seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Assassination of Tomás Mac Curtain

Tomas-mac-curtainTomás Mac Curtain, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, is assassinated in Cork, County Cork on March 20, 1920, which is also his 36th birthday.

Thomas Curtin is born at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey, County Cork, on March 20, 1884, the son of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan. He attends Burnfort National School. In 1897 the family moves to Cork City, where he attends the North Monastery school.

Mac Curtain, as he later becomes known, is active in a number of cultural and political movements beginning around the turn of the 20th century. He joins the Blackpool, Cork branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, becoming its secretary in 1902. He has interests in music, poetry, history, archaeology and Irish history. He works in his early career as a clerk, and in his free time teaches Irish. In 1911 he joins Fianna Éireann, and is a member of the Irish Volunteers.

He meets Elizabeth Walsh (Eibhlís Breathnach) at a Gaelic League meeting and they marry on June 28, 1908. They have six children, five of whom survive into adulthood. The family lives over 40 Thomas Davis Street, where Mac Curtain runs a small clothing and rainwear factory.

In April 1916, at the outset of the Easter Rising, Mac Curtain commands a force of up to 1,000 men of the Irish Volunteers who assemble at various locations around County Cork. From the volunteers headquarters at Sheares Street in the city, Mac Curtain and his officers await orders from the volunteer leadership in Dublin but conflicting instructions and confusion prevail and as a result the Cork volunteers never enter the fray. A tense stand-off develops when British forces surround the volunteer hall and continued for a week until a negotiated agreement leads to the surrender of the volunteers’ arms to the then Lord Mayor of Cork Thomas Butterfield on the understanding that they will be returned at a later date. This does not happen however and Mac Curtain is jailed in Wakefield Prison, in the Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and in Reading Gaol. After the general amnesty of participants in the Rising 18 months later, Mac Curtain returns to active duty as a Commandant of what is now the Irish Republican Army.

By 1918 Mac Curtain is a brigade commander, the highest and most important rank in the IRA. During the Conscription Crisis of 1918, he actively encourages the hiring of the women of Cumann na mBan to cater for Volunteers. He is personally involved with Michael CollinsThe Squad that, along with a Cork battalion, attempt to assassinate Lord John French, whose car is missed as the convoy passes through the ambush positions. Despite the setback he remains brigadier of No.1 Cork when he is elected Lord Mayor. He is elected in the January 1920 council elections as the Sinn Féin councillor for NW Ward No. 3 of Cork, and is chosen by his fellow councillors to be the Lord Mayor. He begins a process of political reform within the city.

In January 1919, the Irish War of Independence starts and Mac Curtain becomes an officer in the IRA. On March 20, 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain is shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of men with blackened faces, who are found to be members of the Auxilaries along with unknown members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by the official inquest into the event. In the wake of the killing, which is in revenge for the shooting of a policeman, Mac Curtain’s house in Blackpool is ransacked.

The killing causes widespread public outrage. The coroner’s inquest passes a verdict of willful murder against British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and against certain members of the RIC. Michael Collins later orders his squad of assassins to uncover and assassinate the police officers involved in the attack. RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the attack, is fatally shot, with Mac Curtain’s own revolver, while leaving a Protestant church in Lisburn, County Antrim on August 22, 1920, sparking what is described by Tim Pat Coogan as a “pogrom” against the Catholic residents of the town.

Tomás Mac Curtain is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.


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Death of Hunger Striker Frank Stagg

frank-staggFrank Stagg, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger striker from County Mayo, dies in February 12, 1976, in Wakefield Prison, West Yorkshire, England after 62 days on hunger strike.

Stagg is the seventh child in a family of thirteen children. He is born on October 4, 1942, in Hollymount, County Mayo. His brother, Emmet Stagg, is a Labour Party politician, formerly a Teachta Dála (TD) for Kildare North.

Stagg is educated to primary level at Newbrook Primary School and at CBS Ballinrobe to secondary level. After finishing his schooling, he works as an assistant gamekeeper with his uncle prior to emigrating to England in search of work.

Once in England he gains employment as a bus conductor in north London and later becomes a bus driver. Whilst in England he meets and marries fellow Mayo native, Bridie Armstrong from Carnacon. In 1972, he joins the Luton cumann of Sinn Féin and soon after becomes a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In April 1973, Stagg is arrested with six others alleged to comprise an IRA unit planning bombing attacks in Coventry. He is tried at Birmingham Crown Court. The jury finds three of the seven not guilty. The remaining four are all found guilty of criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. Stagg and English-born priest, Father Patrick Fell, are found to be the unit’s commanding officers. Stagg is given a ten-year sentence and Fell twelve years. Thomas Gerald Rush is given seven years and Anthony Roland Lynch, who is also found guilty of possessing articles with intent to destroy property, namely nitric acid, balloons, wax, and sodium chlorate, is given ten years.

