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


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Death of Songwriter & Lyricist Jimmy Kennedy

jimmy-kennedyJames Kennedy, a Northern Irish songwriter and lyricist, dies in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England on April 6, 1984. In a career spanning more than fifty years, he writes some 2,000 songs, of which over 200 become worldwide hits and about 50 are all-time popular music classics. Until the duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Kennedy has more hits in the United States than any other Irish or British songwriter.

Kennedy is born near Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. His father, Joseph Hamilton Kennedy, is a policeman in the Royal Irish Constabulary, which exists before the partition of Ireland. While growing up in Coagh, Kennedy writes several songs and poems. He is inspired by local surroundings such as the view of the Ballinderry river, the local Springhill house and the plentiful chestnut trees on his family’s property, as evidenced in his poem Chestnut Trees. Kennedy later moves to Portstewart, a seaside resort.

Kennedy graduates from Trinity College, Dublin, before teaching in England. He is accepted into the Colonial Service, as a civil servant, in 1927.

While awaiting a Colonial Service posting to the colony of Nigeria, Kennedy embarks on a career in songwriting. His first success comes in 1930 with The Barmaid’s Song, sung by Gracie Fields. Fellow lyricist Harry Castling, introduces him to Bert Feldman, a music publisher based in London‘s “Tin Pan Alley,” for whom Kennedy starts to work. In the early 1930s he writes a number of successful songs, including Oh, Donna Clara (1930), My Song Goes Round the World (1931), and The Teddy Bears’ Picnic (1933), in which he provides new lyrics to John Walter Bratton‘s tune from 1907.

In 1934, Feldman turns down Kennedy’s song Isle of Capri, but it becomes a major hit for a new publisher, Peter Maurice. He writes several more successful songs for Maurice, including Red Sails in the Sunset (1935), inspired by beautiful summer evenings in Portstewart, Northern Ireland, Harbor Lights (1937) and South of the Border (1939), inspired by a holiday picture postcard he receives from Tijuana, Mexico, and written with composer Michael Carr. Kennedy and Carr also collaborate on several West End theatre shows in the 1930s, including London Rhapsody (1937). My Prayer, with original music by Georges Boulanger, has English lyrics penned by Kennedy in 1939. It is originally written by Boulanger with the title Avant de Mourir in 1926.

During the early stages of World War II, while serving in the British Army‘s Royal Artillery, where he rises to the rank of Captain, Kennedy writes the wartime hit, We’re Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line. His hits also include Cokey Cokey (1945), and the English lyrics to Lili Marlene. After the end of the war, his songs include Apple Blossom Wedding (1947), Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (1953), and Love Is Like a Violin (1960). In the 1960s he writes the song The Banks of the Erne, for recording by his friend from the war years, Theo Hyde, also known as Ray Warren.

Kennedy is a patron of the Castlebar International Song Contest from 1973 until his death in 1984 and his association with the event adds great prestige to the contest. He wins two Ivor Novello Awards for his contribution to music and receives an honorary degree from the New University of Ulster. He is awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983.

Jimmy Kennedy dies in Cheltenham on April 6, 1984 at the age of 81, and was interred in Taunton, Somerset. In 1997 he is posthumously inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

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The Arnon Street Massacre

arnon-street-massacreThe Arnon Street Massacre takes place on April 1, 1922 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Six Catholic civilians, three in Arnon Street, are shot dead. It is believed that members of either the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) or the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) are responsible, acting in retaliation for the killing of an RIC officer by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Although the Irish War of Independence officially ends in July 1921, the Irish Republican Army’s conflict with British and unionist forces continues in Northern Ireland and escalates in the first half of 1922. The Ulster IRA, with the tacit but covert assistance of Michael Collins, head of the new Irish Free State, continues to wage a guerrilla war in Northern Ireland. According to historian Alan Parkinson, despite “the IRA having some short term successes … the main effect of this intensive campaign was to unleash a terrible backlash on the Catholic population in Belfast.” Only a week before the Arnon Street incident, policemen – either Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) or Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) – kill six Catholic civilians in the McMahon murders.

On the evening of April 1, RIC constable George Turner is patrolling the Old Lodge Road when he is killed by a sniper.

