seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Mary Devenport O’Neill, Poet & Dramatist

Mary Devenport O’Neill, Irish poet and dramatist and a friend and colleague of W. B. Yeats, George Russell, and Austin Clarke, is born in Barrack Street, Loughrea, County Galway, on August 3, 1879.

O’Neill is born Mary Devenport, the daughter of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) sub-constable, John Devenport, and his wife Bridget (née Burke). She attends the Dominican convent, Eccles Street, Dublin before enrolling in the Metropolitan School of Art from 1898 to 1903. In 1900 she wins the year’s prize in the School of Art. She apparently considers teaching as a career, as she is listed on the college register as a teacher in training from 1901 to 1903. It is while an art student that she starts to correspond with the writer she admires, Joseph O’Neill. Their relationship develops, and the couple marries on June 19, 1908, settling in Kenilworth Square, Dublin.

Many of O’Neill’s husband’s friends disapprove of her modern and unconventional ideas, but she is popular with “the Rathgar Group” who attends George Russell’s Sunday salons. After a few years, she establishes her own salon referred to as “Thursdays at home,” attended by Russell, Padraic Colum, W. B. Yeats, Richard Irvine Best, Frank O’Connor, Francis Stuart and Iseult Gonne. She becomes particularly close to Yeats, who she confides in. Yeats records their weekly consultations in his diary while working on A Vision (1925). In his Oxford anthology of English verse from 1936, he includes one of O’Neill’s poems. In 1917, she contributes lyrics to her husband’s play The Kingdom Maker. She publishes her only book in 1929, Prometheus and other poems. After this she occasionally contributes primarily modernist plays and poetry to The Dublin Magazine, The Irish Times and The Bell. She collaborates with Austin Clarke from the Lyric Theatre Company on her plays Bluebeard (1933) and Cain (1945).

O’Neill suffers with poor health, which sees her and her husband spending extended periods in the south of France and Switzerland. They sell their home in Dublin in August 1950 and move to Nice, with the intention of settling there. However, due to rapidly depleting finances they are forced to return to Ireland in April 1951. They rent a cottage in Wicklow from their friend Con Curran. When her husband dies in 1953, she goes to live with relatives in Dublin. She dies there in 1967.


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First Assassination by “The Squad”

On July 30, 1919, the first assassination authorised by Michael Collins is carried out by The Squad, also known as the Twelve Apostles, when Detective Sergeant “the Dog” Smith is shot near Drumcondra, Dublin.

The Squad is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit founded by Collins to counter British intelligence efforts during the Irish War of Independence, mainly by means of assassination.

On April 10, 1919, the First Dáil announces a policy of ostracism of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men. At the time Sinn Féin official policy is against acts of violence. Boycotting, persuasion and mild intimidation succeed against many officers. However others escalate their activities against republicans and in March 1920 Collins asks Dick McKee to select a small group to form an assassination unit.

When The Squad is formed, it comes directly under the control of the Director of Intelligence or his deputy and under no other authority. The Squad is commanded by Mick McDonnell.

The original “Twelve Apostles” are Mick McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Jimmy Slattery, Paddy Daly, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Vincent Byrne, Sean Doyle, Paddy Griffin, Eddie Byrne, Mick Reilly and Jimmy Conroy. After some time The Squad is strengthened with members Ben Byrne, Frank Bolster, Mick Keogh, Mick Kennedy, Bill Stapleton and Sam Robinson. Owen Cullen, a member of 2nd Battalion, is driver for a short time, and Paddy Kelly of County Clare for a short time. They are employed full-time and received a weekly wage.

Sometimes, as occasion demands, The Squad is strengthened by members of the IRA Intelligence Staff, the Active Service Unit, munition workers and members of the Dublin Brigade, Tipperary Flying Column men, Dan Breen, Séumas Robinson, Seán Treacy and Seán Hogan, and also Mick Brennan and Michael Prendergast of County Clare. The IRA Intelligence Staff consists of the Director of Intelligence Michael Collins, the Deputy Director of Intelligence Liam Tobin, the Second Deputy Director of Intelligence Tom Cullen, the Third Director of Intelligence Frank Thornton, and members Joe Dolan, Frank Saurin, Ned Kelleher, Joe Guilfoyle, Paddy Caldwell, Paddy Kennedy, Charlie Dalton, Dan McDonnell and Charlie Byrne. The munitions workers include Mat Furlong, Sean Sullivan, Gay McGrath, Martin O’ Kelly, Tom Younge and Chris Reilly.

