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Posts Tagged ‘Irish Volunteers’

On my recent walking tour of radical Dublin, one of the places I brought people was to the site of the Irish Farm Produce Company restaurant and shop on Henry Street. It was there that the 1916 Proclamation was signed, and indeed the premises was the ‘radical cafe’ of its time. Interestingly, most of the people on the tour had not noticed the plaque marking the location of the premises before. It truly is an unusual Dublin plaque.

The plaque to Captain Thomas Weafar on the corner of Lower Abbey Street is another prime example of a plaque many Dubliners are unaware of.

Captain Thomas Weafer ( The plaque reads Wafer, however as you will see below Weafer is more commonly found when discussing him) was shot and killed on Wednesday April 26 1916 while occupying the Hibernian Bank on the corner of Lower Abbey Street and Sackville Street. The strategic importance of the building is clear. It allowed Weafer and his men to control access to the street from Amiens Street Station for example, and members of the the GPO Garrison were occupying a number of buildings on each side of Sackville Street.

Meda Ryan wrote about the experiences of Leslie Price (who went on to marry Tom Barry), in her study of the famous Cork rebel leader entitled Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter.

Receiving no orders, like many Cumann na mBan activists, Leslie headed for the G.P.O

Initially they cooked meals and helped the men in the Hibernian Bank. On Tuesday forenoon the building came under attack from British troops. Leslie was standing beside Capt. Tom Weafer, OC of the Hibernian Garrison, when a bullet whizzed past her and into his stomach. As she was about to attend to him another bullet lodged in the chest of the man who had gone to Capt. Weafer’s aid. She had just time to say a prayer in Weafer’s ear when he died.

From tropicalisland.de, the building on the corner of Lower Abbey Street and O' Connell Street is the old Hibernian Bank premises

(more…)

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Garda Museum and Archives
Opening Hours:9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday
Dublin Castle Record Tower.

Michael Staines (right) and Eoin O' Duffy. Two first Garda Commissioners.

The Garda History Museum is one of individuals, as much as of the force.

Michael Staines was an interesting Volunteer. The son of an RIC man, he was the Quartermaster General within the General Post Office in 1916. When sent to Frongoch, he became ‘Camp Leader’ among the men, and upon his release became active once more at home in the Volunteer movement. On August 17, 1922, as Garda Commissioner he would lead his new police force through the castle gates.

He would be followed by Eoin O’ Duffy, another character of the republican movement, and a most controversial one to boot. Ironically, O’ Duffy had been one of the Republicans involved in the first ever capture of a Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks, in the company of Ernie O’ Malley.

Front of Museum, Dublin Castle.

This Museum, while covering the history of that force which marched into Dublin Castle in 1922, does not shy away from the forces that called it home before them. Rather, it is a comprehensive look at the history of policing in Ireland. The Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police feature prominently in the Museum, featuring both on occasion as a political force (For example the 1913 riots, which resulted in the deaths of several workers) and a day to day police force. The history of the Royal Irish Constabulary in particular is a loaded one, when one considers that, to give one example, the Black and Tans were directly employed by the RIC. Preserving history is not a matter of politics however, and to see so many quality RIC and DMP historical pieces displayed as well as they are here is a treat, and of great assistance to anyone who believes a complete picture is needed when studying some of the most remarkable years in Irish history.

Garda traffic box, a great Dublin shot.

The Museum, spanning an amazing four floors, is one of the last old-fashioned Museums in the city centre in my humble opinion. In fact, along with the Natural History Museum, it is a sort of throwback to Museums of old, and what I feel Museums should be. All the more incredible considering Dublin Castle is only home to the Museum since 1997. The correct approach to displaying items like those in the Garda Museum is simple: Allow the pieces to speak for themselves, and provide the information clearly alongside the items. There is no shortage of information available, in the form of information panels and wall displays, but unlike some museums there is no overpowering audio-visual element.

Proclamation issued April 25th, 1916.

One should not attempt to focus on individual pieces in a Museum like this, as in every corner something new grabs your attention. The Museum holds a variety of War of Independence medals for example, belonging to men who would later join the ranks of An Garda Síochanna. The above Proclamation however stands out for me, issued on April 25th in response to the Rising which began a day previous.

