Sign-painting, sadly, is an industry in decline in Dublin. They said that Brendan Behan was the son of one of the finest sign-painters in Dublin, though Stephen Behan was by no means alone in the industry. Brendan himself dabbled in the field, before discovering other talents. Kevin Freeney, born in 1919, painted “at least 700 pubs and shopfronts” in the capital, and was a frequent sight on the streets of Dublin once upon a time, carrying his paint and brushes everywhere. The Freeney story was brilliantly told in the short firm ‘Gentlemen of Letters’, which brought the story right up to the present day through artists like MASER.

The Freeney family have continued a family tradition for generations now, always maintaining a great pride in their history. An archive of Kevin Freeney’s work, available to view on Flickr, is testament to that. A new book, entitled The Art of Painting Buses, demonstrates that the family continue to make their mark on the city.

The first bus painted by the Freeney's. (From The Art of Painting Buses)

The first bus painted by the Freeney’s. From ‘The Art of Painting Buses.’

1988 was the year of Dublin’s Millennium. Well, it wasn’t actually the Millennium (the Vikings were here long before 988, we’re sorry to tell you), but 1988 is remembered in Dublin today for the festival and celebrations of all things Dublin and old. There are lasting monuments in the city today to 1988, for example the mosaic tiles on the side of St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, the Molly Malone statue and the milk bottles in your attic. There are also plenty of memories, and readers may remember seeing the above bus driving around the city. Painted by the Freeney’s, it marked their first foray into, the art of painting buses. It was not to prove the last.

From  'The Art of Painting Buses'.

From ‘The Art of Painting Buses’.

The sheer labour involved in the art was immense, and sometimes the work tedious. In an interview with the Irish Independent, Tom Freeney remembered that “Some buses were tougher than others. In 1993 we had to hand paint 38,652 garden peas onto a Hak Produce bus. It was very hard to motivate yourself knowing you were facing into another day of peas.” For me, some of the most interesting images in this collection are those advertising Dublin businesses no longer with us, while others remain familiar names.

Bad Bobs. From 'The Art of Painting Buses'.

Bad Bobs. From ‘The Art of Painting Buses’.

From 'The Art of Painting Buses'.

From ‘The Art of Painting Buses’.

Today, Freeney’s Graphics continue family traditions. With the day that is in it, it’s only right to draw attention to this recent wrap on a Hailo taxi! Few families in Dublin have remained as firmly rooted in a family tradition as the Freeney’s, and The Art of Painting Buses is a fine record of a job well done.

Image via 'Freeney's Graphics' Facebook.

Image via ‘Freeney’s Graphics’ Facebook.

For more information, see The Art of Painting Buses website.

After nearly 130 years of production, the anarchist newspaper Freedom moved its operations online last year. Sadly unable to sustain a regular printed publication in this era, the East London-based Freedom Press now publishes its news and opinions on the web accompanied by a quarterly freesheet and a monthly email digest. From 1886 to 2014, it was the stalwart organ of the English-speaking Anarchist movement and could boast of links with some of the world’s foremost Anarchist thinkers including Peter Kropokin, Marie-Louise Berneri and Colin Ward.

Front cover of Freedom Newspaper (March 1916) - Libcom.com

Front cover of Freedom Newspaper (March 1916) – Libcom.com

While reading a copy of Freedom (sub-titled the “Journal of Anarchist Communism”) from March 1916 on the Libcom website, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that along with major cities like London, Manchester, Glasgow and smaller ones such as Plymouth, Yeovil and Falkirk – names and addresses of Freedom newspaper sellers are listed for Dublin and Belfast.

Sellers of Freedom Newspaper (March 1916) - Libcom.com

Sellers of Freedom Newspaper (March 1916) – Libcom.com

They were:

“Belfast – W. Robinson, 167 York Street
Dublin – J.C. Kearney, 59 Upper Stephen Street”

Jospeh C. Kearney (c. 1887 to 1946) was a bookseller and stationer who lived above his shop at 59 Upper Stephen Street his whole life. There are a small number of fleeting references to him and his family online. I think it could be assumed that he had some sympathy to socialist or anarchist politics he was happy to both stock Freedom and let the newspaper publicly advertise the fact.

