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


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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.


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Birth of John Dillon, Last Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party

John Dillon, a Member of Parliament (MP) for over 35 years and the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) in the struggle to secure Home Rule by parliamentary means, is born in Blackrock, Dublin on September 4, 1851. Through the 1880s he is perhaps the most important ally of the greatest 19th-century Irish nationalist, Charles Stewart Parnell, but, following Parnell’s involvement as co-respondent in a divorce case, he repudiates Parnell for reasons of political prudence.

Dillon is the son of the former “Young IrelanderJohn Blake Dillon (1814–1866). Following the premature death of both his parents, he is partly raised by his father’s niece, Anne Deane. He is educated at Catholic University School, at Trinity College, Dublin and at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. He afterwards studies medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, then ceases active involvement in medicine after he joins Isaac Butt‘s Home Rule League in 1873

Dillon is a member of the British House of Commons during 1880–1883 and 1885–1918. For his vigorous work in the Irish National Land League, which seeks fixed tenure, fair rents, and free sale of Irish land, he is imprisoned twice between May 1881 and May 1882. He is Parnell’s fellow inmate in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin from October 1881. For six months in 1888 he is imprisoned for aiding William O’Brien, author of the “plan of campaign” against high rent charges by English absentee landlords in Irish farming districts.

When Parnell is named co-respondent in Captain William Henry O’Shea’s divorce suit in 1890, Dillon and O’Brien at first affirm their support of him, but they finally decide that he will thenceforth be a liability as party leader. The party then splits, the anti-Parnellite majority forming the Irish National Federation, of which Dillon serves as chairman from 1896. In 1900, however, he agrees to join a reunited party under the Parnellite John Redmond.

During the prime ministry of Arthur James Balfour (1902–1905), Dillon comes to believe that the British Conservative government intends to grant Irish reforms without independence, thereby “killing Home Rule by kindness.” In 1905 he advises Irishmen to vote for Liberal Party candidates for Parliament, and, after the Liberals had taken office that year, he supports their reform program.

Throughout World War I Dillon vehemently opposes the extension of British military conscription to Ireland, both because that measure would strengthen the agitation by the more extreme nationalist Sinn Féin party and because he never accepted the view that British imperial interests necessarily coincided with those of Ireland. After the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, he protests against the harsh measures that ensue and, in the House of Commons, makes a passionate speech in defense of the Irish rebels.

Upon Redmond’s death on March 6, 1918, Dillon, who had broken with him over Irish support for the British war effort, succeeds him as Irish Parliamentary Party leader. By that time, however, the party has been discredited and in the 1918 Irish general election Sinn Féin wins easily. On losing his House of Commons seat to Éamon de Valera, the future president of the Republic of Ireland, he retires from politics.

Dillon dies in a London nursing home at the age of 76, on August 4, 1927. He is buried four days later in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. There is a street named after him in Dublin’s Liberties area, beside the old Iveagh Markets. One of his six children is James Mathew Dillon (1902–1986), a prominent Irish politician and leader of the National Centre Party and of Fine Gael (1957–1966) and also servers as Minister for Agriculture (1954-1957).


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Last Sketch by Jack B. Yeats Sells at Auction

The last sketch by artist Jack B. Yeats, drawn while he lay dying in a Dublin nursing home, sells at auction in London on February 8, 2011 for £5,760. Roundabout Ponies far exceeds its estimate of £1,500- £2,000 at the inaugural Irish Sale at Bonhams, the New Bond Street fine art auctioneers.

The pen-and-ink drawing on writing paper, which measures just over 5 inches by 4 inches, is sold by a family who had inherited it from the matron of the Portobello Nursing Home. The artist had presented the sketch to Teresa O’Sullivan, with whom he had become friendly, two days before he died on March 28, 1957.

Bonhams says the picture had attracted considerable interest because it was the last work done by Yeats and described it as “a little gem [which] exhibits the unique artistic vitality he had right to the end.”

The sketch is bought by an unnamed “private London buyer.” The auction is the first test of the international demand for Irish art in 2011 and the overall results are disappointing. Among the unsold works are the two highest-priced paintings: The Cat Among the Stars, an oil-on-board, also by Jack B. Yeats, and Image of Francis Bacon No. 18, a watercolour by Louis le Brocquy.

Commenting afterwards, Penny Day, the County Laois-born head of Irish Art at Bonhams, says, “We have made a start in the toughest time imaginable and have had mixed results, but I am pretty confident we will be able to sell all the pictures that did not sell in the auction with post-sale deals.”

