Archive for the ‘Dublin History’ Category

This year, the 100th edition of the Liffey Swim will take place in Dublin. The event was famously captured by Jack B.Yeats in 1923,a year when the press reported that the swim was “witnessed by many thousands, who defied the rain and cheered the leading swimmers at the finish.” The terrible weather of that year is absent from the beautiful depiction of Yeats, and so too are the stubborn swans, who “cruised about with proud majestic mien in the water in front of the barge” for half-an-hour before the men contested the swim.


Jack B. Yeats – The Liffey Swim (1923)

The first Liffey Swim, competed in 1920, was instigated by swimmer Bernard Fagan. A mere 27 men contested the first race, won by J.J Kennedy. It was a time of war and revolution of course; in his statement to the Bureau of Military History, Alfred Burgess, brother of revolutionary leader Cathal Brugha, remembered watching the swim one year, a welcome distraction from the politics of the day:

On one occasion I was looking at the Liffey Swim, from the southside of the Liffey, right opposite Lalor’s. Down under Lalor’s was a lorry load of Auxiliaries, and in one of the windows in Lalor’s was Cathal, looking out of the window at the Liffey Swim also.

For Dubliners, the Liffey occupies a centrally important place in our identity. We define ourselves partly by which side of it we call home, while the “the brewery tugs and the swans” made their way into the poetry of writers like Louis MacNeice. To Joyce, the river was Anna Livia Plurabelle. In more recent times, Damien Dempsey would sing of how “the Liffey cuts the city like a meandering blue vein.” No matter how much we love to gaze at her from Grattan Bridge, jumping into the Liffey is another thing entirely.

From the humble beginnings of 1920, the race has grown into a spectacular event, attracting international swimmers. Last year, 320 men and 219 women completed the Liffey Swim. As a spectator event, it has long drawn crowds too. More media coverage in the past went on Dubliners watching the event than Dubliners competing in it. Take this from 1928:

From windows and roofs the progress of the competitors was keenly watched, and hundreds of people availed of lorries, motor cars, hackney cars, in fact, vehicles of every description to view the swimmers.

Youngsters evinced no trepidation in taking up hazardous positions on the ladders leading to the river and on the parapets of bridges.Their enthusiasm was unbounded, and with them the Lifey Swim is an event that is eagerly anticipated each year. They greeted the victor with wild cheers when he ascended the steps at Butt Bridge, and the Gardaí had to make a passage to enable the competitors to make their way to Tara Street Baths.


1928 coverage of the Liffey Swim, Irish Independent.

Between 1936 and 1939, the Liffey Swim took place from Bull Wall to Dollymount Strand, at a time when there was real concern about the health risks of pollution in the River Liffey, fears which would later lead to the race being moved upstream in the 1977-1979 period. C.J Smyth, the leading authority on the Liffey Swim, has written about these concerns:

The deterioration of Irish rivers, the increasing incidents of pollution, the seeming indifference of official bodies and the ineffectiveness of advisory boards to the government were a time-bomb waiting to explode. Pollution levels in the Liffey would reach crisis point in 1977 when the river was declared unsafe for humans to swim in.

While the location has shifted, there has been perfect continuity in so far as there has been a race each and every year.

The competition has produced its own heroes too. The youngest ever winner, Francis ‘Chalkey’ White, was eleven at the time of his victory in 1966,and would go on to repeat the achievement the following year. The son of a Guinness brewery worker, he represented the Guinness Swimming Club, and was described as a “wisp of a boy” in the press. Even younger, Mairéad Doran would emerge victorious in 1979 in the equivalent ladies competition at the age of ten.


Francis (Chalkey) White, 1966 winner (Irish Independent)

The involvement of women in the Liffey Swim has not been without controversy, indeed it was not until 1991 that women were permitted to compete in the same course as men. Prior to this in the 1970s, women contested for the The Tommy May Cup, named in honour of a 1950s winner of the Liffey Swim. As early as the 1920s, some championed the idea of women participating in the event in letters to the press,though unsurprisingly there was later clerical opposition to this idea from Archbishop McQuaid and others. To McQuaid, “Mixed athletics are a social abuse, outraging our rightful, national tradition.”

The crowds observing the event may be somewhat smaller than in earlier decades, but the race maintains an important place in the identity of the city. In 1988, during Dublin’s Millennium celebrations, they raced towards the Dyflin, a reconstructed Viking longboat which served as the finishing line. Still, contemporary accounts are not unlike those of the 1920s, with The Irish Times noting of the 2014 race:

Crowds lean over river walls and bridges along the way cheering them on, while some supporters jogged along foot-paths cheering on their man or woman, all the way through the city centre.

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Brendan and Beatrice Behan, September 1959 (NPG)

In the world of arts and culture, a good name will get you far. So it was for The Pike Theatre in Herbert Lane, with co-founder Alan Simpson remembering:

After much discussion, we fixed on ‘The Pike’, meaning the long pole with a spike on the end, which was used by the Irish insurgents of 1798 to discomfort the slick English cavalry. In other words, we wanted our theatre to be a revolutionary force of small means which, by its ingenuity, would stir up the theatrical lethargy of post-war Ireland.

With seating for just 55 audience members (one British reviewer would recall the audience “Jammed together tight as bricks in a wall, sweating, sticking our elbows into our neighbours, digging our knees into the people in the row in front”) The Pike was hidden away in a Dublin laneway, though what it lacked in size it made for in ambition. While primarily remembered today for a disgraceful raid by Gardaí in May 1957 during a production of The Rose Tattoo, the theatre has a much richer story, bringing the work of respected international playwrights to the stage in Dublin,including Eugène Ionesco, Jean Paul Sarte, Samuel Beckett and others. The theatre hosted the world premiere of Brendan Behan’s The Queer Fellow, a work which had been rejected by the Abbey Theatre.

The Pike was created by Alan Simpson and his wife Carolyn Swift. Both had a history of working with The Gate Theatre of Hilton and MacLiammóir, a theatre which Simpson remembered “brought all the more exciting dramatists of Europe and America to the Dublin stage.” Entering the world of theatre managers themselves, the premises they found in Herbert Lane proved you can do much with little; Simpson recounted “we found a premises which, though not suitable, was just possible – just within our means.” With the outer appearance of a shed,The Pike’s size was something that would be seen both as a pro and con through different eyes. Certainly, it was intimate, and the close proximity of the audience to the stage, and the small size of the stage itself, would impact on The Pike. Speaking in the Dáil at the time of Swift’s passing in 2002, Michael D. Higgins would recount that “The 1950s was an absolute barren place where all the shutters were down”, but that small theatres like The Pike emerged, bringing something new and invigorating to Dublin cultural life.

Despite being housed in a refurbished old Georgian coachhouse,the Pike was more concerned with the contemporary than the past, and stated that “the aim is to stage productions which, for one reason or another, would not be seen in the commercial theatres in the city.” A few things set The Pike apart from its Dublin competitors, including the introduction of late revues, where George Desmond Hodnett (author of the satirical song ‘Take Her Up To Monto’) entertained visitors to the theatre on his piano. “The Follies of Herbert Lane”, packed with humour and performance, filled the tiny little theatre, as revelers made their way home from the pubs of nearby Baggotonia. Actors, including a young Milo O’Shea, made their names before that audience.

