seamus dubhghaill

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

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The Bombing of Nelson’s Pillar

nelsons-pillar-bombingA powerful explosion destroys the upper portion of Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin in the early morning hours of March 8, 1966, bringing Nelson’s statue crashing to the ground amid hundreds of tons of rubble. All that is left of the Pillar is a 70-foot high jagged stump. The pillar is seen by many as an anachronistic monument to English occupation of Ireland, especially as 1966 is the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Nelson’s Pillar is a large granite column capped by a statue of Horatio Nelson, built in the centre of what is then Sackville Street (later renamed O’Connell Street) in Dublin. It is completed in 1809 when Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Its remnants are later destroyed by the Irish Army.

The decision to build the monument is taken by Dublin Corporation in the euphoria following Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The original design by William Wilkins is greatly modified by Francis Johnston, on grounds of cost. The statue is sculpted by Thomas Kirk. From its opening on October 29, 1809 the Pillar is a popular tourist attraction, but provokes aesthetic and political controversy from the outset. A prominent city centre monument honouring an Englishman rankles as Irish nationalist sentiment grows, and throughout the 19th century there are calls for it to be removed, or replaced with a memorial to an Irish hero.

During the Easter Rising in 1916 an attempt is made to blow up the pillar but the explosives fail to ignite due to dampness. It remains in the city as most of Ireland becomes the Irish Free State in 1922, and the Republic of Ireland in 1949. The chief legal barrier to its removal is the trust created at the Pillar’s inception, the terms of which gave the trustees a duty in perpetuity to preserve the monument. Successive Irish governments fail to deliver legislation overriding the trust. Although influential literary figures such as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Oliver St. John Gogarty defend the Pillar on historical and cultural grounds, pressure for its removal intensifies in the years preceding the 50th anniversary of the Rising, and its sudden demise is, on the whole, well received by the public. Although it is widely believed that the action is the work of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the police are unable to identify any of those responsible.

After years of debate and numerous proposals, the site is occupied in 2003 by the Spire of Dublin, a slim needle-like structure rising almost three times the height of the Pillar. In 2000 a former republican activist gives a radio interview in which he admits planting the explosives in 1966, but after questioning him the Gardaí decides not to take action. Relics of the Pillar are found in Dublin museums and appear as decorative stonework elsewhere, and its memory is preserved in numerous works of Irish literature.


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Oscar Traynor Leads Anti-Treaty IRA Occupation of O’Connell Street

On June 29, 1922 during the Irish Civil War, Oscar Traynor leads Anti-Treaty members of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) 1st Dublin Brigade to occupy O’Connell Street in order to help the Four Courts garrison. His men also take up positions in York Street, South Circular Road, Capel Street, Parnell Square, and Dolphin’s Barn.

Traynor is an Irish politician and republican born into a strongly nationalist family in Dublin on March 21, 1886. He serves in a number of cabinet positions, most notably as the country’s longest-serving Minister for Defence. He is educated by the Christian Brothers in Dublin. In 1899 he is apprenticed to John Long, a famous wood-carver. As a young man he is a noted footballer and tours Europe as a goalkeeper with Belfast Celtic F.C. whom he plays with from 1910 to 1912.

Traynor joins the Irish Volunteers and takes part in the Easter Rising in 1916, following which he is interned in Wales. During the Irish War of Independence he is brigadier of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. He leads the attack on The Custom House in 1921 and an ambush on the West Kent Regiment at Claude Road, Drumcondra on June 16, 1921 when the Thompson submachine gun is fired for the first time in action. When the Irish Civil War breaks out in June 1922, Traynor takes the republican side.

The Dublin Brigade is split however, with many of its members following Michael Collins in taking the pro-Treaty side. On June 29, 1922, Traynor and his supporters occupy O’Connell Street in an attempt to help the republicans who have occupied the Four Courts but are under attack by Free State forces. Traynor and his men hold out for a week of street fighting before making their escape. He organises guerilla activity in south Dublin and County Wicklow, before being captured by Free State troops in September. He is then imprisoned for the remainder of the war.

On March 11, 1925 Traynor is elected to Dáil Éireann in a by-election as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin North constituency, though he does not take his seat due to the abstentionist policy of Sinn Féin. He is re-elected as one of eight members for Dublin North in the June 1927 general election but just one of six Sinn Féin TDs. Once again he does not take his seat. He does not contest the second general election called that year but declares his support for Fianna Fáil. He stands again in the 1932 general election and is elected as a Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin North.

