Category Archives: Guest Post

Guest post: ‘When the IRA Came to New York’

I am pleased to present the book excerpt below from Mark Bulik’s ‘Ambush at Central Park: When the IRA Came to New York’ (Fordham, 2023), the true story of four comrades from the Irish War for Independence, and their paths to a bullet-riddled reunion in Manhattan. This all but forgotten April 1922 incident was the only officially authorized action of its kind by the Irish Republican Army on American soil. Bulik is also the author of ‘The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America’s First Labor War.’ MH

Chapter 1: The Ambush

When the relentless avengers of the Irish Republican Army finally caught up with Cruxy O’Connor in Manhattan that fine spring evening, they sent six bullets his way — one for each man the informer had sent to an early grave the year before.

Four of the gunshots found their target, and as a cop reached the crumpled victim on the steps of a finishing school at 84th and Central Park West, O’Connor was clutching a revolver with a spent shell in each chamber. After one of his attackers dropped the gun, the fallen O’Connor apparently had grabbed it, intending to defend himself. But the weapon was useless by then — his assailant had emptied the revolver at him.

O’Connor hadn’t had much luck in the weapons department lately.

There was that machine gun they had given him for the ambush the year before — when he told them that it jammed just as the shooting started, the boys started looking at him funny. Not long after that, he’d made the mistake of taking a pistol to Sunday Mass. The coppers threw a cordon around the church, and oh dear God, what a massacre that led to. Six men died, including Willie Deasy, his next-door neighbor, just twenty years old.

Pa Murray and the boys blamed him. They had stalked O’Connor through three countries — he’d barely escaped with his life when they tried to poison him. And he’d had to quit his job as a bookkeeper at the B. Altman department store a month earlier, after the gunmen had started haunting his workplace.

For weeks now, his only escape from the cramped apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan had been a walk and a smoke. He varied his route, just to be on the safe side. But there were some evenings, like this one, when he couldn’t stay cooped up in the flat on Columbus Avenue with his parents, his brother, his sister-in-law, and their toddler. The warm spring evening beckoned, its soft westerly breezes stirring the curtains of Manhattan. He needed a cigarette. He needed a stroll.

It was a few minutes to eight o’clock on the evening of April 13, 1922. O’Connor came bounding down the stairs of his apartment building, but even as he headed out the door, he knew, on some level, that this was crazy. Three of County Cork’s deadliest gunmen — Murray, Danny Healy, and Martin Donovan — were out there somewhere in the New York night, just itching to take a shot. There’d be hell to pay for what he’d done, and the devil’s own bill collectors wanted their due.

O’Connor headed east up 83rd Street, toward Central Park, where the sheer black rock of Bolivar Hill loomed like a dungeon wall. When he reached Central Park West, he turned north on the west side of the street.

The temperature was in the low 60s, so there were plenty of other pedestrians out taking the night air. O’Connor smoked nervously, his eyes on their faces. When he reached 84th Street, he glanced to the left, and sweet Jesus, there was Pa Murray himself, with another guy, headed straight for him.

O’Connor dashed across the street to the wall that lines Central Park, glancing back at Murray and puffing furiously on a cigarette. He headed north, then suddenly reversed himself, and that’s when Danny Healy came out from behind a tree right smack in front of him. In a gray coat and gray fedora, Healy looked like some kind of natty avenging angel.

It all happened so fast. Healy, pointing a revolver at his chest, saying something like “I’ve got you now.”

Then pulling the trigger.


Danny Healy and Martin Donovan had been near the corner of 83rd and Columbus, staking out the flat, when O’Connor walked out the door and headed toward the park. Pa Murray and Mullins, a guy from Derry who signed on for the hunt, were a little further up Columbus, near 84th Street.

Healy asked Donovan to tell Murray and Mullins to head up 84th Street toward the park, where they might be able to head off O’Connor, while Healy came up from behind him. Once he caught sight of Murray, O’Connor had been too preoccupied to notice Healy until he stepped out from behind the tree.

The gunman thought his first bullet caught O’Connor in the chest, but he dashed across Central Park West into the 84th Street intersection. Healy chased him, blazing away, hitting O’Connor twice. To Healy’s astonishment, O’Connor kept going, ducking around a trolley.

Healy followed, firing a shot that thudded into a building. Four bullets gone, only two left, and his prey was still scrambling. O’Connor kept changing direction, like a panicked hare flushed by a pack of hounds. He tried to go north on the west side of Central Park West, but almost ran into Donovan, who pointed a revolver and squeezed the trigger.

Nothing — a misfire.

But the bullets were finally having an effect on O’Connor’s adrenaline-infused body. Wounded, winded, and bleeding, he slumped to the sidewalk.

“I caught up with him and fired twice more at him, hitting him,” Healy recalled.

As Healy blasted away, the getaway car came roaring up to the intersection, a kid from the Bronx at the wheel. Healy knew he was supposed to get in, but he just stood there, frozen, surrounded by a large group of gaping pedestrians. He couldn’t imagine he was going to get away with it. This wasn’t home, where people knew to look away when Murray and the boys cut someone down in the street. This was the very heart of Manhattan — and a horde of people were staring straight at him.

One thought kept going through his head: “No chance of escape.”

Then Donovan’s commanding voice rang out: “Run for it, Danny. Run!”

 (Story continues below cover image.)

Christ, but Healy took him literally. Donovan saw Healy snap out of it, but instead of getting in the car, Healy walked casually for a bit, then broke into a run west on 84th Street. And Donovan saw the crowd of stunned pedestrians form into a posse that quickly gave chase. Dozens of them. They figured it was an underworld hit, and they weren’t about to let a bunch of gangsters get away with murder in the middle of Manhattan.

Donovan climbed into the car. It looked natural enough — he was wearing a chauffeur’s coat he’d gotten from the Bronx kid’s family. And then they were all giving chase, the car and the crowd, until the car got ahead of the posse and kept pace with Healy for a bit while they tried to talk him into getting in so they could all get the hell out of there.

The trouble they went through to get that getaway car — “Over 1,000 cars in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” and they couldn’t use one of them, Donovan complained.

Finally Johnny Culhane from the Bronx came through — he had an auto rental and taxi business — but he wanted no part of driving a getaway car for a killing. Culhane was already facing a boatload of legal trouble involving several hundred Ireland-bound tommy guns the feds had confiscated from a rust bucket docked in Hoboken. As Culhane begged off, his seventeen-year-old son James jumped in, exasperated.

“I’ll drive the damn car,” he said.

Which was how they ended up with a kid from the Bronx as wheelman. And now, after all that, Healy wouldn’t get in the car.

Even with half of Manhattan on his tail.

Clearly, someone would have to put a stop to this posse business, Donovan realized. At 34, he was the grownup in the group, older than the others by a decade. He’d have to do it, or it wouldn’t get done.

