This Week in the History of the Irish: November 19-25

LUAIN-- On the morning of Nov. 20, 1917, the 16th Irish Division of the British army assaulted an area of the German lines known as "Tunnel Trench," named for an elaborate tunnel system that ran along it. The attack was meant as a diversion for the main attack, about 8 miles to the southeast at Cambrai. The whole area in front of the Irish was scattered with concrete machine-gun forts, or Mebus, similar to those that had decimated 16th Division at the Battle of Langemarck the previous August. To maintain the element of surprise, the division's artillery did not open fire until the moment the assault began at 6:20 a.m. At the same time, Stokes mortars began to lay a smoke barrage upon the German trenches in imitation of a gas attack, causing many German to don cumbersome gas-masks and retreated to their underground bunkers. Thus the plan worked to perfection, and the Irish quickly overran and captured most of the German line. Within an hour, the assault on the first line was a total success. Attempts to expand the ground taken resulted in heavier opposition and were driven back after the fiercest fighting of the day, but the initial ground was held. According to the Divisional historian "… this swift and successful operation by 16th Division was a model of attack with a limited objective." The 16th had captured nearly 3,000 yards of trench, killed 330 Germans and taken 635 prisoners. More importantly, though, the mayhem caused by the diversionary assault contributed greatly to the initial success of the Cambrai offensive. (Read more about the Battle of Tunnel Hill.)

MÁIRT -- In the early morning hours of Nov. 21, 1920, Michael Collins sent out his men to rip the heart out of British intelligence operations in Dublin by killing 11 agents of the so-called Cairo Gang.

(Right, National Library of Ireland: This photo has been claimed to be members of the infamous Cairo Gang of British spies,  but is more likely gunmen of the Igoe Gang or Tudor’s Tigers, an RIC death squad.  This photograph was sent to Collins by one of his spies; it numbers and names the men in it.)

Through the centuries the British had crushed Irish revolutionary movements through the use of spies and informers, and Collins was in the process of beating the British at their own game. When word of the success of the operation got back to Collins, knowing the brutality of the men in England's infamous "Black and Tan" force, sent a message to the Gaelic Athletic Association, telling them to cancel that day's game between Dublin and Tipperary. But it was too late -- the game went on. Lashing out, the Black and Tans surrounded Croke Park during the game and moved in. Their supposed purpose was to attempt to capture Sinn Feiners who might be in the crowd, but they soon opened fire indiscriminately on the players and spectators. They would kill 12 and wound hundreds before members of the Auxiliaries, another brutal force created to crush the Irish insurrection, finally managed to get them to cease-fire. It would go down in Irish history as the first "Bloody Sunday," though unfortunately not the last. Much like their counterparts in the last "Bloody Sunday," in January 1972, they would make the ludicrous claim that they were fired on first; and exactly like them, they would have no evidence nor any member with as much as a scratch to back up these claims. Among the dead would be Michael Hogan, a player for Tipperary, who was unlikely to have had a gun stuck in his belt during the game. Later that night at Dublin Castle, drunken Black and Tans tortured three prisoners and finally bayoneted and shot them to death. Peadar Clancy and Dick McKee were actually members of Collins' squad, but the third man, Conor Clune, was a completely innocent clerk from County Clare who had merely been in Dublin on business. The official report of the British Colonial government stated that the three were shot while attempting to escape.

