seamus dubhghaill

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


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Founding of the Tenant Right League

The Tenant Right League, an organisation which aims to secure reforms in the Irish land system, is founded in Dublin on August 9, 1850, at a meeting attended by representatives of the Tenant Protection Societies. Formed by Charles Gavan Duffy and Frederick Lucas, the League unites for a time Protestant and Catholic tenants, Duffy calling his movement The League of North and South.

The political background to the movement is the Encumbered Estates Act and the resultant change in land ownership at landlord level. In the North of Ireland, Protestant and Presbyterian ministers fear that the new landlords will destroy the “Ulster custom” of tenancy, which compensates tenants for any improvement undertaken. Concurrently, in the South of Ireland politically minded young Catholic priests are agitating for the adoption there of the Ulster custom as a measure of reform.

Support for the League initially comes from the Ulster Tenant Right Association led by William Sharman Crawford. The support is short-lived because of the involvement of Catholic clergymen from the south. As a constitutional movement, the League seeks to secure the adoption and enforcement of the Three Fs, namely fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale. All of these would aid Irish tenant farms, all of whom lack them.

For the larger tenant farmers fixity of tenure is the priority. On the other hand the league never has the support of smaller tenants, whose prime concern is fair rents. The founders strive to establish a parliamentary party of Irish members who will oppose any government not prepared to grant “Tenant-right” also known as the Ulster Custom.

The Tenant Right League meets with considerable success under its national organiser, John Martin. It has the support of the surviving members of the Repeal Association in the British House of Commons as well as a number of English Radicals. It is agreed, all around, that a Land Act embodying the three F’s would be a real gain. In the 1852 general election, some fifty Tenant Right candidates, including Gavan Duffy, Lucas and John Sadleir, are returned to parliament, where they sit as the Independent Irish Party.

The League’s success is short lived and is ultimately destroyed and weakened when a number of prominent members break away and established the Catholic Defence Association. Supporters of the league are also intimidated by hostile landlords. The most serious blows to its success come when Lucas decides to take his complaint about the Archbishop of Dublin Paul Cullen to Rome, which alienates clerical support. Lucas dies in October 1855 shortly after the failure of his mission, a month later Gavan Duffy emigrates to Australia.

The League finally dissolves in 1859, and the Independent Irish Party disappears by 1860. The demand for tenants rights is however continued by Bishop Thomas Nulty of County Meath and taken up again as a popular cause by the Irish National Land League in 1879, when the “Three Fs” are anchored in the Land Law (Ireland) Act 1881, previously pursued rigorously by Michael Davitt.


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Birth of Andy Irvine, Musician & Singer-Songwriter

Andrew Kennedy Irvine, known as Andy Irvine, Irish folk musician and singer-songwriter, is born on June 14, 1942 in St. John’s Wood, London, England to an Irish mother from Lisburn, County Antrim, and a Scottish father from Glasgow. He is a founding member of popular bands Sweeney’s Men, Planxty, Patrick Street, Mozaik, LAPD and Usher’s Island. He plays the mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, harmonica and hurdy-gurdy.

Irvine has been influential in folk music for over five decades, during which he records a large repertoire of songs and tunes he assembles from books, old recordings and folk-song collectors rooted in the Irish, English, Scottish, Eastern European, Australian and American old-time and folk traditions. He sets these songs to new music and also writes songs about his personal experiences or the lives and struggles of his heroes, including Tom Barker, Michael Davitt, Mother Jones, Douglas Mawson, Raoul Wallenberg, and Emiliano Zapata.

Imbued with a sense of social justice, Irvine often selects or writes songs that are based on historical events and presented from the victim’s perspective. Some of these songs chronicle the abject living and working conditions imposed on groups of people such as the emigrants, the brutalized migrant workers, the exploited textile strikers or coalminers. Other songs recall the archetypal experiences of single individuals – the woman seduced by an unfaithful man or disowned by her father, the destitute young man ostracized or murdered on the order of his sweetheart’s rich father, the down-on-his-luck farmer or the unemployed worker, the young man inveigled by the army’s recruiting sergeant, the scapegoats. Irvine’s songs also denounce worker deaths and industrial diseases, and lament the plight of hunted animals. His repertoire includes humorous songs, but also bittersweet ones of unrequited love, or of lovers cruelly separated or dramatically reunited. He also sings about famous racehorses, men or women masquerading in various disguises, a fantastical fox preying on young maidens, and the violent lives of outlaws.

