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


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Birth of Dan Breen, IRA Volunteer & Fianna Fáil Politician

Irish republican Dan Breen (1967)Daniel “Dan” Breen, volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, is born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary, on August 11, 1894. In later years, he is a Fianna Fáil politician.

Breen’s father dies when he is six, leaving the family very poor. He is educated locally before becoming a plasterer and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.

Breen is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On January 21, 1919, the day the First Dáil meets in Dublin, Breen takes part in the Soloheadbeg Ambush. The ambush party of eight men, led by Seán Treacy, attacks two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men who are escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, are fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the Irish War of Independence.

During the conflict, the British put a £1,000 price on Breen’s head, which is later increased to £10,000. He quickly establishes himself as a leader within the Irish Republican Army. He is known for his courage. On May 13, 1919 he helps rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick. Breen, who is wounded, remembers how the battalion is “vehemently denounced as a cold-blooded assassins” and roundly condemned by the Catholic Church. After the fight, Treacy, Séumas Robinson, and Breen meet Michael Collins in Dublin, where they are told to make themselves scarce although they do not necessarily agree.

Breen and Sean Treacy shoot their way out through a British military cordon in the northern suburb of Drumcondra (Fernside). They escape, only for Treacy to be killed the next day. Breen is shot at least four times, twice in the lung.

The British reaction is to make Tipperary a “Special Military Area,” with curfews and travel permits. Volunteer GHQ authorises entrerprising attacks on barracks. The British policy forces Breen and Treacy to retreat to Dublin. They join Michael Collins’ Squad of assassins, later known as the Dublin Guard, and Dublin becomes the centre of the war.

Breen is present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage is killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount John French. The IRA hides behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles drives past. They have been instructed to ignore the first car but this contains their target, Lord French. Their roadblock fails as a policeman removes the horse and cart intended to stop the car.

Breen utterly rejects the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which makes him, like many others, angry and embittered. In the June 1922 elections Breen is nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, but is not elected.

Breen is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Breen joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in the civil war, fighting against those of his former comrades in arms who support the Treaty. He is arrested by the National Army of the Irish Free State and interned at Limerick Prison. He spends two months there before going on hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days, prompting his release.

Breen writes a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, in 1924. He represents Tipperary from the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a Republican with Éamon de Valera and Frank Aiken. He is defeated in the June 1927 general election and travels to the United States where he opens a prohibition speakeasy. In 1932 he returns to Ireland and regains his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year’s general election. During World War II he is said to hold largely pro-Axis views. He represents his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.

Breen dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969 and is buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral is the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms Seán Treacy at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assemble in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.

Breen is the subject of a 2007 biography Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose.

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Douglas Hyde Inaugurated First President of Ireland

douglas-hydeDr. Douglas Hyde, Gaelic scholar from County Roscommon, is inaugurated as the first President of Ireland on June 25, 1938.

Hyde is born at Longford House in Castlerea, County Roscommon, on January 17, 1860. In 1867, his father is appointed prebendary and rector of Tibohine, and the family moves to neighbouring Frenchpark, in County Roscommon. He is home schooled by his father and his aunt due to a childhood illness. While a young man, he becomes fascinated with hearing the old people in the locality speak the Irish language.

Rejecting family pressure to follow previous generations with a career in the Church, Hyde instead becomes an academic. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he gains a great facility for languages, learning Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and German, but his great passion in life is the preservation of the Irish language.

After spending a year teaching modern languages in Canada, Hyde returns to Ireland. For much of the rest of his life he writes and collects hundreds of stories, poems, and folktales in Irish, and translates others. His work in Irish helps to inspire many other literary writers, such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory.

In 1892, Hyde helps establish the Gaelic Journal and in November of that year writes a manifesto called The necessity for de-anglicising the Irish nation, arguing that Ireland should follow her own traditions in language, literature, and even in dress.

In 1893, Hyde founds the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) along with Eoin MacNeill and Fr. Eugene O’Growney and serves as its first president. Many of the new generation of Irish leaders who play a central role in the fight for Irish independence in the early twentieth century, including Patrick Pearse, Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, and Ernest Blythe first become politicised and passionate about Irish independence through their involvement in the Gaelic League. Hyde does not want the Gaelic League to be a political entity, so when the surge of Irish nationalism that the Gaelic League helps to foster begins to take control of many in the League and politicize it in 1915, Hyde resigns as president.

