seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Darrell Figgis, Writer, Sinn Féin Activist & Parliamentarian

Darrell Edmund Figgis, Irish writer, Sinn Féin activist and independent parliamentarian in the Irish Free State, dies in London on October 27, 1925. The little that has been written about him has attempted to highlight how thoroughly his memory and works have been excised from Irish popular culture.

Figgis is born at Glen na Smoil, Palmerstown Park, Rathmines in Dublin, on September 17, 1882, the son of Arthur William Figges, tea merchant, and Mary Anne Deane. While still an infant, his family emigrates to Calcutta, India. There his father works as an agent in the tea business, founding A. W. Figgis & Co. They return when he is ten years of age, though his father continues to spend much of his time in India. As a young man he works in London at the tea brokerage owned by his uncle and it is at this time that he begins to develop his interest in literature and literary criticism.

In 1910 Figgis, with the help of G. K. Chesterton, who wrote the introduction to his first book of verse, joins the Dent publishing company. He moves to Achill Island in 1913 to write, learn the Irish language and gain an appreciation of Irish culture, as perceived by many of his contemporaries to uniquely exist on the western seaboard. On his detention following the 1916 Easter Rising, he and the publishing house parted company. Subsequently, he establishes his own firm in which he republishes the works of William Carleton and others.

Figgis joins the Irish Volunteers in Dublin in 1913 and organises the original Battalion of Volunteers in Achill, where he had built a house. While in London, he is contacted by The O’Rahilly, who acquaints him with the arms dealers who had supplied the Ulster Volunteers. In this way he becomes part of the London group that discusses the financing and supply of German rifles for the Volunteers. He travels with Erskine Childers, initially to Belgium and from there to Germany, to make the purchase of the army surplus Mauser rifles. He then charters the tug Gladiator, from which the arms are transferred at sea to the Childers’ yacht Asgard and Conor O’Brien‘s Kelpie.

At this time the Royal Navy is patrolling the Irish Sea in anticipation of imminent war with Germany, and Figgis is tasked with taking a motor boat to Lambay Island to signal to the Asgard the all-clear. By his own account, he is unable to persuade the skipper of the pilot vessel to put to sea as one of the worst storms in many years is raging. Due to luck and the skill of the crews, the three over-laden yachts arrive at their destinations. Figgis, accompanied by Seán McGarry, watch Asgard helplessly from Howth pier until Erskine decides to take a calculated risk and sails into the harbour. Against the odds, the conspiracy to buy rifles in Germany and land them safely in Ireland has succeeded. A large party of Volunteers, on their way to Dublin with rifles and ammunition is confronted by a detachment of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and Dublin Metropolitan Police. With their route blocked, Figgis and Thomas MacDonagh engage the officers in an attempt to distract them.

Although Figgis does not participate in the 1916 Easter Rising, he is arrested and interned by the British authorities between 1916 and 1917 in Reading Gaol. After his release, he returns to Ireland. At the 1917 Sinn Féin Ardfheis he and Austin Stack are elected Honorary Secretaries of the party. The conference sees Éamon de Valera replace Arthur Griffith as President of the party. Shortly after, Figgis is one of four recently released internees who travels to the South Longford constituency to campaign for Joseph McGuinness in the by-election caused by the death of John Phillips. The overwhelming victory of the Sinn Féin candidate over the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) nominee marks the beginning of the eclipse of the latter party by the former party. In May 1918, Figgis is arrested for his alleged part in the spurious German Plot a second time and again deported to England. In 1918, he becomes editor of the newspaper The Republic.

From September 1919 to 1921 Figgis heads the Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland. At this time a serious rift between Figgis and Michael Collins, then Minister for Finance, becomes a matter of public record. This close attention of Collins will pursue Figgis in his later activities on the Constitution Committee. While he is participating in a Dáil Court at Carrick-on-Shannon, the proceedings are interrupted by a British Army raid. An officer named Captain Cyril Crawford summarily condemns Figgis and Peadar Kearney to be hanged. He orders rope for the purpose, but another officer intervenes and Keaney and Figgis are set free.

Figgis supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He is extremely critical of the Collins/De Valera Pact for the June 1922 Irish general election which is an attempt to avoid a split in the Sinn Féin party and, more importantly, in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). On May 25, 1922 he attends a meeting of the executive council of the Farmers’ Union and representatives, of business interests, and encourages them to put forward candidates in constituencies where anti-Treaty candidates might otherwise head the poll. As he is a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle National Executive at the time, he is expelled from the party.

Soon after the signing of the Treaty, the necessity of quickly drafting a constitution for the proposed Free State becomes apparent. It is intended by Arthur Griffith that Figgis will chair the Constitution Committee, but this proposal is vetoed by Collins who nominates himself for the position specifically to minimise Figgis’ influence. The animosity between Collins and Figgis remained an undercurrent of the project. In the end, Collins decides the job should go to Captain David Robinson but this did nothing to heal rift between Figgis and James G. Douglas.

In the 1922 and 1923 Irish general elections Figgis runs and is elected an independent Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin County constituency. While still a TD, he stands in the 1925 Seanad election to Seanad Éireann, where he polls only 512 first preferences.

In December 1923, it is decided that a committee be established to investigate the means by which a public radio broadcasting service should be operated in the Free State. A central issue of contention is whether the service should be run and controlled directly by the State or operated commercially by an Irish Broadcasting Company. The latter option, it is suggested, would follow the model adopted in the UK by the establishment of the BBC. Figgis is co-opted onto the committee, and this decision leads to a series of allegations resulting in the new State’s first corruption scandal of which Figgis himself is the focus. The allegations result in his resignation from the Broadcasting committee and the launching of a second enquiry. He strenuously denies any impropriety.

On November 18, 1924, Figgis’s wife Millie commits suicide in the back of a taxi in Rathfarnham using a Webley revolver given to them by Collins following the 1922 assault. A year later, his new love, a 21-year-old Catholic woman named Rita North, dies due to complications when a doctor tries to surgically remove an already dead child. The court, after investigating her death, determines that she died due to peritonitis, an inflammation in the lining of the abdominal cavity. The public, however, jumps to the conclusion that she died in a failed illegal abortion.

Figgis himself commits suicide in a London boarding house in Granville Street on October 27, 1925, just a week after giving evidence at North’s inquest. He had been staying at the Royal Automobile Club until the day before his death, as is usual when he visits London. A small group of mourners comprising close family and friends attend his interment at the Hampstead Cemetery in West Hampstead, London.

The by-election caused by his death is won by William Norton of the Labour Party.


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The Convening of the Second Dáil

The Second Dáil (Irish: An Dara Dáil) is Dáil Éireann as it convenes on August 16, 1921 following the dissolution of the First Dáil. The Second Dáil runs until June 8, 1922.

From 1919 to 1922, Dáil Éireann is the revolutionary parliament of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic. The Second Dáil consists of members elected at the 1921 Irish elections, but with only members of Sinn Féin taking their seats. On January 7, 1922, it ratifies the Anglo-Irish Treaty by 64 votes to 57 which ends the Irish War of Independence and leads to the establishment of the Irish Free State on December 6, 1922.