As a child actor, Irvine hones his performing talent from an early age and learns the classical guitar. He switches to folk music after discovering Woody Guthrie, also adopting the latter’s other instruments, the harmonica and mandolin. While extending Guthrie’s guitar picking technique to the mandolin, he further develops his playing of this instrument and, later, of the mandola and the bouzouki, into a decorative, harmonic style and embraces the modes and rhythms of Bulgarian folk music. Along with Johnny Moynihan and Dónal Lunny, Irvine is one of the pioneers who adapts the Greek bouzouki into an Irish instrument. He contributes to advancing the design of his instruments in cooperation with English luthier Stefan Sobell, and he occasionally plays a hurdy-gurdy made for him in 1972 by Peter Abnett, another English luthier.

Although touring mainly as a soloist, Irvine has also enjoyed great success in pursuing collaborations through many projects that have influenced contemporary folk music. He continues to tour and perform extensively in Ireland, Great Britain, Europe, North and South America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.


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Birth of Revolutionary James Fintan Lalor

james-fintan-lalorJames Fintan Lalor, Irish revolutionary, journalist, and one of the most powerful writers of his day, is born on March 10, 1807, in Tinnakill House, Raheen, County Laois. A leading member of the Irish Confederation (Young Ireland), he plays an active part in both the Rebellion in July 1848 and the attempted Rising in September of that same year.

His father Patrick is an extensive farmer and is the first Catholic MP for Laois from 1832–1835. The household is a very political one where active discussion on national issues is encouraged.

Because of an accident when he is young, James is semi-crippled all his life. He is not a very healthy young man and consequently is educated at home. He spends some time attending college in Carlow but is forced to return home because of his health.

His father is passionately opposed to the payment of tithes and urges Catholics not to pay. James supports this stand but it is the land question and the power of the landlords to evict tenants that exercises James in particular. His father is also a great supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the Repeal movement. However, James does not support the Repeal movement as he considers it to be flawed. As a result, a rift occurs between James and his father on this question. Such is the rift that James leaves home and spends time in Belfast and Dublin. He finally returns home due to ill health and heals his differences with his father.

It is while writing from home that James achieves national prominence. His writings have a profound effect on such figures as Michael Davitt, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, and Arthur Griffith. He contributes articles to The Nation and The Felon. He advocates rent strikes and active resistance to any wrongdoings. His central theme is the rights of the tenant farmer to his own land. In his opinion, land reform is the biggest issue of the time. He writes articles such as “What must be done,” “The Faith of a felon,” “Resistance,” and “Clearing Decks.” It is he who says it is time for revolution and active resistance. This is especially evident during famine years when tenants are being evicted for nonpayment of rent. As a result, he is arrested and imprisoned. Upon his release he continues to write. He is now a nationally acclaimed writer, revolutionary, and reformer.

Ill health once again curtails his efforts. An attack of bronchitis eventually brings about his early death on December 27, 1849, at the age of 43. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetary in Dublin.


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Founding of the Irish National Land League

land-league-posterThe Irish National Land League, one of the most important political organizations in Irish history which seeks to help poor tenant farmers, is founded at the Imperial Hotel in Castlebar, County Mayo, on October 21, 1879. Its primary aim is to abolish landlordism in Ireland and enable tenant farmers to own the land they work on. The national organization is modeled on the Land League of Mayo, which Michael Davitt had helped found earlier in the year.

At the founding meeting Charles Stewart Parnell is elected president of the league. Davitt, Andrew Kettle, and Thomas Brennan are appointed as honorary secretaries. This unites practically all the different strands of land agitation and tenant rights movements under a single organisation.

Parnell, Davitt, John Dillon, and others including Cal Lynn then go to the United States to raise funds for the League with spectacular results. Branches are also set up in Scotland, where the Crofters Party imitates the League and secures a reforming Act in 1886.