It would have helped if he’d still had the revolver, but Donovan had tossed it after it misfired — why keep a useless, incriminating weapon at a crime scene? So now he’d have to pull off a bluff — one man against close to fifty. But Donovan had gotten Danny Healy into this mess by recruiting him for the O’Connor job. Healy hadn’t hesitated then. Donovan didn’t now.

He got out of the car and confronted the crowd, just fifteen feet away. If even one of them dared to make a quick lunge, he’d be hopelessly overpowered in seconds. So Donovan slid a hand into his coat pocket, as if to pull a gun.

“What do you want — trouble?” he asked the man at the front.


“Well, where are you going?”

“I’m going right back to where I came from.” The man turned on his heels and did just that, followed by most of the crowd.

Then another quick conversation with Danny about getting in the car, but it didn’t do any good. The normally reliable Healy was rattled, out of his element, not thinking straight. Donovan had shouted “run,” so run he would. Healy and O’Connor, the shooter and the shot, had one thing in common that fine spring evening — they were bound and determined to stretch their legs.

Even if it killed them.


As the getaway car pulled away, Healy continued on foot, passing the building where O’Connor lived, 483 Columbus Avenue. But he wasn’t alone.

A single pursuer remained on his tail.

Healy zigzagged his way through the street grid of the Upper West Side toward the subway entrance at 79th and Broadway, unable to shake the man tracking him. He caught a bit of luck inside the station — a  train was just about to leave as he entered. He jumped in as the doors closed, leaving his pursuer behind.

Healy got off at 42nd Street, emerging into the bright lights and swirling human tides of Times Square. “Crowded at night,” he noted. He headed south, to the rendezvous point — Jimmy McGee’s apartment on the East Side near 38th Street. Jimmy was a big shot in the marine engineers’ union and served as a dockside fixer for the boys. On this job, he had fixed them up with revolvers, including the one that misfired for Martin Donovan.

After a long time, Pa Murray showed up at McGee’s place. But Donovan was still out on the street, and they were starting to worry. Had he gone back to the Bronx with their teenage driver? Had someone from the crowd that Martin turned back decided to come after him?

Finally, Donovan arrived. No, he told them, nobody had interfered with him after that show of bravado on 84th Street. That was the thing about Martin — the man could radiate cool menace with a look and a word. He’d make you think he was reaching for a gun, even if all he had in his pocket was lint.

This passage is based on Danny Healy’s witness statement to Ireland’s Bureau of Military History, his pension application in the Irish Military Archives and contemporary newspaper accounts. 

Guest post: Jack Kavanagh on the ‘Spirit of the West’

Jack Kavanagh is the author of National Geographic’s ‘Complete National Parks of Europe’
and ‘Always Ireland: An Insiders Tour of the Emerald Isle.’ He lectures on National Geographic Expeditions’ ‘Tales and Treasures of the Emerald Isle’ tours. Read our February discussion. As the post-COVID 2023 travel season begins this month, I am delighted to publish his piece about Galway and the West of Ireland, which begins below the image. MH

Galway hooker.                                                                                                     Chaosheng Zhang photo via Fáilte Ireland

Galway is a city full of ghosts.

Nestled in a bay that gives scant shelter from North Atlantic winds and rain, Ireland’s westernmost city is also one of Europe’s liveliest places.

From spring onward, a string of festivals turn Galway into a dizzying celebration of life: A poetry Cúirt (Court) cherishes a rich heritage—Ireland’s current president is a Galwegian poet and a statue of another Galway bard beatifies the town’s center, Eyre Square; Galway’s Arts Festival dazzles with performers and street parades in July; princes, paupers, and punters mix easily at Galway Races every August; and at September’s Oyster Festival, the local delicacy is washed down with plentiful pints of Guinness, an Irish makeweight, perhaps, against aphrodisiac excess.

When I visited during the pandemic, though, the city was quiet and the living were largely out of sight. So I went walking through shadowed streets in the company of Galway’s ghosts with a man who knows them well, historian Willie Henry.

The first spirit we meet is Christopher Columbus. The Italian is recorded in the annals of St.
Nicolas’s Collegiate Church, passing through Galway in 1477, a few years before he set out on his way to America. Perhaps he offered up a prayer to Nicolas, patron saint of mariners. The church was founded in 1320, some say on the site of a Knights Templar convent, and funded by the Tribes of Galway (the city’s 14 merchant families). It has been Catholic and Protestant down the ages, reflecting Ireland’s conflicted history, yet its peaceful interior is a haven in this cosmopolitan port. On a Saturday, you might chance upon a choral practice, or hear the ghostly echoes of an ancient Avé—generations of Galwegians have peopled its choir.

Galway city buskers.                           Mark Holan photo

Willie leads me down to the Spanish Parade next to the sun-dappled waters of the River Corrib
gushing down from the salmon-leap weir upstream near Galway Cathedral. The cathedral sits next to The National University of Ireland, on the site of an old prison: Galway has long been a town of saints, scholars, and sinners. There are different suggestions at to how Galway was named, but the one that Willie likes best is the story of a girl who was drowned there some 3,000 years ago. Her name was Gaillimhe or Galvia and she was a princess of the Fir Bolg (a mythical race of Greek origin). Gaillimhe was the original Galway girl. Her father was Breasal and according to legend, the fabled island of Hy-Brasil, or Tir nÓg (the Land of Eternal Youth) is named after him.

We wander down to the Spanish Arch, a gate in the walls of the medieval city, and the Galway City Museum. The stories start to pour out of this Galwegian raconteur; Willie is as close to a seanchaí (Irish storyteller) as you’ll get.

We cross over the trout-brown freshwater of the River Corrib to Claddagh, an old fishing village along the briny quay. On Nimmo’s Pier, where Galway Bay oysters fuel the love-struck each September, Willie divulges the story of the Claddagh ring: after Richard Joyce was captured by Algerians and sold to a Moorish goldsmith in the 18th century, he returned to Claddagh with a new trade and a new ring design, the hand-held heart topped with a crown. The heart in exile could be worn facing outward to signify single status, or inward for those whose heart was “spoken for” back home. Exile, separation, and heartbreak are large parts of the story of western Ireland.

Which reminds me—I must call the poet.

We’re strolling past the King’s Head Pub, once the Mayor’s residence, but seized in 1649 by Colonel Peter Stubbers, the alleged executioner of King Charles I. Suddenly, the strains of an old song bring a wistful smile:

“I wish I was a fisherman, tumbling on the sea,
Far away from the dry land, and it’s bitter memory…”

I can hear the ghost of my 18-year-old self. Mike Scott’s “Fisherman’s Blues,” sung by a hungry-looking busker, takes me back to a time when I left Galway under a cloud. I’d come here to study law, but my heart wasn’t in it. Mike Scott, singer with the legendary Waterboys, on the other hand, found exactly what he was looking for in Connemara, the hilly boglands stretching west from the city. Ireland’s ancient traditional music kept the Scotsman entranced within a fairy ring—a Celtic rapture supposedly induced by a spirit-woven spell—for several years. Like me, Scott finally left for America. But his words and music still haunt these streets.

