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The second printed volume of CHTM! articles has just arrived on the shelves in all good bookshops. The book follows on from our first volume, which was described by The Sunday Times as “one of the most amusing and valid social/cultural/political history books of recent times.” We’ll take that.

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Sitting pretty on a bookshelf (with thanks to Donal Higgins)

Volume 2 is another diverse selection of articles, including pieces examining things like the social phenomenon of Heffo’s Army in 1970s Dublin, the history of Bartley Dunne’s and Rice’s public houses, the Hirschfeld Centre, Watkins’ brewery, the chaotic Donnybrook Fair and faction fighting in eighteenth-century Dublin.

Some wonderful characters from the history of the city emerge throughout its chapters, including the housing architect Herbert Simms, wandering French artist Antonin Artaud, the Latvian revolutionary Konrad Peterson, and the visiting English Suffragettes who found themselves on hunger strike in Mountjoy in 1912.

The book is published by New Island Books. In Dublin, it is stocked by Hodges Figgis, The Gutter Bookshop, Chapters, Hodges Figgis, Books Upstairs and many other stores (indeed, if you run a bookshop and are stocking it please get in touch, we’d be delighted to include mention of your business here.)

It is as diverse as the blog itself, and will be launched on 5 October by historian Lorcan Collins at Cleary’s pub on Amiens Street.

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The back of the book.

 

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Thomas Ashe

The centenary of the funeral of Thomas Ashe occurs next week, a defining moment of a year in which the revolutionary forces continued to reorganise themselves after the Easter Rising.

In some ways, 30 September 1917 was a replay of 1 August 1915, the day when P.H Pearse told the gathered mourners at the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa that “life springs from death, and from the graves of patriot men and women spring live nations.” Now, Pearse himself was dead and gone, and the Volunteer movement had lost both men and rifles to Easter Week. The logistics of the Ashe funeral were to prove a challenge to a revolutionary movement reemerging from the shadows.

The Thomas Ashe funeral, much like that of O’Donovan Rossa, was political theatre and a propaganda spectacle, and as Fianna Éireann boyscout Seán Prendergast remembered it, “the funeral of Ashe epitomised not the burial of a man of a dead  generation but one who represented a living generation of men who had fought and suffered and were fighting and suffering in Ireland’s cause.”

That Thomas Ashe made it into 1917 was surprising in itself. Major John MacBride, a veteran of the Second Boer War, had wisely advised the young Volunteers in Jacob’s factory before their surrender that “if it ever happens again, take my advice, and don’t get inside four walls.The failed tactic of seizing buildings in the heart of the capital and proclaiming a Republic before the world stood in stark contrast with the tactics adopted by the men who fought under Ashe at Easter Week. In scenes more akin to the subsequent War of Independence, Volunteers under Ashe’s command attacked the RIC Barracks at Ashbourne in County Meath. In a vicious five hour battle, eleven RIC men and two Volunteers lost their lives.  The men under Ashe caused chaos for the RIC in North County Dublin too, raiding the RIC at Swords and Donabate.

Sentenced to execution following the insurrection, his sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. Much like Éamon de Valera, Ashe perhaps owed his escape to sheer timing. He was court-martialed on the 8 May, by which stage it was clear the tide was turning against further executions. Even John Redmond, the constitutional nationalist leader who condemned the Rising as a German plot, understood the executions to be an “insane policy”, correctly warning that “if more executions take place in Ireland, the position will become impossible for any constitutional party or leader.” Ashe, like many revolutionaries, did his time in the internment camps that followed. Ashe took a leading role in the reorganising of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the secret society central to bringing about the rebellion through its clandestine networks in Ireland and the United States.

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A memorial card for Thomas Ashe.

Ashe may have cheated death in 1916, but he died on 25 September 1917, having gone on hungerstrike after his arrest under the Defence of the Realm Act for a seditious speech he had delivered at Balinalee in Longford. He had earlier courted the attention of the authorities with a speech delivered at Ardfert in Kerry, in which he outlined a bizarre hope that “Ireland might be preserved from the tyranny of the Jews and moneylenders of London who are at present running the World War.” The decision to force feed Ashe proved fatal, and the later inquest into his death would condemn prison authorities for the “inhumane and dangerous operation performed on the prisoner, and other acts of unfeeling and barbaric conduct.”

