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


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Birth of Sir James Comyn, Irish-born English High Court Judge

Sir James Peter Comyn, Irish-born barrister and English High Court judge, is born at Beaufield House, Stillorgan, County Dublin on March 8, 1921. Considered by many to be “the finest all-round advocate at the English bar”, he is appointed to the High Court of Justice in 1978, serving on the bench until his retirement in 1985.

Comyn is the son of Nationalist barrister James Comyn KC and of Mary Comyn. Through his father he is the nephew of the barrister Michael Comyn KC. Both his father and uncle had been political and legal advisers to Éamon de Valera, who at one point uses Beaufield House as a safe house. However, the Comyn brothers have a falling out with de Valera shortly before he comes to power in 1932, and Michael Comyn is passed over as Attorney General of the Irish Free State. As a result, James Comyn, who is then attending Belvedere College in Dublin, is sent by his father to attend The Oratory School in England. He spends six months as a trainee at The Irish Times under the editor R. M. “Bertie” Smyllie, but abandons journalism after a joke he added to an obituary is printed in the paper, leading to his demotion to the racing department.

Comyn then matriculates at New College, Oxford, where he reads law, graduating with Second Class Honours. In 1940, he defeats Roy Jenkins for the presidency of the Oxford Union, winning by four votes. After suffering the first of several breakdowns through his life, he briefly works for the BBC‘s Empire Service during World War II.

Comyn is called to the English bar by the Inner Temple in 1942, the Irish bar in 1947, and the Hong Kong bar in 1969. In 1944, he begins his pupillage with Edward Holroyd Pearce KC, later a law lord, and joins his chambers at Fountain Court. He practises in London and on the Western circuit, supplementing his earnings by teaching banking, a subject of which he knows nothing. On one occasion, he rises in Lambeth County court to cross-examine a female defendant in an eviction case. Just as he begins by saying “Madam,” the defendant opens her bag, takes out a dead cat, and throws it at him. The judge’s reaction is to tell the defendant, “Madam, if you do that again, I’ll commit you.” Comyn wins the case.

Comyn takes silk in 1961, and acquires a large practice as a senior, appearing in many high-profile cases. In 1964, he wins damages for libel for the former safe-breaker Alfred George Hinds against a Scotland Yard inspector by convincing the jury that Hinds is in fact innocent. In 1970, he successfully defends the Labour MP Will Owen, who is accused of providing information to the Czechoslovak intelligence services. In 1975, he defeats the government’s attempt to obtain an injunction against the publication of the diaries of former minister Richard Crossman.

Comyn is Recorder of Andover between 1964 and 1971 (honorary life recorder from 1972), commissioner of assize for the Western Circuit in 1971, and a Recorder of the Crown Court between 1972 and 1977. He is elected a bencher of the Inner Temple in 1968, and serves as chairman of the Bar council from 1973 to 1974.

Having refused a previous invitation by Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone to join the bench, Comyn is again nominated by Elwyn Jones, Baron Elwyn-Jones, in 1977, and is appointed a High Court judge in 1978, receiving the customary knighthood upon his appointment. Initially assigned to the Family Division, he does not take to the work and is reassigned to the Queen’s Bench Division in 1979. He has a reputation for leniency in sentencing, first acquired as Recorder of Andover. In 1980–81, he presides over an unsuccessful libel action by a member of the Unification Church, colloquially known as the Moonies, against the Daily Mail, the longest libel trial in England up to that time. His Irish background makes him the target of Irish Republican Army (IRA) action, and in 1981 the Provisional IRA burns his house in Tara.

Recurring bouts of depression lead to Comyn’s early retirement, on grounds of ill health, in 1985. In retirement, he divides his time between England and Ireland, whose citizenship he has retained. He writes a number of books, including memoirs, light verse, and books on famous trials. He also breeds Friesian cattle. He dies in Navan, County Meath on January 5, 1997 at age 75.


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Death of IRA Leader Seán Treacy

Seán Allis Treacy, one of the leaders of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence, is killed on October 14, 1920 in a gun battle in Talbot Street, Dublin.

Treacy is born on February 14, 1895, in Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. He leaves school at the age of 14 and works as farmer while also developing deep patriotic convictions. He is a member of the Gaelic League, and of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) from 1911 and the Irish Volunteers from 1913.

