The IRA ‘Big Gun’ and the Death of Matt Furlong, 1920

IRA 'Big Gun', October 1920 (NMI Collection, EWT.401)

Arming the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence was not an easy task; weapons, particularly modern ones, were not readily available. In the countryside shotguns were common, as most farmers owned one. The IRA also gathered firearms such as rifles, even Lewis machine guns, and ammunition from the many raids conducted on Royal Irish Constabulary barracks around the country. Arms were also smuggled into Ireland. In 1921 Harry Boland ordered over 650 Thompson machine guns (made iconic by the US Mafia during the 1920s and 1930s) from America, and though most were intercepted on the docks in New York, some did make it to Ireland via Liverpool in England.

IRA 'Big Gun', October 1920 (NMI Collection, EWT.401)

Such weapons made little impact on the armoured vehicles of the British Forces however, or the strong walls of barracks buildings, and heavier guns were necessary. Unable to acquire them, the IRA turned to improvising weapons to serve their needs. This home made ‘big gun’, or mortar, designed to fire mortar bombs at short-range targets, was described as the only piece of such artillery used by the Irish during the War of Independence when it was donated to the museum in 1937.

The story of this mortar is an interesting insight into the making of improvised munitions during the War of Independence, but it is also a tragedy which led to the death of Matthew Furlong.

Matthew Furlong (from Furlongs of 19 South Main Street, Wexford town, had a Fenian family tradition. Matt and his brother Joseph were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) from 1908. He apprenticed as an engineer in the Wexford Engineering Company, but due to the labour wars and lockouts in Wexford in 1911 he and Joseph moved to London where they transferred to the London I.R.B., joining the same centre as Michael Collins. When the Irish Volunteers were formed in Ireland in November 1913, companies were also formed in the Irish centres in England. The Furlongs joined, and just after Christmas 1915, received word from Collins to quit their jobs in London and relocate to Dublin to prepare for the Rising. Matt and Joseph fought with G Coy, 2nd Battalion at Jacob’s Factory during the 1916 Rising, and were interned in Frongoch Camp in Wales until December 1916. They returned to Ireland and their home at 70 Seville Place, Dublin, took employment (with Matt working for a time at the National Shell Factory on Parkgate Street during the war years) and resumed their activities in the I.R.A.  Matt’s trade would prove useful, his engineering knowledge led to his involvement with the setting up of an underground munitions factory in 1918 by Michael Lynch of the Fingal Brigade, who had been charged with the task by Dick McKee.

The munitions factory was established in the basement of 198 Parnell Street, underneath the bicycle shop of Heron & Lawless; Archie Heron was Lynch’s Vice-Commandant and Joseph Lawless an Engineer Officer, both of the Fingal Brigade.

A munitions factory making hand grenades at Bailieboro, Co. Cavan

The munitions factory was fully equipped, including a forge and a lathe. It was here that they made the iron exterior bodies of hand grenades, based on the pattern of German egg grenades, and the brass fittings for the fuses, which were transported to another location to be filled with explosive and finished.

Joseph Lawless at Rath Internment Camp, 1921 (NMI Collection)Lawless was arrested in a raid on the bicycle shop by British Forces in May 1919, and afterwards felt that because of his connection with the premises it would be more closely watched. In order to keep the profile of the building low and protect the factory, he sold his interests to Lynch. Archie Heron had already left the business some time before. By June Lawless had set up a separate business renting cars, which was also used to provide car transport to Volunteer raid parties, and munitions became the sole business of 198 Parnell Street. (The story of Joseph Lawless’ later internment in the Rath Camp in 1921 can be found in a previous blog post here).

During mid 1920 it had been decided that there was a need for a portable heavy gun to aid in Barracks attacks, and work began on an experimental mortar. G.H.Q. Munitions branch decided to attempt to replicate the British Stokes, or Trench, mortar which had been produced during the latter part of WWI.

PSM_V92_D055_Stokes_mortar_for_trench_warfare_2 (Wikimedia)

IRA 'Big Gun', October 1920 (NMI Collection, EWT.401)

Artillery of this type is smooth bore rather than rifled, and used to propel explosive shells at a high angle towards targets with a much greater explosive capacity then a hand grenade. Matt and Joe Furlong undertook the task, although detailed drawings and instructions were not available.

When the mortar was complete in October 1920, testing began. Experiments with dummy shells were successful, a test site in Co. Meath was selected, and Matt Furlong, Peadar Clancy, Tom Young, Sean O’Sullivan and Patrick McHugh began the trial, with Matt as the operator. Difficulties arose with the firing of live shells, and adjustments were planned. Another trial at Kells took place where, after a number of tests, Matt decided to use a live shell which fired but landed unexploded. After further adjustment another shell was tested; this time it exploded inside the base of the mortar, blowing off the bottom half of the cylinder. Matt Furlong was very badly wounded, particularly along the left hand side of his body which had been closest to the mortar. He was brought to the Mater Hospital where his left leg was amputated, but he later died of his injuries at the age of 28.

IRA 'Big Gun', October 1920 (NMI Collection, EWT.401)

With the loss of the mortar, the munitions factory at 198 Parnell Street, still operating under the name of ‘Heron and Lawless’, concentrated on grenade manufacture. It was eventually shut down by the Auxiliaries in December 1920, when it was accidentally discovered during a raid next door. The building that housed the munitions factory is now the location of King’s Inn House, beside the Parnell Centre.

British soldiers, two Auxiliaries and a DMP constable at the Heron and Lawless premises at 198 Parnell Street after the raid. (

The ‘big gun’ itself was hidden in the River Tolka for some years before it was recovered by John Connell of Lustown, Co. Meath, after his release from Arbour Hill Prison. He and Padraig O Huigin later deposited it in the National Museum of Ireland in 1937 for display in its 20th Anniversary exhibition in Kildare Street. It remains the only known example of an IRA Big Gun.

View of "1916" exhibition sign, central court, Kildare Street, 1941. Shot from the balcony looking towards the first floor stairway (from glass plate negative DF5406, NMI Collection)

View of “1916” exhibition sign, central court, Kildare Street, 1941. Shot from the balcony looking towards the first floor stairway (from glass plate negative DF5406)

Irish Citizen Army (and James Larkin) at Croydon Park, 1914

ICA at Croydon Park, James Larking to the left, April-October 1914

This famous photograph of a unit of the Irish Citizen Army drilling at Croydon House in Croydon Park, Clontarf is extremely well known.  However, this second view of the same scene, including an additional figue to the left – James Larkin – is less commonly seen. It came to me in 2014 through the NMI’s former Registrar, who received it from a former curator at the museum.

On this day – 21st January – in 1876, trade union leader James Larkin, was born to Irish parents in Liverpool.  Originally an organizer in the National Union of Dock Labourers, he had arrived in Belfast in 1907 to organize a strike there, and was later transferred to Dublin where he, James Connolly and William O’Brien established the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in December 1908. Work was scarce, badly paid and inconsistant, and the union grew quickly, causing some of the main employers in the country to ban membership of a trade union as a condition of employment. They established the Employers’ Federation, headed by William Martin Murphy, owner of the Dublin Tramway Company, a number of newspapers and the Imperial Hotel in O’Connell Street. In August Murphy fired 300 tram workers, leading to sympathy strikes and the eventual locking out of over 20,000 workers, with violence breaking out on the streets between the striking workers, the blackleg labour and the Dublin Metropolitan Police who were brought in to protect them. The Dublin Lockout was to last until February 1914 when the workers were forced to return to their jobs with few rights won.

ICA at Croydon Park, 1914. Photograph by Keogh Brothers of Dublin. (NMI Collection)

The Irish Citizen Army was formed as a workers’ militia to protect people in the aftermath of the August 31st Bloody Sunday riots, when the Dublin Metropolitan baton charged  the crowd listening to Larkin giving a speech in O’Connell Street.  Labourers James Nolan and John Byrne both died of injuries received by police batons on the Saturday, and contemporary reporting stated that 433 people, and possibly up to 600 people were injured in the violent disturbances over the course of that weekend.

The Irish Citizen Army was established by James Larkin, James Connolly and  Jack White. White, a former British Army captain, led the training of the ICA at Croydon Park.  White was arrested at a demonstration in March 1914, and soon afterwards the ICA started re-organising. Apart from a constitution being written (by playwright Sean O’Casey), a uniform was decided upon and ordered to be made by Arnott’s; a dark green serge wool tunic and trousers, and a hat with one side of the brim pinned up with the ICA badge.

The uniforms arrived sometime in March or April 1914, and it was probably at that time that the famous photograph of the Irish Citizen Army was taken at Croydon House. It was taken by Keogh Brothers Photographers of Dublin, and shows a unit of the ICA proudly showing their uniforms, with the Plough and the Stars flag on a pole held by the man on the far left. The first appearance of the flag, made by the Dun Emer Guild, was stated to be at a meeting on the 5th April 1914, so this photograph was taken on or after that date. The presence of James Larkin in the second version of the ICA at Croydon Park  photograph also means it was taken before his departure on a fundraising trip to the United States on 24th October of that year.

It’s always fascinating to see a little extra of something we already know so well.

James Larkin, far left

Covert Photography in Rath Internment Camp, Joseph Lawless, 1921

Joseph Lawless at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Joseph Lawless at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

In December 1920, at the height of the War of Independence, the British authorities established the first internment camp on Irish soil at Ballykinlar, Co. Down. The British policy of interning any man in any way suspected of being involved in the republican movement led to many hundreds of men being detained without trial, and soon a series of internment camps were built around the country, though Ballykinlar remained the largest and probably the most famous. One such centre was the Rath Camp at the Curragh, Co. Kildare, where I.R.A. member and internee Joseph Lawless took this series of unique photographs illustrating life in the camp. He donated them to the National Museum of Ireland in 1950.


Joseph Lawless at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Joseph was involved in the movement for Irish independence from an early stage, along with his father Frank and brother James Lawless . He joined the Irish Volunteers as a member of the Swords Company in about 1914, and was involved in the Howth gun-running of that year. In his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History he gives a full and detailed account of the Battle of Ashbourne in Co. Meath during the 1916 Rising, describing the military engagements and the gun battle that led to the deaths of 12 people. Joseph was a keen amateur photographer and was in the habit of carrying a camera, and states that he took photographs of this day with his Vest Pocket Kodak camera. Though the Battle of Ashbourne was a successful engagement for the Volunteers, they gave themselves up to the military when the word came from Dublin of Pearse’s general surrender. Joseph was interned in Frongoch until the general release at Christmas 1916. On his return to Dublin he went to retrieve his camera, rifle and binoculars which he had hidden in a stone wall near Ashbourne – he found the rifle and binoculars, but sadly the camera, and the only photographs of the events at Ashbourne, was missing.

Row of prisoners' huts at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Row of prisoners’ huts at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

He later set up a business in Parnell Street which was to become a bomb factory, and later established a private car hire business which was used by IRA parties, including Joseph, to carry out raids on RIC barracks. He was arrested in December 1920 and interned first at Collinstown Aerodrome (now Dublin Airport) and Arbour Hill, and was transferred to Rath Camp at the end of February 1921. He agreed to be elected as the prisoners’ vice-commandant under Peadar McMahon.

Sentry tower at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Sentry tower at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

The camp was built to hold between 1200 and 1400 men, and was comprised of four series of huts (A, B, C and D), a canteen, cookhouses, baths, latrines, wash houses, stores, a hospital, a chapel and an excerise yard, all surrounded by fencing of barbed wire and sentry towers, lit at night by flood lights.

Washing clothes at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Washing clothes at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Taking exercise at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Taking exercise at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Although cameras were prohibited in internment camps and prisons, Joseph had managed to smuggle one in and photographically recorded the details of the prisoners’ lives. They cover everyday activities such as taking exercise, washing clothes, attending mass, cooking meals and tuberculosis patients being treated in the camp hospital. These activities contrast with the background in the photographs which depict watch towers and barbed wire, reminding the viewer that the people in the photographs are under constant armed guard and threat to their lives.

Prisoners in the hospital hut at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Prisoners in the hospital hut at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Prisoners attending Mass at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Prisoners attending Mass at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Sergeant Roper and Ed McEvoy at Hut 1, Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Sergeant Roper and Ed McEvoy at Hut 1, Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

One image in particular also makes us consider the conditions of the British soldiers guarding the camp. The soldier photographed is Sergeant Roper of the Black Watch, to the left in the foreground is Ed McEvoy, another I.R.A. prisoner. The camera is hidden on Joseph’s person, most likely under his jacket at around hip level, as he stands inside prisoners’ hut No. 1.   In the information accompanying the collection, Joseph stated that Roper heard the click of the photograph being taken but did not know who had the camera. He became very alarmed when McEvoy told him that the photograph would be used to identify him to the prisoners’ friends on the outside. The threat of retribution from the friends of the internees must have been a real fear for the soldiers.

Trenches being dug after after tunnel escape, September 1921, Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Trenches being dug after after tunnel escape, September 1921, Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Any chance of escape from Rath was slim, but opportunities were taken when they were found. From the early stages of the camp escape tunnels were being dug by the prisoners, and a plan was put in place that would enable the escape of most of the prisoners in the camp. In September 1921 the tunnellers digging out from a hut in D section decided to break through to the surface earlier than was expected by the camp leaders, and a number of men escaped. However, the plan to communicate the escape route failed and the first many knew of it was the next morning when the British soldiers rounded up all the prisoners to be counted. Later that day they were paraded on the field for a more detailed check, and the grounds searched for more escape tunnels. Within a couple of days a deep trench had been dug around the fences to cut off any further routes of escape.