Richard Walsh, a senior Volunteer in Mayo, remembered that the response to the death of Ashe demonstrated something to the leadership of the nationalist movement:

Ashe’s funeral proved that there existed an unsuspected enthusiasm for the organisation of the Volunteers all over the country, which the men at the head of affairs had not suspected. The country at that time was travelling faster than the leaders anticipated.

NFE

Republican boyscouts from Na Fianna Éireann provide the guard of honour at City Hall. (Image Credit: History of Na Fianna Éireann)

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ASKIII

ASK is a monthly(ish) night in MVP, which aims to bring together people with eclectic music tastes and raise money for good causes in the process. It draws together people from this parish, Sunday Books, Foggy Notions and more besides. So far, we have raised money for MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) and the Gay Switchboard.

The night returns next Thursday after a brief hiatus, with a night to raise funds for One Family, a national organisation supporting lone parents. We are delighted to be joined by Dorje de Burgh, whose late mother Sherie was central to One Family. With the Irish Family Planning Association and One Family, Sherie truly made a difference to the lives of many people, and has been recalled as a “visionary who worked tirelessly to support women, couples and parents through the difficult landscape of unplanned pregnancies, relationship separation, parenting and family conflict.”

The nights are good fun, bringing together a mix of music I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else in the city, not to mention plenty of visuals pulled from the archives of yore, Fintan Warfield’s remarkable collection of tambourines, whatever flowers we can haggle from the sellers and more besides. You probably won’t hear the Bothy Band and Chicago House played one after the other anywhere else, and that’s ok.

Event page is here.

MVP is located at 29 Upper Clanbrassil, Dublin 8.

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Poster for Mansion House meeting referenced in below article, February 1918.

The following article appeared in the 23 February 1918 edition of Irish Opinion: The Voice of Labour.  Written in the immediate aftermath of a phenomenal meeting at Dublin’s Mansion House, when thousands thronged the venue and surrounding streets to herald the Russian revolution, Thomas Johnson of the Labour Party offers some vision of what may happen “if the Bolsheviks came to Ireland.”

Johnson, born in Liverpool to Irish parents in May 1872, served as leader of the Labour Party for ten years, beginning in 1917. He was elected in 1922 to the Dáil as TD for Dublin County in an election which saw a surprising Labour vote, with 17 of the 18 candidates put forward by the party elected, and 21.3% of the overall vote secured.

In may was, Johnson is remembered as a reformist political figure and not a revolutionary; he himself asked in 1925 “shall the aim be honestly to remove poverty…or are we to agitate and organise with the object of waging the ‘Class War’ more relentlessly, and use ‘the unemployed’ and ‘the poverty of the workers’ as propagandist cries to justify our actions…I do not think this view of the mission of the labour movement has any promise of ultimate usefulness in Ireland.”

Here though, we see a Johnson who is looking on at the events in Russia with great hope and optimism in their immediate aftermath. Notice the references to the “Irish Republican army”, to the “Dublin housing problem” which could be resolved through socialist change, and to the need for political education and the study of Russian tactics.

My thanks to Dr. Brian Hanley for providing me with a copy of the article, which I have transcribed.

IF THE BOLSHEVIKS CAME TO IRELAND.

The great gathering of Dublin citizens at the Mansion House to acclaim the social revolution in Russia was a sign to all parties in Ireland that the people in demanding independence are not going to be satisfied with a mere political change, no matter how drastic. What they need, and are quickly coming to recognise, is a change of social and economic relations. It is not only to British authority that this is a warning: it is a call to the conservative forces of all political parties to rally to the defence of the existing social order. All those people whose prosperity is dependent upon the institutions of rent, interest or profit or who can be persuaded that the national well being can only be built upon a basis of capitalism – “the most foreign thing in Ireland” – will be told that their own and their country’s future is endangered if any countenance is given to the doctrine that Labour is king.

