seamus dubhghaill

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


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National Day of Commemoration 2017

national-day-of-commemoration-2017President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar lead the ceremony to mark the National Day of Commemoration at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Kilmainham, Dublin on July 9, 2017. The event is a multi-faith service of prayer and a military service honouring all Irish people who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations. Events are also held in Cork, Galway, Limerick, Sligo, Kilkenny and Waterford.

The National Day of Commemoration is held on the Sunday closest to July 11, the anniversary of the date the truce was signed in 1921 to end the Irish War of Independence.

Leaders from Christian, Coptic Christian, Jewish and Islamic denominations read or sing prayers and readings, and President Higgins lays a laurel wreath. The service is observed by more than 1,000 guests, including Government Ministers, the Council of State, which advises the Taoiseach, members of the judiciary, members of the diplomatic corps, TDs and Senators, representatives of ex-servicemen’s organisations and relatives of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.

The national flag is lowered to half-mast while the “Last Post” and “Reveille” are sounded. After a minute of silence, a gun salute is sounded and the flag is raised again before the national anthem is played with a fly-by by three Pilatus PC-9 aircraft.

The Army band of the 1st Brigade and pipers play music including “Limerick’s Lament” and “A Celtic Lament” as guests arrive at the quadrangle of the former British Army veterans’ hospital, now the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

The prayer service begins with Imam Sheikh Hussein Halawa of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, father of Ibrahim Halawa, who is in prison in Cairo, singing verses from the Quran in Arabic and praying in English, “I ask Allah, the Mighty, the Lord, to bless our country, Ireland, and give the people of our country a zeal for justice and strength for forbearance.”

Soloist Sharon Lyons sings hymns between prayers and readings from all denominations, ending with Rabbi Zalman Lent: “May the efforts and sacrifice of those we honour today be transformed into the blessing of people throughout the world.”

Speaking to reporters, Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Vice Admiral Mark Mellett says more than 650 personnel are serving in eleven countries and on the Mediterranean Sea. “In the Defence Forces we have over 80 people who have given their lives in the cause of peace internationally, and I think it’s a sign of a State that recognises those who give this service,” he says. “The military of our State serve the political and serve the people. And it’s this loyalty to the State which is actually critical, and I’m delighted that we have a day like this.”

Mellett’s views are echoed by former sergeant Denis Barry, who says 47 Irish soldiers died in Lebanon and it is important to pay respects for that sacrifice. “None of us who served ever thought we would see the day we could travel in Lebanon without weapons, heavy armaments or flak jackets.” That United Nations mission paid off, he says.

Former British soldier Ron Hammond says the event reflects positive developments, such as the creation of the veterans’ Union of British and Irish Forces. He served from 1960 to 1980 in the Royal Irish Fusiliers and Royal Irish Rangers, spending time in Germany, Canada, Yemen and north and south Africa. He joined the British rather than the Irish forces because at the time “a home posting in the Defence Forces was Collins Barracks and an overseas posting was the Curragh encampment.”

(From: “Irish military dead honoured in National Day of Commemoration” by Marie O’Halloran, The Irish Times, July 9, 2017)


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The Gough Barracks Raid

gough-barracksThe Irish Republican Army (IRA) makes an audacious raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on June 12, 1954. It marks the re-awakening of IRA activity in Northern Ireland and a re-arming that leads eventually to the 1956-1962 border campaign.

In January 1954, Leo McCormick, the Training Officer for the Dublin Brigade of the IRA, is on a visit to Armagh. As he passes Gough Barracks, the home of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, he notices that the guard on duty outside the barracks is armed with a Sten gun without a magazine. He concludes rightly that Gough Barracks is in effect being guarded by an unarmed guard.

On his return to Dublin, McCormick informs the Dublin Brigade of his chance observation. Alas, he does not see the end result of his information, as he is arrested soon after and receives four years for possession of a document.

By April, the General Head Quarters decides that they will raid Gough Barracks for arms. But first, they need more information. Eamonn Boyce, the Intelligence Officer of the Dublin Brigade, is asked to travel to Armagh and check out the barracks. He makes several trips to Armagh and soon has a detailed account of life outside the barracks. But GHQ wants more inside details. Charlie Murphy gets over this problem by asking Seán Garland to go to Armagh and enlist in the British Army. Not long after Garland’s enlistment, a stream of maps, documents, time schedules and photographs flow into GHQ for processing.

Finally, a last intelligence coup is arranged. Using Garland’s information, the IRA gets inside the barracks to have a look around. On a Saturday night in May, Boyce and Murphy slip into the barracks as “guests” at a weekly dance. With them they bring a girl, Mae Smith, who is later to become chairperson of Sinn Féin. After a few dances, Garland takes Mae outside for what his fellow soldiers assume is an hour of light passion but is in fact a detailed tour of the entire barracks.