Other members include Mick Love, Gearoid O’Sullivan, Patrick Caldwell, Charlie Dalton, Mick O’Reilly, Sean Healy, James Ronan, Paddy Lawson, John Dunne, Johnny Wilson and James Heery. Seán Lemass and Stephen Behan, the father of Irish writers Brendan and Dominic Behan, have also been listed as members of the Apostles. There is no hard evidence to support the inclusion of many of the names, but those who subsequently serve in the Irish Army have their active service recorded in their service records held in the Military Archives Department in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines. Andrew Cooney is also reported to have been associated with The Squad. Stephen Behan’s involvement is first made public in 1962, when the BBC broadcasts an episode of This Is Your Life dedicated to Behan. During the broadcast, remaining members of the squad joined Behan on the set of the show.

Following “The Dog” Smith’s assassination, The Squad continues to target plainclothes police, members of the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and, occasionally, problematic civil servants. Organisationally it operates as a subsection of Collins’ Intelligence Headquarters. Two of the executions by The Squad are the killing on January 21, 1920 of RIC Inspector William Redmond of the DMP “G” Division and on March 2, 1920 a British double agent John Charles Byrnes.

One of the Apostles’ particular targets is the Cairo Gang, a deep-cover British intelligence group, so called since it has either been largely assembled from intelligence officers serving in Cairo or from the Dublin restaurant called The Cairo, which the gang frequents. Sir Henry Wilson brings in the Cairo Gang in the middle of 1920, explicitly to deal with Michael Collins and his organization. Given carte blanche in its operations by Wilson, the Cairo Gang adopts the strategy of assassinating members of Sinn Féin unconnected with the military struggle, assuming that this will cause the IRA to respond and bring its leaders into the open.

The most well-known operation executed by the Apostles occurs on what becomes known as Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920, when British MI5 officers, linked to the Cairo Gang and significantly involved in spying, are shot at various locations in Dublin with fourteen killed and six wounded. In addition to the The Squad, a larger number of IRA personnel are involved in this operation. The only IRA man captured during the operation is Frank Teeling. In response to the killings, the Black and Tans retaliate by shooting up a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary at Croke Park, the proceeds from which are for the Irish Republican Prisoners Fund. Fourteen civilians are killed including one of the players, Michael Hogan, and 68 are wounded. The Hogan stand at Croke Park is named after Hogan.

The elimination of the Cairo Gang is seen in Dublin as an intelligence victory, but British Prime Minister David Lloyd George comments dismissively that his men “… got what they deserved, beaten by counter-jumpers…”. Winston Churchill adds that they were “.. careless fellows … who ought to have taken precautions.”

Some members of The Squad are hanged in 1921 for the killings on Bloody Sunday, including Thomas Whelan and Patrick Moran. Moran had killed a vet, Patrick MacCormack, who seems to have been an innocent victim.

In May 1921, after the IRA’s Dublin Brigade takes heavy casualties during the burning of the Custom House, The Squad and the Brigade’s Active Service Unit are amalgamated into the Dublin Guard, under Paddy Daly. Under the influence of Daly and Michael Collins, most of the Guard take the Free State side and join the National Army in the Irish Civil War of 1922–23. During this conflict some of them are attached to the Criminal Investigation Department and are accused of multiple assassinations of Anti-Treaty fighters. They are also involved in several atrocities against Republican prisoners, particularly after the death of Collins, due to many of them having personal ties with him.

Bill Stapleton goes on to become a director in Bord na Móna, Charles Dalton and Frank Saurin become directors in the Irish Sweepstakes. In October 1923, Commandant James Conroy is implicated in the murder of two Jewish men, Bernard Goldberg and Emmanuel ‘Ernest’ Kahn. He avoids arrest by fleeing to Mexico, returning later to join the Blueshirts. A later application for an army pension is rejected. The killings are the subject of a 2010 investigative documentary by RTÉ, CSÍ: Murder in Little Jerusalem.


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Birth of Daniel Cohalan, Bishop of Cork

Daniel Cohalan, Irish Roman Catholic clergyman who serves as the Bishop of Cork from 1916 to 1952, is born on July 14, 1858, in Kilmichael, County Cork.

