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


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Birth of Paul “Dingus” Magee, Volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army

Paul “Dingus” Magee, a former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, on January 30, 1948.

Magee joins the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and receives a five-year sentence in 1971 for possession of firearms. He is imprisoned in Long Kesh, where he holds the position of camp adjutant. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he is part of a four-man active service unit, along with Joe Doherty and Angelo Fusco, nicknamed the “M60 gang” due to their use of an M60 general-purpose machine gun. On April 9, 1980, the unit lures the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into an ambush on Stewartstown Road, killing Constable Stephen Magill and wounding two others. On May 2 the unit is planning another attack and has taken over a house on Antrim Road, when an eight-man patrol from the British Army‘s Special Air Service (SAS) arrives in plain clothes, after being alerted by the RUC. A car carrying three SAS members goes to the rear of the house, and another car carrying five SAS members arrives at the front of the house. As the SAS members at the front of the house exit the car the IRA unit opens fire with the M60 machine gun from an upstairs window, hitting Captain Herbert Westmacott in the head and shoulder. Westmacott is killed instantly and is the highest-ranking member of the SAS killed in Northern Ireland. The remaining SAS members at the front of the house, armed with Colt Commando automatic rifles, submachine guns and Browning pistols, return fire but are forced to withdraw. Magee is apprehended by the SAS members at the rear of the house while attempting to prepare the IRA unit’s escape in a transit van, while the other three IRA members remain inside the house. More members of the security forces are deployed to the scene, and after a brief siege the remaining members of the IRA unit surrender.

The trial of Magee and the other members of the M60 gang begins in early May 1981, with them facing charges including three counts of murder. On June 10 Magee and seven other prisoners, including Joe Doherty, Angelo Fusco and the other member of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Jail. After locking the officer in a cell, the eight take other officers and visiting solicitors hostage, also locking them in cells after taking their clothing. Two of the eight wear officer’s uniforms while a third wears clothing taken from a solicitor, and the group moves toward the first of three gates separating them from the outside world. They take the officer on duty at the gate hostage at gunpoint and force him to open the inner gate. An officer at the second gate recognises one of the prisoners and runs into an office and presses an alarm button, and the prisoners run through the second gate towards the outer gate. An officer at the outer gate tries to prevent the escape but is attacked by the prisoners, who escape onto Crumlin Road. As the prisoners are moving toward the car park where two cars are waiting, an unmarked RUC car pulls up across the street outside Crumlin Road Courthouse. The RUC officers open fire, and the prisoners return fire before escaping in the waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Magee is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Magee escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland. Eleven days after the escape he appears in public at the Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown Graveyard, County Kildare, where troops from the Irish Army and the Garda‘s Special Branch attempt to arrest him but fail after the crowd throws missiles and lay down in the road blocking access. He is arrested in January 1982 along with Angelo Fusco and sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the escape under extra-jurisdictional legislation. Shortly before his release from prison in 1989, he is served with an extradition warrant, and he starts a legal battle to avoid being returned to Northern Ireland. In October 1991, the Supreme Court of Ireland in Dublin orders his return to Northern Ireland to serve his sentence for the murder of Captain Westmacott, but Magee jumps bail and a warrant is issued for his arrest.

Magee flees to England, where he is part of an IRA active service unit. On June 7, 1992, Magee and another IRA member, Michael O’Brien, are traveling in a car on the A64 road between York and Tadcaster, when they are stopped by the police. Magee and O’Brien are questioned by the unarmed police officers, who become suspicious and call for back-up. Magee shoots Special Constable Glenn Goodman, who dies later in hospital, and then shoots the other officer, PC Kelly, four times. Kelly escapes death when a fifth bullet ricochets off the radio he is holding to his ear, and the IRA members drive away. Another police car begins to follow the pair, and comes under fire near Burton Salmon. The lives of the officers in the car are in danger, but Magee and O’Brien flee the scene after a member of the public arrives. A manhunt is launched, and hundreds of police officers, many of them armed, search woods and farmland. Magee and O’Brien evade capture for four days by hiding in a culvert, before they are both arrested in separate police operations in the town of Pontefract.

On March 31, 1993, Magee is found guilty of the murder of Special Constable Goodman and the attempted murder of three other police officers and sentenced to life imprisonment. O’Brien is found guilty of attempted murder and receives an eighteen-year sentence. On September 9, 1994, Magee and five other prisoners, including Danny McNamee, escape from HM Prison Whitemoor. The prisoners, in possession of two guns that had been smuggled into the prison, scale the prison walls using knotted sheets. A guard is shot and wounded during the escape, and the prisoners are captured after being chased across fields by guards and the police. In 1996 Magee stages a dirty protest in HM Prison Belmarsh, in protest at glass screens separating prisoners from their relatives during visits. He has refused to accept visits from his wife and five children for two years, prompting Sinn Féin to accuse the British government of maintaining “a worsening regime that is damaging physically and psychologically.”