“WHEREAS, in the City of Dublin and County of Dublin certain evilly disposed persons and associations, with the intent to subvert the supremacy of the Crown in Ireland, have committed divers acts of violence, and have with deadly weapons attacked the Forces of the Crown, and have resisted by armed force the lawful Authority of His Majesty’s Police and Military Forces. AND whereas by reason thereof several of His Majesty’s liege Subjects have been killed and many others severely injured, and much damage to property has been caused”

The role of the Gardaí in the new state, in its first few years, is covered, where the force was to follow Staines belief that “The Garda Síochána will succeed not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people” Early Garda documents (for example dealing with the unarmed nature of the force), uniforms and insignia are all on display.

RIC Officer.

Of course, the 1900-22 period is of particular interest to me. Perhaps for other visitors, this isn’t the case. Yet, the story of policing in Ireland told here is so long and broad that certain aspects of it will no doubt appeal to others the way parts of it did to me. Even the stairs here play home to wonderful photographs and pieces, there is not an inch of this Museum left without an item. From my own perspective, approaching the centenary of the 1913 lockout, the Easter Rising and the conflicts that followed on from it, it is no doubt time many of us with a keen interest in the period attempted to increase our understanding of the state forces in Ireland at the time.

I will conclude with a verse from ‘Good Bye RIC’, which I have taken from Jim Herlihy’s wonderful history ‘The Royal Irish Constabulary’

‘We once could walk the city too,
Dressed neatly in our suits of blue,
With polished feet and all complete,
Our heads erect going down the street,
But now we are scattered everywhere,
Far from the dear old Depot Square,
Some of them lie in graves from Foyle to Lee,
Fell fighting in the RIC’

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Shortly after escaping. Mae Burke, Eithne Coyle and Linda Kearns, Carlow 1921. Notice that they are standing on the Union Jack flag.

It’s been a good week for me as far as documentaries go. Along with the fantastic Seamus Ennis effort from RTE linked to below, TG4 has been on the ball too, with Ealú, a brilliant effort revolving around Nurse Linda Kearns.

Link to documentary online, at TG4 Beo.

Only two days into the 1916 Rising, Nurse Kearns set up a temporary hospital at North Great George’s Street. This hospital was designed to provide medical aid to both British and Irish wounded. This temporary hospital was closed by military orders. Linda was to become a more active part of the republican movement after the Rising.

Interesting information on her activity on behalf of the IRA can be found in Sinead McCoole’s No Ordinary Women. Linda was never a member of Cumann na mBan for example, though did provide lectures to the women of the movement, as Doctor Kathleen Lynn had before the insurrection. The nursing home Linda ran in Gardiner Place also functioned as a sort of hiding spot for republican men on the run.

Cal McCarthy’s excellent study of Cumann na mBan (Cumann na mBan and the Irish Revolution) quotes the report of the Sligo County Inspector following the arrest of Linda Kearns in November 1920.

“On 20-11-20 a police and military patrol stopped a motor car driven by nurse Belinda Kearns of 29 Gardiner Palace Dublin and found therein ten service rifles, four revolvers, 403 rounds of service rifle ammunition, 23 rounds of revolver ammunition and a quantity of equipment.”

Linda Kearns

The report went on to state that three male suspects were arrested in the motor car, and that crown intelligence ascertained that “…Miss Kearns has for the past two years been the medium of communication between Head Quarters IRA Dublin and County Sligo”

Linda did time in a number of Irish prisons before being sent to Walton Prison in Liverpool, where she went on hungerstrike. From here she was sent to Mountjoy Prison.

In The Jangle of the Keys, her highly regarded personal history of her time in a variety of British and Free State run Irish prisons, Margaret Buckley wrote at length about the 1921 escape from Mountjoy.

Linda Kearns was largely responsible for the planning of the sensational Mountjoy escape, and entered with great glee into organising it”

A sympathetic wardress had seen to it that the girls were able to get their hands on a wax-mold of the key needed for their escape.