After graduating at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Cohalan is ordained a priest at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne, Cork on July 25, 1882. His first pastoral appointment is a curate at Kilbrittain, County Cork, from October 1883 to January 1884. He briefly resumes his post-graduate studies at St. Finbarr’s Seminary (now College), Cork, from January to November 1884. His second curacy is at Tracton, County Cork, from November 1884 to September 1896. He returns to St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, as a professor of Theology from September 7, 1896 to June 7, 1914.

Cohalan is appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Cork and Titular Bishop of Vaga on May 25, 1914. He is consecrated bishop at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on June 7, 1914 by John Harty, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. Two years later, he is appointed Diocesan Bishop of Cork on August 29, 1916.

Cohalan is an outspoken critic during the Irish War of Independence, condemning acts of violence on both sides. In particular, he denounces the policy of reprisals. In July 1920, he pronounces an interdict on the killers of a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) sergeant, shot dead in the church porch in Bandon. He declares that anyone killing from ambush will be excommunicated. On December 12, 1920, Cohalan issues a decree saying that “anyone within the diocese of Cork who organises or takes part in ambushes or murder or attempted murder shall be excommunicated.” In turn, his life is threatened by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In August 1928, he condemns the British government which had allowed Terence MacSwiney to die on hunger strike in 1920.

The Bessborough Home in Cork is run by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and when the department “sought a change of superior in Bessborough because of the appallingly high death rate, he [Catholic Bishop of Cork Dr. Daniel Cohalan] denounced the request. The replacement of the Bessborough superior was delayed for four years after the department requested it, and many infants died during that time. It seems probable that the bishop’s intervention was elicited by the congregation.” In general the report finds that the major causes of infant mortality in the homes were respiratory infections and gastroenteritis, while “public attention has focused on marasmus [malnutrition]” suggesting “willful neglect.” However, it says that “the term marasmus is best seen as indicating that a child was failing to thrive, but medical experts suggest that this was due to an underlying, undiagnosed medical condition.”

Cohalan dies in office at the age of 94 at Bon Secours Hospital, Cork, on August 24, 1952. A story, current at the time in Cork, refers to his antipathy towards bishops of the Church of Ireland who styled themselves “Bishop of Cork.” A month before his death, and on his death-bed, word is brought to him of the death of the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Robert Hearn. The response of Cohalan, known “affectionately” as “Danny Boy”, is reputedly, “now he knows who’s Bishop of Cork.”

Originally buried at St. Finbarr’s College, Farranferris, Cohalan is reinterred in the grounds of St. Mary and St. Anne’s Cathedral, Cork, in 1996. His nephew of the same name, Daniel Cohalan, is Bishop of Waterford and Lismore from 1943 to 1965.


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Death of James Warren Doyle, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin

James Warren Doyle, Roman Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, who uses the signature “JKL”, an acronym from “James Kildare and Leighlin,” dies on June 15, 1834. He is active in the Anti-Tithe movement and a campaigner for Catholic emancipation until it is attained in 1829. He is also an educator, church organiser and the builder of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Carlow.

Doyle is born close to New Ross, County Wexford in 1786, the posthumous son of a respectable Catholic farmer. His mother, Anne Warren, of Quaker extraction, is living in poverty at the time of his birth. At the age of eleven he witnesses the horrors of the Battle of New Ross between the United Irishmen and British Crown forces supplemented by the militia and yeomanry.

Doyle receives his early education at Clonleigh, at Rathconrogue at the school of a Mr. Grace, and later at the Augustinian College, New Ross under the care of an Augustinian monk, Rev. John Crane.

Doyle joins the Augustinian friars in 1805 at Grantstown, County Wexford, and then studies for his doctorate at Coimbra in Portugal (1806–08). His studies are disturbed by the Peninsular War, during which he serves as a sentry in Coimbra. Later, he accompanies the British Army with Arthur Wellesley‘s forces to Lisbon as an interpreter.

Following Doyle’s return to Ireland, he is ordained to the priesthood on October 1, 1809, at Enniscorthy. He teaches logic at the Augustinian College, New Ross. In 1813, he is appointed to a professorship at St. Patrick’s, Carlow College, holding the Chair of Rhetoric and in 1814, the Professorship of Theology.

Michael Corcoran, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, dies on February 22, 1819. Doyle is a popular choice of the clergy and bishops of the Archdiocese of Dublin and is chosen by the Holy See as Corcoran’s successor. He is formally named in August 1819 and is duly consecrated in Carlow Parish Church on November 14. During his fifteen-year tenure as Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, he earns respect nationwide for his polemics in furtherance of the Catholic position in both Irish and British society, and in supporting the work of the Catholic Association. His books on pastoral, political, educational and inter-denominational matters provide a rich source of material for social and religious historians. He is a close ally of Daniel O’Connell in the political campaign for Catholic emancipation which is finally passed in 1829 by the Wellington government.