In January 1997, Magee and the other five escapees from Whitemoor are on trial on charges relating to the escape for a second time, as four months earlier the first trial had been stopped because of prejudicial publicity. Lawyers for the defendants successfully argued that an article in the Evening Standard prejudiced the trial as it contained photographs of Magee and two other defendants and described them as “terrorists,” as an order had been made at the start of the trial preventing any reference to the background and previous convictions of the defendants. Despite the judge saying the evidence against the defendants was “very strong”, he dismisses the case stating, “What I have done is the only thing I can do in the circumstances. The law for these defendants is the same law for everyone else. They are entitled to that, whatever they have done.”

On May 5, 1998, Magee is repatriated to the Republic of Ireland to serve the remainder of his sentence in Portlaoise Prison, along with Liam Quinn and the members of the Balcombe Street Gang. He is released from prison in late 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and returns to live with his family in Tralee, County Kerry. On March 8, 2000, he is arrested on the outstanding Supreme Court extradition warrant from 1991 and remanded to Mountjoy Prison. The following day he is granted bail at the High Court in Dublin, after launching a legal challenge to his extradition. In November 2000 the Irish government informs the High Court that it is no longer seeking to return him to Northern Ireland. This follows a statement from Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson saying that “it is clearly anomalous to pursue the extradition of people who appear to qualify for early release under the Good Friday Agreement scheme, and who would, on making a successful application to the Sentence Review Commissioners, have little if any of their original prison sentence to serve.” In December 2000 Magee and three other IRA members, including two other members of the M60 gang, are granted a Royal Prerogative of Mercy which allows them to return to Northern Ireland without fear of prosecution.


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Birth of Charlie Kerins, Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army

Charlie Kerins, a physical force Irish Republican and Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Caherina, Tralee, County Kerry, on January 23, 1918. He is one of six IRA men who are executed by the Irish State between September 1940 and December 1944.

Kerins attends Balloonagh Mercy Convent School and then the CBS, Edward Street. At the age of 13, he wins a Kerry County Council scholarship and completes his secondary education at the Green Christian Brothers and the Jeffers Institute. In 1930, he passes the Intermediate Certificate with honours and the matriculation examination to the National University of Ireland (NUI). He later does a commercial course and takes up employment in a radio business in Tralee.

In 1940, Kerins is sworn into the IRA and is appointed to the GHQ staff in May 1942. At the time, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera is determined to preserve Irish neutrality during World War II. Therefore, the IRA’s bombing campaign in England, its attacks against targets in Northern Ireland, and its ties to the intelligence services of Nazi Germany are regarded as severe threats to Ireland’s national security. IRA men who are captured by the Gardaí are interned for the duration of the war by the Irish Army in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare.

On the morning of September 9, 1942, Garda Detective Sergeant Denis O’Brien is leaving his home in Ballyboden, Dublin. He is between his front gate and his car when he is cut down with Thompson submachine guns. O’Brien, an Anti-Treaty veteran of the Irish Civil War, had enlisted in the Garda Síochána in 1933. He is one of the most effective Detectives of the Special Branch division, which has its headquarters at Dublin Castle. The shooting greatly increases public feeling against the IRA, particularly as the murder is carried out in full view of his wife.

Following the arrest of Hugh McAteer in October 1942, Kerins is named Chief of Staff of the IRA. Despite a massive manhunt by Gardaí, he remains at large for two years. He stays at a County Waterford home for two weeks while he is on the run, having given his name as Pat Carney. He is captured several months after he leaves the home.

Kerins had previously left papers and guns hidden at Kathleen Farrell’s house in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. He telephones the house, as he intends to retrieve them. However, Farrell’s telephone had been tapped by the Gardaí. On June 15, 1944, he is arrested in an early morning raid. He is sleeping when the Gardaí enter his bedroom and does not have an opportunity to reach the Thompson submachine gun which is hidden under his bed.

At a trial before the Special Criminal Court in Collins Barracks, Dublin, Kerins is formally charged on October 2, 1944, for the “shooting at Rathfarnham of Detective Dinny O’Brien.” At the end of his trial, the president of the Military Court delays sentence until later in the day to allow Kerins, if he wishes, to make an application whereby he might avoid a capital sentence. When the court resumes, he says, “You could have adjourned it for six years as far as I am concerned, as my attitude towards this Court will always be the same.” He thus deprives himself of the right to give evidence, to face cross-examination, or to call witnesses.