Prisoners being counted after after tunnel escape, September 1921, Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Prisoners being counted after after tunnel escape, September 1921, Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Mail being taken to be censored, Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Mail being taken to be censored, Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Joseph and a Northern Irish man called Tom Glennon came up with a new plan of escape in October. The refuse from the cookhouse was sold to a local merchant as pig swill, and collected in a donkey cart which Tom thought could conceal two men. They formed a plan, gained 10 pounds from another prisoner, the camp chaplain Father Paddy Smith from Tullamore, and Tom arranged the bribe with the soldier who took charge of the cart from its young drivers once inside the camp. They raided the camp censor’s hut for two large mail sacks and waited for the cart to arrive on Sunday evening. With the help of their commrades at the cookhouse the bribe was arranged and Joseph and Tom hid themselves in the mail sacks, covered with swill. The cart was driven out the gates and returned to the young boys to be delivered to the merchant, who got quite a shock down the road when they realised what their cart contained. They left the boys’ cart at the edge of the Curragh and made their way back to Dublin, at one point meeting two British officers from the Rath Camp, who were fortunately too drunk from their activities on their day’s leave to recognise them. Joseph continued his activities in the Republican movement on his return to Dublin. He later became a Colonel in the Irish Army in the Free State. Two months after his escape, on the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, Rath Camp was closed and its remaining prisoners released. The Rath Camp came into being as a centre of internment again a year later during the Irish Civil War, when it held around 1200 Republican prisoners.

Prisoners at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Prisoners at Rath Internment Camp (NMI Collection)

Occupying Istanbul – Photograph album of Lt Andrew J. Horne, 1923

Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI)

The last post on the blog looked at the experience of two Dublin brothers Thomas and Joseph McEnroe in World War I. Thomas had been a professional soldier from 1902, and his brother volunteered in 1916. It is estimated that about 350,000 Irish men and women served in this war in various roles. This photograph album is one of two extraordinary books compiled by a medical officer from Dublin, Lt Andrew John Horne, and was donated to the NMI by his daughters in early 2014.

Lt Andrew J. Horne (NMI)

Andrew was born in 1891 to a wealthy Catholic family. His father, Andrew J. Horne from Galway, was a physician and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Royal Academy of Medicine of Ireland. In 1911 he, his wife Margaret and three adult children were living in 94 Merrion Square in Dublin, with young Andrew studying medicine in university. He was just 23 when war broke out in 1914, and he entered service as a medical officer with the 17th Stationary Hospital, which was attached to the 29th Division. His first album depicts his time in Gallipoli, Turkey, where he served during the disastrous campaign from April 1915, which saw about 180,000 Allied casualties. His hospital was established on a hill overlooking the peninsula and he managed to photograph the action from his vantage point, including shells exploding on the beaches. He was one of the five officers who were the last to leave the Gallipoli Peninsula on 9 January 1916, and went on to serve in Mesopotamia, Alexandria and India. After the war he spent time with the British Army in Malta (an established centre for the Royal Army Medical Corps), the Dardenelles, the Asian / Europe border and Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, where he made his second album. The album dates from early to mid 1923 and illustrates a very particular and turbulent time in the history of the city.

Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI)

Constantinople was the capital of the powerful Ottoman Empire, but by the time war broke out in 1914 the empire was in major decline, having lost most of its territories in Europe and North Africa. It entered the war in November on the side of the Central Powers in an attempt to regain its lost empire. The Allied Powers considered Constantinople, with its location at the intersection between Europe and Asia, and its control of the route from the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea through the Bosphorus Strait, as one of the great prizes of the war. Russia claimed sovereignty, and Britain and France wanted to open the area to supply Russia via these sea routes. The Allies were already negotiating the division of Istanbul during the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. Though the Ottomans saw some military successes during the war, the Allies victory in October 1918 and the subsequent armistice led to a five-year occupation of Turkish territories, including Constantinople, by British and French troops from November. Soon afterwards, the British Prime Minister Lloyd George encouraged Greece to pursue territories in the Ottoman Empire. Their invasion of 1919 led to the growth of the Turkish Nationalist Movement, with the remains of the Ottoman army led by the experienced World War I officer, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This conflict, known as the Turkish War of Independence, not only repelled the Greek invasion, it also ended the occupation of Constantinople and eventually led to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.

Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI) By the time Andrew Horne arrived in Constantinople in 1923, the city was on the brink of huge change. Photographs in his album are a mix of a city under military occupation, with images of hospital ships and battleships on the Bosphorus alongside images of merchant ships transporting goods, a reminder of the economically strategic importance of the city and why its possession was so desirable.

Another image shows the railway station building at Haider Pasha on the Asian side on the city, underneath which is written ‘bombed and set on fire by our aeroplanes in the Great War’.

Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI)

Some photographs show the recent modernization of Constantinople, for example the old Galata Bridge, with the electric tram which had replaced the horse trams in 1912.

Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI) Many of the photographs however, are of the typical sights of the city as seen by a visiting outsider. He photographs the Harem at Topkapi Palace from the river, and visits the Hagia Sophia, originally the Greek Orthodox church of St. Sophia and a functioning mosque when Andrew visited. Less than 10 years later it would close and become the museum it is today.

Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI) Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI)

Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI)    Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI)

Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI)                Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI)

The city and its people must have seemed quite exotic to Andrew; he photographs men and women in traditional dress, workers and beggars in the streets.

One page of photographs shows people, labeled as Greek refugees from Asia, at a Constantinople port. This is a scene from the compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923, which saw the movement of about 2 million Greeks and Turkish Muslims between the two countries. The people in Andrew’s photograph, pictured with their household goods waiting to leave by boat, were some of the 1.5 million relocated to Greece after the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations was signed on 30 January 1923. This was to lead to the population of the newly formed Republic of Turkey to be almost 98% Muslim within a few years, though the country was to remain a secular state.

Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI) Although Andrew could not have known it, his photographs captured the last moments of Constantinople, the capital of an empire. A few months beforehand, the Ottoman Sultanate had been abolished, and the last Sultan had fled the country. A few months later, the occupation of the city was ended with the arrival of the Turkish Army, and the declaration of the Republic on 29 October 1923. Atatürk, the leader of the Provisional Government of Turkey, became its first president, and moved the capital to Ankara. Even the name Constantinople soon went out of use, as the city became the Istanbul we know today. Lt Andrew J. Horne Constantinople Photograph Album, 1923 (NMI) Lt Andrew Horne’s Gallipoli photograph album will be on display and fully viewable in digital format in the World War I Centenary exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland, Collin Barracks, opening end of November.

Prisoner of War Photograph Album, Joseph McEnroe, WWI


This July we commemorate the centenary of the First World War and remember those men who served in the various armies of all nations. Two such men were brothers Thomas and Joseph McEnroe, who served with the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and between them their experience covers the war years between 1914 and 1918. This album was made by Joseph after the war, and documents his experience as a prisoner of war in Germany between 1917 and 1918. It was donated to the National Museum in 1986.

It has only been in the fairly recent past that Ireland has fully acknowledged the role of its people during this conflict; it is thought that up to 150,000 Irishmen enlisted and served in the various theatres of war, and the Irish at home, especially women, found job opportunities on war service, particularly in the manufacturing of munitions. The number of Irish deaths is the subject of debate, some estimate it to be about 35,000, while others include recent emigrants in foreign armies and go as high as about 50,000. It would be impossible to say definitively, as enlistment records do not necessarily state the nationality of the soldier, the Irish regiments were not ‘Irish only’, and individual Irishmen also served in regiments that were not connected to Ireland. Nor do the enlistment forms record the motivation for joining. In 1914 Ireland was part of the British Empire, and about 21,000 Irishmen were already serving in the British Army as professional soldiers. As the war broke out, tens of thousands more enlisted, encouraged by the call to defend small nations such as Belgium. For many Irishmen hoping for Irish independence this was an act of nationalism. Irish nationalist politician John Redmond believed that Irish participation would lead to Home Rule, and encouraged the Irish Volunteers to enlist, causing them to split in 1915 with the vast majority of Volunteers going on to enlist in the British Army.
However, motivations would have been different for every volunteer. In August 1914 this promised to be a short war, and some may have joined as a way to see the world outside Ireland. Unemployment was also very high at this time, especially in urban areas, and many others would have seen a chance to provide an income for their families.

Thomas and Joseph McEnroe were two such men – Thomas being the professional soldier, and his younger brother Joseph volunteering in 1916. They were the only children of the widowed Frances McEnroe of Waterford. In 1901 they were living in Wood Quay, Dublin, and both sons were working as wood sawyer assistants. On 22 April the next year 18 year old Thomas enlisted in the Royal Irish Fusiliers at Armagh, and started a military career. He was posted to India and served there until 1910, when he returned to Dublin and transferred to the Reserves. He took a job as a general labourer in a flourmill and settled down with his wife Susan. On 5 August 1914, the day after the UK declared war on Germany, he was re-engaged and became a Private in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers, and was mobilised to France on 12 September 1914. His military records show where and when he was injured. He was at the second Battle of Ypres in April 1915 – the Battle of St. Julien – and would have experienced the first German gas attack using a lethal chlorine gas. Thomas was shot through the pelvis on the 25th and was sent to Crumpsall Military Hospital in Manchester for his recovery. He was eventually discharged on 29 June 1916, aged 32, as ‘being no longer physically fit for war service’.

Joseph McEnroe – centre

One month later his 29 year old brother Joseph enlisted as a Private in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. I could find little about his service; it seems his records are among those lost during World War II. Only his medal card survives, so we know that he enlisted on 31 July 1916, shortly after the huge losses suffered by British forces at the Battle of the Somme.

prisonersThe photograph album he made tells us more about his experiences. He was probably sent to France, and captured sometime in early 1917, as in the album he tells us he spent two years as a prisoner of war in Gettorf, a town near the Danish border. Joseph filled his album with the postcard pictures of the picturesque German town that he sent home to his wife Catherine, noting the post office, the winter gardens and cafes.

gettorf    cafe

There are many photographs of him with fellow prisoners, some posing outside barrack buildings, a football team, and scenes from plays enacted in the camp, all giving an impression of normal life, with the names of the men meticulously recorded by Joseph on the reverse sides or the album page. One particularly stands out for me – the actors on the stage dressed as schoolchildren and their teacher, but the drawn and soiled faces of the prisoner audience in the foreground tell us more about the reality of their conditions.




One of the photographs included in this album is of the memorial in the cemetery at Gustrow, dedicated to the prisoners of war who died of starvation. POWs, though they were not generally executed, still suffered bad conditions, forced labour, disease and starvation in the camps. Joseph was probably no exception – his medal record shows he was discharged from service in September 1919, the cause listed as ‘sickness’.

Joslinereph returned home in December 1918, one month after the armistice, on the Norwegian liner the Frederik VIII, which had been chartered by the British government to transport their men back from Germany. Though the McEnroes’ story reflects the experience of many Irish families during the Great War, they are unusual in one way – they both survived. At a time when Irish households, and sometimes whole streets, were receiving news of the death of their loved one, Frances McEnroe was lucky enough to have both her sons live through serious injury and imprisonment and return home.

play football

The National Museum of Ireland has a number of photograph albums made by soldiers. They typically hold images of regiment group, individuals, places served, major events, and some even contain photographs of battle scenes, all captioned with names and memories. At first glance it might seem that their purpose is to celebrate their regiment and its history. A closer look gives me more the impression of a commemoration of the maker’s fellow soldiers, a way of remembering his experiences and the men who shared them with him, and maybe a desire for these not to be forgotten.

In the back cover of Joseph’s photograph album is the following inscription –

Joseph McEnroe is my name, Dublin is my station, 18 Kildare Street is my dwelling place, and Heaven is my Exportation. I hope when I am dead and gone, and all my bones are rotten, this postcard album will tell my name, when I am quite forgotten.
Joseph McEnroe 4/10/26
Late Royal Irish Fusiliers, ex prisoner of war in Germany, two years.


Soldiers and Chiefs – National Museum of Ireland – Collins Barracks

The role of the Irish soldier in World War I is explored in the Soldiers and Chiefs exhibition in Collins Barracks, which details the participation of about 150,000 Irishmen and women in the British Army and war service during the Great War.
The National Museum will open a new exhibition and hold a seminar day in late October 2014 to mark the centenary of World War I.

The Hollywood Star and Pearse’s Missing Cap Badge, 1916


In the late 1940s the Irish Volunteer hat and Browning 7.65mm automatic pistol used by Patrick Pearse during Easter Week 1916 were donated to the National Museum of Ireland. The distinctive Australian style hat was missing something vital – its cap badge, with no information on its loss and no indication of its whereabouts. The mystery was solved in 1977 with the publication of Hollywood Hussar by actor John Loder, famous for his roles in The Doctor’s Secret – one of the first ‘talkies’, and King Solomon’s Mines.


Loder was born John Lowe, the son of Brigadier General Arthur Lowe, the commander of the British troops in Ireland from the beginning of the rising, and the officer who took Pearse’s surrender on Saturday 29th April. Loder had followed his father into the army in the early months of World War I, and had seen service in Gallipoli and Egypt. He arrived in Ireland on the Friday before the outbreak of the rebellion to take up his new appointment as Aid-de-Camp to his father. On the outbreak of the rising, he went with Lowe to set up his headquarters in Dublin Castle.