About ten police officers in Brown Square Barracks, upon hearing of Turner’s murder, take a Lancia armoured car and begin touring nationalist areas. When they dismount their vehicle, witnesses hear them shouting “Cut the guts out of them for the murder of Turner.” Their first victim is John McRory who lives on Stanhope Street, just across the road from where Constable Turner had been shot. The police break into his house and shoot him dead in his kitchen. In Park Street, Bernard McKenna, father of seven, is killed while lying in bed. Finally, the police arrived at Arnon Street.

William Spallen, who lives at 16 Arnon Street, has just returned from the funeral of his wife who had also been killed in the conflict. His 12-year-old grandson, Gerald Tumelty, witnesses his death. “Two men came into the room, one was in the uniform of a policeman. They asked my grandfather his name and he said William Spallen. The man in plain clothes fired three shots at him. When I cried out he said ‘lie down or I will put a bullet into you.'” Tumelty says the killers then take £20 that his grandfather had to pay for his wife’s funeral.

The attackers then use a sledgehammer to break into the house next door, where they find Joseph Walsh in bed with his seven-year-old son Michael and his two-year-old daughter Bridget. Joseph Walsh is bludgeoned to death with the sledgehammer while Michael Walsh is shot and dies from his wounds the next day. Another son, Frank, is shot in the thigh but survives. Later that evening another Catholic, John Mallon, is shot dead in Skegoneill Avenue.

The unionist press, the Belfast Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph, condemn the killings but do not identify the killers as police. The Dublin-based Irish Independent writes that “never even in the worst state of terror in the west and south has the state of affairs which now prevails in the Northern capital been experienced.” Michael Collins sends an angry telegram to Northern Ireland Prime Minister James Craig, demanding a joint inquiry into the killings. No such inquiry is set up.

As with the McMahon killings one week earlier, it is strongly suspected that an RIC Detective Inspector, Nixon, operating out of the Brown Street Police barracks, had organised the attack. Nixon and several other policemen fail to turn up at roll call at the barracks immediately after the killings.


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The Headford Ambush

headford-ambushThe Headford Ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on March 21, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The battle lasts almost an hour and fourteen people are killed – nine British soldiers, two IRA volunteers and three civilians.

The guerrilla war in County Kerry escalates rapidly in the spring of 1921. The county is occupied by the British Army, Auxiliary Division and Black and Tans paramilitary police, as well as the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). For the previous several months they have been burning suspected Republicans’ property and shooting suspected IRA sympathisers. By early 1921, they have begun rounding up male inhabitants of nearby towns and villages and searching for IRA suspects.

On January 23, in response to the IRA’s assassination of RIC District Inspector Sullivan, 1,000 soldiers and armed police surround Ballymacelligott, arrest 240 men and march them to Tralee for questioning. British forces, especially the Auxiliaries, also carry out a number of reprisal shootings of local civilians. The IRA sets up full-time guerrilla units, known as flying columns, to avoid arrest and to assemble units capable of taking on British patrols. IRA GHQ in Dublin also sends an organizer, Andy Cooney, to Kerry to oversee the setting up of flying columns. On March 2, under Cooney’s direction, the 2nd Kerry Brigade sets up its own flying column under Dan Allman and Tom McEllistrim. On March 5, McEllistrim leads 20 volunteers from the column to a successful ambush at Clonbanin, in which they co-operate with Cork IRA units, killing four British soldiers including Brigadier General Hanway Robert Cumming. Buoyed by their success in Cork, the 2nd Kerry Brigade tries on a number of occasions to ambush British forces in Kerry itself.

On March 21, an IRA party of the 2nd Kerry Brigade is billeted about four miles from the Headford railway junction when they hear that British troops are returning by train from Kenmare to Tralee. As the train does not go directly to Tralee, the British have to change trains at Headford, making them vulnerable to ambush. Allman, commanding 30 volunteers, reaches the junction only 12 minutes before the train, which is carrying 30 soldiers of the 1st Royal Fusiliers. The railway staff just has time to flee before the train pulls into the platform, where its passengers have to change trains for Tralee. Alongside the soldiers, the train is packed with cattle and pig farmers on their way back from the market in Kenmare. Most of the civilians have already got off when the British soldiers begin to disembark. Allman himself tries to disarm a Fusilier but shoots him when he resists. This is the signal for the IRA to open fire on the British troops.