Since 1919, those elected for Sinn Féin at the 1918 Irish general election had abstained from the House of Commons and established Dáil Éireann as a parliament of a self-declared Irish Republic, with members calling themselves Teachtaí Dála or TDs. In December 1920, in the middle of the Irish War of Independence, the British Government passes the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which enacts partition by establishing two home rule parliaments in separate parts of Ireland. These provisions arise out of discussions held at the Irish Convention held in 1917, from which Sinn Féin abstains. In May 1921 the first elections to the House of Commons of Northern Ireland and the House of Commons of Southern Ireland are held, by means of the single transferable vote. On May 10, 1921, the Dáil passes a resolution that the elections scheduled to take place later in the month in both parts of the country will be “regarded as elections to Dáil Éireann.”

In the elections for Southern Ireland, all seats are uncontested, with Sinn Féin winning 124 of the 128 seats, and Independent Unionists winning the four seats representing the Dublin University. In the 1921 Northern Ireland general election, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) wins 40 of the 52 seats, with Sinn Féin and the Nationalist Party winning 6 seats each. Of the six seats won by Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, five are held by people who had also won seats in Southern Ireland.

The Second Dáil responds favourably to the proposal from King George V on June 22, 1921 for a truce, which becomes effective from noon on July 11, 1921. This is upheld by nearly all of the combatants while the months-long process of arranging a treaty gets under way. The Truce allows the Dáil to meet openly without fear of arrest for the first time since September 1919, when it had been banned and driven underground.

During the Second Dáil the Irish Republic and the British Government of David Lloyd George agree to hold peace negotiations. As President of Dáil Éireann, Éamon de Valera is the highest official in the Republic at this time but is notionally only the head of government. In August 1921, to strengthen his status in the negotiations, the Dáil amends the Dáil Constitution to grant him the title President of the Republic, and he thereby becomes head of state.

On September 14, 1921, the Dáil ratifies the appointment of Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan and George Gavan Duffy as envoys plenipotentiary for the peace conference in England. These envoys eventually sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6. The debate on the Treaty starts on December 14, and continues until January 7, 1922. On that date, the Dáil approves the treaty by 64 in favour to 57 against. As the leader of the anti-Treaty minority, de Valera resigns as President. He allows himself to be nominated again, but is defeated on a vote of 60–58. He is succeeded as president by Arthur Griffith. The anti-Treaty deputies continue to attend the Dáil, with de Valera becoming the first Leader of the Opposition in the Dáil.

The ratification specified by the Treaty is by “a meeting summoned for the purpose of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland.” The Dáil vote does not fulfil this because four unionists are absent and one Northern Ireland member is present. The requisite approval comes at a separate meeting on January 14, 1922, attended by the unionists and boycotted by anti-Treaty TDs. The meeting also approves a Provisional Government led by Collins, which runs in parallel to Griffith’s Dáil government and with overlapping membership. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 requires the Commons to be summoned by the Lord Lieutenant and its members to take an oath of allegiance to the king, whereas the meeting on January 14 is summoned by Griffith and the members present do not take an oath.

Under the terms of the Treaty, a Constituent Assembly is to be elected to draft a Constitution for the Irish Free State to take effect by December 6, 1922. The assembly is also to serve as a “Provisional Parliament” to hold the Provisional Government responsible. This election is held on June 16, 1922 pursuant to both a resolution by the Second Dáil on May 20 and a proclamation by the Provisional Government on 27 May 27.

The Third Dáil is elected at the general election held on June 16, 1922. This election is required to be held under the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed on December 6, 1921.

(Pictured: Some members of the Second Dáil at the Grosvenor Hotel in London, seated (L to R) Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, National Library of Ireland, NPA-RPH-10)


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First Assassination by “The Squad”

On July 30, 1919, the first assassination authorised by Michael Collins is carried out by The Squad, also known as the Twelve Apostles, when Detective Sergeant “the Dog” Smith is shot near Drumcondra, Dublin.

The Squad is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit founded by Collins to counter British intelligence efforts during the Irish War of Independence, mainly by means of assassination.

On April 10, 1919, the First Dáil announces a policy of ostracism of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men. At the time Sinn Féin official policy is against acts of violence. Boycotting, persuasion and mild intimidation succeed against many officers. However others escalate their activities against republicans and in March 1920 Collins asks Dick McKee to select a small group to form an assassination unit.

When The Squad is formed, it comes directly under the control of the Director of Intelligence or his deputy and under no other authority. The Squad is commanded by Mick McDonnell.

The original “Twelve Apostles” are Mick McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Jimmy Slattery, Paddy Daly, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Vincent Byrne, Sean Doyle, Paddy Griffin, Eddie Byrne, Mick Reilly and Jimmy Conroy. After some time The Squad is strengthened with members Ben Byrne, Frank Bolster, Mick Keogh, Mick Kennedy, Bill Stapleton and Sam Robinson. Owen Cullen, a member of 2nd Battalion, is driver for a short time, and Paddy Kelly of County Clare for a short time. They are employed full-time and received a weekly wage.

Sometimes, as occasion demands, The Squad is strengthened by members of the IRA Intelligence Staff, the Active Service Unit, munition workers and members of the Dublin Brigade, Tipperary Flying Column men, Dan Breen, Séumas Robinson, Seán Treacy and Seán Hogan, and also Mick Brennan and Michael Prendergast of County Clare. The IRA Intelligence Staff consists of the Director of Intelligence Michael Collins, the Deputy Director of Intelligence Liam Tobin, the Second Deputy Director of Intelligence Tom Cullen, the Third Director of Intelligence Frank Thornton, and members Joe Dolan, Frank Saurin, Ned Kelleher, Joe Guilfoyle, Paddy Caldwell, Paddy Kennedy, Charlie Dalton, Dan McDonnell and Charlie Byrne. The munitions workers include Mat Furlong, Sean Sullivan, Gay McGrath, Martin O’ Kelly, Tom Younge and Chris Reilly.

Other members include Mick Love, Gearoid O’Sullivan, Patrick Caldwell, Charlie Dalton, Mick O’Reilly, Sean Healy, James Ronan, Paddy Lawson, John Dunne, Johnny Wilson and James Heery. Seán Lemass and Stephen Behan, the father of Irish writers Brendan and Dominic Behan, have also been listed as members of the Apostles. There is no hard evidence to support the inclusion of many of the names, but those who subsequently serve in the Irish Army have their active service recorded in their service records held in the Military Archives Department in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines. Andrew Cooney is also reported to have been associated with The Squad. Stephen Behan’s involvement is first made public in 1962, when the BBC broadcasts an episode of This Is Your Life dedicated to Behan. During the broadcast, remaining members of the squad joined Behan on the set of the show.

