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


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Death of Terence MacSwiney, Playwright & Politician

Terence James MacSwiney, Irish playwright, author, politician and Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence, dies in London‘s Brixton Prison on October 25, 1920 after 73 days on hunger strike. His death brings him and the Irish Republican campaign to international attention.

MacSwiney is born at 23 North Main Street, Cork, County Cork, one of eight children of John and Mary MacSwiney. Following the failure of this business, John MacSwiney emigrates to Australia in 1885 leaving the children in the care of their mother and his eldest daughter.

MacSwiney is educated by the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork, but leaves at fifteen to help support the family. He becomes an accountancy clerk but continues his studies and matriculates successfully. He continues in full-time employment while he studies at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.

In 1901 MacSwiney helps to found the Celtic Literary Society, and in 1908 he founds the Cork Dramatic Society with Daniel Corkery and writes a number of plays for them. His first play, The Last Warriors of Coole, is produced in 1910. His fifth play, The Revolutionist (1915), takes the political stand made by a single man as its theme.

Described as a sensitive poet-intellectual, MacSwiney’s writings in the newspaper Irish Freedom bring him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He is one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and is President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founds a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it is suppressed after only 11 issues. In April 1916, he is intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in Cork and Kerry, but stands down his forces on the order of Eoin MacNeill.

Following the rising, MacSwiney is imprisoned by the British Government under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he is deported from Ireland and imprisoned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. It is during his exile in Bromyard that he marries Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family. In November 1917, he is arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army (IRA) uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, goes on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.

In the 1918 Irish general election, MacSwiney is returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork, succeeding the Nationalist MP D. D. Sheehan. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork on March 20, 1920, he is elected as Lord Mayor. On August 12, 1920, he is arrested in Cork for possession of “seditous articles and documents,” and also possession of a cipher key. He is summarily tried by a court on August 16 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at Brixton Prison in England.

In prison MacSwiney immediately starts a hunger strike in protest of his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court. Eleven other Irish Republican prisoners in Cork Jail go on hunger strike at the same time. On August 26, the British Government states that “the release of the Lord Mayor would have disastrous results in Ireland and would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in south of Ireland.”

MacSwiney’s hunger strike gains world attention. The British Government is threatened with a boycott of British goods by Americans, while four countries in South America appeal to Pope Benedict XV to intervene. Protests are held in Germany and France as well. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, is expelled from the Parliament of Australia for “seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting,” after protesting against the actions of the British Government. Two weeks later, the Spanish Catalan organization Autonomous Center of Employees of Commerce and Industry (CADCI) sends a petition to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George calling for his release and the newspaper of the organization, Acció (Acción in Spanish), begins a campaign for MacSwiney.

Food is often placed near MacSwiney to persuade him to give up the hunger strike. Attempts at force-feeding are undertaken in the final days of his strike. On October 20, 1920 he slips into a coma and dies five days later after 73 days on hunger strike. His body lay in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people file past it. Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities divert his coffin directly to Cork, and his funeral in the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on October 31 attracts huge crowds. He is buried in the Republican plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Arthur Griffith delivers the graveside oration.


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Murder of George Clancy, Mayor of Limerick

george-clancyGeorge Clancy, Irish nationalist politician and Mayor of Limerick, is shot in his home by Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliaries and dies on March 7, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Clancy is born at Grange, County Limerick in 1881 to a family with a strong republican tradition. He is educated at Crescent College, Limerick, and thereafter at the Catholic University in St. Stephen’s Green, now University College, Dublin. Among his friends at the university are James Joyce, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Tomás Mac Curtain and Terence MacSwiney. He helps form a branch of the Gaelic League at college and persuades his friends, including Joyce, to take lessons in the Irish language. He plays hurling and is a good friend of Michael Cusack. With Arthur Griffin he joins the Celtic Literary Society. It is said that he is the model for the character of Michael Davin in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Clancy graduates in 1904 and finds a position teaching the Irish language at Clongowes Wood College and is active in the Gaelic Athletic Association. Due to ill health he has to return to his home at Grange. In 1908 he comes to Limerick to teach Irish. In 1913 he joins the Irish Volunteers. In 1915 he marries Máire Killeen, a teacher. After the 1916 Easter Rising he is arrested and imprisoned in Cork, but is released before he comes to trial following a hunger strike.

Clancy helps in Éamon de Valera‘s election campaign in East Clare. He nearly dies of Spanish flu during the 1918 epidemic but recovers and, in January 1921, he is elected Sinn Féin Mayor of Limerick.

On the night of March 6, 1921 three Auxiliaries come to Clancy’s house and one of them shoots him, injuring him fatally. His wife is also injured in the attack. The previous Mayor, Michael O’Callaghan, is also murdered on the same night by the same group.