The operation is launched on June 12, 1954, from a farm just outside Dundalk. A large red cattle truck is commandeered at the last moment and nineteen IRA men, about half of the Dublin Brigade, climb in and are informed as to what their target is. It is almost 3:00 on a busy Saturday afternoon when the cattle truck and a car drive into Armagh.

Paddy Ford gets out of the car and walks over to the sentry and asks him about enlisting in the British Army. While the sentry is dissuading Ford of what he considers a foolish course of action, he looks down into the barrel of a .45 caliber Colt revolver in the perspective recruit’s hand. As the sentry is held at gunpoint, three IRA men pass him into the guardhouse. The sentry is then brought in after them. While the sentry is being tied up, a new IRA sentry, complete with British uniform, white webbing belt, regimental cap and sten gun with magazine steps out to stand guard over Gough Barracks.

As soon as the IRA sentry appears, the cattle truck drives through the gate and comes to a halt outside the arsenal door. After fumbling through 200 keys, Eamonn Boyce finds the right one and opens the armoury. Murphy races up the stairs and in the first room two British soldiers demand to know what a civilian wants inside the barracks. Murphy has some trouble getting his revolver out of his pocket and is further embarrassed when the two soldiers refuse to put up their hands. However, another IRA man arrives carrying a Thompson submachine gun, which quickly convinces them to do as they are told. Posting a Bren gun at the armoury window to command the barracks square, the IRA begins stripping the armoury.

During the course of the raid a woman, noticing something is wrong, stops a British officer in the street and urges him into the barracks to investigate. Once inside the gate the officer is taken under control and, protesting that he is an officer and a gentleman, refuses to be tied until a gun is put to his head.

An NCO then notices what is happening, gets into a lorry and drives for the gate, intending to block the exit. An IRA man stands at the gate brandishing a revolver and shouts “Back.” He forces the NCO to reverse the lorry. The NCO is placed under arrest in the guard room. By the end of the raid, the IRA has tied up 19 British soldiers and one civilian.

In less than 20 minutes the job is done. The truck carrying 340 rifles, 50 Sten guns, 12 Bren guns, and a number of small arms drives out of the barrack gates and rumbles through Armagh in the direction of the border. Eamonn Boyce and the group in the car follow after locking every gate and door for which they can find keys. At 3:25 PM the first alarm in the barracks is given but it is not until 5:00 that the general alarm is given and by that time the big red truck is long gone.

The raid for arms in Gough Barracks gains international attention. The IRA, which has been described by some as moribund since the ’40s campaign, has once more risen from its slumber to strike a blow against the forces of occupation. The raid awakes a calling in many to join the IRA and take part in the Border Campaign, which keeps alive the flame of republicanism through to the present time.

(From: “The Gough Barracks raid – Remembering the Past” by Shane Mac Thomáis, anphoblacht.com, June 9, 2005)


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The Flight of the Wild Geese

flight-of-the-wild-geesePatrick Sarsfield sails to France on December 22, 1691, leading 19,000 of his countrymen to enter the French service in the first phase of the military denuding of Ireland known as the Flight of the Wild Geese, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on October 3, 1691, following the end of the Williamite War in Ireland.

More broadly, the term “Wild Geese” is used in Irish history to refer to Irish soldiers who leave to serve in continental European armies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, or even, poetically, Irish soldiers in British armies as late as World War I.

Irish recruitment for continental armies dries up after it is made illegal in 1745. In 1732 Sir Charles Wogan indicates in a letter to Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, that 120,000 Irishmen have been killed and wounded in foreign service “within these forty years.” Swift later replies, “I cannot but highly esteem those gentlemen of Ireland who, with all the disadvantages of being exiles and strangers, have been able to distinguish themselves by their valour and conduct in so many parts of Europe, I think, above all other nations.”

It was some time before the British armed forces begin to tap into Irish Catholic manpower. In the late eighteenth century, the Penal Laws are gradually relaxed and in the 1790s the laws prohibiting Catholics bearing arms are abolished.

Thereafter, the British begin recruiting Irish regiments for the Crown Forces – including such famous units as the Connaught Rangers. Several more Irish units are created in the 19th century. By 1914 specifically Irish infantry regiments in the British Army comprise the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Connaught Rangers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers. With the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 five of the above regiments are disbanded, with most of the remainder undergoing a series of amalgamations between 1968 and 2006. The United Kingdom still retains three Irish regiments: the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, and the London Irish Rifles.

Sarsfield is honored to this day in the crest of County Limerick. The Flight of the Wild Geese is remembered in the poetic words…“War-battered dogs are we, Fighters in every clime, Fillers of trench and of grave, Mockers, bemocked by time. War-dogs, hungry and grey, Gnawing a naked bone, Fighters in every clime, Every cause but our own.”

(Pictured: ‘Irish Troops Leaving Limerick’, 1692, (Cassell Petter & Galpin, London, Paris & New York, c1880), Artist Unknown)