Labour also must take warning. We acclaim the Russian revolution, and our hearts respond to the call of the Russian people to join with the workers throughout war stricken Europe in dethroning Imperialism and Capitalism in our respective countries. But, as we asked at the meeting in the Mansion House, are we prepared to take action if opportunity offers? Is Labour organised sufficiently? Are our trade unions and our trades councils, our co-operative societies and our Labour parties properly supported and in close enough relations to become the centres of economic life in a new society? Are our working class leaders or spokesmen devoting time and effort in reading and study to fit themselves for the duties that may be forced upon them?

The framework of the new Russia consisted of 50,000 co-operative groups in town and country, organised within the past six or seven years. The archive men and women who made the revolution had devoted years to the work  of propaganda, to study mental discipline and self-sacrificing service of the people. While Ireland has produced but one Connolly, Russia has produced hundreds; men and women of great intellectual power, devoting their lives entirely to the work of organisation, education and agitation, and receiving in return no reward but persecution, imprisonment, poverty and the love of the people.

The Soviets – the councils of workmen, of peasants and of soldiers – who are now in power in Russia have their Irish equivalents in the trades councils, the agricultural societies, and – dare we say it?- the local groups of the Irish Republican army.  An Irish counterpart of the Russian revolution would mean that these three sections co-operating would take control of the industrial, agricultural and social activities of the nation. Power would no longer be in the hands of the wealthy nor authority be wielded by the nominees of an Imperial Majesty. Industry would be diverted towards supplying the wants of the Irish people and agriculture towards providing food for those engaged in industry. Food and houses, clothing and education, these would be provided for all the people by the labour and service of all the people before luxuries or superfluities were allowed to any. The private profit of the private proprietor would not then determine what class of goods should be produced, whether cattle should be raised or corn grown, the needs of the people would decide.

Probably, as in Russia, the first act found to be necessary would be following the example of the capitalistic governments at the outbreak of war, to declare a moratorium  (“I thank thee, Jew, for teaching me that word!”) suspending temporarily the repayment of debts and making illegal all interest!By this act alone, the income of the workers would be increased about 25 percent.

The land of the country would be made free of access to those who were willing to cultivate it to the best communal advantage. The Dublin housing problem would be immediately tackled,and might be made less pressing by a distribution of the congested population from the tenements over the partially occupied mansions of the suburbs!

These are a few of the things that would happen if the Bolsheviks came to Ireland. it is right that our friends who join with us in acclaiming the Bolshevik revolution should understand its implications. It means that as society is based upon labour, Labour shall rule. And that means a complete overturning from the present state wherein, though society is based upon labour, capital and property rule.

 

 

 

 

 

In the early 1920s, a criminal street-gang from Dublin’s North Inner city named the ‘Sons of Dawn’ terrorised citizens and business-owners . Amidst the backdrop of a violent guerilla War of Independence, it would seem that easy-access to firearms and a general breakdown in law and order helped the group to operate in an already strained and tense city. After a successful intelligence operation, the gang were finally caught in the midst of a robbery and arrested by the IRA.

The first mention of the ‘Sons of Dawn’ in the newspaper archives comes from January 1920. On the night of the 16th, three masked men robbed Roger Pollock on Ailesbury Road in Ballsbridge.  A half an hour later, the same group robbed another passerby John Connolly. At least one of the gang was armed with a revolver. As the Evening Herald (17 Jan) reported, the robbers told Connolly – before they took his money and pocket-watch  – that he had met the ‘Sons of Dawn’.

The Evening Herald, 23 January 1920

On the night of 22 January, a “well-known” but unnamed resident of Garville Avenue, Rathgar was held up by a gang of three men as he posted a letter close to his home. They helped themselves to his watch and a measly three shillings. The Irish Independent (24 Jan 1920) said that one of the gang told the victim : “If you are going to make anything about this. Say it was the Sons of Dawn. Good Night.”

Under the heading of ‘Murty’s Letter’ in The Irish Times (31 January 1920), a journalist described the ‘Sons of Dawn’ as a:

… a new order of Irish reformers and men of action, with a way of its own. Their plan of campaign is to wait around the corner on dark nights and when you go to post a letter in the letterbox , (they) demand your watch and your money at the muzzle of a gun. Or they may vary that programme by raiding a post office or burgularin’ (sic) a house and carrying off the safe and its contents…

The Nationalist and Leinster Times (7 Feb 1920) reported that the ‘Sons of Dawn’ had been active in Athy, County Kildare and had broken into a pub on William Street. It seems unlikely however that the Dublin ‘Sons of Dawn’ would travel up to 80km to undertake such a burglary. If anything though, it would seem to illustrate that a gang of robbers with a menacing name can prompt journalists farther afield to pin similar crimes on them.

