ON THIS DATE (26TH FEBRUARY) 166 YEARS AGO : ‘GUILTY’ OF HIGH TREASON BUT PARDONED AND TRANSPORTED.
On this date – 26th February – in 1854, William Smith O’Brien (pictured), leader of the 1848 ‘Young Irelander Rebellion’, is released. He had been convicted of ‘sedition’ (inciting landlords and tenants to rebel) and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. After 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people from England petitioned for clemency, his sentence was reduced to deportation to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). After five years in Van Diemen’s Land, he was released, but exiled from Ireland. He went to live in Brussels until 1856 when he was given an unconditional pardon and allowed to return to Ireland. He never returned to politics, and died at 61 years of age, in Wales.
On the 17th October 1803, ‘Sir’ Edward O’Brien (the ‘4th Baronet’ of Dromoland Castle, County Clare) and his wife, Charlotte (nee Smith) – well established political conservatives and supporters of the Orange order – celebrated the birth of their second son, whom they named William (in later years, after inheriting land from his mother, William added the surname ‘Smith’ to his name). He was educated at Harrow, in London, and Trinity College in Cambridge (he was later to describe his education thus : “I learnt much that was evil and little that was good..”) and, at 25 years of age (in 1828) he was elected to Westminster for the Conservative Party (for the Ennis constituency), a position he held for four years and, at 29 years young, he married Lucy Caroline Gabbett, and they had seven children together.
At 32 years of age he won a seat to represent Limerick. He was a strong supporter of Catholic emancipation and, at 40 years of age, he joined Daniel O’Connell’s anti-union ‘Loyal National Repeal Association’, which he left three years later. Within a few years, he had joined the ‘Young Irelanders’ organisation and helped to establish within it a group called ‘The Irish Confederation’ which organised as best it could for an armed uprising in Ireland against British rule, but the timing was wrong : Ireland was suffering the holocaust, and its remaining people were too exhausted for anything other than trying to stay alive.
One of the leaders of ‘The Young Irelanders’, John Mitchel, was ‘arrested’ for writing “..wild and menacing words..” then, in April 1848, the ‘Treason Felony Act’ was introduced, followed by the suspension of ‘Habeas Corpus’ on July 25th, 1848 ; William Smith O’Brien recognised that the British were ‘battening down the hatches’ and, with John Mitchel in a British prison, he was in command. He called for an immediate Rising against the British and an attempt at a rebellion did take place on the 29th July 1848 in Tipperary but it failed, leading to the arrest of the leaders of the ‘Confereration’, Thomas Francis Meagher, Terence McManus, Patrick O’Donohoe and William Smith O’Brien (who was arrested on the 6th August 1848 and tried at a special sitting of the district court at Clonmel, Co. Tipperary : he was sentenced to death on 10th October 1848), all of whom were deemed by the British to be guilty of High Treason and were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered.
Following the court case, meetings were held in Ireland and England with the aim of raising a petition against the severity of the sentences and pointing out that the jury involved had recommended clemency but were ignored by the judge – over 80,000 people willingly listed their names, addresses, occupations etc (as mentioned above, in what is considered to be the first mass political petition movement) resulting in the sentences being commuted to transportation for life. The four ‘dissidents’ left Ireland on the 29th July 1849 for exile in Van Diemen’s Land. On the 26th February 1854 – 166 years ago on this date – O’Brien won a conditional pardon which banned him from entering Ireland and he and his family moved to Brussels where, amongst other duties, he wrote a political book : he won his final pardon two years later, in May 1856, and returned to Ireland to a hero’s welcome. Asked how he now felt about his actions, he replied – “I had firmly resolved not to say or write or do anything which could be interpreted as a confession on my part that I consider myself a ‘criminal’ in regard to the transactions of 1848..” .
His wife died in Ireland on the 13th June 1861, and he himself passed away three years later, in his 61st year, in Bangor, Wales, and is buried in Rathronan Churchyard in Limerick. The inscription on the family headstone reads – ‘Here lies Edward William, eldest son of William Smith O’Brien, a just man, a lover of his people. Born 24 January 1837 Died 21 January 1909.’
William Smith O’Brien, Born 17th October 1803, Died June 1864.
Lucy Caroline O’Brien, Born 23rd September 1811 Died 13 June 1861′.
Like his son, Edward, William Smith O’Brien was ‘a just man, a lover of his people..’ and, least we forget, a ‘dissident’ of his day.
‘IRA CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY – A CONSPIRATOR SPEAKS AND IS BOOHED…’
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, December 1954.
The third criminal conspiracy was that by which the notorious 1925 agreement was arrived at in London between the Free State junta, the British Government and the Stormont junta. This agreement set-up partition in its present form and Mr. Ernest Blythe was again a party to it as a member of the Free State junta.
The fourth criminal conspiracy was that by which Mr. Blythe and his co-conspirators prevented the partition agreement from being debated and voted upon by the representatives of the Irish people, in the 26 Counties, and thereby made the agreement law, in so far as they were able, although 71 votes only were cast in its favour out of a house then composed of 153 members ; sufficient, young Irelanders, to prove that this gentleman knows the full significance of the words he used at the UCD Literary and Historical Society debate – that “Irishmen of the political class are unworthy of the heroism of our patriot dead.”