In 1830, the new tithe-proctor of Graigue, a parish of 4,779 Catholics and 63 Protestants, decides to break with the tradition of Doyle’s predecessor and to enforce seizure orders for the collection of arrears of Tithes. Tithes provide financial support of the established Anglican Church of Ireland. Some of the recalcitrant Catholics habitually transfer ownership of their livestock to Doyle in order to avoid seizure at the town fair. The new proctor requests their priest’s cooperation in handing over the assets. Doyle refuses, and the proctor, aided by the Royal Irish Constabulary, seize some of the livestock. A mass riot breaks out at the fair and there are several casualties. A civil disobedience campaign follows, peppered with sporadic violence mostly at country fairs over the seizure of livestock. A period of instability that becomes known as the Tithe War follows.

Doyle is a leader of nonviolent resistance to the Tithe, devoting himself both to strengthening the nonviolent resistance and to discouraging like paramilitary secret societies who have taken to using violence to drive out tithe-collectors and to intimidate collaborators. He says, “I maintain the right which [Irish Catholics] have of withholding, in a manner consistent with the law and their duty as subjects, the payment of tithe in kind or in money until it is extorted from them by the operation of the law.”

Given Doyle’s prior experience in education, his major contribution is arguably in helping the establishment of National Schools across Ireland from 1831, the initiative of Edward Smith-Stanley, Chief Secretary for Ireland, which are initially started with a UK government grant of £30,000. The proposed system is ahead of state provision for education in England or Scotland at that time. This Model School prototype is, in some respects, experimental. His involvement is a sign of his practicality and foresight.

Doyle makes statements on other issues: the theological status of ‘non-Catholic’ Christians, freedom to convert to Protestantism, mixed marriages and, as already mentioned, on the union of Catholics and Anglicans. On this last issue he is asked to resign by Rome and is eventually allowed to continue after agreeing not to speak on the issue again.

The construction of Carlow Cathedral of the Assumption crowns Doyle’s career, being started in 1828 and finished at the end of November 1833. He falls ill for a number of months before dying on June 15, 1834. He is buried in his new cathedral. A sculpture, by John Hogan, in memorial to Doyle is finished in 1839.

Several biographies are written on Doyle before 1900 and his influence on the later Irish Catholic bishops in the period 1834-1900 is considerable. He had proved that negotiations with government could be beneficial to his church, his congregation, and its finances.


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Birth of Thomas Traynor, Member of “The Forgotten Ten”

Thomas Traynor, a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Tullow, County Carlow, on May 27, 1882.

Traynor is an experienced soldier having been a member of the Boland’s Mill garrison during the 1916 Easter Rising. After the Rising he is interned in Frongoch internment camp, Wakefield Prison and Mountjoy Prison where he shares a cell with Seán Mac Eoin.

Traynor works as a boot maker and is married with ten children. At the time of his death the eldest is 18 years and the youngest 5 months. The eldest son, Frank, represents Ireland at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, competing as a bantamweight boxer.

Traynor is captured during an ambush on Auxiliaries in Brunswick Street, Dublin, on March 14, 1921, and is tried on April 5 at City Hall. He is part of a party of IRA volunteers keeping watch outside a meeting at 144 Brunswick Street that includes Seán MacBride. During the fight an IRA volunteer, Leo Fitzgerald, is killed, as are Constable James O’Farrell and Cadet Bernard Beard of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Traynor is reportedly badly beaten by members of the Igoe Gang.

Traynor is hanged in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin on April 25, 1921, one of a group of men, commonly referred to as the Forgotten Ten, hanged in Mountjoy Prison from 1920–21, during the Irish War of Independence. He is 38 years old at the time of his death.

Mark Sturgis, assistant to the Under-Secretary for Ireland, writes, “Traynor, captured red handed with an attacking party when Auxiliaries were killed in Brunswick Street, was executed this morning. I don’t think they will make much fuss as there is no sort of ‘alibi’ business this time – nor is he the usual ‘youth’, dear to ‘The Freeman‘, as he is over 40 and has a pack of children, the poor deluded idiot.”

On the day following Traynor’s death, Gilbert Potter, a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) District Inspector based in Cahir, County Tipperary, and being held for Traynor’s safe treatment is executed in reprisal by members of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade of the IRA. Another IRA volunteer, Jack Donnelly, captured with Traynor, is sentenced to death but is reprieved by the declaration of an impending truce in June 1921.

