seamus dubhghaill

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


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Assassination of Irish Republican Ronnie Bunting

Ronnie Bunting, a Protestant Irish republican and socialist activist, is assassinated on October 15, 1980 when several gunmen enter his home in the Downfine Gardens area of Andersonstown.

Bunting is born into an Ulster Protestant family in East Belfast. His father, Ronald Bunting, had been a major in the British Army and Ronnie grew up in various military barracks around the world. His father became a supporter and associate of Ian Paisley and ran for election under the Protestant Unionist Party banner.

Having completed his education and graduating from Queen’s University Belfast, Bunting briefly becomes a history teacher in Belfast, but later becomes involved in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and then with Irish republican organisations.

Unlike most Protestants in Northern Ireland, Bunting becomes a militant republican. His father, by contrast, was a committed Ulster loyalist. Despite their political differences, they remain close.

Bunting joins the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) around 1970 as he is attracted to their left-wing and secular interpretation of Irish republicanism and believes in the necessity of armed revolution. The other wing of the IRA, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is seen to be more Catholic and nationalist in its outlook. At this time, the communal conflict known as the Troubles is beginning and the Official IRA is involved in shootings and bombings. He is interned in November 1971 and held in Long Kesh until the following April.

In 1974, Bunting follows Seamus Costello and other militants who disagree with the Official IRA’s ceasefire of 1972, into a new grouping, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). Immediately, a violent feud breaks out between the Official IRA and the INLA.

In 1975, Bunting survives an assassination attempt when he is shot in a Belfast street. In 1977, Costello is killed by an Official IRA gunman in Dublin. Bunting and his family hide in Wales until 1978, when he returns to Belfast. For the remaining two years of his life, he is the military leader of the INLA. The grouping regularly attacks the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Belfast. He calls in claims of responsibility to the media by the code name “Captain Green.”

At about 4:30 AM on October 15, 1980, several gunmen wearing balaclavas storm Bunting’s home in the Downfine Gardens area of Andersonstown. They shoot Bunting, his wife Suzanne and another Protestant INLA man and ex-member of the Red Republican Party, Noel Lyttle, who has been staying there after his recent release from detention.

Both Bunting and Lyttle are killed. Suzanne Bunting, who is shot in the face, survives her serious injuries. The attack is claimed by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), but the INLA claims the Special Air Service are involved.

Upon his death, Bunting’s body is kept in a funeral parlour on the Newtownards Road opposite the headquarters of the UDA. On the day of the funeral, as the coffin is being removed, UDA members jeer from their building. The Irish Republican Socialist Party wants a republican paramilitary-style funeral for Bunting but his father refuses and has his son buried in the family plot of a Church of Ireland cemetery near Donaghadee.


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Birth of Máire de Paor, Historian & Archaeologist

maire-de-paorMáire de Paor, Irish historian and archaeologist who also works as a researcher and presenter for national broadcaster RTÉ, is born on May 6, 1925 in Buncrana, County Donegal.

de Paor is born Máire MacDermott to Eamonn MacDermott and Delia MacVeigh. She is educated in the Convent of Mercy in Buncrana before going to University College Dublin, where she completes a master’s degree and a doctorate on early Christian archaeology and metalwork.

de Paor works in the Department of Archeology at UCD from 1946 to 1958. She marries Liam de Paor in 1946 and they have a daughter and four boys. They collaborate on a number of publications. She publishes her papers in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Archaeologia, Seanchas Armagh and Comhar. Her husband also works at the university and, as a result of policies about married women, she is forced to leave. Initially she lectures in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, France and the United Kingdom. She works as lecturer in archaeology at Trinity College, Dublin. The de Paors spend a year in Nepal on a UNESCO project in 1963.

de Paor works as a freelance researcher for Radio Telefís Éireann until she is given a full time position in the 1970s.

de Paor is elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1960 and is a member of the Arts Council from 1973. She becomes a member of Conradh na Gaeilge from 1962. From 1968 she is working with Cumann Merriman, the Irish cultural organisation named after Brian Merriman, working with the group as a director of the schools and spends four years as chairperson. In 1992 she is appointed to the board of Amharclann de hÍde.

