Members of the British ‘Cairo/Special Gang’, pictured, who were executed in Dublin by the IRA on the 21st November 1920, 98 years ago today.

Serving British soldiers, former British soldiers, RIC members and ex-members, carpenters, plumbers, electricans, landlords(and landladies), servants, busdrivers and taximen, businessmen and women, postmen and housewives – and the IRA ; all the above, and others, combined their knowledge and skills to great effect on the morning of Sunday, 21st November , 1920 : it was on that morning, 93 years ago today, that thirteen senior British intelligence officers were executed in Dublin. The IRA Intelligence Department at that time was an extremely efficient machine, run by Michael Collins, and the British were well aware of that fact – Sir Henry Wilson wanted it and Collins eliminated, and sanctioned the use, in Ireland, of ‘The Cairo/Special Gang’, a unit of British agents which specialised in political assassinations – they got their name, and their reputation, from ‘hits’ in the Middle East, carried out on the instruction of Wilson and others in Westminster.

‘The Cairo Gang’ lived quietly in boarding houses and hotels in Dublin, never drawing attention to themselves, and set about compiling a ‘hit-list’ of Irish republicans for assassination ; the IRA, however, were one step ahead of them – a Sergeant Mannix of the Dublin Metropolitan Police Force, stationed at Donnybrook, was an IRA agent, and obtained the names and addresses of all the ‘Gang’ members and passed the list on to his IRA contact, Frank Thornton (pictured). A situation then developed that ‘The Cairo Gang’ were monitoring the movements of the IRA members that they intended to assassinate while being monitored themselves by the IRA Intelligence Department!

The Dublin Brigade of the IRA and the IRA Intelligence Department decided to work together on a plan to deal with those British spies, and a meeting was held at which Michael Collins, Dick McKee, Liam Tobin, Peadar Clancy, Tom Cullen, Frank Thornton and Oscar Traynor were present : the operation was to take place on Sunday morning, 21st November 1920, as the then Leinster champions, Dublin and Tipperary, were to play in a GAA match, and large crowds would be in Dublin for the occasion, providing ‘cover’ for the IRA teams to escape in.

British Army Captain Leonard Price, a Major Dowling, a Captain Keenlyside and two British Army Colonels, Woodcock and Montgomery, were staying in premises at 28 Pembroke Street in Dublin when, at 9am on Sunday 21st November 1920 – 98 years ago today – eight armed IRA Volunteers entered the building ; Price and Dowling were in a room by themselves sorting paperwork when the IRA entered the room and shot them dead – one of the Dublin Volunteers, Andrew Cooney, gathered up the sheets of paper and left the building. At the same time, British Captain Keenlyside and the two Colonel’s found themselves confronted by some of the same IRA unit and a struggle ensued between Keenlyside’s wife (no doubt present as part of what her husband probably considered a ‘working holiday’ and part of his ‘cover’) and IRA Volunteer Mick O’Hanlon (pictured – Mick is the grandfather of actor and comedian Ardal O’Hanlon) ; another IRA man, Mick Flanagan, pushed Mrs. Keenlyside out of the way and shot her husband dead.

Incidentally, when Charlie Dalton (pictured,after he abandoned republicanism, in Free State Army uniform) was 16 years of age he was recruited by Michael Collins and joined the Squad that Collins was then assembling : this IRA Unit was permanently housed in Abbey St, Dublin, in a ‘front’ premises in which a ‘legitimate’ business operated from – ‘George Moreland, Cabinet Maker’, and squad members were paid £4 10s a week to carry out assassinations on a full-time basis. Shortly after his 17th birthday, as a member of that Squad, Charlie Dalton took part in the executions of British Army Major C M Dowling and British Army Captain Leonard Price : he spoke afterwards of how ‘he couldn’t sleep the night of Bloody Sunday, (how) he thought he could hear the gurgling of the officers blood..(I) could no longer control the overpowering urge to run, to leave far behind me those threatening streets..’ An understandable reaction, without a doubt, but we wonder if he felt the same remorse over his part in the ‘Quarrie Killings’ in Clondalkin, Dublin – in November 1922, an inquest was held into that incident at which the prosecution demanded that a verdict of murder be brought against Charlie Dalton but, apparently, the jury were ‘reminded’ by the State that they were living in ‘exceptional times’ and, following that and possibly other ‘reminders’, the jury declined to entertain the prosecution. In an effort to suggest that ‘justice will be done’, Dalton was then ‘arrested’ by his colleagues in the CID but was never charged with an offence related to the ‘Quarrie Killings’.

