seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Arnon Street Massacre

arnon-street-massacreThe Arnon Street Massacre takes place on April 1, 1922 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Six Catholic civilians, three in Arnon Street, are shot dead. It is believed that members of either the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) or the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) are responsible, acting in retaliation for the killing of an RIC officer by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Although the Irish War of Independence officially ends in July 1921, the Irish Republican Army’s conflict with British and unionist forces continues in Northern Ireland and escalates in the first half of 1922. The Ulster IRA, with the tacit but covert assistance of Michael Collins, head of the new Irish Free State, continues to wage a guerrilla war in Northern Ireland. According to historian Alan Parkinson, despite “the IRA having some short term successes … the main effect of this intensive campaign was to unleash a terrible backlash on the Catholic population in Belfast.” Only a week before the Arnon Street incident, policemen – either Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) or Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) – kill six Catholic civilians in the McMahon murders.

On the evening of April 1, RIC constable George Turner is patrolling the Old Lodge Road when he is killed by a sniper.

About ten police officers in Brown Square Barracks, upon hearing of Turner’s murder, take a Lancia armoured car and begin touring nationalist areas. When they dismount their vehicle, witnesses hear them shouting “Cut the guts out of them for the murder of Turner.” Their first victim is John McRory who lives on Stanhope Street, just across the road from where Constable Turner had been shot. The police break into his house and shoot him dead in his kitchen. In Park Street, Bernard McKenna, father of seven, is killed while lying in bed. Finally, the police arrived at Arnon Street.

William Spallen, who lives at 16 Arnon Street, has just returned from the funeral of his wife who had also been killed in the conflict. His 12-year-old grandson, Gerald Tumelty, witnesses his death. “Two men came into the room, one was in the uniform of a policeman. They asked my grandfather his name and he said William Spallen. The man in plain clothes fired three shots at him. When I cried out he said ‘lie down or I will put a bullet into you.'” Tumelty says the killers then take £20 that his grandfather had to pay for his wife’s funeral.

The attackers then use a sledgehammer to break into the house next door, where they find Joseph Walsh in bed with his seven-year-old son Michael and his two-year-old daughter Bridget. Joseph Walsh is bludgeoned to death with the sledgehammer while Michael Walsh is shot and dies from his wounds the next day. Another son, Frank, is shot in the thigh but survives. Later that evening another Catholic, John Mallon, is shot dead in Skegoneill Avenue.

The unionist press, the Belfast Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph, condemn the killings but do not identify the killers as police. The Dublin-based Irish Independent writes that “never even in the worst state of terror in the west and south has the state of affairs which now prevails in the Northern capital been experienced.” Michael Collins sends an angry telegram to Northern Ireland Prime Minister James Craig, demanding a joint inquiry into the killings. No such inquiry is set up.

As with the McMahon killings one week earlier, it is strongly suspected that an RIC Detective Inspector, Nixon, operating out of the Brown Street Police barracks, had organised the attack. Nixon and several other policemen fail to turn up at roll call at the barracks immediately after the killings.

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Death of John Redmond, Politician & Barrister

john-edward-redmondJohn Edward Redmond, Irish nationalist politician, barrister, and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, dies on March 6, 1918 in London, England. He is best known as leader of the moderate Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) from 1900 until his death. He is also leader of the paramilitary organisation the National Volunteers.

Redmond is born to an old prominent Catholic family in Kilrane, County Wexford on September 1, 1856. Several relatives are politicians. He takes over control of the minority IPP faction loyal to Charles Stewart Parnell after Parnell dies in 1891. He is a conciliatory politician who achieves the two main objectives of his political life: party unity and, in September 1914, the passing of the Irish Home Rule Act.

The Irish Home Rule Act grants limited self-government to Ireland, within the United Kingdom. However, implementation of Home Rule is suspended by the outbreak of the World War I. Redmond calls on the National Volunteers to join Irish regiments of the New British Army and support the British and Allied war effort to restore the “freedom of small nations” on the European continent, thereby to also ensure the implementation of Home Rule after a war that is expected to be of short duration. However, after the Easter Rising of 1916, Irish public opinion shifts in favour of militant republicanism and full Irish independence, resulting in his party losing its dominance in Irish politics.