In 1965 a statue is erected to honor Traynor in his native town of Tullow. The Ballad of Thomas Traynor is written in his memory.

In 2001 Traynor and the other nine, including Kevin Barry, are exhumed from their graves in the prison and given a full state funeral. He is now buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


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The Knocklong Ambush

Dan Breen and Seán Treacy rescue their comrade Seán Hogan from a Dublin-Cork train at Knocklong, County Limerick, on May 13, 1919, in what becomes known as the Knocklong Ambush. Two policemen guarding Hogan are killed.

One of the most famous photographs (left) of the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) is taken at Breen’s wedding in June 1921. Breen is already burnishing his reputation as the romantic guerilla campaigner three years before the publication of his bestselling autobiography My Fight for Irish Freedom. On his lap there is a Luger pistol, an incongruity in a wedding photograph, but in keeping with his penchant for self-mythologising. In the background on the left is his best man Hogan who is dressed in the uniform of the Irish Volunteers. Unlike Breen, he looks shy and awkward, his body tilted as if to convey how ill at ease with himself he is.

Had Hogan shown the same diffidence in May 1919, he might have saved himself and his comrades a great deal of trouble. He is the youngest of those involved in the Soloheadbeg ambush on January 21, 1919, the event that is viewed in retrospect as the event that starts the Irish War of Independence.

Hogan is only 18, according to most reports, but to date no birth certificate has been found for him. His youth may explain his lack of caution in early May 1919 when he slips his minder after a dance in Kilshenane, County Tipperary, and ends up, not in the arms of his sweetheart Bridie O’Keeffe, but in the embrace of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). He escorts O’Keeffe back to her relative’s farmhouse where she is spending the night. He sleeps on the sofa. When he wakes up, the house is surrounded. He flees, but is picked up by the RIC in a laneway near the house. He, along with the others involved in the Soloheadbeg ambush, are the most wanted men in Ireland. He faces interrogation and possible execution.

The Knocklong ambush, which occurs on May 13, 1919, saves Hogan from such a fate, but it comes at a terrible price for all those involved. He is put on the 6:00 p.m. train from Thurles to Cork where he is due to be interrogated in the military prison. Knocklong Station, just over the border in County Limerick, is chosen as the place for the escape attempt because of its distance from the nearest RIC barracks.

Four volunteers of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) East Limerick Brigade get on the train at Emly in order to signal to the men waiting at Knocklong Station the carriage in which Hogan is being detained. He is being escorted to Cork by four RIC men. They face five volunteers, three of whom are armed. A ferocious gun battle ensues, lasting 14 minutes. Constable Michael Enright (30), from Ballyneety, County Limerick, is shot dead immediately.

Sgt. Peter Wallace and Treacy, another of those involved at Soloheadbeg, wrestle over Treacy’s gun. Wallace, who is a huge man, shoots Treacy in the throat before the gun is turned on Wallace, who later dies from his wounds. Hogan smashes his mangled chains in the head of another of his armed guards who is then thrown out of the window of the train. The last remaining guard picks up a rifle and opens fire on the IRA party through the carriage window wounding three volunteers waiting on the platform, including Breen. Hogan is taken immediately to a butcher’s shop where his chains are smashed with a cleaver, setting him free.

Knocklong becomes an exalted event in the iconography of Irish republicanism. At Soloheadbeg, eight armed and ready volunteers faced two unwary policemen. It was not a fair fight. Hogan’s rescue from the train at Knocklong demands organisation, courage and daring of the highest order.

Hogan continues to serve in the Irish War of Independence and on the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23). By the time hostilities cease in 1923, he is only 23, but has spent the previous five years in armed combat. The toll on his mind and body are huge. In 1924, he is admitted to St. Bricin’s Military Hospital suffering from “attacks of restlessness and depression – inability to concentrate his mind on anything.” His wife at the time, Christina, runs a nursing home in Tipperary, where her patients include many shellshocked Irish veterans of World War I. The couple later separates.

Hogan’s fortunes change with the change of government in 1932 bringing to power Fianna Fáil, a party which Hogan supports. He is given a job in the Board of Works, but his mental health continues to deteriorate. He complains of the “nerves and all the ailments that go with them.” His circumstances are such that he spends two years living in the family home of Séumas Robinson, the officer commanding at Soloheadbeg.