“It was Hallowe’en. Word was sent out; signals agreed on; and time and place fixed…”

The female prisoners were participating in a football match, Cork versus the Rest of Ireland. The Rest of Ireland won, but that was irrelevant. The prisoners created plenty of noise, and the four female prisoners plotting their escape seized the moment. Linda Kearns, Eithne Coyle, Mae Burke and Eileen Keogh made their move. Throwing a small perfume bottle over the wall at the agreed spot, a rope ladder was returned. Linda went first, due to ill-health, followed by Eileen Keogh, Mae Burke and lastly Eithne Coyle. Linda Kearns would find shelter at an IRA training camp in Carlow until the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty.

Amazingly, Linda Kearns was to play a role in the Civil War too, ensuring she earned all her republican stripes! Having failed to gain entry to the Four Courts, she found herself in a variety of locations throughout Dublin tending to the wounded. When the focus of the battle in Dublin shifted entirely to O’ Connell Street, the stretch from the Hammond to the Gresham Hotel was occupied by something in the region of 100 republican combatants.

Margaret Ward noted in her study of the role of women in Irish nationalist history (Unmanageable Revolutionaries) that Cathal Brugha himself had to appeal strongly to the 30 women to leave, as the fight looked doomed. Three remained. Alongside Kathleen Barry and Muriel MacSwiney (The widow of Terence, The Lord Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike) was Linda Kearns.

Free State armoured car, photographed during the Civil War in Dublin.

Linda Kearns witnessed the wounding of Cathal Brugha, who had refused to surrender to the forces of the new state. She held his severed artery between her fingers as he was driven to hospital, but he would die two days later. Cumann na mBan activists stood guard over Brugha when his body lay in state.

Her story is an amazing one, and by no means ends there. Nor does it start on North Great George’s Street.

In his wonderful biography of Kevin Barry (Kevin Barry And His Time), Donal O’ Donovan wrote that “Linda Kearns of Sligo, a trained nurse, is one of those people who was in everything during the War of Independence and the Civil War, but has not yet got her due meed of praise”

This fantastic effort from TG4 is most worthy of your time, and finally sees to it that Linda Kearns gets some of the attention she deserves.

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The Hospital today...

...and as it would have looked at the time.

Images of graves below.

Seven men, two members of the Irish Volunteers and five British Army soldiers, are buried side by side in what is literally the back garden of Dr. Steeven’s Hospital.

This is not a graveyard, but as stated above quite literally a garden. The two graves could not be physicially closer, or more symbolically diffferent, than they are.

Of the British Army men, almost all belong to Irish Regiments.

The names of the men are provided in the images below underneath their respective headstones. Of the rebel casualties, one belonged to the Fingal Battalion and one to the 4th Battalion Dublin Brigade. The Fingal Battalion, or ‘North Dublin Battalion’, for the most part fought with Thomas Ashe during the insurrection. His burial here shows that sometimes people ended up in random locations owing to their time of arrival or other commitments, or simply due to the need for reinforcements in parts of the city. The 4th Battalion are associated with the action at the South Dublin Union where they served under Éamonn Ceannt. His Battalion is said to have numbered around 120 men. Volunteer Sean Owens, who belonged to that Battalion, was twenty four years old at the time of the insurrection, and from the Coombe area of Dublin.Interesting information regarding the fight leading to his death can be found in Uncommon Valour by Paul O’ Brien, published by Mercier Press. He is said to have been killed less than two hours into the taking of the South Dublin Union, and is therefore one of the earliest casualties of the Republican side.

Volunteer Peter Wilson, a Swords native, was shot after the surrender of the Mendicity Institution. This group of Volunteers were to hold the position for a number of hours, but managed to hold out until Wednesday. Despite emerging under a white flag, Wilson was shot and killed. He was 40 years old at the time.

By pure chance, the 1916 service medal of Volunteer Owens is currently listed in an upcoming auction at Whytes auction house in Dublin City. It is valued, amazingly, at €15,000 to €20,000.