Máire de Paor dies on December 6, 1994 at the age of 69.

University College Dublin has created the Dr. Máire de Paor Award for best PhD thesis. Her biographer identifies her as a committed republican, socialist and feminist.


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Birth of Robert Tressell, Irish Writer

robert-tressellRobert Noonan, Irish writer born Robert Croker and best known by the pen name Robert Tressell, is born in Dublin on April 17, 1870. He is best known for his novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.

Noonan is the illegitimate son of Samuel Croker, a senior member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. He is baptised and raised a Roman Catholic by his mother Mary Noonan. His father, who is not Catholic, has his own family, but attempts to provide for Robert until his death in 1875.

By 1875 Noonan is living in London. When he is sixteen, he shows signs of a radical political consciousness. He leaves his family declaring he “would not live on the family income derived largely from absentee landlordism.” It is around this time he changes his surname to his mother’s maiden name.

In 1890, Noonan is a sign writer living in Queen’s Road, Everton, Liverpool. On June 10, 1890 he appears at Liverpool County Intermediate Sessions court at County Sessions House, Islington, Liverpool on charges of housebreaking and larceny. He is found guilty and given a six-month prison sentence.

By 1891, Noonan has moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where he is a painter and decorator. He marries in 1891, but the marriage is an unhappy one, with his wife having numerous affairs after the birth of their daughter, Kathleen. They divorce in 1895 and Noonan acquires all the property, including their house in an affluent suburb of Cape Town.

Noonan and his daughter move to Johannesburg, where he secures a well-paying job with a construction company. It is here that he learns the ways of the industry he would later write about in his novel, although Noonan’s actual circumstances vary greatly from the proletarian characters of the book. After becoming Secretary of the Transvaal Federated Building Trades Council, he is able to send his daughter to an exclusive convent school and also to employ a black manservant called Sixpence.

In 1897, Noonan leads a successful protest against the employment of black skilled labour. During 1898, he becomes a member of the Transvaal Executive Committee of the Centennial of 1798 Association, which commemorates the revolutionary nationalist Society of United Irishmen. As a 1798 Association member, he helps form the Irish Brigades, an anti-British force that fights alongside the Boers in the Second Boer War. At this point, accounts of his life differ. Some assert he takes up arms and is interned by the British until the end of the war, when he returns to Britain. Others say he leaves South Africa just before hostilities began in October 1899.

In any event, around the turn of the century, Noonan ends up in Hastings, Sussex. Here, he finds work as a sign writer, but at much lower wages and in far poorer conditions than he had experienced in South Africa. He has to take part-time jobs in addition to his full-time position.

Influenced by the Marxist-influenced ideas of designer and socialist William Morris, he joins the Social Democratic Federation in 1906. The next year, after a dispute with his employer, he loses his job. Despite the demand for his skills, his health begins to deteriorate and he eventually develops tuberculosis. Unemployed and unable to remain politically active, he starts writing, something he hopes will earn enough money to keep him from the workhouse.

He writes under the pen name Robert Tressell as he fears the socialist views expressed in the book will have him blacklisted. He completes The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists in 1910, but the 1,600-page hand-written manuscript is rejected by three publishing houses. The rejections severely depress him, and his daughter has to save the manuscript from being burned.

Unhappy with his life in Britain, Noonan decides that he and Kathleen should emigrate to Canada. However, he only reaches Liverpool when he is admitted to the Royal Liverpool Infirmary, where he dies of pulmonary tuberculosis on February 3, 1911, at the age of 40. He is buried in a pauper’s grave at Liverpool Parochial Cemetery, later known as Walton Park Cemetery. The location of the grave is not rediscovered until 1970. Twelve other people are buried in the same plot. The plot is now marked although the land is no longer used as a cemetery and is now used by Rice Lane City Farm.