British Lieutenant McLean, John Caldow (McLean’s brother-in-law) and known informer T H Smith were staying at 119 Morehampton Road on that Sunday morning when six armed IRA Volunteers entered the building ; McLean, Caldow and Smith were caught off-guard and escorted to the top of the building, where IRA men Vincent Byrne (pictured) and Sean Doyle shot them. John Caldow survived that morning and, after receiving medical attention, fled to Scotland, where he had come to Ireland from in order to join the RIC.

British Captain Newbury and his wife were staying at 92 Lower Baggot Street and heard the front door being kicked in – he immediately blocked the door to his room and made a run for the window ; he was half-way out of the window when his door was forced open and Volunteers Bill Stapleton and Joe Leonard shot him dead. His body was left draped over the open window for hours, as the Black and Tans believed it to be booby-trapped.

At 38 Upper Mount Street in Dublin, a maid let a number of men in to the building and led them to two rooms ; British Captain George Bennett was in one of the rooms, and British Colonel Peter Aimes was in the other one. Both men were armed and resisted the Volunteers, resulting in a gun-battle which left the two ‘Cairo’ men dead. More documentation on IRA members, compiled by those British spies, was found at 28 Earlsfort Terrace, where British Captain Fitzgerald was staying ; he was shot dead on that Sunday morning and the paperwork removed for examination by the IRA Intelligence Department. Two British Lieutenants, McMahon and Peel, had been brought in by the British from Russia, where they had been involved in gathering intelligence information – they were to do the same job, in Dublin, this time as members of the ‘Cairo Gang’.

They were staying at 22 Lower Mount Street, Dublin, and one of them, McMahon, had a score to settle with the IRA : he had previously shot dead a Sinn Féin member, John Lynch, in the mistaken belief that Lynch was the Divisional Commandant of the 1st Southern Division of the IRA, Liam Lynch. The IRA later shot McMahon in a billiard hall, wounding him, and he wanted revenge. The two ‘Cairo’ men were in different rooms in number 22 Lower Mount Street when the IRA unit was let in ; they entered McMahon’s room just as he had picked up his revolver and shot him dead. On hearing the gunfire, Peel locked his door and then blocked it with a piece of furniture – unable to get in, the Volunteers fired more than a dozen bullets through the door, but Peel survived that day.

Na Fianna Éireann (Irish republican scout organisation) were also on Lower Mount Street that Sunday morning , as ‘lookouts’ ; one of their members ran into number 22 to tell the eleven-person IRA unit that the British Auxiliaries were on the street – five members of the IRA unit left calmly by the front door, the other six men went to the back of the house, out the back-door and walked away up a laneway. These six men were challenged by a number of Auxiliaries and a gun battle ensued – IRA man Frank Teeling (pictured) was wounded, and two of the British soldiers, Garnin and Morris, were killed. The wounded Volunteer, Teeling, was captured, but the rest of his unit made good their escape.

