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


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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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Death of Dan Breen, Irish Patriot & Politician

Irish republican Dan Breen (1967)Daniel “Dan” Breen, volunteer in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969. In later years, he was a Fianna Fáil politician.

Breen is born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary, on October 10, 1894. His father dies when he is six, leaving the family very poor. He is educated locally before becoming a plasterer and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.

Breen is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On January 21, 1919, the day the First Dáil meets in Dublin, Breen takes part in the Soloheadbeg Ambush. The ambush party of eight men, led by Seán Treacy, attacks two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men who are escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, are fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the Irish War of Independence.

During the conflict, the British put a £1,000 price on Breen’s head, which is later increased to £10,000. He quickly establishes himself as a leader within the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He is known for his courage. On May 13, 1919 he helps rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick. Breen, who is wounded, remembers how the battalion is “vehemently denounced as a cold-blooded assassins” and roundly condemned by the Catholic Church. After the fight, Treacy, Séamus Robinson, and Breen meet Michael Collins in Dublin, where they are told to make themselves scarce although they do not necessarily agree.

Breen and Sean Treacy shoot their way out through a British military cordon in the northern suburb of Drumcondra (Fernside). They escape, only for Treacy to be killed the next day. Breen is shot at least four times, twice in the lung.

The British reaction is to make Tipperary a “Special Military Area,” with curfews and travel permits. Volunteer GHQ authorises entrerprising attacks on barracks. The British policy forces Breen and Treacy to retreat to Dublin. They join Michael Collins’ Squad of assassins, later known as the Dublin Guard, and Dublin becomes the centre of the war.

Breen is present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage is killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount John French. The IRA hides behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles drives past. They have been instructed to ignore the first car but this contains their target, Lord French. Their roadblock fails as a policeman removes the horse and cart intended to stop the car.

Breen utterly rejects the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which makes him, like many others, angry and embittered. In the June 1922 elections Breen is nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, but is not elected.

Breen is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Breen joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in the civil war, fighting against those of his former comrades in arms who support the Treaty. He is arrested by the National Army of the Irish Free State and interned at Limerick Prison. He spends two months there before going on hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days, prompting his release.

Breen writes a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, in 1924. He represents Tipperary from the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a Republican with Éamon de Valera and Frank Aiken. He is defeated in the June 1927 general election and travels to the United States where he opens a prohibition speakeasy. In 1932 he returns to Ireland and regains his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year’s general election. During World War II he is said to hold largely pro-Axis views. He represents his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.

Breen dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969 and is buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral is the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms Seán Treacy at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assemble in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.

Breen is the subject of a 2007 biography Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose.


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Founding of “The Squad” (“The Twelve Apostles”)

the-squadThe Squad, originally nicknamed the Twelve Apostles, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit founded by Michael Collins to counter British intelligence efforts during the Irish War of Independence, is officially established on September 19, 1919 at 46 Rutland Square although by this time it has already been in operation for two months and has already carried out two killings.

On April 10, 1919, the First Dáil announces a policy of ostracism of Royal Irish Constabulary men. At the time Sinn Féin official policy is against acts of violence. Boycotting, persuasion, and mild intimidation succeed against many officers. However others escalate their activities against republicans and in March 1920 Collins asks Dick McKee to select a small group to form an assassination unit.

When the squad is formed, it comes directly under the control of the Director of Intelligence or his deputy and under no other authority. The Squad is commanded by Mick McDonnell.

The original ‘Twelve Apostles’ are Mick McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Jimmy Slattery, Paddy Daly, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Vincent Byrne, Sean Doyle, Paddy Griffin, Eddie Byrne, Mick Reilly, and Jimmy Conroy. After some time the Squad is strengthened with the addition of Ben Byrne, Frank Bolster, Mick Keogh, Mick Kennedy, Bill Stapleton, and Sam Robinson. They are employed full-time and receive a weekly wage.

Sometimes the squad is strengthened as occasion demands by members of the Intelligence staff, the Active Service Unit, munition workers, and members of the Dublin Brigade.

On July 30, 1919, the first assassination authorised by Michael Collins is carried out when Detective Sergeant “the Dog” Smith is shot near Drumcondra, Dublin. The Squad continues targeting plainclothes police, members of the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and occasionally, problematic civil servants. Organisationally it operates as a subsection of Collins’ Intelligence Headquarters. Two of the executions by The Squad are the killing on January 21, 1920 of RIC Inspector William Redmond of the DMP “G” Division and on March 2, 1920 of British double agent John Charles Byrnes.

One of the Apostles’ particular targets is the Cairo Gang, a deep-cover British intelligence group, so called since it has either been largely assembled from intelligence officers serving in Cairo or from the Dublin restaurant called The Cairo, which the gang frequents. Sir Henry Wilson brings in the Cairo Gang in mid-1920, explicitly to deal with Michael Collins and his organization. Given carte blanche in its operations by Wilson, the Cairo Gang adopts the strategy of assassinating members of Sinn Féin unconnected with the military struggle, assuming that this would cause the IRA to respond and bring its leaders into the open.

The most well-known operation executed by the Apostles occurs on Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920, when British MI5 officers, linked to the Cairo Gang and significantly involved in spying, are shot at various locations in Dublin. Fourteen are killed and six are wounded. In addition to the Twelve Apostles, a larger number of IRA personnel are involved in this operation. The only IRA man captured during the operation is Frank Teeling. In response to the killings, the Black and Tans retaliate by shooting up a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary at Croke Park, killing fourteen civilians including one of the players, Michael Hogan, and wounding sixty-eight. The Hogan stand at Croke Park is named after him.

In May 1921, after the IRA’s Dublin Brigade takes heavy casualties during the burning of the Custom House, the Squad and the Brigade’s Active Service Unit are combined into the Dublin Guard, under the direction of Paddy Daly. Under the influence of Daly and Michael Collins, most of the Guard takes the Free State side and joins the Irish Army in the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. During this conflict some of them are attached to the Criminal Investigation Department and are accused of multiple assassinations of Anti-Treaty fighters.

(Pictured: Squad Members Mick McDonnell, Liam Tobin, Vinny Byrne, Paddy Daly, and Jim Slattery)


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Birth of IRA Leader Seán Treacy

sean-allis-treacySeán Allis Treacy, one of the leaders of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence, is born on February 14, 1895, in Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary.

Treacy 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.

He 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, Treacy is appointed Vice Officer-Commanding of the 3rd 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 city 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 Service surveillance team led by Major Carew and Lt. Gilbert Price. They were stalking him in hopes that he would 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.