But the numerous conspiracies of Messrs. Blythe and Co. failed hopelessly in their main purpose which was to end for all time the organisation – the IRA – on which they had turned turtle and the very name of which they had grown to hate. It is interesting and paradoxical to note that each of these conspiracy movements over a span of more than thirty years contained a person who may be termed ‘First Lieutenant’ and who hailed from our occupied Six Counties –
1) Cosgrave, Blythe and Co.
2) De Valera, Aiken and Co.
3) McBride, Kelly and Co.
You, Six County republicans, who have been thrown to the wolves, please note carefully…! (MORE LATER.)
ON THIS DATE (26TH FEBRUARY) 58 YEARS AGO : THE IRA ‘BORDER CAMPAIGN’ (‘RESISTANCE CAMPAIGN/OPERATION HARVEST’) ENDS.
On this date (26th February) in 1962, due to “lack of support”, the Irish Republican Army ended what it called ‘The Campaign of Resistance to British Occupation’, which was also known as the ‘Border Campaign’.
At the time of this IRA campaign, Eamon de Valera’s Fianna Fail State administration were of the opinion that it actually began in 1954, with the raid on Gough Barracks, in Armagh, on Saturday 12th June that year (1954), in which some 300 weapons were liberated from the British Army. Fianna Fail considered that proof enough that the IRA “..had renewed its activities, was rearming, recruiting young men and engaging in drilling and other manoeuvres..” and indeed they were.
On 11th December 1956, communication was sent to the IRA Volunteers involved – over 150 men – that the operation would begin at midnight on 12th December and, at the appointed time, three IRA flying columns crossed the Free State border to attack British Army depots and administration centres, air fields, radar installations, BA barracks, courthouses, bridges, roads and custom posts : the ‘Resistance Campaign/Operation Harvest’, had begun proper, being co-ordinated from County Monaghan.
In a letter from the leadership of the then Sinn Féin organisation, which was signed by Maire Ni Gabhan and Miceal Treinfir and which was sent from the Sinn Féin Office, 3 Lr. Abbey Street, Dublin, the Secretary of each Cumann was instructed to read out a statement after every Mass in their area, on Sunday 16th December (1956), announcing the start of ‘the Border Campaign’, to achieve “..an independent, united, democratic Irish Republic. For this we shall fight until the invader is driven from our soil and victory is ours..”, an announcement which, later, prompted the then Free State ‘Taoiseach’, Fianna Fail’s Seán Lemass, to describe the IRA as being “similar to fascists” re its decision to mount such a campaign!
Although it did not achieve its objectives, the Border Campaign kept ‘the National Question’ in the political forefront, enabling the Republican Movement to make new connections and ensuring that valuable operational lessons were learned and documented for the next generation. On the 26th February 1962 – 58 years ago on this date – the IRA, through the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, in a communication signed by J. McGarrity, sent out the following message –
“The leadership of the resistance movement has ordered the termination of the Campaign of Resistance to British Occupation launched on December, 1956. Instructions issued to Volunteers of the Active Service Units and of local Units in the occupied area have now been carried out. All arms and materials have been dumped and all full-time active volunteers have been withdrawn. Foremost among the factors motivating this course of action has been the attitude of the general public whose minds have been deliberately distracted from the supreme issue facing the Irish people – the unity and freedom of Ireland. The Irish resistance movement renews its pledge of eternal hostility to the British Forces of Occupation in Ireland. It calls on the Irish people for increased support and looks forward with confidence – in co-operation with the other branches of the Republican Movement – to a period of consolidation, expansion and preparation for the final and victorious phase of the struggle for the full freedom of Ireland.”
Although that Campaign was called off as, indeed, were others like it over the centuries of resistance, opposition to British military and political interference in Irish affairs remains in place and has been bolstered by those ‘failed campaigns’. Even when we ‘lose’ , we win!
ILLEGAL ARMS : IN BAD COMPANY.
A man suspected of being one of the world’s biggest dealers in illegal weapons was a director of two companies based in Ireland.
By Annamarie Comiskey.
From ‘Magill’ magazine, July 2002.
The coffee may be better in Italian jails, but for Leonid Minin this is little comfort during his two-year prison sentence in Milan for possessing cocaine.
Minin, born in the Ukraine in 1947, was jailed in 2001 for possession of drugs in a Milan hotel he partly owns. When the police searched his hotel room, not only did they fine cocaine but also four prostitutes, $500,000 worth of diamonds, $35,000 in cash and a stash of papers detailing his business interests. It turned out that Minin was one of the world’s allegedly most wanted illegal arms dealers, and is also believed to be involved in money laundering.
He is wanted in at least three countries, has several aliases and has avoided prosecution until now. The police went to his hotel room in Milan only after a tip-off from one of the prostitutes he had been using. Through enquiries made by ‘Magill Magazine’, it has come to light that Leonid Minin was also a director of two companies based in Dublin… (MORE LATER.)
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, November 1954.
