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


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Birth of William Martin Murphy

william-martin-murphyWilliam Martin Murphy, Irish businessman, journalist and politician, is born on January 6, 1845 in Castletownbere, County Cork. A member of parliament (MP) representing Dublin from 1885 to 1892, he is dubbed “William Murder Murphy” among Dublin workers and the press due to the Dublin Lockout of 1913. He is arguably both Ireland’s first “press baron” and the leading promoter of tram development.

Murphy is educated at Belvedere College. When his father, the building contractor Denis William Murphy dies in 1863, he takes over the family business. His enterprise and business acumen expand the business, and he builds churches, schools and bridges throughout Ireland, as well as railways and tramways in Britain, West Africa and South America.

Murphy is elected as Irish Parliamentary Party MP for Dublin St. Patrick’s at the 1885 general election, taking his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. He is a member of the informal grouping, the “Bantry Band,” a group of politicians who hail from the Bantry Bay area.

When the Irish Parliamentary Party splits in 1890 over Charles Stewart Parnell‘s leadership, Murphy sides with the majority Anti-Parnellites. However, Dublin emerges as a Parnellite stronghold and in the bitter general election of 1892, Murphy loses his seat by over three to one to a Parnellite newcomer, William Field.

Murphy is the principal financial backer of the “Healyite” newspapers the National Press and the Daily Nation. His support for Tim Healy attracts the hostility of the majority anti-Parnellite faction led by John Dillon. He makes two attempts to return to Parliament, at South Kerry in 1895 and North Mayo in 1900, but both are unsuccessful because of Dillonite opposition.

In 1900, Murphy purchases the insolvent Irish Daily Independent from the Parnellites, merging it with the Daily Nation. He re-launches this as a cheap mass-circulation newspaper, which rapidly displaces the Freeman’s Journal as Ireland’s most popular nationalist paper. In 1906, he founds the Sunday Independent newspaper.

Murphy is highly critical of the Irish Parliamentary Party. From 1914 he uses the Irish Independent to oppose the partition of Ireland and advocate Dominion Home Rule involving full fiscal autonomy.

Worried that the trade unions would destroy his Dublin tram system, Murphy leads Dublin employers against the trade unions led by James Larkin, an opposition that culminates in the Dublin Lockout of 1913. This makes him extremely unpopular with many, being depicted as a vulture or a vampire in the workers’ press.

After the 1916 Easter Rising he purchases ruined buildings in Abbey Street as sites for his newspaper offices, however it is his viewpoints that make him even more unpopular, by calling for the executions of Seán MacDiarmada and James Connolly at a point when the Irish public is beginning to feel sympathy for their cause. He privately disavows the editorial, claiming it had been written and published without his knowledge.

In 1917 Murphy is invited to take part in talks during the Irish Convention which is called to agree terms for the implementation of the suspended 1914 Home Rule Act. However he discovers that John Redmond is negotiating agreeable terms with Unionists under the Midleton Plan to avoid the partition of Ireland but at the partial loss of full Irish fiscal autonomy. This infuriates Murphy who criticises the intention in his newspaper, which severely damages the Irish Parliamentary Party. However, the Convention remains inconclusive, and the ensuing demise of the Irish party results in the rise of Sinn Féin, whose separatist policies Murphy also does not agree with.

William Martin Murphy dies in Dublin on June 26, 1919. His family controls Independent Newspapers until the early 1970s, when the group is sold to Tony O’Reilly.

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De Valera Rejects Churchill’s Statement About Irish Ports

In a statement before Dáil Éireann on November 7, 1940, Taoiseach Éamon de Valera rejects Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill’s statement about Irish ports stating that there can be no question of handing over Irish ports for use by British forces while the country is partitioned. This move helps ensure Ireland’s neutrality during World War II.

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on November 5, Churchill bemoans the fact that the Irish ports had been returned to the Free State government in 1938:

“The fact that we cannot use the South and West Coasts of Ireland to refuel our flotillas and aircraft and thus protect the trade by which Ireland as well as Great Britain lives, is a most heavy and grievous burden and one which should never have been placed on our shoulders, broad though they be.”

De Valera responds to Churchill’s statement two days later, on November 7:

“I would have refrained from making any comment upon it were it not that it has been followed by an extensive Press campaign by Britain itself, and re-echoed in the United States of America, the purport of the campaign being that we should surrender or lease our ports to Britain for the conduct of the war…

We have chosen the policy of neutrality in this war because we believed that it was the right policy for our people. It is the policy which has been accepted, not merely by this House, but by our people as a whole, and nobody who realises what modern war means, and what it means particularly for those who have not sufficient air defences, will have the slightest doubt that that policy was the right one, apart altogether from any questions of sympathy on one side or the other…

There can be no question of the handing over of these ports so long as this State remains neutral. There can be no question of leasing these ports. They are ours. They are within our sovereignty, and there can be no question, as long as we remain neutral, of handing them over on any condition whatsoever. Any attempt to bring pressure to bear on us by any side—by any of the belligerents—by Britain—could only lead to bloodshed.”


