seamus dubhghaill

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

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The Battle of Brunswick Street

*The Battle of Brunswick Street occurs in Dublin on March 14, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

British authorities hang six Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers in Mountjoy Gaol for crimes of high treason and murder on the morning of March 14, 1921. The Volunteers, including Francis Xavier Flood, Thomas Bryan, Patrick Doyle, Bernard Ryan and Dermot O’Sullivan, had been captured in an ambush at Drumcondra two months earlier.

The gates of Mountjoy Gaol are opened at 8:25 AM and news of the executions is read out to the distraught relatives of the dead. As many as 40,000 people gather outside the prison and many mournfully say the Rosary for the executed men.

By evening, the streets clear rapidly as the British-imposed curfew comes into effect at 9:00 PM each night. During this period, the city is a fearful place, patrolled by regular British troops and the much-feared paramilitary police, the Auxiliary Division, as people scurry home and await IRA retaliation for the hangings, which is not long in coming.

That very evening, IRA captain Peadar O’Meara sends as many as thirty-four IRA men out to attack police or military targets. They are armed with the standard urban guerrilla arms of easily hidden handguns and grenades. One young Volunteer, Sean Dolan, throws a grenade at a police station on nearby Merrion Square, which bounces back before it explodes, blowing off his own leg.

At around 8:00 PM, with the curfew fast approaching, a company of Auxiliaries based in Dublin Castle is sent to the area to investigate the explosion. It consists of one Rolls Royce armoured car and two trucks holding about sixteen men. Apparently the Auxiliaries have some inside information as they head straight for the local IRA headquarters at 144 Great Brunswick Street, now Pearse Street. One later testifies in court that “I had been notified there were a certain number of gunmen there.”

The IRA is expecting the Auxiliaries. As soon as the Auxiliaries approach the building, fire is opened on them from three sides. What is described in newspapers as a “hail of fire” tears into the Auxiliaries’ vehicles. Five of the eight Auxiliaries in the first truck are hit in the opening fusillade, two of them fatally injured. The IRA fighters, however, are seriously outgunned. The Rolls Royce armoured car is impervious to small arms fire (except its tires, which are shot out) but mounts a Vickers heavy machine gun which sprays the surrounding houses with bullets. The uninjured Auxiliaries also clamber out of their trucks and return fire at the gun flashes from street corners and rooftops.

Civilian passersby fling themselves to the ground to avoid the bullets but four are hit, by which side it is impossible to tell. The British military court of inquiry into the incident finds that the civilians had been killed by persons unknown, if by the IRA then they were “murdered,” if hit by Auxiliaries the shootings were “accidental.”

The gunfire lasts only five minutes but in that time seven people, including the two Auxiliaries, are killed or fatally wounded and at least six more wounded. Three civilians lay dead on the street – Thomas Asquith is a 68-year-old caretaker, David Kelly is a prominent Sinn Féin member and head of the Sinn Féin bank, and Stephen Clarke, aged 22, is an ex-soldier and may have been the individual who tipped off the Auxiliaries about the whereabouts of the IRA meeting house. An internal IRA report notes that he is “under observation, as he was a tout for the enemy.” The wounded are spirited away by sympathetic fire brigade members and members of Cumann na mBan and treated at nearby Mercer’s Hospital.

Two IRA men are captured as they flee the scene. Thomas Traynor, a 40-year-old veteran of the Easter Rising, is carrying an automatic pistol, but claims to have had no part in the ambush itself. He had, he maintains, simply been asked to bring in the weapon to 144 Great Brunswick Street. The other is Joseph Donnelly a youth of just 17 years of age.

As most of the IRA fighters get away through houses, over walls and into backstreets, the Auxiliaries ransack St. Andrew’s Catholic Hall at 144 Great Brunswick Street but find little of value. Regular British Army troops quickly arrive from nearby Beggars Bush Barracks and cordon off the area, but no further arrests are made. Desultory sniping carries on in the city for several hours into the night.

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First Performance of Handel’s Messiah

george-friedrich-handelGeorge Friedrich Handel’s Messiah is performed for the first time at Mr. Neale’s Great Musick Hall on Fishamble Street in Dublin on April 13, 1742. It receives its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gains in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

Handel decides to give a season of concerts in Dublin in the winter of 1741–42 arising from an invitation from the Duke of Devonshire, then serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. After arriving in Dublin on November 18, 1741, Handel arranges a subscription series of six concerts, to be held between December 1741 and February 1742 at the Great Musick Hall on Fishamble Street. These concerts are so popular that a second series is quickly arranged. Messiah figures in neither series.

In early March, Handel begins discussions with the appropriate committees for a charity concert, to be given in April, at which he intends to present Messiah. He seeks and is given permission from St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral to use their choirs for this occasion. The women soloists are Christina Maria Avoglio, who sang the main soprano roles in the two subscription series, and Susannah Cibber, an established stage actress and contralto who sang in the second series. The performance, also in the Fishamble Street hall, is originally announced for April 12, but is deferred for one day “at the request of persons of Distinction.” The orchestra in Dublin, the exact size of which is unknown, is comprised of strings, two trumpets, and timpani. Handel has his own organ shipped to Ireland for the performances.

The three charities benefit from the performance – the prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary. In its report on a public rehearsal, the Dublin News-Letter describes the oratorio as “… far surpassing anything of that Nature which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom.” Seven hundred people attend the premiere on April 13. In order to accommodate the largest possible audience, gentlemen are requested to remove their swords and ladies are asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. The performance earns unanimous praise from the assembled press: “Words are wanting to express the exquisite delight it afforded to the admiring and crowded Audience.” A Dublin clergyman, Rev. Delaney, is so overcome by Susanna Cibber’s rendering of “He was despised” that he reportedly leaps to his feet and cries, “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!” The takings amount to around £400, providing about £127 to each of the three nominated charities and securing the release of 142 indebted prisoners.

Handel remains in Dublin for four months after the premiere. He organises a second performance of Messiah on June 3, which is announced as “the last Performance of Mr. Handel’s during his Stay in this Kingdom.” In this second Messiah, which is for Handel’s private financial benefit, Cibber reprises her role from the first performance, although details of other performers are not recorded.