Who commanded the original Squad – the IRA’s professional killers of the War of Independence? WTF knows?

From L to R: Mick McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Vinnie Byrne, Paddy O’Daly and Jim Slattery – five of the Twelve Apostles.

It was an élite unit established with a single intention, to kill. 

Known colloquially as ‘The Twelve Apostles’, and by its own members, as ‘The Squad’ it was established with the sole purpose of carrying out the ‘executions’ of spies, informers, British agents, and Dublin policemen identified by the IRA’s own spies, informers and agents in GHQ Intelligence under the tutelage of Michael Collins and Liam Tobin.  

Among its major sanguinary coups were the murders of DMP District Inspector William Redmond (21 January 1920), Resident Magistrate Alan Bell (26 March 1920) , the British spy John Charles Byrne(s) aka ‘John Jameson’ (March, 1920). Along with elements of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA the Squad also participated in the devastating ‘Bloody Sunday’ killings (21 November 1920). In that notorious operation between six and twelve imported British agents (the number of actual agents v collateral damage is disputed – but that’s an argument for another day) were assassinated on the morning of the bloodiest single twenty-four hour period in the history of the Anglo-Irish conflict.  

One of the Squad’s principal antagonists, Dublin Castle spymaster Ormonde Winter (he wore a monocle that made him look more spymastery) imported fifty bloodhounds from England in an attempt to track down some of Collins’s professional (£4.10s a week) killers. That’s actual, not metaphorical bloodhounds. A convenient and well-advertised postal address in London, to which confidential information could be sent about the Squad’s membership–and anything else you might happen to know about the IRA—was ‘punked’ by Sinn Féin supporters who flooded it with letters pointing to leading Irish loyalists as republican terror suspects. Well what did they expect?

But who was the original leader of this carefully chosen elite unit? 

You would think that an examination of the testimony of members of the Squad given to the Bureau of Military History in the late 1940s and 1950s would provide a straight answer to that question. In fact any such examination simply muddies the waters and leaves the reader scratching his head. 

There are two candidates for the position, Mick McDonnell and Paddy O’Daly. Both have claimed the title, and in the case of O’Daly – who did lead the unit at one point—he even went so far as to deny that his rival claimant was ever a member of the Squad!  Received wisdom has it that the leadership sequence went as follows, Mick McDonnell (late-1919 until mid-1920 when he emigrated to California), Patrick O’Daly (aka Paddy Daly) from the time of the departure of McDonnell to the USA until his own arrest in late November 1920, Jim Slattery as third Captain until the Custom House operation in May 1921 (in which he was wounded) effectively brought the days of the Squad to an end. However, there is also a variant of this received wisdom which has Slattery taking over from McDonnell and being succeeded by O’Daly. But surely the Bureau of Military History Witness Statements can sort out all anomalies? You’d think!

It is clear that both McDonnell and Daly were leading figures in the creation of the original group which—in an egregious example of Irish black humour—became known as the ‘Twelve Apostles’ because, although membership was never static, the ‘settled’ unit numbered a dozen young acolytes (with Collins as Redeemer) who were prepared to work well outside the remit of the ‘rules of engagement’.  

It’s even difficult to establish a consensus when it comes to the precise origins—never mind the original hierarchical structure—of the Squad. As the ‘Apostles’ were not altar boys they weren’t exactly expected to be religious in their record-keeping. Successful ‘hits’ were not entered into a daily duty ledger. Most of the original members were sought out and interviewed, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, by the researchers of the Bureau of Military History, three decades and more after the life-changing events (life-ending for many of their targets) in which they had participated. Memories were on the wane, a lot of vinegar had passed under the bridge, egos had been inflated by years of official adulation, and reputations had to be protected for posterity.

So, when you read those statements there is very little agreement, more than thirty years after the event, about even the most basic questions, such as the ’where’, the ‘when’ and the ‘who’. Was the nascent Squad established in Parnell Square or Georges Street? Was it set up in May or September 1919? Were Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy and Dick McGee present at the initiation? Was the killer with the choir boy looks, Vinnie Byrne, at the inaugural meeting (wherever and whenever it took place) or was he recruited shortly afterwards? 

If such basic facts cannot be ascertained, where does that leave us with the more fundamental question about who was the man originally put in charge by Collins?

Mick McDonnell was certainly in no doubt about who was the first O/C of the Squad. In his BMH-WS (#225, p2) he talks about being appointed Captain / Quartermaster of the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Volunteers shortly after his release from Frongoch prison camp in North Wales. He then adds, ‘I remained with the 2nd Battalion until I took over the Squad early in 1919.’ He insists the unit was established on 1 May 1919, but did not become a full-time, wage-earning team until 1920, probably just prior to his departure from Ireland.

 He is also unambiguous about being in command of the operation which, had it been successful, would have constituted the biggest single Squad coup of the Anglo-Irish War. This was the 19 December 1919 attempt on the life of the Lord Lieutenant, Lord French, near Ashtown railway station, adjacent to Phoenix Park. McDonnell laid claim to the execution of that operation (a claim supported by others). ‘I was in charge of that ambush’ he insisted in his 1949 statement. He talks about issuing instructions to Paddy O’Daly – ‘I put Paddy Daly [sic] and four others inside the hedge with hand grenades … telling them to concentrate on the second car …’

Paddy O’Daly – not beloved in Kerry – in the uniform of the Civil War National Army

Equally emphatic, however, was Paddy O’Daly (who often appears in witness statements as plain ‘Daly’ but who signed his April 1949 statement as ‘O’Daly’). O’Daly had a distinguished career in the Anglo-Irish War and a controversial one in the fratricidal Civil War that followed. At the outset of the Civil War, Daly was the officer who refused to stop firing on the Four Courts in order to allow the Dublin Fire Brigade access to douse the flames that threatened the famous Gandon-designed landmark. He is supposed to have responded to the Chief Fire Officer, who made the request for a temporary ceasefire to help preserve the fabric of the building, that, ‘Ireland is more important than the fire at the Four Courts’.

As commander of the National Army forces in Kerry in 1923 he gained a reputation for ruthlessness. Soldiers under his command were responsible for some of the worst atrocities of that atrocious conflict. O’Daly is reputed to have said, ‘No one told me to bring any kid gloves, so I didn’t bring any.’ That he certainly didn’t. One of his ‘iron fist’ tactics was to force Republican prisoners to clear roads that were suspected of having been mined. National Army troops under his command were responsible for the horrific murders of eight Republican prisoners, blasted and machine-gunned to death at Ballyseedy in north Kerry. 

O’Daly, in his second BMH-WS (#387 p 11) claims that the Squad was formed on 19 September, 1919 with Michael Collins and Richard Mulachy in attendance. A number of carefully selected Volunteers had been summoned to 46 Parnell Square (then known as Rutland Square) by 2nd battalion commandant Dick McKee. According to O’Daly’s account these were himself, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Seán Doyle, Tom Keogh, Jim Slattery, Vinny Byrne and Mick McDonnell. However, according to Daly, ‘Michael Collins picked only four of us for the Squad that night, Joe Leonard, Seán Doyle, Ben Barrett and myself in charge.’  

There were twelve ‘Apostles’ for most of the Squad’s operational phase (probably eight at the outset and an indeterminate number before the unit was rolled into the Dublin Guard after the Custom House debacle) – but there could only be one St. Peter. So, was it O’Daly or McDonnell? They can’t both have been telling the truth, the whole truth, etc. 

Or can they? In the early days of the conflict, were there two squads? 

While recollections after thirty years can be faulty or suspect the two contradictory statements smack of special pleading. McDonnell makes almost no reference to Daly other than in entirely subaltern role in the attempt on French’s life. O’Daly, however, appears to set out to discredit McDonnell and devalue his contribution to the Squad narrative. He even claims (see below) that McDonnell was never even a member of the Squad!

So, what do the witness statements of others involved in the operations of the Squad tell us about the chain of command? Do they clarify the status of McDonnell or O’Daly? Not really – they often merely add to the confusion. 

Among the more prominent members of the Squad to have left witness statements, when approached to record their memories in the late 1940s and early 1950s, were Mick McDonnell, Paddy O’Daly, Jim Slattery, Joe Leonard, Vinnie Byrne, Charlie Dalton (mostly an ex officio member) and Bill Stapleton (who was only recruited after Bloody Sunday and who testified that ‘I believe a principal mover in the original Squad was Mick McDonald [sic]’- (BMH-WS #822, p.31).Of the others whose names often feature in the Squad’s foundation mythology, Seán Doyle was killed in the attack on the Custom House on 25 May 1921, Tom Keogh died in the Civil War, Ben Barrett, whose mental health broke down because of his involvement with the Squad (a personal tragedy he shared with Charlie Dalton) died in 1946, before the BMH could tap into his memory. However, Barrett applied for a Military Pension in  1924 citing O’Daly, not McDonnell, as the O/C of what he described as the ‘Special Squad (the original ASU)’ (W24SP138)   

In his statement, BMH-WS #547, Joe Leonard confirms O’Daly’s version of events. He persists in calling McDonnell, ‘McDonald’ (he would have been given an opportunity to correct any errors in transcription of his testimony), acknowledges that the 2nd Battalion quartermaster was one of those at the top table of the inaugural meeting of the Squad [which he puts in ‘September’ in ‘44 Parnell Square’] and insists that O‘Daly was given command of the unit. He claims that McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Jim Slattery, and Vincent Byrne ‘wanted to join us but would not be allowed on that occasion as they were required elsewhere on their own work.’ He further claims that on the occasion of the attempted assassination of French, that McDonnell, Keogh, Slattery and Byrne were mere additions to the Squad’s retinue and not core members, (as was also the case with the Tipperary ‘Big Four’, Treacy, Breen, Robinson and Hogan, ‘on the run’ in Dublin at the time, who also took part – Breen was wounded) and that O’Daly was in charge of the operation.  