British Captain Geoffrey Thomas Baggallay, who was said to be one of those who tortured Kevin Barry, and who had further enhanced his ‘reputation’ by presenting ‘evidence’ in show-trials which led to the executions of Irish republicans, was staying in number 119 Baggot Street when, on that Sunday morning, 21st November 1920 – 98 years ago today – three IRA Volunteers (including Sean Lemass, a future Fianna Fáil Free State Taoiseach) entered his room and shot him dead. Incidentally, an IRA man who was not involved in the execution of Baggallay, Thomas Whelan, was put to death by Westminster on the 14th March 1921 for ‘the murder of Baggallay’ – the British trait of concocting ‘evidence’ the ‘Baggallay Way’ continued.

British Captains McCormack and Wilde were staying in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin’s O’Connell Street when a number of men, claiming to be undercover British soldiers with a message to deliver to the two Captains, were shown by the hotel staff to the rooms they were looking for : as each man opened his door he was shot dead. An IRA unit entered a guesthouse in Fitzwilliam Square to deal with a ‘Cairo Gang’ leader, British Major Callaghan ; he was booked in at the guesthouse but was not there at that particular moment. His colleague, however, a Captain Crawford, was present and was held at gunpoint by the Volunteers but it was decided that, as he was not the intended target, his life would be spared if he left the country within twenty-four hours – Crawford threw some things in a case and left immediately. Another missed target was a Colonel Jennings, who was staying in the ‘Eastwood Hotel’ ; when the IRA unit broke in the door of his room, it was empty and there was no sign of him in the hotel – the Volunteers left the premises. A total of 13 British Secret Service executioners known as ‘The Cairo Gang’ were themselves executed in Dublin on Sunday 21st November, 1920, by the IRA. The loss of those operatives, and the intelligence material they had accumulated, shook the British establishment to its roots, and highlighted on a global scale the extent of the British ‘dirty-tricks’ campaign in Ireland.

(FOOTNOTE – IRA Volunteer Frank Teeling (who was later to jump ship to the Free Staters, a ‘jump’ that perhaps seemed to trouble him..?) , who was wounded and captured in a laneway at the back of Lower Mount Street, was sentenced to death – however, he escaped with others from Kilmainham Jail. Days after the ‘Cairo Gang’ were wiped-out it emerged that Major Callaghan and Colonel Jennings, who were both absent from their rooms when the IRA visited, had in fact stayed overnight in a local brothel [we can only presume that they were both with women…] and,on that Sunday (21st November, 1920) a football match took place between Dublin and Tipperary : the ‘Black and Tans’ came on to the pitch and opened fire on the players and the crowd – fourteen people were killed and sixty injured. The British later said they were fired on first – (more here). British Captain Baggallay would have been proud of that ‘defence’.)

‘THE CALL’, by Seamus MacManus (the Donegal poet and shanachaí).

From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, October 1954.

In a recent letter to us, Seamus MacManus very kindly gave us his permission to use any of Eithne Carbery’s or, to to quote himself, “..my own poor stuff..”! We have great pleasure in republishing a poem of his which was published in the early 1900’s and is still as true (unfortunately) as the day it was first written –

Sons of Banba, WAKE!

‘Tis broad day!

High the sun rides o’er the hill,

Gold grain’s bursting, blades are rusting,

And ye steeped in slumber still.

Brave men wrought when ye were weeping

Wise ones sowed when ye were sleeping,

Now a harvest’s for the reaping,

Sickles many, labourers few,

Sons of Banba, Rouse ya! Rise ye!

There is work for men to do.

Sons of Banba, Wake ye! Wake ye!

Passing, fleeting, is the morn,

Let God’s harvest fall and wither,

And ye’ll wake to shame and scorn.

Hear ye! Hear! The cry for workers.

You men! True men! Loungers, shirkers,

Slaves and knaves and low-born lurkers,

Them let stupor woo,

Sons of Banba, Rouse ye! Rise ye!

There is work for men to do.

(END of ‘The Call’ ; next, from the same source – ‘Armagh Raid Good Propaganda In USA’.)