Lot 165, its description reads:

“1916 Rising Service Medal to Private John Owens, B Company, 4th Battalion, killed in action, South Dublin Union, 24 April. €15,000- €20,000”

The medal of one of our Volunteers below

This amazing photograph below from the gravesite at Steeven’s Hospital is included in the lot, and more information is available here at invaluable.com

Photo of a memorial service in the hospital grounds, from the Irish Press September 1935

Notice that one of the British Army men buried here is a Lancer who died on the 24th of April, 1916. Lancers came under fire on the first day of the rebellion from the Four Courts Garrison and, more famously, the rebel headquarters at the General Post Office. Other Lancers are buried in Grangegorman Cemetery today, where one grave notes that the man was “Killed during the Irish Rebellion”

Three of the men buried here belonged to the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, which was based at Richmond Barracks, under Lt.Col R L Owens. Their strength at the time of the insurrection was 18 officers and 385 other ranks.

Ceannt photographed with Irish Volunteers

A grave holding two Irish Volunteers sits right next to one holding five British Army soldiers (Four from Irish Regiments)

Easter lillies on the grave of the two Irish Volunteers

We had to rub the British Army headstone down with a wet cloth to be able to read the text, which I think you can see clearly below.

The headstone to the British Army casualties

G.W Barnett
Sherwood Foresters
27th April 1916

O. Bentley
5th Lancers
24th April 1916

M. Carr
3rd Bn. Royal Irish Regiment
24th April 1916

J. Duffy
3rd Bn. Royal Irish Regiment
24th April 1916

T.Treacy
3rd Bn. Royal Irish Regiment
24th April 1916

The text of the Volunteers gravestone. Notice the 'Oglaidh na hÉireann' logo.

Vol. Sean Owens
4th Batt. Dublin Brigade

Vol. Peter Wilson
Fingal Brigade

Want to visit the graves? Dr. Steeven’s Hospital is the building right across the way from Heuston Station.

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“What was this Republic of which I now heard for the first time? Who were the leaders the British had executed after taking them prisoners, Tom Clarke, Padraic Pearse, James Connolly and all the others, none of whose names I had ever heard? What did it all mean?”

So wrote a young British soldier serving in Mesopotamia, or Iraq to you and me. Bemused by what had occured in Dublin, this one soldier had gone to war not lured by the recruitment posters featuring small nations (often personified in the form of female characters) but in his own words “..for no other reason than that I wanted to see what war was like, to get a gun, to see new countries and to feel like a grown man”. This young soldier would continue to serve that army afterwards, but in 1920 became a member of the 3rd Cork Brigade of the Irish Republican Army, rising through the ranks to become a flying column leader who inflicted terror on Auxiliary forces at Kilmichael and the Essex Regiment of the British Army and the Royal Irish Constabulary at Crossbarry. The young man, of course, was Tom Barry.

Tom Barry

Barry was not the only Republican leader who saw the Rising in an unusual manner. In Dublin,a young medical student named Ernie O’ Malley was taken aback by events, and vivdly described events on Sackville Street.

“Other shops had just been looted: Lawrence’s toy bazaar and some jewellers. Diamond rings and pocketsful of gold watches were selling for sixpence and a shilling, and one was cursed if one did not buy…. Ragged boys wearing old boots, brown and black, tramped up and down with air rifles on their shoulders or played cowboys and Indians, armed with black pistols supplied with long rows of paper caps. Little girls hugged teddy bears and dolls as if they could hardly believe their good fortune”

Ernie O' Malley

While literally seeing the outbreak of the rebellion, O’ Malley would also encounter a student he knew who told him they were arming themselves in case Trinity College would be attacked. O’ Malley informed the student that while he was off home, he would return later(The fact O’ Malley was a UCD Student would no doubt lead to cries of ‘Sacrilege!’ from some even today). Largely indifferent at first to what was occuring, O’ Malley would quickly turn towards the rebels, even making his way down Moore Street and towards Nelsons Pillar one night, where he discussed the rising so far with a uniformed officer of the Irish Citizen Army. Amazingly, O’ Malley and a schoolboy friend would take it upon themselves to assist the rebels, through taking potshots at soldiers with a rifle his friends father had been given “as a present by a soldier who brought it back from the Front”

In his memoir, On Another Man’s Wound he went on to note that after the rebellion he purchased a copy of James Connolly’s Labour In Irish History. History would see Ernie O’ Malley remembered as a leading republican anti-treatyite, and a key intellectual within the movement.