It is the statement of Charlie Dalton, who was occasionally associated with the Squad before moving to the Intelligence Staff, that offers some clarification on the hierarchy within the unit. While Mick McDonnell did not live to make a promised second statement to the BMH, he had already made a prior statement to Dalton in 1948. On a visit from California that year he spent an evening with Dalton, who told the BMH in his own statement, that they passed some time ‘discussing matters about which he [McDonnell] said he would like me to have the correct facts.’ (BMH-WS #434, p40) That conversation completely revises the foundation myth of the Squad. McDonnell referred to a meeting of ‘selected Volunteers’ (as many as twenty) that took place at 42 North Great George’s Street. Those assembled were asked would they be willing to shoot members of ‘G’ division. ‘Most of those present refused to give an affirmative answer’ McDonnell told Dalton. However, he, Slattery, Keogh (McDonnell’s half-brother) and ‘probably, Vincent Byrne’ ‘stepped out of the ranks’ and expressed their willingness to become assassins. 

Dalton told the BMH that in the course of his own association with the Squad he took his orders from McDonnell, but added that ‘I learned that in the initial stages a few jobs were carried out independently by Paddy Daly [sic], Joe Leonard and Ben Barrett … this would suggest that two squads operated in the early stages.’

Vinnie Byrne—who also took his orders from McDonnell in 1919-20, and definitely saw him as the leader of the Squad— adds a few wrinkles of his own by suggesting that he was not at the Parnell Square September meeting O’Daly described, or McDonnell’s alternative gathering in North Great George’s Street, but that his induction came at the end of November 1919 (probably 28 November) in McDonnell’s own house. There, while sitting at the fire with Jim Slattery and Tom Keogh, Byrne attested that he was asked directly by McDonnell ‘Would you shoot a man, Byrne?’ When the name of G-man, Detective John Barton was mentioned Byrne, who had ‘previous’ with Barton, rapidly shed any scruples he might have had about close-up assassination. That was how Byrne found himself involved in the first of many IRA ‘hits’ the following day.

Byrne’s testimony, however, (backed up in some details by that of Joe Leonard – BMH-WS #547, p.4)) does confirm why both O’Daly and McDonnell might have seen themselves as the major domo of the Squad, and, indeed, why, for a short period at least, both would have been entitled to view themselves thus. This is because, on the day he was murdered, Detective Johnny Barton was being dogged by two IRA hit squads, one led by McDonnell, the other by O’Daly. Often the Squad would divide itself in two, half acting as ‘shooters’ and the other half as ‘scouts’. But this was different. Each unit was unaware of the presence of the other until both had spotted and were following Barton. Neither Byrne nor Leonard specifies who fired the fatal shot that killed Barton as he approached DMP ‘G’ Division Headquarters in Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street Garda Station). 

Byrne is far more specific when he discusses the chain of command in Ashtown on 19 December 1919. As far as Byrne was concerned McDonnell was in command of the attempt on the life of Lord French.

Jim Slattery’s statement (#445, p.2) probably reflects his personal attachment to McDonnell as much as Leonard’s indicates his own close relationship with O’Daly. Slattery was at McDonnell’s meeting in North Great George’s Street (No.35) where McDonnell and Dick McKee were calling the shots. There is no mention of Collins or Mulcahy being present. When the question was put by McKee and McDonnell about the potential assassination of DMP ‘political’ detectives, among those who did not demur, according to Slattery, were the witness himself, Tom Ennis (the first mention of Ennis as an original member of the Squad), Tom Keogh, O’Daly and Leonard. 

Slattery also made reference to the sub-division of the early Squad. He answered to McDonnell—‘I looked upon him as the officer in charge of the section to which I was attached’—but acknowledged the existence of a separate unit under Daly. He recalled how McDonnell’s unit was ordered to kill the bothersome Detective Sergeant Patrick ‘The Dog’ Smith (Smyth)—this was done, not very expeditiously, on 30 July 1919, near his Drumcondra home. Smith survived being hit by a number of .38 bullets and died some days later, causing the balle de fusil du jour to become the .45 from then on. A .45 bullet could stop a horse, the .38 barely despatched the ‘Dog’, whose son watched his father being mown down near their house. (I mention that detail lest we get too sentimental about what Collins et al were asking the Squad to do)  

Meanwhile, O’Daly’s platoon was sent after DMP Detective Daniel Hoey. Ironically it was Mick McDonnell who ended up murdering Hoey rather than O’Daly’s section. O’Daly acknowledged this in his witness statement (#387, p.11) before adding gratuitously that:

‘ Mick McDonnell was one of the best men in Dublin but he had one fault. He was always butting in, and on account of that he often did damage because he was too    eager. He was not a member of the Squad.’ 

Which is patent nonsense and detracts, perhaps fatally, from the credibility of this element of O’Daly’s statement at least. When O’Daly made his two statements to the Bureau of Military History (#220 and #387) he had begun to mythologise his own role in the War of Independence.  O’Daly’s claim is in stark contrast to the account left by Jim Slattery where Slattery avers that, ‘I took over control of the Squad after Mick McDonnell left’, which suggests that the actual sequence in which command of the Squad was assumed went – McDonnell, Slattery, O’Daly. 

Please try and keep up down the back.

None of which really helps us much with the basic question, who was the St. Peter, the capo, the primus inter pares, of the original Squad when it undertook complex operations like the assassinations of DI Redmond and RM Alan Bell. Was it Mick McDonnell or Paddy O’Daly? The BMH-WS evidence, such as it is, either ignores the question entirely or reflects the personal affiliation to the two men of their subordinates. While each of the two potential ‘captains’ may have been in charge of a distinct section in the early days of the Squad, which of the two platoon commanders assumed the overall leadership when Collins decided it was time for his hit men to abandon their jobs and go full-time? It appears that you have to pay your money and take your choice. There is nothing definitive in the BMH witness statements of Squad veterans and, given the nature of the beast, there is little contemporary documentation covering the activities of what was a highly secretive and covert assassination squad. The members of the Squad did not walk the streets of Dublin carrying battle orders or regimental diaries in their jacket pockets which were later painstakingly archived. Most of the ‘archive’ was located between the prominent ears of Michael Collins. Some of the participants did write memoirs. Good luck with those. They were intended to be read in their own lifetimes. At least the BMH witness statements were not going to see the light of day until well after they were all dead.

If it was McDonnell who assumed overall command—and that is my own gut feeling—his leadership role was short-lived. By the autumn of 1920, well before the defining coup of the Anglo-Irish War—the Dublin assassinations of 21 November 1920—McDonnell was living in California. 

Over the years there has been much speculation about the reason for McDonnell’s abrupt departure from Ireland in 1920. Was he sent on a secret mission to the USA by Collins? Was he exiled because of stress brought on by the death of Volunteer Martin Savage in the abortive attempt on the life of French, and because he was having an extra-marital affair, as alleged in his book on the Squad by Tim Pat Coogan. Coogan goes on to claim that Tom Keogh and Vinnie Byrne set out to kill McDonnell’s inamorata, or ‘that Jezebel’ as they referred to her.

McDonnell himself offers no explanation in his witness statement as to why he emigrated to the USA, where he ended up on the west coast. Coogan refers to his work for the McEnery family, and specifically for John P. McEnery, Superintendent of the United States Mint in San Francisco.

John McEnery’s son Tom, twice mayor of San Jose, is in no doubt whatever as to why McDonnell abandoned Ireland and travelled to California. It was to arrest the spread of a debilitating case of tuberculosis. Had McDonnell remained in Ireland in 1920 he might have been mown down, not by triumphant Auxiliaries or G-man, but by consumption. 

At some point during the (War of Independence/Civil War) McDonnell must have felt that he had sufficiently recovered to return to the fray and wrote accordingly to Collins. The McEnery family still retain the response of Collins in their archive. McDonnell was told to stay where he was and look after his health. ‘Stay there with the fruit and sunshine and get healthy,’ wrote Collins with obvious affection for his former lieutenant, ‘I’ll let you know if I need you.’ In his missive Collins also made reference to Keogh and Leonard and told their erstwhile captain that both men were doing well. 

Tom McEnery has also told me that a drink problem, developed to help cope with what we would now call post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), contributed to McDonnell’s death in Los Gatos in 1950. He has made a detailed study of McDonnell’s life, is currently writing a play on McDonnell’s participation in the 1919 IRA plot to murder members of the British cabinet, and is convinced that, as he put it, ‘O’Daly tried to improve himself at Mick’s expense.’   

So, to conclude. The original Captain of the Squad might have been Michael McDonnell, Mick McDonald, Patrick O’Daly or Paddy Daly. There might have been two Squads, neither of which, initially, was aware of the existence of the other. There might have been two Squads that regularly collaborated. There might only have been one Squad of eight, twelve, or more members. It was established in May, July and September 1919 in North Great George’s Street and Parnell Square. 

I’m glad to have cleared all that up satisfactorily.   


Royal Irish Constabulary Constable Jeremiah Mee

One hundred years ago today the unofficial but very real reprisal policy of the British government was articulated—in Listowel, Co. Kerry RIC Station—by one of its functionaries in what he presumed to be a sympathetic environment. Unfortunately for Smyth, and for an embarrassed British administration, many of the members of his audience were far from sympathetic and one in particular, the interventionist constable Jeremiah Mee, took action based on the highly disturbing message Smyth conveyed that day. 