Despite legal moves initiated by Seán MacBride, public protests, and parliamentary intervention by TDs from Clann na Talmhan, Labour, and Independent Oliver J. Flanagan in Leinster House, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera refuses to issue a reprieve. On December 1, 1944, in Mountjoy Prison, Kerins is hanged by British chief executioner Albert Pierrepoint, who is employed by the Irish Government for such occasions.

Kerins is the last IRA member to be executed in the Republic of Ireland. He is buried in the prison yard. In September 1948, his remains are exhumed and released to his family. He is buried in the Republican plot at Rath Cemetery, Tralee, County Kerry.


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Birth of Rory O’Connor, Irish Republican Revolutionary

Rory O’Connor (Irish: Ruairí Ó Conchubhair), Irish republican revolutionary, is born in Kildare Street, Dublin, on November 28, 1883.

O’Connor is educated in St. Mary’s College, Dublin, and then in Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, a public school run by the Jesuit order. It is also attended by the man who later condemns O’Connor to death, his close friend Kevin O’Higgins. He studies experimental physics, logic, and metaphysics. He also attends the College of Science, Merrion Street. He takes a BA (1906) and receives a B.Eng (1911). In 1910, he takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees at University College Dublin (UCD), then known as the National University. Prominent in the university’s Literary and Historical Society, he advocates militant constitutional nationalism as one of the many society members active in the Young Ireland branch of the United Irish League.

O’Connor goes to work as a railway engineer, then he moves to Canada where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of railroad. He returns to Ireland in 1915 at Joseph Plunkett‘s request and works for Dublin Corporation as a civil engineer. He joins the Catholic nationalist organisation the Ancient Order of Hibernians and serves in the Easter Rising in 1916 in the GPO as an intelligence officer. He is wounded by a sniper during reconnaissance at the Royal College of Surgeons.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-21) O’Connor is Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers. The specialist skills of engineering and signaling are essential to the development of the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Its men are forbidden frontline duty as their contribution is regarded as vital, their number too small. But units only expand on an incremental local basis, disappointing General Richard Mulcahy.

O’Connor is also involved in the Republican breakout from Strangeways Prison in Manchester, England, on October 25, 1919. Michael Collins takes a particular interest in the escape, and actually visits Austin Stack in the prison under a false name to finalise the arrangements. IRA men hold up traffic while a ladder is propped up against the outside of a prison wall. In all six prisoners escape, among them Piaras Beaslaí.

O’Connor refuses to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State. It is ratified by a narrow vote in Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament. He and many like him feel that the Treaty copper-fastens the partition of the six counties of Northern Ireland and undermines the Irish Republic declared in 1916.

On January 10, a meeting is held at O’Connor’s home in Monkstown, Dublin. In attendance are all senior anti-Treaty IRA officers except Liam Mellows. O’Connor is appointed to chair this grouping, known as the Republican Military Council. It is agreed that an IRA convention should be called without delay; failing this, a separate GHQ will be formed. At a further meeting in O’Connor’s office on March 20, a temporary IRA GHQ staff is elected under Liam Lynch as chief of staff. O’Connor remains in charge of engineering.

On March 26, 1922, the anti-Treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin, in which they reject the Treaty and repudiate the authority of the Dáil. However, they are prepared to discuss a way forward. The convention meets again on April 9. It creates a new army constitution and places the army under a newly elected executive of 16 men, including O’Connor, that are to choose an army council and headquarters staff. Asked by a journalist if this development means the anti-Treatyites ware proposing a “military dictatorship” in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “You can take it that way if you want.”

On April 14, 1922, O’Connor is one of a number of IRA leaders in a 200-strong force that occupies the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the Provisional Government. They intend to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. They also occupy other smaller buildings regarded as being associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons‘ Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remains the focus of interest. On June 15, O’Connor sends out men to collect the rifles that belong to the mutineers of the Civic Guards.

Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade the IRA men to leave the Four Courts. At the Third IRA Convention on June 18, the Executive is split over whether the Irish Government should demand that all British troops leave within 72 hours. A motion to this effect, opposed by Lynch, is narrowly defeated, whereupon O’Connor and others leave the meeting to set up a separate GHQ. The IRA effectively splits into two factions opposed to the government.

On June 22, 1922, Sir Henry Wilson is assassinated in London by two IRA men, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, each a former British soldier. Some now argue that this was done on the orders of Michael Collins, who had been a close friend of Dunne’s in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Prime Minister David Lloyd George writes an angry letter to Collins, which includes the line “…still less can Mr. Rory O’Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin… organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government…”

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the National Army, Collins gives orders for the shelling of the Four Courts with borrowed artillery lent by Winston Churchill. The shelling leads to the Four Courts catching fire, damaging parts of the building in addition to destroying numerous government documents. O’Connor is one of 130 men that surrender on June 30, some of whom are arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison. This incident marks the official start of the Irish Civil War, as fighting breaks out openly around the country between pro- and anti-Treaty factions.