Treacy is picked up in the mass arrests following the Easter Rising in 1916. He spends much of the following two years in prison, where he goes on hunger strike on several occasions. In 1918, he is appointed Vice Officer-Commanding of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, which becomes the Irish Republican Army in 1919.

On January 21, 1919, Treacy and Dan Breen, together with Seán Hogan, Séamus Robinson, and five other volunteers, help to ignite the conflict that is to become the Irish War of Independence. They ambush and shoot dead Constables Patrick MacDonnell and James O’Connell of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), who are guarding a transport of gelignite explosives, during the Soloheadbeg Ambush near Treacy’s home. Treacy leads the planning of the ambush and briefs the brigade’s OC Robinson on his return from prison in late 1918. Robinson supports the plans and agrees they will not go to GHQ for permission to undertake the attack.

As a result of the Soloheadbeg Ambush, South Tipperary is placed under martial law and declared a Special Military Area under the Defence of the Realm Act. After Soloheadbeg ambush party member Seán Hogan is arrested on May 12, 1919, Treacy, Breen, and Séamus Robinson are joined by five men from the IRA’s East Limerick Brigade to organise Hogan’s rescue. Hogan is brought to the train which is intended to take him from Thurles to Cork on May 13, 1919. As the train steams across the Tipperary border and into County Limerick, the IRA party boards the train in Knocklong. A close-range struggle ensues on the train. Treacy and Breen are seriously wounded in the gunfight and two RIC men die, but Hogan is rescued. His rescuers rush him into the village of Knocklong where a butcher cuts off his handcuffs using a cleaver.

A search for Treacy and the others is mounted across Ireland. Treacy leaves Tipperary for Dublin to avoid capture. In Dublin, Michael Collins employs Treacy on assassination operations with “the Squad“. In the summer of 1920, he returns to Tipperary and organises several attacks on RIC barracks before again moving his base of operations to Dublin.

By spring 1920 the political police of both the Crimes Special Branch of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and G-Division (Special Branch) of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) have been effectively neutalised by IRA counterintelligence operatives working for Michael Collins. The British thoroughly reorganise their administration at Dublin Castle and begin to import dozens of professional secret service agents from all parts of the British Empire into Ireland to track down IRA operatives and Sinn Féin leaders.

On October 11, 1920, Treacy and Breen are holed up in a safe house on the north side of Dublin when it is raided by a police unit. In the ensuing shootout, two senior British officers are wounded and die the next day while Treacy and Breen are wounded, Breen seriously. Treacy and Breen manage to escape through a window and shoot their way through the police cordon.

Treacy is discovered at the Republican Outfitters shop at 94 Talbot Street on October 14 a British Secret Intelligence Service surveillance team led by Major Carew and Lt. Gilbert Price. They are stalking him in hopes that he will lead them to Collins or to other high-value IRA targets. Treacy realises that he is being followed and runs for his bicycle but grabs the wrong bike, taking one that is far too big for him, and falls. Price draws his pistol and closes in on Treacy. Treacy draws his parabellum automatic pistol and shoots Price and another British agent before he is hit in the head, dying instantly.

Treacy is buried at Kilfeacle graveyard where, despite a large presence of British military personnel, a volley of shots are fired over the grave.


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Birth of Oliver Joseph St. John Gogarty

Oliver Joseph St. John Gogarty, Irish poet, author, otolaryngologist, athlete, politician, and well-known conversationalist, is born on August 17, 1878 in Rutland Square, Dublin. He serves as the inspiration for Buck Mulligan in James Joyce‘s novel Ulysses.

In 1887 Gogarty’s father dies of a burst appendix, and he is sent to Mungret College, a boarding school near Limerick. He is unhappy in his new school, and the following year he transfers to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, England, which he likes little better, later referring to it as “a religious jail.” He returns to Ireland in 1896 and boards at Clongowes Wood College while studying for examinations with the Royal University of Ireland. In 1898 he switches to the medical school at Trinity College, having failed eight of his ten examinations at the Royal.

A serious interest in poetry and literature begins to manifest itself during his years at Trinity. In 1900 he makes the acquaintance of W. B. Yeats and George Moore and begins to frequent Dublin literary circles. In 1904 and 1905 he publishes several short poems in the London publication The Venture and in John Eglinton‘s journal Dana. His name also appears in print as the renegade priest Fr. Oliver Gogarty in George Moore’s 1905 novel The Lake.

In 1905 Gogarty becomes one of the founding members of Arthur Griffith‘s Sinn Féin, a non-violent political movement with a plan for Irish autonomy modelled after the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy.

