seamus dubhghaill

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


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Bridget Dirrane Featured in the Guinness Book of Records at Age 104

Bridget Dirrane, who was imprisoned with Kevin Barry and who canvassed for John F. Kennedy in the United States, celebrates her 104th birthday on November 15, 1998 with news that she is to be featured in the new edition of the Guinness Book of Records. Earlier in the year, she receives a Master of Arts honorary degree from NUI Galway which makes her the oldest person in the world to be awarded a degree.

Dirrane is born in Oatquarter in the townland of Kilmurvey on Inishmore, Aran Islands, County Galway on November 15, 1894. She is the youngest child of Joseph Gillan and Maggie (née Walsh). Her father is a weaver of flannel cloth and has a small farm. She has four brothers and three sisters. Her oldest brother is a fisherman, who dies at age 21 in 1901, and her father dies before 1911. Despite this hardship, all of the children go to school, with one of her brothers becoming an Irish teacher, and later an Irish inspector. The family speaks Irish at home, but they are all bilingual with English. She is schooled at the national school in Oatquarter until the age of 14. She leaves to work in local homes, looking after children. When she writes her memoirs late in life, she claims to have met Joseph Plunkett, Éamonn Ceannt, Thomas MacDonagh, Thomas Ashe and Patrick Pearse when they visited the island, visiting a house where she looked after the children, discussing politics and plans for the Easter Rising with them. She is a republican, becoming a member of Cumann na mBan in 1918 while she is working for Fr. Matthew Ryan as a housekeeper. She is involved in drilling and assisting fugitives from the authorities. Because of their known republican sympathies, the Black and Tans raid the Gillan family homes.

Dirrane moves to Dublin in 1919 to train in Saint Ultan’s Children’s Hospital as a nurse. She is still under surveillance, being arrested alongside her employer, Claude Chavasse, when she is working as a nurse in his house. She is held in Dublin’s Bridewell Garda Station for two days before being transferred to Mountjoy Prison. In the time of her imprisonment, she is not charged or put on trial. Her refusal to speak English angers the guards, culminating in her going on hunger strike for a number of days in 1920 until she is released. She takes part in the Cumann na mBan vigil outside of Mountjoy Prison in November 1920, when Kevin Barry is hanged.

Dirrane works in Richard Mulcahy‘s house for two years, before emigrating to the United States in 1927 to continue her career as a nurse. She works in Boston where she is an active member of the Irish emigrant community alongside former neighbours from the Aran Islands and some relatives. She works in a hotel for a time, but returns to nursing after her marriage to Edward ‘Ned’ Dirrane in November 1932 in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. Ned, a labourer in Boston and also from Inishmore, dies from heart failure in 1940. Dirrane continues her career nursing in hospitals and as a district nurse. On May 13, 1940, she naturalises as U.S. citizen. During World War II, she works as a nurse in a munitions factory, and at a U.S. Army Air Forces bomber base in Mississippi. She canvases for John F. Kennedy in the Irish community in South Boston when he runs for president in 1960. Jean Kennedy Smith visits Dirrane in 1997 in Galway to acknowledge her contribution. She also meets Senator Edward Kennedy.

Following her retirement, Dirrane lives with her nephew, but she returns to the Aran Islands in 1966 at age 72. There she lives with her brother-in-law, Pat Dirrane, a widower with three grown sons. They marry in a private ceremony on April 27, 1966. She continues to live on the island after Pat’s death on February 28, 1990, living with her stepson. She eventually moves into a nursing home in Newcastle in the suburbs of Galway. When she celebrates her 100th birthday, she funds a statue of Our Lady Mary at a holy well in Corough on Inishmore. At age 103, the matron of her nursing home arranges for a local writer, Jack Mahon, to record her memories and collate the information into a book. The book, A Woman of Aran, is published in 1997 and is a bestseller for several weeks. She is awarded an honorary degree, an MA honoris causa, from NUI Galway in May 1998, the oldest person to ever receive one.

Dirrane dies at age 109 on December 31, 2003, in Galway. She is buried on Inishmore.


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Death of Darrell Figgis, Writer, Sinn Féin Activist & Parliamentarian

Darrell Edmund Figgis, Irish writer, Sinn Féin activist and independent parliamentarian in the Irish Free State, dies in London on October 27, 1925. The little that has been written about him has attempted to highlight how thoroughly his memory and works have been excised from Irish popular culture.