(From: “Jack B Yeats’ deathbed sketch sells for three times it estimate” by Michael Parsons, The Irish Times, February 10, 2011)


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Birth of Val Doonican, Pop & Easy Listening Singer

Michael Valentine Doonican, singer of traditional pop, easy listening, and novelty songs, who is noted for his warm and relaxed style, is born in Waterford, County Waterford on February 3, 1927.

Doonican is the youngest of eight children of Agnes (née Kavanagh) and John Doonican. He is from a musical family and plays in his school band from the age of six. His father dies in 1941, so he has to leave De La Salle College Waterford to get factory jobs fabricating steel and making orange and grapefruit boxes. He begins to perform in his hometown, often with his friend Bruce Clarke, and they have their first professional engagement as a duo in 1947. He appears in a summer season at Courtown, County Wexford. He is soon featured on Irish radio, sometimes with Clarke, and appears in Waterford’s first-ever television broadcast.

In 1951 Doonican moves to England to join the Four Ramblers, who tour and perform on BBC Radio shows broadcast from factories, and on the Riders of the Range serials. He also begins performing at United States Air Force bases. The Ramblers support Anthony Newley on tour and, recognising Doonican’s talent and potential as a solo act, persuades him to leave the singing group and go solo. He is auditioned for radio as a solo act, and appears on the radio show Variety Bandbox. Soon he has his own radio show and is performing in concerts and cabaret. In the late 1950s, he becomes one of the artists managed by Eve Taylor, the self-described “Queen Bee of Show Business,” who remains his manager until her death.

After seeing Doonican in cabaret in London in 1963, impresario Val Parnell books him to appear on Sunday Night at the Palladium. As a result of his performance, Bill Cotton, then Assistant Head of Light Entertainment at BBC Television, offers Doonican his own regular show. The TV shows are produced by Yvonne Littlewood and run for over 20 years. The shows feature his relaxed crooner style, sitting in a rocking chair wearing cardigans or jumpers, sometimes performing comedic Irish songs as well as easy listening and country material on which he accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. Being variety shows, his TV programmes give a number of other performers, such as Dave Allen, early exposure. Regular guests include Bernard Cribbins, Bob Todd, the Norman Maen Dancers, the Mike Sammes Singers, and the Kenny Woodman Orchestra. At its height The Val Doonican Show, which features both American and British acts, has 20 million viewers. In the United States, The Val Doonican Show airs on ABC on Saturday evenings from June 5 to August 14, 1971.

The Palladium performance also kick-starts Doonican’s recording career. Between 1964 and 1973 he is rarely out of the UK Singles Chart. The album Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently reaches Number 1 in the UK Albums Chart in December 1967 and knocks The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band off the top of the chart. The 1966 single release “Elusive Butterfly” reaches a UK chart peak of #5 and #3 in Ireland. In all, he records over 50 albums. After a time with Philips Records in the 1970s he also records for RCA Records. He also sings the theme song to the film Ring of Bright Water.

Behind the scenes, Doonican is described as “a perfectionist who knew his limitations but always aimed to be ‘the best Val Doonican possible.'” He is sometimes compared to American singer Perry Como, though he claims his main influence is Bing Crosby. He appears on Royal Variety Performance three times. On December 31, 1976, he performs his hit song “What Would I Be” on BBC One‘s A Jubilee of Music, celebrating British pop music for Queen Elizabeth II‘s impending Silver Jubilee.

Doonican wins the BBC Television Personality of the Year award in 1966. He is the subject of This Is Your Life in 1970. Eamonn Andrews meets him at the 18th green of the South Herts Golf Club as Doonican plays a round of golf. He writes two volumes of autobiography, The Special Years (1980) and Walking Tall (1985).

Doonican officially retires in 1990 but is still performing in 2009. He has a second home in Spain and is a keen golfer and a talented watercolour painter. Another hobby he enjoys is cooking. In June 2011, he is recognised by the Mayor of Waterford bestowing on him “The Freedom of the City.”

Doonican dies at a nursing home in Buckinghamshire at the age of 88 on July 1, 2015.


