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TheLabPlaque

A plaque commemorating Phil Shanahan on The LAB Gallery, James Joyce Street.

Located in the heart of Dublin’s ‘Monto’ red light district, Phil Shanahan’s public house was perhaps an unlikely rendezvous point for republicans during the years of the Irish revolution. British soldiers, Irish radicals, prostitutes and others all seem to have frequented the premises, which was located at 134 Foley Street. Dan Breen, one of those who instigated the War of Independence with the Soloheadbeg ambush in Tipperary, recalled that:

The lady prostitutes used to pinch the guns and ammunition from the Auxiliaries or Tans at night, and then leave them for us at Phil Shanahan’s public house. I might add that there was no such thing as payment f or these transactions, and any information they had they gave us.

At Foley Street, Shanahan’s was right in the thick of the Monto, described beautifully by Michael Foley in his history of Bloody Sunday as “a playground for adventurers, crooks and acute observers of the human condition.” Immortalised by Joyce as ‘Nighttown’ in Ulysses,  the area had emerged as a centre of prostitution from the 1870s.

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1919 wanted poster for Dan Breen, who remembered the pub as  ‘the rendezvous of saints and sinners’.

Phil Shanahan  (1874–1931) was not a product of inner-city Dublin, hailing instead from Tipperary’s Hollyford.  As a young man he had hurled for his native county,  and could boast of being ‘out’ at Easter Week, fighting with the Irish Volunteers in Jacob’s factory. Timothy Healy, the nationalist politican and lawyer, recalled meeting Shanahan after the Rising, when he faced difficulty holding on to his public house licence:

I had with me to-day a solicitor with his client, a Dublin publican named Phil Shanahan, whose licence is being opposed, and whose house was closed by the military because he was in Jacob’s during Easter week. I was astonished at the type of man – about 40 years of age, jolly and respectable. He said he “rose out” to have a “crack at the English” and seemed not at all concerned at the question of success or failure. He was a Tipperary hurler in the old days. For such a man to join the Rebellion and sacrifice the splendid trade he enjoyed makes one think there are disinterested Nationalists to be found. I thought a publican was the last man in the world to join a Rising!

Unsurprisingly, the pub was popular too with British soldiers, an important part of the Monto economy. Luke Kennedy, a senior IRB man, recalled that soldiers returning from the front and soldiers based in Dublin were often willing to part with guns for cash; “We procured quite a large number of arms by purchasing them from British military. A lot of British soldiers used to frequent Phil Shanahan’s public house and it was there most of the contacts were made.” Similarly, Thomas Pugh of the Volunteers recalled:

Sometimes an Australian fellow would come in, throw a .45 revolver on the counter and put out his hand for a pound. That was a recognised thing. The women used to steal rifles and .45 revolvers and anything they could get their hands on.

Shanahan’s functioned as something of a drop off point for acquired weaponry. Unsurprisingly, given Shanahan’s Tipperary connections, plenty of what was left there seems to have made its way into the hands of the very busy Tipperary IRA. Seamus Reader, O/C of the IRA in Scotland, recalled that having succeeded in having explosive material shipped to Dublin, “It was taken to Phil Shanahan’s and, I understand, the No. 3 Tipperary Brigade got the bulk of it.” Thomas Leahy, a Dublin docker in the ranks of the Irish Citizen Army, remembered that “many a rifle and ammunition was brought to Phil Shanahan’s shop in Foley Street.”

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Plaque to Phil Shanahan on the LAB Gallery, July 2017.

Shanahan was a republican first and foremost, but also a reluctant politician. In 1918,  Shanahan was chosen to contest the election as a Sinn Féin candidate against Alfie Byrne, perhaps the most celebrated local politician in the history of the capital.  It was a rare electoral defeat for Alfie. Thomas Leahy recalled:

Alfie Byrne was the sitting member and Phil Shanahan the proposed. We had all our work cut out in that Ward, for it was the biggest industrial area in Dublin, composed mostly of the ex-British soldier element, whose wives looked on Alfie Byrne as a tin god; so, knowing what was in front of us, we got a very strong group of men and women to organise an election committee and Phil himself worked hard, not for himself, but for the Republic. As he often reminded his followers, he was a soldier and not a politician.

Shanahan would later oppose the Anglo-Irish Treaty, failing to secure election to the Third Dáil in 1922. He left the capital in 1928, living out his final years in his home town of Hollyford, County Tipperary.

Today, the location of Shanahan’s is occupied by The LAB Gallery.  This important site of the revolutionary period could have been forgotten entirely, but at Easter 2014 a plaque was unveiled by Terry Fagan and the North Inner City Folklore Project, with  Shanhan’s native Tipperary well represented in the gathered crowd. It is one part of Monto that certainly deserves to be remembered.