Figgis is born at Glen na Smoil, Palmerstown Park, Rathmines in Dublin, on September 17, 1882, the son of Arthur William Figges, tea merchant, and Mary Anne Deane. While still an infant, his family emigrates to Calcutta, India. There his father works as an agent in the tea business, founding A. W. Figgis & Co. They return when he is ten years of age, though his father continues to spend much of his time in India. As a young man he works in London at the tea brokerage owned by his uncle and it is at this time that he begins to develop his interest in literature and literary criticism.

In 1910 Figgis, with the help of G. K. Chesterton, who wrote the introduction to his first book of verse, joins the Dent publishing company. He moves to Achill Island in 1913 to write, learn the Irish language and gain an appreciation of Irish culture, as perceived by many of his contemporaries to uniquely exist on the western seaboard. On his detention following the 1916 Easter Rising, he and the publishing house parted company. Subsequently, he establishes his own firm in which he republishes the works of William Carleton and others.

Figgis joins the Irish Volunteers in Dublin in 1913 and organises the original Battalion of Volunteers in Achill, where he had built a house. While in London, he is contacted by The O’Rahilly, who acquaints him with the arms dealers who had supplied the Ulster Volunteers. In this way he becomes part of the London group that discusses the financing and supply of German rifles for the Volunteers. He travels with Erskine Childers, initially to Belgium and from there to Germany, to make the purchase of the army surplus Mauser rifles. He then charters the tug Gladiator, from which the arms are transferred at sea to the Childers’ yacht Asgard and Conor O’Brien‘s Kelpie.

At this time the Royal Navy is patrolling the Irish Sea in anticipation of imminent war with Germany, and Figgis is tasked with taking a motor boat to Lambay Island to signal to the Asgard the all-clear. By his own account, he is unable to persuade the skipper of the pilot vessel to put to sea as one of the worst storms in many years is raging. Due to luck and the skill of the crews, the three over-laden yachts arrive at their destinations. Figgis, accompanied by Seán McGarry, watch Asgard helplessly from Howth pier until Erskine decides to take a calculated risk and sails into the harbour. Against the odds, the conspiracy to buy rifles in Germany and land them safely in Ireland has succeeded. A large party of Volunteers, on their way to Dublin with rifles and ammunition is confronted by a detachment of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and Dublin Metropolitan Police. With their route blocked, Figgis and Thomas MacDonagh engage the officers in an attempt to distract them.

Although Figgis does not participate in the 1916 Easter Rising, he is arrested and interned by the British authorities between 1916 and 1917 in Reading Gaol. After his release, he returns to Ireland. At the 1917 Sinn Féin Ardfheis he and Austin Stack are elected Honorary Secretaries of the party. The conference sees Éamon de Valera replace Arthur Griffith as President of the party. Shortly after, Figgis is one of four recently released internees who travels to the South Longford constituency to campaign for Joseph McGuinness in the by-election caused by the death of John Phillips. The overwhelming victory of the Sinn Féin candidate over the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) nominee marks the beginning of the eclipse of the latter party by the former party. In May 1918, Figgis is arrested for his alleged part in the spurious German Plot a second time and again deported to England. In 1918, he becomes editor of the newspaper The Republic.

From September 1919 to 1921 Figgis heads the Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland. At this time a serious rift between Figgis and Michael Collins, then Minister for Finance, becomes a matter of public record. This close attention of Collins will pursue Figgis in his later activities on the Constitution Committee. While he is participating in a Dáil Court at Carrick-on-Shannon, the proceedings are interrupted by a British Army raid. An officer named Captain Cyril Crawford summarily condemns Figgis and Peadar Kearney to be hanged. He orders rope for the purpose, but another officer intervenes and Keaney and Figgis are set free.

Figgis supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He is extremely critical of the Collins/De Valera Pact for the June 1922 Irish general election which is an attempt to avoid a split in the Sinn Féin party and, more importantly, in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). On May 25, 1922 he attends a meeting of the executive council of the Farmers’ Union and representatives, of business interests, and encourages them to put forward candidates in constituencies where anti-Treaty candidates might otherwise head the poll. As he is a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle National Executive at the time, he is expelled from the party.