World War 1 veteran, Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Bryce Ferguson Smyth, had recently been appointed to the divisional command of the Munster Royal Irish Constabulary, migrating from the military to the police. His nemesis, Jeremiah Mee, joined  the RIC at the age of  19 in 1911. He served nine years in different parts of Co.Sligo. While in Grange, where he spent some of his time pursuing poitín makers with offshore still, he became active in moves to form a union of RIC constables. This did not go down well with his superiors and he was  transferred, in 1919, to Listowel Co. Kerry. 

In May 1920, as the War of Independece began to ramp up in Kerry, a military force was stationed in nearby Ballinruddery under the command of a Captain Chadwick. In June the Listowel RIC men were informed they were to vacate their barracks and make way for the Army.

In his Bureau of Military History Witness Statement #379 – (http://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0379.pdf) –  Mee takes up the story.

‘We held a meeting in the dining room. The men were all excited. Some were disappointed over the transfers; some were disappointed over various things. After a lot of discussion I personally addressed the men in the day-room. I pointed out that a war had been declared on the Irish people and that, looking at the case from the most selfish point of view, we had to consider our position. We were asked evidently to take part with the military in beating our own people. I might find myself shooting the mother of one of my comrades, while he would be shooting my mother in Galway. I pointed out that in a war one of two things must happen. We had either to win or lose. I assumed that we would win the war with the assistance of the British military. When we had defeated our own people, the British military would return to their own country and we would remain with our own people whom we had, with the assistance of the British government, crushed and defeated. That would be the best side of our case. If we lost the war the position would be still worse. I suggested that, instead of going on transfer, we would hold the barracks and refuse to hand over to the British military. We had bombs, rifles and revolvers, and any amount of ammunition; and there was no reason why we could not hold the barracks at least for a few days. To this I got a rousing cheer from each and every man. They immediately agreed that they would refuse to hand over the barracks.  There was not one dissentient voice in it. The men were all there, including the Sergeant but not the District inspector or the Head Constable. It was then decided that I would represent the men who were about to be transferred from the barracks, and Constable Lillis would represent the four men who were to remain in the barracks … 

            At ten o’clock on the night of the 18th June a phone message came from the County Inspector to the District Inspector instructing him to have the men ready for parade with side arms (belt and sword) to meet Colonel Smyth* at ten o’clock next morning, 19th June. No details were given. 

            Colonel Smyth had been appointed Divisional Commissioner for Munster on 3rd June, just two weeks earlier. His appointment was direct from the British Cabinet and he was given complete charge of the military and police for the whole of Munster. Beyond the fact that he was appointed Commissioner, we knew nothing whatever about him, and neither did our District Inspector.’

RIC top brass began to arrive at 10.30 on the morning of 19 June. Accompanying Colonel Smyth was the RIC Inspector General, General Tudor, and a military and police escort of around fifty men.

‘This display of force was no doubt intended to terrorise and overawe our little garrison within, and I will admit that I never felt less cheerful in my life. Nevertheless, our men stood the test splendidly and, though there may have been nervous tension, there was no evidence whatever of fear.

            After sometime the officers, both military and police, numbering ten or twelve, came into the dayroom where we were assembled. They lined up in front of us with their backs to the fireplace and facing us. Up to this moment we had not the least idea as to what was going to happen. Colonel Smyth, who had only one arm, having lost his other arm in the 1914-18 war, went straight to the point and processed to address us without making any reference to our previous insubordination and refusal to co-operate with the military. Immediately he commenced to speak I stepped out, saluted him, and told him that we understood that this conference was to be between the police and their authorities and that we objected to the presence of the military officers. Strange though it may seem, Colonel Smyth made no comment whatever on my action, while the military officers smiled at each other and quietly walked out of the room. Colonel Smyth then commenced his speech again and continued:- 

“Well men, I have something of interest to tell you, something that I am sure you would not wish your wives to hear. I am going to lay all my cards on the table, but I must reserve one card for myself. Now men, Sinn Fein has had all the sport up to this; we are going to have the sport now. The police have done splendid work, considering the odds against them. They are not sufficiently strong to do anything but hold their barracks. This is not enough, for as long as we remain on the defensive so long will Sinn Fein have the whip hand. We must take the offensive and beat Sinn Fein with their own tactics. Martial Law, applying to all Ireland, is coming into operation shortly, and our scheme of amalgamation must be complete by 21st June. I am promised as many troops as I require from England; thousands are coming daily. I am getting 7,000 police from England. 

            Now men, what I wish to explain to you is that you are to strengthen your comrades in the outstations. The military are to take possession of the large centres where they will have control of the railways and lines of communication, and be able to move rapidly from place to place. Unlike police who can act as individuals on their own initiative, military must act in large numbers under a good officer; he must be a good officer or I shall have him removed. If a police barracks is burned, or if the barracks already occupied is not suitable, then the best house in the locality is to be commandeered, the occupants thrown out in the gutter. Let him die there, the more the merrier. You must go out six nights a week at least and get out of the barracks by the back door or skylight so that you will not be seen.  Police patrols in uniform will go out the front door as a decoy. Police and military will patrol the country roads at least five nights a week. They are not to confine themselves to the main roads but take across the country, lie in ambush, take cover behind fences, near the roads, and when civilians are seen approaching shout “hands up”. Should the order not be immediately obeyed, shoot, and shoot with effect. If the persons approaching carry their hands in their pockets or are in any way suspicious looking, shoot them down. You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but this cannot be helped and you are bound to get the right persons sometimes. The more you shoot the better I will like you, and I assure you that no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man. In the past policemen have got into trouble for giving evidence at coroner’s inquests. As a matter of fact, inquests are to be made illegal so that in future no policeman will be asked to give evidence at inquests. Hunger strikers will be allowed to die in jail, the more the merrier. Some of them have died already and a damn bad job they were not all allowed to die. As a matter of fact, some of them have been dealt with in a manner that their friends will never hear about.  A ship will be leaving an Irish port in the near future with lots of Sinn Feiners on board; I assure you men, it will never land. 

            That now is nearly all I have to say to you. We want your assistance in carrying out this scheme and wiping out Sinn Fein. Any man who is not prepared to do so is a hindrance rather than a help and he had better leave the job at once.”

Colonel Smyth then, pointing to the first man in the ranks, said, “Are you prepared to co-operate?’ The man, who happened to be an Englishman named Chuter, replied, “Constable Mee speaks for us”. Smyth pointed to each man in turn, asking the same question and getting the same reply, until he reached myself. I was about the seventh man he addressed, and by the time he reached me I was so horrified by his speech that all our plans of the previous night had completely evaporated and, in any case, would have been useless for a contingency that now confronted us. In desperation, I stepped forward and said, “By your accent, I take it you are an Englishman. You forget you are addressing Irishmen.” He checked me there and said he was a north of Ireland man from Banbridge in the County Down. I said, “I am an Irishman and very proud of it.” Taking off my uniform cap, I laid it on the table in front of Colonel Smyth and said, “This too is English; you may have it as a present from me”. Having done this I completely lost my temper and, taking off my belt and sword, clapped them down on the table, saying, “These too are English and you may have them. To Hell with you, you are a murderer.” At this, Colonel Smyth quietly said to District Inspector Flanagan, “Place that man under arrest”. District Inspector Flanagan and Head Constable Plover came forward and linked me out of the room down to the kitchen which was at the far end of the corridor, and remained there with me for a few minutes. In less than four or five minutes after going into the kitchen with the Head Constable and the District Inspector, I heard a wild stampede down the corridor and in rushed the whole crowd of my comrades whom I had left in the day-room. They were highly excited and half dragged and half pushed me back into the dayroom. When we got to the dayroom, which I had left five minutes earlier, the room was empty. Divisional Inspector Smyth, General Tudor and the other police officers were in the District Inspector’s office with the door closed. Colonel Smyth’s uniform cap was still on the dayroom table. District Inspector Flanagan and Head Constable Plover went into the District Inspector’s office and joined the other officers. In the dayroom then men were in an angry mood and all was excitement, some going so far as suggesting that Smyth deserved to be shot.’

Mee transcribed Smyth’s speech from memory and sent it to what he calls ‘Republican headquarters’. 6 July Mee and four other Listowel policemen, as he puts it himself, ‘left the force without either resigning or being dismissed’. They took revolvers and ammunition with them. 

‘On 10th July the Smyth speech was published, fully, in the Freeman’s Journal, a daily newspaper published in Dublin. On the following day John Donovan and myself went to Dublin where we made contacts with members of the Dáil Cabinet, Michael Collins, Erskine Childers, Madame Markievicz, Alex McCabe T.D., as well as Thomas Johnson and William O’Brien of the Labour party and Martin Fitzgerald of the Freeman’s Journal in the offices of the Irish Labour Party. The object of the meeting was to get from us the full facts of the Listowel episode. It should be mentioned that the publication of the Smyth speech was one of the reasons for the breaking up of the Freeman’s Journal by the British forces and the subsequent arrest of the owner and editor, Messrs. Fitzgerald and Hooper. 

            During this interview it was plain to us that Michael Collins did not think that the British government was dastardly enough to conceive a scheme of the kind outlined by Colonel Smyth to the police at Listowel. Childers on the other hand, seemed to have no doubt whatever that the British government were capable of conceiving and carrying out the scheme; and for that reason justified his having published the case in the Irish Bulletin from which paper the Freeman’s Journal had published it.

            Thomas Johnson and William O’Brien of the Labour Party went to London to attend an international Labour conference. They raised the question of Smyth’s speech and handed copies of the Freeman’s Journalcontaining Smyth’s speech to each delegate attending the conference.  This caused uproar at the conference and the Irish delegates got the full backing of British Labour in demanding an investigation into Colonel Smyth’s speech. A Labour delegation later visited Ireland and reported fully on the Black and Tan atrocities. 