Willie and I share stories over a gut-burning Redbreast Irish whiskey in Garavans’ pub and we’re soon reminiscing about the joys of a music session by an open fire in any Galway pub. The quintessential west of Ireland aroma of burning turf; the mad swirl of a reel with guitars, fiddles, tin whistles, bodhráns (goat-skin drums) and uilleann (elbow) pipes all mixed into a mesmerizing musical gumbo; feet stomping as black pints of stout are passed along; then a hush is called, silence descends, and a plaintive female voice bleats a multi-versed tale of emigration and loss in the unaccompanied, sean-nós (old form) style. “The song would be singing her,” explains Willie, “as these songs would have been passed down many, many generations.” Then he adds, “Sure you’d hear the same song sung on the other side of the pond,” meaning in any bar in Boston, New York, or Philadelphia.

We’re soon sitting in Eyre Square, and Rory O’Shaughnessy has joined us. Rory is one of my
favorite Galwegians; we’ve travelled many a mile together. He and Willie evoke more ghosts.
“JFK spoke right over there,” says Willie. Rory starts into a great impersonation of the famous
speech, complete with the long, flat vowels of Boston (he has a mimic’s musical ear):

“If the day was clear, and you went down to the bay, and you looked west…you’d see Boston, Massachusetts. And you’d see there, working on the docks, Dohertys, Flahertys’, and Ryans, and cousins of yours who’ve made good.”

JFK memorial in Eyre Square.            Mark Holan photo

Chuckling, I excuse myself to call the poet, but the poet is busy.

We’re beside the statue of the Irish-language poet Pádraic Ó Conaire, and I want to hear Gaelic, not American, spoken today. The greatest speech ever given in Irish, the lads quickly conclude, was Joe Connolly’s in 1980. Joe was Galway team captain, accepting the All-Ireland trophy for hurling, the ancient Gaelic sport played with a small ball (sliotar) and an ash stick (camán).

By the modern-day voodoo of You Tube, Rory summons up the past and Joe’s mellifluous voice
is addressing the 70,000-strong crowd in Dublin in Gaelic. “There are people back in Galway
with wonder in their hearts, but also we must remember (Galway) people in England, in
America, and round the world and maybe they are crying at this moment…” His lovely
Connemara blás (accent) and the poetic power of the words are a reminder that Irish might be
up there with Italian in the language musicality stakes. “If you want to hear real Irish, head to
the Aran Islands,” Rory advises me. I will, but first I have a medieval castle to haunt.

A night in Ashford Castle, 33 kilometers north of Galway, is like a happy séance, a
suspension of time where you stray into another realm. Step inside this hotel, and oldworld elegance and timeless Irish hospitality envelop you. This 5-star hotel was once the
hunting retreat of the Guinness family.

Aerial view of Ashford Castle.                                                                                        Aervisions photo via Fáilte Ireland

Invading Normans built this battlement in 1228 and now another Gaul, Chef Philippe Farineau, is telling me why the Achill Island lamb is sooo tasty (they’re all mountain-climbing muscle and they come ready salted by the wild Atlantic winds). We debate the relative merits of Galway Bay oysters or the Dooncastle variety which are kept closed a little longer for extra succulence. When local food tastes this good, you can see why a French chef thrives in the west of Ireland. They say that the Normans became “more Irish than the Irish themselves” and Farineau is continuing the tradition.

Next morning, I head for the Aran Islands via the ferry from Ros a’ Mhíl. As we sail out, a beautiful Galway hooker (a traditional fishing boat) in deep red sails catches the wind and slips like quicksilver into the bay.

I really must call the poet today.

The choppy Atlantic waters churn up the Gaelic noun farraige (sea) from my exile-rusted
memory; like many a poetic Irish word, it resounds with its own meaning. Ffffffarrrrra—
gaaaaa… like the waves breaking on a rocky western shore.

Aran rises from the sea, three limestone ridges breaking the waves, outposts from an out-of-time Gaelic world. These islands were historically the last refuge of Irish nationalists and outlaws.

I’m standing, blasted by Atlantic winds, on the prehistoric hill fort of Dún Aonghasa when I finally get in touch with the poet. Here on Inis Mór (Big Island), a sacred place in pagan and monastic times, I shelter behind a prehistoric limestone wall, cupping a cell phone to my ear.

I ask Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, what makes Galway and Connemara so special.

“Galway is a city that exists on the periphery, a place between realms,” says the poet-president. “Between the Gaelic and English languages. Between ancient Ireland and our future vision. The
culture of Connemara is born out of long traditions of immigration and emigration. This is a
place that seduces, a place where people can renew their spirit, where the creative artist in
particular can find new rhythms of complexity.”

In Dún Aonghasa, I too feel suspended between worlds—between America and ancient Ireland. Looking westward from the western edge of Europe. Happy in the spirited company of Ireland’s poetic ghosts, past and ever-present. —Jack Kavanagh

O’Brien’s Castle on Inisheer, one of three islands that make up the Aran Islands.                    Jeff Mauritzen photo


Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are welcome to offer guest contributions. Submissions are generally from 500 to 1,000 words, with an accompanying photo or graphic. Use the contact form on the Guest Posts page, where you can see previous contributors.

Guest post: Bringing American football to the Emerald Isle

Colum Cronin is co-founder and executive producer of the Irish NFL Show, a weekly podcast that combines insightful post-game analysis and good craic. A Denver Broncos fan, he has worked in higher education for 15 years, welcoming study abroad students from the United States to Dublin. Visit, or the verified Twitter account, @IreNFL. MH


During the 2020 COVID lockdowns, a group of Irish lads came together to start the Irish NFL Show. What began as a video podcast hobby to maintain our sanity has continued to grow and become the largest NFL program on the island of Ireland. It has gained respect on both sides of the Atlantic, with the aim of providing an Irish slant and insight on American football, as well as bringing key figures, guests, and U.S. views to an Irish audience.

Over the past three years we have released hundreds of episodes, presented live shows at historic Irish venues such as Croke Park and Aviva Stadium, and broadcast from the NFL’s international games in London and Munich. Our crowning moment was hosting a show live from SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles for the 2022 Super Bowl, with technical support from broadcaster CBS. On Feb. 12, we will cover this year’s Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

Our history

The story of how we became interested in the sport goes back more than 30 years. RTÉ (Ireland’s national broadcast network) began showing NFL games in 1985. However, the highlights, which were broadcast on Monday nights, were not from the weekend that had just ended, but from the one before that! This worked at the time because there was no coverage of the NFL in the Irish press and no internet for fans to check on score. The Super Bowl was only live game shown on Irish television screens.

