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Early Irish History in Stories, Song and Poetry

Gerry and Lois Timlin

Gerry and Lois Timlin

Gerry Timlin is one of the busiest men in the Irish music business.

So why is he fitting time into his crowded schedule to run a seminar series on Irish history?

“My wife Lois was the catalyst,” Timlin explains over a midday breakfast at the Red Lion Diner in Horsham. “She said, ‘You have such a keen interest. You have to find a place to do it.’”

In at least one respect, Timlin’s “keen interest” is completely understandable. Although he’s been living in the United States for more than 40 years, he’s from the small town of Coalisland, County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland. But more than that, Gerry Timlin has been singing songs of his homeland since forever, and so many of those songs are tied to Irish history.

Timlin also has an extensive collection of books on Irish history, and many volumes of poetry, “like you wouldn’t believe.”

Ultimately, the history of Ireland is inextricably bound up into who Gerry Timlin is. The map of Ireland may be written all over his face, but it’s also written, in indelible ink, all over his heart and soul.

“I have always wanted to do something like this, but I never felt like I had the time to put in the hours, all the work, and the research.”

Enter the Celtic Cultural Alliance, which runs the Celtic Classic in Bethlehem every September. Timlin, together with his long-time music partner Tom Kane, is no stranger to the Classic. He and Kane are frequent performers.

The Alliance liked Timlin’s idea, and saw it as just an extension of their year-round mission to “promote and preserve Celtic culture.” The first series, about modern Irish history, ran last year.

This year the Alliance looked around for a space to host the six-week series, and settled on McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub, 534 Main Street in Bethlehem. This year’s series focuses on Irish history from ancient Celtic times to Oliver Cromwell’s bloody conquest of Ireland in the 17th century. The series begins January 14 and wraps up on February 18. The cost for the entire series is $50.

You get a lot for your money. Each night’s seminar is two hours long, and Timlin shares what he knows about Ireland’s history in stories—Gerry Timlin is nothing if not a master storyteller—song, and poetry.

Timlin intends his series to be more of a primer than a complete course.

“I break it down into segments each night,” Timlin says. “I just want to whet their appetite. I know I can’t spend any more than 15 to 20 minutes on each segment. You could do two nights alone on Cromwell—you could have an entire course right there.”

Timlin helps bring those brief segments to life with songs like “Ramblin’ Irishman” Or “Dobbin’s Flowery Vale”—whatever seems appropriate to the particular moment in time. Timlin has a deep love for the poetry of Ireland, so you might hear the lines rich with meaning, emotion—and history—from Seamus Heaney’s “Requiem for the Croppies”:

Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August… the barley grew up out of our grave.

Timlin’s series can only go so far, he realizes, but he always brings in “books galore” from his collection to help his “students” learn where to look if they want to know more.

And though, as Timlin admits, “it’s hard work,” running this series is incredibly gratifying. He hopes it catches on. The time seems to be right.

“Over the past 20 to 25 years, there’s such an interest in people of Irish stock. So many people feel they need to know who I am. People are so many generations removed, but they have such a strong interest in their history, the invasions—the Danes, the Saxons, the Normans, the Brits. Last year, stories of the Great Hunger. They hear these horror stories about how people were affected by it. Then it becomes very personal to them.”

Arts, History, Music, News, People

Duffy’s Cut: A Voice in the Arts

Matt Patterson, Walt Hunter, Bill Daly, Pat McDade, Anna McGillicuddy, Bill Watson, Earl Schandelmeier and Frank Watson

Matt Patterson, Walt Hunter, Bill Daly, Pat McDade, Anna McGillicuddy, Bill Watson, Earl Schandelmeier and Frank Watson

 

They’ve been called the “forgotten souls” of Duffy’s Cut, but the 57 Irish railroad workers whose deaths in 1832 remained a mystery for nearly 180 years are now well on their way to achieving immortality.

The story of the immigrant laborers hired by Philip Duffy to work Mile 59 of the Pennsylvania-Columbia Railroad in Malvern, PA, but who died within six weeks of their arrival and were buried in a mass grave alongside the tracks, has captured the interest of the news media since it first came to light through the efforts of the Duffy’s Cut Project, led by Bill and Frank Watson, Earl Schandelmeier and the late John Ahtes.

But the story is far from finished (there is still much excavation work to be done, DNA testing, historical and genealogical research), and the impact of the discovery of the Duffy’s Cut site has significance that demands an audience far beyond the one it’s already found.