In July 1907 his first son, Oliver Duane Odysseus Gogarty, is born, and in autumn of that year he leaves for Vienna to finish the practical phase of his medical training. Returning to Dublin in 1908, he secures a post at Richmond Hospital, and shortly afterwards purchases a house in Ely Place opposite George Moore. Three years later, he joins the staff of the Meath Hospital and remains there for the remainder of his medical career.

As a Sinn Féiner during the Irish War of Independence, Gogarty participates in a variety of anti-Black and Tan schemes, allowing his home to be used as a safe house and transporting disguised Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers in his car. Following the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he sides with the pro-Treaty government and is made a Free State Senator. He remains a senator until the abolition of the Seanad in 1936, during which time he identifies with none of the existing political parties and votes according to his own whims.

Gogarty maintains close friendships with many of the Dublin literati and continues to write poetry in the midst of his political and professional duties. He also tries his hand at playwriting, producing a slum drama in 1917 under the pseudonym “Alpha and Omega”, and two comedies in 1919 under the pseudonym “Gideon Ouseley,” all three of which are performed at the Abbey Theatre. He devotes less energy to his medical practice and more to his writing during the twenties and thirties.

With the onset of World War II, Gogarty attempts to enlist in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) as a doctor. He is denied on grounds of age. He then departs in September 1939 for an extended lecture tour in the United States, leaving his wife to manage Renvyle House, which has since been rebuilt as a hotel. When his return to Ireland is delayed by the war, he applies for American citizenship and eventually decides to reside permanently in the United States. Though he regularly sends letters, funds, and care-packages to his family and returns home for occasional holiday visits, he never again lives in Ireland for any extended length of time.

Gogarty suffers from heart complaints during the last few years of his life, and in September 1957 he collapses in the street on his way to dinner. He dies on September 22, 1957. His body is flown home to Ireland and buried in Cartron Church, Moyard, near Renvyle.

(Pictured: 1911 portrait of Oliver St. John Gogarty painted by Sir William Orpen, currently housed at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland)


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The Crumlin Road Gaol Escape

crumlin-road-jail-escapeEight Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoners escape from Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, one of the most heavily guarded prisons in Europe, on June 10, 1980. Using handguns that had been smuggled into the prison, they take prison officers hostage and shoot their way out of the building and exit through the front gate.

The regime inside Crumlin Road Gaol on that day is just like any other. The prison had been the scene of several protests regarding strip-searching shortly beforehand, but the rules had been somewhat relaxed. On A and C Wings the remand prisoners are outside in the yard for exercise. As usual, several men from each wing are called for visits. Some of these visits are from solicitors and an area of the prison is set aside to allow legal teams and the accused a place to discuss their business in private.

When warders come to return one set of prisoners to their wing, the operation begins. One of the Volunteers produces a gun, forces the warders to release the other prisoners and then locks about ten warders in the cell. They then make their way to B wing’s visiting area and arrest all the warders, visitors and solicitors who are there, before locking about thirty up in a room. One warder named Killen reaches for his baton, is disarmed and hit over the head.

Two warders and a solicitor are ordered to strip and three of the IRA Volunteers, dress in two uniforms and a suit respectively, calmly walk to the main gate which is opened for them. They then pull guns on the real warders in this key security area and make them lie on the ground until their five comrades run across a small courtyard to join them.

Once outside however, the alarm is set off and British Army sentries pour a hail of automatic fire at the prisoners from a watch tower before they are able to reach the front gate. Undeterred, the prisoners dash through the bullets, weaving from side to side to throw off their attackers.

As the men make their escape, clearly visible to republican prisoners in cells on the top landing of A wing, loud cheers go up and makeshift flags are flown from the windows.

Outside the prison, cars have been parked by the IRA’s Belfast Brigade in the car park of the health clinic beside the courthouse, their ignition keys hidden under the floor mats. The prisoners run across the road towards the health centre, dodging bullets as they run. The escapees head towards the loyalist Shankill area where they commandeer cars to help their getaway.

Stunned by the daring escapees, the crown forces erect checkpoints across Belfast and along all border routes.