From left to right: Mark Cockerill, Colum Cronin, Brian O’Leary and guest Scott Pioli, five-time NFL Executive of the Year, and the NFL Executive of the Decade for 2000-10.

Despite these slim pickings for NFL fans, people nevertheless grew to love the game. As the years rolled on, offerings slowly began to grow, with smatterings of highlight shows and games broadcast on the U.K.’s Channel 4. Fans also heard stories of their friends’ transatlantic visits to NFL stadiums across America. The pageantry of the live experience, including pre-game tailgating, was unlike anything in Ireland.

Over time a niche of the Irish population fell in love with American football and, indeed, this love stretched across all the teams in the NFL. My co-founder Brian O’Leary is a New York Giants fan, Mark Cockerill cheers for the New England Patriots.

Strong connections

The connections between Ireland and America are deep and historic, and these roots also exist through the NFL: from Paddy O’Driscoll, who played in the 1920s, to Tom Brady, from the influence of the Rooney and McCaskey families, as well as through coaches, players, and executives over the 100+ years of the league’s existence.

Our focus is on the expansion and growth of the game and delivering high-quality content and insights to the Irish and a wider international audience. In addition to discussing the latest news and trends in the NFL, we host a variety of guests, including current and former players, coaches, and other personalities from the league. Our guests have included: Rich Eisen, Mina Kimes, Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, Colleen Wolfe, Joe Schoen, Jane Slater, Mickey Loomis, Justin Simmons, Kalyn Kahler, Super Bowl Champion Aqib Talib, and Tom Telesco.

Given the history of friendship between the United States and Ireland we are also proud to have established a strong relationship with the U.S. Embassy in Dublin. Deputy Chief of Mission Christopher Wurtz joined our first Super Bowl show in February 2021. We were delighted to be invited to join U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Claire D. Cronin at the official residence in the Phoenix Park for the Fourth of July.

Mixed audience

Our audience is a mix of people who grew up in Ireland, American expats living in Ireland, Irish people living in America, and other international fans of the NFL. Despite coming from different backgrounds, we’ve found that these different groups of fans have one main thing in common: they all share a love for the sport and a desire to stay connected to the NFL.

At Aviva Stadium in Dublin, left to right: Colum Cronin, Brian O’Leary, and Mark Cockerill.

We also see similarities, as many Irish fans do, between the NFL and our national sports of Gaelic football and hurling. Like American football, these sports are physical and high-scoring, and they also have a strong sense of history, tradition, and are deeply rooted in their communities.

We continue to evolve the show to make it stronger and better each year. Kalle Ryan, award-winning writer and spoken word poet, has joined as host and moderator. Khristina Quigley has joined as a panelist.

As we gear up for this year’s Super Bowl, we are excited to bring our viewers all the latest news and analysis. We will be airing special episodes of the show in the days leading up to the big game, featuring interviews with players and coaches, analysis of the matchup, and discussions of the Super Bowl’s significance and history.

We have been excited to see interest and excitement about the NFL grow in Ireland over the past few years. We started the show with the goal of providing a platform for Irish fans of the NFL to stay up to date on all the latest news and analysis. Looking to the future, we are committed to continuing to grow the Irish NFL Show and bring more coverage to Irish audiences.

Maybe one year the Super Bowl will be played in Dublin!

Top row, l to r: Kalle Ryan, Colum Cronin, and Brian O’Leary. Bottom row, l to r: Mark Cockerill and Khristina Quigley.


Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are welcome to offer guest contributions. Submissions are generally from 500 to 1,000 words, with an accompanying photo or graphic. Use the contact form on the Guest Posts page, where you can see previous contributors.

Best of the Blog, 2022

Welcome to my tenth annual Best of the Blog, a roundup of the year’s work. July marked our milestone tenth anniversary, with more than 900 total posts since 2012. I appreciate the support of regular readers, especially email subscribers. (Join at right.) Thanks also to the archivists and librarians who assisted my research during the year, whether in person or remote. I visited collections at Princeton University, Harvard University, Boston College, and Boston Public Library for the first time, and returned to archives at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and the Dioceses of Pittsburgh. … Special thanks to Professor Guy Beiner, director of the Irish Studies Program at BC, for his warm welcome this fall.

I added two dozen posts to my American Reporting of Irish Independence series, which totals more than 140 entries since December 2018, including several from guest contributors. This year I began circling back to earlier years of the Irish revolution. Highlights included:


I was pleased to publish stories with several new platforms (*) this year and delighted to give a virtual presentation to the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh:

‘Luminous In Its Presentation’:
The Pittsburgh Catholic and Revolutionary Ireland, 1912-1923
*Gathered Fragments: Annual journal of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (Publishes late December 2022/early January 2023)

The Long Road to ‘Redress’ in Ireland
History News Network, (George Washington University), Oct. 30, 2022

My Pilgrimages to St. Patrick’s Churches
*Arlington Catholic Herald & syndicated by *Catholic News Service, March 11, 2022

The Irish Revolution in Pittsburgh
*Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Feb. 17, 2022, presentation linked from headline

Watch the presentation from the linked ‘Irish Revolution in Pittsburgh’ headline above, or from here.

At 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” Peace Feels Less Certain
History News Network, (George Washington University), Jan. 30, 2022

Cheers and Jeers for Ireland: Éamon De Valera’s Alabama Experience
*Alabama Heritage Magazine, Winter 2022


Thanks to this year’s four guest contributors, detailed below. Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are welcome to offer submissions. Use the contact form on the Guest Posts landing page to make a suggestion.

Journalists recall coverage challenges during Northern Ireland TroublesDaniel Carey is a PhD student at Dublin City University. His thesis examines the working lives of former journalists and editors in Ireland.

Pro-Treaty delegation in Pittsburgh, May 1922Dr. Anne Good Forrestal, a former lecturer in Sociology at Trinity College Dublin, is the granddaughter of Seán and Delia MacCaoilte. In spring 1922, he was part of the pro-Treaty delegation that visited America, including a stop in Pittsburgh. This story is based on one of his letters from the city.

Detailing the Crosbies of North KerryMichael Christopher Keane is a retired University College Cork lecturer and author of three books about the Crosbies, leading and often controversial landlord families in County Kerry for over 300 years.

Periodicals & Journalism in Twentieth-Century IrelandFelix M. Larkin and Mark O’Brien have edited two volumes of essays that focus on periodicals as a vehicle for news and commentary, rather than literary miscellany.


