A ‘holiday experience’ in Dublin in June 1920.

After the Great War, though in severe financial difficulties following the collapse of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1918 general election, Dublin’s Freeman’s Journal still regularly reported Irish nationalist and Catholic news from Britain.[1]

Each week a page, entitled ‘With the Irish in Great Britain’ or ‘The Irish in Great Britain’, included news from the North East of England. And in July 1920, ‘Our Own Correspondent’ in Newcastle upon Tyne told the story of two ‘Tyneside Irishmen’, who decided to spend Race Week, Newcastle’s annual midsummer holiday, visiting Dublin ‘the capital of the country of their parents’.[2]

According to the Freeman’s correspondent, these ‘young fellows… worried not about the “news” in the papers’, and so, presumably, were not worried that, since 23 February 1920 and the shooting dead of a Dublin Metropolitan Police constable in Grafton Street,[3] Dublin was under curfew every night from midnight to 5am, with all street lighting extinguished between 11.30pm and 6am.[4] Rather, explained the Freeman’s correspondent, the two, with their ‘inherited’ love of Ireland and bearing ‘no ill-will towards England’, simply hoped to have ‘a good and instructive time in Dublin’.

Arriving in Dublin, they booked into the Globe Hotel on Talbot Street. Next door was a draper’s shop – The Republican Outfitters. This shop, according to Dan Breen, was ‘perhaps the best known meeting-centre in the city for members of the Irish Republican Army, but it was so closely watched that it was never advisable to remain there long’.[5]

Shortly after curfew on Thursday 24 June 1920, whilst the two Tyneside Irishmen were in their hotel room, ‘an army of military and police, numbering between 400 and 500, and accompanied by tanks and armoured cars’ raided properties in Talbot Street and surrounding streets.[6]

Published in the London Daily News in March 1920, Erskine Childers, the Dáil government’s Director of Propaganda, used his literary flair to describe a ‘typical’ Dublin raid:

‘As the citizens go to bed, the barracks spring to life. Lorries, tanks, and armoured searchlight cars muster in fleets, lists of ‘objectives’ are distributed, and, when the midnight curfew order has emptied the streets – pitch dark streets – the weird cavalcades issue forth to the attack… A thunder of knocks… or the door will crash in. On opening, in charge the soldiers – literally charge – with fixed bayonets and with full war-kit.’[7]

Both The Republican Outfitters and the Globe Hotel were thoroughly searched by the military and the police, ‘with the exception of some ladies’ apartments’ in the hotel, and two men arrested and taken to Dublin Castle.[8]

During the raid, the two Tyneside Irishmen were awakened in their room by soldiers armed ‘with rifles and fixed bayonets’. Back in Newcastle, their holiday over, they gave the Freeman’s correspondent ‘a vivid description’ of the raid and of the arrests, and said that, in ‘their opinion’, ‘the most nervy people in the hotel during the raid were the armed soldiers.’[9] They also told the correspondent that such a raid ‘would not be tolerated in England’. A response that was echoed in another newspaper report of the raid: ‘Some English visitors at the hotel expressed their annoyance, remarking that in no other country outside Ireland would the like be permitted.’[10]

And so, concluded the Freeman’s correspondent, for these two young Tyneside Irishmen their Dublin holiday would be ‘a holiday experience they will not soon forget’, and that ‘they now know about British rule in Dublin through the bitter school of experience’.[11]

But who were these two men? And did their experience in Dublin in June 1920 radicalise them? Did they then go on to join the Irish Self-Determination League on Tyneside or even the Tyneside Brigade of the Irish Republican Army?

Unfortunately, these two young men remain anonymous. The Freeman’s correspondent offers no clues as to who they were and no other newspaper report has been found that mentions their Dublin ‘holiday experience’.

But possibly some reader out there remembers a father or grandfather telling the story of how one night in June 1920 he witnessed a raid on Dublin’s Globe Hotel. If so, please, get in touch.

Postscript: On 14 October 1920, there was a gun fight outside of The Republican Outfitters on Talbot Street that resulted in the deaths of four men, including the IRA’s Seán Treacy, who had been in the shop.

The aftermath of this gun fight was filmed by a Pathé news cameraman and this film, held by the Irish Film Institute, may be seen on The Irish Times website:

The Republican Outfitters was at No.94 Talbot Street; the Globe Hotel was Nos.95-97; and both may be seen in this film, with curious hotel guests peering out of the hotel’s windows.

[1] See Felix M. Larkin, ‘A great Daily Organ: The Freeman’s Journal, 1763–1924’, History Ireland, 14 (May/June 2006).  Also Ian Kenneally, The Paper Wall, Newspapers and Propaganda in Ireland 1919-1921 (Cork, 2008), pp. 76-100.

[2] Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 10 July 1920.

[3] Constable John Walsh. James Scannell, ‘DMP Casualties during the War of Independence’, Dublin Historical Record, 61.1 (2008), pp. 5–19.

[4] Dublin Evening Telegraph, 24 February 1920.

[5] Dan Breen, My Fight for Irish Freedom (Dublin, 1924, reprinted 1989), p. 153.

[6] Dublin Evening Telegraph, 26 June 1920.

[7] London Daily News, 29 March 1920, in Dorothy McArdle, The Irish Republic (New York, 1965), pp. 330-331.

[8] Dublin Evening Telegraph, 26 June 1920.

[9] In April 1920, Sir Edward Carson called British soldiers in Ireland ‘little more than boys’, and in July 1920, a Dublin Castle Under-Secretary described these soldiers as being ‘quite raw’ and ‘almost useless’ in supporting the police. Michael Robinson, The Irish War of Independence (Dublin, 2002), pp. 51 and 53.

[10] Dublin Evening Telegraph, 26 June 1920.

[11] Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 10 July 1920.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s