Category Archives: Places

Custom House Cat

After the Truce the violence that had become commonplace during the War of Independence had all stopped, at least for the time being. The ordinary citizens could go about their business without the fear of walking into an ambush or other violent episodes. After years of wars, uprisings and blight of one kind or another an optimistic of not miraculous news story was greatly welcome.

During the clean up to the Custom House, which had stood in ruin since May of that year workers came across a cat, who had been locked in one of the cellars. Having no way of getting in or out of the basement of the building the workers believed that the lucky creature who had survived a total of 77 days, without food and practically no fresh air, was skin and bone barely able to stand on its four legs.

The foreman took it home, fed it and nursed it back to health. The cat made a full recovery.

The cat was taken home by the foreman to recover and is expected to survive. 

Sources

https://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/cat-found-in-ruins-of-dublins-custom-house

Freeman’s Journal 16 August 1921

Cease Fire

The picture below appeared in the Illustrated London News in July 1921. If the photograph had background noise it would have been the low pitched chant of the Rosary, which was in fact recited when it was taken. The prayerful crowd of men, women and children had assembled outside the Mansion House, Dublin to petition the heavens for peace after a long drawn out war which had claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 over its two and a half year duration. Inside the delegates from both sides were deep in negotiation to determine Ireland’s future.

At midday on Monday July 11th 1921 the the Truce between the IRA and the British Crown Forces came into effect. The cease fire had been negotiated a week before on July 4th, between Eamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith on the Irish side and representing the British was the leader of the British Army in Ireland, Neville Mcready. The Truce was officially announced on July 8th, allowing a week for both sides to lay down arms. In its own way the Truce was a small victory for the Irish side as Britain had never acknowledged that they were at war with the country. They viewed the situation more as a series of violent ambushes and killing by the ‘murder gang’ not the official Irish Republican Army. The Truce validated the fact that a war had taken place, which in turn was a minor victory for the IRA, which would have boded very well with Republicans like Emily.

The general public breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time in a long time they could go about their daily business without the specter of violence looming on the streets. The sporadic turned frequent echoes of gunfire on the streets of Dublin and larger urban centres would fall silent replaced by the more natural sound of human traffic and children playing.

When the ceasefire was announced, it was met with great cheer, and just a little superstition. “Friday is a lucky day they say down the country”. More took a more prayerful view; “And they say again down the country God grant it”.

In Dublin there was a air of festivity with the sounding of sirens on the docks, workers given the day off and children were encouraged to celebrate.

“Back in Ireland, midday on 11 July 1921 was also being marked. At Dublin Port, for instance, American and British steamships signalled support for the truce by sounding their sirens, while many workers, including over 300 corporation labourers and 1,600 men at the Inchicore railway works, were let off from their workplaces, released to enjoy a Monday afternoon in the midst of a July heat wave. Some Dublin schoolchildren were similarly indulged.”

https://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/endgame-1921-towards-truce-and-treaty-in-ireland

Retail and business took advantage of the festive mood in the hopes that the new lease on life would bring in customers. Some shops even offered special ‘Truce’ discounts on clothing. Their advertising campaign suggests that their clothes would be perfect attire to were to Truce celebrations!

Sources

A Truce? Ireland’s Own, Centenary Souvenir Edition 1921 2021; by Eoin Swithin Walsh.

Weekly Freeman’s Journal 30 July 1921

https://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/endgame-1921-towards-truce-and-treaty-in-ireland

Dublin Evening Telegraph 11 July 1921

Irish Times 11 July 1921

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Illustrated London News 16 July 1921

The Burning of the Custom House

On May 25th 1921 around lunch time the IRA launched their most grandiose attack of the War of Independence, the taking of the Custom House Dublin. The carefully planned attack was months in the making, carefully crafted to serve two main purposes, to attack the second most important centre of British administration in Ireland and to attract the attention of the international media. The attack was successful on both accounts, but it was also counterproductive on many accounts too.

Second to Dublin Castle the Custom House was the most important centre of British administration in Ireland. The strike at it was chosen over the taking of Beggar’s Bush Barracks, the Auxiliary Police Headquarters, because it was there were too many armed police, and a full scale battle would surely ensue. The Custom House was easier to take and there was a much lesser chance of instant bloodshed.

A few months earlier the at the home of the late The O’Rahilly, who died during the Easter Rising, in 40 Herbert Park a special meeting was called by senior IRA figures. In attendance were Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, Cathal Brugha, Austin Stack, Richard Mulcahy, Liam Mellows, Piaras Béaslaí and the Commander of the IRA’s Dublin brigade, Oscar Traynor. Eamon de Valera, who had just returned from America, where he had made an impression on the Irish diaspora there, was determined to create a sensational attack to force the British side in further negotiations and attract international attention to the Irish campaign for freedom.

In the early afternoon of May 25th 1921, more than a hundred plain clothed IRA members gathered about the Custom House waiting for the signal to carry out orders. Many of the assembly were, passionate and enthusiastic but they were also young, inexperienced and unarmed and not fully equipped to carry out the task at hand. The limited ammunition was consigned to small group who were more experienced in guerrilla warfare.

