Archive for the ‘Dublin History’ Category

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.


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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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”.


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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Since March of this year, I have been delighted to contribute to the Dublin Inquirer newspaper, an independent and very important news source for the capital.  My monthly historical contribution is always exclusive to that publication, and an earlier version of this piece on the architect and activist Uinseann MacEoin appeared there. 


Uinseann MacEoin speaking in 1996 at the unveiling of the restored Liam Lynch memorial, Tipperary. (Image with thanks to Ruadhán MacEoin)

Uinseann MacEoin lived a remarkable and colourful life, which brought him from the ranks of the Republican movement to the frontlines of the battle for the heart and soul of Dublin city, as developers and preservationists struggled for influence in the 1960s and 70s. He left his mark -quite literally – on Henrietta Street, which is soon to witness the opening of a museum dedicated to the story of tenement Dublin. As editor of the influential (and controversial) Plan magazine, he sought to expose poor developments and abuse of planning laws in the capital, never afraid to call out other architects when it mattered.

Uinseann Ó Rathaille MacEoin was born in Pomeroy, Co. Tyrone, in 1920. His middle name was a nod towards Michael Joseph Ó Rathaille, a participant in the 1916 Rising who was killed in action in Moore Lane during the evacuation of the General Post Office. This alone said something of family convictions, but so did the fact his father was interned upon the Argenta, a prison ship moored in Larne Harbour in the early 1920s. The MacEoin family would resettle to Dublin while Uinseann was still a boy, and he himself drifted into republican politics as a young man in the 1930s. He served a year in prison for IRA membership, before being interned in the Curragh during the period ridiculously known here as ‘The Emergency’.

While MacEoin never lost his republican convictions, it was architecture and planning which would come to dominate much of his life from the time of his release. This journey began with studying and correspondence while in the Curragh, and as an early career architect he worked with Michael Scott and Partners and Dublin Corporation, before establishing his own practice. His background made him somewhat unusual in the days of the great debates over the future of Dublin’s urban landscape, with Hibernia magazine describing him once as “a rabid republican cum architect cum town planner of definite convictions cum determined preservationist and exposer of shady planning applications.” In not dissimilar terms, The Irish Times wrote in 1963 that MacEoin was “already well known for his trenchant criticisms of the workings both of his own profession and that of central and local government.”


Uinseann MacEoin in the Irish Press, 1963.

The destruction of Georgian Dublin was sometimes cheered on by narrow minded gombeens wrapped in green flags, who regarded the eighteenth century city as “the creation of an alien aristocracy”, seeing it as something that said nothing of Irish life and experience and was out of place in the capital of an Irish Republic. The Irish Times warned its readers at Christmas 1959 that it was becoming increasingly clear “the days of Dublin’s Georgian heritage are numbered”, but MacEoin and other preservationists and activists fought bravely. There were victories, but more often defeats; in 1964, MacEoin was one of those to sign a letter to the Taoiseach deploring the plans to gut Georgian houses for the Electricity Supply Board premises near Merrion Square. Shortly afterwards, a journalist joked that MacEoin had “acquired the reputation of being a consistently Angry Young Man”, though at least “his thunderbolts are aimed in all the right directions.”

MacEoin took on those he disagreed with, yet provided them a platform to put forward their arguments too. In the pages of Build, a publication he edited, he interviewed the brilliantly talented but controversial Sam Stephenson, who made the case that “a city must live. It must evolve and keep changing.” In response, MacEoin accused Stephenson of “cheque book planning”, clearing some of the finest parts of the city.


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On Monday evening it pissed rain.

This was a foregone conclusion, as an outdoor event had been organised. Despite the weather, they came in their droves to Phibsboro for a day to celebrate Lord Dudley, known to generations of Dubliners as ‘Bang Bang’.

With the great street character buried in an unmarked grave in Drumcondra, the team behind the Bang Bang Cafe in Phibsboro decided it was time to mark the final resting place of Thomas Dudley. A new plaque was unveiled in his honour, The Mero was sung with gusto, and then it was back to Phibsboro.

My thanks to photographer Luke Fallon for capturing these images of the street celebration. Pat McGrath beautifully brought Bang Bang to life,performing from a play by Dermot Bolger. Dermot himself said a few words and read poems about the street and those who made it. I said a little about the Dublin of Bang Bang’s time, and Shane Coleman of Newstalk kept it all together as MC.  Thanks to Mary Clarke of Dublin City Library and Archives for bringing along the key.


