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


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Death of Frank Hugh O’Donnell, Writer, Journalist & Politician

Frank Hugh O’Donnell, Irish writer, journalist and nationalist politician, dies in London on November 2, 1916.

O’Donnell is born in an army barracks in Devon, England, where his father, Sergeant Bernard MacDonald, is stationed. His mother, Mary Kain, is a native of Ballybane, close to Galway city. He is educated at the Erasmus Smith School in Galway, Coláiste Iognáid (the “Jes”), and later enrolls in Queen’s College Galway, where he studies English literature, history and political economy. While a student at the college, he acquires a considerable reputation as an orator, and is a frequent contributor to meetings of the college’s Literary and Debating Society, of which he becomes vice-auditor for the 1864–65 session.

Even in his student days, O’Donnell seems to be quick to voice his opinions, and revells in controversy. In November 1866, addressing the Literary and Debating Society on the question “Was the character of Warren Hastings as Governor-General of India praiseworthy?,” he causes uproar by denouncing “the principle and the system which have lain at the root of the international and intercolonial policy of England, from the days when Elizabeth, the Infamous, chartered for profit two of the first ships which opened the African slave trade.” His remarks cause the chairman of the meeting, Professor Thomas Moffett, to prevent him from continuing his speech, stating that “such an epithet ought not to be applied to any predecessor of our present gracious Queen.” O’Donnell regards such action as an unwarranted restriction on his freedom of speech, and in a letter published in the local press gives an early example of his high-flown literary style:

“I hold that Debating Societies are the nurseries of independent thought, and the training schools of sober criticism. I believe in the power and impartiality of an enlightened studenthood … I have followed the mind of Austin. I have sat at the feet of Cairnes. I have drunk of the philosophy of Mill. I claim for Judicial Science, for Economic Science, for the Philosophy of History, a place in the discussions of our society, I pity and I scorn the formidable confederacy of fools who dare not call a spade a spade.”

This incident, combined with the reluctance of the society to prevent O’Donnell from addressing its meetings, eventually leads to the suspension of the society from the Queen’s College and its temporary migration to rooms in the city of Galway.

O’Donnell graduates from the Queen’s College with an M.A. degree in 1868, winning several gold medals for his academic performance. By this stage, he has begun to style himself ‘Frank Hugh O’Donnell,’ believing himself to be a descendant of Hugh O’Donnell, 2nd Earl of Tyrconnell.

Leaving Galway, O’Donnell moves to London, where he embarks on a career in journalism, following his college contemporary T. P. O’Connor. O’Connor’s knowledge of modern European languages has helped him to establish himself as a correspondent on European affairs, and he assists O’Donnell in developing a similar reputation. He spends a brief period on the staff of The Morning Post.

In the 1874 United Kingdom general election, O’Donnell is elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Galway Borough, but is unseated by the courts in what appears to be a politically inspired judgment which uses certain unsavoury campaigning tactics in which O’Donnell had indulged as its basis. He is succeeded in the seat by his election agent, Dr. Michael Francis Ward, who is himself succeeded in 1880 by T. P. O’Connor in an unusual succession, all three having been either auditor or vice-auditor of the Queen’s College Literary and Debating Society in the same era.

In 1875, O’Donnell is a founding member of the Constitutional Society of India, a group promoting political autonomy for India. In 1877, he secures a more permanent election to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom as MP for Dungarvan. He holds the seat until 1885, when the constituency is abolished. He strikes a colourful and controversial figure in parliament and becomes renowned for his declamatory speech-making. He is a prominent obstructionist and claims credit for inventing the tactic of obstructionism which is to yield such results for the Home Rule League under Charles Stewart Parnell. Indeed, he sees himself as a natural leader and becomes disillusioned when Parnell is selected in May 1880 to succeed William Shaw as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. He calls the British ‘Imperial pirates’ and inaugurates the Constitutional Society of India. Its aim is Home Rule for India, “Mr. O’Donnell’s grand passion in politics was a confederation of all the discontented races of the Empire under the lead of the Irish party. He once brought down some scores of dusky students of all the races and creeds of Hindustan to the House of Commons.”

Parnell refuses to let O’Donnell be nominated in 1885. He leaves the Irish Parliamentary Party and conventional politics, but not its general aims of promoting home rule and tenant farmers’ rights. His last and perhaps most important contribution to the fortunes of the party is the libel case he launches against The Times in 1888 over the series “Parnellism and Crime.” Though the case is lost, it results in the establishment of the Parnell Commission which exonerates Parnell from condoning the Phoenix Park Murders, and exposes the Pigott Forgeries.

