ON THIS DATE (5TH JULY) 77 YEARS AGO : THOMAS ÓG MacCURTAIN'S LAST DAY ON EARTH...
In Cork, in 1920, Irish republican Tomás MacCurtain was elected as 'Lord Mayor' of the city, just one of the many changes that resulted from the 15th January local council elections that were held in Ireland that year, in which Sinn Féin won control of 11 out of 12 cities and boroughs - the only municipal council in all Ireland left under Unionist control was in Belfast ; out of 206 councils elected on the island , 172 now had a
The British had 'outlawed' Dáil Éireann (the 32-county body, not the pretend 'Irish parliament' in Kildare Street, in Dublin, which Free Staters claim, falsely, to be the same institution) directed all local council's in Ireland to break their connection with the (British) Dublin Castle system of local administration and, within months, most of the local councils in the country were reporting to the republican administration. Incidentally, that All-Ireland (32 County) Dáil continued to function underground until 1938, when it delegated its executive powers to the Army Council of the IRA, in accordance with a resolution of the First Dáil in 1921. With the 1969 split, Tom Maguire, the last and faithful survivor of the All-Ireland Dáil, stated that the Provisional IRA was the successor of the 1938 body - similarly, following the 1986 split, he nominated the Continuity IRA as the legitimate IRA. Tom Maguire died in 1993, aged one-hundred-and-one (101).
Anyway - back to Tomás Óg who, in the year that his father was elected as 'Lord Mayor' of Cork, was only five years of age. He developed an interest in all things Irish, encouraged as much by his mother, Eibhlís Breathnach, as well as his father and, as an adult, became every bit as active in Irish republicanism as was his father, and quickly became a trusted and leading republican, sitting on the Executive of the IRA. This, plus his family history, marked him out to the Free State 'authorities' as 'a person of interest'.
On Wednesday, 3rd January 1940, in St. Patrick Street in Cork, Tomás Óg was jumped-on by a number of Free State Special Branch men, who had decided to 'arrest' him - he fought with them and, in the scuffle, a gunshot was fired. A Free State detective, from Union Square Barracks, by the name of Roche, who in particular had been harassing Tomás Óg for weeks, fell to the ground - he was fatally wounded and died the next day. On the 13th June 1940, the Free State 'Special Criminal Court' sentenced Tomás Óg MacCurtain to death, to be carried out on the 5th July 1940 - 77 years ago on this date. An application for 'Habeas Corpus' was lodged and the execution was postponed for a week, but the Free State Supreme Court then dismissed the appeal. The whole country was divided over the issue - some demanded that he be put to death immediately as a 'sign' from the Fianna Fail administration that they were serious about 'cracking-down' on their former comrades in the IRA, while others demanded that he be released. Finally, on the 10th July 1940, the Free Staters issued a statement - "The President, acting on the advice of the government, has commuted the sentence of death on Tomás (Óg) MacCurtain to penal servitude for life."
It has since been alleged that a sister of Cathal Brugha's widow, who was then the Reverend Mother of an Armagh Convent, had requested that her 'boss' , Cardinal MacRory, should 'speak to' Eamon de Valera about the case. This, if indeed it did happen, and the fact that Tomás Óg's father had actually shouldered a gun alongside many members of the then Fianna Fail administration (before they went Free State, obviously), saved his life.
Tomás MacCurtain (Senior) died in 1920, only 36 years of age, and his son, Tomás Óg, died in 1994, at 79 years of age.
PROSE AND CONS.
Grateful thanks to the following for their help, support, assistance and encouragement, and all those who helped with the typing and word processing over the past few months. Many thanks to Cian Sharkhin, the editor of the book, Mr Bill Donoghue, Governor, Portlaoise, Mr Seán Wynne, supervising teacher, the education unit in Portlaoise Prison and the education staff, especially Zack, Helena and Jane. Education officers Bill Carroll and Dave McDonald, Rita Kelly, writer, print unit, Arbour Hill.
First Print : November 1999, reprinted March 2000, illustrations by D O'Hare, Zack and Natasha. Photograph selection : Eamonn Kelly and Harry Melia.
THE GENERAL. (By Brendan Walsh.)
For this world you were too good,
the media clamoured for your blood.
They couldn't see that from childhood
you were a real life Robin Hood.
The evil Minister once did say,
Martin Cahill can't win the day.