Irish Network Philadelphia President Bethanne Killian, who is also deeply involved with Duffy’s Cut, realized that the project has established a voice in the Arts. To promote awareness of the presence it’s found in film, music, theater, painting and literature, as well as to raise funds for the continuation of the work, she organized “Duffy’s Cut & the Arts: A Symposium.” Held at Immaculata University, where Bill Watson is both a professor and the History Department Chair (and it’s also the home of The Duffy’s Cut Museum as well as the center of the project), the Symposium was a daylong event that focused on the artistic achievements that are bringing Duffy’s Cut into greater public awareness.

“I’m still amazed at the number of people from the Philadelphia area who are completely unaware of Duffy’s Cut,” Bethanne explained. “Anyone I’ve shared the story with who hears it for the first time is fascinated and appalled. We need to get the word out there—this isn’t just for history buffs. This is a human story—and given its reach into the art world—the humanities as well.”

With an appearance by Irish Vice-Consul Anna McGillicuddy, who braved the trip down from New York for the occasion, the Symposium officially was underway.

Throughout the day, there was music provided by Vince Gallagher and his Band, Marian Makins (who sang Wally Page’s haunting song “Duffy’s Cut”), Pat Kenneally (who sang her original song “Duffy’s Cut” that won first place in the 2013 Pennsylvania Heritage Song Writing Competition), Karen Boyce McCollum, Rosaleen McGill, the band Irish Mist and Bill and Frank Watson on the bagpipes.

There were readings by poet John Bohannon who recited three poems from his collection, “The Barmaids of Tir na Nog,” writer Kelly Clark who has a forthcoming book called “Duffy’s Cut—A Novel” and writer Kristin Walker whose forthcoming book is titled “Between Darkness and the Tide.”

Maria Krivda Poxon performed scenes from her play “Ghost Stories of Duffy’s Cut” with actor Mal Whyte, there were showings of the documentaries “Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut” and “Death on the Railroad” and the presentation of the music video “57” from Kilmaine Saints.

A lot of interest was generated by the panel discussions. The first was “Duffy’s Cut and The Pennsylvania Railroad” with Bill and Frank Watson and Earl Schandelmeier. The second was titled “Duffy’s Cut: Why It Matters” featuring CBS3 news reporter Walt Hunter, film producer and director Bill Daly and actor and Drexel University Film Studies Professor Pat McDade.  Daly and McDade have partnered to form their own production company, Duffy’s Cut Films. They have three feature films in development, and first up is a movie based on Duffy’s Cut. They have the script written, and filming is scheduled to begin in Ireland in April of 2015.

Walt Hunter, who was the first Philadelphia area reporter to cover the Duffy’s Cut discovery explained why the story resonated with him from the beginning. “This was a no-brainer for me. My grandfather was a railroad engineer. He came over from Ballina in County Mayo…it is a very captivating story…at it’s most basic level it is a deeply human story of people with a hope, a dream…and everybody dead within six weeks.”

It was Pat McDade who summed up the the motivation behind the upcoming film he and Bill Daly are developing. “These guys who died, these 57 men, they’re the real Irish story, and we never hear that…here is the beginning of it. Because there are 8,000 other stories out there, about these hardworking, honest people that come to try and find America and don’t find it. And then some of them do. And we’ve got to make sure to get the story told.”

A CD titled “Songs of Duffy’s Cut” was introduced at the Symposium, with all proceeds going to raise money for the Duffy’s Cut Project. It will be available at future Duffy’s Cut events and may also become available for purchase online.

Check out our photos from the day’s events:

Bill Watson, Anna McGillicuddy, Earl Schandelmeier & Frank WatsonMatt Patterson, Walt Hunter, Bill Daly, Pat McDade, Anna McGillicuddy, Frank Watson, Earl Schandelmeier & Bill WatsonWalt Hunter, Bill Daly & Pat McDade disuss "Duffy's Cut: Why It Matters"Walt Hunter, Bill Daly, Bethanne Killian & Pat McDadeKathy McGee Burns, Anna McGillicuddy, Bethanne Killian & Lisa MaloneyVince Gallagher and his band, including Pat KildeaPat Kenneally sings her Pennsylvania Heritage Songwriting winning song, "Duffy's Cut"Jimmy Meehan, Barney & Carmel Boyce and Sean McMenaminKathy McGee Burns & Kris HigginsMarita Krivda Poxon & Gerry Sweeney

 

History, News

A Day for Duffy’s Cut

The memorial at Wesst Laurel Hill Cemetery where some of the victims are buried.

The memorial at Wesst Laurel Hill Cemetery where some of the victims are buried.

You’ll learn everything there is to know about Duffy’s Cut—its history, the songs, poems, novels, and plays written about it, films made and in the works, and even view artifacts recovered from the archeological dig—at a special day-long symposium at Immaculata College on Saturday, October 11.