Hyde takes no active part in the armed upheaval of the 1910s and 1920s, but does serve in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Irish Free State‘s Oireachtas, as a Free State senator in 1925-26. He then returns to academia, as Professor of Irish at University College Dublin, where one of his students is future Attorney General and President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

In 1938, Hyde is unanimously elected to the newly created position of President of Ireland, a post he holds until 1945. He is inaugurated on June 26, 1938, in the first inaugural ceremony in the nation’s history. He sets a precedent by reciting the Presidential Declaration of Office in Irish. His recitation, in Roscommon Irish, is one of a few recordings of a dialect of which Hyde is one of the last speakers. Upon inauguration, he moves into the long vacant Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, since known as Áras an Uachtaráin.

Hyde’s selection and inauguration receive worldwide media attention and is covered by newspapers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and Egypt. Adolf Hitler “orders” the Berlin newspapers “to splash” on the Irish presidential installation ceremony. However, the British government ignores the event. The Northern Ireland Finance Minister, John Miller Andrews, described Hyde’s inauguration as a “slight on the King” and “a deplorable tragedy.”

Despite being placed in a position to shape the office of the presidency via precedent, Hyde by and large opts for a quiet, conservative interpretation of the office.

In April 1940 Hyde suffers a massive stroke and plans are made for his lying-in-state and state funeral, but to the surprise of everyone he survives, albeit paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. One of Hyde’s last presidential acts is a visit to the German ambassador Eduard Hempel on May 3, 1945 to offer his condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler, a visit which remains a secret until 2005.

Hyde leaves office on June 25, 1945, opting not to nominate himself for a second term. He opts not return to his Roscommon home due to his ill-health, but rather moves into the former Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant’s residence in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, where he lived out the remaining four years of his life.

Hyde dies in Dublin on July 12, 1949 at age 89. As a former President of Ireland he is accorded a state funeral which, as a member of the Church of Ireland, takes place in Dublin’s Church of Ireland St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Since contemporary rules of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland at the time prohibit Roman Catholics from attending services in non-Catholic churches, all but one member of the Catholic cabinet remain outside the cathedral grounds while Hyde’s funeral takes place. Hyde is buried in Frenchpark, County Roscommon at Portahard Church.


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Assassination of RIC Inspector Percival Lea-Wilson

percival-lea-wilsonPercival Lea-Wilson, a District Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) who is stationed at Gorey, County Wexford, is shot dead on June 15, 1920 by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) outside his Gorey home on the orders of Michael Collins.

Lea-Wilson is born in Kensington, London and is educated at the University of Oxford but his route into the British Army begins with a stint as a RIC constable in Charleville, County Cork in the early 20th century.

When World War I breaks out in 1914 Lea-Wilson joins the British army where he reaches the rank of captain in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. An injury during the war forces him back to Ireland where he is stationed in Dublin, just in time for the Easter Rising in 1916.

When the week long rising ends, the rebels who had fought in the Four Courts and the GPO are marched to the Rotunda Hospital where they are kept overnight under the glare of British troops. Among those detained are leaders of the rebellion such as Sean Mac Diarmada and Tom Clarke. Clarke is singled out and subjected to public humiliation by 28-year-old British army Captain Percival Lea-Wilson.

Lea-Wilson and his soldiers walk among the captured rebels and he picks the 58-year-old Clarke out of the group. He marches Clarke to the steps of the hospital where he orders soldiers to strip him bare as nurses look on in horror from the windows above. Clarke is beaten and left there overnight in his tattered clothes. One of the prisoners, Michael Collins, who witnesses Clarke’s mistreatment at the hands of the British captain vows vengeance.

In the years following the Easter Rising, Lea-Wilson settles in Wexford where he attains the role of RIC district inspector.

On the morning of June 15, 1920, Lea-Wilson is walking back home after paying a visit to the RIC barracks in Gorey. Dressed in his civilian clothes, he stops at the local railway station where he purchases a newspaper and meets Constable Alexander O’Donnell, who accompanies him on part of his walk home.

O’Donnell and Lea-Wilson part company at the railway bridge on Ballycanew Road while further up that very same stretch of road there is a number of men standing around a parked car with its hood raised. Michael Collins had sent Liam Tobin and Frank Thornton from Dublin to meet with Joe McMahon, Michael McGrath and Michael Sinnott in Enniscorthy. They were then driven by Jack Whelan to Ballycanew Road to carry out the assassination of Lea-Wilson.

Unaware of his assassins lying in wait , Lea-Wilson is reading his paper while strolling along the road. The men by the parked car pull out revolvers when their target comes into range and two bullets strike him down. He manages to quickly get back on his feet and attempts to make an escape but his six assassins run after him and finally bring him down in a hail of bullets. A coroner’s report later states that Lea-Wilson had been shot seven times.

When the shooting ends, one of Lea-Wilson’s executioners calmly walks up to the body to make sure he is dead. He then picks up the newspaper from the ground and takes it with him. Later that evening Michael Collins is in the Wicklow Hotel in Dublin when word reaches him from Wexford of the shooting death of Lea-Wilson. Collins greets the news with glee and mentions to one of his comrades, “Well we finally got him!”