Soon after the signing of the Treaty, the necessity of quickly drafting a constitution for the proposed Free State becomes apparent. It is intended by Arthur Griffith that Figgis will chair the Constitution Committee, but this proposal is vetoed by Collins who nominates himself for the position specifically to minimise Figgis’ influence. The animosity between Collins and Figgis remained an undercurrent of the project. In the end, Collins decides the job should go to Captain David Robinson but this did nothing to heal rift between Figgis and James G. Douglas.

In the 1922 and 1923 Irish general elections Figgis runs and is elected an independent Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin County constituency. While still a TD, he stands in the 1925 Seanad election to Seanad Éireann, where he polls only 512 first preferences.

In December 1923, it is decided that a committee be established to investigate the means by which a public radio broadcasting service should be operated in the Free State. A central issue of contention is whether the service should be run and controlled directly by the State or operated commercially by an Irish Broadcasting Company. The latter option, it is suggested, would follow the model adopted in the UK by the establishment of the BBC. Figgis is co-opted onto the committee, and this decision leads to a series of allegations resulting in the new State’s first corruption scandal of which Figgis himself is the focus. The allegations result in his resignation from the Broadcasting committee and the launching of a second enquiry. He strenuously denies any impropriety.

On November 18, 1924, Figgis’s wife Millie commits suicide in the back of a taxi in Rathfarnham using a Webley revolver given to them by Collins following the 1922 assault. A year later, his new love, a 21-year-old Catholic woman named Rita North, dies due to complications when a doctor tries to surgically remove an already dead child. The court, after investigating her death, determines that she died due to peritonitis, an inflammation in the lining of the abdominal cavity. The public, however, jumps to the conclusion that she died in a failed illegal abortion.

Figgis himself commits suicide in a London boarding house in Granville Street on October 27, 1925, just a week after giving evidence at North’s inquest. He had been staying at the Royal Automobile Club until the day before his death, as is usual when he visits London. A small group of mourners comprising close family and friends attend his interment at the Hampstead Cemetery in West Hampstead, London.

The by-election caused by his death is won by William Norton of the Labour Party.


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Birth of Liam Redmond, Stage, Film & Television Character Actor

Liam Redmond, Irish character actor known for his stage, film and television roles, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on July 27, 1913.

Redmond is one of four children born to cabinet-maker Thomas and Eileen Redmond. Educated at the Christian Brothers schools in Dublin, he later attends University College Dublin and initially reads medicine before moving into drama.

While Director of the Dramatic Society Redmond meets and marries the society’s secretary, Barbara MacDonagh, sister of Donagh MacDonagh and daughter of 1916 Easter Rising leader Thomas MacDonagh and Muriel Gifford. They have four children.

Redmond is invited to join the Abbey Theatre in 1935 as a producer by William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet. Yeats writes his play Death of Cú Chulainn for Redmond to star as Cú Chulainn, hero of one of Ireland’s foundational myths.

Redmond makes his acting debut at the Abbey Theatre in 1935 in Seán O’Casey‘s The Silver Tassie. His first stage appearance is in 1939 in New York City in The White Steed. After returning to Britain at the outbreak of World War II he is a regular on the London stage. He is one of the founders of the Writers’, Artists’, Actors’ and Musicians’ Association (WAAMA), a precursor of the Irish Actors’ Equity Association. His insistence that “part-time professionals” – usually civil servants who act on the side – should be paid a higher rate than professional actors for both rehearsal time and performance, effectively wiping out this class, raising the wages and fees of working actors.

Redmond stars in Broadway, among other plays starring in Paul Vincent Carroll‘s The White Steed in 1939, playing Canon McCooey in The Wayward Saint in 1955, winning the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for his performance, and starring in 1968 in Joe Orton‘s Loot and Brian Friel‘s The Loves of Cass Maguire.

Redmond works in television and film throughout the 1950s to the 1980s and is regularly seen in television series such as The Avengers, Daniel Boone, The Saint and Z-Cars. He is often called upon as a character actor in various military, religious and judicial roles in films such as I See a Dark Stranger (1946), Captain Boycott (1947), High Treason (1951), The Cruel Sea (1953), The Playboy of the Western World (1962), Kid Galahad (1962), The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964), Tobruk (1967), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) and Barry Lyndon (1975). His performance as the kindly occult expert in the cult horror film Night of the Demon (1957) is a favourite of fans of the film.