Some plays sat better with Dublin audiences than others. Simpson recalled that during performances of Sarte’s Men Without Shadows, “we regularly used to have to bring out female members of the audience in a fainting condition to the lane outside, where they were draped across the bonnets of parked cars, for lack of any better means of dealing with them, sometimes as many as three cars being pressed into service at one time!”


Hoddy performing on stage at a Pike Theatre late revue.

In England, the maverick theatre director Joan Littlewood would identify the talents of Brendan Behan, but in the same way as her Theatre Workshop championed a writer some would rather keep at arms length, The Pike in Dublin was a welcoming institution for Behan. On reading the play which became The Queer Fellow, Simpson recounted that “the construction was loose and in places repetitious, but it was immediately clear to me that here was dialogue that could grip an audience and twist the emotions this way and that, as only O’Casey had done before.” Behan made rehearsals for the play difficult:

As the momentous day drew nearer,the atmosphere became too much for Brendan, and he took solidly to the bottle, appearing at intervals accompanied by some friendly but uncomprehending soak whom he had acquired in his perambulations through the various pubs in the area. The latter, puzzled as to why he had been dragged away from his creamy pint to this strange, cold garage in a back lane, would sit in the auditorium, muttering amiable obscenities,while Brendan dug him in the ribs and repeated again and again, ‘I wrote that!’

To the audience of The Pike, Behan interruptions would sometimes become a feature of actual performances too. There was no such risk with the work of Samuel Beckett. Though a Dubliner, there was a feel of bringing an international work to Dublin in performing Beckett in the theatre.Waiting For Godot had divided opinion when performed in London, Simpson recalling that “the popular press dismissed it as obscure nonsense and pretentious rubbish”, but in Dublin the response was much more favourable. Godot ran, and ran, and ran, breaking all records and becoming the longest continuous run in Irish theatrical history to that point.

The story of the 1957 production of The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams has been well told elsewhere, but unfortunately it has become the primary memory of the Pike Theatre in Dublin. The use of a condom on stage as a prop was enough to cause indignation, and to lead the Pike Theatre into the criminal courts, though as Hugh Oram rightly notes, “the fact that the Pike Theatre put on works by the likes of Brendan Behan and Samuel Beckett became overshadowed by a controversy that to modern eyes seems utterly ridiculous.” One actor in the production later recounted how “I brought a nightdress and a toothbrush with me to the theatre each night, in case I would end up in Mountjoy.”

The play had been met by positive reviews, the Irish Press insisting that “once again, The Pike must be highly recommended for giving Dublin a remarkable piece of theatre”,but that counted for little when the Gardaí arrived, arresting Simpson and bringing him to the Bridewell, where he was formally charged with “presenting for gain an indecent and profane performance.” While the trial would subsequently collapse, it has a real impact on many involved in The Pike, perhaps discrediting the immortal words of Pike writer Brendan Behan, of their being “no such thing as bad publicity, except your obituary.” One outcome of the lunacy was a stifling of creative output, Simpson recounting that “I had, for obvious reasons, to avoid the presentation of any play which could possibly be considered even faintly controversial.”

Writing of 1950s Dublin cultural life, the critic Brian Fallon has maintained that “Undoubtedly, most of the laurels for the decade belong to the gallant little Pike.” Today, no plaque in Herbert Lane marks the spot where a tiny little theatre attempted to reinvent Irish theatre, but closed its doors in 1961. In less than ten years, the little theatre of Swift and Simpson had done so much.

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Upper Grand Canal Street, 1967 (National Library of Ireland)

Having spent a lot of time in recent months in Belfast, I became accustomed to the iconography that celebrates King William III’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne. Billy on the walls is always depicted upon a white horse. Perhaps Benjamin West’s iconic 1778 painting, The Battle of the Boyne, has been most important in establishing this in popular memory, though some historians have disputed the claim. Regardless of what colour the horse at the Boyne was, the fact of history is that William was victorious (with Papal blessing no less), and Seamus a’ chaca (“James the shit”, as the defeated King James II was derisively known in Ireland) has a bad day out in a field in Louth.

Images of white horses adorn Orange Order banners, murals, commemorative tea towels and everything one can imagine. More forgotten is the fact they were once a frequent sight in the fanlights of Dublin houses. There is dispute over just what the white horses once fashionable in parts of Dublin meant, but many suggest they denoted a Protestant home and identity.

In 1934, a writer to The Irish Press insisted that “away back in the days when Orangeism was rampant in Dublin, houses which displayed the white horse of Hanover in their fanlights were left unmolested”, something also mentioned in a piece from the Evening Herald around the same time, suggesting that “during the height of the 1798 terror, bands of Orange Militia roamed the streets seeking Croppies, and every Catholic house was suspect. In order to distinguish themselves, the loyalists displayed a drawing, or effigy, of a white horse prominently on their houses, the white horse being an Orange emblem representing William’s charger at the Boyne.”


Evening Herald, February 1937.

Other accounts suggest that the primary reason to display such a symbol was to make a polite but clear point towards those carrying out Catholic church collections or other such door to door activities. One 1930s source claims that “these ornaments are most numerous in the neighborhood of Prussia Street.”

Whatever they once meant, as time went on these symbols lost their political significance of course (if they ever had any to some who displayed them). Within the collections of the National Folklore Collection, housed in University College Dublin, some inner-city Dublin Protestants tell of “displaying statues of white horses that, to their eyes, represented William of Orange, while to onlookers they appeared to be merely decorative items (thus allowing them to display important iconography after Independence without exposing them to problems with their Catholic neighbours.”

The diversity of Protestant identity in Dublin should never be forgotten too, something beautifully captured in the autobiographies of Sean O’Casey. A few white horses survive in Dublin today, while during regular banking hours one can walk into the House of Lords in the Bank of Ireland College Green and see the eighteenth century tapestry displayed there, depicting Billy’s victory on the Boyne. Note the horse:


Tapestry in the House of Lords, Bank of Ireland.

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A little Vietnamese boy, his sallow face pinched with exhaustion, led a plane-load of boat people ashore to their new life, as the first group of refugees arrived in Ireland yesterday.

So wrote the Irish Independent of 10 August 1979. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the arrival of the so-called ‘Boat People’ from Vietnam in Dublin. They arrived by aeroplane, but the images of people fleeing Vietnam in boats had made their impact on popular consciousness. At a time when the Irish public were more accustomed to emigration than immigration, there was enormous public interest in the plight of the Vietnamese who came here against the backdrop of political violence in their own country, though the dialogue around them in the press was sometimes curious.

Mark Magire, author of the the book Differently Irish: A Cultural History Exploring 25 Years of Vietnamese-Irish Identity , gives brilliant insight into the contemporary discussion that surrounded their arrival here. Eamonn Casey, Bishop of Galway, called on the state to do more,attacking what he termed the “meager response” at first to the crisis in Vietnam. Others attempted to emphasis the quality of the people coming to Ireland. One commentator – a historian of all people – argued that we were importing “a ready made creative minority”, and even noted that “naturalised their very grandchildren… would doubtless vote Fianna Fáil.”