His account of the rebellion is brief, but he describes the fighting in the city centre, the destruction of the GPO and the death of civilians. At the end of the week Elizabeth O’Farrell came to Dublin Castle with a message from Pearse proposing the negotiation of a surrender. Loder wrote the message back to Pearse with the instructions to meet at Britain Street and surrender unconditionally, dictated and signed by Lowe. Loder was with his father at 4pm when Pearse and O’Farrell arrived. The famous surrender photograph shows Loder to the fore, his tall frame slouched slightly, cigarette in mouth.




An example of an Irish Volunteer’s cap badge of the period. There were a number of different designs of badge, but this is likely to have been the type on Pearse’s hat.



He describes taking Pearse into detention in a staff car, accompanied by a priest, though his memory of Pearse giving the priest his watch and ring to give to his wife must be a mis-interpretation of the events; Pearse was likely passing his possessions on to his mother or sister. Loder had asked the driver of the car to continue driving past the jail’s gates in order to allow Pearse to finish giving his last messages. In gratitude, Pearse took his hat off, removing what Loder described as the Sinn Fein badge and gave it to him. He ends this recollection saying that he would have liked to have given this memento to the National Museum to join the other items belonging to Pearse, but it was destroyed in his parent’s home during the London Blitz in 1940 to 1941.





After the Dublin rebellion, he was posted to France, fighting at the Battle of the Somme, and was eventually taken prisoner by the German Army in March 1918. After the war he continued his army career at the British Military Mission in Berlin, and on his demobilisation he returned to civilian life, setting up a pickle business in Potsdam, Germany. He turned to acting and moved to America in the 1920s, winning parts in Hollywood and later Broadway, radio and television. Described in his IMDb entry as ‘A tall, debonair, immaculately-groomed British leading man best known for his pipe-smoking chaps’, he lived the Hollywood lifestyle, complete with five marriages, until 1958 when he became a rancher in South America. He returned to London after his last divorce, and died there in 1988.


Many thanks to Michael Lee for telling me Loder’s story and providing me with a copy of his book.

Waiting for Execution, Playing Cards, Thomas MacDonagh, May 1916


In the previous blog post I looked at a letter written by Eamon de Valera in May 1916 in Kilmainham after he was sentenced to death for his part in the 1916 Rising. Like the majority of the 93 prisoners who received the death sentence in that month, de Valera’s sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. In total, 16 men were executed; 14 in Kilmainham in Dublin, Thomas Kent in Cork Military Detention Barracks and Sir Roger Casement in Pentonville Prison in London.

One of the leaders whose sentence was enacted was Thomas MacDonagh. On 2nd May, MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse and Tom Clarke were court martialled and transferred to Kilmainham Gaol, where they were shot on the morning of the 3rd May.   This deck of playing cards is said to have been used by MacDonagh in his cell in the hours before his execution, and were given to the uncle of the donor by MacDonagh’s sister, a nun, who visited him in Kilmainham the night before his death. They were gifted to the National Museum in 1947.



Thomas MacDonagh, born in Tipperary, started his career as a teacher, poet and playwright. He met Pearse on the Aran Islands while there to improve his Irish language skills, and in 1908 helped him found St. Enda’s School in Ranelagh, Dublin, becoming a teacher of English and French. Through his membership of the Gaelic League he met Joseph Plunkett, with whom he edited The Irish Review.

He joined the Irish Volunteers at its inception in late 1913, and was permitted to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1915. By the time of the rising, he was the commander of the Irish Volunteers Dublin Brigade, a member of the military council and was one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation.

MacDonagh was first in command of the garrison at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory on Bishop’s Street during Easter Week. The area saw relatively little in the way of action, serving mostly to try to cut off British Army troops moving into the city centre from Portobello Barracks, and later supplying provisions and men to support other rebel outposts. The news of the surrender reached them on Sunday, and MacDonagh immediately went to Pearse, who at that point was detained, to confirm the order. On his return, he gave the news to his men; the surrender was official. He also gave them a choice – to surrender with him or make their escape, in the hopes of carrying on the fight for an Irish nation. You can read more about the surrender of the Jacob’s garrison in a previous blog post here.


This deck of playing cards is not quite complete – there are 51 cards of the same set, branded ‘Gallaher’s Gold Bond Mixture’ tobacco, a Joker and Ace of Spades from a second deck, and another Joker from a third, replacing missing cards from the Gallaher’s deck. Two of these have their numbers and suits written on them, both in a different hand. They are well worn, to the extent that the Ace of Clubs symbol has been re-drawn on the card face. While it’s possible that they may have belonged to MacDonagh, it is more probable that they were given to him in the prison, perhaps by a warden, to occupy him in his final hours.

Father Augustine of the Capuchin Order, in his published personal recollections, stated that on the night of the 2nd MacDonagh had wished for his ministrations. He heard the confessions and gave Holy Communion to both he and Pearse, leaving them in prayer between 2 and 3am. He was ordered to leave the prison, and, unable to attend the executions, he returned to the gaol the next morning to retrieve the rosary beads given to MacDonagh the previous night by his sister, the nun Sister M. Francesca. There is no mention of the playing cards, which is perhaps not surprising given that card playing was disapproved of as gambling by the Church, and perhaps seen at the time as unfitting to MacDonagh’s memory.


MacDonagh’s last address to the court martial at his sentencing showed him to be proud to die for the cause of Irish freedom, and his friend James Stephens wrote that a British Officer who was witness to his execution said of him ‘They all died well, but MacDonagh died like a prince’.

In whatever way he spent his last hours, the playing cards bring to mind how it must feel to sit alone and wait for death in such a situation. MacDonagh had married Muriel Gifford in 1912, and together they had a young son, Donagh, and baby daughter, Barbara. Though he was accepting of his death, he must have felt the pain of knowing he was leaving his family without a husband and father.

Like Liam Mellow’s chessman, the cards may have provided some small distraction for him in those hours.


The 1913 Lockout Baton Charge – Dublin Metropolitan Police batons


It was recently announced that €22 million will be made available for a number of heritage and cultural projects as part of Ireland’s Decade of Commemorations. 

I was delighted to hear that the Henrietta Street Tenement Building is to receive funding to be developed into a museum to explore the reality of tenement life in Dublin’s north inner city.  Last year the Dublin Tenement Experience: Living the Lockout was a real highlight during the 1913 Lockout centenary, and was hugely successful.  I look forward to seeing this museum in the next few of years.

In the meantime, you can explore life in 1913 North Inner City Dublin in the wonderful Dublin Tenement Experience blog, which covers a range of topics such as personal stories from the tenements, the Church Street Tenement Collapse of September 1913, the effect of World War I on the families of Henrietta Street, and the photographs which highlighted the slum conditions in urban centres.   You can also read about the Dublin Metropolitan Police batons (NMI) which were used in the infamous Bloody Sunday Baton Charge of 31 August 1913. 

De Valera’s ‘Last Letter’, Kilmainham, May 1916


Last letter of Eamon de Valera, May 1916 (copy) (NMI Collection)


The National Museum holds many of the last letters written by the men executed in Kilmainham Gaol in May 1916 for their part in the Rising. The collection includes Patrick Pearse’s letter to his mother, and letters from Con Colbert, Michael Mallin, Eamonn Ceannt and others, written to family and friends. All these letters have common themes; a final goodbye to loved ones, a sense of acceptance of their fate and a pride in having fought for their ideals and a free Ireland. They make for emotional reading, especially with the knowledge that within hours of writing their author was dead.

Among these is also a contemporary manuscript copy of a last letter written in May 1916 by Eamon de Valera, who had his death sentence commuted to penal servitude for life and was not executed along with the other leaders of the Rising. It was donated to the museum in 1975.

De Valera leads the surrender of the Boland's Mills Garrison, 30th May 1916 (NMI Collection)

After a week of fighting and widespread destruction in the centre of Dublin, Patrick Pearse ordered the surrender of the Irish rebels on Saturday 29 April.  De Valera was in command of the garrison stationed at Boland’s Mills in the Ringsend area of the city and the outlying posts around Northumberland Road and Mount Street Bridge, which saw heavy action and many casualties. On Sunday Elizabeth O’Farrell arrived at Boland’s Mills with a surrender order written by Pearse. Though at first there was some confusion over the order, the garrison, led by de Valera, marched out of the mills along Grand Canal Street towards a barricade manned by the Sherwood Foresters and surrendered their arms. They were held overnight on the grounds of the Royal Dublin Society at Ballsbridge, and transferred the next morning to Richmond Barracks. There began the military’s task of deciding what to do with the insurgent prisoners, of which there were about 600 and rising, with some being sent to England and Wales for internment, and others detained to be tried in Ireland.

Irish prisoners being marched under guard down Eden Quay for deportation to England (NMI Collection)

Almost as soon as the Rising had begun martial law was declared, transferring power in Ireland from the civil government to the military forces. By the time of the surrender, General John Maxwell, a veteran British Officer who had served in India, the Boer War and most recently on the Western Front in the ongoing war, had been appointed Military Governor of Ireland. His decision to court martial the leaders of the Rising under martial law was problematic from the first, with even the courts’ presidents raising legal difficulties. These military trials were conducted away from the public view, and the rebel leaders had no legal defence or jury. The leaders were charged with ‘waging war against His Majesty the King with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy’. Pearse, Clarke and MacDonagh were tried on 2nd May, sentenced to death and transferred to Kilmainham Gaol, which, though it had been closed as a prison since 1910, was now in use by the British Military as a detention centre for military prisoners. They were executed on the 3rd May in the gaol’s stonebreakers yard.

The speed with which these sentences were carried out caused some concern to the British government, increasing over the next days with further executions. Prime Minister Asquith was especially concerned that a large number of executions would turn public opinion further in favour of the rebellion. Moreover, Maxwell’s final decisions as to who was to have their death sentence carried out seemed irregular, with some relatively unknown figures who had been detained after the Rising, such as Michael O’Hanrahan who had been 2nd in command at the Jacob’s Factory garrison which had seen little combat, having their death sentences enacted. On the 8th May Lord Wimborne, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, wrote to Maxwell of his concerns about this, urging him to cease the executions except in the case of ‘one or two very prominent and deeply implicated suspects’.


De Valera, as a garrison commander, was court martialled on the 8th May and a death sentence was passed. He was transferred to Kilmainham Gaol to await his execution, and wrote this letter to Michael Ryan of Cashel, Co. Tipperary on the 9th May (it is incorrectly dated as the 4th May in the copy). He writes ‘Tomorrow I am to be shot, so pray for me, an old sport unselfishly played the game’, believing he was to die the next day, the 10th. However, on the 10th May Asquith sent an order that no further executions were to take place, though James Connolly and Sean MacDiarmada, court martialled on the 9th May, were executed on the 12th. Countess Constance Markievicz had already escaped death on the order that no woman was to be executed. De Valera also escaped his sentence when it was commuted to penal servitude for life. This raises the question as to how de Valera escaped execution.

It was commonly thought that the fact he was an American citizen saved his life, as Britain executing a U.S. citizen at such a critical time in the war would have caused diplomatic issues. Robert Schmuhl has written that the de Valera personal papers in the UCD archives show that his wife Sinead appealed to the US Consul for help, and his half brother Reverend Thomas Wheelwright wrote letters to Washington on his behalf. However, it is less likely that his citizenship saved him, but the luck of the timing of his court martial. His trial was one of the later to take place, and he was not a well known figure at this time. The executions of Connolly and MacDiarmada, which took place after de Valera’s court martial and the British government’s order to cease the executions, were likely enacted due to these men’s very prominent role in the Rising and the fact that they were signatories of the Proclamation. De Valera had not been a high profile individual in the years before the Rising, and the government had little knowledge of him. It would appear that it was generally considered that he was not important enough to be executed.

De Valera's cell in Kilmainham Gaol, May 1916

Eamon de Valera went on to play a hugely significant role in 20th century Ireland. On the commuting of his death sentence, he was imprisoned in various jails in England until the general amnesty in June 1917. He went on to play key roles in the War of Independence period, becoming the President of the first Dáil Éireann in 1919, led the Anti-Treaty side in the Civil War, became leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, was Taoiseach of Ireland at various times from the 1930s to 1950s, wrote the Constitution of Ireland, and was elected President of Ireland from 1959 to 1973 before dying at the age of 92 in 1975.

But for a moment in May 1916, as evidenced in this letter, de Valera truly believed he was about to die.

The Victorian Wing's central stairwell, Kilmainham Gaol (NMI Collection)

Kilmainham Gaol is open to the public for guided tours, and I’d highly recommend visiting this site to learn more about the long history of this gaol as well as its role in the early 20th century fight for Irish Independence.

Irish Volunteer Tunic, The Surrender at Jacob’s Factory, 1916 Rising




During the week of the Easter Rising the site of Jacob’s Biscuit Factory on Bishop Street was occupied by up to 150 Irish Volunteers, Fianna Éireann and Cumann na mBan, led by Thomas MacDonagh, John McBride and Michael O’Hanrahan.

It was surrendered on Sunday 30 April, when one of the Volunteers left this tunic behind.  It was donated to the National Museum in 1917.





The Jacob’s complex, where the National Archives and DIT Aungier Street now stands, took up a large area between Bishop Street and Peter Street, and was closely surrounded by mostly tenement housing. It was positioned between Portobello Barracks and the city centre and its tall towers made it ideal for sniping – it was therefore a good position to try to cut off military reinforcements travelling to the centre of action. 