Sponsored by Irish Network-Philadelphia, the day starts at 1 PM with screenings of the Kilmaine Saints’ video of a song about the 57 Irish immigrant railroad workers who died or were killed during a cholera epidemic in Malvern in 1832. That’s followed by screenings of “The Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut” and “Death on the Railroad,” two documentaries about the event and the work of Bill and Frank Watson and the late John Ahtes, who spearheaded the investigation into Duffy’s Cut which led to the discovery of mass graves not far from the Immaculata campus, where Bill Watson is a history professor.

The Duffy’s Cut Museum, which contains artifacts including clay pipes, coffin nails, and railroad spikes, will be open throughout the day. Take a virtual tour here.

Music will be provided by Marian Makins, Rosaleen McGill, Vince Gallagher, Pat Kenneally, and Mickey Coleman, as well as the Watson brothers on bagpipes. There will be two panel discussions, including one on Duffy’s Cut and the Pennsylvania Railroad and the other on “Duffy’s Cut: Why It atters,” which will feature CBS3 reporter Walt Hunter, and former Warner Brothers’ VP Bill Daly and actor and Drexel film studies professor Pat McDade, who, with Daily, has formed a company, duffyscutfilm, which is producing a feature film on this 19th century tragedy.

Novelist Kristen Walker will read excerpts from her forthcoming novel, “Between Darkness and The Tide,” which was inspired by Duffy’s Cut. Kelly Clark will be reading from her forthcoming book, “Duffy’s Cut—A Novel” and John Bohannon will read selected poems from “Barmaids of Tir na Nog.”

Ticket prices, which include a meal and a beverage provided by Tellus360 of Lancaster, range from $35 for students and seniors to $120 for the event and a IN-Philadelphia membership. Proceeds from the event will help pay for the next phase of the Duffy’s Cut dig—to recover the bodies of 50 of the victims.

So far, the remains of only seven have been recovered. Six were interred in a plot donated by West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd.

The seventh, identified as teenager John Ruddy from Inishowen, County Donegal, was buried in a family plot owned by Vincent Gallagher, president of the Philadelphia Irish Center, in Ardara, County Donegal.

To learn more about the second phase of the Duffy’s Cut dig, read our story.

Photos of some of the Duffy’s Cut artifacts, including bones, are below.

Two CluesEvidence of Murder?Demonstrating the LocationMissing MolarClay PipeForehead and Eye Socket BonesStem from Clay PipeRemainsMeeting John RuddyGetting a Closer Look
History

An Interactive Timeline of the Philadelphia Irish Center

Mayo Ball

Mayo Ball

A lot of people see the words “Irish Center,” and assume the Irish have always been there.

Nope. It started out not long after the beginning of the 20th century as a club for automobile hobbyists—with a full-time mechanic, no less. It was also the first home of the Germantown Jewish Centre. Dancers, singers, pipers, county organizations, and more have called it their home for more than 50 years. It has played host to ambassadors and rebel-rousers. It has seen big parties in the ballroom, and quiet little gatherings (sometimes not so quiet) at the bar.

As we continue to raise the money to keep the doors to this landmark open for another 50 years, we thought you might like to see what it is we’re trying to save—and what we hope you will try to save. Maybe it will inspire you.

The timeline is interactive. Mouse over the little dots top see the milestones, some great and small, pop up.

We probably don’t have all of the dates right—you can feel free to correct us–and we invite you to share your own historical photos. Post them to our Facebook page, and tell us what we’re looking at. Remember to include the dates.

History, Music, News

Taking the Final Step To Recover the Victims of Duffy’s Cut

The Watson brothers, Bill and Frank, show recovered bones to former Irish Ambassador Michael Collins and his wife, Marie.

The Watson brothers, Bill and Frank, show recovered bones to former Irish Ambassador Michael Collins and his wife, Marie.

Every day, Amtrak trains traveling the Keystone Corridor near Philadelphia’s Main Line rumble over the mass grave of 50 Irish immigrants who died—or were killed—while working on this stretch of rail line, the oldest in the system, known as Duffy’s Cut.

The men—from Donegal, Derry and Tyrone—and seven others had been brought to the United States by a man named Phillip Duffy to finish this wooded stretch of rail near Malvern in the fall of 1832. In less than two months, they were all dead, some as the result the cholera pandemic, others as the result of violence.

An Irish railway worker erected a small memorial to them, which was replaced by a stone enclosure in 2004. But their memory was shrouded in myth until 2009, more than 100 years after their deaths, when Immaculata history professor William Watson, his twin brother Frank, colleague John Ahtes, former student, Earl Schandlemeier, and a team of students discovered the first human bones—two skulls, six teeth, and 80 other bones. In all, the remains of seven bodies—six men and one woman—were recovered. Forensic testing suggested that some may not have died of cholera, but were killed, in all likelihood by local vigilantes fueled not only by anti-Catholic bigotry but fear that the workers would infect the rest of the community with cholera, which is normally transmitted through water and food.