The images of the Vietnamese Boat People in the 1970s were broadcast into the homes of millions. It’s estimated that some 800,000 people left the country from 1975 onwards, seeking sanctuary across the world. The idea of global responsibility to assist those in war torn regions was almost unheard of, and when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees requested the Irish Government resettle three Vietnamese families in 175, the request was refused on economic grounds.


Sunday Independent, 5 August 1979.

Under pressure to play a significant role in the worsening crisis, the Irish state accepted some 200 Vietnamese people from August 1979 onwards, who were to be housed primarily in the James Connolly Memorial Hospital at Blanchardstown, with two spacious ward units converted to housing. Jim Kennedy, an Irish Red Cross beteran of some forty years who had assisted in the rehousing of 3,500 refguees who fled South to escape from sectarian attacks in the North, was optimistic, telling the Sunday Independent that “the food won’t be a problem. These people eat rice, pork, chicken, fish, vegetables and all sorts and, of course, they are great tea drinkers.” Some later arrivals would be housed by the Christian Brothers in Swords. The Vietnamese would be taught English, before being spread across the island. The real fear was ghettoisation, but as was rightly pointed out, the outcome may have been social isolation.


Irish Independent, 10 August 1979.

Despite the fact the island of Ireland was experiencing its own political turmoil, frontpage news in some parts of the world, there was almost no awareness of Ireland among the Vietnamese themselves who arrived here. One of them later recounted:

None of us knew very much about where we were going or even exactly where it was. When we arrived in Dublin Airport we thought it was only a stopping off point. We did not believe that a national airport of a country could be so small.

Media interest in the personal stories of those who arrived here was significant, the Irish Independent reporting the harrowing words of one arrival,that “we were sailing for three days and three nights when Malaysian fisherman took us in. I have left everything behind. I still have four sisters working in labour camps near Saigon.” There had been considerable media interest in Ireland in Vietnamese refugees in Britain in the months before their arrival in Ireland, a Mayo-born volunteer working with Vietnamese families in Liverpool reassuring Irish Independent readers that “the Vietnamese people are a reserved and quiet race but they have great enthusiasm and energy and would contribute more to Irish society than they would take.” There were widespread calls from across the political divide to take in more Vietnamese families, and when the families were spread into communities beyond Blanchardstown,local press reported on them with interest.

Some in the community would enter the food industry, focusing on providing take away food, in particular Chinese food, across Dublin. In Maguire’s study, one member of the community reflected that this was a difficult business to get ahead in:

Some friends and me got the money to put one family into the business and we tried to leam about the cooking, the grub! There was very little Chinese food in Ireland at that time. I learned to cook from some people who worked in a Chinese restaurant and after that I showed other people how to cook. In 1984,1 was working on a comer near a bus stop— we were only making a living.

Many of the Vietnamese families who arrived here in 1979 ultimately settled in Ireland. In an excellent 2015 piece on the original families who settled here, Erin McGuire noted that the popular Pho Viet restaurant on Parnell Street is maintained by one of the 1979 families.

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Pearse Street Play Centre kick about, at Pearse Square. Dublin City Public Libraries (for more footballing images from the city collections see here)

Soccer was Sheriff Street – that’s all we played there. Soccer was working class. Soccer was ballet. Soccer was skill. Soccer made sense. Soccer was Manchester United. Soccer was the Busby Babes. Soccer was the Munich Air Disaster. Soccer was grief. Soccer was joy. Soccer was Spurs doing the double. Soccer was the past and the present. Soccer was Jackie Carey and Liam Whelan and Noel Cantwell. Soccer was Drums and Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers and Saint Pat’s. Soccer was Tolka Park on a Sunday with Shea and Johnny and Da. Soccer was Dundalk and Ma crying when they won the FAI Cup. Soccer was life itself…

So writes Peter Sheridan in Forty Four: A Dublin Memoir. Perhaps nobody has captured what football means to this city so elegantly.

Póg Mo Goal is a beautifully produced football magazine, from right here in Dublin. With an emphasis both on the local game and football culture internationally, it occupies a unique place in the world of Irish print magazines, while it also enjoys a lot of support from fans of good design, owing to the emphasis on the aesthetics of the publication. It looks – and reads – unlike any other football magazine this island has ever witnessed.

With a strong emphasis on fan culture, articles have examined things as diverse as the European ‘Ultras’ movement, football in war-torn regions, fan ownership of clubs and more besides. There’s plenty of strong historical content, and I tip my hat especially in the direction of Cian Manning.

I’ve been fortunate to write some pieces for Póg Mo Goal to date, ranging from Dublin City FC (RIP), to the history of women’s football in Ireland (big up to the Ballyfermot All Stars and Finglas side Suffragettes FC!) as well as a piece on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s love of the beautiful game, something entirely different from the norm for me.

The latest edition of Póg Mo Goal is Issue 5. The magazine, which is published annually(ish), has taken a new direction, moving from newspaper format to a spined magazine. Writers include Kevin Brannigan, Jelena Đureinović, Edd Norval and Mé Féin on ‘Gentleman John’, the great Jackie Carey. You can support the magazine here, and you can even buy a brilliant John Aldridge t-shirt while you’re at it.




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Jean Ritchie recording Séamus Ennis

Today is the centenary of the birth of the magnificent piper Séamus Ennis. This anniversary has been marked with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in Finglas, where Ennis hailed from, and a pop-up exhibition and series of talks in the local library. Ennis is commemorated with a beautiful statue at the Séamus Ennis Centre at the Naul, where the finest tribute to his memory is the fact the music continues to play.

In recent years, Dublin has witnessed something of a renaissance of traditional and folk music, which has even propelled acts like Lankum to international attention. Central to all of this is the oral tradition, as songs and reels make their way through the generations and find new audiences. There is perhaps nobody as significant to the story of collecting that oral tradition as the great Séamus Ennis, born a hundred years ago today. Born in North County Dublin, Ennis was not only a legendary uilleann piper but a collector of songs and tunes, traveling all over Ireland on a trusty bicycle in search of ceol dúchasach (native Irish music), against the backdrop of the hungry 1940s and ’50s. His collections are today deposited in the National Folklore Collection, capturing an Ireland that could well have vanished in his absence.

The life of Séamus Ennis would have been very different were it not for his father, civil servant James Ennis, chancing to enter a pawn shop in London. Drawn immediately to a set of uilleann pipes on display and for sale, he purchased them without hesitation, discovering later that they had been made on Thomas Street in Dublin. Beginning at the age of 13, Séamus learned the complex instrument from his father. In time, the younger Ennis developed a keen appreciation for the need to capture Ireland’s rapidly vanishing disappearing oral tradition. At the age of 23, in 1943, with Europe at war and rationing a feature of Irish life, Séamus Ennis took off on an amazing journey through Ireland. Giving him “pen, paper and pushbike”, the Irish Folklore Commission entrusted this young Gael with the task of recording and documenting the oral and music traditions of rural Ireland.