The gang was active in Dublin throughout the year and they obviously made an impact on the hearts and minds of Dublin residents. After gunfire was heard in Dublin one night, The Freeman’s Journal (16 June 1920) wrote theatrically that:

The anxious and sleepless citizen, the late reveller in the mansion, the guardians of the city’s peace, paused a moment to wonder what daring marauder, what anarchist, what Son of Dawn, had ventured forth to shoot, loot, or be shot at.

This period saw the establishment of the Irish Republican Police (IRP) under the authority of Dáil Éireann. Liam O’Carroll, a Dublin IRA captain, described in his Witness Statement (no. 594) how the organisation undertook a:

a considerable amount of police work … in conjunction with the Dáil Courts … with a view of undermining the [Dublin Metropolitan Police] … The duties involved were varied and concerned a large number of personal cases, robberies, house-breaking and the like.

The brazen activity of the ‘Sons of Dawn’ brought them to the attention of the IRA in Dublin. Volunteers Sean Brunswick (BMH WS No. 898) and Nicholas Laffan (BMH No. 703) also make reference to this particular gang in their witness statements.

O’Carroll stated that the group were also known as the ‘Moore Street Gang’ and:

… usually met in a billiard saloon connected at the time with Woolworth’s of Henry Street, and Woolworth’s themselves had engaged Volunteer police to keep the premises under observation.

Downfall

An IRA Volunteer obtained information that the gang planned to rob a wholesale tobacco business owned by Patrick McEvoy known as Magill’s at 105 Capel Street (now the Outhouse LGBT community centre).

No. 105 Capel Street ‘Cosmon Ltd’ in 1978. It was previously known as Magill’s. Credit – Dublin City Council Photographic Collection

At around 10.30pm on 22nd September 1920, four members of the ‘Sons of Dawn’ robbed Magill’s of tobacco and about 20 packets of cigarettes. As they were leaving the building through the back door, they were greeted by 16 armed members of the IRA. The gang of four were marched away blindfolded to a “house unknown” where they were placed in a cellar and kept until 9pm the following day.

Liam O’Carroll’s Witness Statement reveals that the gang was brought to the Colmcille Hall at 5 Blackhall Street in Smithfield. A brisky 10 minute walk from Capel Street. This building had been owned by the Gaelic League since 1900 and was used as the HQ of the 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers/IRA from 1914 to 1922.

Advertisement for a Ceilidh dance in the Colmcille Hall, 5 Blackhall Street. Evening Herald, 16 November 1921

Besides being caught red-handed immediately after the robbery, the IRA searched the boys and found a photograph of the four of them with “The Sons of Dawn, 1919, 1920” and “The Boys of Dublin” written in ink on the back.

The four were named in the newspapers as :

  • Thomas Corlett of Cole’s Lane [off Moore Street]
  • James Gannon of Moore Street
  • Matthew Reid, No Address Given
  • Henry Thomas of Dominick Street [off Parnell Street]

They were tried before a five-person “Court of Republican officers” and found guilty of robbing the Capel Street premises along with other three businesses on Henry Street: Menzies and Co.,  Lipton’s Ltd. and Burton’s. The armed robberies in Ballsbridge and Rathgar were not mentioned.

The Evening Herald, 25 September 1920

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Merchants’ Arch Through Time.

MerchantsHallDescription

R. Atkinson & Co, Irish poplin manufacturers (Image: National Library of Ireland)

Like many Dubliners, I pass through Merchants’ Arch a few times a week, normally in a hurry somewhere. Connecting Liffey Street and the Temple Bar district via the Ha’penny Bridge, the archway even pops up in Ulysses, as Leopold Bloom searches for a (rather naughty) book for his beloved Molly. Much has changed since the time of Bloom, but there are still people selling goods in the Arch from time to time, not to mention buskers and long-established businesses.

