Eoin O’Duffy

From History Ireland, via my friend Tom MacMaster:

Despite a growing body of historical writing on the life of General Eoin O’Duffy, there are still large gaps in our knowledge of this enigmatic figure. His various roles as organiser par excellence in the GAA, Irish Volunteers, Garda Síochána and, of course, as head of the Irish Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, are well known. Often derided as a hysterical, grandiloquent, and even absurd personality, O’Duffy nevertheless manages to capture the imagination and curiosity of those interested in Irish politics during the inter-war period. It is probably fair to say that his role as head of the 700-strong Irish Brigade on the side of General Franco’s Nationalists stands out as O’Duffy’s best known politico-military achievement. But it is due to this very fact that the General’s reputation in Irish folk-memory is held with a mix of retrospective embarrassment and scorn after the tragi-comic performance of his brigade in the Spanish Civil War.

One fact that tends to be forgotten, for example, is that O’Duffy’s ideological support for Franco had not come out of the blue—the Irishman had, after all, been rubbing elbows with international fascist leaders from as early as 1934.

It is also noteworthy that his idea of leading Irish soldiers abroad to fight on the side of a fascist army was not completely new for him in 1936 either. O’Duffy had pledged Blueshirt volunteers to Benito Mussolini’s forces after Il Duce invaded Abyssinia in the autumn of 1935. This article will examine Eoin O’Duffy’s involvement in international fascism during the mid-1930s before turning to his promise to Mussolini of 1,000 Blueshirts in the Italo-Ethiopian war. It will also investigate how people in Ireland reacted to O’Duffy’s pledge before examining why he never went.

Read the whole thing. Former Reinhardt professor Pat Zander gave a talk on O’Duffy for our Year of Ireland back in 2012.

UPDATE: Ron Good draws this picture to my attention, from Ian S. Wood, Ireland During the Second World War (Caxton Editions, 2002). The Lord Mayor of Dublin “could easily be an organgrinder’s monkey.”

Fenian Raids!

An article in the National Post today revisits a somewhat-forgotten chapter in Canadian history: the Fenian raids of the 1860s and 70s. These were conducted by the Fenian Brotherhood, a group of American-based Irish republicans who attacked Canada (at the time either a British colony or a dominion of the British empire) in the hopes that they could exchange it for Irish independence. (The title, as many commenters point out, is silly. Just because Osama bin Laden was a Saudi citizen does not mean that Saudi Arabia attacked the United States on 9/11.)

Ireland likes to brag that they’ve never invaded anyone. Too bad they invaded Canada

In 2015, Ireland’s justice minister Frances Fitzgerald attended a Dublin citizenship ceremony and proudly told 73 people that they were now citizens of a country that didn’t invade things.

“Ireland has never invaded any other land, never sought to enslave or occupy,” she told the crowd of newly-minted Irish.

It’s a uniquely Irish boast. On a continent jam-packed with invaders, the Emerald Isle is known to count itself as one of the few that has resisted the urge to charge onto foreign soil and plant a flag or two.

Too bad it’s not true.

Go back 150 years to the frontiers of Canada, and you’ll find no shortage of armed, rowdy, top-hatted militants who would beg to differ that they weren’t an invading army of Irishmen.

“Canada … would serve as an excellent base of operations against the enemy; and its acquisition did not seem too great an undertaking,” wrote Irish nationalist John O’Neill, an architect of what are now known as the Fenian Raids.

The plan was simple: Take a bunch of Irish veterans of the American Civil War, take over Canada and then tell Queen Victoria she could have it back in exchange for an independent Ireland.

That, or the whole thing would just be a good chance to shoot up some relatively undefended British land.

The wildly optimistic planners of the scheme figured they would only need about two weeks to take over Kingston, Toronto and the other major centers of what is now Southern Ontario.

From there, they would commandeer some ships, slap together a navy, sail up the St. Lawrence and demand the surrender of Quebec. Then, once the Atlantic Coast was swarming with Irish privateers, the English would have to deal.

The invasion’s organizers, the Fenian Brotherhood, even began funding the effort by selling bonds that would be promptly repaid by a future Irish Republic.

But like most rebellions throughout Irish history, the “invade Canada” scheme was big on romance but very deficient in strategic planning.

Although the Fenian Brotherhood had envisioned vast columns of battle-hardened Irish-Americans streaming into Canada, their peak showing was only about 1000. Of those, many forgot to bring guns, and many more deserted as soon as they hit Canadian soil.

All told, Fenian conquests added up little more than brief occupations of a customs house, some hills, a few villages and Fort Erie.

More at the link, and at Wikipedia.

Martin McGuinness

I have just discovered that the other chuckle brother died this week:

Martin McGuinness, IRA chief of staff turned Sinn Féin politician

Martin McGuinness, who has died from a rare heart condition aged 66, was with Gerry Adams the dominant figure in Irish Republicanism through four decades of armed struggle and subsequent political manoeuvrings.

He was in turn the IRA’s chief of staff, Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, Minister of Education in David Trimble’s short-lived Executive, and Deputy First Minister, initially to Sinn Fein’s arch-enemy Ian Paisley. And on June 27 2012 he shook hands with the Queen.

While Adams could portray himself as a politician, McGuinness had his finger on the pulse – and trigger – of terrorism. Yet Sinn Fein selected him, not Adams, as its senior ministerial nominee when the Good Friday Agreement was implemented. And Unionists found McGuinness less difficult to deal with than the prickly Adams, and even magnanimous.

The Guinness Harp

Guinness, the archetypical Irish beer (and wholly owned subsidiary of Megaglobocorp) has redesigned its harp logo, making it more three dimensional and metallic. Here it is from Brand New:


And here is the harp’s evolution since 1862. Looks like Guinness wanted to reintroduce some detail.


Now, the harp has been a symbol of Ireland since medieval times; King Henry VIII chose it as the main charge in Ireland’s coat of arms when he elevated Ireland to the status of a kingdom in 1541. King James I added it to the arms of the United Kingdom when he acceded in 1603, and it has remained there ever since.



Most of Ireland, of course, is no longer under the control of the British monarch. The Free State, upon its creation in 1922, chose the harp as its state emblem. The specific rendition that they used was that of Brian Boru – somewhat like the Guinness logo. From Wikipedia, here is an image of the seal of the Irish Free State:



And from my own collection, the obverse of an Irish pound coin from 1990:


The flag of the president of Ireland even uses the same color scheme as the royal arms: a blue field, a gold harp, and silver strings.



You’ll notice that the Irish state harp faces to the left – unlike the Guinness harp, which faces to the right. Apparently, the reason for this is that the Brian Boru harp was trademarked by Guinness in 1876, and the Irish State had to distinguish their harp from the Guinness one! An article on Irish Central can tell you more. This resurfaced as an issue in 1983, according to the Irish Times:

The office of the attorney general recommended registering the harp facing in both directions with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to give maximum protection from image theft.

But the government feared Guinness could challenge the decision as it had been using a “right-facing” harp symbol “some fifty years or more before the founding of the state”…

Patent agents Tomkins & Co, employed by the government on the case, informed officials the following month, however, “we do not consider that mirror images of the harp symbol could be notified to WIPO” under existing rules. While the state might be able to register a right-facing harp “it is possible that such notification could debar the registration by Guinness of their trademark in territories where they do not currently trade but may wish to do so in the foreseeable future”.

The government took the agents’ advice and in 1984 registered with WIPO a “generic”, nine-stringed harp facing in just one direction – left.

And here I thought that it was not an issue between Ireland and some commercial concern, but between Ireland and the United Kingdom. By using the same direction (and color scheme) of the harp in the arms of the kingdom of Ireland, surely the Irish State was simply trying to claim Irish symbols for itself – as though to say, “We’ll take it from here, UK!” But I guess that the form of the harp matters too. You can understand why only the Brian Boru harp would be good enough for the Irish State – and certainly more appropriate than a topless female – leading to the aesthetic conflict with the Guinness Co.

Irish Codswallop

From the Irish IndependentI did not know this:

Codswallop about 1916 is our birthright

HOW come we don’t hear more about Prince Joachim? If there’s one guy who gets short-changed in this whole 1916 business, it’s Prince Joachim Franz Humbert of Prussia. Had the Easter Rising succeeded in giving the Brits the heave-ho, the name Joachim might be as popular in Ireland today as are Padraig, Eamonn, Sean, Michael and the names of all the other heroes. Instead, we’ve swept the poor sod into the dustbin of history.

Given the day that’s in it, we’ve decided to haul poor Joachim out of that dustbin, brush him down and put him on display. Joachim’s story is at least as interesting as much of the codswallop about the Rising that’s being shovelled at us.

In the GPO, during the fighting, Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and Desmond FitzGerald had a discussion about the Ireland they would like to see come out of the rebellion. They knew the chances of winning were microscopic, but they had their dreams.

FitzGerald, the only one of the three to survive, recorded that they agreed on an acceptable outcome: “an independent Ireland with a German Prince as King”.

Yes, you guessed – in the GPO, at the heart of the Rising, three of its heroes, including two of its martyrs, agreed that Prince Joachim would make a suitable king of Ireland. Joachim’s dad, Kaiser Wilhelm II, presided over the German empire and was a powerhouse in imperial Europe. Prince Joachim would make a suitable strong man to safeguard the new “republic”.

Had things gone differently, there might today be a Joachim Street in Dublin, a Joachim Station in Kerry, his descendants might be yet on the Irish throne. As it was – in 1918 there was revolutionary fervour in Germany and Prince Joachim’s dad abdicated. By the time Michael Collins’s ruthless campaign brought the British to the conference table, Joachim was two years dead. His political prospects zero, his marriage falling part, Joachim had shot himself at the age of 30.

More at the link – read the whole thing.

(See also Kevin Myers’s contrarian opinions about 1916.)

The Terrible Beauty

A seminal event in modern Irish history was the Easter Rising of 1916. In that year a group organized by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret society dedicated to Irish independence, seized several blocks of the Dublin city center on Easter Monday and proclaimed a Provisional Irish Republic.


Via Wikipedia.

The British, even though they were engaged in fighting the First World War, quashed this rebellion after a week and executed sixteen of the leaders – which, as it turns out, was a tactical error. Although most Irish people at the time did not support the rebels, sympathy for them only grew after their deaths, so much so that in the “Khaki Election” of 1918, some three-quarters of all Irish constituencies returned members of the republican Sinn Féin party, many of them running unopposed. Sinn Féin had been founded in 1905 and was rather more radical than previous Irish nationalist parties. Unlike Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party, which had actually negotiated a Home Rule Bill to go into effect at the end of the First World War, Sinn Féin MPs simply ignored Westminster, gathered in Dublin, declared themselves the “Dáil Éireann,” reproclaimed the Irish Republic of 1916, started annexing the machinery of state, and began recruiting an Irish Republican Army to defend it. As it happens, the IRA did not defeat the British, and after negotiations the Irish had to settle for dominion status within the British Empire – and even then this “Irish Free State” did not include the six counties of Northern Ireland. (Eventually this entity was transformed into the Republic of Ireland in 1949, although it still does not include Northern Ireland.)

The Easter Rising was originally scheduled for Easter Sunday itself, but was postponed until Easter Monday, which in 1916 was April 24. All the same, the association of this event with “Easter” has stuck, both in its name and in its connotation of “blood sacrifice” and “redemption,” and it is usually commemorated on Easter, whenever that holiday falls in a particular year. Easter lilies, therefore, are not purely religious symbols in Ireland: to wear one proclaims your support for Irish republicanism and the honoring of republican martyrs.

Republican Mural on Mountpottinger Road, Belfast. From the University of Ulster’s CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet) Web Service.

I have not been able to find much information on how or even if the Easter Rising was celebrated by the Free State – presumably it was (the Free State flew the republican tricolor, after all), even though a lot of people saw the Free State as a betrayal of the ideals of 1916. The Irish government (now republican) certainly celebrated the fiftieth anniversary in 1966, an event that left an impression on people at the time.

The timing of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising was significant. As taoiseach, Seán Lemass was anxious to secure Ireland’s future within the European Economic Community (EEC) and had attempted to improve relations with both Britain and Northern Ireland. He constantly brought to the fore images and references to ‘modern’ Ireland so that the fiftieth anniversary commemoration was as much about the act of looking forwards as backwards, requiring a delicate negotiation between tradition and change. Nowhere was this more apparent than in how the commemoration was communicated to the youth of Ireland, a group which represented the nation’s future but which had mixed reactions to the lessons of the past.

There’s more at the link, and of course today the Irish government sponsored major commemorations of the centennial of the Rising. From RTE:

Thousands line the streets of Dublin for 1916 parade

The principal Easter Sunday State Commemoration Ceremony and Parade started at 10am with a reading of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Dublin for the largest public spectacle in the history of the State.

Wreath-laying ceremonies followed at Glasnevin Cemetery and at the Stonebreakers’ Yard in Kilmainham Gaol.

The parade then made its way from St Stephen’s Green to College Green, stopping off at Dublin Castle.

At midday, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was read aloud at the GPO by Captain Peter Kelleher, followed by the Military Band playing Mise Éire.

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the gathered crowds the State honoured the memory of those who died in 1916 with the respect and the dignity that is their due.

The Irish flag was lowered to half mast during the event and President Michael D Higgins laid a wreath to honour all those who died.

It is significant that the commemorations remember all those who died – i.e. not just the rebels, but the British and their local allies as well. (The British ambassador was a participant in today’s events, although no Unionist was – Northern Ireland being represented by its Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin.) And note that “Fr Seamus Madigan, head chaplain of Defence Forces, said the flower-laying was a ‘symbol of the unshakeable resolve to live together on this island in peace and harmony.'”

These are noble sentiments, indeed, and fairly novel ones when commemorating the Easter Rising.


From the National Post: Canada’s Little-Known Role in Creating Modern Ireland. At first I thought this was going to be an examination of Alexander of Tunis’s insult in 1948, but it goes back further than that:

The House of Commons and the Quebec and Ontario legislatures adopted resolutions backing Irish self-government in the late 1800s. Liberal opposition leader Edward Blake, who had been Ontario’s premier in the 1870s, left Canada to take up the cause of Home Rule for Ireland by serving in the British House of Commons as the Nationalist MP for South Longford, in the Irish midlands. Ottawa Liberal MP Charles Ramsay Devlin, a former trade commissioner, left the government of prime minister Wilfrid Laurier to serve in Westminster as a the Nationalist MP for Galway. Devlin ended up becoming secretary-general of the United Irish League in 1903-06.

Blake and Devlin are probably not that significant (as mentioned, these IPP types were completely eclipsed by the events of 1916), but it’s good to remember the “international” aspect of the British Empire, whereby a political career in a colony could serve as prelude to a political career in the metropole (or in another colony, according to your point of view) – and that there was sympathy for Irish independence, and not just for unionism, in nineteenth-century Canada.

St. Patrick’s Day

A little late, but here are a couple of interesting links for this most Irish of days.

From the National Post:

A man’s discovery of bones under his pub could forever change what we know about the Irish

Ten years ago, an Irish pub owner was clearing land for a driveway when his digging exposed an unusually large flat stone. The stone, in turn, obscured a dark gap underneath. He grabbed a flashlight to peer in.

“I shot the torch in and saw the gentleman, well, his skull and bones,” Bertie Currie, the pub owner, said this week.

The remains of three humans, in fact, were found behind McCuaig’s Pub in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. And though police were called, it was not, as it turned out, a crime scene.

Instead, what Currie had stumbled over was an ancient burial that, after a recent DNA analysis, challenges the traditional centuries-old account of Irish origins.

That story has inspired innumerable references linking the Irish with Celtic culture. The Nobel-winning Irish poet William Butler Yeats titled a book “Celtic Twilight.” Irish songs are deemed “Celtic” music. Some nationalists embraced the Celtic distinction. And in Boston, arguably the most Irish city in the United States, the owners of the NBA franchise dress their players in green and call them the Celtics.

Yet the bones discovered behind McCuaig’s tell a different story of Irish origins, and it does not include the Celts.

“The DNA evidence based on those bones completely upends the traditional view,” said Barry Cunliffe, an emeritus professor of archaeology at Oxford who has written books on the origins of the people of Ireland.

DNA research indicates that the three skeletons found behind McCuaig’s are the ancestors of the modern Irish and they predate the Celts and their purported arrival by a thousand years or more. The genetic roots of today’s Irish, in other words, existed in Ireland before the Celts arrived.

From Huffpost New York:

Why I Don’t Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

My name is Seamus, but I don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. That may sound incongruous for a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ireland whose grandfather founded the Irish American Cultural Institute. But on March 17 each year I actively avoid the leprechauns and the “Kiss Me I’m Irish” t-shirts and the silly green hats and the 9 a.m. Guinness guzzling. That’s not because I’m opposed to having a good time and it’s certainly not because I’m not proud of my Irish heritage. Quite the opposite: I’m worried St. Patrick’s Day has become a farce, a celebration of cartoonish symbols of Irish culture that minimize, dilute and demean what it means to be Irish. Wrapped in an excuse to drink debaucherously (itself a stereotype long used to keep Irish immigrants down), the holiday is so devoid of culture that it may as well be grouped with fake holidays like SantaCon — just switch red garb for green.

Certainly, the 34 million Americans with claims to Irish ancestry would agree that Irishness is more than green beer, shamrocks, and other images of the Stage Irish. You don’t have to decipher the impossibly dense Ulysses by James Joyce (I haven’t) to recognize that the richness of Irish culture is lacking in the drunken celebrations on St. Paddy’s Day. I’m talking about music by the Chieftains and Van Morrison and U2, I’m talking about Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, I’m talking about the teachers of the Irish language, I’m talking about the revolutionary Michael Collins, and I’m talking about Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde and Seamus Heaney (good name!).

When you see revelers stumbling in U.S. cities today, you have to ask, which Ireland are they celebrating?

In fact, St. Patrick’s Day as we know it is really an American invention. Here are a few facts about the history of St. Patrick’s Day that might surprise you:



I have just discovered that the sports teams of the University of Idaho (Moscow, Idaho) are known as the Vandals. I like it! Everyone knows about the Michigan State Spartans and the USC Trojans. Around here we have the Berry College Vikings. In the world of rugby there exist the Barbarians, the Saracens, and the Huns (from Austin, Tex.). Queen’s University of Kingston, Ont. are the Golden Gaels. I think there should be more ancient and medieval European warrior people resurrected as team names, now that Indian tribes are off-limits. How about the:

Saxons (actually the name of England’s second-string rugby team)
Stormin’ Normans