Kathleen mentions her father’s novel to a friend, writer Jessie Pope, who recommends it to her publisher. In April 1914, the publisher purchases the rights to the book for £25, and it appears in Britain, Canada and the United States later that year, in the Soviet Union in 1920, and in Germany in 1925. The version as originally published is heavily abridged by Pope, with much of the socialist ideology removed.

The original manuscript is subsequently located by F. C. Ball and, after he raises funds to acquire and reassemble the original version, an unabridged edition is published in 1955.


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Birth of Frank Harris, Journalist & Novelist

frank-harrisFrank Harris, Irish American editor, novelist, short story writer, journalist and publisher, is born James Thomas Harris in to Welsh parents in Galway, County Galway on February 14, 1855. He is friendly with many well-known figures of his day.

Harris’s father, Thomas Vernon Harris, is a naval officer from Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, Wales. While living with his older brother he is, for a year or more, a pupil at The Royal School, Armagh. At the age of twelve he is sent to Wales to continue his education as a boarder at the Ruabon Grammar School in Denbighshire, a time he is to remember later in My Life and Loves. He is unhappy at the school and runs away within a year.

Harris runs away to the United States in late 1869, arriving in New York City virtually penniless. The 13-year-old takes a series of odd jobs to support himself, working first as a shoeshiner, a porter, a general laborer, and a construction worker on the erection of the Brooklyn Bridge. He later turns these early occupational experiences into art, incorporating tales from them into his book The Bomb (1908).

From New York Harris moves to Chicago, where he takes a job as a hotel clerk and eventually a manager. Owing to Chicago’s central place in the meat packing industry, he makes the acquaintance of various cattlemen, who inspire him to leave the big city to take up work as a cowboy. He eventually grows tired of life in the cattle industry and enrolls at the University of Kansas, where he studies law and earns a degree, gaining admission to the Kansas Bar Association.

Harris is not cut out to be a lawyer and soon decides to turn his attention to literature. He returns to England in 1882, later traveling to various cities in Germany, Austria, France, and Greece on his literary quest. He works briefly as an American newspaper correspondent before settling down in England to seriously pursue the vocation of journalism.

Harris first comes to general notice as the editor of a series of London papers including The Evening News, The Fortnightly Review and the Saturday Review, the later being the high point of his journalistic career, with H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw as regular contributors.

From 1908 to 1914 Harris concentrates on working as a novelist, authoring a series of popular books such as The Bomb, The Man Shakespeare, and The Yellow Ticket and Other Stories. With the advent of World War I in the summer of 1914, he decides to return to the United States.

From 1916 to 1922 Harris edits the U.S. edition of Pearson’s Magazine, a popular monthly which combines short story fiction with socialist-tinted features on contemporary news topics. One issue of the publication is banned from the mails by United States Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson during the period of American participation in World War I. Despite this Harris manages to navigate the delicate situation which faces the left wing press and keeps Pearson’s Magazine functioning and solvent during the war years.

Harris becomes an American citizen in April 1921. In 1922 he travels to Berlin to publish his best-known work, his four volume autobiography My Life and Loves (1922–1927). It is notorious for its graphic descriptions of his purported sexual encounters and for its exaggeration of the scope of his adventures and his role in history. A fifth volume, supposedly taken from his notes but of doubtful provenance, is published in 1954, long after his death.

Harris also writes short stories and novels, two books on William Shakespeare, a series of biographical sketches in five volumes under the title Contemporary Portraits and biographies of his friends Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. His attempts as a playwright are less successful. Only Mr. and Mrs. Daventry (1900), which is based on an idea by Oscar Wilde, is produced on the stage.

Married three times, Harris dies of a heart attack in Nice, France on August 26, 1931. He is buried at Cimetière Sainte-Marguerite, adjacent to the Cimetière Caucade, in Nice. Just after his death a biography written by Hugh Kingsmill (pseudonym of Hugh Kingsmill Lunn) is published.