Percival Lea-Wilson is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in southwest London. His grave is marked by a plaque which mentions his assassination in Gorey in 1920, a death which has its roots in the Easter Rising four years previously.


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Birth of Arthur Griffith, Founder of Sinn Féin

arthur-griffithArthur Joseph Griffith, writer, newspaper editor and politician who founded the political party Sinn Féin, is born in Dublin on March 31, 1871. He leads the Irish delegation at the negotiations that produce the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, and serves as President of Dáil Éireann from January 1922 until his death in August 1922.

Griffith, a Roman Catholic, is educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. He works for a time as a printer before joining the Gaelic League, which is aimed at promoting the restoration of the Irish language.

After a short spell in South Africa, Griffith founds and edits the Irish nationalist newspaper The United Irishman in 1899. In 1904, he writes The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland, which advocates the withdrawal of Irish members from the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the setting up of the institutions of government at home, a policy that becomes known as Sinn Féin (ourselves). On November 28, 1905, he presents “The Sinn Féin Policy” at the first annual Convention of the National Council. The occasion is marked as the founding date of the Sinn Féin party. Although the organization is still small at the time, Griffith takes over as president of Sinn Féin in 1911.

Griffith is arrested following the Easter Rising of 1916, despite not having taken any part in it. On his release, he works to build up Sinn Féin, which wins a string of by-election victories. At the party’s Ardfheis (annual convention) in October 1917, Sinn Féin becomes an unambiguously republican party, and Griffith resigns the presidency in favour of the 1916 leader Éamon de Valera, becoming vice-president instead. Griffith is elected as a member of parliament (MP) in June 1918, and is re-elected in the 1918 general election, when Sinn Féin wins a huge electoral victory over the Irish Parliamentary Party and, refusing to take their seats at Westminster, set up their own constituent assembly, Dáil Éireann.

In the Dáil, Griffith serves as Minister for Home Affairs from 1919 to 1921, and Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1921 to 1922. In September 1921, he is appointed chairman of the Irish delegation to negotiate a treaty with the British government. After months of negotiations, he and the other four delegates sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which creates the Irish Free State, but not as a republic. This leads to a split in the Dáil. After the Treaty is narrowly approved by the Dáil, de Valera resigns as president and Griffith is elected in his place. The split leads to the Irish Civil War.

Griffith enters St. Vincent’s Nursing Home, Leeson Street, Dublin, during the first week of August 1922, following an acute attack of tonsillitis. He is confined to his room by his doctors, who had observed signs of what they thought might be a subarachnoid hemorrhage. It is difficult to keep him quiet and he resumes his daily work in the government building. When about to leave for his office shortly before 10:00 AM on August 12, 1922, he pauses to retie his shoelace and falls down unconscious. He regains consciousness, but collapses again with blood coming from his mouth. Three doctors render assistance, but to no avail. Father John Lee of the Marist Fathers administers extreme unction, and Griffith expires as the priest recites the concluding prayer. The cause of death, cerebral hemorrhage, is also reported as being due to heart failure. He dies at the age of 51, ten days before Michael Collins‘ assassination in County Cork and two months after the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery four days later.


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Birth of Painter Sir John Lavery

john-laverySir John Lavery, Irish painter best known for his portraits and wartime depictions, is born in Belfast on March 20, 1856.

Lavery attends Haldane Academy in Glasgow in the 1870s and the Académie Julian in Paris in the early 1880s. He returns to Glasgow and is associated with the Glasgow School. In 1888 he is commissioned to paint the state visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry. This launches his career as a society painter and he moves to London soon thereafter. In London he becomes friends with James McNeill Whistler and is clearly influenced by him.

Like William Orpen, Lavery is appointed an official artist in World War I. Ill-health, however, prevents him from travelling to the Western Front. A serious car crash during a Zeppelin bombing raid also keeps him from fulfilling this role as war artist. He remains in Britain and mostly paints boats, aeroplanes, and airships. During the war years he is a close friend of H.H. Asquith‘s family and spends time with them at their Sutton Courtenay Thames-side residence, painting their portraits and idyllic pictures like Summer on the River (Hugh Lane Gallery).

After the war Lavery is knighted and in 1921 he is elected to the Royal Academy of Arts.

During this time, he and his wife, Hazel, are tangentially involved in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. They give the use of their London home to the Irish negotiators during the negotiations leading to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. After Michael Collins is assassinated, Lavery paints Michael Collins, Love of Ireland, now in the Hugh Lane Gallery. In 1929, Lavery makes substantial donations of his work to both the Ulster Museum and the Hugh Lane Gallery and in the 1930s he returns to Ireland. He receives honorary degrees from the University of Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast. He is also made a free man of both Dublin and Belfast. A long-standing member of Glasgow Art Club, Lavery exhibits at the club’s annual exhibitions, including its exhibition in 1939 in which his The Lake at Ranelagh is included.