One of the first British casualties is Lieutenant CE Adams DCM, who is shot dead when he appears at the carriage door, as are several other soldiers who are standing in front of the engine. The surviving British troops open fire from the train while those who have got off scramble underneath it for cover. In the ensuing close-quarter firefight, conducted at a range of just 20 yards, three civilians and two IRA volunteers, including Allman, are killed. Two-thirds of the British force is estimated to have been killed or wounded. Most of those killed are hit in the initial firing. Afterwards, the IRA gunmen have no direct field of fire into the troops who are hidden under the train.

MacEllistrim calls on the survivors to surrender and when they refuse, the IRA begins to move in to finish off those who keep shooting by throwing hand grenades under the train. Just as they are doing so, another train pulls into the junction carrying another party of British troops. The IRA column has used most of its ammunition and is forced to retreat, escaping toward the hills in the south.

(Pictured: British soldiers searching a train in County Kerry, 1921)


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The Assassination of Tomás Mac Curtain

Tomas-mac-curtainTomás Mac Curtain, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, is assassinated in Cork, County Cork on March 20, 1920, which is also his 36th birthday.

Thomas Curtin is born at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey, County Cork, on March 20, 1884, the son of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan. He attends Burnfort National School. In 1897 the family moves to Cork City, where he attends the North Monastery school.

Mac Curtain, as he later becomes known, is active in a number of cultural and political movements beginning around the turn of the 20th century. He joins the Blackpool, Cork branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, becoming its secretary in 1902. He has interests in music, poetry, history, archaeology and Irish history. He works in his early career as a clerk, and in his free time teaches Irish. In 1911 he joins Fianna Éireann, and is a member of the Irish Volunteers.

He meets Elizabeth Walsh (Eibhlís Breathnach) at a Gaelic League meeting and they marry on June 28, 1908. They have six children, five of whom survive into adulthood. The family lives over 40 Thomas Davis Street, where Mac Curtain runs a small clothing and rainwear factory.

In April 1916, at the outset of the Easter Rising, Mac Curtain commands a force of up to 1,000 men of the Irish Volunteers who assemble at various locations around County Cork. From the volunteers headquarters at Sheares Street in the city, Mac Curtain and his officers await orders from the volunteer leadership in Dublin but conflicting instructions and confusion prevail and as a result the Cork volunteers never enter the fray. A tense stand-off develops when British forces surround the volunteer hall and continued for a week until a negotiated agreement leads to the surrender of the volunteers’ arms to the then Lord Mayor of Cork Thomas Butterfield on the understanding that they will be returned at a later date. This does not happen however and Mac Curtain is jailed in Wakefield Prison, in the Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and in Reading Gaol. After the general amnesty of participants in the Rising 18 months later, Mac Curtain returns to active duty as a Commandant of what is now the Irish Republican Army.

By 1918 Mac Curtain is a brigade commander, the highest and most important rank in the IRA. During the Conscription Crisis of 1918, he actively encourages the hiring of the women of Cumann na mBan to cater for Volunteers. He is personally involved with Michael CollinsThe Squad that, along with a Cork battalion, attempt to assassinate Lord John French, whose car is missed as the convoy passes through the ambush positions. Despite the setback he remains brigadier of No.1 Cork when he is elected Lord Mayor. He is elected in the January 1920 council elections as the Sinn Féin councillor for NW Ward No. 3 of Cork, and is chosen by his fellow councillors to be the Lord Mayor. He begins a process of political reform within the city.

In January 1919, the Irish War of Independence starts and Mac Curtain becomes an officer in the IRA. On March 20, 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain is shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of men with blackened faces, who are found to be members of the Auxilaries along with unknown members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by the official inquest into the event. In the wake of the killing, which is in revenge for the shooting of a policeman, Mac Curtain’s house in Blackpool is ransacked.