In 1901, Joseph C. Kearney (14) was living at home with his widow mother Lilly Kearney (38) nee Walsh and two younger brothers Thomas (11) and Alfred (10). Lily was a tobacconist and employed an assistant, Mary Callaghan (19) from Cork, in the shop downstairs. Obviously reasonably financially well off, the family also enjoyed the services of a servant Ellen Byrne (16) from Carlow.

On the first anniversary of her death, a notice was put into The Freeman’s Journal (4 December 1891) in memory of a Mrs Anne Walsh of 59 Upper Stephen Street . I suspect this was Lilly’s mother.

Map of Stephen Street, 1912. Credit - swilson.info

Map showing the looping Stephen Street, 1912. Credit – swilson.info

The Kearney family put an advertisement in the Freeman’s Journal (8 March 1902) looking for a “respectable, strong, young country girl” to work as a general servant. They inserted similar notices in 1904 and 1911. The family were decidedly middle-class.

By 1911, Lily (50) had re-married a Royal Dublin Fusiliers Army Pensioner by the name of Vincent Walter (60). Her three sons Joseph (24), Thomas (22) and Alfred (20) all still lived at home with her and listed their profession as “News agent shop men”. Lily’s brother Alfred Walsh (52), an “Engine Fitter”, and a cousin Louie Wilson (16), a “Drapers Shop Assistant” from Liverpool also lived in the house at that time.

In August 1918, Joseph C. Kearney was fined after his wife Louisa Kearney illegally sold matches to a customer. It was the first prosecution, according to the Irish Examiner (28 August 1918), under a new act which “provided that matches must be sold in boxes and not in bundles under any circumstances”.

On 23 February 1922, a notice was put into the Irish Independent by Lily Kearney-Walter who then living in California, San Francisco to mark the 5th anniversary of the death of her brother Alfred. Lily obviously moved back home as she died in Harold’s Cross Hospice on 6 June 1924. The notice in the Irish Independent (9 June 1924) mentioned her late husband V.B. Walter was late of the SMRASC which I think stood for Service Member (?) Royal Army Service Corps.

Kearney had another brush with the law but this time for more interesting reasons than selling matches. In April 1928, Joseph C. Kearney was found guilty and fined a total of £60 for selling two “obscene” publications entitled “Family Limitation” and “The Married Women’s Guide”. It could be concluded from this that Kearney was still politically inclined.

Joseph Kearney arrested. Irish Times, March 06, 1928.

Joseph Kearney arrested. Irish Times, March 06, 1928.

In court, the state prosecutor Carrigan was quoted in the Irish Times (20 April 1928) as saying:

The theories contained in the publications might find support in England or in large communities, but in a comparatively small community, like that in Ireland, he did not think that they would find favour, not that the Irish were superior people, but they, happily, were more old-fashioned than were people elsewhere. The public good in Ireland would not be served by the circulation of these books.

Joseph C. Kearney tragically lost his wife and two children in the 1920s and 1930s.

His wife Louisa Kearney died on 8th October 1923. Emily Lousia, his second daughter, passed away on 10 March 1939 aged 22 and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery. His youngest son Vincent Joseph Kearney died on 24th February 1936 aged 15 after a short illness.

Joseph C Kearney himself died on 29 January 1946 and was buried in Glasnevin with his family.

After his death, the newsagent at 59 Upper Stephen Street was taken over  by a P. Smyth. This house and that whole row at the corner of Upper Stephen Street and South Great George’s Street was demolished and replaced by a modern office block (Dunnes Stores head office) in 2007.

Dunnes Stores Head Office - sligotoday.ie

Dunnes Stores Head Office – sligotoday.ie

This footage aired on ABC Australia in 1996, a year which witnessed a significant re-emergence of anti-drugs activity in working class Dublin suburbs, leading The Irish Times to write in December of that year that “for all the talk of government action against ‘drug barons’, 1996 was the year when the people forced change.”

André Lyder was penned a definitive account of the anti-drugs movement in Dublin historically, entitled Pushers Out: The Inside Story of Dublin’s Anti-Drugs Movement. In it, he describes the atmosphere of 1996, writing that, “You could be at a march of three thousand people in Crumlin on Monday night, at a packed meeting in the Cabra Bingo Hall on Tuesday, in East Wall or Pearse Street on Wednesday, at a meeting of thousands in the Macushla Hall in the north inner-city on Thursday, out in Tallaght or Clondalkin on Friday.”