            On Wednesday 14th July, T. P. O’Connor raised the question in the British House of Commons. He asked and was refused leave to move the adjournment of the house to discuss the incident and the remarks attributed to Divisional Commissioner Smyth as calculated to produce serious bloodshed in Ireland. Sir Hamar Greenwood’s reply on that date is very interesting. He said that Divisional Commissioner Smyth had informed him that “the instructions given to the police in Listowel were those mentioned in a debate in this House on 22nd May last by the Attorney General for Ireland, and he did not exceed those instructions.” For once, Hamar Greenwood spoke the truth for, as I shall prove later, Smyth was the spokesman of the British Cabinet and the instructions given to us were the exact instructions sanctioned by the British Cabinet on 22nd May, 1920. 

            Colonel Smyth’s address to the police at Listowel got the widest publicity, both in Great Britain and America, and caused quite a sensation as it was taken that Smyth was acting as spokesman of the British government; and there was a general outcry and demand for a full investigation. Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, finding himself in a tight corner, gave a promise of a full investigation but said that, before doing so, he would call Smyth to London to get the full details from Colonel Smyth personally

            With things in this mess, Colonel Smyth was called to London to see the Prime Minister, Lloyd George. Smyth did not, or could not, deny having incited the police to commit open murder, since those were his instructions from the Prime Minister himself. The fact that Colonel Smyth had lost an arm in the war and had at least a dozen medals for bravery in the field counted for little now that the British Cabinet had to be saved. After two days in London, Lloyd George sent him back to Cork, ostensibly to regulate police duty for the assizes but with full knowledge of the fact that this brave officer was going to his doom.    Once Colonel Smyth’s instruction to “shoot at sight” was published, it must have been clear even to Lloyd George that Smyth was a marked man. Yet when he was shot dead in the Cork County Club a few days later, he had no bodyguard and not even a private soldier or policeman in the vicinity of the Club. This was a sad end to a great soldier betrayed by the treachery of the politician, Lloyd George. When Smyth’s wife heard the news of her husband’s death, she said, “My husband was a great soldier. It is a pity that he died in such a rotten cause.  No doubt her natural womanly instinct told her of the great betrayal. It might be mentioned in this connection that, after the death of Smyth, his  brother, Captain Smyth, who had an appointment in the War Office, volunteered for service in Ireland to avenge his brother’s death. He was shot dead while raiding Professor Carolan’s house in Drumcondra on the occasion when Dan Breen and Sean Treacy escaped. 

            When Colonel Smyth was dead, Lloyd George was then able to say, “I can’t now have an inquiry into the Listowel affair as our principal witness has been murdered.” In this way he shuffled shamelessly out of the inquiry which he never had the least intention of holding.

            General Tudor, with other high-ranking officers, was present when Colonel Smyth delivered his infamous ultimatum to the RIC at Listowel. Why was General Tudor not summoned to London to give evidence of Smyth’s speech? The reason is that the British Cabinet were already committed to a policy of outrage and murder in Ireland. Investigation or inquiry was the last thing that the British Cabinet then desired. Colonel Smyth had been indiscreet enough to put their secret policy for bloodshed to the RIC at Listowel and for this he had to pay the extreme penalty. His death gave Lloyd George the breathing time he so much needed while he was being forced for an explanation and enquiry by an outraged public opinion even in Britain. It was only a chance that Listowel had been the scene of this explosion. Similar instructions had been issued to the officers of all other counties about. The police co-operated with the military but Listowel was the only barracks which had refused to co-operate. Hence Smyth’s visit and the display of force that accompanied it.

            Immediately after Smyth was shot in Cork, I wrote to the daily press expressing regret at the death of Colonel Smyth and accusing the British government of connivance thereat. My letter was never published.’

Smyth’s speech had made him an obvious IRA target and on 17 July 1920 he was shot and killed in the smoking room of the Cork and County Club by a six-man IRA hit squad led by Dan O’Donovan. He was buried in Banbridge, Co. Down from where his mother’s family hailed. The funeral prompted a riot in which another man was killed. 

Smyth’s brother, Osbert, also a World War 1 veteran, subsequently enlisted in the British struggle against the IRA and was himself killed in a shoot-out in Drumcondra during a failed attempt to capture or kill Dan Breen and Sean Treacy. 

Jeremiah Mee himself became actively involved in organising resignations of RIC members under the aegis of the Labour department of Countess Markievicz. He later became an organiser of the boycott of goods coming from Belfast after the anti-nationalist pogroms in that city.   

Listen to a re-enactment of the BMH-WS testimony of Jeremiah Mee (including details of his career after 6 July 1920 on https://soundcloud.com/military-archives – this is part of a collaborative project between the Military Archives and the History Show on RTE Radio 1


£1m claimed by Irish slave-owners for 30,000 slaves on 300 West Indian plantations in 1837

In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park it becomes clear in the early chapters that the Bertram family fortune, and the money that built the eponymous estate, has come from the proceeds of a West Indian plantation which employs slave labour. Shortly into the novel Sir Thomas Bertram is compelled to sail for Antigua to sort out problems on his plantation. Was it a rebellion? Was it a consequence of the abolition of the trading of slaves in the British Empire in 1807? We never find out – when the heroine Fanny Price inquires she is greeted with a long disapproving silence and knows better than to pursue the subject.

But the fictional Bertrams were not the only British family to have prospered from the ownership of slaves, the recent removal for cleaning of the statue of Bristol slave trader, Edward Colston, has highlighted that unsavoury fact. 

But not all ‘British’ slave owners were English. We can leave the Scots and the Welsh to assess their particular legacy, but Ireland has its own unhappy heritage when it comes to the acquisition, possession and sale of human beings for the purposes of unpaid labour – and I’m not talking about Google interns. 

Prompted by Patrick Corrigan’s fascinating thread on Twitter earlier in the week (@PatrickCorrigan), which highlighted Irish ownership of slaves on West Indian plantations, I decided to spend a few days going through the invaluable University College, London ‘Legacies of British Slave-ownership’ database—compiled since 2010 by Professor Catherine Hall and Dr. Nick Draper,[1] and cited by Patrick as his source—with a fine(ish) toothcomb. I wanted to try and tease out the extent of Irish slave-holding at the time of the final elimination of the practice in British colonies with the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. So, you could describe what follows below as a ‘database within a database’.

Altogether around 800,000 slaves were emancipated (or ‘manumitted’ to use the legal phrase) although this came with certain strings attached. Most were forced to serve four year ‘apprencticeships’ with their former masters. They were obliged to work in return for food. Which, you might think, sounds quite a lot like slavery. And you’d be right. 

A total of £20m was set aside by the British government for compensation. Most of this, £15m, was borrowed from the bankers Nathan Rothschild and his brother-in-law Moses Montefiore. This was all paid back in jig time – 2015!. That sum is worth £1.4b (€1.6b) today.  You might think £20m wouldn’t make much of a dent in the ill-usage of 800,000 freed slaves. In which case you would be incredibly naïve and know absolutely nothing about British colonialism. The £20m wasn’t intended for the slaves, it was meant for the 47,000 hard-done-by slave-owners, deprived of their rich heritage as well as their mobile (and negotiable) property. Half of the money was paid out in the West Indies and the rest went to absentee plantation owners living in the United Kingdom (like the fictional Bertrams). So, the final score in the British War on Slavery was …

Slave Owning Bastards (SOBs)  20,000,000    Slaves 0

One of the biggest beneficiaries was John Gladstone, who was paid £106,769 for 2,508 slaves across nine plantations. The name might ring a bell. His little boy, William, went on to become Prime Minister four times between 1868 and 1894. Though the Grand Old Man’s Old Man was well in arrears of the leading Irish beneficiary, Charles McGarel of Larne (a local benefactor on a Colstonian scale) who received £135,078 for 2,777 liberated slaves. McGarel was an ancestor of Tory grandee Lord Hailsham aka Quinton McGarel Hogg. And William Ewart Gladstone was not the only British Prime Minister who was a descendant of a recipient of slave owner compensation. Take a bow David Cameron.[2]

Back in the 1830s the United Kingdom included Ireland, so 4% of the moolah was handed over to Irish slave-holders. Given that the population of Ireland at the time was c. 7.5m—or around 45% of the total population of the UK—this figure probably reflects the microscopic size of the Irish landed gentry (c. 10,000 privileged families) and its upper middle class (bankers, merchants and middlemen).   

The headline figures are stark. Almost £1m (£982,009) was claimed by individuals born in, or resident in, Ireland under the terms of the 1837 Slave Compensation Act. Almost £800,000 (£798,639) was paid out to these solid citizens by the British government. The one-hundred and fifty-one Irish slave owners whose names appear in the UCL database in the 1830s, laid claim to more than 300 plantations (318) and to almost 30,000 male and female slaves (29,686). Claims totalling around £200,000 (£183,370) were dismissed by the Slave Compensation Commission appointed by the Whig administration of Lord Melbourne. These failed Irish claims, however, have been included anyway. This is on the basis that those who submitted them were either convinced of the merits of their cases, were happy to associate themselves with the evil of slavery and sought to profit from it, or were out and out chancers who deserve a bit of retrospective opprobrium. A number of unsuccessful claimants looked for compensation for slaves on plantations that had been mortgaged. Cheeky or what? They discovered to their chagrin that the compensation had already been paid to the mortgagee. In many cases ownership of plantations was disputed and the compensation was paid to counter claimants.  