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“Picture Post” Magazine Banned in Ireland

picture-postPicture Post, a photojournalistic magazine published in the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1957, is banned in Ireland on July 24, 1940 after a campaign by Irish Catholics who object to the “vulgarity and suggestiveness of the illustrations.” The editorial stance of the magazine is liberal, anti-Fascist and populist.

In January 1941 Picture Post publishes their “Plan for Britain.” This includes minimum wages throughout industry, full employment, child allowances, a national health service, the planned use of land and a complete overhaul of education. This document leads to discussions about post-war Britain and is a populist forerunner of William Beveridge‘s November 1942 Social Insurance and Allied Services (known as the Beveridge Report).

Sales of Picture Post increase further during World War II and by December 1943 the magazine is selling 1,950,000 copies a week. By the end of 1949 circulation declines to 1,422,000.

Founding editor Stefan Lorant, who has some Jewish ancestry, had been imprisoned by Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s, and wrote a best-selling book thereafter, I Was Hitler’s Prisoner. By 1940, he fears he will be captured in a Nazi invasion of Britain and flees to Massachusetts in the United States, where he writes important illustrated U.S. histories and biographies. He is succeeded by Sir Tom Hopkinson following his departure in 1940.

During World War II, the art editor of the magazine, Edgar Ainsworth, serves as a war correspondent and accompanies the United States 7th Army on their advance across Europe in 1945. He visits the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp three times after the British army liberates the complex in April 1945. Several of his sketches and drawings from the camp are published in a September 1945 article, Victim and Prisoner. Ainsworth also commissions the artist Mervyn Peake to visit France and Germany at the end of the war, and he too reports from Bergen-Belsen.

On June 17, 1950 Leader Magazine is incorporated in Picture Post. Hopkinson is often in conflict with Sir Edward George Warris Hulton, the owner of Picture Post. Hulton mainly supports the Conservative Party and objects to Hopkinson’s socialist views. This conflict leads to Hopkinson’s dismissal in 1950 following the publication of James Cameron‘s article about South Korea‘s treatment of political prisoners in the Korean War.

By June 1952, circulation has fallen to 935,000. Sales continue to decline in the face of competition from television and a revolving door of new editors. By the time the magazine closes in July 1957, circulation is less than 600,000 copies a week.

Picture Post has been digitised as The Picture Post Historical Archive, 1938-1957 and consists of the complete, fully searchable facsimile archive of Picture Post. It is made available in 2011 to libraries and institutions.

(Pictured: Cover of the Picture Post Vol. 8, No. 12, dated September 21, 1940)


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Founding of the Irish Socialist Republican Party

james-connollyThe Irish Socialist Republican Party, a small, but pivotal Irish political party, is founded on May 29, 1896 by James Connolly. Its aim is to establish an Irish workers’ republic. The party splits in 1904 following months of internal political rows.

The party is small throughout its existence. According to the ISRP historian David Lynch, the party never has more than 80 members. Upon its founding one journalist comments that the party has more syllables than members. Nevertheless, the ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of seminal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism. It is often described as the first socialist and republican party in Ireland, and the first organisation to espouse the ideology of socialist republicanism on the island. During its lifespan it only has one really active branch, the Dublin branch. There are several attempts to create branches in Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Naas, and even in northern England but they never come to much. The party establishes links with feminist and revolutionary Maud Gonne who approves of the party.

The party produces the first regular socialist paper in Ireland, the Workers’ Republic, runs candidates in local elections, represents Ireland at the Second International, and agitates over issues such as the Boer War and the commemorations of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Politically the ISRP is before its time, putting the call for an independent “Republic” at the centre of its propaganda before Sinn Féin or other political organizations.

A public meeting held by the party is described in Irish socialist playwright Sean O’Casey‘s autobiography Drums under the Window.

Connolly, who is the full-time paid organiser for the party, subsequently leaves Ireland for the United States in 1903 following internal conflict. In fact, it seems that a combination of the petty infighting and his own poverty that causes Connolly to abandon Ireland (he returns in 1910). Connolly clashes with the party’s other leading light, E. W. Stewart, over trade union and electoral strategy. A small number of members around Stewart establish an anti-Connolly micro organisation called the Irish Socialist Labour Party. In 1904, this merges with the remains of the ISRP to form the Socialist Party of Ireland.


