MacEoin, Uinseann Ó Rathaille (1920–2007), architect, journalist, campaigner, republican, socialist, and mountain climber, was born Vincent O'Rahilly McGuone on 4 July 1920 in Pomeroy, Co. Tyrone, one of four children of Malachy McGuone, a wine and spirit merchant who owned the Central Hotel in Pomeroy, and his wife Catherine (née Fox). Both parents held strongly nationalist views and their children were given names honouring the leaders of the 1916 rising. Malachy McGuone, a supporter of Sinn Féin, was chosen to become a judge under the first dáil in 1918. He was thus regarded with great suspicion by the authorities in Northern Ireland, and was interned on the prison ship Argenta on Larne Lough (1922–3). On his release, the McGuones moved to Dublin, where Malachy died in 1933, aged 50. For a time his wife ran a workingmen's café in East Essex Street, and later lived in Marlborough Road, Donnybrook.
Vincent boarded at Blackrock College, and after leaving school was articled to an architectural practice in Merrion Square. He was active in the republican movement, and from autumn 1939 to May 1940 lived with others in a house on Northumberland Road, Dublin, helping produce and distribute War News, an IRA weekly newspaper. The IRA had been banned by the Irish government in 1936, and its bombing campaign in Britain in 1939 was regarded by Éamon de Valera (qv) and his government as a threat to Ireland's neutrality. In June 1940, young McGuone was one of many republicans arrested by the authorities and held for a year in Arbour Hill prison. On release he was immediately rearrested, and spent the next three years interned in the Curragh. In October 1943 he was sentenced to three-months' imprisonment for possession of incriminating documents. Charged also with possession of ammunition, McGuone testified that he had received the twenty-eight rounds unwillingly, and seems to have had no direct involvement with violence.
The experiences of internment affected him deeply; the lessons of Máirtín Ó Cadhain (qv) in the Irish language and exposure to the socialist views of other inmates strengthened his commitment to political and language activism, and from this time he mostly used Uinseann (or Uinsionn) MacEoin in place of the English forms of his name. Years later, in 1978, he was sentenced to two weeks in Mountjoy jail for not paying a fine; he had refused to buy a television licence in protest against the lack of programming in Irish.
While in jail in the 1940s he kept up with his studies in architecture through correspondence, qualifying at UCD in 1945. In 1946 his designs for memorial gardens to honour those who died in the war of independence were commended, and in 1959 he designed the site for the erection of a monument sculpture by Yann Renard-Goulet (qv) in Ballyseedy, Co. Kerry, commemorating republican prisoners killed there in the civil war, as well as all those from Kerry who died fighting with the IRA.
MacEoin qualified in town planning in 1948 and took a job in the architectural practice of Michael Scott (qv). He also worked for a short time in the housing department of Dublin Corporation, and then set up his own practice in 1955. From 1969 he was in partnership with Aidan Kelly (d. 2007), as MacEoin Kelly and Associates, a practice which enjoyed a fair degree of success. MacEoin's own projects included a housing and shopping development, Ard Easmuinn, with almost 200 houses, on the outskirts of Dundalk, in the early 1970s, but by that time he was much better known for other activities. In the 1950s he was contributing editor on interior design with Creation, a magazine set up by Hugh McLaughlin (qv), and by 1955 was editor of Irish Architect and Contractor. His influential career in architectural journalism continued during the 1960s and 1970s, when he founded and edited Build (a continuation of Irish Architect) (1965–9), and Plan, which absorbed Build in 1969, and was still in existence in 2013. Plan was originally published by his company Pomeroy Press, which also published other serials including Stream and Field. He wrote much of the copy in the architectural periodicals, over his own name, and using pseudonyms, particularly 'Michael O'Brien' in Plan. MacEoin held predictably strong views on the importance of social housing, on slum and foreign landlords, and on national infrastructure, and these were frequently and sometimes almost libellously expressed. Somewhat unusually, given his background and socialist politics, MacEoin was equally vocal on the urgent need to preserve Dublin's Georgian buildings and streetscapes. It was as a campaigner for the preservation of past glories that he was best known throughout a long career of swingeing attacks in public fora on politicians, officials, and particularly developers, and even more particularly on developers who appropriated the heroic names of Irish mythology (such as 'Setanta') as noms de guerre for offshore and sometimes murky speculation companies.
In scores of letters to newspapers, in radio and television discussions, in editorials and comments in the trade journals, in public hearings, and eventually in direct action such as sit-ins, MacEoin made common cause with some unlikely allies in high-profile struggles such as the campaigns to save the existing buildings on Hume Street, Molesworth Street, Baggot Street and Pembroke Street. In the public mind the urge to protect Dublin's built heritage, a novelty in the 1950s, was at first associated with protestant gentry and middle-class intellectuals who had more often kept their heads down in the 1940s and 1950s under de Valera's rule. MacEoin as a member of the Irish Georgian Society controverted all such stereotypes; by his own lights, he was at least sometimes consistent in his views. Many traditional republicans spent the twentieth century deeply dissatisfied with the status quo in the island of Ireland; this disenchantment allowed MacEoin to view the unedifying activities of developers and possibly corrupt officials as caused at least in part, if not entirely, by the failure to solve the national question.