Some of the beneficiaries are from well-known Irish aristocratic families, but not all Irish-owned West Indian plantations were the property of Ascendancy Protestant families. While there is a healthy sprinkling of grandees there are also many common or garden Dalys, Barrys and Murrays on the list. Many were upper middle class ‘merchant Princes’ and lawyers from Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Galway. There were also twenty-one female slave owners out of 151 names who sought financial awards. Most of those were the widows or the legatees of Irish male slave owners. There are a number of clergymen and MPs on the list as well. 

I have no doubt there are errors and gaps. I have searched the UCL site as thoroughly as I could over the last four days, trying to identify families and individuals who owned slaves and who were compensated when slavery was formally abolished throughout the British Empire between 1 August 1834 and 1 February 1835. The UCL database includes many more Irish names, of men and women who owned plantations in the West Indies as far back as the 1600s. According to Liam Hogan (@Limerick1914)—widely accepted as the foremost Irish authority on all matters relating to this country’s relationship with slavery (including the mythology of alleged Irish ‘white slaves’ which has been weaponised by American white supremacists)—Irish slave-owning families on Antigua alone included names like Buckley, Burke, Byrne, Collins, Corbett, Curtin, Doyle, Halloran, Keane, Kelly, Lynch, Malone. McCarthy, O’Brien, O’Connor, O’Loughlin, O’Shaughnessy, Ryan and Shiell.[3]Some of these families may even have brought their slaves to Ireland in the latter half of the eighteenth century, when the black population of the country was reckoned at somewhere between 2-3,000.[4] They may also have among the poor traumatised plantation owners who sought compensation from the Treasury in 1737 for the loss of a number of Antiguan slaves. The fact that the Antiguan plantation owners had themselves been directly responsible for their pecuniary losses did not appear to prevent them seeking awards from the British exchequer. A foiled slave revolt led to the public execution of eighty-five slaves. According to Liam Hogan: 

‘ Six were gibbeted alive. Five were broken on the wheel. Seventy-seven were burned  alive. Most of the victims’ remains were decapitated and their severed heads placed on pikes in public view as a warning to the rest of the slave population. The final  executions involved the burning alive of eleven enslaved people on 8 March 1737.’[5]

That rebellion was eclipsed by another almost a century later, when 540 ‘mobile assets’ were killed or executed in an 1831 uprising that hastened the end of the practice of slavery in the British Caribbean territories.

The 151 names recorded below are of those involved only in that final act, the drawn-out ending of slavery (except in certain territories belonging to the notorious East India Company, an institution apparently impervious to any form of remedial legislation). The connection with Ireland of some of those noted below may have been somewhat tenuous at the time of the passage of ‘An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the Industry of the manumitted Slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves.’ – to give the legislation its full title. However, you will forgive me, I hope, if I don’t apologise to those (long-dead) slave owners who might have been included as Irish in error.  

Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquis of Sligo, Lord Altamont

Among the prominent Irish individuals who benefitted from the generosity of the Melbourne administration, and the cash provided by Rothschild and Montefiore, was the Most Honourable Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquis of Sligo, Earl of Altamont and Baron Monteagle. He had fewer plantations to his name than titles, owning ‘Cocoa Walk’ and ‘Kellys’ near Kingston in Jamaica. The 286 slaves of which he was cruelly deprived were assessed by the Slave Compensation Commission as being worth £5526, or a modest £19 each. (Awards varied greatly, with many owners being paid £50+ per slave). The 2nd Marquis appears to have been one of more decent sorts of slave driver. He became Governor of Jamaica in 1834 and did not endear himself to fellow slaveowners on the island with some of the decisions he made during the transition. He didn’t, for example, require his own former slaves to become apprentices, as would have been his right under the 1833 legislation. Choleric Jamaican slaveowners were able to force his resignation in 1836.   

Also featuring prominently on the list is the name La Touche, one associated in Dublin with banking and, specifically, with the Bank of Ireland. The family was descended from Huguenot refugees and a participant in the Battle of the Boyne (on the Williamite side). Three members,  William Digges La Touche, Peter Digges La Touche and Mary Digges La Touche divided £7100 between them for 404 slaves on three Jamaican estates. 

Hercules Robert Pakenham

An equally famous name included on the list is that of Pakenham. Hercules Robert Pakenham, third son of the 2nd Baron Longford, and brother in law of that reluctant Irishman, the Duke of Wellington, had an Antiguan plantation of 217 slaves, whose freedom netted him £2919. He was a MP for Westmeath from 1808-1826. 

Another interesting inclusion is that of Edward Sheil, who had two small plantations in Honduras (he is the only Irish owner of Central American properties). The main point of interest here is that Edward Sheil, who was awarded £1243 by the Commission, was the brother of Richard Lalor Sheil MP, a parliamentary supporter of Catholic Emancipation and an associate of Daniel O’Connell, the most egregious and vociferous Irish opponent of slavery.  

The case of William Purcell is particularly interesting. He was born in Grenada around the turn of the 18thcentury and in 1833 was in possession of a small Grenada plantation inherited from his Irish father Patrick Joseph Purcell. He is described by the UCL researchers as: 

‘One of six “coloured” sons of Irish-born landowner Patrick Joseph Purcell and his ‘housekeeper’ whom he described as “free negro woman Franchine”. His grandfather, Joseph Purcell, was sent to the West Indies by his great-grandfather Redmund Purcell of Dunane, County Laois, Ireland. Redmund sent 5 of his 6 sons  away as it was not possible to find careers for them at home …’

One imagines that this was how many of the male planters from Ireland and Britain found their way to the Caribbean, through the tyranny of primogeniture, which meant they had little or no chance of inheriting family property in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Once in the West Indies they were free to exercise a tyranny of their own. Many of those, however, who benefitted from a big payday probably never even saw their Caribbean estates. Many of the beneficiaries died in Britain, some died in Ireland. Others, like Hamilton Brown (see below) who owned twenty-five plantations in Jamaica, continued to live in the West Indies, where he died in 1845.

So here is the best list I can come up with. Imperfect and error-strewn I’m sure, and open to correction if anyone else wants to have a go here (http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/search/) or here (https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/slavery-or-slave-owners/) and God bless all who sail in you if you do decide to have a go. (Someone will now tell me that there are at least half a dozen PhD’s already extant on the subject and that I needn’t have wasted my time. If so, great. Such is life.)

Have a good look at the names. Some of them probably never bothered to hide the fact that they were goblins at heart. Others were likely to have bestowed considerable largesse among their local communities and white-washed (or lime-washed) their reputations—like the recently moistened Mr. Colston—and gained reputations as do-gooders. Who knows, there might even be statues to some of them. So, we could spend the next twenty years arguing about the addition of wording to their plinths that reflects the totality of their activities. Or not. 