In September 1996, thousands marched through the streets of Dublin with the Coalition of Communities Against Drugs, with Tony Gregory informing the crowd that “if the Gardaí did not take effective action, communities would.” A ten year old boy from Ballyfermot carried a baby coffin shoulder high through the streets, “with the solemn face of a chief mourner”, while the Irish Independent reported that “Dublin’s addicts are getting younger by the day, it seems. The marchers didn’t look the slightest bit shocked when Cecil Johnston from Killinarden told the protesters of a 10 year old who had been on the treatment books for the past eight months.”

One feature of the anti-drugs movement, in both the 1980s (the time of ‘Concerned Parents Against Drugs’) and the 1990s was the tactic of marching communities onto the homes of known drug pushers. One such march is shown in the above footage. The marches were often controversial, denounced by politicians, Gardaí and in the press. Yet a survey commissioned by Cabra Communities Against Drugs in the late 1990s found that ninety-eight per cent of residents asked were in favour of anti-drugs patrols in the area, while ninety per cent supported marching onto the homes of known dealers. The campaign stated that:

Time and time again we hear people such as journalists and professional social workers describe activities such as marching on drug pushers and anti-drugs patrols in the area as ‘vigilantism’, and the people involved as ‘thugs’ etc. The support of over ninety percent of those surveyed for both these tactics show that the Cabra community recognises the necessity of this aspect of our campaign. As usual those who do not have to live in the areas affected by drugs are only to willing to denigrate those in the community who are striving to make the area a better place to live for all.

While it may feel like only yesterday, it is important to remember that this is now important Dublin social history, and such news reports at this one serve an important function for those researching street politics in Dublin or broader issues around addiction or vigilantism.

Still from

Still from news report, showing an interview with ‘Tallaght Against Drug Dealers’.

Still from news report, showing a banner in Tallaght proclaiming 'No Heroin Here'

Still from news report, showing a banner in Tallaght proclaiming ‘No Heroin Here’

Still from news report showing an anti-drugs march in Tallaght.

Still from news report showing an anti-drugs march in Tallaght.

Despite occurring so far from home, the Second Boer War (1899-1902) had an incredible effect on Irish society, with huge demonstrations in the city of Dublin and widespread coverage of the war in the Irish media. GAA clubs around the country were renamed in honour of Boer Generals and political leaders, while William Butler Yeats would comment that “the war has made the air electrical just now.”

The entrance to the Green prior to the unveiling of the Fusilers' Arch in 1907.

The entrance to the Green prior to the unveiling of the Fusiliers’ Arch in 1907.

While this war has been largely forgotten in Ireland today, the Fusiliers’ Arch memorial at the entrance to  St Stephen’s Green is a reminder of the Irish participation in this foreign conflict. Irishmen, Dubliners among them, would fight on both sides of the conflict. A small band of Irish nationalists, under the command of Irish-American military leader John Blake and Westport native John MacBride, fought alongside the Boers in opposition to what they saw as British colonial aggression in the Transvaal. On the other side of the conflict, about 28,000 Irishmen fought within the ranks of the British Army during the war. On occasion, these two very different bands of Irishmen found themselves in direct conflict in the Transvaal.The manner in which Irishmen were firing upon Irishmen was commented upon and joked about at the time, with a 1902 song noting:

On the mountain side the battle raged, there was no stop or stay;
Mackin captured Private Burke and Ensign Michael Shea,
Fitzgerald got Fitzpatrick, Brannigan found O’Rourke;
Finnigan took a man named Fay and a couple of lads from Cork.
Sudden the heard McManus shout ‘Hands up or I’ll run you through’
He thought he had a Yorkshire ‘Tyke’ – twas Corporal Donoghue
McGarry took O’Leary, O’Brien got McNamee
That’s how the English fought the Dutch at the Battle of Dundee!

(Image: Donal Fallon)

(Image: Donal Fallon)

Five years on from the war, the Fusiliers’ Arch was unveiled in the heart of Dublin, as a testament to the actions of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in South Africa. While the war ended in a British victory, it was a bloody and costly one. In financial terms, a war that would supposedly be over by Christmas 1899 by 1902 had cost the British taxpayer in excess of £200 million, while in excess of twenty thousand British soldiers died in South Africa. One of the leading historians of the war,Thomas Pakenham, would write that “in money and lives, no British war since 1815 had been so prodigal.”