Redmond retires to Dublin and dies at age 76, after a long period of ill health, on October 28, 1989. His wife Barbara predeceases him in 1987.


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The Hollyford Barracks Attack

Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers destroy the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks at Hollyford, County Tipperary, on May 11, 1920.

In 1920 twelve RIC Constables, or Peelers as they are called, are stationed in the barracks in Hollyford. They are regarded as the eyes and ears of the British establishment and therefore a thorn in the side of the local IRA. Since the previous year, the IRA has developed a policy of attacking police barracks throughout the country and forcing their closure thereby reducing the flow of information to Dublin Castle.

On the night of May 11, 1920 it is the turn of Hollyford Barracks. The local IRA with its leaders assemble at Phil Shanahan’s house on the Glenough road. At this time Shanahan is a member of the first Dáil, elected from a Dublin constituency as he is living and running a public house there. He fought in the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory under Thomas MacDonagh during the 1916 Easter Rising. It is decided the attack will be led by Ernie O’Malley, an organiser for the IRA who moves around to various Brigades throughout the country. His second in command is Séumas Robinson, commanding officer of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade. Other officer are Seán Treacy, whose mother Bridget Allis is from Lacknacreena, Dan Breen who is quartermaster general (QMG) of the Brigade, Comdt. Tadgh O’Dwyer, Captain Paddy O’Dwyer and Lt. Jim O’Gorman.

Roads are blocked in the vicinity and telephone lines are cut. Robinson and O’Malley, with the help of ladders, get on the roof and with lump hammers break holes in the slates. They then drop hand grenades and petrol in through the holes. They also ignite turf sods soaked in petrol and drop them through the holes. The fire on the upper floor escalates. While all this is happening, Seán Treacy, with his covering party, concentrate their fire on the port holes which keeps the occupants pinned down. The battle goes on all night and, as daylight approaches on the morning of May 12, the attackers have to withdraw without dislodging the police. While they do not achieve their aim to capture guns and ammunition, they do enough damage to ensure the RIC leaves Hollyford immediately never to return.

The next occupants, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, are the Gárda Síochána in 1948. Various changes in personnel take place in the 1950s until Gárda Maurice Slattery is the only Gárda left in Hollyford. In 1965, after a lifetime in the Gárdí, he retires and he and his family move to Limerick. He is the last Gárda to serve in Hollyford.

(From: “The Burning of Hollyford Barracks,” Third Tipperary Brigade Memorial (www.thirdtippbrigade.ie), July 12, 2018)


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Death of James Stephens, Novelist & Poet

James Stephens, Irish novelist and poet, dies in London, England on December 26, 1950, Saint Stephen’s Day.

Stephens’ birth is somewhat shrouded in mystery. He claims to have been born on the same day and same year as James Joyce, February 2, 1882, whereas he is in fact probably the same James Stephens who is on record as being born at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, on February 9 1880, the son of Francis Stephens of 5 Thomas’s Court, Dublin, a vanman and a messenger for a stationer’s office, and his wife, Charlotte Collins. His father dies when he is two years old and, when he was six years old, his mother remarries. He is committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for boys in Blackrock for begging on the streets, where he spends much of the rest of his childhood. He attends school with his adoptive brothers Thomas and Richard Collins before graduating as a solicitor‘s clerk. They compete and win several athletic competitions despite James’ tiny 4’10” stature. He is known affectionately as “Tiny Tim.” He is much enthralled by the tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have become a soldier except for his height.

By the early 1900s Stephens is increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language and by 1912 is a dedicated Irish Republican. He is a close friend of the 1916 leader Thomas MacDonagh, who is then editor of The Irish Review and deputy headmaster in St. Enda’s School, the radical bilingual Montessori school run by Patrick Pearse and later manager of the Irish Theatre. He spends much time with MacDonagh in 1911. His growing nationalism brings a schism with his adoptive family, but probably wins him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he works between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with the Mecredy firm of solicitors.

Stephens produces many retellings of Irish myths. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism, with Deirdre and Irish Fairy Tales especially often praised. He also writes several original novels, including The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight and Demi-Gods, based loosely on Irish wonder tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.