In sharp contrast to Parnell, Redmond lacks charisma. He works well in small committees, but has little success in arousing large audiences. Parnell had always chosen the nominees to Parliament. Now they are selected by the local party organisations, giving Redmond numerous weak MPs over whom he has little control. He is an excellent representative of the old Ireland, but grows increasingly old-fashioned because he pays little attention to the new forces attracting younger Irishmen, such as Sinn Féin in politics, the Gaelic Athletic Association in sports, and the Gaelic League in cultural affairs.

Redmond never tries to understand the unionist forces emerging in Ulster. He is further weakened in 1914 by the formation of the Irish Volunteers by Sinn Féin members. His enthusiastic support for the British war effort alienates many Irish nationalists. His party has been increasingly hollowed out, and a major crisis, notably the Easter Rising, is enough to destroy it.

Redmond is increasingly eclipsed by ill-health after 1916. An operation in March 1918 to remove an intestinal obstruction appears to progress well initially, but he then suffers heart failure. He dies a few hours later at a London nursing home on March 6, 1918.

Condolences and expressions of sympathy are widely expressed. After a funeral service in Westminster Cathedral his remains are interred, as requested in a manner characteristic of the man, in the family vault at the old Knights Templars‘ chapel yard of Saint John’s Cemetery, Wexford, amongst his own people rather than in the traditional burial place for Irish statesmen and heroes in Glasnevin Cemetery. The small, neglected cemetery near the town centre is kept locked to the public. His vault, which has been in a dilapidated state, has been only partially restored by Wexford County Council.


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Birth of Poet John Montague

john-montagueIrish poet John Montague is born on Bushwick Avenue at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, on February 28, 1929. His father, James Montague, an Ulster Catholic, from County Tyrone, had come to the United States in 1925.

Life in New York is difficult during the Great Depression, so John and his two brothers are shipped back to Ireland in 1933. The two eldest are sent to their maternal grandmother’s house in Fintona, County Tyrone, but John is sent to his father’s ancestral home at Garvaghey, then maintained by two spinster aunts.

John studied at University College Dublin in 1946. Stirred by the example of other student poets he begins to publish his first poems in The Dublin Magazine, Envoy, and The Bell, edited by Peadar O’Donnell. But the atmosphere in Dublin is constrained and he leaves for Yale University on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1953.

A year of graduate school at University of California, Berkeley convinces Montague that he should return to Ireland. He settles in Dublin working at the Irish Tourist Office. In 1961 he moves to Bray, County Wicklow. A regular rhythm of publication sees his first book of stories, Death of a Chieftain (1964) after which the musical group The Chieftains is named, his second book of poems, A Chosen Light (1967), Tides (1970).

All during the 1960s, Montague continues to work on his long poem, The Rough Field, a task that coincides with the outbreak of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. A Patriotic Suite appears in 1966, Hymn to the New Omagh Road and The Bread God in 1968, and A New Siege, dedicated to Bernadette Devlin which he reads outside Armagh Jail in 1970.

In 1972, Montague takes a teaching job at University College Cork, at the request of his friend, the composer Seán Ó Riada, where he inspires an impressive field of young writers including Gregory O’Donoghue, Seán Dunne, Thomas McCarthy, William Wall, Maurice Riordan, Gerry Murphy, Greg Delanty and Theo Dorgan.

Montague settles in Cork in 1974 and publishes an anthology, the Faber Book of Irish Verse (1974) with a book of lyrics, A Slow Dance (1975). Recognition is now beginning to come, with the award of the Irish American Cultural Institute in 1976, the first Marten Toonder Award in 1977, and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award for The Great Cloak in 1978.

In 1987, Montague is awarded an honorary doctor of letters by the State University of New York at Buffalo. He serves as distinguished writer-in-residence for the New York State Writers Institute during each spring semester, teaching workshops in fiction and poetry and a class in the English Department of the University at Albany. In 1998, he is named the first Irish professor of poetry, a three-year appointment to be divided among Queen’s University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin, and University College Dublin. In 2008, he publishes A Ball of Fire, a collection of all his fiction including the short novella The Lost Notebook.

John Montague dies at the age of 87 in Nice, France on December 10, 2016 after complications from a recent surgery.