Following “The Dog” Smith’s assassination, The Squad continues to target plainclothes police, members of the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and, occasionally, problematic civil servants. Organisationally it operates as a subsection of Collins’ Intelligence Headquarters. Two of the executions by The Squad are the killing on January 21, 1920 of RIC Inspector William Redmond of the DMP “G” Division and on March 2, 1920 a British double agent John Charles Byrnes.

One of the Apostles’ particular targets is the Cairo Gang, a deep-cover British intelligence group, so called since it has either been largely assembled from intelligence officers serving in Cairo or from the Dublin restaurant called The Cairo, which the gang frequents. Sir Henry Wilson brings in the Cairo Gang in the middle of 1920, explicitly to deal with Michael Collins and his organization. Given carte blanche in its operations by Wilson, the Cairo Gang adopts the strategy of assassinating members of Sinn Féin unconnected with the military struggle, assuming that this will cause the IRA to respond and bring its leaders into the open.

The most well-known operation executed by the Apostles occurs on what becomes known as Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920, when British MI5 officers, linked to the Cairo Gang and significantly involved in spying, are shot at various locations in Dublin with fourteen killed and six wounded. In addition to the The Squad, a larger number of IRA personnel are involved in this operation. The only IRA man captured during the operation is Frank Teeling. In response to the killings, the Black and Tans retaliate by shooting up a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary at Croke Park, the proceeds from which are for the Irish Republican Prisoners Fund. Fourteen civilians are killed including one of the players, Michael Hogan, and 68 are wounded. The Hogan stand at Croke Park is named after Hogan.

The elimination of the Cairo Gang is seen in Dublin as an intelligence victory, but British Prime Minister David Lloyd George comments dismissively that his men “… got what they deserved, beaten by counter-jumpers…”. Winston Churchill adds that they were “.. careless fellows … who ought to have taken precautions.”

Some members of The Squad are hanged in 1921 for the killings on Bloody Sunday, including Thomas Whelan and Patrick Moran. Moran had killed a vet, Patrick MacCormack, who seems to have been an innocent victim.

In May 1921, after the IRA’s Dublin Brigade takes heavy casualties during the burning of the Custom House, The Squad and the Brigade’s Active Service Unit are amalgamated into the Dublin Guard, under Paddy Daly. Under the influence of Daly and Michael Collins, most of the Guard take the Free State side and join the National Army in the Irish Civil War of 1922–23. During this conflict some of them are attached to the Criminal Investigation Department and are accused of multiple assassinations of Anti-Treaty fighters. They are also involved in several atrocities against Republican prisoners, particularly after the death of Collins, due to many of them having personal ties with him.

Bill Stapleton goes on to become a director in Bord na Móna, Charles Dalton and Frank Saurin become directors in the Irish Sweepstakes. In October 1923, Commandant James Conroy is implicated in the murder of two Jewish men, Bernard Goldberg and Emmanuel ‘Ernest’ Kahn. He avoids arrest by fleeing to Mexico, returning later to join the Blueshirts. A later application for an army pension is rejected. The killings are the subject of a 2010 investigative documentary by RTÉ, CSÍ: Murder in Little Jerusalem.


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Beginning of the Battle of Dublin and the Irish Civil War

The Battle of Dublin is a week of street battles in Dublin from June 28 to July 5, 1922 that mark the beginning of the Irish Civil War. Six months after the Anglo-Irish Treaty ended the Irish War of Independence, it is fought between the forces of the new Provisional Government and a section of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that opposes the Treaty.

The Irish Citizen Army also becomes involved in the battle, supporting the anti-Treaty IRA in the O’Connell Street area. The fighting begins with an assault by Provisional Government forces on the Four Courts building, and ends in a decisive victory for the Provisional Government.

On April 14, 1922 about 200 Anti-Treaty IRA militants, with Rory O’Connor as their spokesman, occupy the Four Courts in Dublin, resulting in a tense stand-off. They want to spark a new armed confrontation with the British, which they hope will bring down the Anglo-Irish Treaty, unite the two factions of the IRA against their former common enemy and restart the fight to create an all-Ireland Irish Republic. At the time the British Army still has thousands of soldiers concentrated in Dublin, awaiting evacuation.

Winston Churchill and the British cabinet have been applying pressure on the Provisional Government to dislodge the rebels in the Four Courts, as they consider their presence a violation of the Treaty. Such pressure falls heaviest on Michael Collins, President of the Provisional Government Cabinet and effective head of the regular National Army. Collins, a chief IRA strategist during the War of Independence from Britain, has resisted giving open battle to the anti-Treaty militants since they occupied Four Courts in April. His colleagues in the Provisional Government Cabinet, including Arthur Griffith, agree that Collins must mount decisive military action against them.

In June 1922 the Provisional Government engages in intense negotiations with the British Cabinet over a draft Constitution that seeks to avert the impending civil war. They particularly seek to remove the requirement of an oath to the British Crown by all members of the Dublin government, a key point of contention with anti-Treaty partisans. However, the conservative British Cabinet refuses to cooperate. The pro-treaty element of Sinn Féin wins the elections on June 16.

Following the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson in London on June 22, 1922 and the arrest by Four Courts troops of National Army Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, British pressure on the Provisional Government intensifies. The British now threaten to invade and re-occupy all of Ireland. On June 27 the Provisional Government Cabinet agrees on an ultimatum to the Four Courts garrison to evacuate or face immediate military action.

Churchill offers a loan of British artillery for use by the National Army, along with 200 shells from their store of 10,000 at Kilmainham, three miles away. It is possible that some British special troops are also covertly loaned. Two 18-pounder field guns are placed on Bridge Street and Winetavern Street, across the River Liffey from the Four Courts complex. After an ultimatum is delivered to the anti-Treaty garrison in the early hours of June 28, the National Army commences the bombardment of Four Courts.

No authoritative record exists regarding the order to commence bombardment. Historians tend to attribute the order to Collins, but some biographers dispute this. Anti-Treaty survivors allege that they are preparing for an 8:00 a.m. evacuation when the bombardment begins at 4:00 a.m.

Inside the building are 12 members of the Irish Republican Army Executive, including Chief of Staff Joe McKelvey, Director of Engineering Rory O’Connor, Quartermaster General Liam Mellows and Director of Operations Ernie O’Malley. The garrison consists of roughly 180 men drawn from the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the IRA’s 1st Dublin Brigade, commanded by Commandant Paddy O’Brien, armed for the most part only with small arms apart from one captured armoured car, which they name “The Mutineer.” The members of the IRA Army Executive are the political leaders of the garrison, but serve as common soldiers under the command of O’Brien. The Anti-Treaty side fortifies the Four Courts to some extent, planting mines around the complex and barricading the doors and windows, but their leadership orders them not to fire first, in order to retain the moral high ground, and so the Free State troops are allowed to surround the Four Courts.