The killing causes widespread public outrage. The coroner’s inquest passes a verdict of willful murder against British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and against certain members of the RIC. Michael Collins later orders his squad of assassins to uncover and assassinate the police officers involved in the attack. RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the attack, is fatally shot, with Mac Curtain’s own revolver, while leaving a Protestant church in Lisburn, County Antrim on August 22, 1920, sparking what is described by Tim Pat Coogan as a “pogrom” against the Catholic residents of the town.

Tomás Mac Curtain is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.


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The Selton Hill Ambush

selton-hill-ambush-memorialThe Selton Hill Ambush takes place on March 11, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column is ambushed by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliary Division at Selton Hill, County Leitrim. Six IRA officers of the Leitrim Brigade are killed.

Seán Connolly is an IRA activist from County Longford, but he is also used by IRA GHQ to organise the surrounding areas of County Roscommon and County Leitrim. When Michael Collins orders Connolly into the county, he warns that it is “the most treacherous county in Ireland.” As Connolly is running a training camp at Selton Hill in early 1921, his position is given to the RIC. The RIC District Inspector, Thomas Gore-Hickman, has been alerted to Connolly’s position by a local doctor who had served in the British Army. The doctor had reportedly been told of the training camp by a local member of the Orange Order.

The events at Selton Hill take place one week after the Sheemore ambush, in which British troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, based in Boyle suffer several casualties and at least one fatality. On March 11, at Selton Hill, a large force of RIC and Auxiliaires, based in Mohill and troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment surround and then attack the IRA camp. Six IRA volunteers are killed. The RIC suffers no losses. The IRA dead are Sean Connolly, Seamus Wrynne, Joseph O’Beirne, John Reilly, Joseph Reilly, and Capt. M.E. Baxter.

Ernie O’Malley later claims the volunteers’ bodies are “taken to Mohill by soldiers who shouted ‘fresh meat!’ as they were driving through the town.” He is also quoted as saying, “Men from the Bedfordshire Regiment were seen by a badly wounded IRA officer, Bernie Sweeney who survived, to use rifle butts on the skulls of two wounded men.” He also states that the location of the column was given to the local District Inspector of the RIC by a doctor who had been in the British Army, who received the information by a local Orangeman. The IRA officer who survives is Bernie Sweeney, from Ballinamore, who survives by hiding in a drain, where the cold water prevents him from bleeding to death. He is rescued and hidden from the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries by locals.

The IRA learn their position had been given away by the doctor and the Orangeman. The latter is later killed by the IRA. The doctor escapes to England and later dies in an accident.

The border country of the north midlands often proves to be a treacherous place for IRA training camps. On May 8, 1921 a camp of Belfast IRA volunteers based in the Lappanduff hills in neighbouring County Cavan, is also surprised. One volunteer is killed, thirteen captured, and arms and ammunition are seized by the British forces.

(Pictured: Selton Hill Ambush Memorial, south of the village of Fenagh, County Leitrim)


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Murder of Frank Shawe-Taylor

castle-taylor-ardrahanFrank Shawe-Taylor, Irish land agent and ex-High Sheriff of County Galway, is shot and killed in an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ambush on March 3, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence. Shawe-Taylor is a member of the Taylor family of Castle Taylor, Ardrahan, County Galway. He is related to Lady Gregory and Captain John Shawe-Taylor. He serves as High Sheriff of County Galway in 1915.

Land disputes in Ireland had been a contentious issue for much of the 19th century, with tenants of landlords insisting on fixity of tenure, which later grows into a demand to own their own land. In addition, The Wyndham Land Act of 1903 enables the transfer of about 9 million acres, up to 1914, from landlords to tenants. However, tenure and ownership of land is still a live issue on the eve of the Irish War of Independence.

Shawe-Taylor is a land agent to a local landlord, and is himself a tenant. Early in January 1920, a group of local IRA soldiers, including Mick Kelly, Bill Freaney and Larry Lardner, approach Shawe-Taylor on behalf of some local people who are requesting a road to travel to Mass. While Shawe-Taylor himself is amenable to their demands, his landlord refuses them outright and makes this known via Shawe-Taylor.