DermotBolger reads. (Image: Luke Fallon)


Coddle! (Image: Luke Fallon)


Pat McGrath (Image: Luke Fallon)


Pat McGrath (Image: Luke Fallon)


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Once again, the History Ireland Hedge School rolls into the Mindfield area of Electric Picnic this weekend, and once again I’m participating. We have two discussions lined up that hopefully will appeal to CHTM readers that find themselves in a field in Laois this weekend, and both of which were picked around historic anniversaries.

Both panels take place in the Leviathan tent of the Mindfield area.


The Radiators from Space, via peteholiday.com

The summer of punk, 1977.

Saturday, 12:45PM (Note the earlier start time than normal)

Forty years ago the Sex Pistols chart-topping ‘God Save The Queen’ thumbed its nose at the pretentions of the rock establishment — ‘prog-rock’, ‘concept albums’, long hair and interminable guitar solos. Meanwhile in Dublin bands like the Boomtown Rats, the Radiators From Space, The Atrix and U2 (yes, U2!) burst upon the scene, and from the North, the Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers and Terry Hooleys ‘Good Vibration Records’. Join History Ireland editor, Tommy Graham for a stroll down musical memory lane with Donal Fallon (Come Here To Me), Pete Holidai (Radiators from Space), Eamon McCann (journalist) and Anne Byrne (sociologist, NUIG).


Vladimir Lenin and Roddy Connolly, 1920.

The Bolshevik Revolution — in the dustbin of history?


In the face of claims of the total triumph of neo-liberal capitalism and a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union, how should we mark the century of the Bolshevik Revolution? Should it be consigned to the ‘dustbin of history’ — or can it be recycled? Join History Ireland editor, Tommy Graham, for a no-holds-barred discussion with John Horne (historian, TCD), Oliver Eagleton (playwright & activist), Brian Hanley (historian, Uni. of Edinburgh) and Frank Barry (economist, TCD).


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The removal of Queen Victoria from Leinster House, 1948.

As a historian with a particular interest in the areas of memory, commemoration and the role of monuments in society, I’ve had more than a passing interest in what has been happening in the United States in recent weeks with the removal and destruction of a number of monuments to the Confederacy and the losing side of the American Civil War.

Interestingly, we’ve seen a noticeable spike in traffic to articles on this blog which looked at the historic issues around monuments in Dublin, and the destruction and removal of imperial monuments here in the aftermath of independence.

Writing in 1920, the Austrian writer Robert Musil joked that “monuments are so conspicuously inconspicuous. There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument.” Musil, an important modernist writer best remembered today as the author of the unfinished novel The Man Without Qualities, believed memorials to be an invisible feature in the landscape, but was writing at a time when impressive monuments were coming to redefine urban landscapes right across the continent and beyond, in the aftermath of events like the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

C.S Andrews, a veteran of the revolutionary period and an Anti-Treaty fighter in the Civil War, would proclaim that “there are no monuments to victory or victors, only to the dead.” Yet in truth, memorials have played a central role in trying to change historical narratives both here and abroad, and are rarely mere memorials to the dead. As Yvonne Whelan rightly notes in her study Reinventing Modern Dublin, “as powerful regimes and ruling authorities seek to underpin and legitimate their authority, the past and public memory play a crucial role and find tangible representation in the cultural landscape.” It isn’t only “powerful regimes and ruling authorities” who have sought to reshape the landscape through memorials however, as the Anti-Treaty IRA memorials dotted across the city remind us.


The Irish Times, December 18 1961. After the bombing of Lord Gough, only his pedestal remained.

Many monuments unveiled in Dublin in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries sought to create a cultural landscape that expressed Ireland’s place in the British Empire, and were condemned in the nationalist press as alien to the city. The Nation, a newspaper to which diverse voices like Thomas Davis and Lady Jane Wilde contributed, noted that:

 We now have statues to William the Dutchman, to the four Georges  -all either German by birth or German by feeling –  to Nelson, a great admiral but an Englishman, while not a single statue of any of the many celebrated Irishmen whom their country should honour adorns a street or square of our beautiful metropolis.

As monuments sought to redefine public spaces in Dublin in the interest of the British state, they also became frequent targets of political assault. The most divisive monument in the city for many years was that to King William of Orange, erected in 1701, a mere eleven years after the Battle of the Boyne where William had soundly defeated King James II. A publication in 1898 noted that:

This equestrian statue of William III stands in College Green, and has stood there, more or less, since A.D 1701. We say “more or less” because no statue in the world, perhaps, has been subject to so many vicissitudes. It has been insulted, mutilated and blown up so many times, that the original figure, never particularly graceful, is now a battered wreck, pieced and patched together, like an old, worn out garment.


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