The government introduces the Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act 1870, which proves largely ineffective. It is followed by the marginally more effective Land Acts of 1880 and 1881. These establish a Land Commission that starts to reduce some rents. Parnell together with all of his party lieutenants including Father Eugene Sheehy, known as “the Land League priest,” go into a bitter verbal offensive and are imprisoned in October 1881 under the Protection of Person and Property Act 1881 in Kilmainham Gaol for “sabotaging the Land Act.” It is from here that the No-Rent Manifesto is issued, calling for a national tenant farmer rent strike until “constitutional liberties” are restored and the prisoners freed. It has a modest success In Ireland, and mobilizes financial and political support from the Irish Diaspora.

Although the League discourages violence, agrarian crimes increase widely. Typically a rent strike is followed by eviction by the police and the bailiffs. Tenants who continue to pay the rent can be subject to a boycott by local League members. Where cases go to court, witnesses would change their stories, resulting in an unworkable legal system. This in turn leads on to stronger criminal laws being passed that are described by the League as “Coercion Acts.”

The bitterness that develops helps Parnell later in his Home Rule campaign. Davitt’s views as seen in his famous slogan: “The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland” is aimed at strengthening the hold on the land by the peasant Irish at the expense of the alien landowners. Parnell aims to harness the emotive element, but he and his party are strictly constitutional. He envisions tenant farmers as potential freeholders of the land they have rented.


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Birth of Irish Rebel Leader John Devoy

john-devoyJohn Devoy, one of the most devoted revolutionaries the world has ever seen, is born in Kill, County Kildare, on September 3, 1842. Dedicating over 60 years of his life to the cause of Irish freedom, he is one of the few people to have played a leading role in the Fenian Rising of 1867, the 1916 Easter Rising, and the Irish War of Independence (1919 – 1921).

After the Great Famine, the family moves to Dublin where Devoy’s father obtains at job at Watkins’ brewery. Devoy attends night school at the Catholic University before joining the Fenians. In 1861 he travels to France with an introduction from Timothy Daniel Sullivan to John Mitchel. Devoy joins the French Foreign Legion and serves in Algeria for a year before returning to Ireland to become a Fenian organiser in Naas, County Kildare.

In 1865, when many Fenians are arrested, James Stephens, founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), appoints Devoy Chief Organiser of Fenians in the British Army in Ireland. His duty is to enlist Irish soldiers in the British Army into the IRB. In November 1865 Devoy orchestrates Stephens’ escape from Richmond Prison in Dublin.

In February 1866 an IRB Council of War calls for an immediate uprising but Stephens refuses, much to Devoy’s annoyance, as he calculated the Fenian force in the British Army to number 80,000. The British get wind of the plan through informers and move the regiments abroad, replacing them with regiments from Britain. Devoy is arrested in February 1866 and interned in Mountjoy Gaol, then tried for treason and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude. In Portland Prison Devoy organises prison strikes and, as a result, is moved to Millbank Prison in Pimlico, London.

In January 1871, he is released and exiled to the United States as one of the “Cuba Five.” He receives an address of welcome from the House of Representatives. Devoy becomes a journalist for the New York Herald and is active in Clan na Gael. Under Devoy’s leadership, Clan na Gael becomes the central Irish republican organisation in the United States. In 1877 he aligns the organisation with the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland.

In 1875, Devoy and John Boyle O’Reilly organise the escape of six Fenians from Fremantle Prison in Western Australia aboard the ship Catalpa. Devoy returns to Ireland in 1879 to inspect Fenian centres and meets Charles Kickham, John O’Leary, and Michael Davitt en route in Paris. He convinces Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell to co-operate in the “New Departure” during the growing Land War.

Devoy’s fundraising efforts and work to sway Irish Americans to physical force nationalism makes possible the Easter Rising in 1916. In 1914, Patrick Pearse visits the elderly Devoy in America, and later the same year Roger Casement works with Devoy in raising money for guns to arm the Irish Volunteers. Though he is skeptical of the endeavor, he finances and supports Casement’s expedition to Germany to enlist German aid in the struggle to free Ireland from English rule. Also, before and during World War I, Devoy is also identified closely with the Ghadar Party, and is accepted to have played a major role in supporting Indian Nationalists, as well as playing a key role in the Hindu-German Conspiracy which leads to the trial that is the longest and most expensive trial in the United States at the time.