On December 8, 1922, along with three other republicans, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, captured with the fall of the Four Courts, O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-Treaty IRA’s killing of Free State Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales. The execution order is signed by Kevin O’Higgins. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’s wedding on October 27, 1921. Their deaths remain a symbol of the bitterness and division of the Irish Civil War. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Provisional Government, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.

On O’Connor’s execution, the equestrienne Joan de Sales La Terriere, a close friend of his, names her son in his honour. “Rory O’Connor Place” in Arklow is named in his honour. There is also a pub in Crumlin, Dublin, named after him and a housing estate near Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, called “Rory O’Connor Park.” A Sinn Féin cumann (UCD) is named after him.

(Pictured: Rory O’Connor addressing members of the IRA’s Dublin City Brigade at Smithfield, April 1922)


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Bridget Dirrane Featured in the Guinness Book of Records at Age 104

Bridget Dirrane, who was imprisoned with Kevin Barry and who canvassed for John F. Kennedy in the United States, celebrates her 104th birthday on November 15, 1998 with news that she is to be featured in the new edition of the Guinness Book of Records. Earlier in the year, she receives a Master of Arts honorary degree from NUI Galway which makes her the oldest person in the world to be awarded a degree.

Dirrane is born in Oatquarter in the townland of Kilmurvey on Inishmore, Aran Islands, County Galway on November 15, 1894. She is the youngest child of Joseph Gillan and Maggie (née Walsh). Her father is a weaver of flannel cloth and has a small farm. She has four brothers and three sisters. Her oldest brother is a fisherman, who dies at age 21 in 1901, and her father dies before 1911. Despite this hardship, all of the children go to school, with one of her brothers becoming an Irish teacher, and later an Irish inspector. The family speaks Irish at home, but they are all bilingual with English. She is schooled at the national school in Oatquarter until the age of 14. She leaves to work in local homes, looking after children. When she writes her memoirs late in life, she claims to have met Joseph Plunkett, Éamonn Ceannt, Thomas MacDonagh, Thomas Ashe and Patrick Pearse when they visited the island, visiting a house where she looked after the children, discussing politics and plans for the Easter Rising with them. She is a republican, becoming a member of Cumann na mBan in 1918 while she is working for Fr. Matthew Ryan as a housekeeper. She is involved in drilling and assisting fugitives from the authorities. Because of their known republican sympathies, the Black and Tans raid the Gillan family homes.

Dirrane moves to Dublin in 1919 to train in Saint Ultan’s Children’s Hospital as a nurse. She is still under surveillance, being arrested alongside her employer, Claude Chavasse, when she is working as a nurse in his house. She is held in Dublin’s Bridewell Garda Station for two days before being transferred to Mountjoy Prison. In the time of her imprisonment, she is not charged or put on trial. Her refusal to speak English angers the guards, culminating in her going on hunger strike for a number of days in 1920 until she is released. She takes part in the Cumann na mBan vigil outside of Mountjoy Prison in November 1920, when Kevin Barry is hanged.

Dirrane works in Richard Mulcahy‘s house for two years, before emigrating to the United States in 1927 to continue her career as a nurse. She works in Boston where she is an active member of the Irish emigrant community alongside former neighbours from the Aran Islands and some relatives. She works in a hotel for a time, but returns to nursing after her marriage to Edward ‘Ned’ Dirrane in November 1932 in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. Ned, a labourer in Boston and also from Inishmore, dies from heart failure in 1940. Dirrane continues her career nursing in hospitals and as a district nurse. On May 13, 1940, she naturalises as U.S. citizen. During World War II, she works as a nurse in a munitions factory, and at a U.S. Army Air Forces bomber base in Mississippi. She canvases for John F. Kennedy in the Irish community in South Boston when he runs for president in 1960. Jean Kennedy Smith visits Dirrane in 1997 in Galway to acknowledge her contribution. She also meets Senator Edward Kennedy.

Following her retirement, Dirrane lives with her nephew, but she returns to the Aran Islands in 1966 at age 72. There she lives with her brother-in-law, Pat Dirrane, a widower with three grown sons. They marry in a private ceremony on April 27, 1966. She continues to live on the island after Pat’s death on February 28, 1990, living with her stepson. She eventually moves into a nursing home in Newcastle in the suburbs of Galway. When she celebrates her 100th birthday, she funds a statue of Our Lady Mary at a holy well in Corough on Inishmore. At age 103, the matron of her nursing home arranges for a local writer, Jack Mahon, to record her memories and collate the information into a book. The book, A Woman of Aran, is published in 1997 and is a bestseller for several weeks. She is awarded an honorary degree, an MA honoris causa, from NUI Galway in May 1998, the oldest person to ever receive one.