Six of the seven recovered victims were re-buried in a 2012 ceremony in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd. One, tentatively identified through a genetic dental anomaly as John Ruddy, a 19-year-old from the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal, was buried in a cemetery plot in Ardara, on the west coast of Donegal, donated by Vincent Gallagher, president of the Commodore Barry Society of Philadelphia. The Watson brothers arranged for a Catholic burial, which they attended.

But 50 men remain unaccounted for. Except for the tracings on ground-penetrating radar scans that appear to show air rather than dirt in an area beneath the tracks which may indicate where the earth shifted as bodies decomposed. “We had planned to just have a memorial at the wall where the bodies were buried, but a number of people working on our behalf convinced Amtrak to let us dig for them,” says Dr. Bill Watson, who is eager, he says, “to end the story of Duffy’s Cut.”

The problem is that unearthing the long-dead Irish immigrants will be expensive. Not the work itself. An Irish immigrant named Joe Devoy, founder of ARA Construction in Lancaster (as well as the music venue Tellus 360) is donating the equipment and labor—roughly $30,000 worth—to do the earthmoving over the 40 days of the project. But Amtrak is charging upwards of $15,000 in fees, largely in labor costs for engineers to review the exhumation plans and monitor the work, which must be paid upfront before any work begins. Watson and his small nonprofit organization don’t have it.

That’s why a group from Philadelphia’s Irish community, including Irish Immigration Center Executive Director Siobhan Lyons, Irish Network Philadelphia President Bethanne Killian, Irish Memorial Board President Kathy McGee Burns, and musician Gerry Timlin, are launching a fundraising campaign, the centerpiece of which is a musical fundraiser on Sunday, June 15, at Twentieth Century Club84 S. Lansdowne Avenue in Lansdowne.

Along with Timlin, performers will include John Byrne, Paraic Keane, Rosaleen McGill, Gabriel Donohue, Marin Makins, Donie Carroll, Mary Malone, Den Vykopal and others. Makins and Donohue perform their version of the song, “Duffy’s Cut” on irishphiladelphia.com’s CD, “Ceili Drive: The Music of Irish Philadelphia.” The event, which includes food and drink and raffles, costs $25. Tickets are available online.  S

ponsorships are also available via the Duffy’s Cut website. Among the current sponsors: ARA Construction (Joe Devoy), Kris Higgins, The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, Bringhurst Funeral Home and West Laurel Cemetery, Wilbraham, Lawler, and Buba, The Irish Memorial, The Irish American Business Chamber and Network, the Philadelphia Ceili Group, The Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame, Mid-Ulster Construction, Infrastructure Solution Services, Kathy McGee Burns, AOH Notre Dame Division and the Joseph E. Montgomery AOH Div. 65, www.irishphiladelphia.com, “Come West Along the Road” Irish radio show on AM Radio 800 WTMR, Lougros Point Landscaping, The Vincent Gallagher Radio Show on WTMR, Curragh LLC Newbridge Silerware, Magie O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, Con Murphy’s Irish Pub, The Plough and the Stars, Tir Na Nog Bar and Grill, Conrad O’Brien, and Brian Mengini Photography.

Watson doesn’t know eactly why the 50 men were buried apart from their seven co-workers (who included a woman who tended to the men’s laundry). “The theory is that the bodies were moved in 1870 by a man named Patrick Doyle who was a railroad gang leader when they were found during an expansion of the tracks to accommodate locomotives and larger vehicles,” he explains.

Doyle may have put a fence near the graves, which was replaced in the early 1900s with a granite block enclosure by a mid-level railway official named Martin Clement. His superiors wouldn’t permit him to erect a plaque explaining the significance of the enclosure.

Clement eventually became president of the railroad. His assistant was the Watson brothers’ grandfather, who kept the file on the Duffy’s Cut incident which the two men discovered in 2002 when going through some family papers. It was only then that they realized that there had been 57 dead immigrants buried in and around Track Mile 59. Only seven were ever mentioned. Apparently, between the time Clement worked in the railroad’s middle management till he became its president, he had become convinced of the need to keep the matter secret.

“And of course we now know why—there were murders, and fingers would have pointed at the railroad,” says Watson. A diary kept by a local woman of the time mentioned the cholera epidemic, “but that disappeared,” says Watson. “Probably because it would have embarrassed the people who were leaders in the community.”