Under the command of Tom Ennis, they entered the Custom House and overpowered the guards, while outside a lorry complete with all the necessary equipment to set the great building alight. In the chaos the caretaker was killed while he tried to raise the alarm. But word got out anyway, and within minutes the British forces arrived. A gun battle, that was hoped to have been avoided ensued. The IRA didn’t stand a chance with the better equipped British Military. Nine lives were lost including a boy of seventeen, who had joined the IRA. Mass arrests were made, depleting the Irish side of troops and valuable ammunition. The whole operation was not considered a Republican success, however it did achieve attracting the attention of the international media.

The Custom House burned for ten days in total, helped on by the fact that many of the Dublin Fire Brigade sided with that of the Republicans and many were members, who purposely delayed quenching the fire. There was also a sort of victory in the destruction of a sizable amount of the documents of the British administration in Ireland, almost all of the rest would go up in flames when the Four Courts were burned a year later.

Sources

MAY 25: Burning of the Custom House 192, Kilmainham Tales, Liz Gillis

https://www.rte.ie/news/2021/0522/1222440-custom-house-burning/

https://kilmainhamtales.ie/kts-01-may-25—burning-of-the-custom-house-1921.php

https://www.theirishstory.com/2012/05/23/today-in-irish-history-the-burning-of-the-customs-house-may-25-1921/#.YKwPhB17lsM

Freeman’s Journal 28 May 1921

Freeman’s Journal 26 May 1921

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/arresting-and-rare-images-of-dublin-in-revolt-1918-23-1.3721029

One Hundred Years Ago

One hundred years ago today, 3 May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the partition of Ireland took place. The then Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland divided Ireland into two self-governing zones, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Emily had Northern Irish family origins, in Ardglass, Co. Down when her maternal grandfather, Richard M’Arthur was born, as was her mother.

It is one hundred and five years since the first executions of the 1916 Rebels began, starting with Patrick Pearse.

Also one hundred years ago on this day the Tourmakeady Ambush took place in Co. Mayo. The South Mayo Flying Column, backed by local volunteers staged an attack on a convey of lorries carrying supplies to the RIC station there. Read more:

Sources

https://youtu.be/722S-m6T7Hw

https://youtu.be/rT8uFIbNrHw

https://www.rte.ie/news/regional/2021/0503/1213531-tourmakeady-ambush-centenary/

Poets in Prison

In March 2021 a painting of an inmate escaping from Reading Gaol, appeared on the former prison . Entitled ‘Create Escape’, it depicts an inmate in the process breaking out by sliding down sheets of paper instead of traditional bed sheets tethered together and anchored at the end by a typewriter. The artist, who identity has never been identified, confirmed the work was his by a video on his website: https://www.banksy.co.uk/

The prison, closed since 2014, has been vacant since. Banksy’s involvement suggested he was backing the campaign to save the prison, according to Reading Borough Council. Who commented: “We are thrilled that Banksy appears to have thrown his support behind the council’s desire to transform the vacant Reading Gaol into a beacon of arts, heritage and culture with this piece of artwork he has aptly called Create Escape. Reading Gaol’s possible future incarnation as an arts or heritage centre, would make for a perfectly fitting continuum and nod to its past creative inmates, such Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde at his trial in 1895

“In 1895, Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) was found guilty of ‘acts of gross indecency with other male persons’ and sentenced to two years’ hard labour. He was sent first to Pentonville, then to Wandsworth and finally to Reading Gaol.”

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-ballad-of-reading-gaol-by-oscar-wilde#

After he was released in 1897 Oscar Wilde, made his way to France where he settled in Dieppe. It was there, that he penned his famous poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol. It was there that he died in 1900 without ever returning to Ireland.

Poet and writer, Darrell Figgis was also an inmate at Reading Gaol. Incarcerated for his part in the Easter Rising, even though he was miles away at his writer’s refuge on Achill Island. As a person of interest to the authorities since his part in the Howth Gun Running of 1914, he was arrested under the Defense of the Realm Act 1914. He was taken to Castlebar Jail, from there transferred to Richmond Gaol in Dublin before been sent to Stafford Gaol and then on to Reading Gaol, where he remained until the end of 1916. During his incarceration in the many jails he produced poetry and his prison diary, The Chronicle of Jails. Like Oscar Wilde he too was struck by former inmate, Charles Thomas Wooldridge a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards, who hanged for the murder of his wife. Wilde wrote the Ballad of Reading Gaol which describes the hanging.

“It was an amazing sight. There were not merely flowers, a sight astonishing enough in itself; there was a prodigality of flowers. Then some of us remembered the cause. One of the graves unlocked the secret. It was marked with the letters C. T. W., and the date, 1896, to whom Oscar Wilde’s “Ballad of Reading Jail” had been inscribed, and in celebration of whose passing the poem had been penned.”

A CHRONICLE OF JAILS 1918

Sources

https://news.sky.com/story/banksy-artist-admits-escaping-inmate-artwork-on-former-on-reading-prison-wall-is-his-12235939

https://www.banksy.co.uk/

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-berkshire-56243680

Cardiff Times 06 April 1895

https://poets.org/poem/ballad-reading-gaol

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-ballad-of-reading-gaol-by-oscar-wilde#

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/apr/21/easter-rising-jailer-singing-letter-reading-gaol

Figgis, Darrell, and William Murphy. A Chronicle of Jails. Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2010.

Illustrated London News 17 February 1844