Seven of the escapees, known as the “M60 gang,” are brothers Tony and Gerry Sloan, Gerard McKee, Joe Doherty, Angelo Fusco, Paul ‘Dingus’ Magee and Tony Campbell. All are from Belfast and charged in connection with either an M60 machine gun attack in 1980 on a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrol in Andersonstown, or with the siege on the Antrim Road in May 1980, when a Special Air Service (SAS) captain is killed. The eighth escapee is Pete Ryan from Ardboe, County Tyrone who had been charged with killing an RUC Reservist and an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier.

All eight men reach safe houses within an hour and, after a lying low for a short while, are spirited over the border to begin new lives “on the run.”

One week later, at the annual pilgrimage to the graveside of Wolfe Tone, the father of republicanism, which is always a source of renewed strength for its participants, the crowd is given an added morale boost when at the closing ceremony, one of the escapees, Paul ‘Dingus’ Magee, makes a dramatic appearance on the platform.

There are many more attempts to break free from Crumlin Road Gaol before it finally closes its doors in April 1995, having being used as a weapon in the attempted suppression of the Irish freedom struggle for 151 years.

(From: An Phoblacht Magazine, http://www.anphoblacht.com, June 15, 2006 edition)


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Birth of Irish Historian Robert Walter Dudley Edwards

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default qualityRobert Walter Dudley Edwards, Irish historian, is born in Dublin on June 4, 1909.

Edwards, known to his friends as Robin and his students as Dudley, is the son of Walter Dudley Edwards, a journalist who comes to Ireland with his wife, Bridget Teresa MacInerney from Clare, and becomes a civil servant. His mother is a supporter of women’s rights and Edwards recalls that he had a ‘Votes for Women’ flag on his pram. His mother is a suffragette and a member of Cumann na mBan, a women’s organisation designed to support the Irish Volunteers. Members of Cumann na mBan gather intelligence, transport arms, nurse wounded men, provide safe houses, and organise support for Irish Republican Army (IRA) men in prison.

Edwards is first educated at the Catholic University School, then moves to St. Enda’s School, a school set up by 1916 Irish revolutionary leader Patrick Pearse, after the 1916 rising, and then Synge Street CBS, finally returning to the Catholic University School. In his final exams he fails French and Irish but gains first place in Ireland in history.

In University College Dublin, Edwards is auditor of the Literary and Historical Society, gains a first-class degree in history in 1929 followed by a first class master’s degree in 1931 with the National University of Ireland prize. He carries out postgraduate work at the University of London and earns his PhD in 1933, published in 1935 as Church and State in Tudor Ireland.

Also in 1933, Edwards marries Sheila O’Sullivan, a folklorist and teacher. They have three children, Mary Dudley Edwards a teacher and rights activist, Ruth Dudley Edwards, a historian, crime novelist, journalist and broadcaster, and Owen Dudley Edwards, a historian at the University of Edinburgh.

Along with Theodore William Moody, Edwards founds the Irish Historical Society in 1936, and its journal Irish Historical Studies is first published in 1938.

In 1937 Edwards is awarded a D.Litt by the National University of Ireland and in 1939 is appointed to a statutory lectureship in Modern Irish History at University College Dublin. He succeeds Mary Hayden to the Chair of Modern Irish History in 1944, which he holds until he retires in 1979. His contribution to the discipline of History in Ireland is substantial, and includes the setting up of University College Dublin Archives Department, now part of the School of History.

The introduction to Edwards’ book Age of Atrocity records how the leading Irish history journal, Irish Historical Studies, edited by Edwards and Moody, for the first half-century and more of its existence, systematically avoids the theme of violence, killing and atrocity during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Following his wife’s death in April 1985, Robert Dudley Edwards dies on June 5, 1988 in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin after a short illness.

(Pictured: Robert Walter Dudley Edwards (left) and Theodore William Moody (right).)


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Birth of Activist Mary Ellen Spring Rice

mary-ellen-spring-riceMary Ellen Spring Rice, Irish nationalist activist during the early 20th century, is born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in London, England on October 14, 1880.

Spring Rice is the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, and a great-granddaughter of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Her maternal grandfather is the bishop, Samuel Butcher. She is brought up on the family’s Mount Trenchard estate overlooking the River Shannon. It is a progressive, liberal household and independence of thought is encouraged. So too is the Gaelic culture and, at home, she and her brothers are taught how to fluently speak the Irish language.

Before World War I, Spring Rice hosts many Irish nationalist and Conradh na Gaeilge meetings at her home, and she becomes a close friend of Douglas Hyde and her cousin Nelly O’Brien. During 1913 and 1914, she is actively involved in gun-running, most notably the Howth gun-running.