After the first day’s bombardment proves ineffective, the British give the Free State two more 18-pounder cannon and proffer 60-pounder howitzers along with an offer to bomb the Four Courts from the air. Collins turns down the latter two offers because of the risk of causing heavy civilian casualties. On June 29, Free State troops storm the eastern wing of the Four Courts, losing three killed and 14 wounded and taking 33 prisoners. The republicans’ armoured car is disabled and abandoned by its crew. Early the next day O’Brien is injured by shrapnel and O’Malley takes over military command in the Four Courts. By this time the shelling has caused the Four Courts to catch fire. In addition, orders arrive from Oscar Traynor, the anti-treaty IRA commander in Dublin, for the Four Courts garrison to surrender, as he cannot reach their position to help them. O’Malley rules this order invalid, as the Four Courts is a GHQ operation. However, in view of the rapidly deteriorating situation, at 3:30 p.m. on June 30, O’Malley surrenders the Four Courts to Brigadier General Paddy Daly of the Free State’s Dublin Guard unit. Three of the republican garrison die in the siege.

Several hours before the surrender, the Public Record Office of Ireland (PRO) block located in the western block of the Four Courts, which is used as an ammunition store by the Four Courts garrison, is the centre of a huge explosion, destroying Irish state records going back to the Anglo-Norman conquest. Forty advancing Free State troops are badly injured. Assigning blame for the explosion remains controversial. It is alleged by the National Army Headquarters that the Anti-treaty forces deliberately booby-trapped the PRO to kill advancing Free State troops. Tim Healy, a government supporter, later claims that the explosion is the result of land mines laid before the surrender, which explode after the surrender. However, a study of the battle concludes that the explosion is caused by fires ignited by the shelling of the Four Courts, which eventually reach two truckloads of gelignite in the munitions factory. A towering mushroom cloud rises 200 feet over the Four Courts.

At this stage in the battle troops on each side still have a sense of kinship with the other, as most of them had fought together in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence. By appealing to friends on the Free State side, several anti-Treaty leaders among the Four Courts garrison, notably Ernie O’Malley and Seán Lemass, escape from captivity to continue the fight.

Despite the Free State force’s success in taking the Four Courts, fighting continues in Dublin until July 5. On June 29 anti-Treaty IRA units from the Dublin Brigade led by Oscar Traynor have occupied O’Connell Street, part of Parnell Square, York Street and some of other locations to try to distract Free State attention from their attack on the Four Courts. Not all the IRA units in the capital are prepared to fight against the new Irish government, however, and their numbers are probably about 500 throughout the city. Their numbers are supplemented by about 150 Citizen Army men and women who bring with them arms and ammunition dumped since the insurrection of Easter 1916.

The republicans occupy the northeastern part of O’Connell Street, with their strong point at “the block,” a group of buildings that the Anti-Treatyites had connected by tunneling through the walls. They had also taken over the adjoining Gresham, Crown, Granville and Hammam hotels. Their only position on the western side of the street is in the YMCA building. Additionally, they have an outpost south of the River Liffey at the Swan Pub on Aungier Street. Oscar Traynor apparently hopes to receive reinforcements from the rest of the country, but only Anti-Treaty units in Belfast and Tipperary reply and both of them arrive too late to take part in the fighting.

The Provisional Government troops, commanded by General Tom Ennis, start by clearing out the outlying anti-treaty garrisons, which is accomplished by July 1. They then draw a tighter cordon around O’Connell Street. Artillery is used to drive the Anti-Treaty fighters out of positions on Parnell Street and Gardiner Street, which gives the Free State troops a clear field of fire down O’Connell Street.

The republican outpost in the YMCA is eliminated when Free State troops tunnel underneath it and detonate a bomb. Traynor’s men in “the block” hold out until artillery is brought up, under the cover of armored cars, to bombard them at point-blank range. Incendiary bombs are also planted in the buildings. Traynor and most of his force make their escape when the buildings they are occupying catch fire. They mingle with civilian crowds and make their way to Blessington.

Left behind is Republican leader Cathal Brugha and a rear guard of 15 men, who stay behind in the Hammam Hotel after Traynor and most other IRA men have left. At 5:00 p.m. on July 5, when the fires make the hotel untenable, Brugha orderes his men to surrender. He, however, stays behind, only to emerge from the building alone, armed with a revolver. He is shot in the thigh by Free State troops and dies later from blood loss. There are some further sporadic incidents of fighting around the city as Free State troops disperse anti-treaty IRA groups.

Cathal Brugha is the last casualty in the Battle of Dublin, which costs the lives of at least 80 people (15 anti-Treaty IRA Volunteers, 29 National Army soldiers, one British Royal Air Force serviceman and 35 civilians) and over 280 wounded. In addition, the Free State takes over 450 Republican prisoners. The high civilian casualties are doubtless the result of the use of heavy weapons, especially artillery, in a densely populated urban area.

When the fighting in Dublin dies down, the Free State government is left firmly in control of the Irish capital and the anti-treaty forces disperse around the country. Round-ups after the fighting result in more Republican prisoners and the death of prominent anti-Treaty activist Harry Boland who is shot dead in Skerries, Dublin, on July 31.

Oscar Traynor, Ernie O’Malley and the other anti-Treaty fighters who escape the fighting in Dublin regroup in Blessington, around 30 km southwest of the city. An anti-Treaty IRA force from County Tipperary had arrived there but too late to participate in the Dublin fighting. Instead, this force heads south and takes a string of towns, including Enniscorthy and Carlow, but quickly abandons them when faced with superior Free State forces. Most of the Republicans then retreat further south to the so-called Munster Republic, territory southwest of a line running from Limerick to Waterford. This in turn is taken by the Free State in an offensive from July to August 1922.

Four of the Republican leaders captured in the Four Courts, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett, are later executed by the government in reprisal for the Anti-Treaty side’s killing of TD Seán Hales. The street where Cathal Brugha is killed is later renamed Cathal Brugha Street in his honour.

The destruction of irreplaceable historical record in the PRO explosion (and the 1921 burning of the Custom House) has impaired Irish historiography. Some had been calendared to varying degrees. The National Archives of Ireland and Irish Manuscripts Commission have assembled and published original documents from other sources to mitigate the loss. A consortium led by Trinity College Dublin is creating the website “Beyond 2022” to provide a “virtual recreation” of the PRO and its contents, in time for the centenary of the explosion.

(Pictured: The Four Courts ablaze during the Battle of Dublin, June 30, 1922)


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Death of Piaras Béaslaí, Author, Playwright & Politician

Piaras Béaslaí, author, playwright, biographer and translator, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), fights in the Easter Rising and serves as a member of Dáil Éireann, dies on June 22, 1965.

Béaslaí is born Percy Frederick Beazley in Liverpool, England on February 15, 1881 to Irish Catholic parents, Patrick Langford Beazley, originally from Killarney, County Kerry, and Nannie Hickey, from Newcastle West, County Limerick. During his summer holidays in his younger years, he spends time in Ireland (near Kenmare, County Kerry) with his paternal uncle, Father James Beazley, where he begins to learn the Irish language. He is educated at St. Francis Xavier’s College in Liverpool, where he develops his keen interest in Irish. By the time he is aged 17 his Irish proficiency is exceptional.

