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


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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.


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Formation of the Irish Citizen Army

The Irish Citizen Army (ICA) is formed on November 23, 1913, at the height of the Dublin Lockout. Its purpose is to enable the locked-out men to defend themselves in clashes with the Dublin Metropolitan Police and to counteract the demoralizing effects of unemployment by providing discipline, cohesion and purpose. The idea of forming a force apparently is first formally proposed in 1913 by Captain James Robert “Jack” White, an ex-army officer from County Antrim, who had been educated at Winchester College and Royal Military College, Sandhurst. During a speech in August, James Larkin had already suggested that the workers form a force. He publicly repeats this instruction on November 13. James Connolly likewise urges the men to train “as they are doing in Ulster.” Two weeks later drilling begins. According to the ICA constitution, its members are to “work for an Irish republic and for the emancipation of labour.” Larkin is anxious that those who enlist should not only espouse these principles but also be members of unions recognised by the Irish Trades Union Congress.

Despite competition from the Irish Volunteers, which launches on November 25, 1913, ICA membership quickly surpasses 1,000. However, after the dispute is over in January 1914 and the men return to work, the “army” all but disappears. But it is Connolly above all who, after his appointment as its commandant and as leader of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, rescues it from terminal decline and welds it into a potent force and potential weapon for his own use. He determines its structure, vets its officers and imposes a rigid discipline. He also demands an ideological commitment to revolution and the goal of an independent Irish socialist republic. The force’s guiding principle is that “the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested by right in the people of Ireland.” Its membership remains small but it is otherwise superior to the much larger Irish Volunteers in its unity of purpose, lack of factional and ideological division and in the quality of its training.

After the outbreak of World War I, Connolly has become increasingly committed to fomenting an insurrection in Ireland. This is reflected in his military preparations with the ICA. He uses its headquarters, Liberty Hall, as his base. Fearing he might act on his own, and recognising the merits of collaboration, the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council informs him of their own clandestine plans for a rising and an agreement is reached.

During Easter week of 1916, 219 ICA men fight alongside over 1,300 from the Irish Volunteers. As the appointed leader of both forces in Dublin, Connolly skillfully ensures that the ideological and social divisions and personality clashes, which have hitherto blighted their relationship, are largely overcome. ICA forces are mainly concentrated at the General Post Office (GPO), the College of Surgeons and Dublin’s City Hall. They win volunteer admiration for their professionalism, dedication, and ruthlessness. Two of their leaders are subsequently executed – Connolly and Michael Mallin, the ICA Chief of Staff. Constance Markievicz, Mallin`s second-in command, is reprieved. Others are imprisoned or interned. The ICA is not revived after the insurrection. The new leadership of the ITGWU focuses instead on building up the union, safeguarding members’ wages and improving working conditions.


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Death of Frederick Hugh Crawford, Ulster Loyalist

Colonel Frederick Hugh Crawford, staunch Ulster loyalist and officer in the British Army, dies on November 5, 1952. He is most notable for organising the Larne gun-running which secures guns and ammunition for the Ulster Volunteers in 1914, making him a hero for Northern Ireland‘s unionists.

Crawford is born in Belfast on August 21, 1861 into a Methodist family of Ulster Scots roots. He attends Methodist College Belfast and University College London.

Crawford works as an engineer for White Star Line in the 1880s, before returning from Australia in 1892. In 1894 he enlists with the Mid Ulster Artillery regiment of the British Army, before being transferred to the Donegal Artillery, with which he serves during the Boer Wars, earning himself the rank of major.

In 1898, Crawford is appointed governor of Campbell College in Belfast. In 1911 he becomes a member of the Ulster Unionist Council. On September 28, 1912 he is in charge of the 2,500 well dressed stewards and marshals that escort Edward Carson and the Ulster unionist leadership from the Ulster Hall in Belfast to the City Hall for the signing of the Ulster Covenant, which he is alleged to sign in his own blood. With the formation of the Ulster Volunteers in 1913, he is made their Director of Ordnance.

In World War I Crawford is officer commanding of the Royal Army Service Corps, and is awarded the Royal Humane Society‘s Bronze Medal for saving life. He also becomes a Justice of the Peace for Belfast.