Stephens begins his career as a poet under the tutelage of poet and painter Æ (George William Russell). His first book of poems, Insurrections, is published in 1909. His last book, Kings and the Moon (1938), is also a volume of verse. His influential account of the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being “like watching blood oozing from under a door.”

Stephens later lives between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he is a friend of James Joyce, and they wrongly believe that they share a birthday. Joyce, who is concerned about his ability to finish what later becomes Finnegans Wake, proposes that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S (for “Jameses Joyce & Stephens”, but also a pun on the popular Jameson Irish Whiskey, made by John Jameson & Sons). The plan is never implemented, as Joyce is able to complete the work on his own.

During the last decade of his life Stephens finds a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC.


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Birth of Alice Milligan, Nationalist Poet & Writer

alice-milliganAlice Letitia Milligan, Irish nationalist poet and writer, is born in Gortmore, near Omagh, County Tyrone on September 4, 1865. She is also active in the Gaelic League.

Milligan is brought up as a Methodist, the daughter of the writer Seaton Milligan, antiquarian and member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA). She is one of eleven children, including music collector Charlotte Milligan Fox, and from 1877 to 1887 attends Methodist College Belfast (MCB), after which she completes a teacher-training course. Together with her father she writes a political travelogue of the north of Ireland in 1888, Glimpses of Erin. She writes her first novel, A Royal Democrat, in 1890.

After the death of Charles Stewart Parnell, Milligan becomes an ardent nationalist. In 1894 with Jenny Armour she founds branches of the Irish Women’s Association in Belfast and other places, and becomes its first president. With Ethna Carbery she founds two nationalist publications in the 1890s, The Northern Patriot, and later The Shan Van Vocht, a monthly literary magazine published in Belfast from 1896 to 1899.

Milligan is a figure of the Irish Literary Revival, and a close associate of Douglas Hyde. She is also “on first-name terms” with William Butler Yeats, James Connolly and Roger Casement. Thomas MacDonagh, writing in the Irish Review in September 1914, describes her as “the best Irish poet of his generation.”

Milligan is awarded an honorary doctorate by the National University of Ireland in 1941. She is also honored during the last decade of her life by the Literary Department of Queen’s University Belfast for her poetry.

Alice Milligan dies in Omagh in April 1953 and is buried in Blackford Municipal Cemetery, County Tyrone. On her headstone is inscribed “She loved no other place than Ireland.”

During 2010/2011 the Ulster History Circle mounts plaques for famous Ulster figures. Charlotte Milligan Fox and Alice Milligan have a plaque mounted on Omagh Library, 1 Spillar’s Place, Omagh, County Tyrone.


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Death of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly

michael-joseph-o-rahillyMichael Joseph O’Rahilly, Irish republican and nationalist known as The O’Rahilly, dies in Dublin on April 29, 1916 during the Easter Rising. He is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and serves as Director of Arms. Despite opposing the rising, he takes part and is killed in a charge on a British machine gun post covering the retreat from the General Post Office (GPO) during the fighting.

O’Rahilly is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry to Richard Rahilly, a grocer, and Ellen Rahilly (née Mangan). He has two siblings who live to adulthood, Mary Ellen “Nell” Humphreys (née Rahilly) and Anno O’Rahilly, both of whom are active in the Irish revolutionary period. He is educated in Clongowes Wood College (1890–1893). As an adult, he becomes a republican and a language enthusiast. He joins the Gaelic League and becomes a member of An Coiste Gnotha, its governing body. He is well traveled, spending at least a decade in the United States and in Europe before settling in Dublin.

In 1913 O’Rahilly is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, who organize to work for Irish independence and resist the proposed Home Rule. He serves as the IV Director of Arms. He personally directs the first major arming of the Irish Volunteers, the landing of 900 Mausers at the Howth gun-running on July 26, 1914.

O’Rahilly is not party to the plans for the Easter Rising, nor is he a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but he is one of the main people who trains the Irish Volunteers for the coming fight. The planners of the Rising go to great lengths to prevent those leaders of the Volunteers who are opposed to unprovoked, unilateral action from learning that a rising is imminent, including its Chief-of-Staff Eoin MacNeill, Bulmer Hobson, and O’Rahilly. When Hobson discovers that an insurrection is planned, he is kidnapped by the Military Council leadership.