After finishing his education at St. Francis Xavier’s, Béaslaí is encouraged to begin Irish poetry by Tadhg Ó Donnchadha. He follows his father’s footsteps into journalism, initially working for the local Wallasey News. In 1906 he moves to Dublin, and within a year becomes a freelance writer for the Irish Peasant, Irish Independent, Freeman’s Journal and Express. He is offered a permanent position with Independent Newspapers, as assistant leader writer and special reporter for the Dublin Evening Telegraph. He writes regularly for the Freeman’s Journal, including a daily half-column in Irish.

After his early introduction to Irish poetry Béaslaí becomes involved in staging Irish-language amateur drama at the Oireachtas annual music festival. He begins to write both original works and adaptations from foreign languages. One of these works, Eachtra Pheadair Schlemiel (1909), is translated from German into Irish.

Later Béaslaí continues to write poetry, such as the collection “Bealtaine 1916” agus Dánta Eile (1920), and short stories such as “Earc agus Aine agus Scéalta Eile.” Between 1913 and 1939 he writes many plays, including Cliuche Cartaí (1920), An Sgaothaire agus Cúig Drámaí Eile (1929), An Danar (1929) and An Bhean Chródha (1931). He writes two books about his comrade Michael Collins: Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland (2 volumes, 1926) and Michael Collins: Soldier and Statesman (1937).

Béaslaí’s works revolve around the Irish language movement and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), focusing on the independence struggle of Ireland. He writes about these topics in newspapers such as the Standard and The Kerryman. His most notable work in newspapers during his later life includes his contribution to the Irish Independent, which publishes a section called ‘A Veteran Remembers’ five days a week from May 16 to June 1957, as well as a weekly section called ‘Moods and Memories’ on Wednesdays from May 24, 1961 to June 16, 1965.

One of the awards Béaslaí gains during his career is on August 14, 1928, a gold medal at the Tailteann Literary Awards. While in Dublin, he joins the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League, and after he moves to Ireland he begins using the Irish form of his name, Piaras Béaslaí, rather than Percy Beazley.

Béaslaí is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. In January 1916 he serves as a courier for political activist and revolutionary leader Seán Mac Diarmada. By the time of the Easter Rising that year, he is deputy commanding officer of the 1st Dublin Battalion. In an audio recording to which he contributes in 1958, he details his experience in the Rising, describing the rebels assembling before noon in Blackhall Street at battalion headquarters. After midday they march out to the Four Courts, erecting barricades as they do so. The Four Courts is his main station.

In the audio, Béaslaí recalls a green flag with a gold harp in the centre. This is the non-Sinn Féin flag at the time. He is in direct charge of the Four Courts area, and at one point during the fight he orders a complete blackout. He recalls, “things were going badly for the English soldiers” and describes the whole event as “a weird experience.” He remembers the streets being lit up with fires in the darkness as if it were bright as day. He speaks of the intensity of the firing line and then how it suddenly ceases on the Friday. He remembers falling asleep and when he awakens being presented with Patrick Pearse‘s order to surrender. The rebels are brought to Richmond Barracks. He then spends fifteen months in English prisons.

Béaslaí serves three years of penal servitude divided between a stringent HM Prison Portland and a more lenient HM Prison Lewes. He is then imprisoned two times within four months during 1919, both terms ending in celebrated escapes. After his final prison release, Michael Collins approaches him about editing An tOglach, the Irish Volunteer newspaper. This sees communication between GHQ and local volunteers drastically improve.

Later, Béaslaí becomes director of publicity for the Irish Republican Army, and at the 1918 Irish general election he is elected to the First Dáil as Sinn Féin MP for East Kerry. Sinn Féin MPs elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refuse to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and instead assemble the following January at the Mansion House in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament, Dáil Éireann. Béaslaí is noted for his translation of the democratic programme of the First Dáil, which he reads aloud at the inaugural sitting.

Béaslaí is a member of the Sinn Féin party for five years. Between 1919 and 1921 he represents the East Kerry constituency in the First Dáil. Then, at the 1921 Irish elections, he is returned unopposed to the Second Dáil as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for Kerry–Limerick West. Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he is re-elected there unopposed at the 1922 Irish general election as a pro-Treaty Sinn Féin candidate, and is thus a member of the Third Dáil, which is Pro-Treaty at this stage. In 1922 he goes to the United States to explain the Treaty to Sinn Féin’s Irish American supporters. He does not contest the 1923 Irish general election.

Béaslaí and Con Collins share the distinction of having been elected in three Irish general elections unopposed by any other candidates.

During Béaslaí’s time in London, he gives a lot of his time to the Gaelic League. In the Keating branch of the league, in Ireland, he develops an interest in the IRB. Cathal Brugha, a branch member, asks him to join the IRB. The Keating branch is where Béaslaí meets Michael Collins, eventually introducing Collins to his cousin and fellow branch member, Elizabeth Mernin. He is also instrumental in establishing An Fáinne, an Irish-speaking league whose members vow to speak solely Irish among themselves and wear a membership badge of a circle. This coincides with his involvement in the IRB. His love of the Irish language gives him an opportunity to delve into his other hobbies. He writes for Banba, an Irish journal published by the Gaelic League. He is able to express his love for theatre, in the Gaelic League, forming a group of men called “Na hAisteoirí.”

Béaslaí dies, unmarried, at the age of 84 on June 22, 1965, in a nursing home in Dublin. He is buried in a plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, after a Requiem Mass in St. Columba’s Church, Iona Road, Glasnevin.


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Death of Fionán Lynch, Revolutionary, Barrister, Politician & Judge

Fionán (Finian) Lynch, Irish revolutionary, barrister, politician and judge, dies on June 3, 1966 in Dartry, a small suburb of Dublin.

Lynch is born on March 17, 1889 in Cahersiveen, County Kerry, the fourth son of Finian Lynch of Kilmakerin, Cahersiveen, a national teacher, and Ellen Maria Lynch (née McCarthy). Educated at St. Brendan’s College, Killarney, Rockwell College, County Tipperary, and Blackrock College, Dublin. He has plans to study medicine, but in 1907, when he is 18 years old, his father dies and he does not have the money to pursue this career path. He becomes a teacher in Swansea, south Wales, where he forms a branch of the Gaelic League and teaches the Irish language.

Lynch returns to Ireland in 1909, where he starts training as a teacher in St Patrick’s College, Dublin. He graduates in 1911 as a primary school teacher. In April 1912 he begins working as a national schoolteacher at St. Michan’s School, Dublin, becomes an active member of the Keating branch of the Gaelic League, and is recruited into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) by Seán Mac Diarmada. He also joins the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and becomes captain of F Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade. With Piaras Béaslaí he founds Na hAisteoirí, a drama company dedicated to the production of plays in Irish, with many of its members fighting during the 1916 Easter Rising. In the months before the rising Lynch temporarily stands down from the Volunteers after his school manager tells him he will be sacked if he does not. Learning that a rising was imminent, he rejoins the Volunteers, and over the Easter weekend commands the detachment that guards Bulmer Hobson to prevent him from interfering with Volunteer mobilisation. During the rising he is involved in heavy fighting in the North King Street area and is subsequently imprisoned.