Janet Monge, a physical anthropologist and curator of the The University of Pennsylvania Museum, plans to examine the bones recovered from this second mass grave, just as she did the other seven, though Watson says she may not be able to be as accurate.

“We may not know as much about these bodies as we do the others because Janet thinks there may be a greater range of decomposition—they may have decomposed at a faster rate than the others,” he says. Watson is anxious to say goodbye to the Duffy’s Cut site, but not because he’s tired of being a history professor doing the work of archeologist. There’s more archeology in his future. Sleuthing has turned up several other nearby sites, including one in Spring City, where Irish immigrants were buried, victims of the same cholera epidemic—and possibly, anti-Catholic violence—as the Duffy’s Cut victims. “And we can’t go there until we’re finished with Duffy’s Cut,” says Watson.

History

The Story of “Dynamite” Luke

"Dynamite" Luke Dillon in his later years.

“Dynamite” Luke Dillon in his later years.

Luke Dillon, who was involved in what were called the Dynamite Wars of the late 1800s—an effort to secure Irish freedom by bombing quintessentially British targets such as Scotland Yard and Parliament–was the embodiment of the phrase, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” In fact, in the index of one book written about that campaign, he was listed as “Dillon, Luke (terrorist).”

An article about Dillon in an Irish newspaper was headlined: “The life story of a revolutionary who never saw his native land.” Technically though, Ireland wasn’t Luke Dillon’s native land. He was born in a poor, largely Irish section of Leeds, England in 1850, where his parents, Patrick and Bridget McDonald Dillon, emigrated from their Sligo home to escape the ravages of the starvation (an gorta mor).

Dillon didn’t even spend much time in England, except later, on “business.” His parents emigrated again, this time to Trenton, NJ, when Luke was six and where he lived until he was 18. Unable to find work, he joined the US Army and became a pony soldier out West—Wyoming and Montana—where by all accounts he took part in the Indian wars.

He was honorably discharged in 1870 and he moved to Philadelphia, where city directories say he was a shoemaker who specialized in slipper making. He married and had a large family.

While in Philadelphia, he met two men, James Gibbons, a printer, and William Carroll, a doctor, who were active in Clan na Gael, a leading Irish republican organization in the US He joined the organization and quickly became a leader.

At a 1881 Feinian convention in Chicago, another physician, Dr. Thomas Gallagher, asked members to support a dynamite campaign that would take the fight for Irish independence directly to Britain. Dr. Gallagher had been experimenting with making dynamite and volunteered to bring it to England, which he did with a small army of volunteers who made the explosives in Birmingham, which, because it was an industrial city, was the perfect place to order the ingredients without arousing suspicion.

And it almost worked. Bombers hit several targets before a clever chemist became suspicious and contacted police. Many of the dynamitards, as they were called, were arrested, including Dr. Gallagher.

But the bombing campaign did not end. While two of the dynamitards were awaiting trial, Luke Dillon and two other men sailed to England and took separate lodgings in London. They had Dr. Gallagher’s list of targets and some Atlas powder cakes, an explosive made in Philadelphia. Among their targets were the headquarters of the Intelligence Department of the War Office (Adair House), the Army and Navy Club in St. James Square, Scotland Yard , which also contained officers of the much hate special Irish Branch, Trafalagar Square, and more icons of British power. They planned to set off bombs at each of these places on one night, May 30, 1884.

Dillon may have been the most daring of the bombers. In fact, he was prepared to be a suicide bomber. He told friends he carried matches and a cigar to light the belt filled with dynamite he wore in case he was cornered. He was also reportedly the model for the character called “The Professor,” an anarchist, in the book, “The Secret Agent,” written by Joseph Conrad of “Heart of Darkness” fame.

On May 30, as bombs were going off at the Junior Carleton Club, an upper class political resort, Luke Dillon entered Scotland Yard and placed a bomb against the wall of a public urinal. No one was killed, but parts of the walls of the building were blown off. Collateral damage was a pub across the street where one customer was injured and had to be taken to the hospital. The police cordoned off the area but by then Dillon was long gone—headed back to New York with his two compatriots, one of whom returned not long after and bombed London Bridge.

But Dillon wasn’t done. He returned to London the following year with the intent to bomb Parliament. The Houses of Parliament and Royal Apartments of Westminster were open to the general public every Saturday but to get in, he needed a ticket. So Dillon went to the lord chamberlain’s office and requested two, which he received.

He and his partner walked up the grand staircase and turned right into the queen’s robing room, where a policeman was on duty. They proceeded to the royal gallery and then to the prince’s chamber, which also had a police guard. They wandered through a few other rooms, noting the guards, until they came to the House of Commons. There was a barrier there—but no guard—so Dillon coolly ducked underneath the barrier, went to a ventilating chamber and undid his belt, which was loaded with dynamite. He placed it by the side of a bench and lit the fuse. He checked his watch and then went back into the hall.