These stories were the most popular outside the “American reporting” and “Guest posts” series:


Highlights of earlier work found here:


I plan to spend the first half of 2023 in Cambridge, Mass., as my wife completes her Nieman fellowship at Harvard. I will continue to participate in BC’s Irish Studies Program. I also hope to finish my book on how American reporters covered the Irish revolutionary period as the “decade of centenaries” concludes in May with the 100th anniversary of the end of the Irish Civil War. God willing, I hope to travel to Ireland for the first time since shortly before the pandemic.

Best wishes to all,

Guest post: Journalists recall coverage challenges during Northern Ireland Troubles

Daniel Carey is a PhD student at Dublin City University. His thesis examines the working lives of former journalists and editors in Ireland. I’ve had the pleasure of reading his work and hearing Dan present some of his research at Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland conferences. He is based at University College Dublin, where he works as research project officer for community engagement at CUPHAT. Find him on Twitter @danielmcarey. … Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are always welcome to offer guest contributionsMH


On his first night working in Belfast in late 1969, Irish Times reporter Conor Brady met his colleague Henry Kelly, who wrote on the back of Brady’s hand: “S = P; F = C”. That important piece of shorthand stood for “Shankill [Road] equals Protestants, Falls [Road] equals Catholics”. Dublin-based reporters like Brady “hadn’t a clue” about the geographical specifics of Northern Ireland at that time, he acknowledged, and he laughed ruefully when reflecting on the “guidance” he received from Kelly.

Brady, who later became editor of the Irish Times, was one of  30 people I interviewed for my PhD thesis. Many of them covered the Northern Troubles, which proved a formative experience for generations of Irish journalists. Fifty years on from Bloody Sunday in Derry and Bloody Friday in Belfast, the success of Sinn Féin in the May 2022 Assembly elections brought Northern Ireland back into the international headlines. But the days when Belfast hotels such as the Europa were regularly filled with correspondents from The New York Times, Agence-France Presse, and various German newspapers are no more.

Lyra McKee was killed in Derry, this mural is in Belfast, her native city.

The murder in 2019 of Lyra McKee in Derry brought into sharp relief the dangers faced by reporters in Northern Ireland today. Journalists who covered the Troubles faced intimidation and threats to their personal safety. But at least in some cases, journalists may have been safer than ordinary civilians, in an era when many paramilitaries felt harming reporters would be counterproductive.

Michael Foley of the Irish Times remembers travelling in a car during the Troubles when he and a colleague were stopped at a barricade patrolled by individuals armed with Armalite rifles. Foley’s outraged companion yelled: “How dare you stop us! We’re journalists!” and showed his National Union of Journalists membership card. This prompted an apology from one of the armed men, who, Foley remembers, “didn’t want us to tell Danny Morrison, who was the Sinn Féin press officer at the time”.

Emily O’Reilly says she “actually never felt unsafe” while covering Northern Ireland for the Sunday Tribune. She “knew that journalists were generally safe in the North” and felt that women “got an extra layer of protection”. In 1984, a Democratic Unionist Party [DUP] politician named George Seawright told a meeting of the Belfast Education and Library Board that Catholics who objected to the playing of the British national anthem at mixed concerts for school children were “Fenian scum” who should be incinerated, along with their priests.

Showing what she called “the fearlessness of youth”, O’Reilly rang Seawright and asked for an interview. He readily agreed and invited her to his maisonette home on the Forthriver Road in Belfast. She wandered into what she called “a wonderful oasis of domesticity”, where Seawright was “the personification of charm” and “just lovely”. She remembers him seeing her off at the door by joking: “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if you got shot here?”

Emily O’Reilly

She arranged to meet Seawright again the following day, where they were joined by a man named John Bingham, a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force [UVF] who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison on “supergrass” evidence [from an informant in exchange for immunity] before his conviction was overturned. The trio did what she called “a tourist trip” around the Shankill Road area, with Bingham showing what she said was “an incredibly detailed knowledge” of where people had died violently. Both Bingham and Seawright were themselves subsequently shot dead.

Andy Pollak, son of a Czech Jewish father and a Protestant mother from Ballymena, County Antrim, edited Fortnight magazine in Belfast from 1981 to 1985. He “very rarely had any trouble” in Northern Ireland. But one exception came in the mid-1980s, when he was researching a book which he was co-writing with fellow journalist Ed Moloney on DUP leader Ian Paisley.

“We wanted to find a place … away from the mainstream, where Paisley was talking to his own people, with no media,” Pollak explains. “He was doing a series of … rallies around the place, and he was in Pomeroy [in County Tyrone], and I went down. There was no other journalist there, and … he gave his rabble-rousing speech. And there were bandsmen, and one of them asked me … ‘Who are you?’ and I said ‘I’m from the Irish Times’ … which was a mistake. So anyway, they started to kind of duff me up and beat me up, you know, [they called me a] ‘fuckin’ Fenian’ and all this sort of stuff, and I was rescued by the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] … The RUC man said: ‘You’ve got a bit of blood on your collar, you could claim for that’ So I came … away eventually three hundred pounds richer … from that trip!”

Such episodes of intimidation were not confined to Northern Ireland. Husband and wife Michael O’Toole and Maureen Browne covered a lot of kidnapping stories for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, and, Browne recalls, “ran into trouble with the IRA” as a result. A petrol bomb thrown at Browne in the Dublin suburb of Portmarnock only narrowly missed its target. Threats against the couple’s children prompted O’Toole to see “the leaders of the organisation” and “the dogs of war were called off”.

The Troubles constitute a small but important slice of the material collected for the project. The thesis researches journalism as a career choice and investigates the relationship between Irish journalism and politics, religion and technology. Recordings of the 30 broad-ranging interviews will become part of the Media History Collection at Dublin City University, where they will be made available for public access and may form part of future exhibitions.

The Europa Belfast, a regular lodging place for correspondents during the Troubles, was considered “the most bombed hotel” in Europe. Despite 33 blasts, nobody was killed, according to the new book, ‘War Hotels’. 2019 photo by MH.

Guest post: Detailing the Crosbies of North Kerry

Michael Christopher Keane is a retired University College Cork lecturer and author of three books about the Crosbies, leading and often controversial landlord families in County Kerry for over 300 years. Keane’s own genealogy revealed that one branch of his North Kerry ancestors were transplanted tenants on one of the Crosbie estates. His newest book, ‘The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry, Laois and Leinster’ (2021), and earlier ‘From Laois to Kerry’ (2016) and ‘The Earls of Castlehaven’ (2018), are available in Kerry bookshops and online at,, and Email Michael at … Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are always welcome to offer guest contributionsMH


My first book focused on the initial arrival of the Crosbies into Kerry and in particular their role in transplanting many members of the leading Septs of County Laois in the Irish midlands to Kerry in 1607. The historic “Seven Septs of Laois”, Moores, Kellys, Lawlors, Dowlings, Dorans, McEvoys, and Deevys or Dees, had been in almost continuous rebellion through the late 1500s as they vigorously resisted the plantation of their county by the English.