New commemorative plaque to Séamus Ennis, Finglas. (Image Credit: DCC Historians in Residence)

As Ríonach uí Ógáin notes in the introductory essay accompanying Ennis’s diaries, by the 1940s modernisation and emigration appeared to threaten a rich heritage, heralding “a speedy decline in many aspects of a hitherto relatively unchanged lifestyle and its associated traditions, especially in storytelling in Irish”. Ennis was paid almost £3 a week, and it was difficult work – the rural communities that he visited were sometimes insular places, and he cut a funny shape, one account remembering him as “long in the leg, famished looking, thin-shouldered and nervous”.

Reading Ennis’s diaries from his years traveling Ireland in search of songs and stories, it is evident that the Dubliner cherished each moment.Take his account of visiting Carna in Connemara in July 1944, where “a few lads and girls gathered in and we had a great night’s music and dancing in a house. The man of the house – Breathnach – is one of the great old-style dancers. We left the house at 5.30am after a great night’s sport and music and dancing. Went to bed at eight o’clock.”

seamus ennis garden recital early 80s 12

Séamus at the Willie Clancy Festival. Liam McNulty image via Willie Clancy Festival site.

In time, Ennis went from being the curator and gatherer of oral traditions to the subject of another collector. In 1951, the famed American folklorist, oral historian and archivist Alan Lomax arrived in Ireland, in the company of folk singer Jean Ritchie. Lomax, keen to capture the musical traditions of all cultures, believed Ireland’s heritage particularly worthy of recording, as “the last notes of the old, high and beautiful Irish civilization are dying away. A civilization which produced an epic, lyrical and musical literature as noble as any in the world.”The images of Ennis captured on that trip are beautiful, including him playing his uilleann pipes before an audience of curious children in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

Ennis had a pivotal influence on a generation of young Irish musicians, including both Liam Óg O’Flynn and Christy Moore of the pioneering group Planxty. Liam Óg, a piper himself who inherited the pipes of Ennis, remembered that it was his love for capturing tradition that set Séamus apart, as “he was this incredible musician, but most incredible musicians like that don’t tend to go into the background of things in any sort of academic or structured way…Ennis combined the two.”


From the ‘Masters of Irish Music’ LP series.

As a recognised expert of his field, Ennis presented As I Roved Out for the BBC, an important moment in the history of folk-music broadcasting, bringing Irish voices into thousands of British homes. Ennis played before packed halls in the UK’s thriving folk-music scene too, with Bob Davenport remembering the electric effect of his playing of audiences, as “like watching a cowboy film where the marshal walks in and everybody looks round. When he played, there was nobody ever comes close. It stood your hair on end. It was just absolutely devastating.” As the folk- and traditional-music revival of the day began, Ennis was a respected elder around younger musicians, performing at events like the Newport Folk Festival and Lisdoonvarna. A festival appearance is brilliantly captured in this archive footage brought to the internet by TG4.

Ennis died in October 1982, having lived out the later years of his life in the familiar surroundings of north County Dublin, in a caravan he christened Easter Snow. In a song of the same name dedicated to his memory, Christy Moore recalled how “He called up lost verses again”. And yet, the verses were not lost. It was Ennis who captured them, ensuring their place in the archives and the continuation of ancient tradition. In the words of traditional musician Tony MacMahon, “He made me realise music is magic and a spiritual experience. It cannot be taught in any university. It is beyond that.”

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The President of Ireland, Dr. Patrick J. Hillery, unveiling the monument of Jim Larkin, June 1979 (Image Credit: Dublin City Public Libraries Digital Depository)

There is something magic about the monument to trade union leader James Larkin in the centre of O’Connell Street. Monuments to political leaders tend to capture men and women in a particular pose, which is relaxed but commanding. By comparison, Larkin is captured in Oisin Kelly’s monument exactly as he was in life. It calls to mind the words of biographer Samuel Levenson, who insisted that Larkin was “revolution incarnate; a man able to set crowds aflame while seeming to speak to each listener individually.” In a similar vein, Seán Ó Faoláin would recount him as a man who “burned with a simplicity of belief in his fellow-man, and his speech to them was like a lava.”

The monument to Larkin, in popular memory, is most synonymous with the days of the 1913 Lockout, calling to mind the defiant meeting held on Sackville Street despite a police proclamation prohibiting the gathering at the end of August 1913. In reality, the depiction of Larkin is based on a later image of the union later, captured by the photographer Joseph Cashman in 1923, as Larkin returned from the United States and a period of grueling imprisonment which had played its toll. He returned to an Ireland partitioned and a Dublin where Liberty Hall was in the hands of a new union leadership. In some ways, he was at his lowest ebb, far removed from the heroic spirit of 1913 Dublin a decade earlier.

It was perhaps in the spirit of Jim Larkin that when the President of Ireland unveiled the monument on a summer evening in 1979, there were a few dissenting voices in the crowd. Placards reading “the inner-city has not changed since 1913” were reportedly carried by some. Among the great and the good gathered for the unveiling were the Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, the Soviet Ambassador to Ireland, leaders of the Workers Union of Ireland and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and the leaders of the major Irish political parties. Hillery proclaimed:

This statue is a monument to the achievement of so much of what Larkin laboured for. In the ages to come it will stand, a work of art raised to the memory of a great man who spent his energies and talents in the cause of his fellow-man, an inspiration to all who gaze upon it to strive on behalf of their brothers and sisters everywhere.

Larkin would have found humour in the Irish Independent describing him as “the greatest of our Labour leaders” in its report on the unveiling of the monument, given the role of the paper in the 1913 dispute. Much had changed, and a dead Larkin was no threat. Press coverage was overwhelmingly positive on the artistic merit of the monument, depicting a bronze figure of Larkin, weighing almost a ton and some nine feet high, standing proudly upon his plinth.

Denis Larkin, President Patrick Hillery, Russian Ambassador Anatoli Kaplin, Fintan Larkin attend the unveiling of the monument (Dublin City Public Libraries Digital Depository)

Within days of the monument being unveiled, camera crews were filming for Strumpet City in the vicinity of the monument, struggling to keep Larkin out of sight. There were other issues too; an Irish Press reporter noted of filming that “Jim Larkin’s cab was pulled by a very sweet-natured horse, who couldn’t quite get the hang of stopping in the right place. I fear his career in show-business could be quite short lived.”

What strikes many people immediately about the monument is the size of the hands of Larkin. As art historian Paula Murphy has noted, this is a distinctive feature of Kelly’s work, clearly demonstrating the artists awareness of how important they were to capturing the spirit of the subject:

Hands are an important device in Kelly’s work generally, and perhaps nowhere more obviously than in the Larkin statue, where they have immense presence. Fergus Kelly remembers his father worrying away at the hands and the difficulties of them being seen from below. Although the sculptor never knew Larkin, he clearly recognized not just that the man had what were described elsewhere as ‘great hands like shovels’, but how important they were to the passionate nature of the depiction.