The main body of Volunteers took the Factory at mid-day on Monday 24th April, and set up outposts in Fumbally Lane, Camden Street, Wexford Street and Aungier Street. The factory was located in the Liberties and Blackpitts area which was quite pro-British, with many families connected to the British Army. The local community, including the ‘separation women’ (the dependents of Irish men in the British Army), was at first hostile to the Volunteers and were verbally abusive to them; one civilian who physically attacked a Volunteer was killed in his defence.



Thomas Slater, in his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History, tells of how they broke through the door with a sledge, politely telling the employee on duty that the best thing he could do was to get his hat and leave, along with any other employees. Being a bank holiday, the factory would have had a minimal level of staff on that day. The men barricaded themselves in, using sacks of flour against windows and doors.  As the week progressed the garrison saw little action in the form of assault on the buildings, apart from intermittent rifle fire between the Volunteers and the military, and focused on the sourcing of provisions to feed the men, who were otherwise surviving on biscuits and sweet goods.




In Seosamh de Brun’s beautifully descriptive statement he tells of how the men occupied themselves during rest periods inbetween their duties, when the combatants slept, read books from the Jacob’s library, wrote diaries and even formed study circles. Seamus Pounch relates that the men and women held a céilí during a lull in the fighting.

The Jacob’s men were mainly active in supplying nearby garrisons such as the Irish Citizen Army in the Royal College of Surgeons with provisions, forming parties to gather information on what was happening in the city (the last communication from the GPO was on the Wednesday) and supporting other garrisons by sending men to join the fighting. In particular, a group of 20 men was sent to de Valera’s Boland’s Mills and Westland Row Railway Station, which was under heavy fire from the British Army. When they reached the Mount Street area they were fired on and were forced to retreat, with Volunteer John O’Grady mortally wounded – the only member of the garrison to die that week.



Patrick Pearse officially surrendered to General Lowe on Saturday 29 April, but the news did not reach Jacob’s that day.  On the Sunday, Father Aloysius, a Capuchin father, came to the factory with the order. Thomas MacDonagh, refusing to accept the surrender order as binding as Pearse was a prisoner, went with the priest to confer with him in person. Thomas Slater stated that before he left, he told the men ‘to get away if they could, as there was no use of lives being lost’, and many left at this point.   On his return, he conferred with the other commanding officers, confirming the surrender order and breaking down with the words ‘Boys, we must surrender, we must leave some to carry on the struggle’.

He called the men to the headquarters on the ground floor to inform them. Michael Walker remembered his words, ‘We are about to surrender but we have established the Irish Republic according to international law by holding out for a week. Though I have assurance from his reverence here that nobody will be shot, I know I will be shot, but you men will be treated as prisoners’ (of war).  At this there was uproar, with the men declaring that they did not trust the word of the British, and some urging to continue the fight.  

The men had the option of either marching out and surrendering, or escaping. Some took that option; escaping through windows wearing the civilian clothing which had been supplied to them by the Whitefriars Street Priory. Walker was one of these, though he was later found and arrested.  Seamus Pounch escaped arrest and had to lay low for some weeks, describing ‘how awkward it was now to have appeared so prominently and so often in uniform in the years leading up to the Rising’.

Vincent Byrne, a 15 year old Volunteer who would later become a member of Michael Collins’ ‘Squad’, remembers being lifted out of a window onto the street to escape, where he was taken into a house by a local woman to brush the telltale flour off his clothing.

Those who officially surrendered were brought to Richmond Barracks before being deported to various prisons and internment camps in Britain.  The leaders – Thomas MacDonagh, John McBride, and Michael O’Hanrahan were court martialled and executed the following month.



This Irish Volunteer tunic is of the pattern decided upon by the organisation’s uniform subcommittee in early 1914, and is one of the earliest examples of the type to survive. It was donated to the National Museum in 1917, just one year after the Rising, when its aftermath was still keenly felt by the city, and so it is not only a fine example of contemporary collecting, but is also the earliest object from the 1916 Rising to enter a national cultural institution.

It was found in Jacob’s Factory after Easter Week, and it is likely, given what the witness statements tell us about the surrender, that the Volunteer who wore it made the decision to abandon it before attempting escape.  We don’t know who owned this tunic, or whether or not he avoided arrest and internment.  I believe that it cannot have been an easy decision for him to make. From a personal perspective, he would have paid for this tunic on a weekly basis over a long period of time, and a number of small, neat repairs to the breast pocket show how valued it was by its owner.

On a practical level, if he had been arrested in uniform he would have had a better chance of being treated as a prisoner of war (though this did not in fact happen to the arrested rebels), but being dressed as a civilian increased his chances of escape. To abandon his uniform and escape may also have been regarded as dishonourable, despite having the full permission of his commanding officers to do so. We can assume from the pattern of the uniform that he was a member of the Irish Volunteers from at least early 1914, and that he was dedicated to the cause of the Irish Republic. Perhaps he went on with the struggle for independence, as MacDonagh hoped when he surrendered the garrison and himself, wishing to ‘leave some to carry on the struggle’.


RIC Encampment, Coolgreany Evictions, 1887


Previously on the blog I’ve posted about the Coolgreany Eviction Album from 1887 (The Eviction of Mrs Darcy and The Murder of John Kinsella).  There are two copies of the Coolgreany photograph album in public collections; the National Museum of Ireland received its copy in 1942 from a donor who rescued it from destruction when it was about to be disposed of in a fire, and the National Library of Ireland acquired its copy in 1992 from the grand-niece of Fr Laurence Farrelly, who was active in the Plan of Campaign in Co. Wexford in the 1880s.


The album shows scenes from the infamous Coogreany Evictions in Co. Wexford, near Gorey, where from February 1887 about 300 people were evicted from the estate of the Dublin wine merchant, High Sheriff and Justice of the Peace George Frederick Brooke, after their adoption of the Plan of Campaign.


The album contains photographs of the families who were evicted, their homes at the time of the eviction process, and their new shelter at neighbours’ holdings.

Recently, a scrapbook containing material relating to the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1900 was acquired by the museum from the family of John J. Jones, who joined the Royal Irish Constabulary as a cadet and later became Chief Commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Inside the scrapbook was this loose photograph with the title ‘RIC Encampment, Coolgreany Evictions 1887’. 

The Royal Irish Constabulary was established with the Peace Preservation Act in 1814, which set up police forces in the baronies under the jurisdiction of Dublin Castle, the UK administration in Ireland. Its role in policing the people of Ireland in this century of civil unrest, particularly in relation to land, led it into regular conflict with the rural population.

It was regularly used, along with the military and the ‘Emergency men’ hired by estate managers and their bailiffs, in the course of evictions. In Coolgreany many photographs show RIC constables armed with carbine rifles enforcing the eviction order and providing protection for the estate managers and their employees against the protesters. 


Their role was not simply to act against the evictees however; in July of 1887 John Dillon M.P. enquired in the House of Commons about an incident the day before, when a house in Coolgreany was said to have been burned to the ground before the Sheriff had taken possession of it, with the bailiff throwing the women of the house out of the top floor window, and a number of RIC constables had to go in and rescue the women. 


This encampment of RIC constables was brought in from outside areas to aid the evictions in Coolgreany in early 1887. There are at least 100 constables pictured, and the photograph, when seen alongside the images of the evicted families, give an idea of the sheer force which the tenants faced when fighting for their homes. 

Toffee Axe, Looting in Dublin, 1916 Rising


Just before mid-day on Monday 24 April, Patrick Pearse stood at the front of the GPO and read the Proclamation declaring the Irish Republic. The rebels entered the building and began barricading the doors and windows, and smaller garrisons took their positions in outposts around Sackville Street such as the Metropole and Imperial Hotels, and shops such as Kelly’s and Hopkins. Shortly afterwards, the looting in Dublin’s main street began.

This 7 inch long toffee axe, more than likely taken from a confectioner’s shop, was kept as a souvenir by a Mr Daly after it was thrown at him, hitting his hat, by a looter in Sackville Street during the week of the Rising. It was given to the National Museum in 1980.


At almost the same moment as the Proclamation was being read, DMP Constable James O’Brien was shot dead by the rebels in Dublin Castle Yard, and Constable Michael Lahiff was shot at St. Stephen’s Green. Immediately after these incidents the Dublin Metropolitan Police were withdrawn and ordered to their barracks. Being an unarmed force, they would have been targets for the rebels and, with only their standard issue wooden batons, they would have had no way to defend themselves against the rebels’ rifles. This left the streets without its normal law enforcement at a time when the city was descending into chaos. Still, despite the order for the DMP to return to their barracks, the arrests of at least 27 people were made.



Most of the looting took place in the first three days, amid the crossfire between the rebels and the British Army Regiments, but before the fires took firm hold in the central streets.  Lower Sackville Street was a focal point, with clothes, toy and sports shops proving popular. Nobett’s and Lemon’s confectioners shops were looted for chocolates and sweets; the toffee axe may have come from one of these. The Cable Shoe Company (pictured) had its windows smashed, and The Daily Mail reported that people were seen trying on boots and shoes, and returning for another pair if the first selection failed to fit correctly.


Lawrence’s Photographic and toy emporium was also cleared of its contents. Fireworks were taken, and The Irish Times described the scene – ‘Rockets rushed up in the air and burst with a sound like a cannon, and all the smaller sorts of fireworks were thrown whizzing about among the crowd. Finally the premises were set on fire and burned to the ground’. 



Efforts were made by other citizens to stop the activity. On Monday Francis Sheehy Skeffington, known to be opposed to the use of physical force, made efforts to prevent the looting in the city by personally appealing to the people. The next evening he called a meeting at Westmoreland Chambers with the same aim. It was after this meeting, as he was returning home, that he was arrested and brought to Portobello Barracks, where he was shot on the orders of Colonel Bowen Colthurst.

Pearse himself issued a proclamation from the Provisional Government to the Citizens of Dublin, at one point condemning the behavior with the lines ‘The Provisional Government hopes that its supporters – which means the vast bulk of the people of Dublin – will preserve order and self-restraint. Such looting as has already occurred has been done by hangers-on of the British Army. Ireland must keep her new honour unsmirched’.


Although the reports focus mainly on the shops in the Sackville Street area which sold luxury items, looting was also happening when the opportunity arose in other areas where the rebels had taken position. For example, it was recorded that after the rebels surrendered their position in Jacob’s Factory, the crowd looted the building on an ‘extensive scale’, taking flour and biscuits.  The citizens of Dublin, many of whom lived in extreme poverty, took not only the luxury items they could never afford, but also the basic foodstuffs they needed. This need was also seen in the aftermath of the Rising; where people, including children, searched the still smoking wreckage of buildings for anything they could use, and took the wood from the rebels’ street barricades for their fires.




In an item titled ‘The Lighter Side of the Dublin Troubles’ by G.H. Mumford (Evening News, London, 6 May 1916), the author describes the atmosphere in the city after the Rising ended –

Now that the trouble is all over it is permissible to forget the deplorable and dwell a moment on the ludicrous. Ireland always smiles through her tears.

If it were not for the Sackville Street holocaust and for the long casualty list one would regard the happenings of last week as a weird and bad extravaganza, with Dublin beating Sir W.S. Gilbert’s Titipu to a frazzle. To tell the truth, a large section of people hardly knows whether to be mirthful or melancholy about it even yet. Some visitors yesterday were becoming lugubrious over the ruins and the losses when one of them directed the attention of his companions to a hoarding opposite. There in a big type they read this: ‘All Easter Week, The Christian’. Condolences dissolved in convulsions.

Every second man one meets has quaint stories of the looting to tell. One relates to a man who, having taken a haul from a hosier’s window, was seen coming back. A second looter expostulated to him, suggesting that surely he had got his share, and it was somebody else’s turn. ‘That’s all right’ said the man addressed. ‘But I’m going to change one of these shirts. I want that one over there with the blue spots’.

A priest, meeting one of his Sunday scholars, said cheerily ‘Well, my little maid, and what do you think of “Ireland A Nation”?

The child paused, as though mentally balancing the family’s gains and losses. ‘I dunno’, she replied slowly. ‘Mother’s got a new fur coat, but father’s got a bullet in the ankle’. 

Carved Chessman, Liam Mellows’ Execution, December 1922

The last post on the blog looked at Arthur’s Griffith’s note announcing the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 and the subsequent civil war between Pro and Anti-Treaty forces in Ireland, which lasted from June 1922 until May 1923. During this conflict the Irish Free State government forces, or Pro-Treaty side, officially executed 77 members of the Anti-Treaty Republican forces. The most well known of these was the execution of Liam Mellows, Joe McKelvey, Robert Barrett and Rory O’Connor on 8 December 1922.

This wooden chess piece was carved by Liam Mellows in Mountjoy Jail where he was interned after his capture after the fall of the Four Courts at the end of June. It found its way into the possession of a Mr John Finerty of New York, who returned it to Eamon de Valera during one of his terms as Taoiseach between the early 1930s and the end of the 1950s. De Valera in turn presented it to the National Museum of Ireland.


 Liam Mellows was born in Manchester to Sarah Jordan of County Wexford, and British Army officer William Mellows. He grew up in Wexford, and became a nationalist and socialist at an early age, joining both Fianna Éireann and the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  In November 1913, at the age of 21, he was one of the founding members of the Irish Volunteers. During the 1916 Rising, he led the garrison in Galway in a series of attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary barracks, after which he escaped to America where he was arrested and interned in New York. He was released in 1918 and returned to Ireland, where he was elected for Sinn Fein to the First Dáil in the 1918 General Election, representing Galway East and North Meath. He also became the IRA’s Director of Supplies during the War of Independence.