Dirrane dies at age 109 on December 31, 2003, in Galway. She is buried on Inishmore.


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Birth of Seamus Twomey, Two Time Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA

Seamus Twomey (Irish: Séamus Ó Tuama), Irish republican activist, militant, and twice chief of staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on November 5, 1919 on Marchioness Street in Belfast.

Twomey lives at 6 Sevastopol Street in the Falls district. Known as “Thumper” owing to his short temper and habit of banging his fist on tables, he receives little education and is a bookmaker‘s “runner.” His father is a volunteer in the 1920s. In Belfast he lives comfortably with his wife, Rosie, whom he marries in 1946. Together they have sons and daughters.

Twomey begins his involvement with the Irish Republican Army in the 1930s and is interned in Northern Ireland during the 1940s on the prison ship HMS Al Rawdah and later in Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast. Rosie, his wife, is also held prisoner at the women prison, Armagh Jail, in Northern Ireland. He opposes the left-wing shift of Cathal Goulding in the 1960s, and in 1968, helps set up the breakaway Andersonstown Republican Club, later the Roddy McCorley Society.

In 1969, Twomey is prominent in the establishment of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. By 1972, he is Officer Commanding (OC) of the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade when it launches its bomb campaign of the city, including Bloody Friday when nine people are killed. During the 1970s, the leadership of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA is largely in the hands of Twomey and Ivor Bell.

In March 1973, Twomey is first appointed IRA Chief of Staff after the arrest of Joe Cahill. He remains in this position until his arrest in October 1973 by the Garda Síochána. Three weeks later, on October 31, 1973, the IRA organises the helicopter escape of Twomey and his fellow IRA members J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon, when an active service unit hijacks and forces the pilot at gunpoint to land the helicopter in the training yard of Mountjoy Prison. After his escape, he returns to his membership of IRA Army Council.

By June/July 1974, Twomey is IRA Chief of Staff for a second time. He takes part in the Feakle talks between the IRA and Protestant clergymen in December 1974. In the IRA truce which follows in 1975, he is largely unsupportive and wants to fight on in what he sees as “one big push to finish it once and for all.”

IRA informer Sean O’Callaghan claims that on January 5, 1976, Twomey and Brian Keenan give the go-ahead for the sectarian Kingsmill massacre, when ten unarmed Ulster Protestant workmen are executed by the Provisional IRA in retaliation for a rash of loyalist killings of Catholics in the area. It is Keenan’s view, O’Callaghan claims, that “The only way to knock the nonsense out of the Prods is to be ten times more savage.”

Twomey is dedicated to paramilitarism as a means of incorporating Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland. In an interview with French television on July 11, 1977, he declares that although the IRA had waged a campaign for seven years at that point, it can fight on for another 70 against the British state in Northern Ireland and in England. He supports the bombing of wealthy civilian targets, which he justifies on class lines. On October 29, 1977, for example, a no-warning bomb at an Italian restaurant in Mayfair kills one diner and wounds 17 others. Three more people are killed in similar blasts in Chelsea and Mayfair the following month. He says, “By hitting Mayfair restaurants, we were hitting the type of person that could bring pressure to bear on the British government.”

In December 1977, Twomey is captured in Sandycove, Dublin, by the Garda Síochána, who had been tipped off by Belgian police about a concealed arms shipment, to be delivered to a bogus company with an address in the area. They swoop on a house in Martello Terrace to discover Twomey outside in his car, wearing his trademark dark glasses. After a high-speed pursuit, he is recaptured in the centre of Dublin. The Gardaí later find documents in his possession outlining proposals for the structural reorganisation of the IRA according to the cell system. His arrest ends his tenure as IRA chief of staff. In the 1986 split over abstentionism, Twomey sides with the Gerry Adams leadership and remains with the Provisionals.

After a long illness from a heart condition, Twomey dies in Dublin on September 12, 1989. He is buried in the family plot in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast. His funeral is attended by about 2,000 people.


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The Mountjoy Prison Helicopter Escape

The Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape occurs on October 31, 1973 when three Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers escape from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin aboard a hijacked Alouette II helicopter, which briefly lands in the prison’s exercise yard. The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment to the Irish coalition government of the time, led by Fine Gael‘s Liam Cosgrave, which is criticised by opposition party Fianna Fáil. A manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána is launched for the escapees, one of whom, Seamus Twomey, is not recaptured until December 1977. The Wolfe Tones write a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which tops the Irish Singles Chart.