Italics = unsucc.Claim
John Adair
(Trinidad – 2)
William Jones Armstrong
(British Guiana – 1)
Mehetabel Austin (née Piercy)
(British Guiana – 1)
George Bagot
(British Guiana – 1)
Carlow /
William Barron
(Barbados – 3)(St. Lucia – 1)
Thomas Barry
(British Guiana – 3
Colthurst Bateman
(Jamaica – 2)
Espine Batty (male)
Fitzherbert Batty
(Jamaica -2)
Co. Westmeath
James Bedlow
(Jamaica – 1)
Carlow, Co. Carlow£3135161
Lawrence Bellew
(Tobago -1)
Mount Bellew,
Co. Galway
John de la Poer Beresford
(St. Vincent – 1)
George Robert Berney
(Barbados – 1)
Co. Dublin
James Blair
(British Guiana – 1)
Co. Down£835301598
Anthony Richard Blake
(Jamaica – 1)
Cecilia Blake
(St. Vincent – 1)
Captain Vaughan Brice
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Mayo
Henry Daniel Brooke
(Trinidad – 1)
Alexander Scott Broomfield
(Trinidad – 1)
Co. Wicklow
Hamilton Brown
(Jamaica – 25)
John Browne
(St. Kitts – 1)
Howe Peter Browne  (Marquis of Sligo – Earl of Altamont)
(Jamaica – 2)
Co. Mayo
Eleanor Brumskile (née Brereton)
(British Guiana – 1)
Co. Wicklow
Hyacinth George Burke (male)
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Galway
John Burke
(Jamaica – 1)
Tuam, Co. Galway£612
Robert Burke
(Jamaica – 1)
Sarah Busby (née Welch)
(Jamaica – 1)
Robert Bushe
(St. Vincent – 1)
(Trinidad – 5)
Jane Carr (née Owens)
(Antigua – 1)
Co. Cork
Robert Chaloner
(Barbados – 2)
John Chambers
(St. Vincent – 1)
Co. Donegal
Henry Barry Coddington
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Meath
William Cramsie
(Jamaica – 2)
Co. Antrim
Catherine Crokes
(Tobago – 1)
Co. Tyrone
John Cunningham
(Antigua – 2)
Peter Daly
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Galway
Christopher Daly
(Jamaica – 1)
Andrew Bredin Delap
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Donegal
William Drummond Delap
(Jamaica – 2)
Co. Louth
Peter Dumoulin
(Trinidad – 2)
Robert Ellice
(Grenada – 1) 
David Elliot
(St. Kitts – 1)
Lyndon Howard Evelyn
(Jamaica – 1)
William Fennell
(Jamaica – 1)
Lawrence Fitzgerald
(British Guiana – 3)
Fane Valley,
Co. Louth
John Flowers
(Jamaica – 2)
Co. Cork
William Forsyth
(British Guiana – 1)
John Henry Foskey
(Jamaica – 2)
John Nugent Fraser
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Cork
George Alexander Fullerton
(Jamaica – 3)
Co. Antrim
William Gavan
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Sligo£2889152
Ann Gibbons
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Mayo
Eliza Elvira Glenn
(Trinidad – 1)
Co. Derry
Melchior Graham(Jamaica – 1)Cork£90039
James Gray
(Jamaica – 2)
Robert Gray
George Gray
(Jamaica – 2)
David Hall
(Barbados – 5)(British Guiana – 7) 
Robert Westley Hall-Dare II
(British Guiana – 1)
Co. Wexford
Rev. Archibald Robert Hamilton
(Jamaica – 2)
William Stewart Hamilton
(British Guiana – 1)
Brown Hall,
Co. Donegal
Simeon Hardy
(Barbados – 1)
Robert Charles Harker
(Cape of Good Hope – 1)
Co. Mayo
Sir George Fitzgerald Hill 
(Trinidad – 1)
Brook Hall, Co.Derry£641
Sir Edward Hoare
(Jamaica -3)
Co. Cork
William Wilson Hornsby
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Laois
James Hozier
(Jamaica – 12)
Co. Galway
Maria Bellenden Hunt
(St. Kitts – 1)
Co. Armagh
Hugh Hyndman
(British Guiana – 2)
(Grenada, St. Vincent, Trinidad – 1 each)
Robert Augustus Hyndman
(Antigua – 1)
Thomas Hynes
(Jamaica – 2)
John Jameson
(Antigua – 3)
James Kelly
(Jamaica – 2)
Abbeyknockmoy, Co. Galway£6140316
Thomas Kelly
(Jamaica – 1)
Margaret Kennedy
(Dominica – 2)
Co. Down
Margaret Kennedy
(Jamaica – 1)
John Kingston MP
(British Guiana – 1)
Nicholas Kirwan
(Antigua – 1)
John Knox
(Jamaica – 2)
Co. Antrim
William Digges La Touche
Peter Digges La Touche
Mary Digges La Touche
(Jamaica – 3)
Sir Harcourt Lees (Rev.)
(St. Kitts – 1)
Co. Dublin
William Lindsay
Michael Lindsay (Grenada – 1)
Co. Galway
Co. Mayo
Fredrick Simon Logier
(Cape of Good Hope – 1) 
Co. Cavan£932
Anne Lowe Hannah Foley
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Waterford
Sarah Lucas (née Beesley)
(British Guiana – 3)
(St. Vincent – 1)
Andrew Henry Lynch
(Tobago -1)
C. Martyn
(Jamaica – 1)
James Massy-Dawson
(Jamaica – 2)
Co. Tipperary
John Mathews(British Guiana – 1)Tuam,
Co. Galway
Hugh McCalmont
(British Guiana – 2)
William McDowall
(Grenada – 1)
Charles McGarel
(Barbados – 1)
(British Guiana – 13)
Co. Antrim
Peter McGarel
John McGarel
(Barbados – 1)
Co. Antrim
Dr. Joseph Magrath
(Jamaica – 1)
James Hewitt Massy-Dawson
Rev. John Massy-Dawson
Louisa Massy-Dawson
Anna Maria Poore (née Massy-Dawson
(Jamaica – 2)
Co. Tipperary£8523462
John Mathews
(British Guiana – 1)
Co. Galway
Charles Moore, MP
(Barbados – 2
(Tobago – 1)
Co. Tipperary
Henry Moore
(Barbados – 6)
(Tobago – 1)
Henry Murray
(Trinidad – 2)
Thomas Murray
(British Guiana – 5)
Thomas Ricketts Myers
(Jamaica – 2)
Admiral Sir Edmund Nagle
Garret Nagle
(Barbados – 1)
Major General William Nedham
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Cork
James Neil
(Barbados -3)
Thomas Neilson
(Trinidad – 7)
Samuel Nelson
(Antigua – 2)
John Lyons Nixon
(British Guiana – 2)
Robert Nolan/ Eleanor Nolan
(Jamaica – 1)
Hugh O’Connor/Edward Moore
(Antigua – 1)
Robert Otway
(Grenada – 1)
Robert Hercules Pakenham
(Antigua – 1) 
Co. Antrim
Eliza Jane Prentice (née Kidd)
(Barbados – 8)
Co. Armagh 
Georgiana Prentice
(Barbados – 2)
Co. Armagh
Richard Patrick Purcell
(Grenada – 3)
(Trinidad – 1)
Co. Laois
William Purcell (Trinidad – 1)Grenada –
son of P.J. Purcell
Rev. James Peter Rhoades
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Tipperary
Lt. Gen. Sir Phineas Riall
(Jamaica – 1)
Browne Roberts
(Jamaica – 1)
Queen’s County£4438269
George Bonynge Rochfort
(Jamaica – 3)
Thomas Sanderson
(Antigua – 1)
Dudley Semper
Michael Joseph Semper
(Montserrat – 6)
Co. Galway£12,505662
Henry Osbourne Seward
(British Guiana – 3)
Lucinda Shaw
(St. Vincent – 1)
Co. Tipperary£1396
Edward Sheil
(Honduras – 2)
Co. Waterford£124316
Wright Sherlock
(Trinidad – 4)
Robert Simms 
(Antigua – 1)
James Simpson
(Jamaica – 4)
James Sproull
(Jamaica – 9)
George Taaffe
(Tobago – 1)
Smarmore Castle,
Co. Louth
Charlotte Tayler
(Jamaica – 3) 
Co. Tyrone
James Thompson
(Antigua – 2) 
Samuel Thompson
(Dominica – 1)
Co. Antrim
 £3488 181
Sir Edward Tierney
(St. Kitts – 2)
Richard Trench
(Antigua – 1)
Co. Galway£926112
William Power Trench
(Jamaica – 4)
Co. Galway£3347175
Sophia Adelaide Walsh
(Trinidad – 1)
Co. Kildare
John Watt
(Jamaica – 3) 
Co. Donegal
Robert Welch
(Jamaica – 1)
Co. Laois
£1638 84
Thomas Wilson
(Trinidad – 9)
Richard Beavor Wynne
(Virgin Islands – 1)
The Hermitage,
Co. Sligo
 Total sought£982,00929,686
318 PlantationsRejected claims£183,370 
 Total granted£798,639 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/12/british-history-slavery-buried-scale-revealed

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/29/slavery-abolition-compensation-when-will-britain-face-up-to-its-crimes-against-humanity

[3] https://medium.com/@Limerick1914/an-irish-slave-in-antigua-7acfb106a8e9

[4] W.A. Hart. ‘Africans in Eighteenth-Century Ireland’. Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 33, No. 129 (May, 2002), pp. 19-32

[5] https://medium.com/@Limerick1914/an-irish-slave-in-antigua-7acfb106a8e9

Who is Edward Colston and what does he have in common with John Mitchel?



When someone is ripped down from a pedestal they have occupied for 125 years and dumped in the murky waters of the port that contributed to their fortune, it does make you curious?

So who was Edward Colston (1636-1720) the man who was consigned to the vasty deep over the weekend by a group of his sternest critics? 

To put it mildly, he was well connected. He made his fortune with a company headed up by the brother of King Charles II who would, himself, go on to become the much unloved King James II. But not for long (the King bit, that is—the lack of love was more permanent). James was better known among his regularly disappointed Irish supporters as ‘Séamus an chaca’ (translated: ‘Jimmy the shit – or more accurately ‘Seámus who shits himself’). However, just to demonstrate that ‘business is business’ and outweighed any putative political loyalties, Colston sold his shares in the company to Séamus’s usurper, William of Orange, better known to his enthusiastic latter-day Irish supporters as King Billy. 

The company in question was the cuddly RAC – not to be confused with the Royal Automobile Club. ‘RAC’ stood for Royal African Company, and for the practice of abducting men, women and children from Africa, transporting them to North America, and selling on the ones who survived the journey. (Let’s not characterise it as ‘those fortunate enough to survive the journey’ in this instance). The Royal African Company was in the same fine old English tradition as that much-beloved corporate entity the East India Company, fondly remembered in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as a ruthless and covetous mob of professional plunderers and murderers. Interestingly the word ‘loot’, also in the news last week, is derived from Hindi. It was used by those who spoke the language to describe the experience of being governed by the East India company, and was brought from the ‘sub-continent’ to England along with all the gold, silver, jewels and spices that underwrote so many aristocratic fortunes across the Irish Sea (and quite a few in our own sainted land as well).   

The RAC guarded its ‘property’ jealously, so much so that it took to branding that property prior to its luxury cruise across the Atlantic. This exercise in copyrighting did not involve merely painting a ‘swoosh’ on the bottom right hand corner of a torso. Instead a red hot branding iron was used on the skin of these newly acquired items of property. Even though Mr. Colston obviously can’t swim, when you discover how he accrued his fortune it seems a shame that the protesters contrived to dump his statue somewhere from which it can potentially be recovered and restored to its original pedestal. 

After selling out to King Billy, Edward Colston took some time out to smell the roses – hopefully the fragrance was sufficient to mask the stench of burning flesh. He also began a glorious exercise in whitewashing by changing the wording on his business cards from ‘slave trader’ to ‘do-gooder’. Colston endowed everything in sight, becoming an early eighteenth century equivalent of arch-capitalist Andrew Carnegie, who forced libraries on towns and cities whether they wanted them or not. No school or hospital in his native Bristol was safe from Colston’s generosity, as long as it was named after him. 

One other thing – the statue now the source of some very interesting selfies, mostly by people whom Colston would have been happy to enslave, was (the base still is) located on ‘Colston Avenue’. The Bristol city fathers and mothers might want to think about changing the name. Maybe take a leaf from the book of the Mayor of Washington DC, Muriel Bowser, who, last week, renamed a street near the Trumpist White House as ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza’. Not sure what you do with Colston Hall, Colston Tower or Colston Street though.  