Following defeat at the landmark Battle of Kinsale in 1601 they accepted the plantation of Laois, which had been renamed Queens County. This was facilitated by the large-scale transplantation of the Laois Septs to about 10 parishes in North Kerry extending from Tarbert in the northeast to Ballyheigue.

These lands had been taken over by the Crosbie brothers Patrick and John, the latter having been appointed Protestant Bishop of Ardfert and Aghadoe 1601-1621. From Laois to Kerry includes a detailed tracing of the descendants of the Seven Septs of Laois in North Kerry through the generations to the present time. Many of the Laois Sept surnames are still quite prominent in North Kerry, especially Kellys, Lawlors, Dowlings, Moores, and Dees. However, all seven continue to have a distinct presence, with many families still established over four centuries later in the original 10 parishes to which their distant ancestors were first transplanted.

Ardfert Abbey

The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry Laois and Leinster aims to reveal the complete story of the Crosbie family from the 1500s to the present time. The Crosbies had highly unusual origins. Their story begins with the MacCrossans of Laois who were historic bards to the two leading clans of the Irish midlands, the O’Moores of Laois and the O’Connors of Offaly. In the 16th century two MacCrossan children, Padraig and Sean, were fostered in Laois by new English planters, the Cosbys of Stradbally Hall (now of Electric Picnic fame) and changed their names to Patrick and John Crosbie. They both became large landowners in North Kerry.

In the next generation, Sir Pierce Crosbie, heir to Patrick, as well as being a large North Kerry landowner, also became a trusted member of the English royal court during the reigns of James I and Charles I, attaining membership of the English Privy Council and the Irish Parliament and Privy Council. His marriage to the widow of the 1st Earl of Castlehaven led to the story of my second book. The War, Sex, Corruption, Land, subtitle gives a hint of the content.

The Crosbies were particularly noted for marrying widely into virtually all the “big houses” of Kerry, leading to the expression “Kerry cousins,” denoting the close family links between the county’s landlords of the time. As an example, the Crosbies became closely intermarried at an early stage with their neighbours the Fitzmaurices of Lixnaw, Earls of Kerry. The Fitzmaurices were the leading family of North Kerry through the generations until their dramatic demise in the 1700s. Their glory and decline are detailed in two fine books by fellow North Kerry historians: Kay Caball’s, The Fall of the Fitzmaurices, and Martin Moore’s Deeds Not Words: The survival of the Fitzmaurices Lords of Kerry 1550 to 1603.

Having become the new dominant family of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy era in North Kerry, the Crosbies developed several mansions, including Ballyheigue Castle, Ardfert Abbey, Tubrid House in Ardfert and Rusheen House in Ballylongford. Along with a couple of other leading landlord families, they dominated Kerry politics throughout much of the 18th and 19th centuries, representing the county almost continuously in Parliament, firstly in Dublin and then in Westminster.

Having obtained the rank of Earldom in the later 1700s, the Ardfert Crosbies, as Earls of Glandore, lived in great style for a time both in Kerry and in their fine Dublin townhouse, now Loreto Hall, on St. Stephens Green. That era led to the long stewardship at Ardfert of William Talbot-Crosbie, or “Billy the Leveller” as he became widely known, from 1838 to 1899. While he was an innovative agriculturalist, his extremely harsh treatment of tenants, which included widespread evictions and his activities during the Great Famine, remain highly controversial to the present time. The evidence clearly shows that the main parishes of the Crosbies, Ardfert, Ballyheigue and Abbeydorney experienced some of the worst losses of life and of emigration of all Kerry parishes during the decade of the Great Famine. Remarkably, “Billy the Leveller’s” successor at Ardfert Abbey, Lindsey Talbot-Crosbie, supported land reform and Home Rule, while his son in turn Maurice was a candidate for the Irish Parliamentary Party in Cork in the 1918 general election. Their two great houses in Kerry, Ballyheigue Castle and Ardfert Abbey, were both burned down during the War of Independence and the Civil War.

Like many large extended families of their time, the Crosbie family story contained its share of scandals. These included the shipwrecking of the Golden Lion laden with bullion at Ballyheigue, which resulted in one of Kerry’s most famous unsolved mysteries. Accusations against the Crosbies and others led to arrest, jail, alleged murder, and multiple court hearings, with much manipulation of the legal system at the time. In the modern era, the Crosbies of the Examiner newspaper dynasty of Cork also trace their roots to Thomas Crosbie who arrived in Cork as a young journalist from North Kerry in 1842.

Ballyheigue, County Kerry, Ireland, 2019. The gateway to a ruined castle and golf course.

Best of the Blog, 2021

Welcome to my ninth annual Best of the Blog, a roundup of the year’s work. As always, I am grateful to readers, especially email subscribers and those who share the work on social media.

I also want to thank the librarians and archivists who helped my research. The pandemic kept me from returning to Ireland for the second consecutive year, but I was able to visit the Dioceses of Pittsburgh (Pa.) Archives, and the Catholic University of America Archives and Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

These institutions provided requested digitized material: University of Pittsburgh (Pa.) Archive Service Center; Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse (N.Y.) University Libraries; Archdioceses of Baltimore (Md.) Archives; New York City (N.Y.) Public Library; Memphis (Tenn.) Public Library; Johnstown (Pa.) Area Heritage Association, Cambria County (Pa.) Library, and Dioceses of Altoona (Pa.); Princeton (N.J.) University Special Collections Library; National Library of Ireland, Dublin; and Trinity College Dublin. Apologies if I’ve missed any organizations.

Thanks again for visiting the site, and best wishes for the holiday and 2022. MH

Centenary series:

I added 30 posts to my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series, which explores journalism and the Irish revolutionary period, mostly from this side of the Atlantic. This year’s highlights of 1921 included:

  • Posts about the American Committee for Relief in Ireland, including two U.S. delegation visits to Ireland, and the U.S. tour of an Irish White Cross leader.
  • U.S. mainstream and Irish-American press coverage of the truce, treaty, and partition of Northern Ireland.
  • A 10-part “revisited” series on the book, A Journey in Ireland, 1921.

Freelance work & presentations:

I published five pieces on five websites beyond this blog:

Cardinal Gibbons

  • A sixth piece is accepted by a U.S. state history magazine for publication in 2022.

I made two virtual presentations:

  • June 2: American Conference for Irish Studies, “Irish Diaspora Witness Statements at the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.” See my Nov. 15, 2020, story for the Irish Diaspora Histories Network.
  • March 20: Irish Railroad Workers Museum (Baltimore), “Cardinal Gibbons and Ireland.” See my story for the Catholic Review (Baltimore), linked above the photo of Gibbons.