Held at Lewes Prison, Lynch is released under the general amnesty. In August 1916 he is reimprisoned for making an inflammatory speech, and in September leads the Mountjoy Prison hunger strike with Austin Stack and Thomas Ashe. He is released in November following a further hunger strike at Dundalk prison. He is imprisoned again in May 1918 on the same charge during the ‘German Plot’ allegations and is released in August 1919, after which he helps to plan the escape of other prisoners.

Elected a Sinn Féin TD for South Kerry in December 1918 and for Kerry–Limerick West in May 1921, Lynch serves as assistant secretary to the Anglo-Irish Treaty delegation in London (October–December 1921), where he is largely responsible for organising the living arrangements at the two Irish headquarters. A supporter of the treaty, he addresses Pro-Treaty rallies with Michael Collins, and from January to August 1922 is Minister for Education with the Provisional Government, at the same time as Michael Hayes is Minister for Education for Dáil Éireann. Possible conflict is avoided by the pragmatic division of duties, under which Hayes takes responsibility for intermediate and higher education, and Lynch for primary education. It is also left to Lynch to clarify the relationship between the new Provisional Government and the board of commissioners of intermediate education, which is not abolished until 1923. These developments, however, are overshadowed by the beginning of the Irish Civil War, where military considerations take precedence over civic responsibilities.

Required to serve in the army, in July 1922 Lynch is appointed a vice-commandant of the south-western division with the rank of commandant-general, commanding a unit of Dublin soldiers in County Kerry, where on occasion he has to endure being ambushed, leading a fellow commandant to note ironically that his constituents do not seem to think much of him. However, the reluctance of former colleagues to attack him possibly ensure his survival during the war. Frank Henderson of Dublin’s No. 1 brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) tells Ernie O’Malley of his reluctance to become involved in reprisal shootings after Free State executions, commenting, “I didn’t like that order. I could have shot Eamonn Duggan and Fionán Lynch, for they went home every night drunk, but I left them alone.”

After the Irish Civil War Lynch is elected a Cumann na nGaedheal TD for Kerry, a seat he holds until 1937, after which he represents the constituency of Kerry South (1937–44). He serves as Minister for Fisheries (1922–28) and Minister for Lands and Fisheries (1928–32), and retains his interest in education. He supports the Irish National Teachers Organisation policy on the Irish language during the 1920s, commenting that he is entirely opposed to attempting to teach subjects through Irish where Irish is not the known language.

In 1931 Lynch qualifies as a barrister. After Fianna Fáil comes to power and during the rise of the Blueshirts he speaks at public meetings with Eoin O’Duffy, and they are attacked by a crowd in Tralee in October 1933. After the fall of O’Duffy and the reorganisation of Fine Gael, W. T. Cosgrave appoints a front bench designed to represent the various groups in the party, which witness former ministers, including Desmond FitzGerald, Patrick Hogan, and Lynch, relegated to the back benches. Lynch serves as Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil (1938–39). Having built up a legal practice, he retires from politics in October 1944 and is subsequently appointed a circuit court judge in the north-west district, retiring from the bench in 1959.

Lynch dies suddenly at his home in Dartry, County Dublin, on June 3, 1966, shortly after celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. He is survived by his wife Brighid (née Slattery), a native of Tralee, and by their five sons and one daughter. His papers are on permanent loan to Kerry County Library archives.

(From: “Lynch, Fionán (Finian)” by Diarmaid Ferriter, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of Liam Tobin, Irish Army Officer & IRA Intelligence Officer

Liam Tobin, officer in the Irish Army and the instigator of the Irish Army Mutiny in March 1924, dies in Dublin on April 30, 1963. During the Irish War of Independence, he serves as an Irish Republican Army (IRA) intelligence officer for Michael CollinsSquad.

Tobin is born William Joseph Tobin at 13 Great Georges Street in Cork, County Cork, on November 15, 1895, the eldest son of Mary Agnes (nee Butler) and David Tobin, a hardware clerk. He has two younger siblings, Katherine and Nicholas Augustine Tobin, also born in Cork. His family moves to John Street in Kilkenny and then to Dublin. He goes to school in Kilkenny and is an apprentice in a hardware shop at the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. As a participant in the Rising he fights in the Four Courts garrison under Edward Daly. He is arrested, court martialed, and sentenced to death but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. He is a prisoner in Kilmainham, Mountjoy, Lewes, Dartmoor, Broadmoor and Pentonville prisons. He is released in June 1917.

In early 1919 Tobin becomes Collins’ chief executive in the Intelligence Directorate handling the many spies in Dublin Castle, including double agent David Neligan. Nancy O’Brien works for Under-Secretary for Ireland James Macmahon, decoding messages sent from London. Each day between 2:30 and 3:30 she passes any information acquired to either Tobin, Joseph McGrath, or Desmond FitzGerald. Tobin is involved in planning the assassinations of British soldiers, informants, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and operatives of MI5. He constructs detailed profiles of everyone remotely connected to the British government, often using Who’s Who, The Morning Post, and The Times, a newspaper that describes him as “one of the most formidable of [the] Twelve Apostles.”

In October 1921, Tobin travels with the Irish Treaty Delegation as part of Collins’ personal staff.

Tim Pat Coogan and James Mackay have examined Tobin’s involvement in the assassination of British Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. Wilson’s public tirades about Collins is evidence of mutual personal dislike between the two men. In May 1922 Collins tells Tobin “We’ll kill a member of that bunch” to the news of “bloody pogroms” in Belfast. Wilson is intimately involved with the Ulster loyalist cause, including the Curragh Mutiny and the establishment of the Ulster Special Constabulary. Just before the shooting, Coogan places Tobin in London. He meets courier Peig Ni Braonain at Euston Station collecting a document that has been sent from Dublin. Returning to Dublin before the incident, he is jubilant when he tells defence minister Richard Mulcahy about Wilson’s death. Mulcahy is appalled and threatens to resign.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Tobin is appointed deputy director of intelligence in the new state and assigned to the Criminal Investigation Department based at Oriel House. However Collins soon replaces him with Joseph McGrath. Tobin is placed on the Army Council and is Director of Intelligence from September 1922 until his appointment as Senior Aide-de-Camp to the new GovernorGeneral of the Irish Free State, Tim Healy, in November 1922. The position provides an apartment in Viceregal Lodge.

In October 1922, Tobin’s brother Nicholas, a Free State captain, is accidentally shot dead by his own troops during the raid and capture of a bomb making factory at number 8 Gardiner’s Place, Dublin.