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Death of John Dillon, Irish Parliamentary Party Leader

john-dillonJohn Dillon, a Member of Parliament (MP) for over 35 years and the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the struggle to secure Home Rule by parliamentary means, dies in a London nursing home on August 4, 1927. Through the 1880s he is perhaps the most important ally of the greatest 19th-century Irish nationalist, Charles Stewart Parnell, but, following Parnell’s involvement as co-respondent in a divorce case, he repudiates Parnell for reasons of political prudence.

Dillon is born in Blackrock, Dublin, a son of the former “Young IrelanderJohn Blake Dillon (1814–1866). Following the premature death of both his parents, he is partly raised by his father’s niece, Anne Deane. He is educated at Catholic University School, at Trinity College, Dublin and at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. He afterwards studies medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, then ceases active involvement in medicine after he joins Isaac Butt‘s Home Rule League in 1873

Dillon is a member of the British House of Commons during 1880–1883 and 1885–1918. For his vigorous work in the Irish National Land League, which seeks fixed tenure, fair rents, and free sale of Irish land, he is imprisoned twice between May 1881 and May 1882. He is Parnell’s fellow inmate in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin from October 1881. For six months in 1888 he is imprisoned for aiding William O’Brien, author of the “plan of campaign” against high rent charges by English absentee landlords in Irish farming districts.

When Parnell is named co-respondent in Captain William Henry O’Shea’s divorce suit in 1890, Dillon and O’Brien at first affirm their support of him, but they finally decide that he will thenceforth be a liability as party leader. The party then splits, the anti-Parnellite majority forming the Irish National Federation, of which Dillon serves as chairman from 1896. In 1900, however, he agrees to join a reunited party under the Parnellite John Redmond.

During the prime ministry of Arthur James Balfour (1902–1905), Dillon comes to believe that the British Conservative government intends to grant Irish reforms without independence, thereby “killing Home Rule by kindness.” In 1905 he advises Irishmen to vote for Liberal Party candidates for Parliament, and, after the Liberals had taken office that year, he supports their reform program.

Throughout World War I Dillon vehemently opposes the extension of British military conscription to Ireland, both because that measure would strengthen the agitation by the more extreme nationalist Sinn Féin party and because he never accepted the view that British imperial interests necessarily coincided with those of Ireland. After the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, he protests against the harsh measures that ensue and, in the House of Commons, makes a passionate speech in defense of the Irish rebels.

Upon Redmond’s death on March 6, 1918, Dillon, who had broken with him over Irish support for the British war effort, succeeds him as Irish Parliamentary Party leader. By that time, however, the party has been discredited and in the 1918 Irish general election Sinn Féin wins easily. On losing his House of Commons seat to Éamon de Valera, the future president of the Republic of Ireland, he retires from politics.

Dillon dies in a London nursing home at the age of 76, on August 4, 1927. He is buried four days later in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. There is a street named after him in Dublin’s Liberties area, beside the old Iveagh Markets. One of his six children is James Mathew Dillon (1902–1986), a prominent Irish politician and leader of the National Centre Party and of Fine Gael (1957–1966) and also servers as Minister for Agriculture (1954-1957).


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Birth of Writer James Plunkett Kelly

james-plunkettJames Plunkett Kelly, Irish writer who writes under the pseudonym of James Plunkett, is born in Dublin on May 21, 1920.

Plunkett is the son of a World War I veteran who was a member of James Larkin‘s Irish Transport and General Workers Union, which had a life-long impact on the young writer. He is educated at Synge Street CBS. He works as a clerk in the Dublin Gas Company and later joins the trade union movement, serving under Larkin between 1946 and 1947.

Plunkett grows up among the Dublin working class and they, along with the petite bourgeoisie and lower intelligentsia, make up the bulk of the dramatis personae of his oeuvre. His best-known works are the novel Strumpet City, set in Dublin in the years leading up to the lockout of 1913 and during the course of the strike, and the short stories in the collection The Trusting and the Maimed. His other works include a radio play on Larkin, who figures prominently in his work.

During the 1960s, Plunkett works as a producer at Telefís Éireann. He wins two Jacob’s Awards, in 1965 and 1969, for his TV productions. In 1971 he writes and presents “Inis Fail – Isle of Destiny,” his very personal appreciation of Ireland. It is the final episode of the BBC series Bird’s Eye View, shot entirely from a helicopter, and the first co-production between the BBC and RTÉ. He is a member of Aosdána.

Plunkett dies in a Dublin nursing home at the age of 83 on May 28, 2003. A second year class, “2 Plunkett” at Synge Street CBS, is named in his honour.