Mellows was a vocal opponent of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, believing that it undermined the principle of the Republic which had been fought for. On 14 April 1922 an Anti-Treaty Republican garrison, led by Rory O’Connor and including Mellows, Dick (Richard) Barrett and Joe McKelvey, took the Four Courts.  The siege lasted over two months, ending when Free State Forces bombarded the building, forcing a surrender on 30 June. Some escaped and continued the fight on the city streets, but Mellows, McKelvey, Barrett and O’Connor were taken captive and interned in Mountjoy as prisoners of war. 

However, after the killing of Michael Collins in August 1922, the new leaders of government introduced a policy of execution on the basis that, as the Treaty had been ratified by the people in the June elections, the opposing forces were rebelling against the legitimate government of Ireland.  The majority of the official executions began to take place in November. As a reaction to this, on 7 December Sean Hales, the pro-Treaty Sinn Féin TD for Cork, was shot and killed by Anti-Treaty republicans as he left the Dáil.

At 3.30am on 8 December, Mellows, McKelvey, Barrett and O’Connor received the following message, signed on behalf of the Army Council by General Richard Mulcahy.

You are hereby notified that, being a person taken in arms against 
the Government, you will be executed at 8 a.m. on Friday 8th December as a reprisal for the assassination of Brigadier Sean Hales T.D., in Dublin, on the 7th December, on his way to a meeting of Dáil Éireann and as a solemn warning to those associated [with] you who are engaged in a conspiracy of assassination against the representatives of the Irish People.

At 8am that morning, the four men were led into the yard of Mountjoy Jail and shot.


Mellows’ chess piece is one of the many emotive objects in the National Museum’s Historical collections. When it arrived in the museum it was in a box labeled by the donor ‘Chessman – first of set started by Liam Mellowes in Mountjoy – completion of which was interrupted by his execution’. The piece is small, just over an inch high, but every groove and scratch Liam carved can be clearly seen. It’s almost impossible to hold this object without wondering what he was thinking and feeling when he was making it.  The executions of 8 December were not the first so he must have known his death was a possibility. However, he had been in prison since July and had not yet been tried in a court for his part in the siege of the Four Courts. This chessman should have been the first of a set of 32 pieces, and I wonder if he thought he would have the time to make the full set. His choice to carve a pawn may have some meaning, though it may also be completely coincidental.



The decision to execute Mellows, McKelvey, Barratt and O’Connor as a reprisal for the killing of Sean Hales on 7 December was sudden, and the men were told they were to die less than five hours before the event.  Mellows took this time to write a number of last messages to loved ones. At 5am he wrote to his mother Sarah Mellows, starting with the lines ‘The time is short and much that I would like to say must go unsaid. But you will understand: in such moments heart speaks to heart’. His letter goes on to reinforce his belief in the pre-Treaty vision of the Irish Republic, and his wish that his fellow Irishmen will once again be united in this vision. 



1916 Letters Project

Trinity College Dublin are currently running a project titled ‘Letters of 1916: Creating History’, with the aim of creating a digital archive of letters written from Ireland between 1 November 1915 to 31 October 1916. This will include letters held in public collections as well as those held privately. If you wish to contribute to this project by providing a digital image of a letter you own, or by transcribing a letter, click here –


‘The End of the Conflict of Centuries is at Hand’ – The Signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, 1921

This note, hastily written by Arthur Griffith, was the statement which told the world of his belief that the war between Ireland and Britain was at an end. It was the first message to the public on the outcome of the negotiations which led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Written for issue to the World Press immediately after signing the Treaty on 6 December, it reads

I have signed a Treaty of peace between Ireland and Great Britain. I believe that treaty will lay foundations of peace and friendship between the two Nations. What I have signed I shall stand by in the belief that the end of the conflict of centuries is at hand”. 


Arthur Griffith, born in Dublin in 1871, was a journalist and politician. He had been involved in nationalist movements from an early stage; he was a member of the Gaelic League and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, co-founded Cumann na nGaedheal in 1900, and founded the political movement  Sinn Féin in 1905. Having worked as a printer, he established a series of nationalist newspapers, including United IrishmanSinn FéinÉire and Nationality.  He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913, but did not take part in the 1916 Rising. Despite this his connection with Sinn Féin, whom the British authorities believed were responsible for the rising, led to his arrest and internment in Reading Jail until 1917. After his release he became Vice-President of Sinn Féin under Éamon de Valera, and was elected as MP for East Cavan. Instead of taking their seats in the House of Commons, the Sinn Féin MPs established Dáil Éireann as the government of the Irish Republic on 21 January 1919 with de Valera as President. Griffth became Acting President during the War of Independence, and was again imprisoned from December 1920 until July 1921.


The War of Independence is generally recognised as having started on 21 January 1919 in Soloheadbeg, Co Tipperary, when seven members of the IRA shot and killed two RIC constables. A series of actions in the form of raids and reprisals followed over the next year. In 1920 the RIC received reinforcements in the form of the British recruited Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries; a division made up of ex-British Army Officers, and the conflict intensified. In December that year, after the events of Bloody Sunday, Ireland was placed under Martial law. From this point the violence and death toll escalated, and when British Prime Minister Davd Lloyd George suggested a conference between the two governments Sinn Féin agreed, and a Truce was called in July 1921.

A series of meetings were held and in October an official delegation, headed by Arthur Griffith and including Michael Collins, was formed to carry out the negotiations with the British government. After two months an agreement was reached, officially known as The Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland. The Treaty would see the withdrawal of British troops from the majority of the country, but gave dominion status to Ireland rather than that of an independent Republic, retained the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, and provided for the establishment of a Boundary Commission to create a border between the Irish Free State and the Northern counties which opted to remain under British rule. The Irish negotiators; Griffith, Collins, Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan and George Gavan Duffy, though not happy with the terms, were told by Lloyd George that non-acceptance would lead to a resumption of the war which, at the point the Truce was called, was being lost by the IRA. The delegation eventually recommended the Treaty to Dáil Éireann, and it was signed on the 6 December.


 The Treaty was rejected by de Valera and split Republican opinion. Though it was narrowly ratified in the Dáil, this split eventually led to civil war, which started with the occupation of the Four Courts by Anti-Treaty Republicans in April 1922 and its bombardment by Pro-Treaty Republicans, now the Free State Forces, on 28 June. 



By its close in May 1923 many leaders in the Irish Republican movement were dead, with 77 official executions of Anti-Treaty Republicans during the war. Arthur Griffith died of heart failure on 12 August 1922, and Michael Collins was killed in an ambush and gun battle at Béal na Bláth, Co. Cork, ten days later. While this conflict lasted only 10 months, it was to effect Irish politics for the next decade, and lived long in the memory of the Irish people. The Irish Free State of 26 counties officially became the Republic of Ireland in 1949.


A copy of the Articles of Agreement bearing the signatures of the Irish and British delegates, including Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Eamonn Duggan, George Gavan Duffy, Lord Birkenhead, David Lloyd George, and Austin Chamberlain, is on display in the Understanding 1916 exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks.


 The National Museum of Ireland is pleased to announce that it has received funding from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht which is being used to digitise important documents in the NMI’s collections. Historically significant items, such as Griffith’s statement, the last letters of the 1916 Rising leaders, original political documents, and prison autograph books will be digitised and made available to the public online.   


16 Days of Internment; Alderman James J. Kelly, 1916



 In 1942 Maeve Cavanagh; poet, wife of composer and revolutionary Cathal MacDowell and sister of political cartoonist Ernest Kavanagh, deposited their souvenir album of postcards and photographs in the National Museum of Ireland. These cards were produced mostly between 1913 and 1922, and covered topics such as the Labour war of 1913-14, the 1916 Rising, the Irish Volunteers and National Volunteers, conscription and various propaganda cartoons, many of them drawn by MacDowell and Kavanagh themselves.  


Among the postcard photographs were two very different images of Alderman James Joseph Kelly, which he personally sent to his friend MacDowell, each with a message of explanation on the reverse.  One photograph is of James Kelly, taken in Dublin in 1916 before his arrest. The other is of the same man, taken in London after his release from prison after just 16 days.


James J. Kelly, a 45 year old merchant, owned a tobacconist shop on the corner of Camden Street and Harrington Street, also known as ‘Kelly’s Corner’. He was a Dublin Corporation Alderman, a Justice of the Peace and had previously held the office of High Sheriff of Dublin.  Kelly was a Nationalist, but not a member of either Sinn Fein or the Irish Volunteers, believing more moderately in self-determination for Ireland. However, on the 26th April 1916, the third day of the Rising, he found himself suddenly linked to the rebels and to the story of Francis Sheehy Skeffington.


Sheehy Skeffington, journalist, suffragist and pacifist, was arrested on 25th April and detained in Portobello Barracks, not far from Camden Street. He had not taken any part in the Rising, and he had been in the city appealing for peace and trying to prevent looting. British Army officer Captain Bowen-Colthurst of the Royal Irish Rifles was at that time attached to the 3rd Battalion stationed at the barracks. On the 26th April he decided to lead a raiding party into the city in search of Sinn Feiners, using Sheehy Skeffington as a hostage. As he marched into the city he shot 19 year old mechanic James Coade on the Rathmines Road, and 40 year old bricklayer Richard O’Carroll as he reached Camden Street. As the people on the streets fled from the gunfire, Thomas Dickson, editor of The Eye Opener, took shelter in Kelly’s shop, which Bowen-Colthurt’s party was heading towards in the belief that Kelly was a member of Sinn Fein. Patrick McIntyre, the editor of the Searchlight and a friend of Kelly’s, was already inside. Dickson and McIntyre were both arrested and brought to Portobello Barracks, where they were shot alongside Sheehy Skeffington.  Kelly himself was not present at the time of their arrests, but was arrested later and sent to Richmond Barracks.  His sister gave evidence to the Royal Commission of Inquiry which investigated the events, stating that the soldiers wrecked the shop, then bombed it with hand grenades.


Kelly spent from 26th April to 8th May in Richmond Barracks, from where he was deported to Wandsworth Prison in London on a cattle boat along with 196 other men. He appears on the Released List for the 12th May, so spent a total of about 16 days in detention before his release, unlike the many men who would spend up to eight months in prison camps. However, what Kelly suffered in those 16 days is evident on his face; apart from the tough conditions in prison, on close inspection there are also signs of his being beaten, evident in the black eye visible in the photograph.


On the 15th May 1916 during the Commons sitting on the Disturbances in Ireland, the Under-Secretary of State for War was questioned about Kelly’s case, in particular on ‘what charge, if any, was made against Alderman Kelly; and if he will be compensated for the loss sustained by the action of the military authorities?’ The Under-Secretary replied that ‘Mr. Kelly was arrested on suspicion, but, on investigation of the facts, it was determined that no charge should be preferred, and he has been released. The Government cannot recognise any claim to compensation’.



Kelly returned to politics after the Rising, and ran as an Independent nationalist candidate in the 1918 General Election in the St. Patrick’s Division of Dublin. He ran against the Irish Party candidate William Field who had held the seat since 1892, and the Sinn Fein candidate Countess Constance Markievicz.  Markievicz won, but refused her seat in the British Imperial Parliament in Westminster and joined the newly formed Dáil Éireann in January 1919. 

The Murder of John Kinsella, Coolgreany Eviction Album, 1887

The last post on the Coolgreany Evictions Album focused on the eviction of the Darcy family from their lands in Ballyfad in the July of 1887. In all, more than 60 families, in excess of 300 people, had been forcibly evicted during that year. 


The Land League organisers of the Plan of Campaign had however planned for the possibility of a landlord refusing to negotiate a downwards rent and the eviction of the tenants. Using Plan funds, shelters called Campaign Huts were erected in the locality on the land of charitable neighbours, and used to house the families who found themselves homeless. Such huts were built in Coolgreany, many on the holding of the Kavanagh family.






The Coolgreany album contains a photograph of a gentleman who is identified by the album’s compiler as the builder of the Coolgreany huts, a Mr John Tierney.

About 30 people took shelter on the Kavanagh’s land, and in early September of that year a legal case to enforce the removal of the huts was taken by Captain Hamilton, the agent for the Brooke Estate, against Dora Kavanagh. Their argument, as reported in the Irish Times, was that their presence was ‘an interference with the agricultural character of the land’, and in Hamilton’s evidence he stated that the people were ‘unpleasant to him, and that his great object was to get rid of the nuisance of the people in these huts’.  Later that month, while this case was still ongoing, the matter came to a head.

 On 28th September, on the order of Captain Hamilton, Bailiff George Freeman and 17 other men, known as Emergency men – the enforcers of the landlords’ Property Defence Association, arrived at the Kavanagh’s farm. Their objective was to collect one year’s rent from the Kavanaghs, who at this time had provided shelter for ten families in the outhouses in the farmyard. The Kavanagh’s interest in the holding had been sold by the Sheriff, and the rent to be collected had been accrued during their tenancy. A dispute arose between John McCabe, the leader of the Emergency men, and Michael Kavanagh when McCabe demanded £57, but would not produce the warrant.  A crowd of evicted tenants gathered at the gate of the property, and as Emergency man John ‘Red’ Johnston tried to enter the yard by climbing the gate, John Kinsella, a 64 year widower, struck the gate with a pitchfork. Freeman, who had been standing nearby, immediately shot Kinsella with his revolver. As Kinsella fell dead, the Emergency men fired on the crowd, narrowly avoiding further casualties. As the tenants brought Kinsella’s body inside the house, the Emergency men seized the Kavanagh’s cattle in lieu of the rent owed.