However, if we in Ireland applaud the actions of the Bristol anti-Colstonites, do we need to be consistent? What about the most prominent journalistic apologist for the Confederacy during the US Civil War, our very own John Mitchel—firmly ensconced in the Deep South after his Young Ireland escapades, his transportation to Australia, and his daring escape. Mitchel, subject of much hagiographical coverage—some of it auto-hagiographical—once claimed that the Irish peasantry were worse off than black slaves in the southern states. While mid-19th century Irish tenant farmers, cottiers and farm labourers were hardly comfortable (a million of them died of starvation and disease between 1845-50 and another million were forced to emigrate) at least their landlords couldn’t whip them and sell their children down the river. Despite his steadfast defence of the institution of slavery—which helped earn him a sojourn in a post-war Union jail (he opted not to describe the experience in Jail Journal II) there’s a fine statue of Mitchel in his native Newry in County Down. 

Lest I be accused of an exercise in ‘backwards history’ and it be suggested that Mitchel was merely expressing commonly held beliefs amongst the Irish of his generation, one of the many men with whom he fell out, Daniel O’Connell, steadfastly refused to even visit the USA while the practice of slavery continued, and was revered by American abolitionists (men like Frederick Douglass) for the stance he took on the issue. 

Granted John Mitchel does not occupy a position of prominence on the Newry skyline for his advocacy of slavery—it was Jail Journal, his polemical The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps) and his many services to Irish nationalism that earned him a shot at the pedestal. But then that didn’t save Colston, who wasn’t exactly beautifying the city of Bristol because of his service to the slave trade. 

I’m not advocating that the statue of John Mitchel be torn down and tossed in the Clanrye River. But we’re good at health warnings in Ireland, so maybe one or two of Mitchel’s less salubrious quotes might be added to a blue plaque to be placed prominently nearby – statements like … ‘We deny that it is a crime, or a wrong, or even a peccadillo to hold slaves, to buy slaves, to keep slaves to their work by flogging or other needful correction.’ Or this … ‘[I am] proud and fond of [slavery] as a national institution, and advocate its extension by re-opening the trade in Negroes.’

Getting back to Colston though, it has to be said it’s appropriate for someone who made a lot of money from transporting human beings against their will in seagoing (but not necessarily seaworthy) vessels that he should himself have recently been reburied at sea. 

How did they set about kidding Mr. Hitler? (D-Day, 6 June 1944)

The actual invasion plan – as opposed to the total bullshit being fed to Germany

The ‘D’ in D-Day might just as well have stood for ‘deception’. 

Quicksilver, Fortitude, Bodyguard, Cockade, Garbo, Mutt and Jeff – what could such a motley jumble of words have to do with the Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944?   Well they all fed, in one form or another, into operation Overlord, the codename for the Battle of Normandy, and Operation Neptune, the naval phase of the D-day invasion which established crucial beachheads in mainland Europe through which France, Belgium and the Netherlands were liberated and, ultimately,  the surrender of Germany was brought about. 

During the darkest days of World War Two Winston Churchill made one of his many gnomic and quotable statements. He said, ‘in wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’ (An axiom he had certainly cherished when he was Secretary of State for War during the Irish War of Independence). It was such a good line that they called an entire operation after it. ‘Bodyguard’ became the codename for the dark arts employed to make sure that the Nazis were as unprepared as possible for the Allied invasion of Europe on 6 June 1944. Because of the military build-up on the English south coast they knew it was coming. But they were duped into expecting the hammer blow to fall near the major French port of Calais .  

To help pull an entire wardrobe over the eyes of the Nazis, Operation Fortitude: South (through a wholly owned subsidiary called Operation Quicksilver) created an entirely fake US army group, complete with inflatable or cardboard tanks constructed by movie set-builders, to impress German reconnaissance flights. This was the gloriously fictional 1st US Army Group (FUSAG), thinly staffed with actual human beings and supposedly under the command of George Patton, a controversial and ambitious US General who, the Germans would have assumed to have been in charge of something. The Germans had a lot of time for Patton, which, given his own latent fascist tendencies is hardly surprising. Patton went along with the plot enthusiastically. He allowed himself to be photographed visiting dozens of spurious military sites populated by tanks that wouldn’t even hold water. 

British soldiers with superhuman strength or a cardboard tank?

Th 1st US Army Group probably even had the inevitable supply of tights and chocolate to be given out to susceptible English ladies easily impressed by tans and perfect teeth.  Fake wedding notices certainly did appear regularly in English newspapers announcing that yet another randy GI had plucked a flower of British womanhood and intended to take her away from Old Blighty when Hitler had been put in his place. The fictional Army Group even had its own insignia. For example, the phony 135th Airborne Division had a highly decorative and menacing shoulder patch depicting a large ugly spider about to pounce on something unsuspecting – a bit of a metaphor for the entire invasion plan. Sham shoulder patches were diligently flashed with impunity around centres of population near Dover by the few actual employees of FUSAG where it was suspected that the Germans might have had a few observant agents who would take note and alert Adolf. 

Just in case the German agents were playing tennis or just not very vigilant, a wounded German tank officer was conveniently released for treatment back home in Germany. This was in the days before the NHS. He was told he was being escorted through Kent and, en route, was allowed by his careless jailers to make careful note of the massive troop build-up in that part of southern England. ‘Oh look Hans, there’s an entire tank brigade out your starboard window. And what about that infantry division doing manoeuvres on that ridge up there?’ Even a dummkopf would have concluded that this force was soon be coming ashore at Calais a few miles across the English channel. (This was also in the days before the Channel Tunnel). In point of fact the ailing Panzerman was being transported through Hampshire and this was the army that was about to be aimed at the five Normandy beaches codenamed Juno, Gold, Sword, Omaha and Utah in a belated response to William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings. But his debriefing must have been interesting, and the useless intelligence he produced must have really excited his interrogators. 

However, a crucial element in the campaign of deception surrounding D-day was not inspired set-dressing and Patton photo-ops, it was good old-fashioned espionage and the classic ‘Double Cross’. The truth was that most of the German spies in England in the early years of the war had long since been rounded up and turned against their masters, acting as double agents. One of these was codenamed Garbo. He was a Spanish citizen, recruited by the Germans, who had offered his services to the British and who created a network of almost thirty entirely fictional ‘agents’ that he claimed were supplying him with vital information, such as the third secret of Fatima and the assurance that the square on the hypotenuse was equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides of a triangle. Garbo’s false information was designed, as was most of the other intelligence stardust, to convince the Axis powers that the American, British and Canadian invasion was going to come via the Pas-de-Calais, and probably around Christmas 1950.

Just in case Hitler was dubious about the attack being aimed at such an obvious target as the French port closest to England, Operation Fortitude: North was dreamed up to convince him that the attack might even be coming through Norway.  Another fictional force was created for this little confidence trick. This one was the British Fourth Army, headquartered in Edinburgh Castle, staffed by the wiliest of ‘wallahs’ and with the invasion plans secreted about their sporrans. The assistance of Mutt and Jeff was useful too – not the cartoon characters but two more exceptionally dodgy secret agents with infra dig codenames who were supplying bogus intelligence to their gullible German masters. 

To help authenticate Mutt and Jeff’s fictions about this belated British response to the medieval incursions of the Vikings, there was a lot of easily interceptible junk radio traffic about winter holidays and kayaking in fjords. Well, actually it was about things like inquiring as to the best bindings for cross country skis and what kind of oil was required in sub-zero temperatures. These, apparently were the norm in pre-climate-change Norwegian high summer. Maybe the Germans should have copped onto that one!  Anyway, it was all enough to ensure that Germany left 13 divisions—more than 100,000 men—twiddling thumbs in Trondheim, far away from any possibility of reinforcing the troops defending Normandy. The thirteenth of those divisions was only despatched by Hitler to defend Mr. Quisling and his fellow Nazi puppets towards the end of May 1944, a couple of weeks before the balloon went up hundreds of kilometres away. None of them, however, was of much use to Mr.Quisling who was terminated with extreme prejudice by a firing squad of unimpressed fellow Norwegians in October 1945.  

Alan Turing – mathematical genius and Bletchley Park codebreaker

The celebrated codebreakers at Bletchley Park also played their part in this massive deception. They appear to have been able to decipher encoded German messages hours before they were even despatched. This was thanks to their friend Enigma and their employee, the mathematical genius Alan Turing, later rewarded for his war service by being hounded into suicide because of his homosexuality. Thanks to Enigma, Turing and many other boffins Bletchley was able to tell the Allied generals that the Germans had been royally conned and confidently expected the Allied invasion to take the shortest route across the channel rather than risking extra hours on the open sea by moving on Normandy. 

You may be shocked to learn that all the British officers who were privy to the invasion plans were ‘bigotted’. This did not, however, mean that they necessarily harboured white  supremacist attitudes—though some of the more imperialistic among them probably did—it was simply a way of referring to those who were ‘in the know’ about the master plan. There are disputes about what the word ‘bigot’ stood for. In the 1990s Lord Killanin, a senior British Army staff officer in 1944, told me that it was an inversion of the words ‘To Gib’, short for ‘To Gibraltar’. This was a phrase that pre-dated Operation Overlord and was stamped on the travelling orders of military planners bound for the disputed Rock attached to neutral Spain who were planning the invasion of North Africa in 1942. It might also be an acronym of ‘British Invasion of German Occupied Territory’. Take your pick. 