Five other favorites:

Guest posts:

Contributions are welcome. Use the contact form on the Guest Posts landing page, or message me on Twitter at @markaholan.

The archives:

Annual “Best of the Blog” posts since 2013, plus my (almost) monthly roundup of contemporary Irish news, “Catching up with modern Ireland,” are available in the Roundups section.

Best of the Blog, 2020

Welcome to my eighth annual Best of the Blog. The pandemic prevented me from traveling to Ireland or doing any in-person domestic research this year, but I am grateful that so much work can be done online. Enjoy this year’s roundup. MH

Centenary series

I added more than 30 posts to my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series, up through Éamon de Valera’s December 1920 return to Ireland after 18 months in America. Highlights included:

  • a 10-part post on New York Globe journalist Harry F. Guest’s 1920 reporting in Ireland;
  • American journalist Dorothy Thompson’s “last interview” scoop with Irish separatist Terence MacSwiney before his Aug. 12, 1920, arrest for sedition;
  • the Irish question and the 1920 U.S. presidential election; and
  • several of my freelance pieces published beyond this blog and guest contributors welcomed to this space. (See below.)

Here are a few of my favorites from this year’s centenary series:

This was the most viewed story in the series this year:

Pittsburgh newspaper headline about Bloody Sunday, November 1920.

Ruth Russell remembered

My wife and I gave a March 7 presentation at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, Baltimore, about “Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland,” based on my 2019 research. I also had Ruth’s name inscribed on the gravestone in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she was buried with her sister.

Ruth’s name and dates were added to the headstone of the grave where she is buried with her sister, Cecilia.

Freelance work

I had six freelance pieces published on four websites beyond this blog. The work was collected in my previous post, From Boycott to Biden.

Guest posts

Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and others are welcome to offer submissions via a new landing page and contact form. This year contributors included:

News & other history through the year

The pandemic was the biggest story of the year, of course, but there was other news, and more history to explore than just 1920. Below are the top story from each month, followed by a link to my regular monthly roundup.

From my August 2019 visit to Inisheer. God willing, I’ll get back to Ireland in 2021.

Guest post: ‘Crowdfunding the Revolution’ in Ireland

I’m pleased to welcome a contribution from Patrick O’Sullivan Greene, author of Crowdfunding the Revolution – The First Dáil Loan and the Battle for Irish Independence. His book tells the history of the fight for the revolutionary government’s funds, the bank inquiry that shook the financial establishment, and the first battle in the intelligence war. Patrick, of Killarney, Co. Kerry, is an activist shareholder for almost 20 years, award-winning equity analyst, and qualified Chartered Accountant. He can be reached via email, Twitter, or LinkedIn. MH

Money to Ireland

Michael Collins wanted to move to America in 1916, after spending 10 years in London, because the country offered “a fair chance to get ahead.” Fortunately for Ireland, he instead returned to Dublin to participate in the Easter Rebellion. Three years later he was appointed Minister for Finance in the Dáil government set up in open defiance of the British administration in Ireland. The counter-state government was determined not only to replace the Dublin Castle administration, but to implement its own industrial, financial, and trade policies. 

The fledgling government launched an audacious plan to fund the counter-state by raising the equivalent of $35 million today. Half the money was to be raised in Ireland and half in America. Collins took charge of the Loan organisation in Ireland. Nothing was left to chance to ensure the success of the Loan by the young, energetic, and innovative Minister for Finance; 3 million promotional leaflets, 400,000 copies of the prospectus and 50,000 customized letters were printed and distributed throughout the country; full-page advertisements were submitted to national newspapers; a 7-minute promotional film was produced showing Collins seated at a table receiving Loan subscriptions from a who’s who of Irish revolutionary figures.

Despite British attempts to prohibit the Loan, Collins exceeded his target by 50 percent. On Feb. 10, 1920, he wrote to Éamon de Valera – who had gone to America to raise the external part of the Loan – that the British had attempted to suppress the Loan organisation with “determination and savagery.” Dublin Castle had even established a bank inquiry to locate and seize the funds secretly deposited in commercial banks.  

The Loan in America initially faced regulatory and self-inflicted organisational setbacks. To such an extent that Harry Boland, who was also in America, wrote to Collins that “the organizing of this bond issue is a tremendous undertaking, and it is my judgement that you are now wanted here.” The temptation on Collins to leave must have been great, but he replied that he had too many responsibilities in Ireland, though he mysteriously added that “there is still only one thing that would take me away, and when the time comes for that, I’m off without delay.”

Although Boland would not get to meet Collins until he returned to Ireland for a visit in the summer of 1920, he did get to see him. A copy of the promotional film had been spirited across the Atlantic. After watching the film, Boland wrote to Collins to poke fun at his good friend: “That film of yourself…selling Bonds brought tears to my eyes. Gee Boy! You are some movie actor. Nobody could resist buying a bond and we have such a handsome minister of finance.” 

When eventually the Loan was launched in America and the money needed to be transferred home, Collins was responsible for getting the funds safely and securely into the financial system in Ireland. Of course, he did not do this on his own. Daithi O’Donoghue was Collin’s right-hand man in finance matters. A former high-ranking civil servant dismissed for refusing to take the oath of allegiance, he made the banking arrangements after consulting with Collins. Vera McDonnell, who had come to Dublin in 1917 to study shorthand and typing, had been quickly recruited by Sinn Féin as a stenographer. She prepared the cablegrams and codes for the transfer of the American funds.

Corrigan & Corrigan, solicitors, also played an important role in laundering the Loan funds. The firm acted as a clearing house for particularly large cheques sent from America. A friendly firm of lawyers prepared the paperwork linking the funds to a legacy or some other seemingly legal activity. Corrigan & Corrigan would carry out any formalities that might be necessary and afterwards transfer the money to the custody of the Dáil government. That was only one method of getting the funds to Ireland.

Michael Collins

Collins also sent a list of trusted individuals who agreed to receive bank drafts sent from the States. The Irish mission in America organised the issue of the bank drafts with friendly managers. Drafts were issued for an average amount of £14,500 ($1 million today) and were drawn on commercial banks in Dublin and London. The first bank draft was issued by the National City Bank of New York. The draft was for a massive £58,880 ($4M today). Drafts were also issued by Brown Brothers & Co., the Guaranty Trust Company of New York and Kountze Brothers, New York. 

Drafts drawn on banks in London were sent to the recipients using the address of the Jermyn Court Hotel in Piccadilly. The hotel was used regularly by those in Ireland on political business in London. Private addresses were also used, including the London home of Erskine Childers, which was one of the first addresses used for the transfer of American funds. 

