Seán Russell talk at the Burning of the Custom House Conference 2021

Burning of Custom House conference logo

This was a particularly special one. The burning by the IRA of Dublin’s Custom House – the seat of British local government in Ireland – on 25th May 1921 was a seminal event of the Irish War of Independence. There have been no two greater champions to help widen understanding of this event then historians, and dear friends of mine, Liz Gillis and Mícheál Ó’Doibhilin. They have been doing a conference on various aspects of the burning in the last ten years. I have gone from helping them sell books at this conference, to contributing to it with a talk, to then working as a civil servant in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (whose main office is the Custom House) and helping with the event in an official capacity. Of note, I was Covid-19 safety officer for this officially produced production.

To be there with them at the official state commemoration on 25th May this year was a special one.

So in respect of all that, it was a pleasure to be asked to give a talk on Seán Russell. Russell was the IRA chief of staff from 1939-40 who infamously died on a Nazi U-Boat of a burst ulcer in August 1940. Yet, back in 1921, by the time of the attack of the Custom House, he was the IRA’s Director of Munitions and a major figure of the IRA GHQ. He seems to have been peripheral involvement in the planning of the attack and later wrote about the attack (though without detailing his role), and it is possible in my view he was there on the day.

So, it was great to have a chance to give an overview of his life and tie him into the centenary of the Custom House’s burning. The full talk can be viewed below or click here. Also a very enjoyable Q & A session after!