Omagh, October 1954 :
‘Which is the greatest victory of their wondrous deed,
is it that they have proved so mightily brave,
that they who oft have scorned are quick to lead,
the exultation and the song of praise?
Is it that after thirty years and more
shots from our soldiers answered British guns,
too proud these men to beg and to implore
for what by right is theirs – theirs and their sons.
Great, noble Irish hearts, willing to give their all,
no service proves too great, no task too small,
but this, the wondrous thing all else above –
each fights in Ireland’s cause, all out of love.
(END of ‘Greater Love’ ; NEXT – ‘Thoughts After Omagh’, from the same source.)
ON THIS DATE (26TH FEBRUARY) 97 YEARS AGO…
On the 26th February, 1923, a meeting of Anti-Treaty IRA officers assembled at Ballinageary, Co Tipperary. Officers from the First Southern Division reported that “..in a short time we would not have a man left owing to the great number of arrests and casualties..”. Tom Crofts (who later joined the Fianna Fail party) reported that the Cork Brigades had suffered 29 killed and an unknown number captured in recent actions ; “..if five men are arrested in each area, we are finished..”. Nevertheless, Liam Lynch, to his credit, issued a statement rejecting the possibility of a truce with the Free Staters ; he was shot dead by that enemy on the 10th of April that same year following which, in that same month, the IRA called a ceasefire and ‘dumped arms’ the following month. Incidentally, also on the 26th February in 1923, a Free State soldier was executed by his comrades for having defected and handing over weapons to the IRA –
‘Thomas Gibson, a former National soldier, was executed in Portlaoise, County Laois on 26 February (1923) having already been court
martialled in Roscrea, County Tipperary on 18th January 1923. He was charged with : treacherously assisting the enemy, in as much as on 19th. November, 1922, being then on active service, he left PORT LAOIGHSE BARRACKS, and took with him five rifles, and one grenade cup. He was absent until 10th January, 1923, when he was arrested with two prominent Irregulars, all three being at the time in possession of arms. Volunteer Gibson was found guilty of the charge and was sentenced by the Court to suffer death by being shot. The sentence was duly confirmed and was carried out at Portlasighise on 26th February, 1923.
Gibson had deserted from Portlaoise barracks, the National Army, on 19th November 1922, and had taken with him five rifles and a grenade. He was captured, on 10th January 1923, while asleep in a safe house. According to Father Thomas Barbage, the local chaplain, this execution should not have occurred as Gibson was ‘unbalanced in mind, and that his mother had been a patient in Maryboro [Portlaoise] Lunatic Asylum’. Whether this assertion is true or not, Gibson had committed treachery and, as a result, was shown no mercy…’ (from here.)
The real ‘treachery’, which Thomas Gibson later absolved himself of, was in having anything to do with supporting the Free Staters.
ON THIS DATE (26TH FEBRUARY) IN 943 AD : THE DEATH OF KING MUIRCHERTACH OF AILEACH.
The Vikings of Dublin got a lucky break when they ambushed ‘Muirchertach of the Leather Cloaks/Muirchertach na Cochall Craicinn’ and slew him on this day. Muirchertach was heir apparent to the Kingship of Tara – Ireland’s most prestigious Royal title.
Muirchertach, son of Niall, i.e. Muirchertach of the Leather Cloaks, King of Aileach and the Hector of the western world, was killed by the ‘heathens’, i.e. by Blacair, son of Gothfrith, king of the foreigner, at Glas Liatháin beside Cluain Chaín, in Fir Rois, on the first feria, fourth of the Kalends of March (26th February). Ard Macha was plundered by the same foreigners on the following day, the third of the Kalends of March.
Muirchertach was the son of Niall Glundubh who had himself been killed fighting the Vikings at Dublin in 919 AD. He had fought and won many battles and in one report is mentioned as leading a naval expedition against the Norsemen of the Hebrides. However he suffered an embarrassing episode in 939 AD when in a surprise raid his enemies’ ships raided his fortress of Aileach (outside Derry) and carried him off. He was forced to ransom his own release to regain his freedom. Muirchertach, under the ancient rule of the kingship of Tara alternating between the northern and southern O’Neills, was due to replace King Donnachadh on the latter’s demise. Sometimes though ambition got the better of him and he clashed with his senior colleague and at other times co-operated with him. Muirchertach married Donnchad’s daughter Flann, but relations between the two were not good. Conflict between them is recorded in AD 927, 929, and 938.
His most remarkable feat came in 941 AD when he carried out a ‘Circuit of Ireland’ with a picked force of 1,000 men and secured pledges from all the principal kingdoms and carried away with him hostages as security. The Dalcassians (Brian Boru’s people) alone refused to submit. But Muirchertach eventually handed over all his hostages to Donnachadh as a mark of respect. But his luck ran out in 943 AD when he was taken by surprise by the Vikings of Dublin somewhere near Ardee in County Louth. It looks like Muirchertach was attempting to fend off a raid by them that was heading north towards Armagh when he was taken off guard.
Muirchertach son of Niall, heir designate of Ireland, was killed in Áth Firdia by the ‘foreigners’ of Áth Cliath (Dublin) on February 26th, 943 AD.
Thanks for reading, Sharon.