seamus dubhghaill

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


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Publication of the First Issue of “The United Irishman”

john-mitchelJohn Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, publishes the first issue of The United Irishman on February 12, 1848.

Mitchel is one of the great propagandists of his day, although the causes he espouses often place him on the wrong side, he is loved and loathed in equal measure. He is one of the few Irishmen to have incurred the wrath of the British government and of the Federal administration of the United States.

Mitchel is born near Dungiven, County Derry in what is now Northern Ireland on November 3, 1815. The son of a Presbyterian clergyman, he creates his own pulpit in a series of journalistic enterprises in Dublin, Tennessee, Virginia and New York.

Mostly raised in Newry, County Down, Mitchel’s first political association is with the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s and the famous The Nation newspaper, founded by Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon in 1842. But long before the abortive Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 he has moved on, finding the editorial policies of The Nation rather too bland for his tastes.

Inflamed by the suffering he witnesses on a trip to Galway, it is Mitchel, more than any other writer or politician, who shapes the nationalist perception of an Gorta Mór (Great Famine):

“I could see, in front of the cottages, little children leaning against a fence when the sun shone out for they could not stand, their limbs fleshless, their bodies half-naked, their faces bloated yet wrinkled, and of a pale, greenish hue… I saw Trevelyan’s claw in the vitals of those children: his red tape would draw them to death: in his government laboratory he had prepared for them the typhus poison.”

Responding to such writing, Ireland simmers, angry and ready for rebellion. Fearful of Mitchel’s power, London’s Punch magazine emphasises his international standing by portraying him as an Irish monkey challenging the Great British Lion. The Times thunders against him. When Mitchel produces his own republican newspaper, The United Irishman, which, in its inaugural edition, claims that “the world was weary of Old Ireland and also of Young Ireland” thus attacking both Daniel O’Connell and his younger antagonists with the same broadsword. He aims to be an equal opportunities offender and succeeds admirably.

The United Irishman sells out and is shut down by the British authorities after a mere sixteen issues. In order to silence Mitchel, to rob him of his heroic status and his possible martyrdom, the British government passes the Treason Felony Act 1848, which seeks to treat treason as a common crime. He is later tried before an elegantly and efficiently packed jury, found guilty of treason-felony, and deported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The result is one of the greatest works of Irish political history, The Jail Journal, in which Mitchel writes about his own experience of deportation and advocates a far more militaristic approach to Ireland’s “English problem” than would have been popular heretofore.

Mitchel is acclaimed by Patrick Pearse, who declares The Jail Journal to be “the last of the four gospels of the new testament of Irish nationality, the last and the fieriest and the most sublime.” Éamon de Valera reveres Mitchel, and when in 1943 he imagines Ireland as “the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit,” he too is delving into The Jail Journal for his inspiration.

(From: #OTD in 1848 – John Mitchel Publishes First United Irishman, Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland)


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The Irish Republican Army S-Plan

s-plan-coventry-attackThe S-Plan or Sabotage Campaign or England Campaign, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) campaign of bombing and sabotage against the civil, economic, and military infrastructure of the United Kingdom, begins on January 16, 1939 and lasts until March 1940. The campaign is conceived by Seamus O’Donovan in 1938 at the request of then IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell. It is believed that Russell and Joseph McGarrity devised the strategy in 1936.

The S-Plan contains many precise instructions for acts of destruction which have as their object the paralysis of all official activity in England and the greatest possible destruction of British defence installations. It divides the IRA campaign into two main lines: propaganda and offensive (military) action.

Operations are strictly concentrated on the island of Britain, in and around centres of population where IRA volunteers can operate freely without drawing attention. No attacks on targets in Northern Ireland or other areas under British control are planned as part of the S-Plan.

Sources of funding for the campaign are not known, but once the campaign is operational, the weekly expenses for operations in the field amount to approximately £700. Operational units are expected to raise any money needed themselves, and the men who act within IRA teams are unpaid and expected to support themselves while on missions.

On January 12, 1939, the IRA Army Council sends an ultimatum, signed by Patrick Fleming, to British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax. The communiqué duly informs the British government of “The Government of the Irish Republic’s” intention to go to “war.”

On Sunday, January 15, with no reply from the British Government, a proclamation is posted in public places throughout Ireland announcing the IRA’s declaration of war on Britain. This proclamation is written by Joseph McGarrity, leader of Clan na Gael in the United States, and is signed by six members of the Army Council – Stephen Hayes, Patrick Fleming, Peadar O’Flaherty, George Oliver Plunkett, Larry Grogan and Seán Russell.

The five deaths during the Coventry bombing on August 25, 1939 effectively ends the campaign. By late 1940 the introduction of the Treason Act 1939 and the Offences Against the State Act 1939 in Ireland, and the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act in Britain lead to many IRA members interned in Ireland, arrested in Britain, or deported from Britain. The granting of extra powers to the Irish Justice Minister under the Emergency Powers Act in January 1940 leads to 600 IRA volunteers being imprisoned and 500 interned during the course of World War II alone.

The final figures resulting from the S-Plan are cited as 300 explosions, ten deaths and 96 injuries.

(Pictured: The aftermath of an IRA bike bomb in Coventry on August 25, 1939)