Abject apologies for missing the 125th birthday of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid yesterday.
Here was a distinguished clergyman who might have been imported directly from the Spanish Inquisition to administer his particular brand of religious certitude on an Ireland whose abject politicians were only too willing to kiss his ring. (See photo above lest there be any doubt on that score)
McQuaid was a cleric who liked women to know they were welcome in his church, as long as they restricted their activities to making the sangitches and changing the flowers on the altar every week.
Mind you, Ireland has never lacked for misogynistic Archbishops of Dublin. Cardinal Cullen, in the 1870s tried to force the administration to withdraw scholarships and prizes based on examination results from female second level students. He was supported in this by Irish MPs. It was British MPs who ensured that Irish girls would continue to benefit from their hard work in preparing for exams.
His successor, Cardinal MacCabe —an Irish churchman much beloved of Dublin Castle—went through multiple phases of apoplexy at the sight of women attending Land League meetings and, holy horror of horrors, making platform speeches. In a pastoral letter to his archdiocesan clergy he advised them:
‘Very reverend dear fathers, set your faces against this dishonouring attempt, and do not tolerate in your sodalities the woman who so far disavows her birthright of modesty as to parade herself before the public gaze in a character so unworthy of a child of Mary.’
But, of course, the Daddy of them all when it came to clerical misogyny was the Ayatollah himself, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid (sadly he was denied a ‘red hat’ despite his sterling work on behalf of sixteenth century values). We don’t even need to grapple with the celebrated controversy over Noel Browne’s Mother and Child Scheme to bathe Dev’s favourite Archbishop and Constitutional Consultant in the cold light of female repression. Or even his role in the insertion of the infamous Article 41.2.1 in de Valera’s 1937 Constitution. (Just in case you need reminding about that one it went something like this …
‘In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.’
That’s all big politics. Let’s focus on the really petty stuff instead.
Take, for example, how he took issue, in 1934, with the notion of girls and women being allowed to compete in athletics. In 1928 women had been admitted to the Olympic Games for the first time but McQuaid came from the same school as the founder of the modern Olympiad, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who believed that ‘women have but one task [in the Olympics] that of the role of crowning the winner with garlands’.
In 1934 the National Athletic and Cycling Association [grandparent of Athletics Ireland] was contemplating adding a women’s 100 yards dash to the national championships. McQuaid, then president of Blackrock College, (apparently this is an all-male rugby playing establishment somewhere in south Dublin) wrote a letter on the subject to the Irish Press newspaper on 24 February 1934 in which he observed that: ‘Mixed athletics and all cognate immodesties are abuses that right-minded people reprobate, wherever and whenever they exist.’
He then proceeded to invoke one of only two superior beings whom he acknowledged, by pointing out that ‘God is not modern; nor is his Law’. Women who sought to compete athletically in the vicinity of men were ‘un-Irish and un-Catholic’, and the entire phenomenon was a ‘social abuse’. He concluded by quoting from the only other superior being he recognised, the Pope (the one who never gave him a ‘red hat’), who was, apparently, of the opinion that:
‘…in athletic sports and exercises, wherein the Christian modesty of girls must be, in a special way, safeguarded … it is supremely unbecoming that they flaunt themselves and display themselves before the eyes of all.’
So that was pretty conclusive, God, the Pope and John Charles were on the same side. The NACA decided not to include female athletes … even over 100 yards. To their eternal shame the Irish Camogie Association supported McQuaid, although that may have been not unconnected with the fact that its secretary was a man. Sean O’Duffy—who was apparently not related to Ireland’s leading Fascist Eoin O’Duffy—promised that the Camogie Association:
‘…would do all in its power to ensure that no girl would appear on any sports ground in a costume to which any exception could be taken. If they remained Irish in the ordinary acception of the word they could not go wrong.’
Apparently the word ‘acception’ means ‘acceptation’ or ‘received meaning’. No, me neither!
Not until 1956 did Maeve Kyle become Ireland’s first female athletics competitor at the Olympics. It probably helped that she was a Northern Protestant and, consequently, beyond redemption.
Ten years later, having left Blackrock College, McQuaid was now Archbishop of Dublin with responsibility for all the clergy of the diocese, so, clearly, no longer associated with an institution dominated by testosterone. But he was still obsessed with female modesty, and in 1944 his attention had shifted from athletics to cycling – as in the menstrual cycles of women. In a letter to the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health he shared his anguish about:
‘…the evidence concerning the use of internal sanitary tampons, in particular, that are called Tampax. On the medical evidence made available, the bishops very strongly disapprove of the use of these appliances, more particularly in the case of unmarried persons.’