In early 2019, Robinson’s daughter, Dimphne Brennan, tells The Irish Times, “He had nowhere else to go. He never got over what happened. His nerves were shattered. We were all just kids and we didn’t disturb him in his room. He didn’t talk to us.”

Hogan dies on Christmas Eve 1968 from a cerebral hemorrhage and chronic bronchitis. At the funeral reception, his estranged widow supposedly tells a niece of Hogan, “Well, but wasn’t that some waste of a life.”

Hogan and Christina are buried 50 paces from each other in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Tipperary, divided in death as they were in life. Seán Hogan: His Life: A Troubled Journey, by John Connors, is published by Tipp Revolution.

(From: “Knocklong ambush, on May 13th, 1919 involved a 14-minute gun battle” by Ronan McGreevy, The Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com, May 20, 2019)


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Death of Liam Tobin, Irish Army Officer & IRA Intelligence Officer

Liam Tobin, officer in the Irish Army and the instigator of the Irish Army Mutiny in March 1924, dies in Dublin on April 30, 1963. During the Irish War of Independence, he serves as an Irish Republican Army (IRA) intelligence officer for Michael CollinsSquad.

Tobin is born William Joseph Tobin at 13 Great Georges Street in Cork, County Cork, on November 15, 1895, the eldest son of Mary Agnes (nee Butler) and David Tobin, a hardware clerk. He has two younger siblings, Katherine and Nicholas Augustine Tobin, also born in Cork. His family moves to John Street in Kilkenny and then to Dublin. He goes to school in Kilkenny and is an apprentice in a hardware shop at the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. As a participant in the Rising he fights in the Four Courts garrison under Edward Daly. He is arrested, court martialed, and sentenced to death but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. He is a prisoner in Kilmainham, Mountjoy, Lewes, Dartmoor, Broadmoor and Pentonville prisons. He is released in June 1917.

In early 1919 Tobin becomes Collins’ chief executive in the Intelligence Directorate handling the many spies in Dublin Castle, including double agent David Neligan. Nancy O’Brien works for Under-Secretary for Ireland James Macmahon, decoding messages sent from London. Each day between 2:30 and 3:30 she passes any information acquired to either Tobin, Joseph McGrath, or Desmond FitzGerald. Tobin is involved in planning the assassinations of British soldiers, informants, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and operatives of MI5. He constructs detailed profiles of everyone remotely connected to the British government, often using Who’s Who, The Morning Post, and The Times, a newspaper that describes him as “one of the most formidable of [the] Twelve Apostles.”

In October 1921, Tobin travels with the Irish Treaty Delegation as part of Collins’ personal staff.

Tim Pat Coogan and James Mackay have examined Tobin’s involvement in the assassination of British Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. Wilson’s public tirades about Collins is evidence of mutual personal dislike between the two men. In May 1922 Collins tells Tobin “We’ll kill a member of that bunch” to the news of “bloody pogroms” in Belfast. Wilson is intimately involved with the Ulster loyalist cause, including the Curragh Mutiny and the establishment of the Ulster Special Constabulary. Just before the shooting, Coogan places Tobin in London. He meets courier Peig Ni Braonain at Euston Station collecting a document that has been sent from Dublin. Returning to Dublin before the incident, he is jubilant when he tells defence minister Richard Mulcahy about Wilson’s death. Mulcahy is appalled and threatens to resign.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Tobin is appointed deputy director of intelligence in the new state and assigned to the Criminal Investigation Department based at Oriel House. However Collins soon replaces him with Joseph McGrath. Tobin is placed on the Army Council and is Director of Intelligence from September 1922 until his appointment as Senior Aide-de-Camp to the new GovernorGeneral of the Irish Free State, Tim Healy, in November 1922. The position provides an apartment in Viceregal Lodge.

In October 1922, Tobin’s brother Nicholas, a Free State captain, is accidentally shot dead by his own troops during the raid and capture of a bomb making factory at number 8 Gardiner’s Place, Dublin.

Tobin believes in the stepping stone doctrine which sees the Treaty as a stage towards full independence. With the outbreak of the Irish Civil War he remains loyal to Collins and takes the Pro-Treaty side. He leads in the fight against the Anti-Treaty IRA in the south. Disillusioned with the continuing hostilities and in the aftermath of the death of Collins, he forms an association called the IRA Organisation (IRAO) or “Old Irish Republican Army” to distinguish themselves from the anti-treaty insurgents.