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Birth of James Hope, United Irishmen Leader

james-hopeJames “Jemmy” Hope, Society of United Irishmen leader who fights in the Irish Rebellions of 1798 and 1803 against British rule in Ireland, is born in Templepatrick, County Antrim on August 25, 1764.

Hope is born to a Presbyterian family originally of Covenanter stock. He is apprenticed as a linen weaver but attends night school in his spare time. Influenced by the American Revolution, he joins the Irish Volunteers, but upon the demise of that organisation and further influenced by the French Revolution, he joins the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795.

Hope quickly establishes himself as a prominent organiser and is elected to the central committee in Belfast, becoming close to leaders such as Samuel Neilson, Thomas Russell, and Henry Joy McCracken. He is almost alone among the United Irish leaders in targeting manufacturers as well as landowners as the enemies of all radicals. In 1796, he is sent to Dublin to assist the United Irish organisation there to mobilise support among the working classes, and he is successful in establishing several branches throughout the city and especially in The Liberties area. He also travels to counties in Ulster and Connacht, disseminating literature and organizing localities.

Upon the outbreak of the 1798 rebellion in Leinster, Hope is sent on a failed mission to Belfast by Henry Joy McCracken to brief the leader of the County Down United Irishmen, Rev. William Steel Dickson, with news of the planned rising in County Antrim, unaware that Dickson had been arrested only a couple of days before. He manages to escape from Belfast in time to take part in the Battle of Antrim where he plays a skillful and courageous role with his “Spartan Band,” in covering the retreat of the fleeing rebels after their defeat.

Hope manages to rejoin McCracken and his remaining forces after the battle at their camp upon Slemish mountain, but the camp gradually disperses, and the dwindling band of insurgents are then forced to go on the run. He successfully eludes capture, but his friend McCracken is captured and executed on July 17. Upon the collapse of the general rising, he refuses to avail of the terms of an amnesty offered by Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis on the grounds that to do so would be “not only a recantation of one’s principles, but a tacit acquiescence in the justice of the punishment which had been inflicted on thousands of my unfortunate associates.”

Hope lives the years following 1798 on the move between counties Dublin, Meath and Westmeath but is finally forced to flee Dublin following the failure of Robert Emmet‘s rebellion in 1803. He returns to the north and evades the authorities attentions in the ensuing repression by securing employment with a sympathetic friend from England. He is today regarded as the most egalitarian and socialist of all the United Irish leadership.

James Hope dies in 1846 and is buried in the Mallusk cemetery, Newtownabbey. His gravestone features the outline of a large dog, which supposedly brought provisions to him and his compatriots when they were hiding following the Battle of Antrim.


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Birth of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Activist & Feminist

elizabeth-gurley-flynnElizabeth Gurley Flynn, labor leader, activist, and feminist who played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), is born in Concord, New Hampshire on August 7, 1890. She is a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a visible proponent of women’s rights, birth control, and women’s suffrage.

Flynn’s family moves to New York in 1900, where she is educated in the local public schools. She grows up being regaled by tales of Irish revolutionaries. According to their oral tradition all four of her great-grandfathers, Flynn, Gurley, Conneran, and Ryan, are members of the Society of United Irishmen, with grandfather Flynn being one of the leaders in County Mayo when the French fleet lands there during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Her parents introduce her to socialism. When she is only fifteen she gives her first public speech, “What Socialism Will Do for Women,” at the Harlem Socialist Club.

In 1907, Flynn becomes a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. Over the next few years she organizes campaigns among garment workers in Pennsylvania, silk weavers in New Jersey, restaurant workers in New York, miners in Minnesota, Missoula, Montana, and Spokane, Washington and textile workers in Massachusetts. She is arrested ten times during this period but is never convicted of any criminal activity. It is a plea bargain, on the other hand, that results in her expulsion from the IWW in 1916, along with fellow organizer Joe Ettor.

A founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920, Flynn plays a leading role in the campaign against the conviction of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. She is particularly concerned with women’s rights, supporting birth control and women’s suffrage. She also criticizes the leadership of trade unions for being male-dominated and not reflecting the needs of women.

Between 1926 and 1936, Flynn lives in southwest Portland, Oregon with birth control activist, suffragette, and Wobbly Marie Equi where she is an active and vocal supporter of the 1934 West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike. In 1936, she joins the Communist Party and writes a feminist column for its journal, the Daily Worker. Two years later, she is elected to the national committee. Her membership in the Party leads to her ouster from the board of the ACLU in 1940.

During World War II, Flynn plays an important role in the campaign for equal economic opportunity and pay for women and the establishment of day care centers for working mothers. In 1942, she runs for the United States Congress at-large in New York and receives 50,000 votes. In July 1948, a dozen leaders of the Communist Party are arrested and accused of violating the Smith Act by advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force and violence. After they are convicted in the Foley Square trial they appeal to the Supreme Court, which upholds their conviction in Dennis v. United States.

Flynn launches a campaign for their release but, in June 1951, is herself arrested in the second wave of arrests and prosecuted under the Smith Act. After a nine-month trial, she is found guilty and serves two years in Federal Prison Camp, Alderson near Alderson, West Virginia. She later writes a prison memoir, The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner.

After her release from prison, Flynn resumes her activities for leftist and Communist causes. She runs for the New York City Council as a Communist in 1957, garnering a total of 710 votes. She becomes national chairwoman of the Communist Party of the United States in 1961 and makes several visits to the Soviet Union.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn dies on September 5, 1964, while on one of her visits to the Soviet Union. The Soviet government gives her a state funeral in Red Square with over 25,000 people attending. In accordance with her wishes, her remains are flown to the United States for burial in Chicago‘s German Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of Eugene Dennis, Bill Haywood, Emma Goldman, and the Haymarket Riot Martyrs.

In 1978, the ACLU posthumously reinstates her membership.


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Birth of Geoffrey Henry Cecil Bing, Barrister & Politician

geoffrey-henry-cecil-bingGeoffrey Henry Cecil Bing, British barrister and politician who serves as the Labour Party Member of Parliament for Hornchurch from 1945 to 1955, is born on July 24, 1909 at Craigavad near Belfast in what is now Northern Ireland.

Bing is educated at Rockport School and Tonbridge School before going on to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he reads history. He graduates with a second-class degree in 1931, before attending Princeton University, where he is a Jane Eliza Procter Visiting Fellow between 1932 and 1933. He is called to the bar from the Inner Temple in 1934.

Always a radical and a member of the socialist left, Bing is active in the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and the National Council for Civil Liberties. During the Spanish Civil War, he joins the International Brigades as a journalist, barely avoiding capture at Bilbao. He is also an early anti-Nazi.

During World War II, Bing serves in the Royal Corps of Signals, attaining the rank of major. A 1943 experiment with parachutes at the GSO2 Airborne Forces Development Centre leaves him disfigured and he bears the scars for many years.

At the 1945 general election, Bing stands for Labour in Hornchurch, winning the seat. He is re-elected in 1950 and 1951, serving until 1955. He serves briefly as a junior whip in 1945-1946 but this is widely thought to have been the unintended result of confusion on the part of Clement Attlee, who confuses him for another Labour MP of a similar name.

On the backbenches, Bing is, according to his Times obituary, “the unrestrained leader of a small group of radicals, never fully trusted by their colleagues and known as ‘Bing Boys.'” He takes a particular interest in the cases of Timothy Evans and John Christie, and he supports the campaign to overturn the conviction of Evans, which is ultimately successful. He supports Communist China and takes a keen interest in Northern Ireland, the brewers’ monopoly and parliamentary procedure.