Learning this, O’Rahilly goes to Patrick Pearse‘s school, Scoil Éanna, on Good Friday. He barges into Pearse’s study, brandishing his revolver as he announces “Whoever kidnaps me will have to be a quicker shot!” Pearse calms him down, assuring him that Hobson is unharmed and will be released after the rising begins.

O’Rahilly takes instructions from MacNeill and spends the night driving throughout the country, informing Volunteer leaders in Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, and Limerick that they are not to mobilise their forces for planned manoeuvres on Sunday.

Arriving home, O’Rahilly learns that the Rising is about to begin in Dublin on the following day, Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Despite his efforts to prevent such action, he sets out to Liberty Hall to join Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Countess Markievicz, Seán Mac Diarmada, Éamonn Ceannt and their Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army troops. Arriving in his De Dion-Bouton motorcar, he gives one of the most quoted lines of the rising – “Well, I’ve helped to wind up the clock…I might as well hear it strike!” His car is used to fetch supplies during the siege and later as part of a barricade on Prince’s Street, where it is burned out.

O’Rahilly fights with the GPO garrison during Easter Week. One of the first British prisoners taken in the GPO is Second Lieutenant AD Chalmers, who is bound with telephone wire and lodged in a telephone box by the young Volunteer Captain and IRB activist, Michael Collins. Chalmers later recalls O’Rahilly’s kindness to him. In a statement to a newspaper reporter, he says that he was taken from the phone box after three hours and brought up to O’Rahilly, who ordered, “I want this officer to watch the safe to see that nothing is touched. You will see that no harm comes to him.”

On Friday, April 28, with the GPO on fire, O’Rahilly volunteers to lead a party of men along a route to Williams and Woods, a factory on Great Britain Street, now Parnell Street. A British machine gun at the intersection of Great Britain and Moore streets cuts him and several of the others down. He slumps into a doorway on Moore Street, wounded and bleeding badly but, hearing the English marking his position, makes a dash across the road to find shelter in Sackville Lane, now O’Rahilly Parade. He is wounded diagonally from shoulder to hip by sustained fire from the machine-gunner.

According to ambulance driver Albert Mitchell in a witness statement more than 30 years later, O’Rahilly still clung to life 19 hours after being severely wounded, long after the surrender had taken place on Saturday afternoon.

Desmond Ryan‘s The Rising: The Complete Story of Easter Week maintains that it “was 2:30 PM when Miss O’Farrell reached Moore Street, and as she passed Sackville Lane again, she saw O’Rahilly’s corpse lying a few yards up the laneway, his feet against a stone stairway in front of a house, his head towards the street.”


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Birth of Grace Gifford Plunkett, Artist & Irish Republican

grace-gifford-plunkettGrace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett, artist and cartoonist who is active in the Republican movement, is born in Rathmines, Dublin on March 4, 1888. She marries her fiancé, Joseph Plunkett, in Kilmainham Gaol only a few hours before he is executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Gifford is the second youngest of 12 children born to Frederick Gifford, a solicitor and a Roman Catholic, and Isabella Julia Burton Gifford, a Protestant. The boys are baptised as Catholics and the girls as Protestant, but effectively the children are all raised as Protestants with the girls attending Alexandra College in Earlsfort Terrace.

At the age of 16, Gifford goes to the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studies under the Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regards her as one of his most talented pupils. Around this time, her talent for caricature is discovered and developed. In 1907 she attends the course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Gifford returns to Dublin in 1908 and, with great difficulty, tries to earn a living as a caricaturist, publishing her cartoons in The Shanachie, Irish Life, Meadowstreet and The Irish Review, which is edited from 1913 by Joseph Plunkett. She considers emigrating but gives up the idea. Nora Dryhurst, a journalist from London, brings her to the opening of the new bilingual school Scoil Éanna in Ranelagh, Dublin. It is here that she meets Plunkett for the first time. He is a friend of her brother-in-law, another of the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, Thomas MacDonagh, who is married to her sister Muriel.

Gifford’s growing interest in the Roman Catholic religion leads to the deepening of Gifford and Plunkett’s relationship as she begins to discuss Catholic mystical ideas with him. Plunkett proposes to her in 1915 and she accepts and takes formal instruction in Catholic doctrine. She is received into the Catholic Church in April 1916. The couple plans to marry on Easter Sunday that year, in a double wedding with his sister and her fiancé.