On March 3, 1920, Shawe-Taylor and his driver, Barrett, are making their way to Galway to attend the fair. At 6:00 AM the coach reaches Egan’s Pub, Coshla, where they find the road blocked. The donkey cart of a local, Johnny Kelly, has been stolen and placed across the road. From behind the wall, at least two shooters fire at Barrett and Shawe-Taylor, wounding Barrett and killing Shawe-Taylor. This results in a huge security presence in the area, which in turn leads to more unrest with the locals. This increases with the arrival of the Black and Tans, whose irregular methods result in shootings, assaults, rapes and deaths. Moorpark House is placed under Royal Irish Constabulary protection out of fear of further killings.

Other people who subsequently die as a result of the unrest in Galway include Ellen Quinn, a pregnant mother of six and a tenant of Lady Gregory, Fr. Michael Griffin, Tom Egan and brothers Patrick and Harry Loughnane. In addition, there are numerous incidents of violence, many of which are recorded with horror by Lady Gregory in her journal, who remarks that “the country has gone wild since the killing of Frank Shawe-Taylor.”

No one is ever tried for Frank Shawe-Taylor’s killing, though the identities of those involved are known to some locals at the time. His widow eventually sells their property and, with her young children, moves to England.

Shawe-Taylor is buried in St. Mary’s graveyard, Athenry. The music critic, Desmond Shawe-Taylor (1907–1995) and British racing driver Brian Shawe-Taylor (1915–1999) are his sons. His grandson is Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures since 2005.

(Pictured: Castle Taylor, near to Ardrahan and Caranavoodaun, Galway, Ireland | Photo © Mike Searle (cc-by-sa/2.0))


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Deportation of Joe Doherty

joseph-dohertyJoe Doherty, a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escapes during his 1981 trial for killing a member of the Special Air Service (SAS) in 1980, is arrested in the United States in 1983 and is deported to Northern Ireland by the U.S. government on February 19, 1992. A first season episode of Law & Order entitled “The Troubles” is based on his case.

The trial of Doherty and the other members of their four-man active service unit nicknamed the “M60 gang” begins in early May 1981, on charges including three counts of murder. On June 10, Doherty and seven other prisoners, including Angelo Fusco and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Gaol and ultimately escape in waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Doherty is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Doherty escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland, and then travels to the United States on a false passport. He lives with an American girlfriend in Brooklyn and New Jersey, working on construction sites and as a bartender at Clancy’s Bar in Manhattan, where he is arrested by the FBI on June 28, 1983. He is imprisoned in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, and a legal battle ensues with the British government seeking to extradite him back to Northern Ireland. Doherty claims he is immune from extradition as the killing of Royal Irish Constabulary Captain Herbert Westmacott was a political act. In 1985 federal judge John E. Sprizzo rules Doherty can not be extradited as the killing is a “political offense.” Doherty’s legal battle continues as the United States Department of Justice then attempts to deport him for entering the country illegally.

Doherty remains in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and attempts to claim political asylum, and on June 15, 1988 Attorney General Edwin Meese overturns an earlier ruling by the Federal Board of Immigration Appeals that Doherty can be deported to the Republic of Ireland, and orders his deportation to Northern Ireland. In February 1989 new Attorney General Dick Thornburgh chooses not to support the decision made by his predecessor, and asks lawyers for Doherty and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to submit arguments for a review of the decision and Doherty’s claim for asylum. By this time Doherty’s case is a cause célèbre with his sympathisers including over 130 Congressmen and a son of then President of the United States George H. W. Bush. In 1990 a street corner near the Metropolitan Correctional Center is named after him.

In August 1991, Doherty is transferred to a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and on January 16, 1992 the Supreme Court of the United States overturns a 1990 Federal Appeals Court ruling by a 5-to-3 decision, paving the way for his deportation. On February 19, 1992 Doherty is deported to Northern Ireland, despite pleas to delay the deportation from members of Congress, Mayor of New York City David Dinkins, and the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John Joseph O’Connor.

Doherty is returned to Crumlin Road Gaol before being transferred to HM Prison Maze. He is released from prison on November 6, 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. After his release Doherty becomes a community worker specialising in helping disadvantaged young people. In 2006, he appears in the BBC television show Facing the Truth opposite the relatives of a soldier killed in the Warrenpoint ambush.