On 21 January 1919, the day that Sinn Féin’s elected parliamentarians met in Dublin and proclaimed themselves to be Dáil Éireann, the first shots of the War of Independence rang out in Soloheadbeg, Tipperary. Unsanctioned by the Dublin assembly, the ambush was entirely the initiative of local Volunteers, with Dan Breen recalling that they felt “the only way of starting a war was to kill someone, and we wanted to start a war, so we intended to kill some of the police whom we looked upon as the foremost and most important branch of the enemy forces.”

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War of Independence era postcard, showing a Volunteer clutching a rifle.

While Breen and his comrades wished to instigate a war, there was a crucial problem. Across the island, Volunteers struggled to arm themselves efficiently to wage any kind of war. One of the most daring early raids for arms during the War of Independence period happened in March 1919 at Collinstown Aerodrome in Dublin, now the location of Dublin Airport. As Charles Townshend has noted, “the haul of seventy-five rifles (with seventy-two bayonets) and 4,000 rounds of ammunition was simply enormous in relation to the stocks held by Volunteer units, and would never be exceeded in the whole course of the struggle.” The raid involved poisoning guard dogs, arranging getaway cars and more besides.

Patrick Holahan, a Volunteer who worked at Collinstown Aerodrome, remembered that “I was not long there before I discovered that there were several other Volunteers on the job, working away peaceably enough to all appearances, but awaiting an opportunity to further the cause which we all had at heart.” Holahan maintained that:

Collinstown Aerodrome was, at that time, a regular little arsenal, and, needless to say, it was well guarded by the British military. The choice collection of arms it contained excited our envy, and the Volunteers were badly in need of military equipment; so we decided to notify GHQ and await instructions.

Brigadier Dick McKee, later to lose his life on Bloody Sunday, 1920, sanctioned the raid. On the day of the raid, Holahan recalled that he and other Volunteers who worked in the Aerodrome went about the business of poisoning the guard dogs, two large Airedale dogs, as while “they never attacked a man in khaki, they would not allow any civilian to pass after nightfall.” The dogs died some hours later, before the raiding Volunteers arrived. Patrick McCrea, a 1916 veteran who had fought in the General Post Office, recalled that:

On the night of the raid we mobilised in Parnell Square — about 25 strong. The men were to travel there in five cars and three cars were to take them back on completion of the job. Two cars were deputed to take the rifles end ammunition. One did not turn up, hence we were one car short.

Once within the complex, it was a matter of taking the men on duty there by surprise.  The raiding republicans wore khaki, along with masks to conceal their identities. McCrea remembered:

There were two British soldiers on sentry duty and our men got close to them and held them up. They could not give any alarm. After that they rushed the guardroom where, I think, 12 or 14 were taken by surprise before they could reach for their guns. These were tied up and, as far as I know, they gave no trouble, with one exception, and he got tied by the heels to the rafters. One of them was very unconcerned and asked for a blanket to be thrown over him. I think we were two hours altogether in Collinstown.

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I am beyond delighted to play a few records at this night on Thursday in MVP, joined by friends from such distinct enterprises as Foggy Notions, Sunday Books and more besides.

Once a month we hope to whip the records out, have fun and raise money for good causes, starting with those challenging Direct Provision. Yes, the title of the night is from a Smiths song, but was it ever going to be any other way?

Expect Italian disco,hip hop, a bit of 80s classics, and whatever we fancy really. We promise nothing but fun.


MVP is located at 29 Upper Clanbrassil St., Dublin 8.

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The bombardment of the Four Courts, 1922 (Image Credit: Dublin City Public Libraries, Birth of the Republic Collection)

Over the following weeks, I’ll be giving a series of lectures in libraries in Dublin North West exploring the Irish revolution in three parts. Firstly, we will be looking at 1917 and the reorganisation of the revolutionary forces. The second lecture will focus on the War of Independence, while the final lecture will explore the road to the Civil War. This is an initiative of Dublin City Council, who  are putting historians into different districts of the city to engage with the public and to build on the momentum of the 1916 centenary.

For me, the series kick off tonight in Ballymun (apologies for short notice, I’ve been away!) and tomorrow in Cabra. People are more than welcome to attend, and if you live in other parts of the city here is the complete programme.

Ballymun Library on Tuesday 27 June and 4 and 11 July at 6.30pm

Cabra Library on Wednesday 28 June, 5 July and 12 July at 6.30pm

 

 

A building you could easily pass by without noticing properly, the New Ireland Assurance building on Dawson Street is quite an impressive piece of work when you step back to take a look at it, and loaded with Gaelic symbolism. The work of the O’Brien, Morris and McCullough firm, the building dates from 1964. The provincial coats of arms, Gaelic design and its exclusively Irish language unveiling marker all make this very much a building of its time, which was both strikingly modern and tied to something very old indeed.

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10-12 Dawson Street.

The New Ireland Assurance Company, born in January 1918, was bound to the nationalist movement of the day strongly.  At the unveiling of their new headquarters in 1964, the company chairman Dennis McCullough (himself a veteran of the revolutionary period), noted that its first meeting was attended by men that included Michael J. Staines, Éamon de Valera, Liam Tobin and Frank Thornton, all 1916 men. To him, “all its major decisions in the years since its foundation have been influenced by the spirit of 1916, which inspired its founders.”