It was, however, common parlance in 1944. Killanin told me he would often begin conversations with other military personnel with the words, ‘Are you bigotted?’ If they looked offended, he would turn the conversation to the weather or horse racing. If they indicated that they knew exactly what he was talking about—presumably by touching their right nostril while extending their left hand in a chopping motion and tugging the crease of their trousers—he could relax in the knowledge that they were au fait with the details of the forthcoming invasion of Europe and he wasn’t going to concede a global conflict to Germany on penalties.  He also pointed out in that interview, that armed with an intimate knowledge of the entire battle plan he made a number of return trips to Ireland where he might easily have been kidnapped by German agents and have blown the whole plan!  

The Allies almost blew it without his assistance during Operation Tiger in April 1944. This was a full scale rehearsal for the invasion. It took place on Slapton Sands in Devon. This exercise turned into a full scale FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition). It began with communications problems that led to a number of friendly fire deaths. That cock-up, however, paled into insignificance with what was to follow. Allied landing craft and associated vessels were spotted by half a dozen German submarines which proceeded to  wreaked havoc with their torpedoes and caused the deaths of almost 750 US soldiers. The whole debacle was hushed up for years. 

But, even more consequential in the longer term than the unnecessary deaths of the American marines, was the realisation that a number of British officers with ‘bigot’ documents had also gone missing in the English channel after their boat was torpedoed. A desperate search was organised to recover their bodies before the Germans did. Fortunately all were pulled from the water in time. Though whether the Germans would have trusted any random British military fatality floating in the sea is debatable. Whether they knew it or not they had been badly stung in like manner by Operation Mincemeat, a British undercover action in 1943.

To divert attention from the impending Allied invasion of Sicily that year the body of a deceased civilian was appropriated by agents of British intelligence. The corpse was given the identity card of the fictional Major William Martin as well as a variety of other personal items. These included a photograph of his fictitious girlfriend Pam! The body was then dumped in the sea off the Spanish coast equipped with false top secret documents indicating that the anticipated Allied invasion in the Mediterranean would come through the Balkans. Simultaneous attacks on Greece and Sicily were mere diversions – which in the case of Greece was true. The British hoped that when the body was recovered by neutral Spain the regime of Generalissimo Franco,  would happily share this intelligence with their Fascist brothers and sisters in Germany. General Franco’s secret police duly obliged. The documents were returned to the British consulate in Madrid but only after they had been opened and studied. On 14 May 1943 a German communication was decrypted by Bletchley Park. This made it clear the Germans had bought the ruse. German troops were diverted to Greece and the Balkans while the Allies marched into Sicily (with the generous assistance of the local Mafia – that bit is also true!). The whole episode was captured (and heavily fictionalised) in a 1956 film The Man Who Never Was. The lead in the film was not taken by the famous British/Hollywood actor Leslie Howard who, by coincidence, had been shot down and killed in the Bay of Biscay at around the same time as Major Martin was supposed to have died in the same stretch of water!

In the weeks prior to the Normandy invasion there was one unexpected intelligence ‘snafu’—that’s a military acronym standing for ‘Status Nominal – All Fouled Up’ or, if you prefer a little bit of the vernacular and a healthy dose of cynicism, ‘Situation Normal: All Fucked Up’. This was when military planners began to notice some of their key D-day code words appearing in the Daily Telegraph crossword. It all started quite casually when, in February 1944 the word ‘Juno’ appeared as a solution to one of the puzzles. Noithing to see here, really. A month later, however, ‘Gold’ turned up, and then ‘Sword’. Given the number of words that appear in a week of crosswords it could all just have been an amazing coincidence. Then, on 2 May another significant clue appeared in that day’s edition. Seventeen across read, ‘One of the US’. The solution, which showed up the following day, was ‘Utah’. On 22 May three down was, ‘Red Indian on the Missouri’. The answer to that little poser was ‘Omaha’.

Now the spooks were getting very worried. Five days later there was an apparently innocuous reference to ‘Big wig’ in eleven across. The solution to that one was ‘Overlord’. You can probably see where this is going. On 1 June, four days before the original scheduled D-day, the solution to fifteen down, ‘Brittania and he hold to the same thing’ was ‘Neptune’. It was only then that MI5 decided it was time to have a quiet chat with the crossword setter, one Leonard Sydney Dawe, a local school headmaster.  The following day’s Telegraph was pulled from circulation, and so was Mr. Dawe. The latter was released after the invasion, having experienced the sort of interrogation normally reserved for German agents. He later recorded that he feared he was going to be shot.

It took forty years for the truth to emerge when one of Dawe’s former pupils, one Ronald French, went public. His narrative was a curious one. Dawe, it transpired, relied on his students to help him compile the crossword. He would set them the task of arranging words on a grid and he would then come up with puzzles to which the words were the solution. According to French he, and many of the other boys under the tutelage of Dawe were regularly exposed to the supposedly top secret D-day codewords because they, or their parents, hung around with indiscreet American and Canadian military types in a south coast military base. These garrulous North Americans used the codewords openly in their daily conversations, but, one hopes, without revealing their origin. It was French who had innocently inserted the codewords and had been upbraided by Dawe for so doing after the schoolmaster was released by the MI5 hounds. Subsequently, Dawe, after examining one of French’s notebooks and seeing the words that had clearly been causing his interrogators so much angst had burned the offending object and had sworn his student to secrecy on the nearest bible. Dawe himself was interviewed by the BBC in 1958 where he spoke about his interrogation but not about the bizarre genesis of the tell-tale clues in his crosswords. He might not have wanted his employers to know that he was using child labour in their compilation. 

One of the most entertaining ruses employed by the Allies was to use a Monty tribute act in order to convince the Germans that nothing was about to happen. An Australian actor named Clifton James, who bore a striking resemblance to Field Marshal Montgomery and who was trained to suppress his Antipodean tones and mimic Monty’s distinctively plummy Anglo-Irish accent, was sent on a jolly to Algiers (headquarters of ‘mon General’ Charles de Gaulle and the Free French forces) on 26 May. His instructions were to hit the town and make sure he was seen by some of the underemployed German spies tripping over each other in that North African sanctuary. They were meant to conclude that if Monty was back in North Africa on an El Alamein nostalgia tour there was no chance of a European invasion kicking off in his absence.     

Arguably, however, much of the deception effort, at least its visual element, was, as we would say in Irish, ‘obair in aisce’ i.e. rather a waste of time. By the first half of 1944 it wasn’t as if the Germans had the capacity to organise regular overflights of the British mainland. So, making cardboard tanks and balsa wood aircraft for their delectation was probably of limited value, though it certainly gave a lot of creative and extremely devious spooks something to do while they waited for the ‘big show’. The Germans were also being bombarded with a hell of a lot of  spurious intelligence information and sham radio traffic, some of which they probably were not even intercepting and more of which they did not have the time or the opportunity to decipher. So, much of what passed for creative intelligence was little more than white noise which made a lot of people feel they were doing their bit, and rather ingeniously, for the war effort.  

Whether it was all a tad over the top or not is debatable, but it was certainly effective. The Germans took what they were being fed seriously enough to believe that the allied force on the south coast, apparently aimed at Normandy, was the decoy not the real McCoy. This allowed the 150,000 troops landed on the five Normandy beaches to experience relatively modest casualties – except at Omaha where the American 1st Infantry Division, and other units, took a mauling. 

With hundreds of thousands of Allied troops coming ashore in Normandy you might think the gig would be up as far as sustained deception was concerned. Not so. Eisenhower wanted to convince the Germans that the attack on Normandy was only a piece of elaborate misdirection, like one of those ‘razzle dazzle’ plays in American football where the quarterback eats the ball and runs all the way into the endzone for a touchdown. Even with Allied troops inching closer to Paris Agent Garbo was still feeding garbage to the Germans. He pointed out that Patton was still at home washing his hair in the south of England, so this could hardly be the real thing. No, the genuine article would shortly be dropped on Calais so please don’t move too many German troops 250 kilometres to the south to meet a counterfeit threat from Dad’s Army and ENSA. 

So impressed was Hitler with Garbo and his intelligence network that he waited for weeks before giving up on Calais and sending troops from there to meet the real threat. Garbo was so highly regarded by the Axis powers that he was actually awarded an iron cross in absentia by Germany before the end of the war. 

A Normandy beach in the years prior to social distancing

The Allies also had their own agents beavering away in occupied France. According to the late Keith Jeffrey, in his magisterial history of MI6, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) helped devise something called the ‘Sussex scheme’ in late 1943, in collaboration with the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the forerunner of the CIA, under the command of Irish-American General William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan—and the French Bureau Central de Renseignments et d’Action (BCRA)—antecedent of the SDECE. The ‘Sussex Plan’ involved parachuting two-person teams of French-born agents into northern France. By the time of D-day fifteen teams had been infiltrated and managed to provide useful intelligence on German troop movements. Some consideration was also given to a co-ordinated assassination campaign aimed at German senior officers, administrative officials, and Vichy collaborators. This was abandoned, however, because the risk of overwhelming retaliation against civilian populations was deemed disproportionate to the benefits that would accrue from killing a few generals and bureaucrats. One senior spook (William Cavendish-Bentinck, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Sub Committee) dropped the idea with considerable reluctance, noting that he disliked the scheme ‘not out of squeamishness, as there are several people in this world whom I could kill with my own hands with a feeling of pleasure and without that action in any way spoiling my appetite.’[1]  So say all of us and more power to your hyphen! If only you’d been a Black and Tan Ireland might still be British—perish the thought.  

So, although the arrival of 5000 ships, 1200 aircraft and more than 150,000 troops off five Normandy beaches on the morning of the 6 June 1944 is clearly the antithesis of ‘deception’ large dollops of that commodity went into the planning and the execution of the plan that advanced the Allies from ‘the end of the beginning’ to the ‘beginning of the end’. 

[1] Keith Jeffrey, MI6: the History of the Secret Intelligence Service, 1909-1949, (London, 2010), 539.