In 1936 Traynor is first appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. In September 1939 he is appointed Minister for Defence and holds the portfolio until February 1948. In 1948 he becomes President of the Football Association of Ireland, a position he holds until his death. He serves as Minister for Defence in several Fianna Fáil governments and as Minister for Justice, where he is undermined by his junior minister, and later Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, before he retires in 1961.

Oscar Traynor dies on December 15, 1963, in Dublin at the age of seventy-seven. He has a road named in his memory on the Coolock to Santry stretch in North Dublin.

(Pictured: Oscar Traynor in Dublin in July 1922)

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Birth of Catholic Teetotalist Reformer Theobald Mathew

theobald-mathewTheobald Mathew, Irish Catholic teetotalist reformer popularly known as Father Mathew and “The Apostle of Temperance,” is born at Thomastown, near Golden, County Tipperary, on October 10, 1790.

Mathew receives his schooling in Kilkenny, then moves for a short time to Maynooth. From 1808 to 1814 he studies in Dublin, where in the latter year he is ordained to the priesthood. Having entered the Capuchin order, after a brief period of service at Kilkenny, he joins the mission in Cork.

The movement with which his name is associated begins on April 10, 1838 with the establishment of the Cork Total Abstinence Society, which in less than nine months enrolls no fewer than 150,000 names. It rapidly spreads to Limerick and elsewhere, and some idea of its popularity may be formed from the fact that at Nenagh 20,000 persons are said to take the pledge in one day, 100,000 at Galway in two days, and 70,000 in Dublin in five days. At its height, just before the Great Famine, his movement enrolls some 3 million people, or more than half of the adult population of Ireland. In 1844 he visits Liverpool, Manchester, and London with almost equal success.

His work has a remarkable impact on the condition of the people in Ireland. The number committed to jail falls from 12,049 in 1839 to 9,875 by 1845. Sentences of death fall from 66 in 1839 to 14 in 1846, and transportations fall from 916 to 504 over the same period.

Mathew visits the United States in 1849, returning in 1851. While there, he finds himself at the center of the Abolitionist debate. Many of his hosts are pro-slavery, and want assurances that their influential guest will not stray outside his remit of battling alcohol consumption. But Mathew has signed a petition encouraging the Irish in the U.S. to not partake in slavery in 1841 during Charles Lenox Remond‘s tour of Ireland. Now however, in order to avoid upsetting his slave-owning friends in the U.S., he snubs an invitation to publicly condemn chattel slavery, sacrificing his friendship with that movement. He defends his position by pointing out that there is nothing in the scripture that prohibits slavery. He is condemned by many on the abolitionist side, including the former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass who had received the pledge from Mathew in Cork in 1845.

Mathew dies on December 8, 1856 in Queenstown, County Cork, after suffering a stroke. He is buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Cork City, which he had established himself.

Statues of Mathew stand on St. Patrick’s Street, Cork by John Henry Foley (1864), and on O’Connell Street, Dublin by Mary Redmond (1893). There is also a Fr. Mathew Bridge in Limerick City which is named after the temperance reformer when it is rebuilt in 1844-1846.

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Reopening of General Post Office, Dublin

general-post-officeThe restored General Post Office, Dublin, which had been destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising, is opened by President W. T. Cosgrave on July 11, 1929.

The General Post Office (GPO), is the headquarters of the Irish postal service. The offices are first located at College Green, but in August 1814, construction of a purpose-built headquarters begins. The building on Sackville Street is completed in January 1818 at a cost of £50,000.

According to An Post “The statues on the roof are of Hibernia, a classical representation in female form of the island of Ireland, with Fidelity to one side and Mercury, the messenger of the gods, to the other.”

Five members of the Provisional GovernmentPatrick Pearse, James Connolly, Tom Clarke, Seán MacDiarmada, and Joseph Plunkett — are located at the GPO during the Easter Rising in a 350-strong garrison which also includes Cumann na mBan and Irish Citizen Army members. James Connolly is in charge of the defence of the GPO and directs operations. The GPO garrison barricades surrounding streets and occupies adjoining buildings.

On Monday afternoon the garrison repulses a cavalry attack while, with the breakdown of law and order, many of the stores in Sackville Street are looted. From Wednesday, the GPO and other buildings in Sackville Street come under artillery fire, mostly from the Helga gunboat at anchor in the River Liffey. Connolly believes the British will not use artillery in city areas. By Friday night the GPO is on fire, at which point it is evacuated.

At a Dublin Corporation meeting in 1884 a motion is called to change the name of Sackville Street to O’Connell Street. After forty years of argument, it is changed to O’Connell Street in May 1924.

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Cathal Brugha Fatally Wounded by Sniper

cathal-brughaCathal Brugha, a leading figure in the Anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA), is shot by a sniper on July 5, 1922, as he appears in the doorway of the Hammam Hotel during the Irish Civil War. He dies two days later.