At an inquest at the coroner’s court the verdict was passed that ‘We find that the said John Kinsella came by his death at Coolgreany, in the county of Wexford, on the 28th September 1887 by a gunshot wound inflicted feloniously, maliciously, and of malice aforethought, by George Freeman, aided and abetted by John McCabe, John Harris, Henry Oakes, David Crawford, Samuel Scott, Thomas Olinging, T.R. McCawley, Moses Porter, Alexander Kingsbury, George Harris, John Levingston, John Johnston, James Rogers, John Johnston (Red), Francis Maguire, William Johnston, R.H. Maxwell, and E.C. Hamilton’. A number of men, including Captain Hamilton, were released on bail, but Freeman and nine others remained in custody in Wexford Jail.  However, when the case came to trial all the men, including George Freeman, were acquitted of the murder.  

It is interesting to note that earlier that year, in February of 1887, Sir Thomas Esmonde put forward a question in the House of Commons enquiring about an incident involving Freeman on the 5th of that month. He and an Emergency man named Woods, also employed on the Brooke Estate, came to the village of Coolgreany and got drunk. When they were removed from the premises, they turned their firearms on the shop owner, a Mr Doyle, and were only stopped from firing by the police, who had come and managed to disarm them.  Freeman was later bound to the peace for flourishing a revolver.


John Kinsella, father of Patrick, Myles, Elizabeth and Bridget, was buried in Kilninor Cemetery, where a memorial to him reads – 

‘Sacred to the Memory of John Kinsella of Croghan, who was foully slain in defence of home and country by the bullets of the Property Defence Association on the 26th September 1887 in the 64th year of his age. This monument was erected by the men of Wicklow and Wexford as a testimony of their respect for his many Christian virtues and as an indignant protest against the cruelty and injustice of those who before God are guilty of his innocent blood’.


 Since first looking into the NMI’s acquisition of the Coolgreany Album, I have found that its donor stated that he had saved it from being burned about 16 years previously, in the 1920s, though he did not mention where. So though we do not know anything further about the provenance of this copy of the album, we know that it was very fortunate to have been saved. 

The Eviction of Mrs Darcy, Coolgreany Eviction Album, Wexford, 1887

The images from the Coolgreany Eviction album, comprised of photographs of the infamous 1887 series of evictions in the Coolgreany area near Gorey in North Co. Wexford, are already fairly well known.  The National Library of Ireland acquired a copy in 1992 from the grand-niece of Fr Laurence Farrelly, who was active in the Plan of Campaign in Co. Wexford in the 1880s.  Some of the images were used in the NLI’s wonderful Notice to Quit exhibition in 2003, so are very familiar to some. A letter that came with the donation identifies a T. Mallacy as the compiler of the album (and also probably the photographer), which he gave to Fr Farrelly in 1888. The National Museum also acquired a copy of the album in 1942, compiled in the same manner and probably at the same time as the NLI’s. This copy has handwritten captions on some of the images, identifying the people and places, though we do not know who wrote these captions.


A particular set of photographs stood out for me; the photographs of the 80 year old Mrs Darcy, taken at her sick bed in the process of her eviction from her home in Ballyfad, Coolgreany, in July 1887. Many photographs of evictions are of the eviction scenes themselves, or depict evictees posing outside houses for the camera. The photographs of Mrs Darcy are taken inside her home, making them look quite dark and despairing, yet there is also an air of defiance in her face.




Mrs Darcy’s home, a five-roomed farmhouse with seven outbuildings, was situated on the Brooke Estate; lands owned by the wealthy Dubliner George Frederick Brooke, Wine Merchant, High Sheriff and Justice of the Peace. Brooke lived in Castleknock, Co. Dublin, and his estate was managed by Captain Hamilton.


The Plan of Campaign (where tenants withheld rent from the landlord until a rent reduction was negotiated and agreed) was adopted by the tenants on the Brooke Estate in December 1886. The terms were refused by the owner, and in February 1887 Hamilton was preparing for a series of evictions. The eviction campaign started in July of that year, and numerous families (many of whom are photographed in the album) were removed from their homes by force by Hamilton’s bailiffs and Emergency Men.


When Hamilton and his men came to the Darcy household, they found Mrs Darcy on her sick bed.  The photographer captures some moments inside the cottage. In one, Daniel Crilly, the Irish nationalist M.P. for North Mayo, consoles Mrs Darcy, and another shows Mrs Darcy with her daughter.


Despite the situation, Mrs Darcy remained strong. One image of her, with her hands clasped, is captioned ‘From the sick bed Mrs Darcy tells Captain Hamilton to evict her; her terms are ‘no surrender’.



Another photograph shows a crowd gathered outside her cottage, described by the caption writer  as ‘A council of war over Mrs Darcy’s eviction’, including friends and enemies. A crowd of onlookers are seen on higher ground, being kept back from the house.  Members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, armed with rifles, can be seen to the far left. In front of them are leading nationalists Daniel Crilly M.P., John Dillon M.P. and Michael Davitt.  Captain Hamilton, the evicting agent, is seen leaning on his stick talking to Captain Slack, the magistrate in command.  In the background a group of Emergency Men are waiting for the word.  The caption also reads that Captain Hamilton receives a telegram, and postpones the eviction.



The delay to the Darcy’s eviction did not last long though, and a later photograph shows Miss Darcy gathering up her furniture after eviction for conveyance to the Campaign Cottage (cottages set up by the Plan of Campaign as shelters for evicted tenants).



The Darcy family did manage to return to their home eventually.  The 1901 census shows William, John and Catherine Darcy living in house number 2 in Ballyfad where they are running a post office and shop.  The land was still owned by George Brooke at this point, but the passing of the Wyndham Land (Purchase) Act in 1903 meant that Irish tenant farmers could now buy the title to their land, and in 1911 John Darcy is listed as the landholder, and his brother Michael owns a neighbouring house and farm.  Coincidently, the oldest son of George Frederick Brooke, a Lieutenant George Brooke of the Irish Guards (1st Battalion) and his wife Nina were also resident in Ballyfad, alongside the Darcy family in 1911.  Sadly, George was killed aged just 37 in the First World War in Northern France just a few years later in October 1914, and is buried in Soupir Communal Cemetery. 

Indian meal ticket, the Great Famine, 1846

Today is National Famine Commemoration Day in Ireland, an event which has been held annually since 2009. Though it seems little remains of any material culture relating to the famine, the National Museum has a small number of ‘famine pots’; large iron pots used to cook soup in the kitchens set up by the Quaker community to feed the starving. A number of these pots survive around the country. Another object from the museum’s Historical Collections is this Indian meal ticket, issued by the Portlaw Relief District in Waterford to a Mr White, enabling him to purchase three stone of Indian meal for six pence. It was found in the Carrick Road area of Portlaw, and was given to the museum in 1952.

Ireland has seen much famine in its history, but the most well-known is the period between 1845 and 1852; the Great Famine. During its course it is estimated that between one and one and a half million people died of starvation and disease, and a further one million people emigrated. The 1841 census of Ireland had recorded eight million people, making the loss during these famine years at least 25%. The population continued to decline over the decades, and the pre-famine population levels were never again seen in Ireland.

The famine was caused primarily by the potato blight that caused the potato crops, on which so many Irish people were dependent, to fail in the autumn in 1845. Other crops were unaffected and Ireland continued to export food to England during the course of the famine, in many cases escorted under armed guard from famine stricken areas to the ports.

In November 1845 The Relief Commission was established to assess food shortages and the levels of distress in the country. At the same time, the British Prime Minister Robert Peel arranged the import of cheap Indian cornmeal, which could be sold at a reduced rate. Local relief committees were set up to raise funds, which would be partially matched by the Commission, to buy the cornmeal and sell it at cost price to poor families, as they were restricted from providing the meal for free to any person unless they were unfit for work but could not enter a poorhouse. The cornmeal didn’t arrive in Ireland until February 1946.

The Illustrated London News (4th April 1846) carried an artist’s sketch and account of the selling of the Indian meal in Cork.


‘On Saturday last, the Government Sales of Indian Corn and Meal commenced in Cork. Immediately on the depots being opened, the crowds of poor persons who gathered round them were so turbulently inclined as to require the immediate interference of the police, who remained there throughout the day.  Among the poor, who were of the humblest description, and needing charitable relief, the sales were but scanty. The occasion had become of necessity; for potatoes have risen to 11d market price for 14lbs.; and, some of the leading commercial men in Cork have made a calculation, which shows that the Government can afford to sell the Indian Corn at a much cheaper rate’.

The Indian meal posed its own problems though; it needed to be ground twice before it could be eaten so it required substantial processing.  Most importantly, it was a poor dietary substitute. The staple diet of potatoes that the poorer Irish were used to was quite nutritious, but the Indian meal lacked Vitamin C, leading to many people developing scurvy. However, the meal undoubtedly did help reduce the death rate by starvation in that year.

The supply of the meal was gone by June 1846, and Peel’s government had fallen, replaced by Charles Trevelyan. The potato crop continued to fail, no more Indian meal was purchased, and the famine continued and worsened.

This small ticket is not only one of the few surviving objects of the Great Famine, but an incredibly personal one. The Waterford area may not have been the worst afflicted by the famine, but the people there were affected. We don’t know who Mr White is, but this ticket, which must have been given to him in the first year of the famine, identifies him and his family as in need of the aid provided by the local relief committee. We will probably never know what happened to him in the following years, if he died during the famine, or had to emigrate. It’s also possible that he survived, perhaps with descendants still living in Waterford.

The End of the Rising; Souvenir Photographs of Dublin’s Destruction, 1916


On Saturday 29th April, six days after the Rising began, the rebels had been driven from their central position at the GPO. From their new base at No. 16 Moore Street, Patrick Pearse, accompanied by Elizabeth O’Farrell, surrendered unconditionally to Brigadier General Lowe.  He was taken to Arbour Hill Prison, from where he issued the surrender order to the various garrisons. By Sunday evening all the outlying garrisons in Dublin had surrendered. When the fighting stopped Dublin could begin to assess its loss. There had been many deaths; about 65 Volunteers, up to 300 civilians and over 100 British Army soldiers had lost their lives, with many more injured. The extent of the physical damage to the city centre could now also be seen, with many areas receiving significant damage, and the areas around the GPO and Middle Abbey Street, Sackville Street, Henry Street and Eden Quay being almost completely destroyed.


Soon afterwards a number of publications appeared featuring photographs of the aftermath of the Rising; Dublin After The Six Days Insurrection by T. W. Murphy, published by Mecredy Percy, Dublin, Dublin and the Sinn Fein Rising published by Wilson Hartnell of Dublin, The Sinn Fein Revolt Illustrated published by Hely’s of Dublin, The Sinn Fein Rebellion Picture Souvenir published by W. & G. Baird Ltd of Belfast, and The Rebellion in Dublin, April 1916 published by Eason & Son Ltd.  Souvenir photographs of the Rising were in demand!


Valentine & Sons, a picture postcard company, also produced a set of photo postcards depicting the city, sold in a set of six. These are often seen in museum collections not only as individual cards but also as part of scrapbooks and albums that people made in the months after the Rising. I often think the creation of these albums, containing the postcard photographs alongside newspaper cuttings, is an indication of how the people of Dublin at the time were affected by the sight of the destruction of their city.



This is a selection of photographs taken from Dublin After The Six Days Insurrection, taken by T. W. Murphy.  They are full of people, and it always strikes me that life for them had to go on despite the very changed city landscape they suddenly found themselves in.








This weekend was the Object Matters – Making 1916 Conference in Dublin. It was a great event; congratulations to the organisers and the speakers, who gave papers ranging from the 1916 Proclamation, ephemera, internment material and the various public collections, their objects and their exhibitions. I’m looking forward to the proceedings! 

Bicycle Pump, The Battle of Ashbourne, 1916

On the 28th April, the Friday of the week of the Easter Rising, a group of Irish Volunteers on their way to Batterstown, Co. Meath, came upon a Royal Irish Constabulary barricade. The battle that ensued came to be known as the Battle of Ashbourne. This bicycle pump was picked up by a woman on the site of the battle later that day and kept as a souvenir, and was donated to the National Museum in 1945.


The Battle of Ashbourne was a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and about 37 Irish Volunteers. It was one of the few engagements outside of the city centre and was, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one.  It was also an example of the guerilla warfare that became a normal method of operation during the War of Independence.


James O’Connor, an Irish Volunteer with St Margaret’s Company, Dublin, took part in the battle and recounted the events to the Bureau of Military History in 1948. After his battalion, which was headed by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy, was mobilized on Easter Sunday they were split into smaller groups, or flying columns, and sent north of Dublin city towards Ashbourne. Their mission was to destroy the railway line near Batterstown and disrupt the movement of British troops into the city. They set out by bicycle, armed mostly with shotguns, and after raiding a number of barracks in the area, cutting communications and collecting rifles, they reached the Cross of the Rath at Ashbourne. There they were met with a barricade that had been hastily erected by the RIC from the barracks situated there. The constables quickly surrendered and were sent to the barracks to order a full surrender. They did not return, and the Volunteers took positions across the road while O’Connor and Ashe tried to break in the door. The constables began firing from the upper windows of the building, and a gun battle broke out. The fighting intensified as RIC reinforcements arrived from Navan, Dunboyne and Slane, and O’Connor saw many falling as they were hit. Two Volunteers, John Crennigan and Thomas Rafferty were also fatally wounded. When District Inspector Gray was killed, the constables surrendered and were taken prisoner. The Volunteers gathered their arms and ammunition while Ashe warned the constables that they would be shot if they took arms against the Irish people again. Their victory was short lived, as at 2pm the next day Ashe received word of the surrender in Dublin and demobilised the battalion, sending the men home. Many, including O’Connor, were arrested within days and interned in Wakefield and Frongoch.