Joseph Mary Plunkett/Seosamh Máire Pluincéid (pictured) was born on the 21st November 1887 – 131 years ago today – into a wealthy family, then living at 26 Upper Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin. His father was George Noble Plunkett and his mother was Mary Josephine Cranny ; Joseph had five sisters and two brothers, but he was troubled by ill health – he suffered from tuberculosis (TB) which left him physically weak for every one of the 28 years he lived.

He was educated by the Jesuits at Belvedere College in Dublin and would later attend Stonyhurst College in Lancashire in England – he excelled at languages and joined the ‘Gaelic League’, at which he formed a lifelong friendship with Thomas MacDonagh ; the two young men joined the ‘Irish Volunteers’ where they learned military skills in the company of, among many others, Joseph’s brother George (Jnr) and his father, George (Snr) and his other brother, John ; Joseph helped to formulate the Easter Week manoeuvres and was trusted by the other IRB leaders to do so – he was frail, physically, but not mentally or militarily, and he secured a property, in Kimmage, Dublin, owned by his father, to be used by the ‘Irish Volunteers’ as a training camp/billet for those who refused to take up arms during ‘WW1’ (‘the war between three cousins’) deciding instead to fight for Ireland.

His health took a turn for the worse in early 1916 and he had to have an operation on his neck glands, which left him practically bedridden (he left his sickbed to sign the 1916 Proclamation) but he insisted on being present in the GPO during Easter Week and, although he was there with Padráig Pearse and Thomas Clarke, he couldn’t be as active as he had hoped to be, and was helped throughout the week by his ‘aide de camp’, Michael Collins, who worked with Joseph’s father as a financial adviser in his business dealings.

Joseph Mary Plunkett married Grace Clifford on the 4th May 1916 and, hours later, he was executed by a British firing squad in Kilmainham Jail, Dublin, and buried in Arbour Hill Cemetery.

“..with all my love I place this wedding ring upon your finger, there won’t be time to share our love, for we must say goodbye..” (from here.)


From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, February 1955.

In the ‘Sunday Press’ newspaper of January 13th the following letter appeared :


In your issue of last Sunday Mr. P. Pearse Danaher asks me to remain “silent” on the means to end partition. I fully know that going cap in hand to England or any imperial power will get us nowhere, yet I cannot agree with wasting young Irish lives. I admire bravery. I always shall, but I don’t believe in foolhardy enterprise. I have never asked anyone to do anything I would not do myself and *I would not attack the North under present circumstances, or in fact under any circumstances.*

I believe that the spirit of **McCracken, Hope, Russell** and other patriots will re-awaken in the North some day and when that day comes Ireland will be free and undivided.

Signed – Dan Breen’.

(* ‘1169’ comment – Dan Breen was a Fianna Fáil member of Leinster House from 1923 until he retired in 1965 and was content with that station in life, even though it was not the political outcome he fought for. Also **, McCracken, Hope and Russell physically attacked the British presence in this country and went to their graves without condemning or slighting anyone for doing the same.)

(END of ‘I Would Not Attack Under Any Circumstances’ ; next, from the same source – ‘Irish History For The British’.)


Thomas Paliser Russell (pictured) was born in Betsborough (‘Fern Hill’), just outside the village of Dromahane, in the parish of Kilshannig, south-west of Mallow, in the county of Cork, on this date (21st November) in 1767 – 251 years ago on this date. His family was Anglican and he was reared in a pro-British environment (his father was an officer in the British Army and had fought against the ‘Irish Brigade’ in the memorable battle of Fontenoy), so much so that he joined the British Army at the age of 16 and was dispatched to an ‘unruly’ India, where noises were being heard about the ‘Townshend Duties’ (imposed taxes) and other British injustices against the native population : he was stationed there for about five years and his eyes were opened to the curses of imperialism. On his return to Ireland, at the age of 21, he was appointed Captain of the British ’64th (2nd Staffordshire) Regiment of Foot’ but, by then, he was not only disillusioned with the ‘Empire’ but was prepared to act against it, even though it offered him the prospect of a good living – he was appointed to the position of ‘Seneschal to the Manor Court of Dungannon’, and was also made a justice of the peace for the County of Tyrone but resigned from both positions, stating that “..”he could not reconcile it to his conscience to sit as magistrate on a bench where the practice prevailed of inquiring what a man’s religion was before going into the crime with which a prisoner was accused…”