Richard Mulcahy, the new Irish defence minister, proposes to reduce the army from 55,000 to 18,000 men in the immediate post- Civil-War period. Tobin knows his own position is to be affected and shares the perception that the Irish Army treats former British officers better than former IRA officers. On March 7, 1924, Tobin, together with Colonel Charlie Dalton, sends an ultimatum to President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State W. T. Cosgrave demanding an end to the army demobilisation. The immediate response is an order for the arrest of the two men on a charge of mutiny. The cabinet, already wary of the Irish Army, orders an inquiry and appoints Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to the army command.

On March 18, the mutineers assemble with hostile intent at a Dublin pub. An order is made to arrest the mutineers and the cabinet demands the resignation of the army council. The generals resign, affirming the subservience of the military to the civilian government of the new state.

In later years, Tobin rebuilds relations with his Civil War foes and joins Éamon de Valera‘s Anti-Treaty Fianna Fáil party. He joins up with Joseph McGrath to form the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in the 1930s. Many other former army comrades find work in this lottery. He leaves the Sweep in 1938. After World War II, he becomes Superintendent of the Oireachtas for the Irish Dáil.

On October 14, 1929, Tobin marries Monica “Mona” Higgins at the Church of the Holy Family, Aughrim Street, Dublin. They have two daughters, Máire and Anne Tobin. Following the death of his father, David, in 1956, Tobin’s health declines, resulting in his death in Dublin on April 30, 1963.

Tobin is portrayed by actor Brendan Gleeson in Neil Jordan‘s biopic Michael Collins.


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The Limerick Soviet

The Limerick Soviet exists for a two-week period from April 15 to April 27, 1919, and is one of a number of self-declared Irish soviets that are formed around Ireland between 1919 and 1923. At the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, a general strike is organised by the Limerick Trades and Labour Council, as a protest against the British Army‘s declaration of a “Special Military Area” under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914, which covers most of Limerick city and a part of the county. The soviet runs the city for the period, prints its own money and organises the supply of food.

From January 1919 the Irish War of Independence develops as a guerrilla conflict between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) (backed by Sinn Féin‘s Dáil Éireann), and the British government. On April 6, 1919 the IRA tries to liberate Robert Byrne, who is under arrest by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in a hospital, being treated for the effects of a hunger strike. In the rescue attempt Constable Martin O’Brien is fatally wounded and another policeman is seriously injured. Byrne is also wounded and dies later the same day.

In response, on April 9 British Army Brigadier Griffin declares the city to be a Special Military Area, with RIC permits required for all wanting to enter and leave the city as of Monday, April 14. British Army troops and armoured vehicles are deployed in the city.

On Friday, April 11 a meeting of the United Trades and Labour Council, to which Byrne had been a delegate, takes place. At that meeting Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) representative Sean Dowling proposes that the trade unions take over Town Hall and have meetings there, but the proposal is not voted on. On Saturday, April 12 the ITGWU workers in the Cleeve’s factory in Lansdowne vote to go on strike. On Sunday, April 13, after a twelve-hour discussion and lobbying of the delegates by workers, a general strike is called by the city’s United Trades and Labour Council. Responsibility for the direction of the strike is devolved to a committee that describes itself as a soviet as of April 14. The committee has the example of the Dublin general strike of 1913 and “soviet” (meaning a self-governing committee) has become a popular term after 1917 from the soviets that had led to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

A transatlantic air race is being organised from Bawnmore in County Limerick at the same time, but is cancelled. The assembled journalists from England and the United States take up the story of an Irish soviet and interview the organisers. The Trades Council chairman John Cronin is described as the “father of the baby Soviet.” Ruth Russell of the Chicago Tribune remarks on the religiosity of the strike committee, observes “the bells of the nearby St. Munchin’s Church tolled the Angelus and all the red-badged guards rose and blessed themselves.” The Sinn Féin Mayor of Limerick, Phons O’Mara, tells Russell there is no prospect of socialism, as “There can’t be, the people here are Catholics.”

The general strike is extended to a boycott of the troops. A special strike committee organises food and fuel supplies, prints its own money based on the British shilling, and publishes its own newspaper called The Worker’s Bulletin. The businesses of the city accept the strike currency. Cinemas open with the sign “Working under authority of the strike committee” posted. Local newspapers are allowed to publish once a week as long as they have the caption “Published by Permission of the Strike Committee.” Outside Limerick there is some sympathy in Dublin, but not in the main Irish industrial area around Belfast. The National Union of Railwaymen does not help.