Stagg is initially sent to the top security Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight. In March 1974, having been moved to Parkhurst Prison, he and fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan join a hunger strike begun by the sisters Marion Price and Dolours Price, Hugh Feeney, and Gerry Kelly.

Following the hunger strike that results in the death of Michael Gaughan, the Price sisters, Feeney, and Kelly are granted repatriation to Ireland. Stagg is denied repatriation and is transferred to Long Lartin Prison. During his time there he is subject to solitary confinement for refusing to do prison work and is also subjected, along with his wife and sisters during visits, to humiliating body searches. In protest against this he begins a second hunger strike that lasts for thirty-four days. This ends when the prison governor agrees to an end to the strip-searches on Stagg and his visitors. Stagg is bed-ridden for the rest of his incarceration in Long Lartin, due to a kidney complaint.

In 1975 Stagg is transferred to Wakefield Prison, where it is demanded that he again do prison work. He refuses and is placed in solitary confinement. On December 14, 1975, Stagg embarks on a hunger strike in Wakefield, along with a number of other republican prisoners, after being refused repatriation to Ireland during the IRA/British truce. Stagg’s demands are an end to solitary confinement, no prison work, and repatriation to prison in Ireland. The British government refuses to meet any of these demands. Stagg dies on February 12, 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike.

Frank Stagg’s burial causes considerable controversy in Ireland, with republicans and two of his brothers seeking to have Stagg buried in the republican plot in Ballina in accordance with his wishes, while his widow, his brother, Emmet Stagg, and the Irish government wish to have him buried in the family plot in the same cemetery and to avoid republican involvement in the funeral. As the republicans wait at Dublin Airport for the body, the Irish government orders the flight to be diverted to Shannon Airport.

His body is taken to Ballina and buried near the family plot. In order to prevent the body being disinterred and reburied by republicans, the grave is covered with concrete. In November 1976, a group of republicans tunnel under the concrete to recover the coffin under cover of darkness and rebury it in the republican plot.


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The Battle of Ashbourne

fingal-brigade-iraAs the end of the 1916 Easter Rising becomes increasingly apparent and the rebels in Dublin are being squeezed harder and harder by the British forces, the rebels outside the city achieve a small victory on Friday, April 28, 1916, in what comes to be known as the Battle of Ashbourne.

The Battle of Ashbourne is a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and about 37 Irish Volunteers, led by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy. It is one of the few engagements outside of Dublin city centre and is, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one.  It is also an example of the guerilla warfare that becomes a normal method of operation during the Irish War of Independence.

After the Volunteers battalion is mobilized on Easter Sunday, they are split into smaller groups, known as flying columns, and are sent north of Dublin city towards Ashbourne. Their mission is to destroy the railway line near Batterstown and disrupt the movement of British troops into the city. They set out by bicycles, mostly armed with shotguns. After raiding a number of barracks in the area, cutting communications, and collecting rifles, they reach the Cross of the Rath at Ashbourne.

There they are met with a barricade that has been hastily erected by the RIC members stationed in the barracks nearby. The RIC constables quickly surrender and are sent to the barracks to order a full surrender but they do not return. The Volunteers take up positions across the road while James O’Connor and Ashe try to break in the door. The constables begin firing from the upper windows of the building and a gun battle breaks out.

The fighting intensifies as RIC reinforcements arrive from Navan, Dunboyne, and Slane. Two Volunteers, John Crennigan and Thomas Rafferty, are fatally wounded. When District Inspector Gray is killed, the constables surrender and are taken prisoner. The Volunteers gather their arms and ammunition while Ashe warns the constables that they will be shot if they take up arms against the Irish people again.

In total, fourteen people are killed in the battle – two Volunteers, eight RIC members, two civilians driving the RIC cars, and two innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Many more are injured.

The Volunteers’ victory is short lived, however, as in the early afternoon of the next day Ashe receives word of the surrender in Dublin. He demobilises the battalion and sends the men home. Many, including O’Connor, are arrested within days and interned in Wakefield Prison and Frongoch Internment Camp.

Ashe eventually spends time in jail for his role in the uprising and is jailed again in 1917. He begins a hunger strike on September 20, demanding POW status. Ashe dies after just five days on hunger strike from injuries received while being force-fed. The manner of his death outrages the Irish population.

As a side note, Thomas Ashe is a cousin of actor Gregory Peck.