The ‘high life’ he was leaving behind had brought him into contact with other like-minded individuals such as Wolfe Tone, Samuel Neilson and Henry Joy McCracken, among others and, in October 1791, he assisted his colleagues in establishing the Belfast branch of the ‘United Irishmen’, whose revolutionary ideals he promoted in pamphlets and in ‘The Northern Star’ newspaper. His association with ‘dissidents’ and his writings brought him, again, to the attention of Westminster and, on the 16th September 1796 he was taken into custody and held in two different prisons (Newgate in Dublin and Fort George in Scotland) until early 1802 but, on his release, age 35, he returned to ‘active service’ (“Had I a thousand lives, I would venture them all for the sake of this people…”) – he worked with Robert Emmet in France and was asked to return to Ireland and concentrate his efforts in gaining support for an uprising in the Ulster area but, following the collapse of the 1803 rebellion (…about which, in a letter to
Mary Ann McCracken he stated – “I hope your spirits are not depressed by a temporary damp, in consequence of the recent failure..of ultimate success I am still certain..”)

he moved to Dublin where, on the 9th September 1803, he was arrested by the infamous Major Henry Charles Sirr, ‘the chief agent of the castle authorities’, and taken to County Down for a ‘trial’ – he was, of course, found ‘guilty of high treason’ on the 19th October (1803) and put to death on the 21st October 1803, at 36 years of age : he was hanged and then beheaded –

‘..the last request of Russell was refused, and he was executed twelve hours after the conclusion of the trial. At noon, on the 21st of October, 1803, he was borne pinioned to the place of execution. Eleven regiments of soldiers were concentrated in the town to overawe the people and defeat any attempt at rescue ; yet even with this force at their back, the authorities were far from feeling secure. The interval between the trial and execution was so short that no preparation could be made for the erection of a scaffold, except the placing of some barrels under the gateway of the main entrance to the prison, with planks placed upon them as a platform, and others sloping up from the ground, by which it was ascended. On the ground hard by, were placed a sack of sawdust, an axe, a block, and a knife. After ascending the scaffold, Russell gazed forward through the archway, towards the people, whose white faces could be seen glistening outside, and again expressed his forgiveness of his persecutors. His manner, we are told, was perfectly calm, and he died without a struggle..’ (from here.)

‘The Man From God Knows Where’ was born on this date – 21st November – 251 years ago today –

‘Into our townlan’, on a night of snow,

Rode a man from God-knows-where;

None of us bade him stay or go,

Nor deemed him friend, nor damned him foe,

But we stabled his big roan mare:

For in our townlan’ we’re a decent folk,

And if he didn’t speak, why, none of us spoke,

And we sat till the fire burned low


Ethical buying : is there any point? It would be a pity if the focus on the difficulties with boycotts led people to conclude that the answer to the wider question is ‘No’.

By Oisín Coghlan. From ‘Magill’ magazine, July 2002.

Faced with an array of ethical considerations and a proliferation of corporate initiatives – some meaningful, some empty PR – consumers must not forget that we arecitizens too. Just as we expect our government to regulate the safety of our electrical products and our food, we can call on our government, the European Union and the international community to regulate transnational companies to safeguard the ethical considerations that would otherwise not feature in their bottom line. (END of ‘Buycotts And Beans’ : next – ‘On The Take’, from ‘Magill’ magazine, February 1998.)

Thanks for reading, Sharon. And, if you feel like a shorter (!) read, here ya go…!

About 11sixtynine

A mother of three (and a Granny!) and a political activist , living in Dublin , Ireland.
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