On April 21 The Worker’s Bulletin remarks that “A new and perfect system of organisation has been worked out by a clever and gifted mind, and ere long we shall show the world what Irish workers are capable of doing when left to their own resources.” On Easter Monday 1919, the newspaper states “The strike is a worker’s strike and is no more Sinn Féin than any other strike.”

Liam Cahill argues, “The soviet attitude to private property was essentially pragmatic. So long as shopkeepers were willing to act under the soviet’s dictates, there was no practical reason to commandeer their premises.” While the strike is described by some as a revolution, Cahill adds, “In the end the soviet was basically an emotional and spontaneous protest on essentially nationalist and humanitarian grounds, rather than anything based on socialist or even trade union aims.”

After two weeks the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Limerick, Phons O’Mara, and the Catholic bishop Denis Hallinan call for the strike to end, and the Strike Committee issues a proclamation on April 27, 1919 stating that the strike is over.

(Pictured: Photograph of Members of the 1919 Limerick Soviet, April 1919, Limerick City)


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The Black and Tans Arrive In Ireland

The Black and Tans (Irish: Dúchrónaigh), special constables recruited into the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) as reinforcements during the Irish War of Independence, arrive in Ireland on March 25, 1920. Recruitment begins in Great Britain in January 1920 and about 10,000 men enlist during the conflict. The vast majority are unemployed former British soldiers from Britain who had fought in World War I. Some sources count a small number of Irishmen as Black and Tans.

The British administration in Ireland promotes the idea of bolstering the RIC with British recruits. They are to help the overstretched RIC maintain control and suppress the Irish Republican Army (IRA), although they are less well trained in ordinary policing. The nickname “Black and Tans” arises from the colours of the improvised uniforms they initially wear, a mixture of dark green RIC (which appears black) and khaki British Army. They serve in all parts of Ireland, but most are sent to southern and western regions where fighting is heaviest. By 1921, Black and Tans make up almost half of the RIC in County Tipperary, for example.

Few Black and Tans are sent to what becomes Northern Ireland, however. The authorities there raise their own reserve force, the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). For the most part, the Black and Tans are “treated as ordinary constables, despite their strange uniforms, and they live and work in barracks alongside the Irish police.” They spend most of their time manning police posts or on patrol—”walking, cycling, or riding on Crossley Tenders.” They also undertake guard, escort and crowd control duties. While some Irish constables get along well with the Black and Tans, “it seems that many Irish police did not like their new British colleagues” and se them as “rough.”

Alexander Will, from Forfar in Scotland, is the first Black and Tan to die in the conflict. He is killed during an IRA attack on the RIC barracks in Rathmore, County Kerry, on July 11, 1920.

The Black and Tans gain a reputation for brutality and become notorious for reprisal attacks on civilians and civilian property, including extrajudicial killings, arson and looting. Their actions further sway Irish public opinion against British rule and draw condemnation in Britain.

The Black and Tans are sometimes confused with the Auxiliary Division, a counterinsurgency unit of the RIC, also recruited during the conflict and made up of former British officers. However, sometimes the term “Black and Tans” covers both groups. Some sources say the Black and Tans are officially named the “RIC Special Reserve,” but this is denied by other sources, which say they are not a separate force but “recruits to the regular RIC” and “enlisted as regular constabulary.”

More than a third leave the service before they are disbanded along with the rest of the RIC in 1922, an extremely high wastage rate, and well over half receive government pensions. Over 500 members of the RIC died in the conflict and more than 600 are wounded. Some sources state that 525 police are killed in the conflict, including 152 Black and Tans and 44 Auxiliaries. This figure of total police killed also includes 72 members of the Ulster Special Constabulary killed between 1920 and 1922 and 12 members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

Many Black and Tans are left unemployed after the RIC is disbanded and about 3,000 are in need of financial assistance after their employment in Ireland is terminated. About 250 Black and Tans and Auxiliaries, among over 1,300 former RIC personnel, join the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Another 700 joined the Palestine Police Force which is led by former British Chief of Police in Ireland, Henry Hugh Tudor. Others are resettled in Canada or elsewhere by the RIC Resettlement branch. Those who return to civilian life sometimes have problems re-integrating. At least two former Black and Tans are hanged for murder in Britain and another, Scott Cullen, wanted for murder, commits suicide before the police can arrest him.

(Pictured: Sir Hamar Greenwood inspects a group of Black and Tans in 1921)


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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.