In 1916 Devoy plays an important role in the formation of the Clan-dominated Friends of Irish Freedom, a propaganda organization whose membership totals 275,000 at one point. The Friends fail in their efforts to defeat Woodrow Wilson for the presidency in 1916. Fearful of accusations of disloyalty for their cooperation with Germans and opposition to the United States’ entering the war on the side of Great Britain, the Friends significantly lower their profile after April 1917. Sinn Féin‘s election victories and the British government’s intentions to conscript in Ireland in April 1917 help to revitalize the Friends.

With the end of the war, Devoy plays a key role in the Friends’ advocacy for not the United States’ recognition of the Irish Republic but, in keeping with President Wilson’s war aims, self-determination for Ireland. The latter does not guarantee recognition of the Republic as declared in 1916 and reaffirmed in popular election in 1918. American-Irish republicans challenge the Friends’ refusal to campaign for American recognition of the Irish Republic. Not surprisingly, Devoy and the Friends’ Daniel F. Cohalan become the key players in a trans-Atlantic dispute with de facto Irish president Éamon de Valera, touring the United States in 1919 and 1920 in hopes of gaining U.S. recognition of the Republic and American funds. Believing that the Americans should follow Irish policy, de Valera forms the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic in 1920 with help from the Philadelphia Clan na Gael.

Devoy returns to Ireland and in 1919 addresses Dáil Éireann. He later supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Devoy is editor of the Gaelic American from 1903 until his death in Atlantic City on September 29, 1928. His body is returned to Ireland and buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. A large memorial to him stands on the road between his native Kill and Johnstown.


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Birth of Irish National Land League Founder Michael Davitt

michael-davittMichael Davitt, Irish republican and agrarian agitator, is born in Straide, County Mayo, on March 25, 1846. Davitt is the  founder of the Irish National Land League, which organizes resistance to absentee landlordism and seeks to relieve the poverty of the tenant farmers by securing fixity of tenure, fair rent, and free sale of the tenant’s interest.

Davitt is the son of an evicted tenant farmer. After their eviction, the family emigrates to England. In 1856, at the age of 10, he starts work in a cotton mill, where he loses an arm in a machinery accident a year later. In 1865, he joins the revolutionary Fenian Brotherhood, an international secret society that seeks to secure political freedom for Ireland. He becomes secretary of its Irish analogue, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), in 1868. Arrested  in Paddington Station in London for sending firearms to Ireland on May 14, 1870, he is sentenced to 15 years in Dartmoor Prison and there lays plans to link Charles Stewart Parnell’s constitutional reform with Fenian activism to achieve political-agrarian agitation.

Paroled from prison in 1877, Davitt rejoins the IRB and goes to the United States, where the Fenian movement originated. There he is deeply influenced by Henry George’s ideas about the relationship between land monopoly and poverty.

Back in Ireland, using funds raised by John Devoy and Clan na Gael in the United States, Davitt wins Parnell’s cooperation in organizing the Land League in 1879, which leads, however, to his expulsion from the supreme council of the IRB in 1880. He is elected member of Parliament for County Meath in 1882 but is disqualified as he is a convict. He is also imprisoned for seditious speeches in 1881 and 1883.

Because of his public championing of Henry George’s theories of land reform, Parnell repudiates him. Davitt actively defends the Nationalists before the Parnell Commission, which meets between 1887 and 1889. When the Irish party splits in 1890 over Parnell’s involvement in Capt. William Henry O’Shea’s divorce case, Davitt is among the first to oppose Parnell’s continuance as leader.

Davitt is elected to Parliament in 1892 and 1893 but is unseated in both cases. He is elected again, for South Mayo in 1895, but resigns in 1899 in protest against the Second Boer War.

Davitt dies in Elphis Hospital, Dublin on May 30, 1906, at the age of 60, from blood poisoning. The fact that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland attends his funeral is a public indication of the dramatic political journey this former Fenian prisoner has taken. There is no plan for public funeral, and hence Davitt’s body is brought quietly to the Carmelite Friary, Clarendon Street, Dublin. However, the next day over 20,000 people file past his coffin. His remains are taken by train to Foxford, County Mayo, and buried in the grounds of Straide Abbey at Straide, near his place of birth.

Davitt’s book, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (1904), is a valuable record of his time.