This involves helping to ship weapons to be used in an Irish uprising from Germany into Ireland. Together with Molly Childers, she raises £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany, many of which are used in the 1916 Easter Rising. She sails on the Asgard to collect the guns and helps to unload them in Ireland.

During the Irish War of Independence, Spring Rice allows her Mount Trenchard home to be used as a safe house by Irish Republican Army fighters and the family boat is used to carry men and arms over the Shannon Estuary.

Con Collins stays with Spring Rice regularly. She helps train local women as nurses to tend to wounded nationalists and acts as an IRA message carrier between Limerick and Dublin. Throughout this time, she maintains her aristocratic façade and society connections, inviting senior Liberal Party politicians to Mount Trenchard to pressure them to support Irish independence.

Spring Rice starts to suffer from tuberculosis in 1923, and dies unmarried in a sanatorium in Clwdyy, Wales, on December 1, 1924. She is buried in Ireland, where her coffin is draped in the Irish tricolour and escorted by an IRA guard of honour.

(Pictured: Mary Ellen Spring-Rice and Molly Childers with the German guns on board Asgard, 1914.)


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Execution of D.I. Gilbert Potter, R.I.C.

gilbert-norman-potterGilbert Norman Potter, a District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary, is executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 27, 1921 in reprisal for the British execution of Irish republican Thomas Traynor.

Born in Dromahair, County Leitrim on July 10, 1887, Potter receives his commission as District Inspector on April 27, 1901 having completed his cadetship at the Depot, Phoenix Park, Dublin. His first assignment is to Castlepollard, County Westmeath. During the 1909 ITGWU strike in Cork, he is temporarily posted there from Dublin and is also involved in policing the August 14 marches in Portadown. Having had charge of No. 4 Company at the Depot, he is assigned to Cahir in 1912.

On April 23, 1921 District Inspector Potter is captured by the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, IRA, following the Hyland’s Cross Ambush. This occurs near Curraghcloney, close to the village of Ballylooby. The ambush party is initially made up of a combination of the 1st and 2nd Flying Columns 3rd Tipperary Brigade. This is the largest force assembled to date by the Tipperary IRA in anticipation of a major battle. However, the convoy of military lorries that is expected never materialises. Dan Breen and Con Moloney return to Battalion Headquarters, while Seán Hogan‘s Column withdraws northward in the direction of the Galtee Mountains.

As Dinny Lacey‘s No.1 Column prepares to leave towards the south, a small party of British soldiers accompanying two horse-drawn carts unexpectedly approaches from Clogheen and are immediately fired upon. Amid some confusion Lacey’s scattered men withdraw southwards towards the Knockmealdown Mountains. One British soldier, Frank Edward Conday, is fatally wounded and two others from the relieving party are wounded.

By chance, Potter, who is returning by car from police duties at Ballyporeen, drives into a section of the withdrawing No.1 Column. Although in civilian attire, he is recognised by one of the IRA Volunteers and taken prisoner. As part of a new strategy, he is held as a hostage for the safe release of Thomas Traynor, an IRA volunteer and father of ten young children, then under sentence of death at Mountjoy Gaol. The IRA offers to release Potter in exchange for Traynor’s release. Traynor is executed. Traynor has since been honoured by the Irish state as one of “The Forgotten Ten.”

The Column, under sporadic fire from soldiers, alerted at the nearby Clogheen barracks, follow the contours of the mountains to the village of Newcastle. Losing their pursuers, they stay for a period of time at the townland of Glasha. Here Potter is detained in an out-building of a farm which is regularly used by the IRA as a safe house. From there the party is guided into the Nire Valley by a contingent of local Waterford Volunteers and on to the Comeragh Mountains.

Accounts from Rathgormack, County Waterford suggest he is kept for at least one night at a nearby Ringfort before being taken down the hill to a field then owned by Power’s of Munsboro, where he meets his ultimate fate. At 7:00 PM, on April 27, following news of Traynor’s execution by hanging, he is shot to death, and hastily buried in a shallow grave on the banks of the River Clodiagh. A diary he kept during his period of captivity and some personal effects and farewell letters, are returned anonymously to his wife. It is the first confirmation she has that he has been killed. The artifacts are later lost when his son’s ship is torpedoed in 1942, during World War II.

(Pictured: Photo of District Inspector Gilbert Potter R.I.C. that appeared in the Press during his time in captivity)