By 1979 Oisín Kelly was considered the leading public sculptor in Dublin. His work included the stunning Children of Lir monument in the Garden of Remembrance, ensuring his standing in Irish artistic life. On O’Connell Street, his bronze statue would be joined by the immortal words of Seán O’Casey and Patrick Kavanagh on either side of the monument, while a bronze plaque below Larkin includes words borrowed from the French Revolution, and which once appeared in the masthead of radical newspaper The Workers’ Republic:

The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!
Ní uasal aon uasal ach sinne bheith íseal. Éirímis!
Le grands ne sont grands que parce que nous sommes a genoux. Levons-nous!

A curious feature of the monument, still visible today, concerns the year of Larkin’s birth. At the time of the unveiling of the statue, this was listed as 1876, though later historic research has established 1874 as the year of his birth with certainty. The correction of this mistake is still visible in the plinth today.

Jim Larkin died in January 1947. In a memorial piece entitled ‘The Catholic Communist’,capturing many of the complexities and contradictions of the giant of Irish Labour, Bertram D. Wolfe wrote that:

During a bitter blizzard on January 30, 1947, Jim Larkin died. Despite the cold and snow, the tumult of Irish crowds which be so loved surrounded the approaches to Saint Mary’s Church on Haddington Road, Dublin…He lay in state in the church while those who loved him, and many who did not, passed the coffin where one could see the brown rosary beads in his hand, given him by the Archbishop of Dublin.

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Cork Hill is, to my mind, pretty much unrivaled when it comes to architectural views in Dublin. On one side of it, Thomas Cooley’s City Hall (once the Royal Exchange) has stood proudly since 1779, while opposite it sits the former Newcomen Bank building, now the City Rates Office. The work of architect Thomas Ivory, the building is of great architectural importance, as noted by the Dublin City Architects:

It is an exquisitely made neo-classical building of sharply detailed Portland stone, the material reserved for the best public buildings in the Georgian city. Records show that James Hoban, the Irish architect who went on to design the White House, worked for Ivory on the design for Newcomen.


The City Rates Office, Cork Hill (Image Credit: Dublin City Public Libraries, Fáilte Ireland Collection)

A more recent addition to the side of the City Rates Office, dating from 1886, is perhaps the most lavish street sign in Dublin, reading ‘Lord Edward Street. A.D 1886’.  A plaque below it notes that the street was ‘opened’ by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, T.D Sullivan MP.


T.D Sullivan, Lord Mayor of the capital from 1886 to 1888, hailed from Cork’s Bantry. He was a journalist, poet, songwriter and politician. A member of the Parnellite Home Rule League, he was elected to the Westminster parliament in the 1880 general election, “convinced that without self-government there could never be peace, prosperity or contentment in Ireland.”

As a songwriter, he is most famous for penning ‘God Save Ireland’,a song honouring three Fenians hanged for their involvement in the 1867 Fenian year of revolt. The Manchester Martyrs had played their part in freeing captured Fenians from police custody on the streets of that northern English city, only to be hanged themselves. The words ‘God save Ireland!’ were defiantly shouted in court by one of the three men, and their deaths became a rallying call for nationalist Ireland. Sullivan’s song first appeared in print in December 1867, on the eve of the funerals of the men. While buried in an English prison,mock funeral processions were hold all over Ireland in their honour. An empty grave in Glasnevin awaited the men,though their bodies were never returned to Irish soil.

“God save Ireland!” said the heroes;
“God save Ireland” said they all.
Whether on the scaffold high
Or the battlefield we die,
Oh, what matter when for Erin dear we fall!

In a pre-1916 world, when it was eventually eclipsed by ‘The Soldier’s Song’, this song was sometimes refereed to as the ‘Irish national anthem’. Certainly, for Irish separatists, it was nothing less. That it was written by a constitutional nationalist was something of an irony, but when it came to commemorations and the like, constitutional parliamentarians could sometimes turn on the separatist charm, and Sullivan was no exception.

The opening of the new street in 1886 connected Dame Street to Christ Church Cathedral, clearing the warrens there before. Its proximity to Dublin Castle, the historic seat of British rule in Ireland, no doubt influenced the nationalist tone of naming the street in honour of revolutionary leader Edward Fitzgerald. The Freeman’s Journal commented on the new street “lying under the shadow of Dublin Castle, the centre of all that is saddest and most dreary in the bitter page’ of our country’s history.”

The street unveiling drew huge crowds, and it was reported that “many of the residents of the neighboring streets had green flags displayed from the windows of their houses”, a display of nationalism that would have been unwise in Fitzgerald’s own day, but which reflected the changing political atmosphere.It wasn’t all about politics, and Sullivan noted that “it is a work not only of the beautifying of our city, but also a work of great public utility.” The area was long synonymous with severe poverty, and the improvements were widely welcomed. The street, the Mayor noted, was not only named in honour of “a great Protestant Irish patriot”, but “the materials used in the paving of the street are, we have been informed, exclusively Irish products.”

The plaques could easily be missed, a portrait of Edward Fitzgerald can be found just around the corner however gracing the front of The Lord Edward public house (which very much has the CHTM seal of approval), while a plaque in his memory adorns the stunning sandstone facade of St. Werburgh’s Church, his final resting place. If he’d embrace the street name is perhaps open to debate, with Fitzgerald proudly casting aside the title of Lord in favour of citizen. His sister would recall after his death, “he was a Paddy and no more; he desired no other title than this.”

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May Day 1919 poster. From John Cunningham’s Mayday! Galway and the origins of International Labour Day.

“Dublin, like three-fourths of Ireland, has spent an absolutely idle day” was one account of May Day here a century ago.

While 1919 has entered our collective memory as the beginning of the War of Independence, with the first shots of the conflict fired at Tipperary’s Soloheadbeg in January, on the ground the early months of the year were defined more by industrial unrest. A ‘general strike’ against British militiarism in Limerick, which the press would label a Soviet, coupled with the remarkable engineering strike in Belfast demanding a 44 hour working week, gave the authorities plenty to worry about.

There was no unanimity on the question of Ireland’s future with the tens of thousands of workers who engaged in such acts of industrial unrest across the island. In Limerick, the death of a local Irish Volunteer, Robert Byrne, was the catalyst for the unrest there. In Belfast, by comparison, many of the workers at the centre of the agitation regarded themselves as Unionists. When asked by a Belfast striker if he was loyal to the King and the Union, the Scottish communist leader Willie Gallacher replied, “That’s a stupid question. I am a revolutionary and my only loyalty is to the working class”.

Things were happening on the Clydeside too, were tanks were deployed on the streets against Scottish workers seeking a 40 hour working week. May Day 1919 witnessed in excess of 100,000 people take to the streets of Glasgow, addressed by a variety of speakers that included Countess Markievicz, now an elected M.P. Along with ‘The Red Flag’, ‘The Soldier’s Song’ was sung with gusto, and tricolours were carried amidst the red flags.