John Austen, a postal worker and native of Ashbourne, was an eye-witness to the event. His account of the start of the battle differs a little from O’Connor’s in that he states that the constable at the barricade did not surrender, but ran and was captured (finally being dragged out from underneath a bed), and that Ashe went to the barracks to order the surrender. Austen watched the battle from the nearby Lime-kiln Hill, and returned to the road when the shooting had stopped. 


In total, fourteen people were killed in the battle, two Volunteers, eight RIC members, two civilians driving the RIC cars, and two civilians who were passing through the area. Many more were injured. Austen was asked to take the dead men off the road, and loaded the bodies of eight men into a cart with the help of two constables. The two Inspectors had already been removed, and the bodies of Crennigan and Rafferty had been taken away by the Volunteers. Austen described seeing Sergeant Shanagher – ‘He was shot right between the eyes as he left the car and slumped into a small depression on the side of the road. The road that evening was a terrible sight with blood and bandages strewn on it’.


The bicycle pump itself is a very ordinary object, and not one that is normally or easily connected to a battle scene. The clearest connection is probably that, as many of the accounts mention, the Volunteers arrived at the scene by bicycle. However, that doesn’t guarantee that this pump came from a Volunteer’s bicycle. Cycling was more common than travelling by car at this time, and it’s reasonable to think that the pump could have come from any bicycle, at any time, and simply could have happened to be there at that point in time. When the donor picked it up there was no indication of its ownership, but she believed it to have belonged to a person engaged in the battle and took it as a souvenir. In doing this she connected the object to the event and gave it an association and significance it wouldn’t otherwise have had. Like many museum objects, the meaning given to it by the person who witnessed or experienced an event is what gives it a place in our history, and allows it to continue telling a story long after the person has gone.


Royal Irish Constabulary Casualties

  • RIC County Inspector Alexander Gray, injured at the Battle of Ashbourne and later died of his wounds on 10th May. Shot by Volunteer Frank Lawless. Aged 57, he had served for 33 years and 5 months
  • RIC District Inspector Harry Smyth. An ex-army Englishman, aged 41, he had served for 16 years and 9 months, and had been based in Navan since 1912.
  • RIC Constable John Shanagher, No. 54677. Aged 48, he had served for 25 years and 3 months.
  • RIC Constable John Young, No. 58036. Aged 42, he had served for 19 years and 5 months.
  • RIC Constable James Hickey, No. 54582. Aged 49, he had served for 25 years and 7 months.
  • RIC Constable James Gormley, No. 66800. Aged 25, he had served for 3 years and 7 months.
  • RIC Constable Richard McHale, No. 67072. Aged 22, he had served for 3 years and 2 months.
  • RIC Constable James Cleary, No. 64900. Aged 28, he had served for 6 years and 9 months.


Irish Volunteer Casualties

  • John Crennigan, aged 21, of Swords, Co. Dublin. A member of the Irish Volunteers (Fingal Brigade). He was killed in action when shot by RIC District Inspector Smyth, at the Battle of Ashbourne.
  • Thomas Rafferty, aged 22, of Lusk, Co. Dublin.  A member of the Irish Volunteers (Fingal Brigade). He received a gunshot wound at the Battle of Ashbourne, and died later of his injuries.



Civilian Casualties

  • Gerald John Hogan, aged 26, of 9 Summerhill Road, Kingstown. A civilian, listed as being a commercial traveller.  He died in the cross fire in the Battle of Ashbourne as he tried to pass through. He is buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery.
  • James Joseph Carroll, aged 24, of 1 Municipal Buildings, Kingstown. A civilian, listed as being a commercial traveller.  He was killed in the cross fire in the Battle of Ashbourne as he tried to pass through. He is buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery.

Harry Boland’s Boots; smuggling seditious documents, 1919

A couple of previous posts have focused on the publishing of Republican material by Fergus O’Connor in Dublin, such as the Easter and St. Patrick’s Day greetings cards. While such cards saw no real obstacle to their movement, other publications by O’Connor were actively suppressed, making their distribution, particularly outside the country, much more difficult. These boots belonged to Harry Boland, envoy to the United States of America from 1919 to 1921, and were used to smuggle the document proclaiming Ireland’s Claim to Independence hidden in the soles. They were donated to the National Museum in 1935.

 The Boland family had a long history of involvement in nationalist organisations and activities. Their paternal grandfather, a Fenian, had been part of the attack on the prison van transporting Irish Republican Brotherhood members Thomas Kelly and Timothy Deasy in Manchester in 1867. Later their father, James Boland, and mother had fled to America after the Phoenix Park murders of Lord Frederick Cavandish and Thomas Henry Burke in 1882, due to his supposed connections with The Invincibles, who carried out the murders. James was also friendly with well-known figures such as O’Donovan Rossa and P.W. Nally.  After his death, the family continued to be brought up in the nationalist traditions.

The three brothers, Gerald, Harry and Edmund, joined the Irish Volunteers at its inception at the Rotunda in late 1913 and took part in the Rising; Gerald in Jacob’s Factory and Harry and Edmund in the GPO.  After the surrender, Harry was arrested and sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to five years penal servitude and he was sent first to Dartmoor and then to Lewes Prison.

On his release in 1917, he opened a tailoring and outfitting business at 64 Middle Abbey Street, which became an important centre for dispatching information around the country. He was elected for South Roscommon in the 1918 General Election, and took his seat in the First Dáil in January 1919, where he was assigned as special envoy to the United States by Eamon de Valera. He spent the next three years campaigning for recognition of the Irish State, and also raising finances to help the effort at home.

In her statement to the Bureau of Military History, Kathleen Boland described her brother Harry’s secret journey. In mid May Harry went to Manchester to make preparations to go to America. He managed to get a job as a stoker on a steam ship, and arrived in New York on the 8th June, where he was met and brought safely through Customs by Jim McGee and Jim Gleeson, who were regularly engaged in the smuggling of weapons from America to Ireland. He was carrying a document, ‘Ireland’s Address to the Free Nations of the World’, otherwise known as Ireland’s Claim to Independence, which had been proclaimed at the First Dáil and published by Fergus O’Connor.  Due to its nature it had been suppressed by the British Government, and so had to be well concealed on the journey.  



Harry had had a pair of stoker’s boot specially made with a hidden compartment in the soles in which he hid the document. When he reached New York he went directly to the home of Diarmuid (Dermot) Lynch, a member of Dáil Eireann for Cork South East, and National Secretary of The Friends of Irish Freedom, an organization dedicated to promoting Ireland’s cause in the United States. He ripped open the soles and delivered the document to Lynch, from where it was distributed to the Irish-American community. Lynch kept the boots and later donated them to the Museum. For more on Boland’s time in America, and the activities of Clan na Gael and The Friends of Irish Freedom, see the Further Reading section. 

Harry Boland returned to Ireland in 1921, and, despite his close friendship with Michael Collins (which had survived even through their rivalry over Kitty Kiernan), took the side of the Anti-Treaty forces.  On 31 July 1922, one month into the Civil War, he was shot during an attempt by Free State troops to arrest him, and died two days later in hospital. When Kathleen asked him who had fired the shot he refused to tell her, saying ‘The only thing I’ll say is that it was a friend of my own that was in prison with me, I’ll never tell the name and don’t try to find out. I forgive him and I want no reprisals’.  

An old museum exhibition label for these boots talks about how they illustrate the difficulties in getting communications out between Ireland and America during this time. This is certainly true, but, like so many objects in the collection, they also represent the personal belief individuals had in Ireland’s right to independence, the risks they faced and the personal sacrifices they made to play a part in achieving it. 

Republican Easter Card, Fergus O’Connor, 1918

Recently I posted about a Cumann na mBan St. Patrick’s Day card, which was published in 1918 by Fergus O’Connor. O’Connor was one of the main publishers of republican material, and the National Museum has many examples of his work. There is also a large collection of material published by O’Connor in the National Library of Ireland. This postcard was published for Easter 1918, and was given to the National Museum as part of a collection of similar items by Sean Prendergast, Commanding Officer of ‘C’ Company, 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, who served in the Four Courts in the 1916 Rising, and later of the Irish Republican Army.





Fergus O’Connor was born in Cork City, the son of Thomas and Ellen O’Connor. Thomas was a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary originally from Co. Offaly, and Ellen was a native of Cork.  In 1901 the family are listed as living in Number 2 Dyke Parade in Cork City, and Fergus, aged 25, was working as a clerk in a bakery. Sometime after this he started publishing picture postcards, mostly featuring Cork and its environs. He also published the typical early 20th century images of Ireland and the Irish, including thatched cottages and their interiors.


Having spent the first years of his professional life in Cork, the family moved to Dublin. By 1911 they are recorded as living in 44 Eccles Street, where Fergus established his publishing business. Though he does not appear to have taken any major part in the 1916 Rising, O’Connor was interned, first in Dartmoor in 1916, and later transferred to Lewes Prison in 1917, most likely for publishing pamphlets such as the ‘Oration of P.H. Pearse over O’Donovan Rossa’s Grave’ in 1915, which would have been seen by the British government as seditious material. 

He was one of the 120 Irish Prisoners in Lewes Gaol who signed a list, giving his prisoner number as 194, and his sentence as 3 years. He is mentioned in the Bureau of Military History witness statement of Robert Brennan of the Wexford I.V. Brigade, who was also interned in Lewes, as always planning some trick or another, and describes one he played on a particular prisoner officer. Fergus clearly not only had a sense of humour, but a bit of daring about him too!


O’Connor was released from Lewes sometime in 1917, and started publishing republican material again, largely due to his business relationship with Sean O’Casey (for whom he published ‘Songs of the Wren’).  O’Casey was a friend of Thomas Ashe, who was imprisoned in Lewes Gaol (it is possible that O’Connor had also known him there) and later Mountjoy in Dublin in 1917. Ashe died on 25 September in Mountjoy of force-feeding whilst on hunger strike. In the autumn of 1917 O’Casey instructed O’Connor to publish the ‘Inquest on Thomas Ashe, The Verdict of the Jury’, and also ‘Let Me Carry Your Cross For Ireland, Lord’, the last poem of Thomas Ashe, in time for Ashe’s funeral, which was attended by tens of thousands of people. ‘The Story of Thomas Ashe’ by Sean O’Casey was also published by O’Connor in November 1917. In the following years O’Connor published numerous republican pamphlets, including ‘A Call to the Women of Ireland’ by Constance Markievicz in 1918, and ‘The Declaration of Irish Independence’ at the First Dáil in 1919, which was suppressed by the British government.  


This Easter greeting card was sent by Countess Constance Markievicz to Sean Prendergast on 31 March 1918, signing herself as ‘The Little Countess’ on the reverse. Sean had been a member of the Dublin Branch of Fianna Eireann, which was co-founded by Markievicz in 1909, so was probably acquainted with her from this time onwards.

The imagery on the card is typically republican; it features an image of an Irish Volunteer in full uniform, Celtic designs to side, and the Irish tricolor flag planted in a nest of three eggs, also in green, white and gold. The card is primarily a memorial to Thomas Ashe, who died just six months previously, with his photograph in the top centre and a verse of his poem ‘Let Me Carry Your Cross For Ireland, Lord’ to the side.  The celebration of Easter was, for nationalists, now firmly linked to the commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

Death of a ‘Boy Soldier’, Memorial Card of Charles Darcy, 1916 Rising

Anyone who’s been listening to RTE’s The History Show recently will have heard about the making of a list of the children who were killed in Dublin during the 1916 Rising.  Joe Duffy began to compile this list as a result of a collaboration with the Jill and Jill Foundation (a children’s charity) and has requested listeners to contribute any information about these children and how they died. Working with various historians and record holders including the General Records Office, Glasnevin Cemetery and the National Museum of Ireland, the list currently stands at 38 children under the age of 16.  Given that about 390 civilians died in the week of the Rising (not counting the rebels, police and army), the children represent about 10% of those who died in the various battles and crossfire throughout the city and suburbs. Some of these children were themselves attached to organisations such as Fianna Eireann (14 year old Sean Healy), and the Irish Citizen Army.  One member of the ICA was Charles Darcy, a 15 year old from the Gloucester Street area who died on Monday 24 April, the first day of the Rising.  This is his memorial card, which was donated to the National Museum along with a small collection of other papers by his mother, Elizabeth Darcy, in 1970.


Charles was born in about 1901 to James Darcy, a labourer, and his wife Elizabeth, both from Co. Wicklow. In the 1911 census the family are recorded as living in No. 4 Kane’ Court, a two-roomed labourer’s cottage off Gloucester Street, with six children; Thomas, James, Charles, Edith, Patrick and Agnes. In 1916 the family were living in a similar dwelling at No. 4 Murphy’s Cottages, Gloucester Place, between City Quay and Great Brunswick (Pearse) Street on the southside of the city centre. 

 Charles had attended the Pro-Cathedral School on Lower Rutland Street since it was opened in April 1912, and was educated there until May 1914, when, at age 13, he was no longer obliged to attend school.  A letter of reference written by his schoolmaster Mr A. Scully describes him as obedient and respectful to his teacher, regular and punctual in attendance, attentive to his lessons and well conducted in every respect. He was also a member of the Boys’ Sodality attached to the Pro-Cathedral on Marlboro Street, and attended regularly to his religious duties.  Having left school at this age, which was normal in the early 20th century, he found work in a draper’s shop as an assistant.  He also appears to have joined the Irish Citizen Army around this time.   When the rebellion broke out, he reported for duty at Liberty Hall.