So assassins called into play,
it was the extrajudicial way.
In the Dáil (sic) she did stay,
the wicked day to while away.
Waiting for the news to say,
The General has died today.
('1169' comment - I don't know the author, Brendan Walsh, nor do I know, or understand, how any 'republican' could consider people like Martin Cahill to be a "Robin Hood"-type figure. And I don't understand how the author's comrades in Portlaoise Prison allowed that piece to be published in a book linked to them and to what they believed, at that time (ie 1999) to be 'republicanism'. However, some (small) comfort to be had in the fact that not all in their own organisation supported the "Robin Hood"- type propaganda.)
(Next - 'For All the Hard Work' - a final acknowledgment.)
Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for 'Northern Ireland', last July in 'The London Evening Standard' newspaper. More august* persons such as CJ Haughey and Garret Fitzgerald have also said the same from their varying points of view. By Cliodna Cussen, from 'Iris' magazine, Easter 1991. ('1169' comment : *'August' as in ' dignified and impressive'? Haughey and Fitzgerald? How so? From what point of view? Certainly not from a republican perspective, anyway...)
"This injurious feeling of inferiority" is also that with which the Northern Protestant deals with England - "His going to the capital (London) to find the central focus of his values, solves nothing. It only proves that his problem is not chiefly one of provincialism, but must be rooted in some species of colonialism or post-colonialism" - JW Foster, 'The Irish Review', Autumn 1988.
According to Joe Lee, Professor of History, UCC, the qualities in the Irish acceptuated by colonialism were "ambiguity, evasiveness, furtiveness and mendacity." All species of fawning behaviour just adds to the thwarted sense of irritation that bedevils our relationships with England. Why, thinks the average English politician, should a problem so fundamentally unimportant take up so much of our time?
As Garret FitzGerald said ('Irish Times' newspaper, 7/6/1989) "We have always in Ireland failed to understand the extent to which the British governmental system has weaknesses and inefficiencies. We tend, because of a traditional inferiority complex, to think they're being clever when they're being stupid. The failure of the Irish to understand how stupidly the British can act is one of the major sources of misunderstanding between our countries."
Commentators in the better-class English newspapers use a half-humourous, patronising tone when writing about Ireland, that manages to make the reader feel that these are an inferior but interesting people. The same tone was always used until recently in articles about Russians ; it signifies that those written about are in some way outside the Pale. This tone of almost affectionate disparagement is beautifully illustrated in an article in the 'Independent' newspaper, 18th March 1989, by Glebern Davis when he writes that "..panic was ever a traditional and economic element in Irish conflict.."
ON THIS DATE (5TH JULY) 155 YEARS AGO : DEATH OF THE NATION'S SHAMROCK.
'mortaler' in those days!) to Mary Williams and a Tipperary Count, Nicholas D'Alton ; the child, Richard Dalton Williams (pictured, left), was reared at Grenanstown, Nenagh, County Tipperary and, at the age of ten, began his education at St. Stanislaus School, Tullabeg, in County Laois, and then at St. Patricks College, County Carlow, where he stayed until he was 21 years of age. By the time he left that college he was fluent in three languages, and was studying medicine in St Vincent's Hospital in Stephens Green, in Dublin, preparing himself for a career as a doctor. He combined both 'crafts' to produce a poem, which he called 'The Dying Girl' -
'From a Munster vale they brought her,
from the pure and balmy air ;
An Ormond peasant's daughter,
with blue eyes and golden hair.
They brought her to the city
and she faded slowly there -
consumption has no pity
for blue eyes and golden hair.' (From here.)
His first published poem was entitled 'The Munster War Song' and it appeared in 'The Nation' newspaper on the 7th January, 1843, under the pseudonym 'Shamrock' (at the time of its publication, he was actually in the process of moving from Carlow, to Dublin, to study medicine in St Vincents Hospital). 'The Nation' newspaper received a great response to Williams' poem, and 'Shamrock' became a regular contributor, with works such as 'Sisters of Charity' and 'The Haunted Man', which raised the profile and readership of the newspaper and of 'Shamrock' himself. As well as the poems, 'The Nation' newspaper published a series of humorous articles from Richard Dalton Williams, entitled 'Misadventures of a Medical Student', and described the author, 'Shamrock' (in its July 1851 issue), in the following terms - "His intellect is robust and vigorous, his passion impetuous and noble, his perception of beauty most delicate and enthusiastic ; his sympathies take in the whole range of human affections, and his humour is irresistible. We think, indeed, that 'Shamrock' excels all his contemporaries in imagination and humour."