Across the island of Ireland, the day was marked by significant labour processions. The leading industrial union of Ireland, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, called on workers to down tools, to show that “Irish workers join with the international labour movement in demanding a democratic league of free nations.” A combination of factors, including wartime inflation, had swelled the ranks of the union in the immediate years around 1919. A union that had some 15,000 members in 1914 could boast in excess of 102,000 by 1919. The growth, in the words of one leading historian, was simply “Lazarus like.”

ITGWU branches nationwide marched behind red flags, while in some quarters local units of the Irish Republican Army joined them. This said more about local interrelationships that any official statement of political sympathy. In Dublin, many things ground to a halt, leading the Irish Independent to describe the day as “idle, dull and dismal.” The paper reported that:

In Dublin there were no trams, no North Wall sailings, no theatres, no cinemas, no electric power, no taxis, no restaurants or licensed houses open, and no trains, except the Great Northern Railway.

The regional demonstrations were significant in scale. The Irish Independent reported over three thousand parading in Bray,  more than that in Wexford, and noted that “in Killarney, colonial soldiers joined in a procession of about 1,000 headed by banners and Father Matthew’s band.” In Clonmel, they noted “several red flags were carried in the procession…notwithstanding police intimidation on the matter.” These regional demonstrations gave cause for concern to the paper, who noted that through “the displays of the Red Flag by the demonstrators…and the singing of the song associated with that flag there is evidence, unfortunately, that the ideas of the continental Socialists are beginning to penetrate into Ireland….that these doctrines should gain a footing in Catholic Ireland is much to be deplored.”

The song ‘The Red Flag’, which would ring out in so many cities on May Day 1919, had an Irish author, Jim Connell.  He himself proclaimed that the song  “gave expression to not only my own best thoughts and feelings, but the best thoughts and feelings of every genuine socialist I knew.” Its impact was truly global; as Ronan Burtenshaw notes in a recent piece for Tribune magazine:

It was sung when the National Guard was sent in to repress striking West Virginia coal miners in 1912, and when Australian workers organised a mass strike in 1917. It closed out a 1918 meeting of radical republicans welcoming a delegation of Bolsheviks to Dublin, and was sung by mutinous British soldiers during World War One. Randian miners in South Africa sang it on their way to their death at the gallows. As Tom Mann would say at Connell’s graveside, “The Red Flag inspired thousands, possibly millions.”


Liberty Hall, 1919. William O’Brien, Cathal O’Shannon and Nora Connolly are among the gathered leaders of Irish labour. (Image Credit: Century Ireland)

In Dublin, there were no radical demonstrations. Here, military proclamations outlawed any such gatherings, though as the Trade Union Congress Annual Report for the year would note, “In Dublin, where the military proclamation prohibiting public meetings and processions held sway, the workers had to be content with their silent, workless demonstration.” The Evening Herald carried disgruntled letters from members of the public (all anonymous, and thus potentially fake) pouring scorn on the workers for not going to work.

For some Dublin workers, there was punishment for their involvement in the day. Shackleton’s Mill, Lucan, “locked out” some fifty men who had participated in the May Day strike. Shackleton’s had been proactive supporters of William Martin Murphy’s policy during the 1913 Lockout, and the premises would later be attacked by the Irish Citizen Army for breaking the ‘Belfast Boycott’ which was in place.

Ulster too remained largely quiet. While tens of thousands would parade in Belfast, they waited until the following Saturday to gather in Ormeau Park. There was a real fear among some northern workers of being seen to be used by what they perceived to be a nationalist-inclined labour movement.  The Ulster Unionist Labour Association in Derry encouraged their members to boycott May Day, erroneously stating that the day was “of a revolutionary and Bolshevik nature and supported by Sinn Féin propagandists, as already stated at the opening of Dáil Éireann and that honest labour should repudiate such actions.”

Irish Labour in 1919 was nothing if not optimistic. For Republicans, militant Labour could present both opportunities and potential challenges, as the years ahead would show in the interactions between Dáil Éireann, the Labour Party and militant workers. Still, three months on from May Day 1919, the delegates of the Irish Trade Union Congress would be told Labour’s forecast had come true, and the future lay in their hands:

We cannot afford to make many mistakes. The workers of Ireland have shown they are responsive to the call, and this responsiveness on the part of the rank and file makes the responsibility of the leaders the greater. On all sides at the moment we see industrial unrest. And can we wonder at this. We have for the past four years been warning our people that as sure as morning the industrial war would follow the cessation of hostilities on the Continent. Our forecast has proved but too true.


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Freeman’s Journal, 22 February 1918.

Reading the Bureau of Military History Witness Statements, it is striking just how much of an impact the popular memory of the ‘Great Hunger’ had on Ireland’s revolutionary generation.

The memory of starvation drove some Irish people to radical politics in the decades that followed the calamity, for others it did the very opposite. Dan Breen spoke of people whose lives were shaped only by the “struggle for existence”, for whom “anything that did not relate itself directly to the business of producing food, or the wherewithal to keep body and soul together, had no meaning for them.” Volunteers and others from rural backgrounds recount the oral tradition of the years of hunger as something that influenced them politically; Ned Broy recalled that “harrowing stories of the Famine of 1847 were told by the old people, of starving wretches eating turnips in the fields and dying of hunger or disease of fleeing to America in the coffin ships. Is it any wonder that Irish people who escaped to America and their descendants should continue to nurse hatred of the oppressor in their hearts?”

Given this consciousness of the ‘Great Hunger’, it is not surprising that fear of Famine and starvation was very real to the revolutionary generation. Against the backdrop of serious war time inflation, and with increasingly large exportation of agricultural produce into war-time Britain, much of 1917 and 1918 was spent worrying about food. Even earlier than this, in the winter of 1916, Thomas Johnson of the Labour Party wrote in the Dublin Saturday Post reminding readers that “in 1846 and 1847 the grain harvest was shipped from Ireland to pay landlords rents; today our food supplies are being sold at high prices for consumption in Britain…What say the people of Ireland to a ‘New Protectionism’,that is, to prevent the export of the necessaries of life until the needs of the whole people of Ireland are conserved?”

In winning the people to the idea of the ‘Republic’, advanced nationalists understood the necessity to be seen to take a proactive stand on the issue of the food crisis. This approach led to remarkable scenes in Dublin on a February day in 1918, when Volunteers intercepted pigs near Dorset Street which were being marched to the docks of Dublin, about to be exported to England. Instead, they were taken to a Dublin Corporation yard in nearby Portland Place, slaughtered and the produce distributed to the people of Dublin. It was an important political demonstration of power, showing the republican movement to be concerned with more than nationalist aspiration. As Charles Townshend notes, “this bit of Robin Hood style social banditry was dismissed as mere criminality by the authorities”, but it had a powerful effect in inner-city Dublin.


Diarmuid Lynch, Sinn Féin ‘Food Controller’ during the crisis.

Diarmuid Lynch, born in Cork in 1878, had been a participant in the Easter Rising, privy to the plans of insurrection for some time. American citizenship may have prevented his execution in the aftermath of the rebellion, though he was held in Pentonville Prison until June 1917. A respected political organiser, he was appointed ‘Sinn Féin Food Controller’ during the food crisis. Lynch believed that the action of stopping this food exportation demonstrated Sinn Féin to be “the party of action and not of talk.”