After the Rising, Gifford’s brother-in-law Thomas MacDonagh is shot with Patrick Pearse and Thomas Clarke by firing squad on May 3. That day, she hears that Plunkett is to be shot at dawn. She purchases a ring in a jeweler’s shop in Dublin and, with the help of a priest, persuades the military authorities to allow them to marry. She and Joseph are married on the night of May 3 in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, a few hours before he is executed.

Grace Plunkett decides to devote herself through her art to the promotion of Sinn Féin policies and resumes her commercial work to earn a living. She is elected to the Sinn Féin executive in 1917.

During the Irish Civil War, Plunkett is arrested with many others in February 1923 and interned at Kilmainham Gaol for three months. She paints pictures on the walls of her cell, including one of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child. She is released in May 1923.

When the Civil War ends, Plunkett has no home of her own and little money. Like many Anti-Treaty Republicans, she is the target of social ostracism and has difficulty finding work. Her talent as an artist is her only real asset and her cartoons are published in various newspapers and magazines. She moves from one apartment to another and eats in the city-centre restaurants but has no wish to remarry. Her material circumstances improve in 1932 when she receives a Civil List pension from Éamon de Valera‘s Fianna Fáil government. She lives for many years in a flat in Nassau Street with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College.

Plunkett’s in-laws refuse to honour her husband’s will, in which he leaves everything to his widow. Legally, the will is invalid because there is only one witness, rather than the required two, and the marriage takes place after the will is made, automatically revoking it. For years she receives nothing, so she begins legal proceedings against her in-laws in 1934. The Count and Countess Plunkett settle out of court and she is paid £700, plus costs.

At around this time Plunkett joins the Old Dublin Society, where she meets the noted Irish harpsichord maker Cathal Gannon. When Cathal marries, she gives him and his wife Margaret a present of two single beds and a picture. From the late 1940s onwards, her health declines. In 1950 she is brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital. She convalesces in a nursing home, which she does not like, mainly because it restricts her freedom.

Grace Gifford Plunkett dies suddenly on December 13, 1955 in her apartment in South Richmond Street, Portobello. Her body is removed to St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street and among the attendees at her funeral is President Seán T. O’Kelly. She is buried with full military honours close to the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.


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Death of Helena Moloney, Feminist & Labour Activist

helena-moloneyHelena Mary Molony, prominent Irish republican, feminist and labour activist, dies in Dublin on January 28, 1967. She fights in the 1916 Easter Rising and later becomes the second woman president of the Irish Trades Union Congress (ITUC).

Molony is born in Dublin on January 15, 1883, to Michael Molony, a grocer, and Catherine McGrath. Her mother dies early in her life. Her father later remarries, but both became alcoholics, something which influences her years later.

In 1903, inspired by a pro-nationalist speech given by Maud Gonne, Molony joins Inghinidhe na hÉireann and begins a lifelong commitment to the nationalist cause. In 1908 she becomes the editor of the organisation’s monthly newspaper, Bean na hÉireann (Woman of Ireland). The newspaper brings together a nationalist group – Constance Markievicz designs the title page and writes the gardening column, Sydney Gifford writes for the paper and is on its production team and contributors include Eva Gore-Booth, Susan L. Mitchell, and Katharine Tynan, as well as Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, George William Russell, Roger Casement, Arthur Griffith and James Stephens.

Molony is central to the school meals activism of the movement. With Maud Gonne, Marie Perolz and others, she organises the supply of daily school meals to children in impoverished areas, and pressures Dublin Corporation and other bodies to provide proper meals to the starved children of Dublin city.

Molony also has a career as an actress, and is a member of the Abbey Theatre. However her primary commitment is to her political work. She is a strong political influence, credited with bringing many into the movement, including Constance Markievicz and Dr. Kathleen Lynn.

As a labour activist, Molony is a close colleague of Markievicz and of James Connolly. In November 1915 Connolly appoints her secretary of the Irish Women Workers’ Union, in succession to Delia Larkin. This union had been formed during the strike at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory that was part of the 1913 Dublin lock-out. She manages the union’s shirt factory in Liberty Hall, founded to give employment to the strikers put out of work and blacklisted after the strike. She is friendly with the family of Thomas MacDonagh and his wife, Muriel, and is the godmother of their daughter Barbara, whose godfather is Patrick Pearse.