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Murder of IRA Paramilitary Eamon Collins

eamon-collinsEamon Collins, a Provisional Irish Republican Army paramilitary in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is beaten and stabbed to death near his home in Newry, County Down on January 27, 1999.

Collins grows up in a middle-class Irish family in Camlough, a small, staunchly Irish republican town in County Armagh. After completing his schooling, he works for a time in the Ministry of Defence in a clerical capacity in London before studying law at Queen’s University Belfast, where he becomes influenced by Marxist political ideology. He eventually drops out of university and, after working in a pub for a period, joins Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise Service, serving in Newry, and goes on to use this internal position within the administrative machinery of the British Government to support IRA operations against Crown Forces personnel.

Collins joins the Provisional IRA during the blanket protest by Long Kesh inmates in the late 1970s and he becomes involved in street demonstrations. He joins the South Down Brigade of the IRA, based around Newry, and is appointed its intelligence officer.

Collins becomes noted within IRA circles for his hard-line views on the continuance of armed campaign, and later joins its Internal Security Unit. Around this time he has a confrontation with Gerry Adams at the funeral of an IRA man killed in a failed bombing over how to deal with the funeral’s policing, where he accuses Adams a being a “Stick.”

Despite his militarist convictions at this time Collins finds the psychological strain caused by his involvement in the terrorist war increasingly difficult to address. His belief in the martial discipline of the IRA’s campaign is seriously undermined by the March 11, 1982 assassination of Norman Hanna, a 28-year-old Newry man, in front of his wife and young daughter. His uneasy state is further augmented by being arrested on two occasions under anti-terrorism laws, the second including a week of detention and intense interrogation.

Collins subsequently states that the strain of the interrogation merely exacerbates increasing doubts that he has already possessed about the moral justification of the IRA’s terrorist paramilitary campaign and his actions within it. These doubts are made worse by the organization’s senior leadership quietly deciding in the early 1980s that the war has failed and now slowly manoeuvering the movement away from a military campaign to allow its political wing, Sinn Féin, to pursue its purposes by another means in what would become the Northern Ireland peace process.

In 1987, after being charged with several counts of murder and attempted murder, Collins is acquitted as the statement in which he admits to involvement in these acts is ruled legally inadmissible by the court. On release from prison he spends several weeks being counter-interrogated by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, after which he is exiled by the organization from Ulster, being warned that if he is found north of Drogheda after a certain date he will be executed.

After his exile Collins moves to Dublin and squats for a while in a deserted flat in the impoverished Ballymun area of the city. After several years in Dublin, he subsequently moves to Edinburgh, Scotland for a period, where he runs a youth centre.

In 1995 Collins returns to Newry, a district known for the militancy of its communal support of the IRA, with numerous IRA members in its midst. The IRA order exiling him from Ulster has not been lifted, but with a formal ceasefire from the organization and renunciations of violence by all the paramilitary organizations in the province, he deems it safe to move back in with his wife and children who had never left the town.

Rather than maintaining a low profile Collins decides to take a prominent role in the ongoing transition of Ulster’s post-war society, using his personal history as a platform in the media to analyze the adverse effects of terrorism. In May 1998 he gives evidence against leading republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy in a libel case Murphy has brought against The Sunday Times, over a 1985 article naming him as the IRA’s Northern Commander. Murphy denies IRA membership, but Collins takes the witness stand against him, and testifies that from personal experience he knew that Murphy had been a key military leader in the organization. Murphy subsequently loses the libel case and sustains substantial financial losses in consequence. Collins and his family receive numerous threats after the trial.

Collins is beaten and stabbed to death by one or more unidentified assailants early in the morning of January 27, 1999, while walking his dogs near the Barcroft Park Estate in Newry along a quiet stretch of country lane at Doran’s Hill. His body also bears marks of having been struck by a car moving at speed. The subsequent police investigation and Coroner’s Inquest comment upon the extremity of weaponed violence to Collins’ head and face used during the attack.

Rumoured reasons behind the murder are that he had returned to Ulster in breach of the IRA’s banning order, and further he had detailed IRA activities and publicly criticized in the media a multiplicity of Irish terrorist paramilitary splinter groups that had appeared after the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire, and that he had testified in court against Murphy.

