the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion in October 1641 he is elected chief of the O’Reillys. As a result, the Irish Parliament expels him on November 16, 1641. On November 6, 1641 he orders a general gathering of his clansmen from 16 to 60 years of age, to be held at Virginia, and on December 11, 1641 he has possession of the whole county, except the Killeshandra castles of Keelagh and Croghan which are defended by Sir Francis Hamilton and Sir James Craig. He raises a brigade of twelve hundred men, composed chiefly of his name and family, and serves with distinction as lieutenant-general in the service of the Confederate Catholics of Ireland. The Assembly of Kilkenny appoints him Lord President of Ulster. His second cousin Myles O’Reilly is High Sheriff of Cavan in 1641 at the outbreak of the Rebellion.

O’Reilly is detained for treason by the English government in 1642. In his diary for June 3, 1644, the historian Sir James Ware II states, “Intelligence came to Dublin that Roger Moore and Philip O’Reilly, two of the first incendiaries were committed to prison at Kilkenny.” O’Reilly is further denounced by the Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 at the end of the rebellion. Following the collapse of the Irish confederacy, he formally surrenders to Oliver Cromwell at Cloughoughter Castle on April 27, 1653, being the last Irish garrison to do so. He secures favourable terms and is obliged to leave Ireland. He retires with his brigade into Spain and thence to the Netherlands, where he serves in the Spanish army for about two years and dies in 1655. He is buried in the Irish monastery of St. Dominick in Leuven, Belgium.


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Death of Captain William O’Shea

william-o-sheaCaptain William Henry O’Shea, Irish soldier and Member of Parliament (MP), dies in Hove on the south coast of England on April 22, 1905. He is best known for being the ex-husband of Katharine O’Shea, the long-time mistress of the Irish nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell.

Born in Dublin in 1840, O’Shea is a captain in the 18th Royal Hussars of the British Army.

Around 1880, O’Shea’s wife, Katharine O’Shea, enters into a relationship with the Irish nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, with whom she has three children. O’Shea, who is already separated from his wife, is aware of the relationship.

In 1882 when the Liberal Government is secretly negotiating with Parnell for the terms of his release from Kilmainham Gaol where he is being held on suspicion of “treasonable practices”, the President of the Board of Trade Joseph Chamberlain chooses O’Shea as its intermediary, unaware of Parnell’s affair with Mrs. O’Shea or of the fact that the newly born first child of their liaison is dying. O’Shea spends six hours negotiating with Parnell in the prison, extracting the surprising concession that Parnell would tacitly support the Government after his release. It has been suggested that O’Shea won this concession, which reflected well on him, by threatening Parnell with public exposure of his affair with Mrs O’Shea.

In 1886, following insinuations of the Parnell affair and O’Shea’s complicity in it appearing in The Pall Mall Gazette, O’Shea abstains from voting on the Irish Home Rule bill and resigns his parliamentary seat the following day. However, he only files for divorce in 1890 after his wife’s aunt, from whom he is expecting a large inheritance, dies in 1889 leaving her estate in trust for his wife, thus allegedly violating the terms of O’Shea’s marriage contract. However, that will is overturned upon appeal, and the aunt’s legacy is shared among Katharine O’Shea’s siblings.

After the divorce the two surviving children of Parnell and Katharine O’Shea are given into Captain O’Shea’s custody.

O’Shea is MP for Clare from 1880 to 1885 and Galway Borough for a short period in 1886. Although supported by Parnell, he is never a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party.


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Terence O’Neill Becomes Fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Captain_Terence_O%27Neill.jpgTerence O’Neill becomes the fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland on March 25, 1963 following the resignation of Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough. He plays a significant role in the first year of the Troubles, trying unsuccessfully to stem growing sectarian violence.

O’Neill is born on September 10, 1914 at 29 Ennismore Gardens, Hyde Park, London, the son of Captain Arthur O’Neill of Shane’s Castle, Randalstown, the first member of parliament (MP) to be killed in action in World War I five months later. He is educated in the English public school system at West Downs SchoolWinchester and Eton College, spending his summer holidays at the family estate in Ulster. He is later commissioned in the British Army, rising to the rank of captain and serving with the Irish Guards in World War II. He is wounded in 1944 and opts to resettle permanently in Northern Ireland.

In 1946, O’Neill is elected to the Parliament of Northern Ireland, representing the Unionist stronghold of Bannside. He remains in the parliament at Stormont for almost 25 years. He becomes Northern Ireland’s Minister of Home Affairs in April 1956, Minister of Finance in September 1956 and Prime Minister in March 1963.