Following the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the Provisional IRA conducts an armed campaign that seeks to create a united Ireland by ending Northern Ireland‘s status as part of the United Kingdom. As a result of increasing levels of violence in Northern Ireland, internment without trial is introduced there in August 1971, and in the Republic of Ireland the coalition government led by Fine Gael’s Liam Cosgrave is attempting to curb IRA activity. Fine Gael had come to power on a law and order ticket, with a policy of “getting tough on crime.” Suspected IRA members are arrested and accused of IRA membership by a superintendent in the Garda Síochána, a crime under the Offences against the State Acts. They are tried at the juryless Special Criminal Court in Dublin, where the traditional IRA policy of not recognising the court results in a fait accompli as no defence is offered and IRA membership carries a minimum mandatory one-year sentence, resulting in internment in all but name. In September 1973 IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey appears at the Special Criminal Court charged with IRA membership, and states, “I refuse to recognise this British-orientated quisling court.” He is found guilty and receives a five-year sentence. By October 1973 the IRA’s command structure is seriously curbed, with Twomey and other senior republicans J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon all being held in Mountjoy Prison.

The IRA immediately begins making plans to break Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon out of the prison. The first attempt involves explosives that had been smuggled into the prison, which are to be used to blow a hole in a door which will give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they are to scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade who are to have a getaway car waiting to complete the escape. The plans when the prisoners cannot gain access to the exercise yard and the rope ladder is spotted, so the IRA begins making new escape plans. The idea of using a helicopter in an escape had been discussed before in a plot to break Gerry Adams out of Long Kesh internment camp but had been ruled out because of faster and more sophisticated British Army helicopters being stationed at a nearby base. The IRA’s GHQ staff approves the plan to break out Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon, and arrangements are made to obtain a helicopter. A man with an American accent calling himself Mr. Leonard approaches the manager of Irish Helicopters at Dublin Airport, with a view to hiring a helicopter for an aerial photographic shoot in County Laois. After being shown the company’s fleet of helicopters, Leonard arranges to hire a five-seater Alouette II for October 31.

Leonard arrives at Irish Helicopters on October 31 and is introduced to the pilot of the helicopter, Captain Thompson Boyes. Boyes is instructed to fly to a field in Stradbally, in order to pick up Leonard’s photographic equipment. After landing Boyes sees two armed, masked men approaching the helicopter from nearby trees. He is held at gunpoint and told he will not be harmed if he follows instructions. Leonard leaves with one gunman, while the other gunman climbs aboard the helicopter armed with a pistol and an ArmaLite rifle. Boyes is instructed to fly towards Dublin following the path of railway lines and the Royal Canal, and is ordered not to register his flight path with Air Traffic Control. As the helicopter approaches Dublin, Boyes is informed of the escape plan and is instructed to land in the exercise yard at Mountjoy Prison.

In the prison’s exercise yard, the prisoners are watching a football match. Shortly after 3:35 p.m. the helicopter swings in to land in the prison yard, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. A prison officer on duty initially takes no action as he believes the helicopter contains the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. After prisoners surround the eight prison officers in the yard, fights break out as the officers realise an escape attempt is in progress. As other prisoners restrain the officers, Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan board the helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, in the confusion one officer shouts, “Close the gates, close the fucking gates.” The helicopter flies north and lands at a disused racecourse in the Baldoyle area of Dublin, where the escapees are met by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Boyes is released unharmed, and the escapees are transferred to a taxi that had been hijacked earlier and are transported to safe houses.

The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment for Cosgrave’s government, which is criticised for “incompetence in security matters” by opposition party Fianna Fáil. An emergency debate on security is held in Dáil Éireann on November 1.

The IRA releases a statement on the escape, which reads, “Three republican prisoners were rescued by a special unit from Mountjoy Prison on Wednesday. The operation was a complete success and the men are now safe, despite a massive hunt by Free State forces.” Shortly after the escape Twomey gives an exclusive interview to German magazine Der Spiegel, where the reporter says people throughout Europe are joking about the incident as “the escape of the century.” Irish rebel band the Wolfe Tones writes a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which is immediately banned by the government yet still tops the Irish Singles Chart after selling twelve thousand copies in a single week.

The escape results in all IRA prisoners being held at Mountjoy Prison and Curragh Camp being transferred to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. In order to prevent any further escapes the perimeter of the prison is guarded by members of the Irish Army, and wires are erected over the prison yard to prevent any future helicopter escape. Cosgrave states there will be “no hiding place” for the escapees, and a manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána ensues.