Tobin believes in the stepping stone doctrine which sees the Treaty as a stage towards full independence. With the outbreak of the Irish Civil War he remains loyal to Collins and takes the Pro-Treaty side. He leads in the fight against the Anti-Treaty IRA in the south. Disillusioned with the continuing hostilities and in the aftermath of the death of Collins, he forms an association called the IRA Organisation (IRAO) or “Old Irish Republican Army” to distinguish themselves from the anti-treaty insurgents.

Richard Mulcahy, the new Irish defence minister, proposes to reduce the army from 55,000 to 18,000 men in the immediate post- Civil-War period. Tobin knows his own position is to be affected and shares the perception that the Irish Army treats former British officers better than former IRA officers. On March 7, 1924, Tobin, together with Colonel Charlie Dalton, sends an ultimatum to President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State W. T. Cosgrave demanding an end to the army demobilisation. The immediate response is an order for the arrest of the two men on a charge of mutiny. The cabinet, already wary of the Irish Army, orders an inquiry and appoints Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to the army command.

On March 18, the mutineers assemble with hostile intent at a Dublin pub. An order is made to arrest the mutineers and the cabinet demands the resignation of the army council. The generals resign, affirming the subservience of the military to the civilian government of the new state.

In later years, Tobin rebuilds relations with his Civil War foes and joins Éamon de Valera‘s Anti-Treaty Fianna Fáil party. He joins up with Joseph McGrath to form the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in the 1930s. Many other former army comrades find work in this lottery. He leaves the Sweep in 1938. After World War II, he becomes Superintendent of the Oireachtas for the Irish Dáil.

On October 14, 1929, Tobin marries Monica “Mona” Higgins at the Church of the Holy Family, Aughrim Street, Dublin. They have two daughters, Máire and Anne Tobin. Following the death of his father, David, in 1956, Tobin’s health declines, resulting in his death in Dublin on April 30, 1963.

Tobin is portrayed by actor Brendan Gleeson in Neil Jordan‘s biopic Michael Collins.


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Murder of Vincent Patrick Fovargue

Vincent Patrick Fovargue, a company officer in the Dublin brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence, is shot dead at a golf course near London, England by the IRA on April 2, 1921. The IRA accuses him of being a British spy.

Fovargue is born on August 22, 1900 at 2 Rutland Place, Clontarf, Dublin, to Robert Fovargue, an engineer/fitter, and Elizabeth (Lillie) Larkin.

An intelligence officer with the 4th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA in the Ranelagh area, he is captured by the British Army in Dublin. Under interrogation, he allegedly leaks information that results in the arrest of the other members of his unit a few days later. In return for this information, the Intelligence Corps allegedly allow him to escape during a staged ambush in Dublin’s South Circular Road.

This attempted ruse however does not go unnoticed by Michael Collins‘ informants in the Crown’s security forces. On the night of the escape, Detective Constable David Neligan of the Dublin Metropolitan Police‘s “G” Division is on duty in Dublin Castle when he is passed a telephone message on a police form. The message, issued by the British Military Headquarters, states that a “Sinn Féin” suspect named Fovargue had escaped from three Intelligence Corps officers in a car while en route to prison. It gives a description of his appearance and asks that the British Army be notified in the event of his recapture by the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

Joe Kinsella is the I/O of the 4th Battalion. He is temporarily transferred to take care of munitions under Seán Russell for a few weeks and Fovargue is put in his place. In Kinsella’s statement to the BMH, he writes:

“From the outset I personally did not place a lot of trust in him, because on the morning that he took over from me he appeared to me, to be too inquisitive about the movements of Michael Collins and the GHQ staff generally. He wanted to know where they could be located at any time. He said that he had big things in view, and that it would be to the advantage of the movement generally if he was in a position to get in touch with the principal men with the least possible delay. From his attitude I there and then formed the opinion, rightly or wrongly, that he was inclined to overstep his position. I did not feel too happy about him and I discussed him with Sean Dowling. It transpired that my impressions of this man were correct. I told him of two meeting places of Intelligence staff, one of Company Intelligence held at Rathmines Road and one of Brigade Intelligence held at Saville Place. A short time after giving him this information both these places were raided…I was now confirmed in my suspicions that Fovargue was giving away information. He was later shot in England by the IRA.”

Neligan is not fooled by this either, as he explains:

“Now if they had said that this man (who was completely unknown to both of us) had escaped from one I.O. it might have sounded reasonable enough. But to tell us that an unarmed man had escaped out of a motor-car in the presence of three presumably armed men was imposing a strain on our credulity. Both of us thought this story too good to be true.”

The two men retype the message and pass it to Collins the following day. Meanwhile, Fovargue has been sent to England where he adopts the alias of Richard Staunton. Fovargue has in fact been sent to England by Intelligence Corps Colonel Ormonde Winter to infiltrate the IRA in Britain.

Sean Kavanagh, a Kilkenny IRA man, claims that Fovargue is put in a cell with him in Kilmainham in 1921 in order to try to extract information from him.

On April 2, 1921, a boy walking on the golf links of the Ashford Manor Golf Club in Ashford, Middlesex discovers the body of Fovargue, who had been shot through the chest. Discovered near the corpse is a small piece of paper on which had been scribbled in blue pencil the words “Let spies and traitors beware – IRA.”

In the Neil Jordan film Michael Collins, Fovargue’s assassination is depicted onscreen. Fovargue is tracked down while working out at the golf course, allowed to say the Act of Contrition, and then fatally shot by Liam Tobin (Brendan Gleeson).


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Death of Joseph McGrath, Politician & Businessman

Joseph McGrath, Irish politician and businessman, dies in Ballsbridge, Dublin, on March 26, 1966. He is a Sinn Féin and later a Cumann na nGaedheal Teachta Dála (TD) for various constituencies: Dublin St James’s (1918–1921), Dublin North-West (1921–1923) and Mayo North (1923–1924), and develops widespread business interests.

McGrath is born in Dublin on August 12, 1888. By 1916 he is working with his brother George at Craig Gardiner & Co., a firm of accountants in Dawson Street, Dublin. He works with Michael Collins, a part-time fellow clerk and the two strike up a friendship. In his spare time he works as secretary for the Volunteer Dependents’ Fund.

McGrath soon joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He fights in Marrowbone Lane in the 1916 Easter Rising. He is arrested after the rising, and jailed in Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton prisons in England. In the 1918 Irish general election, he is elected as Sinn Féin TD for the Dublin St. James’s constituency, later sitting in the First Dáil. He is also a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and successfully organises many bank robberies during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921), where a small percentage of the proceeds is retained as a reward by him and his fellow-soldiers. During this time he is interred briefly at Abercorn Barracks but escapes by dressing in army uniform and walking out of the gate with soldiers going on leave. He is eventually recaptured and spends time in jail in Belfast.

In October 1921 McGrath travels with the Irish Treaty delegation to London as one of Michael Collins’ personal staff. When the Provisional Government of Ireland is set up in January 1922, he is appointed Minister for Labour. In the Irish Civil War of 1922–1923, he takes the pro-Treaty side and is made Director of Intelligence, replacing Liam Tobin. In a strongly worded letter, written in red ink, he warns Collins not to take his last, ill-fated trip to County Cork.