Instead of running, Dillon and his partner strolled through the halls to Westminster Hall, where Dillon’s partner placed his dynamite belt and lit it.

Then the two of them walked, again casually, toward an exit.
A few blocks away, another bomb was set at the tower of London. The two bombs at Westminster went off, and unfortunately a civilian was badly injured.

Dillon later attempted to bomb the Welland Canal in Canada, a vital part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, to paralyze the shipping lane while the British were embroiled in the Boer War. Canadian officials were on alert and nabbed the men, including Dillon, who was tried and sent to prison for life.

US politicians asked President William Howard Taft to intercede with the Canadian government to release Dillon, but Dillon himself was uncooperative. He refused appeals by Clan na Gael leaders and Joseph McGarrity to admit his guilt and petition the Canadian government for clemency. As he wrote to friend, he believed that if he did so, “the rest of my life would not be worth such a surrender of principle.”

Apparently, Dillon’s friends and family assumed he was dead until an article appeared in the New York Times on July 12, 1914 stating that “the Irish patriot Luke Dillon” was released from the Canadian prison and had sent a telegram to Joseph McGarrity, asking to meet with him in Atlantic City, NJ.
At the time of his release Dillon was 65. He remained active in the Clan na Gael organization and became a valued member of McGarrity’s inner circle. He lived to see his dream of taking the fight to England in the 1916 Easter Rising and the birth of the Republic of Ireland in the 1920s. He died in 1930 at the age of 81.

Those in our terror-torn world who prefer a peaceful solution to the world’s ills might have trouble reconciling the purity of Luke Dillon’s motives with the lethal means he chose to achieve his aims—and this was true even in Dillon’s day. In a letter written while Dillon was still imprisoned, John T. Keating, of Chicago, a former president of the AOH, said about the man he admired, that Dillon “loved Ireland not wisely but too well.”

History, News, People

Remembering “Dynamite” Luke Dillon

The procession wound its way through Holy Cross Cemetery, where many Irish republicans are buried.

The procession wound its way through Holy Cross Cemetery, where many Irish republicans are buried.

It had been 79 years since Eileen Dillon Moran visited the grave of her grandfather, Luke Dillon, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon. On Sunday, April 27, with her son, Mike Moran and daughter, Eileen Prisutski, by her side, she laid a wreath at the granite stone of the man she remembered as a “kind, gentle grandfather who told us to always eat dessert first to make sure we got it.”

As she got older—she was five when he died–she came to know him as history did—as “Dynamite” Luke Dillon, who, in 1884 and 1885, was the daring bomber of Scotland Yard and the British Parliament who did it for the cause of Irish freedom. Yet Luke Dillon was born in Leeds, England to Irish immigrant parents, grew up in Trenton, NJ, served with the “pony soldiers” during the Indian wars in Montana and Wyoming, and settled with his family in Philadelphia where he worked a shoemaker. He never set foot on Irish soil.

“One of my sons used to want to fight everybody and we always used to say that who he took after, Luke,” laughed Mrs. Moran, 89, a widow who now lives in West Chester.

There have been Easter Rising Commemorations for decades at Holy Cross, where the Tyrone man long associated the fight for Irish independence, Joseph McGarrity, is also buried. In the past, McGarrity’s sisters, both now deceased, attended; this year, his granddaughter, Deirdre McGarrity Mullen and a cousin, Loretta Beckett of Gloucester City, NJ, laid the wreath on McGarrity’s grave.

But there have been no Dillon descendants at the ceremony, until this year when Eileen Moran brought not only two of her children, but her grandchildren–Luke Dillon’s great-great grandchildren.

The annual event marks the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Dublin, mounted by Irish republicans whose goal was to overthrow British rule of Ireland and establish an independent Republic, an aim that wasn’t achieved until 1922. And in the minds of many fervent Irish republicans, it’s a fight that won’t be over until the entire island of Ireland is united. Luke Dillon lived to see the formation of the Irish state. He died in 1930, at the age of 81, a faithful member of the Clan na Gael republican organization in the US to the end.

“The Dillon family showing up in force was great to see,” says Jim Lockhart of Philadelphia, who organized the event and is on the 1916 Committee which is planning the 100th anniversary of the Irish uprising in two years. “There was a really good turnout this year because we started organizing it earlier and invited more groups to participate.”