Mallon is recaptured at a Gaelic Athletic Association dance in a hotel near Portlaoise on December 10, 1973, and imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. He escapes from there in a mass break-out on August 18, 1974, when nineteen prisoners escape after overpowering guards and using gelignite to blast through the gates. He is recaptured in Foxrock in January 1975 and returned to Portlaoise Prison. O’Hagan is recaptured in Dublin in early 1975, and also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. After the end of his original twelve-month sentence, he is immediately arrested and sentenced to a further two years imprisonment for escaping. Twomey evades recapture until December 2, 1977, when he is spotted sitting in a car in Sandycove by members of the Garda’s Special Branch who are investigating an arms shipment after a tip-off from police in Belgium. He drives away after spotting the officers, before being recaptured in the centre of Dublin after a high-speed car chase. He is also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison until his release in 1982.

In 2021, Brendan Hughes publishes an autobiography Up Like a Bird, an account of the planning and organisation of the escape, co-authored with Doug Dalby.


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Patrick Maher’s Remains Returned to County Limerick

The dying wish of Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer Patrick Maher is fulfilled on October 19, 2001, when his remains are brought from Dublin to his native County Limerick for burial the following day with full military honours. He is executed in Mountjoy Prison on June 7, 1921 following his alleged part in the rescue of IRA man Seán Hogan from a heavily guarded train in Knocklong, County Limerick, in May 1919, which results in the death of two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers. Maher always protests his innocence. He is 32 years old at the time of his death.

Maher, a native of County Limerick born around 1889, is hanged along with Edmond Foley for his alleged involvement in the rescue of Seán Hogan at Knocklong Railway Station on May 13, 1919 in which two RIC officers are killed.

Unlike Foley, Maher has no direct involvement in the rescue. He merely works at the station grading poultry and eggs and he is at a crossroads three miles away at the time of the ambush. He strongly protests his innocence. Two civilian juries fail to reach a verdict. He is finally convicted of involvement by a military court-martial and sentenced to death.

In a final message to other members of the IRA, Foley and Maher write:

“Fight on, struggle on, for the honour, glory and freedom of dear old Ireland. Our hearts go out to all our dear old friends. Our souls go to God at 7 o’clock in the morning and our bodies, when Ireland is free, shall go to Galbally. Our blood shall not be shed in vain for Ireland, and we have a strong presentiment, going to our God, that Ireland will soon be free and we gladly give our lives that a smile may brighten the face of ‘Dear Dark Rosaleen.’ Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!”

Maher is one of a group of men hanged and buried in Mountjoy in the period 1920–21, commonly referred to as the Forgotten Ten. In 2001 Maher and the other nine, including Kevin Barry, are exhumed and given a full State funeral. He is the only one of the Ten not to be buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. In accordance with his wishes and those of his family, he is buried at Ladywell Graveyard in Ballylanders, County Limerick.


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State Funeral in Honour of the “Forgotten Ten”

On October 14, 2001, the first multiple state funeral is held in honour of the “Forgotten Ten,” a term applied to ten Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers who were executed by British forces in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, following courts martial for their role in the Irish War of Independence.

Based upon military law at the time, they are buried within the prison precincts, their graves unmarked in the unconsecrated ground. The names of the Forgotten Ten are Kevin Barry, Thomas Whelan, Patrick Moran, Patrick Doyle, Bernard Ryan, Thomas Bryan, Frank Flood, Thomas Traynor, Edmond Foley, and Patrick Maher. The hangman is John Ellis.

Following the Irish War of Independence, Mountjoy Prison is transferred to the control of the Irish Free State, which becomes the State of Ireland in 1937. In the 1920s, the families of the dead men request their remains be returned to them for proper burial. This effort is joined in the later 1920s by the National Graves Association. Through the efforts of the Association, the graves of the men are identified in 1934, and in 1996 a Celtic cross is erected in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, to commemorate them.

The campaign to rebury the men drags on for 80 years from their deaths. Following an intense period of negotiations, the Irish government relents. Plans to exhume the bodies of the ten men are announced on November 1, 2000, the 80th anniversary of the execution of Kevin Barry. On October 14, 2001, the Forgotten Ten are afforded full state honours, with a private service at Mountjoy Prison for the families of the dead, a Requiem Mass at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral and burial in Glasnevin Cemetery.

According to The Guardian, some criticise the event as glorifying militant Irish republicanism. It coincides with the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis. The progress of the cortège through the centre of Dublin is witnessed by crowds estimated as being in the tens of thousands who break into spontaneous applause as the coffins pass. On O’Connell Street, a lone piper plays a lament as the cortège pauses outside the General Post Office (GPO), the focal point of the 1916 Easter Rising. In his homily during the Requiem Mass, Cardinal Cahal Daly, a long-time critic of the IRA campaign in Northern Ireland, insists that there is a clear distinction between the conflict of 1916–22 and the paramilitary-led violence of the previous 30 years:

“The true inheritors today of the ideals of the men and women of 1916 to 1922 are those who are explicitly and visibly committed to leaving the physical force tradition behind… Surely this state funeral can be an occasion for examination of conscience about the ideals of the men who died, and about our responsibility for translating those ideals into today’s realities.”