By now he was a member of the 'Young Ireland' Movement, and put his medical training to good use during 'The Great Hunger' of 1845-1849, by helping to ease the suffering of hundreds of cholera victims ; he was a hardened opponent of British misrule in Ireland and had joined the 'Irish Confederation' group, which was founded in January 1847 by William Smith O'Brien and other 'Young Irelanders' who had disagreed with Daniel O'Connell's 'Repeal Association'. He was quickly elected to leadership level in the 'Confederation' and was the driving force behind a short-lived newspaper called 'The Irish Tribune', which he published with the assistance of 'Young Ireland' leader, Kevin Izod O'Doherty ; the first issue was published in June 1848, but only five issues of the weekly 'paper made it on to the streets before it was suppressed by the British in early July of that year. But
the British used 'The Irish Tribune' newspaper as a reason to arrest both men, and they were charged under the 'Treason-Felony Act' with "intent to depose the queen and levying war."
A famous barrister of the time, Samuel Ferguson, defended both men in a trial which lasted five months and caused great embarrassment to the British.
Eventually, in November 1848, Williams and O'Doherty were acquitted ; Williams went back to studying medicine, and qualified as a doctor, in Edinburgh, in July 1849. In June 1851, he emigrated to America and, whilst in New Orleans , met and married an Irish woman, Elizabeth Connolly ; the couple moved to a town called Thibodeaux in Louisiana, where he wrote his last poem - 'Song of the Irish-American Regiments' -
'We have changed the battle-field,
but the cause abandoned never -
here a sharper sword to wield,
and wage the endless war for ever.
Yes! the war we wage with thee -
that of light with power infernal -
as it hath been still shall be,
unforgiving and eternal.' (From here.)
On the 5th July, 1862 - 155 years ago on this date - just shy of his fortieth birthday, Richard Dalton Williams, 'Shamrock of the Nation', died in America of consumption in Thibodeaux, Louisiana. A patriot, a poet and a publisher, Dr Richard Dalton Williams is one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of almost unknown and/or practically forgotten Irish men and women that played their part in the on-going struggle to remove the British presence from Ireland. They deserve to be remembered somewhere : 'Now thou art a sink of evil — a serpent's nest — a tiger's den — an Iron-crowned and armed devil, having power to torture men.'
GROWING UP IN LONG KESH...
By Jim McCann (Jean's son). For Alex Crowe, RIP - "No Probablum". Glandore Publishing, 1999.
Biographical Note : Jim McCann is a community worker from the Upper Springfield area in West Belfast. Although born in the Short Strand, he was reared in the Loney area of the Falls Road. He comes from a large family (average weight about 22 stone!). He works with Tús Nua (a support group for republican ex-prisoners in the Upper Springfield), part of the Upper Springfield Development Trust. He is also a committee member of the 'Frank Cahill Resource Centre', one of the founders of 'Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh', the local Irish language primary school and Naiscoil Bharr A'Chluanaí, one of the local Irish language nursery schools.
His first publication last year by Glandore was 'And the Gates Flew Open : the Burning of Long Kesh'. He hopes to retire on the profits of his books. Fat chance!
"Hello, which service do you require?" "Gimme the peelers, the RUC in Belfast." "One moment, please, until I connect you." The RUC man who was just about to lift the phone - and at the time didn't know it - was about to have a brilliant day. "Constable Flannigan here. Can I help you?" "You can go and fuck yourself" , answered the caller, who it transpired at his trial, was calling from Liverpool. "Look it was you that rang me," said the RUC man who, at the same time, was getting another RUC man to trace the call. "Well, you don't know me," said the caller, "but you'll be happy to know that I'll be giving you bastards a break for a while." "A break from what?", asked the RUC man.
For the next five minutes the caller, who was the worse for drink, listed all the robberies he had carried out during his illustrious career as a republican activist. The RUC man in Belfast egged him on with platitudes, and pretended to be impressed with his chat-line pal while giving the cops in Liverpool enough time to walk next door from the biggest police station in that city to the pub where the boaster was boasting... (MORE LATER).
ON THIS DAY NEXT WEEK..
Thanks for reading, Sharon.