Along with Clan na Gael, there were color guards from two Ancient Order of Hibernian divisions, the Pennsylvania 69th Irish Regiment re-enactors, and Emerald Society pipers. At McGarrity’s grave, Belfast native Aine Fox, who now lives in Ardmore, read the proclamation first read by Padraig Pearse outside the General Post Office on O’Connell Street in Dublin in April 1916 establishing “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland.” Gerry McHale, co-chair of the Pennsylvania Ancient Order of Hibernian’s Freedom for All Ireland committee read a history of Joseph McGarrity and I read a history of Luke Dillon. Longtime activists Patricia Bonner and Frances Duffy placed a small amount of Irish soil on each of the graves.

The guest speaker at Dillon’s grave was Michelle O’Neill, a Sinn Fein political leader in Northern Ireland who is minister of agriculture and rural development for the Northern Ireland Executive, who spoke, like Padraig Pearse, of an inevitable united Ireland where old enemies “live side by side” peacefully. The challenge will be, she said, “to convince the ordinary Unionist that there’s a place in Ireland for them.”

The Centennial Easter Rising ceremony will be held on April 24, 2016, at Independence Hall, says Lockhart. “In the run up to that we plan to continue raising awareness of the 1916 by hold or publicizing educational events in the area.”

Look for more information on these and other events on our calendar.

View our photo essay of the event and read the text of my talk about “Dynamite” Luke Dillon.

ProcessionCeltic CrossProcessionThe 69thMember of the 69thThe Dillon DescendantsThe Dillon DescendantsDillon familyDillon Grandchildren, Great-Grandchildren, and Great-Great Grandchildren. They're the descendants of Luke Dillon's youngest son, William.The Dillon Descendants Examining the GravestoneLaying the WreathMichelle O'NeillLittle Jack Conley69th Firing a Salute69thLuke Dillon 's Great-GranddaughterThe Dillon FamilyJim LockhartAine FoxClan Na GaelMatt ReganTimothy WilsonGerry McHale at the McGarrity  GravesideGerry McHaleIrish Women's CouncilPat Bonner and Eileen Dillon Moran69th firing at mcgarrity graveJack Got TiredIrish markerCousins Honor Joseph McGarrity
History, News

Remembering the Hunger Strikers

Members of AOH Div. 39 carry photos of the Hunger Strikers into the church.

Members of AOH Div. 39 carry photos of the Hunger Strikers into the church.

The Patrick Coughlin Honor Guard of AOH Div. 39 marched into St. Anne’s Church in Philadelphia on Sunday, each carrying a large black and white photo of faces that, for many Irish, have become so familiar they didn’t need to be identified. They were the 1981 hunger strikers, 10 men held in HM Prison Maze who were demanding they be treated as political prisoners of the British government: Bobby Sands, Micky Devine, Francis Hughes, Raymong McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee. See more photos by Christopher Conley Sr. here.

Father Ed Brady, pastor of St. Anne’s who serves as chaplain to many Irish organizations in the region, celebrated a Mass in commemoration of their sacrifice. One of the speakers at the Mass was Christopher Conley, Jr., who explained the historical significance of the hunger strike, from its ancient roots in Brehon law (it’s known as the “trocad”), and its link to the protests that came before, from the Mayo land wars to the great Dublin lockout of 1913. Conley shared his speech with us:

The poem “The King’s Threshold” by William Butler Yeats, which describes an ancient bard engaging on a hunger strike against a tyrannical, miserly king who refuses him hospitality, is often used as an introduction to discussion and reflection on hunger striking in Irish Republicanism. It is a fitting place to start, for its feudal setting illustrates how deep-seated the ancient act of hunger striking is in Irish culture.

Dating back to pre-Christian times, by the Middle Ages the hunger strike was enshrined in the Brehon Law codes. Known as the “toscad” the hunger strike was a last ditch method of grievance whereby a person wishing to compel a wrongdoer to justice, oftentimes over an unreasonable debt, would literally starve himself on the wrongdoer’s doorstep. If the wrongdoer allowed the hunger striker to die, it was written in the code that ” He who disregards the faster shall not be dealt with by God nor man … he forfeits his legal rights to anything according to the decision of the Brehon.”

Looking at this historical tradition of the hunger strike that legally enshrined morality over economic greed, we can see how the hunger strike came to be such a compelling and powerful tool in Irish Republicanism. A depraved level of economic oppression meant to exploit and subjugate the native Irish has long been a favorite weapon in the imperial arsenal of the British occupiers. During the genocide falsely called a famine a perverse sense of superiority and entitlement was used to justify the engineered starvation and forced emigration of millions in the name of free trade.

The next generation of Irish people responded to the legacy of genocide through resistance in the form of the land wars in County Mayo, by no coincidence the county most hardest hit by the genocide. This agrarian rent struggle against the gombeen men of British imperial landlords gave birth to a word that has taken on a wider meaning in labor disputes, the “boycott.” But it is important for us here to recognize that in its origin the boycott was a weapon used by the proud people of Ireland to subvert British rule and demonstrate to their occupiers that there was nothing in their whole Imperial economic arsenal that can break the spirit of the Irish people who do not wish to be broken.