In his graveside oration Taoiseach Bertie Ahern echoes these sentiments and also pays tribute to the Ten:

“These 10 young men were executed during the War of Independence. The country was under tremendous pressure at the time. There was a united effort. Meanwhile, elected by the people, Dáil Éireann was developing, in spite of a war going on. Democracy was being put to work. Independent civic institutions, including the Dáil courts, were beginning to function. Before their deaths, the ten had seen the light of freedom. They understood that Ireland would be free and independent.”

The state funeral, broadcast live on national television and radio, is only the 13th since independence. Patrick Maher is not reburied with his comrades. In accordance with his wishes, and those of his family, he is reinterred in Ballylanders, County Limerick.

A feature length Irish language documentary on the re-interments, An Deichniúr Dearmadta (The Forgotten Ten) airs on TG4 on March 28, 2002.

(Pictured: The grave of nine of the Forgotten Ten in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin)


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Death of Robert Barton, Nationalist & Anglo-Irish Politician

Robert Childers Barton, Anglo-Irish politician, Irish nationalist and farmer who participates in the negotiations leading up to the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, dies in Annamoe, County Wicklow, on August 10, 1975. His father is Charles William Barton and his mother is Agnes Alexandra Frances Childers. His wife is Rachel Warren of Boston, daughter of Fiske Warren. His double first cousin and close friend is the English-born Irish writer Erskine Childers.

Barton is born in Annamoe on March 14, 1881, into a wealthy Irish Protestant land-owning family, namely of Glendalough House. His two younger brothers, Erskine and Thomas, die while serving in the British Army during World War I. He is educated in England at Rugby School and the University of Oxford and becomes an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers on the outbreak of World War I. He is stationed in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising and comes into contact with many of its imprisoned leaders in the aftermath while on duty at Richmond Barracks. He resigns his commission in protest at the heavy-handed British government suppression of the revolt. He then joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).

At the 1918 Irish general election to the British House of Commons, Barton is elected as the Sinn Féin member for West Wicklow. In common with all Sinn Féin members, he boycotts the Westminster parliament and sits instead in Dáil Éireann (the First Dáil). Arrested in February 1919 for sedition, he escapes from Mountjoy Prison on Saint Patrick’s Day, leaving a note to the governor explaining that, owing to the discomfort of his cell, he felt compelled to leave, and requests the governor to keep his luggage until he sends for it. He is appointed as Director of Agriculture in the Dáil Ministry in April 1919. He is recaptured in January 1920 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, but is released under the general amnesty of July 1921.

In May of that year, prior to his release, Barton is elected as a Sinn Féin member for Kildare–Wicklow in the 1921 Irish election to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Once again all Sinn Féin members boycott this parliament, sitting as the Second Dáil. In August 1921, he is appointed to cabinet as Secretary for Economic Affairs.

Barton is one of the Irish plenipotentiaries to travel to London for the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. His cousin is a secretary to the delegation. He reluctantly signs the Treaty on December 6, 1921, defending it “as the lesser of two outrages forced upon me and between which I had to choose.”

Although he had signed the Treaty and voted for it in the Dáil, Barton stands in the 1922 Irish general election for Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin, the only TD who had voted for the Treaty to do so, and wins a seat in the Third Dáil. In common with other Anti-Treaty TDs, he does not take his seat. In October 1922 he is appointed Minister for Economic Affairs in Éamon de Valera‘s “Emergency Government,” a shadow government in opposition to the Provisional Government and the later Executive Council of the Irish Free State. His memoir of this period is completed in 1954, and can be seen on the Bureau of Military History website. He is arrested and interned for most of the war at the Curragh Camp.

Barton is defeated at the 1923 Irish general election and retires from politics for the law, practicing as a barrister. He later becomes a judge. He is chairman of the Agricultural Credit Corporation from 1934 to 1954. He dies at home in County Wicklow on August 10, 1975, at the age of 94, the last surviving signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Éamon de Valera dies only nineteen days later, on August 29, 1975.

Glendalough House, run by Barton for over 70 years right up until his death, is still considered one of Ireland’s most notable properties, alongside nearby Powerscourt Estate. The house is the center of numerous political meetings and gatherings from 1910 to 1922. It has also been featured as a location in many large Hollywood films including Excalibur, Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart.


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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)