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I’m really enjoying the TG4 Seachtar na Cásca efforts. One by one, an hour will be given to examine the men who signed the 1916 proclamation. So far we’ve seen Thomas Clarke, James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett. Plunkett was a man I knew very little about, and while I was very familiar with the other two men the manner in which their stories were presented made for fascinating viewing. Fintan Lane, Diarmaid Ferriter and other historians lend a great hand to the programme, and TG4 continue to use the perfect bilingual approach. Present the show in Irish, and have the experts speak in the language of their own work, be it Irish or English.

Tonight sees Thomas MacDonagh examined. He is, after Connolly, the most interesting of the seven men to me. His role in the foundation of the ASTI Union is so often forgotten, and he moved throughout the Irish literary scene too, immortalised in the beautiful Francis Ledwidge poem ‘Lament for Thomas MacDonagh’ from which this post takes its title. He was appointed a lecturer at UCD in 1911, and in 1914 was central to the foundation of The Irish Theatre in Hardwicke Street.

His translation of The Yellow Bittern remains among my favourite poems.

” The yellow bittern that never broke out
In a drinking bout, might as well have drunk;
His bones are thrown on a naked stone
Where he lived alone like a hermit monk.
O yellow bittern! I pity your lot,
Though they say that a sot like myself is curst —
I was sober a while, but I’ll drink and be wise
For I fear I should die in the end of thirst…..”

The programme will air tonight at 9.30.

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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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Other traditional and folk music uploads on CHTM

Liam Weldon
Dominic Behan
The Furey Brothers
Seamus Ennis (on pipes)
Seamus Ennis (Mrs. McGrath)

The Liffey Banks- Claddagh Records


The Liffey Banks

I remember the first time I saw the image above. It was over on Niall McCormacks blog, and the image just grabbed my attention. In truth, I hadn’t heard of Tommy Potts before. The image is striking but, a man completely content and in his element at one of the most iconic spots in Dublin. Bord Fáilte would ruin it if they tried to capture something like that again. It’s completely natural, a moment caught perfectly.

Anyway, it turned out that Tommy was a Dublin firefighter, and I heard mention of him from my father. Based at Tara Street fire-station, he was injured in the Pearse Street fire of October 6th,1936. Three Dublin firefighters died in the fire, including a 1916 veteran named Robert Malone, and two other firemen- Tom Nugent and Peter McArdle. The three men are buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, side by side.

Sibéal Teo, a television production company, deserve massive credit for their ‘Cérbh é….‘ series on Tg4 exploring some of the key personalities of traditional music in Irish history. Among the figures studied in the series was one Tommy Potts. It opened my eyes not just to his own music, but an entire hidden scene in Dublin, centered around the (sadly gone) Lavin’s pub. The show was presented by Paddy Glackin, a fiddle player himself, which no doubt added to the character of the show.

Here, we have two tracks from 1972s ‘The Liffey Banks’. From the voice of Liam Weldon to the pipes of Seamus Ennis, it’s posts like this I most enjoy.

You can purchase The Liffey Banks from Claddagh Records online for only €13


My Love Is In America

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