On This Day – Drivetime – Michael Collins takes possession of Dublin Castle 16 January 1922

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Even though Michael Collins concluded, accurately, in December 1921, that, in agreeing to the terms of the Anglo Irish treaty, he had signed his own death warrant, without having appended his signature to the document on 6 December 1921 he would not have been able to participate in an event six weeks later that must have given him a great deal of satisfaction.

Once the Treaty was signed and ratified by Dail Eireann on 7 January, bar a port or two, the loan of some artillery to start the Civil War, and of course six counties, the British didn’t really hang about. The new rulers of Ireland were advised to be ready to take over Dublin Castle in mid January.

There could be no clearer indication of the actual intention of the British to leave the 26 county Irish Free State than the handing over of this sprawling monument to British rule in Ireland. For centuries Ireland had been governed from … ‘The Castle’. Members of the majority religion who co-operated with the British administration to their financial benefit were … ‘Castle Catholics’. Everything British that moved and had its being in Ireland emanated from … the Castle.

Built at the behest of King John in the 13th century to provide a base for the English conquest of the country from Dublin it had remained the nexus of English and then British rule and the abiding symbol of the colonization of Ireland.

It was from the Bermingham Tower in the Castle that the legendary escape of Red Hugh O’Donnell and Art O’Neill took place in the depths of the winter of January 1592. Art O’Neill perished in the Dublin Mountains but O’Donnell managed to make his way to the sanctuary of the O’Byrnes in Glenmalure, Co.Wicklow. Just over two hundred years later, in 1907, the Insignia of the Order of St.Patrick, known as the Irish Crown Jewels, were stolen from the Bedford Tower in an audacious robbery that has never been solved. Half of Dublin at the time knew who had stolen them. The problem was they nominated the other half of the city as the thieves.

The Castle might well have fallen during the upheavals of 1641, but it did not succumb to rebel control. Robert Emmett could conceivably have taken it in 1803 but dismally failed to do so. It was even more vulnerable in 1916 but the Volunteers failed to walk the ball into an open goal.

So Michael Collins, dressed impressively in his military uniform, must have savoured the moment when his staff car drove into the precincts of the complex of buildings whose fabric he had successfully managed to infiltrate during the Anglo-Irish war while, himself, managing to stay out of the clutches of its more sinister and homicidal operatives.

When Collins stepped out of his staff car he was greeted waspishly by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Fitzalan. ‘You are seven minutes late, Mr.Collins’, observed His Majesty’s last Viceroy in Ireland. The Irish leader is said to have responded acidly, ‘We’ve been waiting over seven hundred years, you can have the seven minutes.’

Fitzalan, the first Catholic Lord Lieutenant since the reign of King James II then took Collins on an impromptu and largely irrelevant tour of the facility pointing out which keys opened which doors, before absenting himself and leaving Collins, literally, holding the fort.

Michael Collins took possession of Dublin Castle on behalf of the Irish provisional government 93 years ago, on this day.

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On This Day – Drivetime – 9.1.1873 Birth of John J.Flanagan, hammer thrower

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They were know, collectively, as the ‘Irish Whales’ John J. Flanagan, Matt McGrath, Jim Mitchell, Patrick J.Ryan and Con Walsh. In the early years of the 20th century these Irishmen, all domiciled in the USA, ruled the world of hammer throwing, winning five Olympic gold medals . But it was Flanagan, born in Kilbreedy, near Kilmallock, Co.Limerick, in 1873, who was primus inter pares.

Flanagan, who, for a successful field athlete, stood a relatively modest 5’10” tall, was something of an all-rounder who had already established his reputation in field sports before he emigrated to the USA in 1896. There he began to specialise in the hammer event which, in 1900, was included in the programme for the Paris Olympic Games. Flanagan, the world record holder, representing the USA, beat two other American throwers to take the first hammer gold with a throw of just over 51 metres. He was the only non-college American to win a medal at those games. Both the silver and bronze medallists in his event, Truxton Hare and Josiah McCracken were, for example, college football players.

He repeated the feat in the St.Louis games in 1904, taking gold, once again, from two Americans. His third and final gold medal, at the London Olympics in 1908, must have given him a great deal of satisfaction. An element in the crowd appeared to dislike the idea of an Irishman competing for the USA at the Olympic games, and made their feelings clear, vocally, by booing the Limerickman. Flanagan defied their disapproval to take the laurels with a throw of almost 52 metres. Fellow Irishman, Matt McGrath, took the silver, which must really have pleased the home crowd. There cup must have run over entirely when the bronze was hung around the neck of Con Walsh, competing for Canada.

Flanagan and McGrath (who won Olympic gold in 1912) were both members of the New York Police Department. Flanagan’s first posting was something of a sinecure. He worked in the Bureau of Licences where he had a lot of time on his hands which was mostly used for training at the Irish American Athletic Club in Queens.

Flanagan was a committed competitor no matter what the occasion. In 1905, for example, in a police sports meeting in New York he dominated the throwing events as expected. That, however, wasn’t enough for him, and to demonstrate that he possessed a turn of speed as well he entered and won the inelegantly titled Fat Man’s Race.

In 1910 he ended his career as one of New York’s finest after he was transferred to West 68th street and forced to walk a beat near Central Park.

In all Flanagan, in addition to his three Olympic golds, won 9 US championships and set thirteen world records. In 1911 he returned to Ireland and a few years later took over the family farm on the death of his father. He died, aged 75, on 4 June 1938 in his native Limerick.

Inspired, no doubt, by his superhuman achievements there is a belief that Flanagan’s middle name was ‘Jesus’. This is how he appears on, for example, the Olympic.org website. But it seems his middle name was, in fact, the far humbler and more mundane, Joseph.

The first occasion on which the hammer event at the Olympic games was NOT won by an athlete competing for the USA was in 1928, when Pat O’Callaghan, throwing for Ireland, took the gold. That would have been an immensely satisfying moment for Flanagan, as he was O’Callaghan’s coach.

Irish-born Olympian, John J.Flanagan was born 141 years ago, on this day.

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