McGrath is later put in charge of the police Intelligence service of the new Irish Free State, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). It is modelled on the London Metropolitan Police department of the same name, but is accused of the torture and killing of a number of republican (anti-Treaty) prisoners during the civil war. It is disbanded at the war’s end with the official reason given that it is unnecessary for a police force in peacetime. He goes on to serve as Minister for Labour in the Second Dáil and the Provisional Government of Ireland. He also serves in the 1st and 2nd Executive Councils holding the Industry and Commerce portfolio.

In September 1922 McGrath uses strikebreakers to oppose a strike by Trade Unionists in the Post Office service, despite having threatened to resign in the previous March of the same year when the government threatened to use British strikebreakers.

In December 1922 McGrath is a reluctant supporter of the government’s decision to execute four high profile IRA prisoners: Liam Mellows, Dick Barrett, Rory O’Connor, and Joe McKelvey.

McGrath resigns from office in April 1924 because of dissatisfaction with the government’s attitude to the Army Mutiny officers and as he says himself, “government by a clique and by the officialdom of the old regime.” By this he means that former IRA fighters are being overlooked and that the Republican goals on all Ireland has been sidelined. He and eight other TDs, who had resigned from Cumann na nGaedheal, resign their seats in the Dáil and form a new political party, the National Party. However, the new party does not contest the subsequent by-elections for their old seats. Instead, Cumann na nGaedheal wins seven of the seats and Sinn Féin wins the other two.

In 1927, McGrath takes a libel case against the publishers of The Real Ireland by poet Cyril Bretherton, a book that claims he is responsible for the abduction and murder of Noel Lemass, the brother of Seán Lemass, in June 1923 during the civil war, as well as a subsequent coverup. He wins the court case. During the 1930s, he and Seán Lemass reconcile and regularly play poker together.

Following his political career, McGrath goes on to become involved in the building trade. In 1925 he becomes labour adviser to Siemens-Schuckert, German contractors for the Shannon hydroelectric scheme near Limerick. He founds the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in 1930, and the success of its sweepstakes makes him an extremely wealthy man. He has other extensive and successful business interests always investing in Ireland and becomes Ireland’s best-known racehorse owner and breeder, winning The Derby with Arctic Prince in 1951.

McGrath dies at his home, Cabinteely House, in Ballsbridge, Dublin on March 26, 1966. Cabinteely House is donated to the state in 1986 and the land is developed as a public park. His son, Patrick W. McGrath, inherits many of his father’s business interests, and also serves as Fine Gael Senator from 1973 to 1977.

(Pictured: Screenshot of a film of Irish politician Joseph McGrath shot in 1922)


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The McMahon Murders

The McMahon murders occur on March 24, 1922 when six Catholic civilians are shot dead at the home of the McMahon family in Belfast. Police officers break into their house at night and shoot all eight males inside, in an apparent sectarian attack. The victims are businessman Owen McMahon, four of his sons, and one of his employees. Two others are shot but survive, and a female family member is assaulted. The survivors say that most of the gunmen wore police uniforms and it is suspected that they were members of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). It is believed to be a reprisal for the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of two policemen the previous day.

Following the end of the Irish War of Independence in July 1921 and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, the new unionist Government of Northern Ireland establishes the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), a quasi-military reserve police force to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), to counter the IRA.

The McMahon killings are believed to be a reprisal for the IRA’s killing of two USC policemen in Belfast. On March 23, 1922, USC officers Thomas Cunningham and William Cairnside are patrolling Great Victoria Street in the city centre when they are approached by a group of IRA members and shot dead. Two Catholics, Peter Murphy (61) and Sarah McShane (15), are shot dead in a suspected reprisal attack several hours later in the Catholic Short Strand area by unidentified gunmen. The McMahon family has no connection to any paramilitary violence.

At about 1:00 a.m. on March 24, 1922, two men wearing police uniforms seize a sledgehammer from a Belfast Corporation workman, who is guarding a building site at Carlisle Circus. A curfew is in place at the time, due to the daily violence in the city. At nearby Clifton Avenue they meet three other men and the party of five proceed to the home of Owen McMahon. Eight males and three females are in the house that night. The males are Owen, his six sons, and Edward McKinney, a parish just north of Buncrana in Inishowen, County Donegal. He works for the McMahons as a barman. The women are Owen’s wife Eliza, her daughter and her niece. At about 1:20 a.m., the gang uses the sledgehammer to break down the door of the McMahon residence.

Owen’s wife, Eliza, says that four of the men wore police caps and carried revolvers while another wore civilian clothes. John McMahon, one of Owen’s sons, says, “Four of the five men were dressed in the uniform of the RIC but, from their appearance, I know they are Specials, not regular RIC.” All of the men hide their faces. The four men in police uniform rush up the stairs and herd the males into the dining room. The women are taken into another room. When Owen asks why his family is being singled-out, one of the gunmen says it is because he is “a respected papist.” The gunmen say “you boys say your prayers,” before opening fire. The shooting continues for five minutes. Five of the men are killed outright and two are wounded, one fatally.

Owen McMahon (50), Gerard McMahon (15), Frank McMahon (24), Patrick McMahon (22) and Edward McKinney (25) are killed outright while Bernard McMahon (26) dies later. The youngest McMahon son, 12-year-old Michael, survives the attack by hiding behind furniture and pretending to be hit. John McMahon (30) survives despite serious gunshot wounds. Eliza McMahon raises the alarm by opening the drawing room window and shouting “Murder! Murder!” A matron at an adjoining nursing home is alerted and phones the police and an ambulance.

It is alleged that a group of policemen operating out of Brown Square Barracks in the Shankill Road area are behind the killings. This has never been proved, but historian Eamon Phoenix, of Stranmillis University College in Belfast, has said there is “strong circumstantial evidence” that District Inspector John Nixon was responsible. Historian Tim Pat Coogan believes the police were responsible. An inquiry is carried out by the Department of Defence of the Irish Free State, but not by the Northern Irish authorities. A 1924 Free State report alleges that twelve policemen, whom the report identifies by name, had carried out the McMahon murders, as well as several other attacks on Catholics.

The killings cause outrage among Belfast’s Catholic population and over 10,000 people attend the funerals of those killed.

David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, worried that the violence could collapse the new Northern Ireland administration, organise a meeting in London between Irish republican leader Michael Collins and Sir James Craig, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, both to try to stop the IRA violence which Collins has been tacitly encouraging and supporting, and to pressure Craig to provide more protection for Catholics. Craig denies the nationalist assertion that the McMahon killings were part of an anti-Catholic pogrom on behalf of state forces.

No one is ever prosecuted for the killings but District Inspector John Nixon of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is strongly suspected of being responsible. Nixon is later forced to step down from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the force that succeeds the RIC in June 1922, albeit on full pension, in 1924 after being heard giving (in breach of police regulations) a political speech to an Orange Order meeting saying that, “not an inch of Ulster should be yielded” to the Free State.