Brugha is born in Dublin of mixed Roman Catholic and Protestant parentage. He is the tenth of fourteen children and is educated at the Jesuit Belvedere College but is forced to leave at the age of sixteen because of the failure of his father’s business.

In 1899, Brugha joins the Gaelic League, and subsequently changes his name from Charles Burgess to Cathal Brugha. He becomes actively involved in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in 1913 he becomes a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers. He leads a group of twenty Volunteers to receive the arms smuggled into Ireland in the Howth gun-running of 1914.

Brugha is second-in-command at the South Dublin Union under Commandant Éamonn Ceannt in the Easter Rising of 1916. On the Thursday of Easter Week, being badly wounded, he is unable to leave when the retreat is ordered. Brugha, weak from loss of blood, continues to fire upon the enemy and is found by Éamonn Ceannt singing God Save Ireland with his pistol still in his hands. Initially not considered likely to survive, he recovers over the next year but is left with a permanent limp.

During the War of Independence, Brugha organises an amalgamation of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army into the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He proposes a Republican constitution at the 1917 Sinn Féin convention which is unanimously accepted. In October 1917, he becomes Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and holds that post until March 1919.

Brugha is elected speaker of Dáil Éireann at its first meeting on January 21, 1919, and he reads out the Declaration of Independence in Irish. On the following day, he is appointed president of the ministry pro tempore and retains this position until April 1, 1919, when Éamon de Valera takes his place.

In the months between the Anglo-Irish Treaty debates and the outbreak of Civil War, Brugha attempts to dissuade his fellow anti-treaty army leaders, including Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, and Joe McKelvey, from taking up arms against the Free State. When the IRA occupies the Four Courts, he and Oscar Traynor call on them to abandon their position. When they refuse, Traynor orders the occupation of the area around O’Connell Street in the hope of easing the pressure on the Four Courts and of forcing the Free State to negotiate.

On 28 June 1922, Brugha is appointed commandant of the forces in O’Connell Street. The outbreak of the Irish Civil War ensues in the first week of July when Free State forces commence shelling of the anti-treaty positions.

Most of the anti-Treaty fighters under Oscar Traynor escape from O’Connell Street when the buildings they were holding catch fire, leaving Brugha in command of a small rearguard. On 5 July, he orders his men to surrender, but refuses to do so himself. He then approaches the Free State troops, brandishing a revolver. He sustains a bullet wound to the leg which severs a major artery, ultimately causing him to bleed to death on July 7, 1922, eleven days before his 48th birthday. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

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The Beginning of the 1916 Easter Rising

proclamation-of-independenceThe Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, begins in Dublin 100 years ago today and lasts for six days. The Rising, organised by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, is launched to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom is heavily engaged in World War I. It is the most significant uprising in Ireland since the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the first armed action of the Irish revolutionary period.

Shortly before midday, members of the Irish Volunteers, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse and joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 women of Cumann na mBan, seize key locations in Dublin and proclaim an Irish Republic. The rebels’ plan is to hold Dublin city centre, a large, oval-shaped area bounded by the Grand Canal to the south and the Royal Canal to the north, with the River Liffey running through the middle.

The rebels march to the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare, and occupy the building and hoist two republican flags. Pearse stands outside and reads the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Elsewhere in Dublin, some of the headquarters battalion under Michael Mallin occupy St. Stephen’s Green, where they dig trenches and barricade the surrounding roads. The 1st battalion, under Edward “Ned” Daly, occupy the Four Courts and surrounding buildings, while a company under Seán Heuston occupies the Mendicity Institution across the River Liffey from the Four Courts. The 2nd battalion, under Thomas MacDonagh, occupies Jacob’s Biscuit Factory. The 3rd battalion, under Éamon de Valera, occupy Boland’s Mill and surrounding buildings. The 4th battalion, under Éamonn Ceannt, occupy the South Dublin Union and the distillery on Marrowbone Lane. From each of these garrisons, small units of rebels establish outposts in the surrounding area.

There are isolated actions in other parts of Ireland, with attacks on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks at Ashbourne, County Meath and in County Galway, and the seizure of the town of Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Due to a last-minute countermand issued on Saturday, April 22, by Volunteer leader Eoin MacNeill, the number of rebels who mobilise is much lower than expected.

The British Army brings in thousands of reinforcements as well as artillery and a gunboat. There is fierce street fighting on the routes into the city centre, where the rebels put up stiff resistance, slowing the British advance and inflicting heavy casualties. Elsewhere in Dublin, the fighting mainly consists of sniping and long-range gun battles. The main rebel positions are gradually surrounded and bombarded with artillery.