The 1907 unveiling ceremony. (Thanks to Neil Moxham for bringing this image to our attention)

The 1907 unveiling ceremony. (Thanks to Neil Moxham for bringing this image to our attention)

At the time of the unveiling of the Arch in August 1907, The Freeman’s Journal newspaper poured scorn on the monument, condemning its “false dedication, to the dead Fusiliers, while the living are left to starve.” The paper commented that “From first to last Dublin believed, and believes, the war in which those men were engaged to be unjust and disgraceful. From such a war no glory is to be gained; such a war deserves no memorial.” While the Freeman’s Journal may have felt that “from first to last” Dubliners were unified in their objection to the war, the huge crowd that gathered at the monuments unveiling would suggest otherwise. The monument was inaugurated by the Duke of Connacht, and in the aftermath of this a luncheon was held in the nearby Shelbourne Hotel. There, the following (very enthusiastic!) speech was delivered by the Earl of Meath, one of those who subscribed to the memorial fund:

The toast list to-day is short, and contains but one toast, that of The King (applause). His Majesty King Edward occupies a position amongst rulers which is absolutely unique. He not only rules over twelve million square miles, one-sixth of the earth’s surface, and governs four hundred millions of subjects of all races, colours, creeds, and conditions of civilisation, from the most advanced to the most backward, but he is a Monarch whose personal qualities are of so distinguished an order that he has come to be regarded as a statesman of the first rank (applause). The world watches His Majesty’s movements with breathless interest. Under his masterful touch international difficulties which seem insuperable are solved, political sores are healed. His presence seems to breathe the spirit of peace and of goodwill, so that when he undertakes a journey it needs no strong imagination to picture to oneself the Angel of Peace hovering over his footsteps with healing in her wings (applause). King Edward is no stranger to Ireland; certainly not to Dublin. (renewed applause)

Major John MacBride, one of those who fought alongside the Boers in South Afric,a clutching a prized possession - the captured sight of a British cannon from Colenso. Colenso is one of the battles listed on the Dublin Fusiliers' Arch.

Major John MacBride, one of those who fought alongside the Boers in South Afric,a clutching a prized possession – the captured sight of a British cannon from Colenso. Colenso is one of the battles listed on the Dublin Fusiliers’ Arch.

Continue Reading »

Dublin's famine memorial, Custom House Quay.

Dublin’s famine memorial, Custom House Quay.

Just a brief notice.

I’ve always had a great love for the famine memorial at Custom House Quay, even managing to shut out the surrounding IFSC setting in my mind when I stop there. Like many people, I was horrified by the stories in recent weeks of people losing their lives in the Mediterranean, fleeing from war and starvation in search of better lives in Europe. According to the UN and the International Organisation for Migration, 1,776 people are dead or missing so far this year already, a staggering figure when compared to 56 for the same period last year.

Between 1845 and 1849, the population of this tiny little island decreased by about 25%, as a million people starved and a million fled in coffin ships. On some of these ships, the mortality rate rose above 30%, while one brig, the Hannah actually sunk in 1849 with the loss of dozens of lives. A brief history of the Hannah‘s tragic sailing can be found here.

The brig Hannah failed to skirt the pack ice on the harsh gulf. Its hull was crushed by an iceberg. Passengers, jolted from their sleep, were bruised and cut in the scramble off the ship. Others perished in the chilling waters, unable to gain the ice, or were lost in rescue attempts.

As historians, and with our blog, we have always believed that the past isn’t just a serious of quirky anecdotes, but that there are important stories and lessons in history too. Approaching friends who work with migrants in Ireland today, through the European Network Against Racism, we decided that on Friday at 1pm we would lay a wreath at the Famine memorial for those who have died in recent months, making the connection with the history of this city and country, while also highlighting the difficulties migrants face today. It will be a very short little event, with ourselves and the European Network Against Racism, while we hope to have a singer on hand to sing a fitting song before we disperse. You’re more than welcome to come along.

Event page: ‘Wreath laying at the Famine Memorial Custom House Quay, Dublin, to honour the countless souls lost in the Mediterranean.’

'We are starving' - Illustration from Library of Congress online.

‘We are starving’ – Illustration from Library of Congress online.

UPDATE: Thank you to the dozens of people who attended what was a very moving event. In particular, thank you to the speakers from various migrant rights groups and campaigns.




Dear, Dirty Dublin.