With these precedents in mind, when we then look at the events of the great Dublin lockout of 1913 and the forgotten hunger striker James Byrne we can correctly place them in their Irish Republican context. The great Dublin lockout is not just a labor struggle which happened to have some Republicans on the picket line. Rather, the lockout was an anti-imperial Republican action to organize the Irish people through industrial unionism in order to sever the colonial chains of Britain by asserting that the Irish people had ownership of their land and therefore the right to the fruits of all labor produced there.

This was the inspirational message of James Larkin and James Connolly that inspired another James, James Byrne to join the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. A 38-year-old married father of six, James Byrne was the secretary of the Bray and Kingstown trades council and an Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union branch secretary. On October 20, 1913, he was falsely accused of intimidation of a strikebreaking tram driver and imprisoned by the Dublin Metropolitan Police. He was thrown into Mountjoy Prison, in a cold, damp cell. When he was refused bail, he embarked on a hunger and thirst strike. Although the British government gave in to the protest after several days and granted him bail, the weakened physical state brought about by the strike combined in a tragic way with the deplorable environment of his jail cell. James Byrne caught pneumonia and died in a hospital just two weeks after his arrest.

His funeral was held on Nov 3, 1913, before a throng of 3000 people. James Connolly delivered an oration from atop a cab due to the size of the crowd. In his speech Connolly underscores the Republican importance of James Byrne’s sacrifice. He is quoted as telling the mourners that “Their comrade had been murdered as surely as any of the martyrs in the long line list of those who had suffered for the sacred cause of liberty. … [and] If their murdered comrade could send them a message it would be to go on with the fight for the sacred cause of liberty, even if it brought them hunger, misery, eviction and even death itself, as it had done Byrne.”

Although we have focused on James Byrnes’ hunger strike in this 100th year Anniversary of the Dublin lockout, its important to note that highlighting him does not neglect our brave men of ’81. As a matter of fact, through studying James Byrne’s sacrifice, we are actually emphasizing the context of and adding to significance of the sacrifice of the ten brave men.

Just as James Byrnes and James Connolly were radicalized by overbearing poverty in the Dublin area, it should come as no surprise that 46 years after the great Dublin lockout the spirit of Irish Republicanism rose like a phoenix from the working-class nationalist neighborhoods of Derry and Belfast. Once again, Britain was using economics as a means of subjugation and oppression by first imposing an artificial border that created two economically unviable states, and then as a further act of conceit and contempt, in the statelet under their rule, they intentionally marginalized the Irish Nationalist community from prosperity.
Furthermore, it should come as no surprise to us that much like James Byrne, our ten brave men found themselves in cold, damp cells, denied due process of the law or any objective form of justice. We should also take moment to pause and reflect that much like James Byrne most of these ten men were husbands and fathers. And yet these men bravely and selflessly gave their lives, deliberately starving in order to compel Britain to justice, and so became martyrs in the long line list of those who suffered for the sacred cause of Irish liberty. And like the people who crowded the cemetery to hear James Connolly speak, we are all here to acknowledge their sacrifice as heroes in the liberation struggle for Ireland.

In conclusion, I would like to say that when I was first asked to give the reading today, I was nervous. After all, I would be speaking to many people who were alive when history was made, so to speak. However, I think that by asking me to give a reading emphasizes the very reason we gather to honor these brave men, because it was the devotion to the Irish cause from my teachers of the generations before me who inspired me to become involved and to begin teaching my son as well.

The current Haass talks drive home how important it is for Irish America to stay vigilant in regards to the cause of Irish freedom. But more importantly, a piece of history was made in between this Mass and our last memorial. A particularly odious antagonist in the summer of ‘81, Margaret Thatcher, has passed away. Although Margaret Thatcher received a whitewash treatment in a Hollywood movie that completely omitted the hunger strikes, nevertheless even in death she could not escape the shame that the hunger strikers had brought to her doorstep; as a matter of fact, almost every obituary mentioned it.

And there lies the poetic justice. Just like the King in W.B. Yeats poem, Thatcher scoffed at the toscad as an “old and foolish custom,” and yet through a law more ancient than the Brehon our bold men have managed to leave the onus of shame on the doorstep of Thatcher’s grave. I do say that this is poetic justice served at this point; the legacy of Irish freedom remains still an “unfinished song.” But through our continual vigilance and advocacy, we can hope to finally see a rising of the moon that lets us tell our brave men that our day has come.