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10-12 Dawson Street.

The building has been described by Christine Casey as “modernism tempered by a classical sensibility”, and defended by Archiseek as one of the better such office buildings of the 1960s. They note that:

With its strong modern lines, gold coloured window frames, and celtic-inspired decoration, New Ireland Assurance was attempting to demonstrate a new Ireland, looking forward, the results of Taoiseach Seán Lemass’s push for modernity in the country.

Only a year before he officially opened this building, Taoiseach Seán Lemass had appeared on the front of Time, in a feature that captured Lemass’s belief in a very Gaelic kind of capitalism, far removed from earlier economic protectionism. The magazine proclaimed there was now “a new spirit in the Ould Sod”, and championed Lemass for his move towards encouraging foreign direct investment and opening up Ireland’s economy.  Readers were told that Lemass was something new indeed:

The nation’s new mood is that of Sean Lemass, who four years ago succeeded Eamon de Valera as Taoiseach. Though Lemass has been De Valera’s protégé and heir apparent for three decades, the two men could not be more dissimilar. “Dev,” the aloof, magnetic revolutionary with a martyr’s face and mystic’s mind, was the sort of leader whom the Irish have adored in every age. Sean Lemass, a reticent, pragmatic planner called “The Quiet Man,” is by temperament and ancestry more Gallic than Gaelic, and represents a wholly new species of leadership for Ireland.

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10-12 Dawson Street.

This building captures a particular moment in time, when the state was still clinging to the idea of a Gaelic Ireland in many ways, but when the economy of the state was shifting and evolving. With much construction work and change around it, it is easy to pass by this reminder of Lemass era Ireland.

Enough time has passed to ponder on the 1916 centenary, though some would say we had enough of it all to last a lifetime.

Luke Fallon, photographer and regular contributor to CHTM, took literally hundreds of pictures over the course of the year, capturing life in Dublin during the centenary. Some are humorous (Connolly doesn’t look quite at home in the windows of BT), some captured excellent civic and community commemorations (I loved the proclamation on Wood Quay and some of the other DCC banners across Dublin) and others captured moments of protest and controversy. Here is a small selection of a much,much larger collection which will be available to view soon.

All images are copyright to Luke Fallon.

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Brown Thomas, Grafton Street.

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Postbox, Grafton Street.

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Screen above Club Lapello, Dame Street.

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Civic Offices, Wood Quay.

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Hibernian Magazine, May 1782.

Reading Joe O’Shea’s excellent study Murder, Mutiny & Mayhem – The Blackest Hearted Villains From Irish History recently introduced me to Captain Luke Ryan, a character who is largely unheard of today, but whose story is entangled with that of Benjamin Franklin and the time of the struggle of the American Colonies for independence from Britain. A real, living, breathing pirate, Captain Ryan from Rusk was a Dubliner who risked life and limb harassing British ships and capturing their crews, first for commercial gain and then in the paid service of the Americans.

Born in Rush on 14 February 1750, Luke Ryan came to prominence for his involvement with the Black Prince, essentially an American privateer during the war with Britain which caused mayhem along the coasts of England and Ireland, and whose crew were denounced in the Irish press as little more than “renegade pirates”. Ryan’s life at sea had begun earlier, when the Black Prince sailed under the name Friendship, which smuggled “French brandy, Dutch tea, arms and other assorted materials between Dunkirk and Dublin.”  The Friendship was once described in the Freeman’s Journal as sitting proudly along Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, “ready to sail, being completely armed and manned, carrying 14 carriage guns and 60 as brave hands as any in Europe”.

The Friendship became the Black Prince in the summer of 1779, sailing from Dunkirk and with an American Commission, as the Americans (spearheaded by Benjamin Franklin in Paris) sought means to harass the British at sea. As O’Shea has written:

The Black Prince went to work, sailing from Dunkirk in June 1779 and quickly snapping up eight British prizes which were sailed back to the French port of Morlaix. In July, Ryan and his ship captured a further thirteen British coastal trading vessels, which were stripped of their cargoes and then ransomed back to the English owners. A Waterford brig (a quick and highly-maneuverable ship with two square-rigged masts) called the Sally-Anne was one of eighteen vessels brought into the ports of Morlaix and Dunkirk after a particularly productive cruise to the waters off the South West coast of England.

Ryan and his men didn’t merely attack British ships – on occasion, they even attacked coastal towns and islands, which was widely reported in Ireland where he became a hate figure to panicked Loyalists. The Freemans Journal told their readers in 1780 that “Luke Ryan, Commander, landed at Stornaway, in the island of Lewis, and after plundering the town, carried off the principal inhabitants as hostages”. The man from Rush was captured in time, attempting to convince the courts he was French, before a series of witnesses that included numerous relatives gave the game away.

The story of Ryan’s life, which would take a few more dramatic turns, is well told by Joe O’Shea in three parts on his blog, as well as by Eugene Coyle in History Ireland.

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