Now, in fairness to the Archbishop, in using the words ‘unmarried persons’ he was obviously expressing concerns in relation to men who used tampons as well as women. One wonders had his eminence mistaken Tampax for Durex, both, after all, were highly sexualised products with the suspect letter ‘x’ in their names?
Or was his anxiety based on the fear that the tampon might, in addition to its medicinal / physiological purpose, be used by women in pursuit of sexual stimulation. Sexual pleasure and gratification was after all:
a) in the gift of men only.
b) an unfortunate (if unlikely) pre-requisite for the production of children.
c) never willingly experienced by truly Catholic women.
Staying with sport, the Archbishop was also concerned about the dangers of hockey for women – he feared that the frequent twisting movements would lead to infertility, or what he called ‘hockey parturition’. Female hockey players might conceivably—ok, pun intended—find themselves unable to perform the main function appropriate to their gender, i.e. reproduction. The sport of lacrosse, which he believed, for some baffling reason, to involve less midriff action, was encouraged in Roman Catholic girls’ schools in the Dublin archdiocese. The fact that lacrosse had originated among Native Americans using the heads of defeated opponents did not seem to occur to him as making it in any way unsuitable.
To accompany tonight’s History Show programme on ‘Women in the War of Independence’ below are contextualised extracts from Lily Mernin’s Bureau of Military History Witness Statement about her espionage activities on behalf of Director of Intelligence, Michael Collins during the War of Independence.
LILY MERNIN – INTELLIGENCE AGENT, DUBLIN CASTLE
BMH WS #441
From 1914-1922 Lily Mernin, a cousin of leading IRA propagandist, Piaras Beaslai, was employed as a typist in the Dublin District Garrison Adjutant’s office in the Lower Castle Yard. When Beaslai became aware of the precise nature of her work he spoke to Michael Collins about her. In 1918 Mernin met Collins for the first time.
Piaras Beaslai brought him to my home and introduced him to me as a Mr. Brennan. I did not know he was Collins at the time. He asked me would I be willing to pass out to him any information that might be of value which I would come across in my ordinary day’s work. I remembered he produced letters that he had intercepted concerning some of the typists and officers in the Castle, and things that were happening generally. I cannot remember exactly what they were. I promised to give him all the assistance that I possibly could.
The garrison adjutant for Ship St. barracks and Dublin District at the time was Major Stratford Burton. The work that he gave me to do was connected with Volunteer activities generally and, in addition, court martial proceedings on Volunteers was also given me to type. These dealt with the strength of the various military posts throughout Dublin district. Each week I prepared a carbon or typed copy, whichever I was able to get. Sometimes I would bring these to the office placed at my disposal at Captain Moynihan’s house, Clonliffe Road. He had a typewriter there and I typed several copies of the strength returns and any other correspondence which I may have brought with me that I thought would be of use. I left them on the machine and they were collected by some person whom I did not know. I had a latch key for the house and nobody knew when I came or went. It was arranged for me that if I had anything special requiring urgent delivery to the Intelligence staff that I would deliver it at Vaughan’s [Hotel] between certain hours and/or Maire ni Raghallaigh’s bookshop , Dorset St. and Captain Moynihan’s, Clonliffe Road. Another place where I left messages was at Collins’s shop Parnell St, the number I cannot remember.
I cannot recollect the exact nature of the letters and correspondence that I passed to the Intelligence staff. All I can say is that, in general, they dealt with the movement of troops, provisions for armoured trains or cars, and instructions and circulars to military units from GHQ.
Mernin proved extremely useful to Collins when it came to the identification of the Dublin accommodation of British agents, information that was to prove crucial to the assassinations on Bloody Sunday, 21st November, 1920.
Before the 21st November 1920, it was part of my normal duty to type the names and addresses of British agents who were accommodated at private addresses and living as ordinary citizens in the city. These lists were typed weekly and amended whenever an address was changed. I passed them on each week either to the address at Moynihan’s, Clonliffe Road or to Piaras Beaslai. The typing of the lists ceased after the 21stNovember 1920.
Apart altogether from using her access to written information Mernin, from time to time, was in a position to pass on useful office gossip to Collins.
There was a girl in the office who was the daughter of Superintendent Dunne of Dublin Castle. When he resigned she moved out of Dublin Castle to an address in Mount Street. Stopping at the same address were a number of men. Every morning she would come into the office she would tell us about them, she was puzzled to know who they were. Her brother also resided there with her and, apparently, he used to mix with them, and he discussed their conversation with her. She would report this conversation to us when she would come into the office in the morning. There was one fellow there by the name of McMahon who was very addicted to drink. While under the influence of drink he was, I believe, liable to talk a lot, and, mainly, his conversation concerned raids and arrests of ‘wanted’ IRA men. Whatever tit-bits of information that I could glean from Miss Lil Dunne I immediately passed it on to the Intelligence section. Suspicion was thrown in my direction one morning when Miss Dunne entered the office and excitedly said that her brother had been missing and that she thought he was held by the IRA, that somebody in the office had been giving information to the IRA concerning the conversation we had in the office about McMahon and Peel, British agents, who were lodging in the same house with her in Mount Street. However, I found myself in a predicament, but I remained cool and calm and bluffed my way out of it and said: “Who could be a spy?” and put the blame on her brother for talking too much. Sometime later the position was eased when Miss Dunne took ill and never again returned to Dublin Castle.All this information was, of course, passed on to the IRA Intelligence prior to the 21st November 1920.
After 21st November 1920, a number of British intelligence officers were drafted into Dublin Castle. A  new department was opened up in the Upper Castle Yard. My work did not bring me in contact with this department. I was asked by the IRA Intelligence Squad to get what information I could about the movements of these officers. These were mainly descriptive particulars for the purpose of identification, where they resided, and where they frequented, also the registration numbers of the motor cars used by them.
These Intelligence officers used come into our office. The three girls of the staff were curious to know who they were. Some of the girls would ask “Who was so-and-so that came in?” In this way, we got to know the names of the various Intelligence officers. Some of the girls in the office were very friendly with them and used to go around with them. General conversation would give a lot of information concerning their whereabouts, things that were said, etc. Any information obtained was immediately passed by me to IRA Intelligence.
On various occasions I was requested by members of the Intelligence Squad to assist them in the identity of enemy agents. I remember the first occasion on which I took part in this work was with the late Tom Cullen in 1919. Piaras Beaslai asked me to meet a young man who would be waiting at O’Raghallaigh’s bookshop in Dorset St and to accompany him to Lansdowne Road. I met this man, whom I later learned was Tom Cullen, and went with him to a football match at Lansdowne Road. He asked me to point out to him and give him the names of any British military officers who frequented Dublin Castle and GHQ. I was able to point out a few military officers to him whom I knew.
When I got to know the Auxiliaries better, I accompanied Frank Saurin (then known as Mr. Stanley) to various cafes where I identified for him some of the Auxiliaries whom I knew.
A footnote. The ‘Lil Dunne’ in question was a great aunt of the novelist Sebastian Barry, she is the main character in his novel On Canaan’s Side. Lily Mernin, who was referred to by Collins only as ‘the little gentleman’ also had social access to Auxiliary policemen based in Dublin Castle, members of the notorious ‘F’ company.
The Auxiliaries organised smoking concerts and whist drives in the Lower Castle Yard. I was encouraged by Frank Saurin, a member of the Intelligence Squad, to give all the assistance I could in the organisation of these whist drives for the sole purpose of getting to know the Auxiliaries and finding out all I possibly could about them. Frank Saurin had arranged with me that should any of the Auxiliaries see myself or any of the girls of the Castle home, he would have members of his squad hanging around Dublin Castle to identify them. However the Auxiliaries never did come past the Castle gate.
On one occasion I asked Frank for a reliable girl, whom I could trust, who would come along to the whist drives with me, to enable her to get to know these Auxiliaries and so prove a further source of identification. He sent along Miss Sally McCasey, who is now his wife. She did her work very well. She had a very charming manner and struck up a friendship quite freely.
On at least one occasion Mernin brought the kind of intelligence to her relative, Piaras Beaslai, that he did not want to hear.
One day a Sergeant from British Intelligence came into my office, carrying a lot of magazines – as I thought – bound together. I asked him what they were and he told me they were copies of “An tOglach” and would not part with them for five hundred pounds, as they were very valuable to them. I reported this to Piaras Beaslai the same night, not knowing he was the editor of “An tOglach” and wondered why he became so alarmed about it. I got the impression that some member of the IRA had been playing a double game.
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 …’
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.
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.
‘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, 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.
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.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. 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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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