CÉADAOIN -- On November 22, 1919, Máire Drumm (nee McAteer), (right) Republican activist, was born in Newry, County Armagh. Máire's family was strongly republican; her mother had been active in the War of Independence and the Civil War. When she moved to Dublin seeking employment in 1940 she joined Sinn Fein. Later, now living in Belfast, she became interested in camogie (the female form of hurling) and started a lifelong involvement with the sport in Ireland. Máire also became active in the republican movement in Belfast. While visiting republican prisoners there she met James Drumm whom she married in 1946. When the IRA renewed the armed struggle in the late 50s, James was again interned without trial from '57 to '61. When the civil rights movement began in the late 60s Máire was actively involved in the efforts to rehouse the thousands of nationalists forced from the homes by Unionist intimidation. Máire began to speak at many rallies and protest meetings and was elected to the Ard-Chomhairle of Sinn Fein. With her activities now high profile, Máire's family was targeted for government harassment. At one point her husband and son were interned by the government at the same time; James would become known as the most jailed republican in the six counties. Máire was also jailed twice for 'seditious speeches,' once along with her daughter. Her house was constantly being raided by security forces, and she and her family were under constant threat of death from the powerful forces aligned against the reunification of Ireland, but Máire would not be intimidated. Finally the constant strain took its toll; her health began to fail and she was admitted to Mater Hospital, Belfast. On Oct. 28, 1976, as Máire lay in her hospital bed, Unionist thugs walked in and shot the tireless freedom fighter to death.

From a Massachusetts Ancient Order of Hibernians poster commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the hanging of the Manchester Martyrs.

DEARDAOIN -- On November 23, 1867, Fenians Michael Larkin, William Philip Allen, and Michael O'Brien, the "the Manchester Martyrs," were publicly hanged in Manchester. On Sept. 18, they had helped rescue two prominent Fenians, Thomas Kelly and Timothy Deasy, as they were being transported from court to jail in a police van. The van was surrounded by some 30 Fenians and, in order to get the locked door open, one of them, probably Peter Rice, who later escaped to the United States, had fired a pistol into the lock. The shot entered the van and killed police Sgt. Charles Brett. Eventually the door was opened and the Fenians scattered. Kelly and Deasy avoided the massive dragnet that followed the escape and made their way to safety in America. Five Irishmen were arrested, the three who were later executed, and Edward O'Meagher Condon, all of whom were involved, and Thomas Maguire, who was not a Fenian and was nowhere near the rescue that day. Maguire's only 'crime,' like many Irishmen before and since, was being an Irishman in England. During the trial, one witness against the men had over 43 convictions for drunkenness and another avoided penal servitude by testifying against them, but it probably mattered little, for the convictions were certainly assured from the beginning. However, when given an opportunity to speak, the four Fenians on trial used that stage to shine a light on England's colonial oppression of their people. All five were condemned to death but Condon's sentence, perhaps because of U.S. citizenship, was commuted and eventually even the British government could not deny that Maguire was uninvolved and he was released. While in the dock, though, Condon uttered one of the most famous lines in Irish republican history: "I have nothing to regret or take back. I can only say, GOD SAVE IRELAND!" The London Times reported that the other three Fenians immediately shouted the same words. The "Manchester Martyrs" would later be immortalized by the song "God Save Ireland," which was the anthem of republicanism for 50 years. The executions of the three Fenians and Sullivan's song about it helped swell the ranks of Irish nationalism. The bodies of Larkin, O'Brien, and Allen were returned to Dublin, and over 60,000 people marched in their funeral procession

AOINE -- On November 24, 1922, during the Irish Civil War, Irish republican Erskine Childers was executed by the Free State government. Childers, whose mother was from County Clare, was born in London. He was wounded while serving in the British army during the Boer War, a war in which the Boer side was supported by most Irish nationalists. After the war, Childers became involved in the Irish nationalist movement; he also wrote a book about his exploits in the Boer War called In the Ranks of the CIV (City Imperial Volunteers). In 1914, Childers was involved in one of the most famous incidents of the republican struggle when he smuggled German rifles into Ireland on his yacht, Asgard.