James Stephens

In Dublin, James Stephens was surprised by the outbreak of the insurrection, in fact to the extent that he did not notice at first and went about his business. A novelist and poet, his account of the week, The Insurrection in Dublin, is well written and oft-humourous.

“This has taken everyone by surprise. It is possible, that with the exception of their staff, it has taken the Volunteers themselves by surprise; but,today, our peaceful city is no longer peaceful; guns are sounding or rolling and cracking from different directions, and, although rarely, the rattle of machine guns can be heard also.

Two days ago war seemed very far away- so far, that I have convenated with myself to learn the alphabet of music”

Stephens would seek confirmation of the Risings continuation from his own window, and the Republican flag flying over the Jacob’s Garrison, under the command of Thomas MacDonagh, but including a diverse band of individuals like Peadar Kearney (author of The Soldiers Song), Major John MacBride and the actress Máire Ní Shiubhlaigh, a member of Cumann na mBán, the womens auxiliary force to the Irish Volunteers.

“It is half-past three o’clock, and from my window the Republican flag can still be seen flying over Jacob’s factory. There is occasional shooting, but the city as a whole is quiet. At a quarter to five o’clock
a heavy gun boomed once. Ten minutes later there was heavy machine gun firing and much rifle shooting. In another ten minutes the flag at Jacob’s was hauled down.

Many had believed that the country would rise after Dublin, and create a national uprising out of a regional one. This was not to be, with contradictory orders from national leadership leading to mass confusion. Liam Mellows mustered a force of several hundred in Galway who were involved in several attacks on police barracks’ yet did not have the capability to sustain any sort of campaign in the region. Men of the ‘Fingal Batallion’ of the Irish Volunteers would find themselves active in Ashbourne, County Meath with Thomas Ashe, where they inflicted real damage on local Royal Irish Constabulary forces. Still, the significant forces available to the Volunteers nationwide were not used, as many had obeyed the order of Eoin MacNeill and word did not travel from Dublin at a speed to allow for a nationwide insurrection.

Dan Breen, front row.

The frustration of some Volunteers outside Dublin can be clearly felt in Dan Breen’s account of news reaching him in Tipperary, and his attempts to establish contact with Sean Treacy, a leading figure of the Third Tipperary Brigade and a close friend.

“Sean had left his home on the first news of the Rebellion and cycled from one centre to another, urging the Tipperary Volunteers to take action….

…We were bitterly dissapointed that the fighting had not extended to the country. We swore that, should the fighting ever be resumed, we would be in the thick of it, no matter where it took place”

Perhaps fittingly, on the 21st of January, 1919, Sean and Dan would play no small part in resuming the fighting with the Soloheadbeg Ambush, an action that has found a place in Irish history as the event which essentially kick-started the War of Independence. Anyone new to the period should seek out the ‘Wanted’ poster for Dan Breen, which is sure to raise a chuckle, highlighting his “sulky bulldog appearance” among other things.

Events in Dublin would have a ricochet effect far beyond the city or even Irish countryside. In Wales, Captain Jack White would find himself arrested too.

Captain Jack White

White had drilled, and in fact dressed (disagreeing with Sean O’ Casey on the matter of uniforming such a workers militia), the Citizen Army long before the insurrection.

In his memoir, Misfit, White noted that “In short, I am arrested in the South Wales coalfield for trying to get the Welsh miners out on strike. Why? To save Jim Connolly being shot for his share in the Easter Rising in command of the Citizen Army. Had I succeeded I would have crippled the coal supply for the British Fleet”

Years after the insurrection, White would find himself an anarchist in Spain,and in an article published on November 11th 1936 titled “A Rebel In Barcelona: Jack White’s First Spanish Impressions” White would once again speak of the Easter Rising.

“You will have heard no doubt about the Dublin Rising of 1916. That rising is now thought of as purely a national one, of which the aims went no further than the national independence of Ireland. It is conveniently forgotten that not only was the manifesto published by the “bourgeois” leaders concieved in a spirit of extreme liberal democracy, but, associated with the “bourgeois” leaders was James Connolly, the international socialist, who some regarded as the great revolutionary fighter and organiser of his day. In command of the Irish Citizen Army, which I had drilled, he made common cause with the Republican separatists against the common Imperial enemy.”