After a traditional Irish wake, with a closed coffin necessitated by the condition of his face, and a funeral service at St. Catherine’s Church in Newry, Collins’ body is buried at the town’s Monkshill Cemetery, not far from the grave of Albert White, a Catholic former Royal Ulster Constabulary Inspector, whose assassination he had helped to organize in 1982.


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The Battle of Skerries

battle-of-skerriesThe Battle of Skerries, also named the Battle of Ardscull, a battle in the Bruce campaign in Ireland and part of the First War of Scottish Independence, is fought on January 26, 1316, resulting in a Scottish victory. It is part of the Irish campaign of Edward Bruce, brother of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. The site of the battle is Skerries near Ardscull in County Kildare.

Edward Bruce, Earl of Carrick, lands in Ireland in May 1315 and is proclaimed king of the island in June. Bruce continues on his march south, when on January 26, 1316 the Scottish army is advancing from Castledermot when it encounters the English. The Hiberno-Norman forces, summoned by the justiciar of Ireland, consists of men such as John FitzThomas FitzGerald, Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, Thomas FitzJohn FitzGerald, John and Arnold Poer, Maurice de Rocheford and Miles and David de la Roche. Though these forces heavily outnumber those of Bruce, internal strife breaks out in the Anglo-Irish ranks, a fact that Bruce can take advantage of. Though suffering heavy losses, the Scots hold the battlefield, effectively winning the battle.

The official English account of the battle blames unfortunate terrain and bad luck for the government forces’ loss, not an entirely convincing explanation. The same account also claims that the Scots lost many of their greatest men, while their opponents only lost one man.

After the battle the Scots plunder the nearby town of Athy before withdrawing to Leix, while the Anglo-Irish forces keep them under surveillance from nearby Castledermot, while their leader withdraws to Dublin. Here John Hotham, the king’s envoy to Ireland, makes a great effort to ensure the loyalty of the Irish nobles. By May, however, Bruce has returned to his safe base in Ulster, while Hotham has returned to his new position in England as Bishop of Ely.


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The Retreat of Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare

donall-cam-osullivan-beareDonal Cam O’Sullivan Beare and his clan begin their epic march to Ulster on December 31, 1602. O’Sullivan has supported Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, in his fight against Elizabethan England‘s attempts to destroy Gaelic Ireland once and for all. The cause O’Neill and O’Sullivan fight for is probably doomed after O’Neill’s defeat in the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, but the fight goes on, nonetheless.

O’Sullivan Beare conceals 300 of the women, children and aged of his community in a stronghold on Dursey Island, but this position is attacked, and the defenders hanged. In what is later termed the Dursey Massacre, Philip O’Sullivan Beare, nephew of O’Sullivan Beare, writes that the women and children of the Dursey stronghold are massacred by the English, who tie them back-to-back, throw them from the cliffs, and shoot at them with muskets.

After the fall of Dursey and Dunboy, O’Sullivan Beare, Lord of Beara and Bantry, gathers his remaining followers and sets off northwards on December 31, 1602 on a 500-kilometre march with 1,000 of his remaining people. He hopes to meet Hugh O’Neill on the shores of Lough Neagh.

O’Sullivan Beare fights a long rearguard action northwards through Ireland, through Munster, Connacht and Ulster, during which the much larger English force and their Irish allies fight him all the way. The march is marked by the suffering of the fleeing and starving O’Sullivans as they seek food from an already decimated Irish countryside in winter. They face equally desperate people in this, often resulting in hostility, such as from the Mac Egans at Redwood Castle in County Tipperary and at Donohill in O’Dwyer’s country, where they raid the Earl of Ormonde‘s foodstore.

O’Sullivan Beare marches through Aughrim, where he raids villages for food and meets local resistance. He is barred entrance to Glinsk Castle and leads his refugees further north. On their arrival at Brian Oge O’Rourke‘s castle in Leitrim on January 4, 1603, after a fortnight’s hard marching and fighting, only 35 of the original 1,000 remain. Many had died in battles or from exposure and hunger, and others had taken shelter or fled along the route. O’Sullivan Beare had marched over 500 kilometres, crossed the River Shannon in the dark of a midwinter night, having taken just two days to make a boat of skin and hazel rods to carry 28 at a time the half-kilometre across the river, fought battles and constant skirmishes, and lost almost all of his people during the hardships of the journey.