Suspicion immediately falls upon members of the Black and Tans, but a British inquiry into the murder, like most such inquiries through the years, absolve Crown forces of any blame. One of Clancy’s killers is later said to be George Nathan who dies in the Spanish Civil War in July 1937.


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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 Irish Hurler Christy Ring

christy-ringNicholas Christopher Michael Ring, better known as Christy Ring, an Irish hurler whose league and championship career with the Cork GAA senior team spans twenty-four years from 1939 to 1963, dies at Morrison’s Island, Cork, on March 2, 1979.

Ring establishes many championship records, including career appearances (65), scoring tally (33-208), and number of All-Ireland medals won (8), however, these records are subsequently bested by Brendan Cummins, Eddie Keher, and Henry Shefflin respectively. Ring is widely regarded as one of the greatest hurlers in the history of the game, with many former players, commentators, and fans rating him as the number one player of all time.

Born near Cloyne, County Cork, Ring first excels at hurling following encouragement from his local national school teachers Michael O’Brien and Jerry Moynihan. He first appears on the Cloyne GAA minor team at the age of twelve before later winning a county minor championship medal with the nearby St. Enda’s team. A Cork Junior Hurling Championship medal with Cloyne follows, however, a dispute with club officials sees Ring join Glen Rovers GAA in Blackpool in 1941. Over the next twenty-six years with the club, Ring wins one Munster Senior Club Hurling Championship medal and fourteen county senior championship medals. As a Gaelic footballer with the Glen’s sister club, St. Nicholas’ GAA, he also wins a county senior championship medal. He retires from club hurling at the age of forty-six following a victory over University College Cork GAA in the 1967 championship quarter-final. Over the course of his senior championship career Ring estimates that he played in 1,200 games.

Ring makes his debut on the inter-county scene at the age of sixteen when he is picked on the Cork minor panel for the All-Ireland final. In spite of victory, he is denied an All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship medal as he is Cork’s last non-playing substitute. Still eligible for the grade in 1938, Ring collects a set of All-Ireland and Munster Minor Hurling Championship medals as a member of the starting fifteen. An unsuccessful year with the Cork junior hurlers follows before he makes his senior debut during the 1939-40 league. Over the course of the next quarter century, Ring wins eight All-Ireland medals, including a record four consecutive championships from 1941 to 1944, a lone triumph in 1946 and three additional consecutive championships from 1952 to 1954. The only player to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup three times as captain, he is denied a record-breaking ninth All-Ireland medal in 1956 in what is his last All-Ireland final appearance. Ring also wins nine Munster medals, four National Hurling League medals, and is named Hurler of the Year at the age of thirty-eight. He plays his last game for Cork in June 1963. After indicating his willingness to line out for the team once again in 1964, Ring fails to be selected for the Cork team, a move which effectively brings his inter-county career to an end.

After being chosen as a substitute on the Munster GAA inter-provincial team in 1941, Ring is an automatic choice on the starting fifteen for the following twenty-two years. He scores 42-105 as he wins a record eighteen Railway Cup medals during that period, in an era when his skill and prowess draw crowds of up to 50,000 to Croke Park for the annual final on St. Patrick’s Day. Ring’s retirement from the game is often cited as a contributory factor in the decline of the once prestigious championship.

In retirement from playing Ring becomes involved in team management and coaching. As a mentor to the St. Finbarr’s College senior team, he guides them to their first two All-Ireland and Harty Cup triumphs in 1963 and 1969. At club level Ring is instrumental as a selector with Glen Rovers when they claim their inaugural All-Ireland title in 1973, having earlier annexed the Munster and county senior championship titles. It is with the Cork senior team that he enjoys his greatest successes as a selector. After an unsuccessful campaign in his first season on the selection panel in 1973, Ring is dropped the following year before being reinstated in 1975. Over the next three years Cork claims three successive All-Ireland titles.

Ring is most famous for his scoring prowess, physical strength, and career longevity. He remains the only player to have competed at inter-county level in four different decades. Often the target of public attention for his hurling exploits, in private Ring is a shy and reserved individual. A teetotaller and non-smoker throughout his life, he is also a devout Roman Catholic.

On Friday, March 2, 1979, Ring has a scheduled appointment with his doctor and former teammate Dr. Jim Young in Cork city centre. As he is walking past the Cork College of Commerce on Morrisson’s Island at 3:30 PM he suffers a massive heart attack and collapses. He is taken by ambulance to the South Infirmary Hospital but is pronounced dead on arrival.

Ring’s sudden death and the scenes which follow at his funeral are unprecedented in Cork since the death of the martyred Lord Mayor of Cork Tomás Mac Curtain in 1920. He is posthumously honoured by being named on the Hurling Team of the Century in 1984 and the Hurling Team of the Millennium in 2000, while he is also named as the Century’s Best Hurler in The Irish Times.