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Founding of Republican Sinn Féin

republican-sinn-feinRepublican Sinn Féin (Irish: Sinn Féin Poblachtach), an unregistered Irish Republican political organisation, is founded at the West County Hotel in Dublin on November 2, 1986.

Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) claim to be heirs of the Sinn Féin party founded in 1905 and take its present form in 1986 following a split with Provisional Sinn Féin. RSF members take seats when elected in local Irish councils but do not recognise the partition of Ireland and subsequently the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland governments, so does not register itself under them.

The decision to form, or to reorganise or reconstitute as its supporters see it, the organisation was taken in response to Gerry Adams-led Sinn Féin’s decision at its 1986 ard fheis to end its policy of abstentionism and to allow elected Sinn Féin Teachtaí Dála take their seats in Leinster House‘s Dáil Éireann. The supporters of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill who go on to form RSF oppose this move as it signals a departure from the traditional republican analysis which views the parliament of the Republic of Ireland as an illegal assembly, set up by an act of the British parliament. They argue that republicans owe their allegiance to the All-Ireland (32 County) Irish Republic, maintaining that this state exists de jure and that its authority rests with the IRA Army Council. Hence, if elected, its members refuse to take their seats in the Oireachtas.

The organisation views itself as representing “true” or “traditional” Irish republicanism, while in the mainstream media the organisation is portrayed as a political expression of “dissident republicanism.” Republican Sinn Féin rejects the Good Friday Agreement and indeed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. As part of this they refuse to discount Irish republicans using militant means to “defend the Irish Republic” and considers the Continuity Irish Republican Army (IRA) to be the legitimate army of the Irish Republic. The CIRA is designated as a terrorist organisation by the governments of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.


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Founding of the “Belfast News-Letter”

belfast-news-letterThe Belfast News-Letter, one of Northern Ireland‘s main daily newspapers and the oldest English language general daily newspaper still in publication, is founded on September 1, 1737.

The Belfast News-Letter is originally printed in Joy’s Entry in Belfast. The Joys are a family of Huguenot descent who add much to eighteenth-century Belfast, noted for their compiling materials for its history. Francis Joy, who founds the paper, had come to Belfast early in the century from the County Antrim village of Killead. In Belfast, he marries the daughter of the town sovereign and sets up a practice as an attorney. In 1737, he obtains a small printing press which is in settlement of a debt and uses it to publish the town’s first newspaper at the sign of “The Peacock” in Bridge Street. The family later purchases a paper mill in Ballymena and are able to produce enough paper not only for their own publication but for the whole province of Ulster.

Originally published three times weekly, the Belfast News-Letter becomes a daily in 1855. The title is now located at two addresses – a news section in Donegall Square South in central Belfast, and a features section in Portadown, County Armagh. Before the partition of Ireland, the Belfast News-Letter is distributed island-wide.

The newspaper’s editorial stance and readership, while originally republican, is now strongly unionist. Its primary competitors are the Belfast Telegraph and The Irish News. The Belfast News-Letter has changed hands several times since the mid-1990s, and since 2005 is owned by the Johnston Press holding company Johnston Publishing (NI). The full legal title of the newspaper is the Belfast News-Letter, although the word “Belfast” no longer appears on the masthead.

Historical copies of the Belfast News-Letter, dating back to 1828, are available to search and view in digitised form at the British Newspaper Archive.


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Death of Paddy Devlin, Northern Ireland Labour Activist

paddy-devlinPaddy Devlin, Irish social democrat and Labour activist, former Stormont Member of Parliament (MP), a founder of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and member of the 1974 Power Sharing Executive, dies in Belfast’s Mater Hospital on August 15, 1999 after a long illness.

Devlin is born into a highly political household in the Pound Loney in the Lower Falls of West Belfast on March 8, 1925 and lives in the city for almost all his life. His early activism is confined to Fianna Éireann and then the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and as a result he is interned in Crumlin Road Gaol during the World War II. He leaves the republican movement upon his release.

After the war, and in search of work, he spends some time in Portsmouth working as a scaffolder and in Coventry working in the car industry. In Coventry he becomes interested in Labour and trade union politics and briefly joins the British Labour Party.

Returning to Belfast in 1948 Devlin helps establish the Irish Labour Party there after the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) splits on the issue of partition. He later beats Gerry Fitt to win a seat on the city council. Later Catholic Action claims the Irish Labour Party is infested with communists and ensures the party is effectively wiped out causing Devlin to lose his seat.