Like much of what is beautiful and old about the city today, the Wide Streets Commission is to thank for this arched passage, insisting on it as a necessary thoroughfare. Established by an Act of Parliament in 1757, this body reshaped Dublin as the people knew it, creating networks of new streets and leading Dublin into a new era.  As the masterful study Dublin Through Space and Time notes, “the Wide Streets Commissioners brought a truly European vision of urban design to Dublin.So many of the streets we enjoy today – Parliament Street, D’Olier Street, Westmoreland Street – are part of the vision of this body.

Merchants’ Arch forms a part of the Merchants’ Hall, built to the designs of the celebrated architect Frederick Darley in 1821. Today occupied by a public house and restaurant, the building was constructed for the use of the Merchant’s Guild, who originally had their premises at the Tailors Hall in Back Lane, near to Christchurch Cathedral. In the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth, Dublin was home to a number of Guild Halls which reflected industry in the city. The Tailors’ Hall and Merchants’ Hall were joined by Weavers’ Hall in the Coombe and the Bricklayers Hall on Cuffe Street. As Frank Hopkins has noted, it seems almost every group of skilled Dublin workers were represented by a Guild. He points towards “the Goldsmiths Guild, the Guild of Carpenters, Millers, Masons and Heliers, the Cooks and Vintners Guild, and the Guild of Tallow Chandlers….”, not to mention “the Guild of Barber-Surgeons and Apothecaries”.

MerchantsHallDescription

A contemporary description of the new Merchants’ Hall.

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Speech Of A Man Against The Embargo In Ethiopia At Trafalgar Square In 1935

C.L.R James speaking in Trafalgar Square, London. (1935)

Whether cricket or Marxism is your bag, C.L.R James is a towering figure in each world. They are, I concede, two worlds that tend not to meet. His 1963 memoir Beyond a Boundary, which he himself described as “neither cricket reminiscences nor autobiography”, is widely regarded as one of the finest books ever written on any sport. He maintained that “cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with theatre, ballet, opera and the dance.”

Born in Trinidad in 1901, Cyril Lionel Robert James made important contributions in many fields of life. As a historian, he penned The Black Jacobins, an acclaimed history of the Haitian Revolution, and he would make many important intellectual contributions to the field of postcolonial studies. A lifelong political activist, he was highly critical of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and was aligned with Trotskyist movements in the turbulent 1930s. He arrived in Britain in 1932, taking up a job as cricket correspondent with the Manchester Guardian and throwing himself into political activism in London.

In 1935, he arrived in Dublin, lecturing on the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Here, he befriended Nora Connolly O’Brien, the daughter of James Connolly, and encountered opposition from some surprising quarters.

The response to the invasion of Ethiopia: 

An imperial grab for Africa, Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia was condemned by the League of Nations by fifty votes to one (the single dissenting voice being the Italians themselves).  Despite condemnation, little real action was taken by the European powers after the commencement of the invasion in September 1935, and the annexation of the country allowed Mussolini to proclaim that “the Italian people have created an empire with their blood. They will fertilize it with their work.” The following year, Mussolini would send men and planes to Spain to crush democracy there, but 1935 demonstrated his disregard for the sovereignty of other nations to all who were paying attention. From Dublin, Éamon de Valera had been one of the few political leaders to loudly condemn the actions of the Italians, warning the League of Nations that “if on any pretext whatever we were to permit the sovereignty of even the weakest state amongst us to be unjustly taken away, the whole foundation of the League would crumble into dust.”

James, then a member of the Independent Labour Party, wrote extensively on the fascist invasion, writing in The New Leader:

Let us fight against not only Italian imperialism, but the other robbers and oppressors, French and British imperialism. Do not let them drag you in. To come within the orbit of imperialist politics is to be debilitated by the stench, to be drowned in the morass of lies and hypocrisy.

He was a founding member of the International African Friends of Ethiopa, and in this capacity lectured all over Britain, speaking at a protest rally in Trafalgar Square on the need for solidarity. In December 1935, he arrived in Dublin to address a meeting opposing Italian fascist aggression, finding a weak left but some welcoming faces. James would later recall that “he didn’t really understand what it meant to be revolutionary until he went to Ireland.”

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