With much greater numbers and heavier weapons, the British Army suppresses the Rising, and Pearse agrees to an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April 29. Almost 500 people are killed during Easter Week. About 54% are civilians, 30% are British military and police, and 16% are Irish rebels. More than 2,600 are wounded. Many of the civilians are killed as a result of the British using artillery and heavy machine guns, or mistaking civilians for rebels. Others are caught in the crossfire in a crowded city. The shelling and the fires leave parts of inner city Dublin in ruins.

After the surrender the country remains under martial law. About 3,500 people are taken prisoner by the British, many of whom have played no part in the Rising, with 1,800 of them being sent to internment camps or prisons in Britain. Most of the leaders of the Rising are executed following courts-martial. The Rising brings physical force republicanism back to the forefront of Irish politics, which for nearly 50 years has been dominated by constitutional nationalism. It, and the British reaction to it, leads to increased popular support for Irish independence. In December 1918, republicans, represented by the reconstituted Sinn Féin party, win a landslide victory in the general election to the British Parliament. They do not take their seats, but instead convene the First Dáil and declare the independence of the Irish Republic, which ultimately leads to the Irish War of Independence.

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The Founding of Cumann na mBan

cumann-na-mbanCumann na mBan, an Irish republican women’s paramilitary organisation, is formed in Dublin on April 2, 1914.

In 1913, a number of women decide to hold a meeting in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin, for the purpose of discussing the possibility of forming an organisation for women who would work in conjunction with the recently formed Irish Volunteers. A meeting led by Kathleen Lane-O’Kelly on April 2, 1914 marks the foundation of Cumann na mBan. Branches, which pledge to the Constitution of the organisation, are formed throughout the country and are directed by the Provisional Committee.

The primary aims of Cumann na mBan, as stated in its constitution, are to “advance the cause of Irish liberty and to organize Irishwomen in the furtherance of this object,” to “assist in arming and equipping a body of Irish men for the defence of Ireland” and to “form a fund for these purposes, to be called ‘The Defence of Ireland Fund.'”

Recruits come from diverse backgrounds, mainly white-collar workers and professional women, but with a significant proportion also from the working class. In September 1914, the Irish Volunteers split over John Redmond‘s appeal for its members to enlist in the British Army. The majority of Cumann na mBan members support the 10,000 to 14,000 volunteers who rejected this call and who retain the original name, the Irish Volunteers.

On April 23, 1916, when the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood finalises arrangements for the Easter Rising, it integrates Cumann na mBan, along with the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army, into the “Army of the Irish Republic.”

On the day of the Rising, Cumann na mBan members arrive armed with both a Webley revolver and a typewriter, entering the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street in Dublin with their male counterparts. By nightfall, women insurgents are established in all the major rebel strongholds throughout the city. The majority of the women work as Red Cross workers, are couriers, or procure rations for the men. Members also gather intelligence on scouting expeditions, carry despatches, and transfer arms from dumps across the city to insurgent strongholds. A number of Cumann na mBan members die during the Rising.

At the Four Courts, they help to organise the evacuation of buildings at the time of surrender and destroy incriminating papers. On April 29, the leaders at the GPO decide to negotiate surrender. Patrick Pearse, the overall Commandant-General, asks Cumann na mBan member Elizabeth O’Farrell to act as a go-between. Under British military supervision she brings Pearse’s surrender order to the rebel units still fighting in Dublin. Over 70 women, including many of the leading figures in Cumann na mBan, are arrested after the insurrection, and many of the women who are captured fighting are imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol. All but twelve are released by May 8, 1916.

Revitalized after the Rising and led by Countess Markievicz, Cumann na mBan takes a leading role in popularising the memory of the 1916 leaders, organising prisoner relief agencies, opposing conscription, and canvassing for Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election, in which Markievicz is elected Teachta Dála.

Cumann na mBan supports the Provisional wing in the 1969-1970 split in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Sinn Féin. In Northern Ireland, Cumann na mBan is integrated into the mainstream IRA during the conflict, although they continue to exist as a separate organisation in the Republic of Ireland. In 1986, Cumann na mBan opposes the decision by the IRA and Sinn Féin to drop the policy of abstentionism and aligns itself with Republican Sinn Féin and the Continuity IRA.

In 2014, Cumann na mBan celebrates the Centenary of its foundation in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin, the site of their founding in 1914. The U.K. Home Office in March 2015 lists Cumann na mBan as a group linked to Northern Ireland related terrorism. However, it is not so listed in 2008 by the U.S. State Department.