The article was printed in the CNT-AIT Boletin de Informacion, and White concluded by stating he greeted the working class revolution with “..the voice of revolutionary Ireland”

Not all former comrades of James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army were as kind. Sean O’Casey had walked from the Citizen Army (where he held the situation of Honorary Secretary) with maintained a belief that the Citizen Army had aligned itself too closely with what he saw as reactionary nationalist forces.

Sean O' Casey

In his ‘Story of the Irish Citizen Army’ (available to read free online over at Libcom) O’Casey wrote of the raising of the green flag over Liberty Hall, stating that in his opinion “Labour had laid its precious gift of Independence on the altar of Irish Nationalism…”

Concluding Book 3 of his own autobiography, Drums under the Windows, published in 1945, it becomes clear he did not change his views with regards the new and secondary role the Irish labour movement had taken to Irish nationalism:

“But Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan, walks firm now, a flush on her haughty cheek. She hears the murmur in the people’s hearts. Her lovers are gathered around her, for things are changed, changed utterly.

A terrible beauty is born.

Poor, dear, dead men. Poor W.B. Yeats”

Lastly, it is worth taking a brief look at a story that is personal and not political. In Portrait of a Rebel Father , Nora Connolly O’ Brien, daughter of James Connolly, describes the initial reaction of the family to their fathers execution.

Nora Connolly O' Brien

“Mama, we must go back to the Castle and ask for daddy’s body”
“They won’t give it to us”
“We must ask”
It was refused.
“Mrs. Connolly”- a nurse came to them as they stood in the hall not knowing what to do- “before Mr. Connolly left us I cut this off for you” On her hand was a lock of daddy’s hair. Mama took it and held to her cheek all that was left of him.

Of course, the above opinions and reactions are just a small sample of what is out there. This Easter Week, we should look at the event not just as a week long insurrection, but as an event that would ricochet on through the troubles that followed and continue to spark debate long after the last bullets whizzed through the Dublin sky.

A fantastic snap from life.com from one of the the 2006 commemorations at the GPO,Dublin.

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the Plough And The Stars


“The only censorship that is justified is the free censorship of popular opinion. The Ireland that remembers with tear-dimmed eyes all that Easter Week stands for, will not, and cannot, be silent in face of such a challenge.”

The above words, amazingly, come from none other than Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. A feminist, suffragete and left-wing nationalist. The subject of her comments is Sean O’ Caseys play, The Plough And The Stars. When we think of the riots the play kicked off, often its easy to imagine a ‘mob’ of religious and conservative nationalists. Sheehy-Skeffingtons opposition shows things were a little more complex.

If anyone has read O’ Caseys book on his time in the Citizen Army, The Story Of The Irish Citizen Army, they’ll know he never held back with his criticism of what he seen as the failures of the movement (Normally, of course, with biting satire and wit)

Sean O’ Casey famously put a motion forward within the movement calling on the Countess Markievicz to “sever her connection” with the nationalist movement if she was to remain active in the labour movement, which fell. After this, O’ Casey resigned his position was Honorary General Secretary.

The motion read:

“Seeing that Madame Markievicz was, through Cumann na mBan, attached to the Volunteers, and on intimate terms with many of the Volunteer leaders, and as the Volunteers’ Association was, in its methods and aims, inimical to the first interests of Labour, it could not be expected that Madame could retain the confidence of the Council; and that she be now asked to sever her connection with either the Volunteers or the Irish Citizen Army”

While many of you have likely seen the play before, its return to the Abbey is most welcome and this promises to be a fantastic production.

For me, the prize moment is always Jack singing Nora to his wife. Nobody has ever come near to the late Ronnie Drews fantastic rendition.

Look here, comrade, there’s no such thing as an Irishman, or an Englishman, or a German or a Turk; we’re all only human bein’s. Scientifically speakin’, it’s all a question of the accidental gatherin’ together of mollycewels an’ atoms

I’ll see you there!

The Plough And The Stars Opens At The Abbey On July 27th,2010
Sean O’ Caseys ‘The Story of the Irish Citizen Army’ can be read free online at Libcom.org

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