In Leitrim, O’Sullivan Beare seeks to join with other northern chiefs to fight the English, and organises a force to this end, but resistance ends when Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone signs the Treaty of Mellifont. O’Sullivan Beare, like other members of the Gaelic nobility of Ireland who flees and seeks exile, making his escape to Spain by ship. O’Sullivan Beare settles in Spain and continues to plead with the Spanish government to send another invasion force to Ireland. King Phillip III gives him a knighthood, pension, and the title Earl of Bearhaven, but never that which he desires most, another chance to free his homeland.

Many generations of O’Sullivan Beare’s family later achieve prominence in Spain. In 1618, Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare is killed in Madrid by John Bathe, an Anglo-Irishman, but the legend of “O’Sullivan’s March” lives on.

The Beara-Breifne Way long-distance walking trail follows closely the line of the historical march.


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Death of Aeneas Coffey, Inventor & Distiller

Aeneas Coffey, Irish inventor and distiller, dies in England on November 26, 1852. He is born in Calais, France, to Irish parents in 1780. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and enters the excise service around 1799–1800 as a gauger. He marries Susanna Logie in 1808, and they have a son, also named Aeneas, who may have been their only child.

According to British customs and excise records, Coffey is a remarkable man with widespread interests and multiple talents who rises quickly through the excise service ranks. He is appointed sub-commissioner of Inland Excise and Taxes for the district of Drogheda in 1813. He is appointed Surveyor of Excise for Clonmel and Wicklow in 1815. In 1816 he is promoted to the same post at Cork. By 1818 he is Acting Inspector General of Excise for the whole of Ireland and within two years is promoted to Inspector General of Excise in Dublin.

Coffey is a strong, determined upholder of the law, but aware of its shortcomings. He survives many nasty skirmishes with illegal distillers and smugglers, particularly in County Donegal in Ulster and in the west of Ireland, where moonshining is most rife. On several occasions he proposes to the government simple, pragmatic solutions to rules and regulations which have hampered legal distillers. Not all of his ideas are accepted. Between 1820 and 1824 he submits reports and gives evidence to Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry on many aspects of distilling, including formalising the different spellings of Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky. His 1822 report is solidly backed by the Irish distillers. He believes in making it viable to distill legally, and illegal distilling might largely disappear.

He assists the government in the drafting of the 1823 Excise Act which makes it easier to distill legally. It sanctions the distilling of whiskey in return for a licence fee of £10, and a set payment per gallon of proof spirit. It also provides for the appointment of a single Board of Excise, under Treasury control, for the whole of the United Kingdom, replacing the separate excise boards for England, Scotland and Ireland. The 1823 Excise Act also provides for not more than four assistant commissioners of excise to transact current business in Scotland and Ireland, under the control of the board in London. Coffey resigns from government excise service at his own request in 1824.

Between his Dublin education and his work as an excise officer, Coffey has ample opportunity to observe the design and workings of whiskey stills, as Ireland is the world’s leading producer of whiskey in the 19th century, and Dublin is at the center of that global industry. This is how Coffey becomes familiar with a design differing from the traditional copper pot alembic still commonly used in Ireland, the continuous, or column, still. First patented by a Cork County distillery in 1822, the column still remains a relatively inefficient piece of equipment, although it points the way towards a cheaper and more productive way to distill alcohol. It is that last point that captures Coffey’s imagination. He makes his own modifications to existing column still designs, so as to allow a greater portion of the vapors to re-circulate into the still instead of moving into the receiver with the spirit. The result is more efficient, producing a lighter spirit at higher alcohol content. Coffey patents his design in 1830, and it becomes the basis for every column still used ever since.

On his retirement from service, Coffey goes into the Irish distilling business. For a short time he runs the Dodder Bank Distillery, Dublin and Dock Distillery in Grand Canal Street, Dublin, before setting up on his own as Aeneas Coffey Whiskey Company in 1830. The development of the Coffey still makes distillation of his own whiskey much more economical.

Nothing is known of the final years and last resting place of Aeneas Coffey. His only son, also called Aeneas Coffey, emigrates to South Africa and manages a distillery. He marries but his wife dies childless. He returns to England and spends his final years near London.