(Left: Erskine Childers in his British army uniform, c. 1900>

Surprisingly, however, Childers was convinced by John Redmond's arguments that an Irish contribution to England's war effort in World War I would yield home rule, and he enlisted in the British Navy and was even awarded a Distinguished Service Cross. Once the war was over, and he saw that Home Rule for the 32 counties was highly unlikely, he became a committed republican. He was elected to the Daíl Éireann from County Wicklow in 1921 and then appointed minister of propaganda in the Republican government. He was secretary to the Irish delegation that negotiated The Anglo-Irish Treaty, but he opposed that treaty and joined the republican side in the Civil War. In November 1922, Childers was captured by Free Staters while in possession of a pistol. Recent Free State legislation had made that a capital offence and Childers was sentenced to death. Ironically the pistol had been a gift from Michael Collins. On the 27th, he was taken from his cell at dawn and shot. Before they shot him, Childers shook the hand of each member of his firing squad and forgave them. In his prison cell the night before he died, Childers made his son promise to forgive those who were about to kill him; 51 years later that son, also Erskine, would be elected president of the Irish Republic. Read more about The Anglo-Irish Treaty.

VOICES

National Library of Ireland
Two of the 500 Irishmen arrested in the two days after Bloody Sunday.

'Yesterday's slaughter is the dreadful result of a policy of illegal violence to which the Government has for months turned a blind eye.' -- From the London paper The Daily Mail. Nov. 22, 1920 'My intention was the destruction of the undesirables who contrived to make miserable the lives of ordinary decent citizens.' 
        -- Michael Collins on the Cairo Gang.

'So yesterday morning the Tories, by the hand of Mr Calcraft, accomplished the final act of separation between England and Ireland'
       
 -- Frederick Engels, writing to Karl Marx regarding the hanging of the Manchester Martyrs

"I have come back [from the Boer War] finally and immutably a convert to Home Rule...though we both grew up steeped in the most irreconcilable sort of Unionism."
        -- Esrkine Childers in 1908

BIRTHS

November - Samhain

20, 1830 - Patrick Henry Jones (Union General -- Co. Meath)
20, 1840 - John Russell Young (US Civil War journalist -- Co. Tyrone.)
22, 1919 - Maire Drumm (nee McAteer) (Republican -- Newry, Co. Armagh.)
23, 1819 - Margaret Aylward (Founder of the Sisters of the Holy Faith -- Waterford.)
23, 1841 - Richard Croker (Boss of Tammany Hall, New York -- Clonakilty, Co. Cork.)
24, 1807
 - Henry Blosse Lynch (Soldier and explorer -- Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo.)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

19, 1798 - Tone dies from self-inflicted wound in provost-marshal's prison, Dublin barracks
20, 1917 - The 16th Irish Division of the British army assaults Tunnel Trench.
20, 1923 - Republican prisoner Denis Barry dies on hunger strike.
20, 1943 - The 165th Inf. (69th NY) lands on Makin Island in the Pacific, Col. Conroy is killed on the first day.
21, 1814 - Irish Brigadier Juan Mackenna, who fought for the Independence of Chile, dies in Buenos Aires in a duel with Luis Race.
21, 1920 - 14 British agents in Dublin assassinated by Collins men in the early morning hours.
21, 1920 - "Bloody Sunday" massacre in Dublin.
21, 1973 - Sunningdale accord introduces power-sharing executive for Northern Ireland.
22, 1869 - O'Donovan Rossa wins Tipperary MP seat; declared ineligible as convicted felon.
22, 1963 - JFK assassinated in Dallas, Tex.
23, 1867 - Execution of the Fenian "Manchester Martyrs."
23, 1913 - Irish Citizen Army founded in Dublin by James Larkin.
24, 1865 - IRB founder James Stephens escapes from Richmond Gaol
24, 1922 - Erskine Childers(Irish Republican) executed by Free State.
25, 1783 - After the British evacuate New York City, George Washington has breakfast with Irish immigrant and American spy Hercules Mulligan, helping to clear his reputation in the city.
25, 1864 - The 10th Tenn. (Confederate-Irish) fights at the battle of Missionary Ridge, TN.
25, 1913 - Founding of the Irish Volunteers.

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Tags: Europe, History of Ireland, Military History, On This Day

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