In his later years O’Donnell begins investigating misconduct by both the British Civil Service and the Roman Catholic church in Ireland. His Paraguay on Shannon (1908) is an amusing but serious critique of unethical practices by the Catholic clergy in local politics, education, and their involvement in the Congested Districts Board for Ireland that is financed by Parliament in order to improve the depressed economy of western Ireland. Parliament believes that by improving the living standards of the Irish peasant class, they can “kill Home Rule with kindness.”

After careful investigation, O’Donnell accuses members of the Catholic clergy of illegally diverting Government money earmarked for economic development into new Cathedrals, parish churches, and other ecclesiastical building projects. He argues that the British Government needs to provide better oversight of how the Congested Districts Board’s funds are being used. He believes that “in Ireland material ruin has accompanied clerical despotism.” His hostility to the Church draws the ire of Catholic historians who systematically undermine his credibility.

Ernest Belfort Bax writes that O’Donnell’s “matter is better than his manner.”

O’Donnell dies a bachelor in London on November 2, 1916 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Suicide of Reverend William Jackson

william-jacksonThe Reverend William Jackson, noted Irish preacher, journalist, playwright, radical, and spy, commits suicide on April 30, 1795 after being found guilty of high treason.

Jackson was born in Newtownards, County Down, in 1737. Much is unclear about his early life. He studies at Oxford and became an Anglican curate. In the 1760s, he moves to London, where he preaches at the Tavistock Chapel and St. Mary-le-Strand. Although he gains some popularity as a preacher, he remains unbeneficed and eventually turns to journalism to support himself.

In 1766, Jackson becomes the editor of The Public Ledger. Under his editorship, the London paper becomes increasingly strident and oppositional in its politics. He is forced to flee to France in April 1777 to avoid a trial for libel that the popular actor and playwright Samuel Foote had initiated. He does not have to stay long in exile because Foote dies on October 21 of that same year.

After Foote’s death, Jackson returns to England. He resumes his political activities by publishing The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America in 1783, with a dedication to the opposition leader, William Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland. But the following year, he is secretly hired by the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, to support the government in The Morning Post. Publishing anonymously, he attacks his former allies with his usual vehemence until he is discovered and is soundly damned for his apostasy and finds himself generally excluded from English politics.

Jackson’s next appearance in the public results in yet another scandal. In 1787 he joins forces with “Gentleman” John Palmer. Their goal is to build a new theatre in London. Jackson and Palmer persuade investors to sink more than eighteen thousand pounds into the construction of the Royalty Theatre. However, while there is no law against building a theatre in London, there is a law against operating one without the Lord Chamberlain‘s authorisation. Jackson and Palmer have no such authorisation so the theatre is shut down after just one night. The duped investors initiated legal action. Jackson again flees to France, where he arrives on the eve of revolution.

During his stay in Paris, Jackson is swept up in the revolutionary fervour and becomes involved with the radical British expatriate set there. Swept up in the general arrest of British subjects in 1793, he is released from prison on the strength of his radical commitments. Upon his release, he becomes inspector of horses for Meaux and later in 1793 is commissioned as a spy for the French. Nicholas Madgett, an Irishman who works in the Marine Ministry, recruits Jackson to go to England and Ireland to assess the public’s inclination towards armed revolution.

Jackson arrives in London in early 1794 and becomes reacquainted with John Cockayne, a lawyer he had met two decades earlier. He reveals his mission to Cockayne, who promptly reveals it to the Prime Minister out of fear of being tried for treason himself. When Jackson leaves London for Dublin, he is accompanied by Cockayne. In Ireland they meet with several radical leaders of the Society of United Irishmen, including Theobald Wolfe Tone, James Reynolds and Archibald Hamilton Rowan. Hamilton Rowan, in particular, is tempted by Jackson’s talk of French assistance, and persuades Tone to write up a report for the French, indicating Irish willingness to rise up. Jackson makes the fatal mistake of placing Tone’s report and other letters in the public mail, where they are seized by the authorities. This seizure leads to Jackson’s arrest on April 28, 1794.

Jackson remains in prison for a year before his trial takes place. The delays are at his request, allowing him time to assemble a defence and procure witnesses. During his imprisonment, he writes his last work, Observations in Answer to Mr. Paine’s Age of Reason (1795). His trial takes place in Dublin on April 23, 1795, and he is found guilty. One week later, on the morning of his sentencing hearing Jackson steps into the dock looking terribly ill. As his lawyers make drawn out speeches, hoping to avoid judgment on the technicality of an improperly filed indictment, Jackson’s condition steadily worsens. The judges order that a chair be provided for him and ask that a doctor attend him. He then collapses and dies. An autopsy finds that Jackson had ingested a large quantity of a “metallic poison.” This is likely administered by his second wife, but the inquest pointedly refuses to assign blame.

The effect of Jackson’s suicide is that he had not actually been pronounced guilty of treason by the court, and so his family can inherit his goods and a pension.