Sir John Lavery dies of natural causes, at the age of 84, in Rossenarra House, Kilmoganny, County Kilkenny on January 10, 1941, and is interred in Putney Vale Cemetery.


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Murders of James Murphy & Patrick Kennedy

william-lorraine-kingRepublican activists James Murphy and Patrick Kennedy are murdered in Dublin on February 9, 1921.

Murphy and Kennedy are arrested by Auxiliaries in Dublin and are in the custody of ‘F’ Company of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC). Two hours later, constables of the Dublin Metropolitan Police find the two men lying shot, with pails on their heads, in Clonturk Park, Drumcondra. Kennedy is dead and Murphy is dying. Murphy dies in Mater Hospital, Dublin on February 11, but just before dying he testifies that Captain William Lorraine King, commanding officer of ‘F’ Company ADRIC, had taken them and stated that they were “just going for a drive.” King is arrested for the killings. King and two of his men, H. Hinchcliffe and F.J. Welsh are court-martialed on February 13-15 but are acquitted after Murphy’s dying declaration is ruled inadmissible, and two officers from ‘F’ Company provide perjured alibis for Captain King at the time of the shootings.

King is implicated and court-martialed for the deaths of Conor Clune, Peader Clancy, and Dick McKee, the latter two leading lights in the Dublin Irish Republican Army (IRA), the former a luckless Gaelic League member. All three are captured in Dublin on November 20, 1920, the day before Bloody Sunday. Clune is caught at Vaughn’s Hotel in Parnell Square, Dublin and the two IRA leaders at Lower Gloucester St., complete with British army officer uniforms and detonators. Sometime between then and the next day, as news no doubt filters in of the deaths of several British intelligence officers, the prisoners are killed in questionable circumstances in the Dublin Castle guard room. According to an official report from Dublin Castle, the prisoners attempt to grab rifles and hurl unfused grenades and are killed in that action. The guards of ‘F’ Company in the room at the time are cleared of wrongdoing by a court inquiry. A Major Reynolds of ‘F’ Company is said to pass details of the killers to Michael Collins. The Times notes that it seems as if the prisoners had been lined up and shot. In a later novel, Major Jocelyn Lee Hardy more or less confesses to the killing of one of the prisoners.

Ironically, Captain King is on Michael Collins list of British Intelligence officers to be executed on the morning of November 20, 1920. He is not in his room when the assassins arrive as he is interrogating the prisoners in Dublin Castle.

(Pictured: Major William Lorraine King, ‘F’ Company Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary)


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Death of Alan Rickman, Actor & Director

alan-rickmanAlan Sidney Patrick Rickman, English actor and director, dies in London on January 14, 2016.

Rickman is born into a working class family of Irish and Welsh descent in Hammersmith, London, on February 21, 1946. Rickman attends Derwentwater Primary School in Acton, and then Latymer Upper School in London through the Direct Grant system, where he becomes involved in drama. After leaving Latymer, he attends Chelsea College of Art and Design and then the Royal College of Art. After graduation, Rickman and several friends open a graphic design studio called Graphiti, but after three years of successful business, he decides that he is going to pursue acting professionally. He writes to request an audition with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), which he attends from 1972 until 1974.

Upon leaving the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Rickman becomes a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, performing in modern and classical theatre productions. His first big television role comes in 1982, but his big break is as the Vicomte de Valmont in the stage production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1985, for which he is nominated for a Tony Award.

Rickman’s first film role is as the German terrorist leader Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988). His other film roles include the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), for which he receives the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Elliott Marston in Quigley Down Under (1990), Jamie in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990), P.L. O’Hara in An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1995), Éamon de Valera in Neil Jordan‘s Michael Collins (1996), Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest (1999), Harry in Love Actually (2003) and Judge Turpin in the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim‘s musical of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). He gains further notice for his film performances as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. He also stars in television films, playing the title character in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny (1996), which wins him a Golden Globe Award, an Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award, and Dr. Alfred Blalock in the Emmy-winning Something the Lord Made (2004). His final film roles are as Lieutenant General Frank Benson in the thriller Eye in the Sky (2015), and the voice of Absolem, the caterpillar in Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016).

In August 2015, Rickman suffers a minor stroke, which leads to the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He reveals the fact that he has terminal cancer to only his closest confidants. He dies of pancreatic cancer on January 14, 2016 at the age of 69. His remains are cremated on February 3, 2016 in the West London Crematorium in Kensal Green. His ashes are given to his wife, Rima Horton. His final two films, Eye in the Sky and Alice Through the Looking Glass, are dedicated to his memory.