Apologies for the absence of posts on the blog of late, it is a hectic time! Things are slowly returning to normal.

This is something of an on-going series on the blog, with our full thanks to Luke Fallon. You can see the first post in the series here, and the second here. Luke was the illustrator responsible for our book cover in 2012, and his images of the city on film capture the city in all its glory. My thanks to Luke for continuing to contribute this more unusual dimension to the blog.

Easter, 2015.

Easter, 2015.

George Salmon, Provost of Trinity College Dublin remembered for his opposition to female admissions.

George Salmon, Provost of Trinity College Dublin remembered for his opposition to female admissions.

Michael Mallin House, named after executed Irish Citizen Army leader.

Michael Mallin House, named after executed Irish Citizen Army leader.

In the shade.

In the shade.



Continue Reading »

A scene from 'Insurrection', broadcast in 1966, showing Patrick Pearse (played by Eoin O Súilleabháin)

A scene from ‘Insurrection’, broadcast in 1966, showing Patrick Pearse (played by Eoin O Súilleabháin)

Next Monday sees RTE’s huge ‘Road to the Rising’ event on O’Connell Street, with vintage carousels, restored trams and historical walking tours among other attractions. The aim is to transform the street into Dublin 1915, when the city was on the eve of rebellion and many of its men were fighting in the trenches of Europe. There’s a very varied line up of talks too, but for me the highlight of the event will be the screenings of ‘Insurrection’, an eight part television series from 1966, which was commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Rising and which left a lasting impression on many who saw it. It will be shown in eight separate parts in Liberty Hall as part of the event. The blurb notes:

On the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, Telefís Éireann produced a range of programmes about the events of 1916. Among these was ‘Insurrection’, an ambitious and groundbreaking television drama that has been stored in the RTÉ Archives for the past 50 years.

This eight-part series, broadcast nightly in 1966, told the story of the Rising as it might have unfolded had television existed in 1916. As part of RTÉ Road to the Rising, a charity screening of the restored series of ‘Insurrection’ will be shown at Liberty Hall Theatre over a single day.

Information on the screenings can be obtained from the links above, and there is no need to book in advance. The images in this blog post are taken from the 1966 RTE guide, and my thanks to Martin Thompson of the Fire Service Trust for providing CHTM with the publication, which is much appreciated.

Thomas Clarke and James Connolly on the steps of Liberty Hall.

Thomas Clarke and James Connolly on the steps of Liberty Hall.

Hugh Leonard, who wrote the script for Insurrection, would recall that:

From the point of view of a dramatist, my favourite character turned out to be James Connolly – bow legged, fiery, an unquenchable optimist; cheering his men on with ‘Courage boys, we are winning!’ while the GPO roof blazed overhead; or lying wounded, a cigarette in one hand and a detective novel in the other, announcing with sybaritic satisfaction that this was ‘revolution de luxe.’

Patrick Pearse reading the 1916 Proclamation.

Patrick Pearse reading the 1916 Proclamation.

The production was certainly lavish, involving 200 extras and 300 members of the defence forces, and historian Diarmaid Ferriter has noted that ‘Insurrection was broadcast twice in 1966 and never since, not, it has been maintained, due to the Troubles or political correctness, but because of the cost of repeat fees, an explanation that appears far-fetched.’ Journalist Fintan O’Toole would contend that Insurrection had ‘huge’ influence on Sinn Féin’s revival in the north of Ireland, while Harvey O’Brien has written in his study on the evolution of Ireland in documentary and film that ‘though it saluted the bravery of the Irish, it was unnusually evenhanded in its portrayal of the British armed forces. It depicted, for example, a growing respect between a British medic trapped in the GPO and wounded rebel commander James Connolly.’

The wedding of Grace Gifford and Joseph Mary Plunkett in Kilmainham Gaol.

The wedding of Grace Gifford and Joseph Mary Plunkett in Kilmainham Gaol.

Along with the key figures of the insurrection who were well known to the general public, the series looked also as events like the bloody and brutal Battle of Mount Street Bridge, where a small band of Irish Volunteers inflicted huge casualties on the Sherwood Foresters, who were among the very first British regiments to arrive in the city to suppress the uprising.

Fighting at Clanwilliam House/ Mount Street Bridge.

Fighting at Clanwilliam House/ Mount Street Bridge.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,247 other followers

%d bloggers like this: