By David Gahan
With events commemorating the Easter Rising expected to reach a high point in Dublin this weekend, aspects and events surrounding the Rising are rightly being looked at from various angles. The story of the Aud, its captain, crew and cargo of arms is one such aspect of the 1916 narrative and a chance discovery of some text from a talk given by Karl Spindler, captain of the Aud added some new insights to this story.
The story of the Aud is often overshadowed by the landing of Roger Casement from a German U-boat, on the Kerry coast on the same day and his subsequent arrest, imprisonment and execution in August 1916. The background to this is the efforts of Clan na Gael in America and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in Ireland to secure an arms shipment from Germany to help stage an insurrection in 1916. John Devoy, a Clan na Gael leader had numerous meetings with members of the German Consulate in New York, including Franz von Papen, to help facilitate this operation. Casement was already in Germany to further this and pursue his plan of raising an Irish Brigade from Irish prisoners of war, though Devoy was sceptical of this and wary of some of Casements plans. Robert Monteith was also sent by the Clan to Germany. In early March Devoy received word that a ship with 20,000 rifles and ammunition would arrive in Tralee Bay on the morning of 20 April, Holy Thursday. But on 14 April Devoy received a hand delivered message from Ireland that the arms must not be landed before Easter Sunday night. This spelt disaster for the operation as the Aud which had no wireless on board, was already on its way to Ireland to rendezvous on the agreed date.
Karl Spindler relates how he was tasked with choosing twenty-one men for an expedition of which he did not know the plans; was given command of a ship, the Libau and that arms were loaded onto it in Lübeck. Here they realised this was not a normal wartime operation when they changed from German uniforms into common dungarees. The ship was provided with official papers and ‘became’ a Norwegian vessel, the Aud. The efforts to disguise the ship were meticulous, the crew were ordered not to shave and to walk about with their hands in their pockets while in the view of other ships. Norwegian newspapers and books were provided, pictures of girls and letters were put up all over the ship, in cupboards etc. The crew could not speak Norwegian but were to speak in low-German if encountered by the British in an attempt to disguise their nationality. Spindler even bought a dog in Lübeck to have on board, ‘every sailor knows that every tramp steamer has a dog’ and he was to be visible if enemy ships were passing.
Through skilful navigation and planning Spindler managed to steer the Aud through four British blockades. At four o’ clock in the afternoon, 20 April, they reached their rendezvous point, Innistooskert Island in the middle of Tralee Bay. They waited until noon on Good Friday for some signal from the shore which was not forthcoming, then with a British patrol boat approaching them they left the bay but later that evening were surrounded by British ships and instructed to proceed to Cobh. The next morning as the Aud entered Cobh, the crew raised the German Ensign and scuttled the ship.
Though part of the German planning was precise, to send a ship without a wireless and the make-up of the cargo, fifteen-year-old Russian rifles that had been captured on the Eastern Front, raises some doubt over their commitment to the expedition.
Casement had been put ashore on Good Friday, but weak from sickness and the exertions of rowing to dry land was left at McKennas Fort, Banna Strand while his comrade Monteith sought aid. Casement was captured some hours later; Monteith remained on the run for eight months before a passage was secured returning him to America.
These events happened in Kerry and off the South-West coast on Good Friday/Easter Saturday, one hundred years ago.
David Gahan is a final year Ph.D. candidate at the Department of History, Maynooth University.
By David Gahan.
The TG4 documentary Enigma De Blaghd screened on Thursday 16 April provided a revealing insight into Ernest Blythe, a man who played an important role in the foundation of the state and was very influential in its early years, but one who is not widely known, except for being the minister responsible for cutting the old age pension.
In giving an outline of Blythe’s life the programme tried to explore some of the reasons for his lack of prominence today. He was a founding member of Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael and the only Protestant from the six counties to serve as a minister in independent Ireland.
He came from a Unionist background, was born in 1889 at Magheragall, Lisburn. In his early years he became aware of the United Irishmen through his mother’s Presbyterian background. He moved to Dublin in 1905 for work with the Department of Agriculture. He joined the Gaelic League and met Seán O Casey. At his prompting he subsequently joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and later became an organiser for them in the North while ironically working at a Unionist newspaper, the North Down Herald. He did not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising as he had been arrested in March. Blythe’s rank within the Volunteers was examined and it was pointed out that he would have taken part, and probably been in what was termed the second tier leadership, which would have meant imprisonment after the Rising and possibly even a sentence of execution commuted to a prison term as happened others of similar standing. An article ‘Ruthless Warfare’ in 1918 in opposition to conscription showed Blythe’s preparedness to use violence and also brought him more to the attention of the volunteer leadership. He was appointed minister for Trade and Commerce by de Valera in the first Dáil. He had been elected MP for Monaghan North in the 1918 General Election. Blythe supported the Treaty and was part of a committee which recommended that they recognise and not seek to undermine the Northern State, this proposal, which was critical and at variance with Collins view on the North, was implemented in August 1922. He voted for the execution of prisoners during the Civil War which caused some to dislike him, but he defended his decision in later life believing it was necessary.
As Minister for Finance from 1923-32, Blythe believed in reducing government spending and did so by £10 million from 1923-25; contained in this was the cut of one shilling from the old age pension, for which he was most remembered. Spending cuts continued at a time of widespread poverty in Ireland; four members of one family died of hunger related disease in Cork in March 1927. After the assassination of Kevin O’ Higgins he was appointed vice-president of the executive council of the Free State. When Cumann na nGaedheal were defeated in the 1932 election, Blythe became involved in the Army Comrades Association (ACA) and was the first member of Cosgrave’s government to support the Blueshirts, and when these two merged with the Centre Party to form Fine Gael in 1933, with Eoin O’Duffy as leader, he was appointed to its executive. He later helped to oust O’Duffy from his position. He lost his Dáil seat in 1933.He would not serve as a minister or TD again, but he continued to comment on political issues, one of the more notable being his response to an anti-partition publicity campaign, in a book Briseadh na teorann, (Smashing the border) in which he differed from broad nationalist opinion. He was managing director of the Abbey theatre from 1941-67. He died in February 1975.
The programme carefully examined many aspects of Blythe’s political life, stressing the importance he placed on the Irish language in the make-up of nationalism, his cuts in public spending which he believed necessary, though some questioned his foresight as to the consequences and a lack of feeling for those bearing the brunt of these cuts. While best remembered for the old age pension cut, arguably his most significant action was his role in reshaping the government policy on the North, not only adopted by the government of which he was a member, but by successive Irish governments since, demonstrating his lasting influence.
TG4: Enigma De Blaghd
Further reading: Patrick Buckley ‘Ernest Blythe’ in James McGuire, James Quinn (eds), The Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge, 2009), available at (dib.cambridge.org) (23, April 2015)
The annual conference of the Irish History Student’s Association took place in the University of Limerick between 13-14 March. The IHSA was founded in 1950 to promote the study of history among students in third level institutions on the island of Ireland. The IHSA has served Irish history students for decades and has allowed them to experience the world of academic conferences in an open and helpful manner.
The conference provided many quality papers, too numerous to review in this blog. During a panel titled ‘conflict in the wider world’ there was a very informative paper on ‘The Red Power Movement: a symbol of Indian Resistance and native political action’ by Katya Radovanova (T U Dresden) from Bulgaria and currently an Erasmus student in NUI Galway. It examined the nationwide campaign of Native Americans to reclaim the tribal right to sovereignty and self-determination during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s which became known as Red Power. In the years prior to this there had been a growing interest in culture and language and Red Power proved a turning point because it made an issue of neglected treaties and assimilation policies. Dónal Brennan (UL) gave an informed paper on the historical development of counter-insurgency and the Western view that it was reliant upon professional soldiers similar in vain to ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and how this was applied in subsequent conflicts. Cian Moran (NUIG) gave an interesting paper on the issue of humanitarian intervention in the case of the 1978 Uganda-Tanzania War. It gave a detailed description of Uganda under Idi Amin, their attempt to annex Tanzanian territory, the repelling of this attack and Tanzania’s subsequent invasion of Uganda and overthrow of Amin and that this was humanitarian intervention in all but name.
At an afternoon panel titled ‘Parliamentary Ireland’, the role of the Irish National League in the Free State was examined in an excellent paper by Martin O’Donoghue. He outlined its formation by two former Irish Party MPs, Captain William Redmond and Thomas O’Donnell and how it sought a rejection of the treatyite political duopoly. The paper examined the question of whether the party was a legacy party as it drew on the symbolism, personnel and support networks of the Irish Party. The party failed to secure a political niche for itself and after a successful election in June 1927, when it returned eight TDs, got involved in an unsuccessful attempt to form a coalition with Labour and Fianna Fáil, which weakened its support base and saw it retain only two seats at the September 1927 election. An interesting paper was delivered by John Phayer (Independent) on the establishment of the United Irish League in 1898, and the controversy surrounding the imprisonment of its former honorary secretary, Samuel Phayer-Harris. The impact of evictions in the Limerick area was examined; Phayer-Harris’s attempts to stop these evictions and also analysis of his trial at Newcastlewest court and time in Tralee jail.
At one of the concluding panels titled ‘conflict and law’, Anne Marie McInerney gave a detailed paper on ‘prison riots, escapes and hunger strikes during the Irish Civil War’. She explained differences from the British policy and how internment was now initiated by those who had themselves been interned, and hence had a good understanding of the prisoner’s mindset. An escape from Newbridge was outlined and how the hunger strikes of 1923 evoked a different reaction from the church, compared to the strike of Terence MacSwiney in 1920. Matthew X. Calvert gave a paper on ‘the early Irish outlaw: of brigands and heroes’ in which he drew on law tracts of early Ireland where descriptions of those deemed unfit to live within society are contained. He also used examples of outlaws found in early Irish literature.
At the section after lunch Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley spoke of the importance and relevance of the IHSA and outlined some of the aims and plans for the society’s future and Dr John Logan (former head of history at UL) gave a brief talk about some previous conferences. Next year’s conference will be held in NUI Galway.
Bio: David Gahan
My main research is in political and socio-economic developments in twentieth century Ireland and the wider world. I attained a BA in History and English in 2012 from St. Patricks College, Drumcondra. I am currently a PhD student at the Department of History, at NUI Maynooth. My thesis which is being supervised by Prof. Terence Dooley, examines the agitation around the land annuities issue 1926-32. It aims to look at the economic effect of annuities on farmers and the effect on political developments, particularly the positions adopted by the various political parties and how this impacted in the wider Irish political context.
By David Gahan.
The village of Kilcoole in north Wicklow involved itself in the decade of commemorations by remembering a significant though not widely known event, the Kilcoole Gunrunning of August 1914. In 2013 the Kilcoole Heritage Group was formed to commemorate the gunrunning, and their efforts culminated in a programme of events, leading up to and centring on the weekend of 26/27 July 2014 to relive the happenings in Kilcoole one hundred years ago.
The historical context surrounding the gunrunning lies in the Home Rule crises of 1914. The bill granting Home Rule for Ireland had been passed in the Commons in 1912, and could now only be delayed for a further two years by the House of Lords, meaning that it was due to come into being in 1914. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had been formed in January 1913 to resist Home Rule in Ulster; the Irish Volunteers had been formed in November 1913 to defend its implementation. When the UVF landed arms at Larne, Donaghadee and Bangor in April 1914, it heightened the need for the Irish Volunteers to arm.
Kilcoole was chosen because of a blind spot on the beach which coastguards could not see from Greystones (north) and Newcastle (south); the choice was most probably influenced by Kilcoole native and leading IRB member Robert Monteith. The operation was funded by wealthy donors and the American based Clan na Gael. Darrel Figgis purchased 1,500 Prussian rifles and 45,000 rounds of ammunition from the Moritz Magnus firm in Hamburg. The weaponry was moved from a Liege warehouse to Hamburg and then transhipped to two yachts, the Asgard and Kelpie, owned by Erskine Childers and Conor O’ Brien respectively, near the Ruytingen lightship off the Scheldt, Belgium on 12 July. The Asgard landed its cargo at Howth on 26 July in broad daylight, supervised by Bulmer Hobson aided by a large party of volunteers and Na Fianna Éireann. The Kilcoole landing was originally planned for the night of 25 July; the Chotah owned by Sir Thomas Myles was engaged to bring the guns to Kilcoole owing to the fact that it had an engine which could time its arrival more accurately and because of security issues surrounding the Kelpie. But adverse weather conditions caused a delay in the transhipment to the Chotah off Bardsey Island in the Irish Sea and the Kilcoole landing was put back till 1/2 August.
On 1 August volunteers from Dublin posing as tourists went to Kilmacanoge and after dark to Kilcoole. Fianna Éireann under the command of Liam Mellows acted as look-outs. Two RIC men, Dalton and Webb who were patrolling the beach were locked up along with the station master. Seán Fitzgibbon supervised the landing of the guns in the early hours of 2 August. Local volunteer William Foley used his horse and dray to move the cargo from the beach to where they were loaded on to cars. Seán T. O’Kelly and Mellows organised the transport of the arms to secure Dublin locations. One of the last cars to leave, a charabanc, heavily loaded broke down in Bray, but after some time other cars arrived from Dublin to take the cargo. Many leading volunteers were in Kilcoole that night including Hobson, Thomas McDonagh and Eamon Ceannt.
The Kilcoole Heritage group organised a programme of events, which included historical talks in the weeks preceding the commemoration festival. The weekend highlight was a parade, with people in period dress, led by an army band to the beach, where a re-enactment of the landing took place. There was a Kilcoole historical maps display, an old photo exhibition by local photographer Chris Dobson and a gunrunning pictorial by Michael Kunz in the local St. Patricks Hall over the weekend. On Sunday the Main Street was closed off and various traditional heritage demonstrations took place including blacksmith, pottery throwing, hurley making, wool spinning and wood turning. There was a food market, traditional children’s games and Irish dancing. All shop fronts displayed old photos and images of the past.
The weekend certainly brought history to life, and remembered an event long overshadowed by the more dramatic events at Howth, but which rightly takes its place in the decade of centenary commemorations.
Martin, F. X. (ed), The Howth Gunrunning and the Kilcoole Gunrunning: recollections and documents. (Dublin, 2014)
Kilcoole Heritage Group, Forgotten History: The Kilcoole Gunrunning (Greystones, 2014)
My main research is in political and socio-economic developments in twentieth century Ireland and the wider world. I have a BA in History and English from 2012, from St. Patricks College, Drumcondra. I am currently a PhD student at the Department of History at NUI Maynooth. My thesis which is being supervised by Prof. Terence Dooley, examines the agitation surrounding the land annuities 1926-32. It aims to look at the economic effect of annuities on farmers and on political developments, particularly the positions adopted by the various political parties and how this impacted on the wider Irish political context.