Bing also builds a practice in West Africa. He becomes close to Kwame Nkrumah, the first post-colonial president of Ghana and is appointed Ghana’s attorney-general, a post he holds until 1961. When Nkrumah is ousted in 1966, Bing is arrested and ill-treated, before being sent home some months later. His memoir of Nkrumah’s Ghana, Reap the Whirlwind, is published in 1968.

Geoffrey Henry Cecil Bing dies in London on April 24, 1977 at the age of 67.


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Birth of Playwright Seán O’Casey

sean-ocaseySeán O’Casey, Irish playwright renowned for realistic dramas of the Dublin slums in war and revolution, in which tragedy and comedy are juxtaposed in a way new to the theatre of his time, is born at 85 Upper Dorset Street in Dublin on March 30, 1880.

Born as John Casey into a lower middle-class Irish Protestant family, his father dies when he is six, and thereafter the family becomes progressively poorer. With only three years of formal schooling, he educates himself by reading. He starts work at 14, mostly at manual labour, including several years with the Irish railways.

O’Casey becomes caught up in the cause of Irish nationalism, and he changes his name to its Irish form and learns the Irish language. His attitudes are greatly influenced by the poverty and squalor he witnesses in Dublin’s slums and by the teachings of the Irish labour leader Jim Larkin. He becomes active in the labour movement and writes for The Irish Worker. He also joins the Irish Citizen Army, a paramilitary arm of the Irish labour unions, and draws up its constitution in 1914. At this time he becomes disillusioned with the Irish nationalist movement because its leaders put nationalist ideals before socialist ones. He does not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising against the British authorities.

Disgusted with the existing political parties, he turns his energies to drama. His tragicomedies reflect in part his mixed feelings about his fellow slum dwellers, seeing them as incapable of giving a socialist direction to the Irish cause but at the same time admirable for their unconquerable spirit.

After several of his plays have been rejected, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin produces The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), set during the guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army and British forces. In 1924 the Abbey stages Juno and the Paycock, his most popular play, set during the period of civil war over the terms of Irish independence. The Plough and the Stars (1926), with the 1916 Easter Rising as its background, causes riots at the Abbey by patriots who think the play denigrates Irish heroes. When first produced in the 1920s, these plays have an explosive effect on the audiences at the Abbey and help to enlarge the theatre’s reputation.

O’Casey goes to England in 1926, meets the Irish actress Eileen Carey Reynolds, marries her, and henceforth makes England his home. His decision to live outside Ireland is motivated in part by the Abbey’s rejection of The Silver Tassie, a partly Expressionist antiwar drama produced in England in 1929. Another Expressionist play, Within the Gates (1934), follows, in which the modern world is symbolized by the happenings in a public park. The Star Turns Red (1940) is an antifascist play, and the semiautobiographical Red Roses for Me (1946) is set in Dublin at the time of the Irish railways strike of 1911.

O’Casey’s later plays, given to fantasy and ritual and directed against the life-denying puritanism he believes has beset Ireland, include Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). His last full-length play is a satire on Dublin intellectuals, Behind the Green Curtains, published in 1961.

O’Casey’s three indisputably great plays are The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and the Stars. All are tragicomedies set in the slums of Dublin during times of war and revolution. Violent death and the everyday realities of tenement life throw into relief the blustering rhetoric and patriotic swagger of men caught up in the struggle for Irish independence. The resulting ironic juxtapositions of the comic and tragic reveal the waste of war and the corrosive effects of poverty. His gifts are for vivid characterization and working-class language and, though he portrays war and poverty, he writes some of the funniest scenes in modern drama. His later plays are not considered as powerful or moving as his earlier realistic plays. In his later plays he tends to abandon vigorous characterization in favour of expressionism and symbolism, and sometimes the drama is marred by didacticism.

Six volumes of O’Casey’s autobiography appeared from 1939 to 1956. They are later collected as Mirror in My House (1956) in the United States and as Autobiographies (1963) in Great Britain. O’Casey’s letters from 1910 to 1941 are edited by David Krause in two volumes (1975, 1980).

Sean O’Casey dies of a heart attack at the age of 84 on September 18, 1964, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.