The politically radical architect who championed the modern designs of Michael Scott for Busaras, who excoriated the lack of provision of public housing in Dublin, and who fulminated about the sell-out by Dublin Corporation to private interests, called in 1971 for the protection of the community in the inner-city Liberties area against a road scheme: 'Do not be intimidated by filing cabinets. Let heads and windows be broken if necessary. Thinking people must stop perpetration of the urban genocide' (Plan, iii, no. 2 (1971), 5). Alongside his appreciation of the artisan craftsmanship of Georgian design, he believed that Ireland's civic and urban heritage, little valued in nationalist rhetoric which generally idealised the rural tradition, provided the most likely setting for a better life for more people. For MacEoin, the practice of architecture was effectively a political activity; in one editorial, he announced that he was going to try to separate overt political comment from architectural material in Plan, but acknowledged that even if he as editor managed to do this, the reader would be very wrong to assume that all the rest of the material covered in the journal was non-political.
However, unlike many political theorists, MacEoin also put his money where his mouth was. He and his wife bought five houses in Mountjoy Square and three on Henrietta Street, all practically derelict in the 1960s, and refurbished them to lease them out. His architecture practice moved into one on Mountjoy Square. Initiatives such as this, supported by others in the Irish Georgian Society, such as Mariga Guinness (qv) and Deirdre Kelly (qv), showed that it was possible to salvage parts of inner-city Dublin, hitherto written off by planners as ripe for demolition and redevelopment. MacEoin also saved Heath House, near Portlaoise, from falling further into ruin, and lived there towards the end of his life. He gave architectural and conservation advice free to community groups, as well as providing volunteer labour on renovation projects in Tailors Hall and elsewhere.
MacEoin was active in many other political campaigns; he joined Clann na Poblachta, was a lifelong member of the left-wing republican Wolfe Tone Society, and joined the Dublin Civic Group, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement. He contributed the chapter on 'Planning' to the first version of the Éire Nua social and economic programme drafted by Sinn Féin in 1971 advocating socialist models of economic organisation in a united Ireland, where he trusted that cultural and language rights would be accorded to all. In the early 1970s he attended meetings in Monaghan to try to further the Éire Nua concept of Dáil Uladh, a proto-parliament for the nine-county Ulster. During the republican hunger strike of 1981 he allowed the National H-Block Committee to use one of his houses on Mountjoy Square as a national headquarters. After the Sinn Féin split of 1986 he supported Republican Sinn Féin. MacEoin was a founder member in 1987 of the Constitutional Rights Campaign, an organisation dedicated to protecting the rights of Irish citizens in the European Community (or perhaps, equally, protecting them against the EC; he had campaigned in the early 1970s against joining the EEC). Concerned about environmental issues, he opposed the tyranny of the privately owned motorcar, called for the introduction of cycleways, and advocated the redevelopment of railway lines. As early as 1969 he wrote in Plan about the 'greenhouse effect' produced by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. His awareness of the natural world arose from his lifelong love of hillwalking and mountaineering; he claimed that he was the first Irishman (in 1987, aged 67) to register successful climbs of all the Munros (the 284 Scottish peaks over 3,000 ft), and he climbed in the Alps and the Pyrenees for another ten years.
Alongside all his other projects and activities, MacEoin took every opportunity to record the reminiscences of his former comrades in the IRA, and published these in three weighty volumes, with useful annotations: Survivors (1980), which told of Ireland's struggle for independence through the lives of leading republicans; Harry (1986), a biography-autobiography of a veteran Belfast republican, Harry White; and The IRA in the twilight years 1923–48 (1997). Although reviewers criticised the entirely one-sided nature of MacEoin's story, he pointed out that he had unparalleled access to informants who were in danger of being written out of history by the winning side. Most were old men, or dead, when the books were published, and the oral history recorded by MacEoin is of value to less partisan historians. His publishing company, Argenta, also published a novel, Sybil: a tale of innocence (1992), written over the nom-de-plume Eoin O'Rahilly.
The nature and extent of MacEoin's support for the IRA after 1945 is not clear. Though so publicly busy in his career and advocacies and mountaineering that it would have seemed there was little spare time for clandestine activity, he may have remained in touch with the movement's leadership, at least until the IRA called off its campaign along the border in February 1962. Evidence given in a court case in March 1963, in Edinburgh, raises some questions about MacEoin's involvement at that time. Samuel Docherty, a Glasgow bookmaker, had taken a case against his bank, claiming the bank owed him a large sum of money. MacEoin was called as a witness on Docherty's behalf, and testified that in February 1962 he had travelled with £50,000 in cash from Dublin to lodge to Docherty's account in the Royal Bank of Scotland in Belfast, as a loan. Not surprisingly he was asked to explain where he had obtained such a very large sum of money, but he refused to divulge the name of the person who had supplied it. The judge warned MacEoin that he was in contempt of court, and ordered him to be held in police custody in the courthouse. After several hours, MacEoin agreed to provide the name in confidence to the judge in writing, and was released. The judge decided that Docherty was guilty of attempted fraud and perjury, and commented that the story of the money from Ireland reeked of suspicion and was possibly tainted with illegality, but neither Docherty nor MacEoin suffered any further legal repercussions.
MacEoin spent his last years in a nursing home in Shankill, Co. Dublin, where he died on 21 December 2007. He was survived by his two sons and a daughter, and by his wife. He and Margaret Russell were married in Navan, Co. Meath, in the autumn of 1956, and had worked together on many of the projects which filled a long and active life. He left an estate valued at over €3 million.