Fianna Éireann, the cadet body of the Irish Volunteers, is founded by Constance Markievicz in Molony’s home at 34 Lower Camden Street, Dublin, on August 16, 1909. Markievicz works closely with Molony and Bulmer Hobson in organising the fledgling Fianna. It is during this period of working together in building the Fianna that Molony and Hobson grow close and became romantically linked. However, the relationship does not last.

Molony is a prominent member of Cumann na mBan, the republican women’s paramilitary organisation formed in April 1914 as an auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers. Members of Cumann na mBan train alongside the men of the Irish Volunteers in preparation for the armed rebellion against the English forces in Ireland.

During the 1916 Easter Rising, Molony is one of the Citizen Army soldiers who attacks Dublin Castle. During the defence of City Hall, her commanding officer, Sean Connolly, is killed and she is captured and imprisoned until December 1916.

After the Irish Civil War, Molony becomes the second female president of the Irish Trades Union Congress. She remains active in the republican cause during the 1930s, particularly with the Women’s Prisoner’s Defense League and the People’s Rights Association.

Molony retires from public life in 1946, but continued to work for women’s labour rights. She dies in Dublin on January 28, 1967.


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Death of Peadar Kearney, Composer & Irish Republican

peadar-kearneyPeadar Kearney, Irish republican and composer of numerous rebel songs, dies in Inchicore, Dublin on November 24, 1942. In 1907 he writes the lyrics to “The Soldier’s Song” (“Amhrán na bhFiann“), now the Irish national anthem. He is the uncle of Irish writers Brendan Behan, Brian Behan, and Dominic Behan.

Kearney was born on December 12, 1883 at 68 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin, above one of the two grocer’s shops owned by his father, John Kearney, originally from Funshog, Collon, County Louth. His mother, Katie (née McGuinness), is from Rathmaiden, Slane, County Meath. He is educated at the Model School, Schoolhouse Lane and St. Joseph’s Secondary C.B.S. in Fairview. He hears Willie Rooney give nationalist lectures on history in the Mechanics’ Institute. For a short time he attends Belvedere College. Following the death of his father, he is left to support his mother and five younger siblings. He has various menial jobs for three years before being apprenticed to a house painter.

In 1901, the death of Willie Rooney prompts Kearney to join the Willie Rooney Branch of the Gaelic League. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1903. He teaches night classes in Irish and numbers Seán O’Casey among his pupils. He finds work with the National Theatre Society and in 1904 is one of the first to inspect the derelict building that becomes the Abbey Theatre. He assists with props and performs occasional walk-on parts at the Abbey until 1916.

Kearney is a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and takes part in the Howth and Kilcoole gun runnings in 1914. In the Easter Rising of 1916 he fights at Jacob’s biscuit factory under Thomas MacDonagh, abandoning an Abbey Theatre tour in England to take part in the Rising. He escapes before the garrison is taken into custody.

Kearney is also active in the Irish War of Independence. On November 25, 1920 he is captured at his home in Summerhill, Dublin and is interned first in Collinstown Camp in Dublin and later in Ballykinler Camp in County Down.

A personal friend of Michael Collins, Kearney at first takes the Free State side in the Irish Civil War but loses faith in the Free State after Collins’s death. He takes no further part in politics, returning to his original trade of house painting.

Kearney’s songs are highly popular with the Irish Volunteers (which later becomes the Irish Republican Army) in the 1913–1922 period. Most popular is “The Soldier’s Song.” He pens the original English lyrics in 1907 and his friend and musical collaborator Patrick Heeney composes the music. The lyrics are published in 1912 and the music in 1916. After 1916 it replaces “God Save Ireland” as the anthem of Irish nationalists. The Irish Free State is established in 1922 and formally adopts the anthem in 1926.

Other well-known songs by Kearney include “Down by the Glenside,” “The Tri-coloured Ribbon,” “Down by the Liffey Side,” “Knockcroghery” (about the village of Knockcroghery) and “Erin Go Bragh” (Erin Go Bragh is the text on the Irish national flag before the adoption of the tricolour).

Peadar Kearney dies in relative poverty in Inchicore on November 24, 1942. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.