Crawford in regards to Irish Home Rule is strongly partisan and backs armed resistance in opposing it, being contemptuous of those who use political bluffing. In 1910 the Ulster Unionist Council plans for the creation of an army to oppose Home Rule, and approaches Crawford to act as their agent in securing weapons and ammunition. He tries several times to smuggle arms into Ulster, however vigilant customs officials seize many of them at the docks. Despite this, the meticulously planned and audacious Larne gun-running of April 1914, devised and carried out by Crawford, is successful in bringing in enough arms to equip the Ulster Volunteers.

By the 1920s Crawford remains as stoic in his belief’s remarking in a letter in 1920 that “I am ashamed to call myself an Irishman. Thank God I am not one. I am an Ulsterman, a very different breed.” In 1921 he attempts to create an organisation called the Ulster Brotherhood, the aims of which are to uphold the Protestant religion, political and religious freedom as well as use by all means to “destroy and wipe out the Sinn Féin conspiracy of murder, assassination and outrage.” However, this organisation only lasts completely unofficially for a few months after failing to gain acceptance with the political authorities. Also in 1921 he is included in the Royal Honours List and granted a CBE. In 1934 he writes his memoirs, entitled Guns for Ulster.

Frederick Hugh Crawford dies November 5, 1952, and is buried in the City Cemetery, Falls Road, Belfast. Upon news of his death he is described by the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir Basil Brooke, as being “as a fearless fighter in the historic fight to keep Ulster British.”

(Pictured: Colonel Crawford is shown second from the left in this loyalist mural in East Belfast’s Ballymacarrett Road)


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Birth of Eoin O’Duffy, Political Activist & Police Commissioner

Eoin O’Duffy, Irish political activist, soldier, police commissioner and organizer of the infamous Blueshirts, is born in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, on October 20, 1892.

O’Duffy does an apprenticeship as an engineer in Wexford before working as an engineer and architect in Monaghan. In 1919 he becomes an auctioneer. He is a leading member of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ulster in the 1910s. In 1912 he is appointed secretary of the Ulster provincial council. He is also a member of Harps’ Gaelic Football Club.

O’Duffy joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1917 and is the leader of the Monaghan Brigade of the IRA during the Irish War of Independence and in this capacity becomes Chief of Staff of the IRA in 1922. He is one of the Irish activists who along with Michael Collins accepts the Anglo-Irish Treaty and fights as a general in the Irish Civil War on the pro-Treaty side.

Professionally, O’Duffy becomes the second Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, the police force of the new Irish Free State, after the Civic Guard Mutiny and the subsequent resignation of Michael Staines. He holds this post until 1933, when he is dismissed by Éamon de Valera. In his political life O’Duffy is an early member of Sinn Féin, founded by Arthur Griffith. He is elected as a Teachta Dála (TD) for his home county of Monaghan during the 1921 election.

After a split in 1923 he becomes associated with Cumann na nGaedheal and becomes head of a veterans group then known as the Army Comrades Association. O’Duffy changes its name to “National Guard” and begins to stage fascist-style rallies and adopts a fascist salute. Its members begin to wear blue uniform shirts and become known as the Blueshirts. When government opposition groups form Fine Gael in September 1933, he becomes its first president, reaching the apex of his political power.

Subsequently, the government bans O’Duffy’s National Guard, as well as the group he creates to replace it, the Young Ireland Association, which he in turn replaces with the League of Youth, but their blue shirts indicate its continued fascist ideology. Fine Gael’s other leaders soon tire of his inflammatory rhetoric and the frequent violent behavior of the Blueshirts, but are still surprised when their opposition causes him to resign his party leadership in September 1934. He is then ousted as leader of the Blueshirts as well, but does retain a small loyal following.

An anti-communist, O’Duffy is attracted to the various authoritarian nationalist movements on the Continent. In 1936, he raises the Irish Brigade to fight for Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War as an act of Catholic solidarity and is inspired by Benito Mussolini‘s Italy to found the National Corporate Party. He offers to Nazi Germany the prospect of raising an Irish Brigade to fight in Operation Barbarossa during World War II on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union, but this is not taken up.

Eoin O’Duffy takes no further part in Irish politics and dies in Dublin on November 30, 1944. In spite of his later politics, he is given a state funeral for his earlier contributions to the Irish government. He is buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.