As Prime Minister, O’Neill introduces economic reforms to stimulate industrial growth and employment, with mixed results. He also tries narrowing the divide between Protestants and Catholics. He does this with important gestures, like visiting Catholic schools and expressing condolences on the death of Pope John XXIII.

O’Neill also seeks better relations with the Republic of Ireland, and in January 1965 invites Taoiseach Seán Lemass to Belfast. Catholics and moderate Unionists welcome this reconciliation but many conservative Loyalists, like Ian Paisley, condemn it as treachery.

When the civil rights movement erupts in the late 1960s, O’Neill offers a package of reforms and concessions, including changes to the allocation of housing. These proposals, however, anger staunch Unionists and fail to satisfy many Republicans.

In December 1969, O’Neill appears on Northern Ireland television and makes an impassioned plea for unity, warning that “Ulster stands at the crossroads.” His government is reelected in February 1969, though O’Neill himself is almost voted out of his own seat.

With the situation worsening, O’Neill is further embarrassed by Loyalist attempts to sabotage Belfast’s water supply. Fast losing the confidence of his own party, he resigns the prime ministership in April 1969. He remains in the parliament until January 1970.

O’Neill is made Baron O’Neill of the Maine and spends the last decade of his life in Britain’s House of Lords. He dies of cancer on June 12, 1990.


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Birth of Irish Nationalist Bobby Sands

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on March 9, 1954 at Abbots Cross, NewtownabbeyCounty Antrim, outside Belfast.

Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of Balmoral Furniture Company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at the Long Kesh Detention Centre, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H-Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.


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Imprisonment of Fenian Charles Kickham

charles-kickhamSentenced to fourteen years hard labour for treason, Irish nationalist and Fenian Charles Kickham is incarcerated in Pentonville Prison on February 10, 1865. He is released in 1869, partly due to ill health. He is a contributor to The Irish People and the organiser of the Fenian movement and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), which the English authorities deem seditious. He also authors a number of novels including the critically acclaimed Knocknagow (1873).

The revolutionary movement which comes to be known as Fenianism is unlike that of 1848 in the character of its leaders. The older political agitation is associated with a brilliant outburst of intellectual effort. The majority of the leaders have left behind high intellectual heritage, or asserted under other skies, and in more favourable circumstances, their possession of great intellectual powers. The Fenian movement, on the other hand, is poor in its literary products. Few of its leading spirits reach to any lofty position since its collapse. The best part of Fenian literature is found in The Irish People, the journalistic organ of the association. Along with Kickham, the chief contributors to the journal are Thomas Clarke Luby and John O’Leary.

Kickham is born at Mullenahone, County Tipperary on May 9, 1828. At the age of thirteen he meets with an accident that deprives him of his hearing. He probably owes the many fine productions of his pen to this accident. At around 18 year of age he begins to contribute poems and tales to Irish journals and magazines and when The Irish People is started he becomes one of its chief lead writers. As a result of his involvement in the Fenian movement, he draws the attention of the government and is tried, convicted and sentenced to fourteen years of penal servitude. His comment at the conclusion of the trial is terse: “I have endeavoured to serve Ireland, and now I am prepared to suffer for Ireland.” Four years after his conviction he is released.

Kickham publishes two complete stories, Sally Cavanagh, or The Untenanted Graves, and Knocknagow, or The Homes of Tipperary. These stories have been read wherever there is an Irish home, and have made sad or joyous thousands of Irish hearts. They have also found approval in the columns of English and not friendly journals, which have found themselves able to meet him in friendliness on the impartial ground of literature. His books deserve their popularity with the peasant and the approval of the critic. His pictures of life, especially of peasant life, are wonderfully true to nature, full of keen observation, humour, and fidelity. In his attention to minute details and homely incident he resembles in a great degree the style of Erckmann-Chatrian.

Kickham’s ballads are equally popular, and are just what ballads for the people should be – simple in language, direct in purpose, and in an easy and common measure. A collected edition of his works is published by Duffy & Son of Dublin.

Charles Kickham dies at the age of 54 on August 22, 1882 at the house of James O’Connor, a former member of the IRB and afterwards MP for Wicklow, 2 Montpelier Place, Blackrock, Dublin, where he had been living for many years and had been cared for by the poet Rose Kavanagh. He is buried in Mullinahone, County Tipperary.

(From: The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 4, edited by T. P. O’Connor)