The courier network operating between America and Ireland had been built up over many years. Individuals sent from Ireland on political and intelligence work brought messages and funds back on return journeys. New York and Boston based supporters of the republican movement took jobs on passenger ships above and below deck, to act as couriers and to provide support to those smuggled to America, including de Valera who made the journey as a stowaway.

One of the most successful initiatives of the young government was the establishment of the National Land Bank. A dummy corporation was used to cloak the investment of the Dáil in the new business. After a successful start in early 1920, Collins wanted more of the American Loan injected as capital into the bank. He asked the Dáil to authorise the investment of a further $500,000. The necessary drafts were couriered to Ireland from America.

The First Dáil Loan raised over $5.2 million in America. Plans were made for a second loan of $20 million. The Loan was launched Oct. 15, 1921, and raised $622,720 before being stopped when the treaty was signed two months later.


  • Bureau of Military History: Statements of Vera McDonnell (1050), Daithi O’Donoghue (548), Elizabeth MacGinley (860) and Kitty O’Doherty (355).
  • UCD Archives, De Valera papers, P150/1125.
  • Hart, P. Mick: the real Michael Collins. Penguin, New York. 2006, p. 195.
  • Lavelle, P.  James O’Mara: the story of an original Sinn Féiner. History Publisher, Dublin, p. 186.
  • Mitchell, A. Revolutionary government in Ireland: Dáil Éireann, 1919– 22. Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1995, p. 87.
  • Michael Collins’ Own Story, Told to Hayden Talbot, Hutchinson & Company, Indiana University, 1923. (“a fair chance to get ahead”).

Guest post: The Fall of the Fitzmaurices

County Kerry native Kay Caball is a professional genealogist and author of the definitive Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry. (She has helped me.) Kay also wrote The Kerry Girls: Emigration and the Earl Grey Scheme, about the young women shipped to Australia in 1849/1850 from four of the county’s workhouses. Her new book is The Fall of the Fitzmaurices: The Demise of Kerry’s First Family, available through Kay’s My Kerry Ancenstors website, and O’Mahony’s Booksellers in Limerick. Kay provided this overview of the story. MH


Ennobled as the 1st Earl of Kerry in 1723, Thomas Fitzmaurice, 21st Lord of Kerry, Baron of Lixnaw  and his wife, the former Lady Anne Petty, presided over great estates in Kerry and elsewhere. They and their family enjoyed prestige, influence and immense wealth. Within 100 years their land was gone, the Fitzmaurice earldom was no more. 

So what could have happened to this Kerry dynasty after almost 500 years of acquisition and expansion, which was then so reduced  in such a short space of time? We would have to say improvidence, extravagance, careless management, and improvidence.

Thomas, 21st lord, inaugurated a span of lavish spending; the main result of his expenditure on the ancestral seat of Old Court was a magnificent demesne and a well-appointed house run on a grand scale. His raised status as an earl in 1723 would appear to have spurred him to take on all the trappings expected of the title. He purchased and furnished a Dublin home in the prime fashionable area of St Stephen’s Green,1 while continuing to improve and develop his Kerry estates. His three daughters, Anne, Arbella, and Charlotte, made good if not spectacular marriages: each into new families with generous dowries. His sons, William and John, enjoyed exclusive educations at Westminster School and at the University of Oxford.

Thomas’ eldest son and heir, William, was not the wisest of men. After his father’s death in 1741, William became 2nd earl, and was head of the family fortunes and estate for just over six years. 

William was involved in a number of expensive court cases and family settlements, the most spectacular of which arose from his dalliance with a mistress that led to a scandal of epic proportions in the exclusive aristocratic circles of 18th century Dublin. Elizabeth Leeson, his mistress of two years, declared they were married, and though neither Church nor state had been involved in any nuptials, the courts decided there had been a valid marriage, and he was ordered to proceed with a Church ceremony or be excommunicated. William does not appear to have followed up with the Church ceremony, but Elizabeth, now titled Lady Elizabeth Fitzmaurice, conveniently died three years later. William then married the daughter of the earl of Cavan, against his father’s wishes.

So we come to Francis, who became the 3rd earl of Kerry in 1747 on the death of his father.  Francis was not then seven years of age. His mother initially became his guardian, but when she remarried and moved to England three years later, he became a ward in Chancery, and was left in the care of a tutor and servants. The Old Court estate and demesne in Kerry were closed up and allowed to deteriorate. Incompetent agents were responsible for managing and collecting the land rents. Francis, although left to fend for himself, had a good tutor, and he attended and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin at the age of 15, but afterwards led a lazy and indulgent life. To compound matters, he got involved with a married woman, Anastasia Daly, herself an heiress. Francis’ cousin, British Prime Minister William Petty-Fitzmaurice, 2nd earl of Shelburne and 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, said of Francis:

He fell in love with a married lady twenty years older than himself, the daughter of an eminent Roman Catholic lawyer, and she having obtained a divorce, married her – [she was] an extraordinarily vain person. Having to fight their way up into good society, and having no children, they sold every acre of land that had been in our family since Henry II’s time.2

Anastasia’s husband took an action against Francis Fitzmaurice, and there followed a sensational court case which revealed lurid and explicit descriptions of their sexual encounters. The aggrieved husband was awarded £5,000 compensation for the loss of the company of his wife. This would be over €974,235 in 2019,3 and resulted in the commencement of the large-scale sale of land and assets from the Fitzmaurice Lixnaw estates. Soon after, a divorce was granted by the Westminster Parliament, and Francis and Anastasia married in England in 1768. Initially, they settled in London, where they furnished three large houses lavishly within the space of 10 years, before moving to Paris in 1778. Even though Anastasia, now Countess of Kerry, had the pleasure of being presented at court, the couple were not given the recognition they felt they were due as part of the respected old Norman Irish nobility. Although they moved in aristocratic circles, British society at that time was conservative and rigid, and the young Protestant earl married to the older Irish Catholic divorcee, with a scandalous past, did not command the cream of invitations or acceptance into the milieu to which they aspired.

Their sojourn in Paris from 1771 to 1792 – where they lived extravagantly, dined, wined, entertained and shopped – came to an abrupt end when they had to flee during the Reign of Terror at the time of the French Revolution. Francis and Anastasia were lucky to escape with their lives, but their servants were executed. 

Though they had to abandon their possessions in Paris, their papers – letters, bills, receipts, invitations – were saved, and this collection of eight boxes of documents is now housed in the Archives Nationales, Paris. Their extravagant spending had meant frequent letters home to the earl’s agent, solicitors and auctioneers with instructions to sell or unload land or leases at almost any cost to keep banks and creditors at bay, copies of which survive in Paris.

Back in London in 1795, Anastasia was to live for only four more years. She died in 1799 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where Francis erected a large monument to her. Francis died in 1818 and was buried with Anastasia. This, then, is the story of the fall of the Fitzmaurices, the premier family of Kerry for 583 years.