The pigs were taken to a Dublin Corporation yard, where two of the Volunteers, butchers by trade, proceeded to slaughter the animals.  While Dublin Metropolitan Policemen arrived on the scene, they were prevented from intervening. Bill Stapleton, a Volunteer participant, remembered:

…crowds of people fathered outside the Corporation yard, and close on one hundred policemen waited for us to come out.The policemen knocked at the door to gain admittance, but were refused. There was considerable excitement in the neighborhood as the news of the capture of the pigs had gone abroad, but in any case the noise caused by the screeching and dying pigs could be heard a considerable distance away.

As the slaughter occurred, a deal was made with the owners of the pigs, with Stapleton remembering “arrangements were made to purchase the pigs.” Satisfied that they had made their money, they made it clear to the authorities they did not want action taken against the Volunteers. With the withdrawal of the police, lorries arrived into the yard, and the carcasses were taken from the Dorset Street area to Donnelly’s bacon-curing factory near Meath Street. Stapleton recalled “there was considerable excitement and cheering, and we were followed by crowds across the city.”

The scene was far from pretty. Volunteer Charlie Dalton remembered that “the yard was strewn with carcasses of pigs…I was given a yard brush and was told to sweep up the blood which was being hosed into the channel. I felt very superior engaged in this work of national importance.” Still, Dalton could see the effect of the move on the local populace, remembering local women bringing tea and bread to the Volunteers: “I drank the tea with great satisfaction, recalling the time I had seen the very same refreshments handed to the British Tommies…the tide had turned. We were now the heroes of the people.”

Lynch had played a blinder in the press, allowing journalists into the yard, and telling a reporter from the Freeman’s Journal that “pigs were leaving Ireland every week by the thousand, and there was no bacon to be had in the retail shops in Dublin, and the same is true of other parts of the country.”

Such an act of defiance would not be tolerated, and Lynch was brought to trial charged with defiance of the Government, theft and gross disorder. The prosecutor maintained in court that the action was “a startling and unparalleled outrage, and if such conduct was allowed to go on there would be no commercial security in the city.” He was firstly imprisoned in Dundalk Gaol, before deportation to the United States. A song, The Pig Push, celebrating the actions of Lynch and his men, quickly became popular:

I met a friend the other day and this is what he said:

Sinn Féiners they are out again, the streets are running red.

The slaughter it was dreadful thirty-four of them are killed.

I never in my life, said he, saw blood so freely spilled

So says I to him “your dreadful tale, it fills with dismay”

And have thirty-four Sinn Féinrs bold in Dublin passed away?

“No it’s pigs, you fool, that’s killed” says he,”myself I saw it done,

‘Twas Diarmuid Lynch that did the work, by the hokey there was fun.

Lynch was elected in the 1918 General Election as a Sinn Féin candidate in his absence. He took no part in the Civil War, but was later instrumental in attempting to gather historical memories and artifacts relating to the War of Independence period. His actions on Dorset Street deserve to be remembered.



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Plaque on Pearse Street Garda Station

In recent weeks, a new plaque was unveiled on Pearse Street Garda Station, remembering a night of espionage a century ago this very month.

Working away from their base in the Great Brunswick Street station of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (today Pearse Street Garda Station), the job of the ‘G Men’ was to infiltrate and incapacitate radical political organisations in Dublin. Their ‘Movement of Extremist’ files today make for compelling reading, showing that republicans, socialists, suffrage campaigners and others deemed politically subversive were closely monitored as they went about their political and personal lives.

The eyes and ears of British intelligence on the streets of the Irish capital, the G Division had been in place since March 1843. The body were detested by advanced nationalists, with the newspaper Nationality writing in July 1915:

Most people know what a ‘G Man’ means. He is a person, nearly always of Irish origin, who volunteers to look after Irish Nationalists. He is a secret policeman, though in most cases his secret is an obvious one, owing to the size of his general appearance. The members of the ‘G’ Department are countless. They shadow Nationalists, and report the names of those who associate with Nationalists. They follow men and inquire at the houses which they have visited. They travel on railways and report conversations.

And yet, the system could be crippled. Changing political sympathies of men working within state intelligence, as well as interpersonal relationships (impossible to avoid in such a small society) meant that ‘G’ Men and others working in state intelligence could become double agents. There was also a ruthlessness in the Republican movement post 1916, and a determination to strike at intelligence operatives, that transformed the ‘G Men’ from a cocky body of men who had the confidence to literally walk through nationalist gatherings and commemorations in the pre-1916 world, into a body which feared for their lives every time they stepped into the street. Michael Collins, head of the IRA’s Intelligence campaign, understood this perfectly, maintaining that “Our only way to carry on the fight was by organised and bold guerilla warfare. But this in itself was not enough. England could always reinforce her army. To paralyse the British machine it was necessary to strike at individuals outside the ranks of the military.” Soldiers could be replaced easily. When an Intelligence officer  was removed from the picture, it was more difficult for a man to fill those boots.


The carved heads of DMP men still appear in the stonework of Pearse Street Garda Station.

Crucially important to the efforts of Collins was Ned Broy. Attached to the DMP ‘G’ Division, Broy’s political sympathies rested firmly instead with the political radicals the body was spying on. Broy’s statement to the Bureau of Military History post-independence details his families involvement in nationalist politics in Kildare and the strong feeling locally:

…deep down in the people’s hearts burned strongly a bitter hatred of English rule with its soldiers, police, informers, landlords and followers, who composed ‘England’s Faithful Garrison’. We of the Rising generation hated the very name of England, her shires, towns and rivers, and that hatred was intense before we had yet read a line of Irish history.

In January 1911, Broy joined the DMP Depot. He maintained that by comparison to the Royal Irish Constabulary,  there were nationalists working within the Dublin policing force:

In the Depot we all fearlessly and openly discussed the national question and it was the first place I heard the song ‘The Men of the West’. The majority of us expressed strong national views but there was, to our surprise, a small minority whose views were diametrically opposed to national aspirations. However, we felt that in the event of police opposition to Home Rule, as was forecast, we have no small say in enforcing the national will no matter who would be against us.

That someone of such political sympathies could become the confidential clerk of G Division is remarkable. In this capacity, he allowed Michael Collins and Seán Nunan into the premises. Nunan, like Collins, had been actively involved in Irish republican separatist circles in London, and had partaken in the Easter Rising. He would serve as Secretary to Éamon de Valera, President of the First Dáil, and was someone Collins had great faith in. In the early hours of the morning on 7 April 1919, Broy allowed these men into the police station to pursue the files of ‘G’ Division:

The same key opened the political office and opened the secret small room, built into the wall, which contained the records. I gave Michael Collins and Seán Nunan the candles and, getting them to close the door fairly tightly, I left them to carry on their investigation.

Nunan recounted later that “Collins and I stayed…listing the names and activities of the detectives on political work, until about 4am, when we walked home – Collins to Mountjoy and I to Botanic Road.”