In the mid 1960s Devlin joins the revived NILP and beats Harry Diamond for the Falls seat in Stormont. Devlin then goes on, with Fitt, John Hume, Austin Currie, and others to found the SDLP in 1970. He is later involved, at the request of William Whitelaw, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in ensuring safe passage for Gerry Adams for talks with the British government in 1973. He is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 1973 and Minister of Health and Social Services in the power-sharing Executive from January 1, 1974 to May 28, 1974.

In 1978 Devlin establishes the United Labour Party, which aims to be a broad based Labour formation in Northern Ireland. He stands under its label for the European Parliament in 1979 but polls just 6,122 first preferences (1.1% of those cast) and thereby loses his deposit.

In 1987 Devlin, together with remnants of the NILP and others, establishes Labour ’87 as another attempt at building a Labour Party in Northern Ireland by uniting the disparate groups supporting labour and socialist policies but it too meets with little or no success. In 1985 he loses his place on Belfast City council.

Devlin suffers from severe diabetes and throughout the 1990s suffers a series of ailments as his health and sight collapse.


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Death of Francis McCloskey, First Fatality of “The Troubles”

the-troublesFrancis McCloskey, a 67-year old Catholic civilian, dies on July 14, 1969, one day after being hit on the head with a baton by an officer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during street disturbances in Dungiven, County Derry. McCloskey is sometimes considered to be the first fatality of The Troubles.

McCloskey is found unconscious on July 13 near the Dungiven Orange Hall following a police baton charge against a crowd who had been throwing stones at the hall. Witnesses later say they had seen police beating a figure with batons in the doorway where McCloskey is found, although police claim he had been unconscious before the baton charge and may have been hit with a stone.

The Troubles is the common name for the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that begins in the late 1960s and is deemed by most to end with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Although the Troubles mainly take place in Northern Ireland, violence spills over at times into parts of the Republic of Ireland, England, and mainland Europe.

The conflict is primarily political, but it also has an ethnic or sectarian dimension, although it is not a religious conflict. A key issue is the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Unionists and loyalists, who are mostly Protestants and consider themselves British, generally want Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. Irish nationalists and republicans, who are mostly Catholic and consider themselves Irish, generally want it to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland. The conflict begins amid a campaign to end discrimination against the Catholic/nationalist minority by the Protestant/unionist government and police force in 1968. The campaign is met with violence, eventually leading to the deployment of British troops and subsequent warfare.

The main participants in the Troubles are republican paramilitaries such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), and political activists and politicians. The security forces of the Republic of Ireland play a smaller role. More than 3,500 people are killed in the conflict, of whom 52% were civilians, 32% are members of the British security forces, and 16% are members of paramilitary groups. There has been sporadic violence since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, including a campaign by anti-ceasefire republicans.


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The Curragh Incident

curragh-incidentThe Curragh Incident occurs in the Curragh, County Kildare, on March 20, 1914. The Curragh Camp is the main base for the British Army in Ireland, which at the time forms part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Ireland was about to receive a measure of devolved government, which included Ulster.

In early 1912, the Liberal British government of H. H. Asquith introduces the Third Home Rule Bill for Ireland, which proposes the creation of an autonomous Irish Parliament in Dublin. Unionists have objected to being under the jurisdiction of the proposed Dublin Parliament. Ulster Unionists found the Ulster Volunteers (UVF) paramilitary group in 1912, aided by a number of senior retired British officers, to fight against the British government and/or against a future Irish Home Rule government proposed by the Bill.

In September 1913, with Irish Home Rule due to become law in 1914, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) Sir John French expresses his concerns to the government and to the King that the British Army, if ordered to act against the UVF, might split. The British Cabinet contemplates some kind of military action against the Ulster Volunteers who threaten to rebel against Home Rule. Many officers, especially those with Irish Protestant connections, of whom the most prominent is Hubert Gough, threaten to resign rather than obey, privately encouraged from London by senior officers including Major-General Henry Hughes Wilson.

Although the Cabinet issues a document claiming that the issue has been a misunderstanding, the Secretary of State for War J.E.B. Seely and French are forced to resign after amending it to promise that the British Army will not be used against the Ulster loyalists.

The event contributes both to unionist confidence and to the growing Irish separatist movement, convincing Irish nationalists that they can not expect support from the British army in Ireland. In turn, this increases renewed nationalist support for paramilitary forces. The Home Rule Bill is passed but postponed, and the growing fear of civil war in Ireland leads on to the British government considering some form of partition of Ireland instead, which eventually takes place.

The event is also notable in being one of the few incidents since the English Civil Wars in which elements of the British military openly intervene, as it turns out successfully, in politics.