Mere days passed before IRA men on the streets were accosting ‘G’ Men, warning them against zeal in carrying out their duties.  Just as the ‘G’ Men gathered files on Irish republicans, Collins and his team would built a counter-intelligence network that did likewise.C.S Andrews would go as far as to maintain that “for the first time in the history of separatism we Irish had a better intelligence service than the British. This was Michael Collins’ great achievement”.

In late July 1919, Detective Sergeant Smith, known as ‘The Dog Smith’, was gunned down on the orders of Michael Collins. Sergeant Daniel Hoey would be killed outside ‘G’ Division Headquarters at Great Brunswick Street in September. Broy would remain deeply important to the Collins intelligence operation, often leaving documents for him with the librarian at the Capel Street Library on Dublin’s northside. When detected, he would be imprisoned, and released after the Truce. His policing days were far from over, with Broy later serving as Commissioner of the Gardaí. The intelligence body formed on his watch, becoming known popularly as the ‘Broy Harriers’, would continue to monitor the ‘Movement of Extremists’ in a new Ireland.



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Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s was a very homogeneous and white society but there were a handful of groundbreaking bands that included both black and white musicians. This a work in progress.

In late 1963, black American singer Earl Jordan joined the Waterford showband group The Derek Joys. Jordan, who was born in Elmore, Alabama, had served with the U.S. Army before moving to England where he lived for five years.

The Derek Joys, 1964/5. Credit – Irishshowbands.com

Jordan left the The Derek Joys after about a year to join the newly formed Caroline Showband in December 1964. The band toured for two years together before Jordan made an exit. In the early 1970s, he sang on the Green Bullfrog album, joined the German group Les Humphries Singers and released two solo singles. Jordan returned to Dublin for a series of gigs in the 1978-79 on the back of two further solo singles.

The Caroline Showband, c. 1965/66. Credit – Irishshowbands.com

The Black Eagles, who formed in 1964, were made up of a group of teenagers from Crumlin who played soul, r&b and pop covers at local youth clubs. There are no audio recordings but a silent home video of the band from 1965 has made it online.

Vocalist Phil Lynott (1949-1986) was born in England, went to primary school in Manchester and moved Dublin to live with his maternal grandparents in Leighlin Road, Crumlin at the age of about eight. Phil’s father Cecil Parris, was from Georgetown, British Guiana in the Caribbean. The other members of the band were Alan Sinclair (lead guitar), Frankie Smyth (rhythm guitar), Danny Smith (bass) and Brian Downey (drums).

Phil later played with Skid Row (1967-68 line up) and fronted Thin Lizzy (1969–1983 line up).

The Black Eagles, c. 1965

Skid Row, c. 1967/68. Credit – Irishshowbands.com

Gene and the Gents formed in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh in early 1964. The band was made up of four local musicians (including guitarist Henry McCullough) who had all previously played in the Skyrockets. They signed up, as lead vocalist, TCD Law student Gene Chetty who had been born Durban, South Africa of Indian background. The band played together until 1969. Gene went onto form a group called The Flames and later played with The Lions. He returned to Ireland in 2006 to play a number of reunion gigs. A BBC radio interview can be heard here.

The Philosophers were a successful mid 1960s beat-group in Galway who added a brass section and played the showband circuit from the late 1960s onwards. Dave Cazabon, son of Trinidad parents who moved to Galway in the 1950s, joined the band as bass player in 1973. His brother Mike, who used the stage name Samba, became lead vocalist around 1974. The band released a number of singles as Samba and the Philosophers. When Mike left the band, his brother Gerry (d. 1996) took over as lead vocalist. A fourth brother Richard (d. 2010) played in a Galway Thin Lizzy cover band called White Ivy/Nightrider in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The Philosophers, mid 1970s.

Following Van Morrison’s departure from Them, band members Tim Armstrong, Kenny McDowell and Buddy Clark re-united in 1969 in Chicago as Truth. They drafted in local drummer Renaldo Smith (known as Reno Smith or Rene Smith) who had previously played with Baby Huey & the Babysitters. The band played together in Ireland for a couple of years before calling it a day. Reno Smith returned to Dublin in 1973 to join the band Chips who he played with for about a year. This article claims that he later played with with funk group Mother’s Finest, various house bands at Chicago blues and soul clubs including the Kingston Mines, and then relocated to Tucson, Arizona where he continued to play blues and R&B.

Chips in c. 1973. Credit – http://www.irish-showbands.com

In circa 1970, Dave Murphy joined a “progressive soul combo” from North Dublin called The Purple Pussycat, who based their sound on the US band Blood, Sweat & Tears. He sang and also played trombone. It was suggested that he was the “city’s second best-known black Irish musician after Phil Lynnott”. He later focused on singer-songwriting and ran a weekly folk music night in The Bailey, McDaid’s, The International and Banker’s throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

The Chicken Fisher Band was formed in 1978 by Martin ‘Chicken’ Fischer, born in London of Swiss parents, guitarist Dave Prim (d. 2018) from Kilkenny and drummer John Forbes of London-Jamaican heritage. In 1979, John Forbes joined soul funk rockers Stagalee who had started life in Tralee, County Kerry three years previously. Stagalee’s 1979 line-up featured Colin Tully (sax/keyboards), Honor Heffernan (vocals), Errol Walsh (guitar/vocals), James Delaney (keyboards) and Tommy Moore (bass/vocals). A contemporary newspaper article stated that John Forbes had recorded two albums with a German group called Black Symphony but I can’t find anymore information online.

Stagalee, 1979 line up. Credit – errolwalsh.com

Zebra, Ireland’s first reggae band, was formed in Dublin in early 1979 by Steve Rekab (guitarist), Bernard Rangel (percussion), Leo Mallon (drums), Brian Narty (bass), Norman Morrow (keyboards) and Pete Deane (vocals). This line up recorded the single Repression which was released on Terri Hooley’s ‘Good Vibrations’ label in July 1979. It featured Marion Woods and Niamh McGovern on backing vocals, was produced by music journalist Ross Fitzsimons and engineered by Johnny Byrne (d. 1997).

The band recorded their song Silent Partners for the compilation ‘Just for Kicks‘ which was released in December 1979. It features the band’s new drummer Mark Thyme who had replaced Leo Mallon (d. 1985). This song was re-released on All City records compilation album ‘Buntús Rince‘ in April 2019.

Bernard Rangel was born in Aden, South Yemen of Indian parents from Goa. He went to secondary school in Blackrock College and studied Economics, History and Psychology in Trinity College Dublin. Steve Rekab was born in Sierra Leone on the southwest coast of West Africa. Brian Nartey’s family background was Jamaican.

Zebra at 24 hour festival Dark Space, Project Arts Centre, Dublin on 16-17 February 1979. Photo – Tracey Clann. Credit – Irishrock.org

Am I missing any bands? Leave a comment or drop me an email.

Thanks to Francis K. (irish-showbands.com), Stan Erraught, Rock Roots and John Byrne for comments and info.



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