The details of Charles’ death are contained in a letter from Elizabeth to Lieutenant A. Rasdale of the Office of the Adjutant General in 1923 during the process of claiming a military pension on Charles’ behalf. Charles was under the command of Captain Sean Connolly in the City Hall garrison, and was allotted to a section under Sergeant E. Elmes to take possession of Henry & James’ premises (a clothiers) as a support to City Hall itself. He met his death on the roof of those premises on the evening of Easter Monday. Charles was shot by a British military sniper from a position around Dublin Castle, and his body was brought into the grounds of the Castle on Tuesday 25 April. His death certificate lists his cause of death as a gunshot wound, and notes that there was no medical attention. It also states that his mother Elizabeth was informed of his death as the next-of-kin.


After the formation of the Irish Free State the Military Service Pensions Act (1924) was instigated, and any persons with proven service during the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence were to be awarded a Certificate of Service and were also entitled to a military service pension.  In 1923 Elizabeth started the process of claiming the pension on Charles’ behalf, which resulted in a series of written communications between her and the Ministry of Defence.

In May 1924, Elizabeth received a letter confirming that she would receive a one off gratuity payment of 150 pounds in recognition of Charles’ service.


All such persons were later also eligible to receive the 1916 Medal. These were awarded in 1941 on the 25th anniversary, and Elizabeth received one for Charles at this time, who would have been 40 if he had survived. The medals were not generally awarded with inscriptions unless the recipient was killed in the rising; this medal has Charles’ name and a number. This medal, along with the various papers relating to Charles’ service and claim, are now with the National Museum of Ireland.



I always find it poignant that the last paragraph of school master Scully’s letter of reference for Charles reads ‘I have much pleasure in bearing testimony to his good character and shall always be pleased to hear of his success in life’.

He is buried in the 1916 Plot of Glasnevin Cemetery.   


St. Patrick’s Day Postcard, Cumann na mBan, c.1917/18

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Cumann na mBan!  This lovely colour postcard depicts the Cumann na mBan emblem of the organisation’s initials entwined with a rifle, held by ribbons in the green white and gold of the Irish flag with a spray of shamrock above. It also includes the brass button of the Irish Volunteers – the Irish harp separating the ‘I’ and the ‘V’.  This card, unused, was published by Fergus O’Connor in Dublin and probably dates from around 1917 or 1918. It came to the museum via Sean Prendergast, an Officer of the Irish Volunteers in Dublin between 1914 and 1916, and Captain in the IRA in 1921.


This card was probably commissioned by Cumann na mBan as part of their fundraising activities.  After the 1916 Rising and the near destruction of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army through the execution of their leaders and internment of so many members, they became highly involved in a number of activities; organizing commemorations, producing propaganda, opposing conscription and campaigning for the 1918 General Election.

Kathleen Clarke, from the Boston College University Library



Kathleen Clarke, a founder of Cumann na mBan and widow of Tom Clarke, along with Sorcha McMahon and Áine Ceannt, established the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Dependents’ Fund, which aimed to provide for the wives and children of those who died or were imprisoned after the rising.  The proceeds from the sale of cards such as these not only helped the families, but also raised funds which enabled the Republican movement to continue.


The card is full of symbols of the Irish nation; the tricolour dates back to the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848 (based on the French idea) and had resurged in the 1916 Rising, and the shamrock and Irish harp have been used as far back as the late 18th century. St. Patrick himself as a symbol has long been the embodiment of ‘Irishness’. He is now more associated with ‘Catholic Ireland’ and the Republic, but as far back as the Reformation he was considered by many as a Protestant saint, with claims that the church he founded had no Roman elements and was closer to that of the established Anglican Church of Ireland. One example of Patrick as a Protestant is The Benevolent Society of St. Patrick, founded in the late 18th century by a group of Irish Protestant M.P.s in British Parliament. The society was a charitable organisation whose mission was to raise funds to support the destitute Irish and their children living in London by providing schooling and training to enable them to provide for themselves. However, in the 19th century, with the increasing strength of the Liberal Protestants in English parliament and the advent of Catholic Emancipation, St. Patrick and Patrick’s Day became something that both of the dominant religions in Ireland could embrace as a symbol of nation which crossed the Catholic / Protestant divide, a shared culture, when other days of celebration such as the Williamite commemorations were increasingly seen as divisive and destructive.  The work of the Gaelic League led to the establishing of St. Patrick’s Day as a national holiday in 1903. Today it is a bank holiday in both the North and South of Ireland, though the extent to which it is celebrated in the North still depends on which side of the political divide you happen to be. 

Bridie O’Mullane, Cumann na mBan, 1918

Cumann na mBan was famously founded in Wynn’s Hotel on Lower Abbey Street, Dublin, in 1914, just months after the formation of the Irish Volunteers.  Its members took part in the 1916 Rising alongside the Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, and continued its involvement in the nationalist cause throughout the War of Independence, the Civil War and beyond.

Many women dedicated their lives to the cause. One such woman is Bridie O’Mullane, pictured here at about age 25 or 26.

This photograph shows Bridie in full Cumann na mBan uniform, including a small brooch based on the Tara brooch. She was a member of the Executive Committee, an official organizer during the War of Independence and the Director of Publicity and Propaganda during the Civil War. The photograph was donated to the museum by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1937.

Sinead McCoole, in her book No Ordinary Women, gives a good account of Bridie’s activities during the period.  O’Mullane joined Cumann na mBan in 1918 after meeting Countess Plunkett, who persuaded her to establish a branch in her home town of Sligo. She was made Secretary, and was soon requested by the Cumann na mBan headquarters to set up more branches around the county.  By the end of the year she had been elected onto the Executive Committee, and made an official organizer.

Despite serving a prison sentence in 1919, she continued her recruitment activities and went on to establish branches throughout the country, often with her life in great danger.

She opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and was appointed Director of Propaganda for Republican Sinn Fein in Dublin in early 1922.  She founded the Cumann na mBan journal, and probably came to know Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in this context, as she regularly contributed to the paper. She acted as a courier during the Civil War, and in July she was charged with the role of setting up a publicity department.  Bridie, Maire McKee and Nellie Hoyne established an office in Clare Street, publishing a weekly paper called The War Bulletin. In November 1922 she was arrested by Free State Troops and imprisoned. In Kilmainham Jail she continued her political life, and became a member of the Prisoners’ Council and Commanding Officer of A Wing. She was released in late 1923, but arrested again in 1926 while campaigning against the treatment of prisoners in Maryborough Jail.  She resigned her place on the Cumann na mBan Executive in 1927, later dedicating herself to compiling the history of the organization, assisting others in their applications for military pensions, the Women’s Prisoner’s Defence League, and was a founding member of the Irish Red Cross.  She died at the age of 74, and is buried in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Bridie made two witness statements to the Bureau of Military History, which can be read here and here.

For more stories on the role women such as Bridie played in the fight for Irish independence, see the further reading section on this site for a few of the titles available.  There are also a number of biographies available which are well worth reading.

Execution Warrant, The Palmerstown Murder, 1865


Kilmainham Gaol may be best known to many people as the location of the imprisonment and executions of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, but the prison was the scene of many executions before then.  Built in 1796, it became the centre of execution for the city of Dublin, and over a hundred people were put to death there for crimes ranging from murder and treason to theft. This death warrant of Patrick Kilkenny, who was publicly hung in the front yard of Kilmainham on 20 July 1865, tells the story of the murder of a young woman named Margaret Farquhar in a crime of passion, and was donated to the museum in 1949 by a relative of Thomas Flewett, Deputy Governor of the gaol.




On the morning of Saturday 10 June 1865, a 40 year old farm labourer named Patrick Kilkenny arrived at the police station at Beresford Place to confess to the murder of 26 year old Margaret Farquhar from Co. Meath the previous evening at Palmerstown.  After a short search, the police found Margaret’s body in a ditch, face down in the water and covered with grass and weeds. It seems Patrick and Margaret had had a courtship of sorts over a number of years; Patrick regularly called to her family house and they were often seen at dances together, though no engagement was ever announced. Patrick was described in the newspapers as a low-sized, stout and muscular man with the character of a drunken bully, while Margaret was reported as being considered the best looking girl in the parish. Just days previous Margaret received a letter from an ex-suitor, an Englishman who had emigrated to America for a new life and was now offering her marriage. Patrick, on hearing the news, strangled and drowned her in a roadside ditch, then sat by her body before handing himself in to the police the next day.


On 19 June, coming up to Kilkenny’s trial, The Irish Times expressed its suspicion that it was insanity, rather than jealousy, that caused the murder. It urged careful consideration of the case to avoid the execution of a man for a murder similar to two recent incidents where the accused, both of a higher social class than Kilkenny, did not receive the death penalty. The cases they referred to were the Townley Murder in England in 1863 and the O’Dell Murder in Dublin in 1864.

In the English case, George Victor Townley, a 25 year old from a respectable upper middle class family, stabbed his fiancé Elizabeth Goodwin when she broke their engagement. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death, but his family’s money and influence allowed for Townley to be later found insane and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He committed suicide in prison in February 1865.

William O’Dell, a 55 year old former barrister and employee of the Fine Arts Department of the Royal Dublin Society, confessed and was convicted of the murder of Bailiff Richard Fox in October 1864. Fox had come to O’Dell’s home at 91 Upper Rathmines Road to collect goods to the value of £8 in lieu of rent arrears, and as he was leaving the house O’Dell fired his revolver, shooting Fox in the head. He was found by the jury to have suffered a ‘paroxysmal mania’, or a fit of mania, and he escaped the death sentence.


Patrick Kilkenny’s fate was to be different. The jury found him guilty and, despite their call for mercy, Judge Baron Deasy passed the death penalty with the statement ‘Actuated apparently by the passion of jealousy, you struck down to death that unfortunate young girl that was the object of your love. For that, through that passion, two lives are sacrificed’. On 20July 1865 Kilkenny became the first recorded hanging in Dublin since the execution of John Delahunt, the murderer of 9 year old Thomas Maguire, in 1842. The Delahunt execution reportedly drew a crowd of 20,000 people, and Kilkenny’s execution, which took place on the drop-platform balcony over the main entrance of the gaol, also attracted a large crowd of spectators.

The Freeman’s Journal questioned the practice by asking what comfort it could give the family of Margaret Farquhar as it would not restore her life to her, stating that it was not a deterrent to crime, and also calling public executions a revolting and abhorrent spectacle which disgraced Dublin. The newspaper describes the execution scene in detail with no attempt to disguise its distaste. ‘The novelty of an execution taking place within our city invested the sad scene of Thursday morning with a peculiar and an unusual interest for numbers of that idle and degraded class which is sure to be found in large communities – a class whose morbid love of the terrible, the exciting, the cruel and the sensational is in strange and strong antagonism with the much vaunted civilization of the time. A kind of semi-love romance which was sought to be imported into “The Palmerstown Murder” to some extent contributed to induce the wanton curiosity-monger, the professional sight-seer, the indolent, the vicious, and the depraved to be present at the last act of the fearful tragedy, and as a consequence vast crowds continued to pour from all parts of the city and surrounding suburbs from an early hour this morning and take up their positions in front of the jail or wherever a good view could be obtained of the place where the dread sentence of the outraged law would be carried out’. One hour after the hanging, Patrick Kilkenny’s body was cut down and interred in the grounds of Kilmainham.

Three years later the Capital Punishment Amendment Act was passed, which required all executions to be carried out within the walls of the prison in which they are interned. This saw the end of public executions in Ireland and the UK.  In 1868 John Logue, a convicted murderer, was the last person to be publicly executed in Ireland. However, capital punishment remained common even past the formation of the Irish Free State and Republic. The last execution took place in Mountjoy Jail 1954; that of 25 year old Limerick man Michael Manning who raped and murdered a 65 year old nurse called Catherine Cooper. From that point, any death sentence passed was commuted to life imprisonment by the President of Ireland, until 1990 when it was finally formally abolished. It is now prohibited in the Constitution, and cannot be re-introduced even in the case of war or a state of emergency. 

The First Airship in Dublin?, Sackville Street, 26 May 1916


I came across a wonderful original photograph album in the stores last week. It’s a little unusual, as many of the albums we have in the collection are of souvenir postcard photographs showing the destruction of the city centre after the Rising, which were on sale quite soon after the event.  The album is described simply as photographs taken after the Sinn Fein Rebellion May 1916, with handwritten notes describing the location of each photograph, and was acquired by the museum from a Mr Smith in 1975.

 As I went through it a particular image caught my eye. It was a little different to the others, which were shots focusing on the damaged buildings and streets. This photograph had no apparent focus, until I looked very closely. The text underneath reads ‘The first British airship to visit Dublin coming up Sackville Street’. And there, only vaguely visible over the street, is an airship!  Also noticeable in the photograph are groups of people looking upwards in its direction; a group of people have gathered around the statue of Sir John Grey in the centre of the street, and to the right of the image the drivers of a horse drawn cart appear to be turning around to get a view of it.

This unusual event was reported in The Irish Times on 27 May. ‘A British airship, flying the naval ensign and bearing the Allied distinguishing mark – coloured circles – on its rudders, appeared over Dublin yesterday (Friday 26 May), and attracted very keen attention. It was first noticed east of the Custom House, and, after flying over the neighbourhood of Amiens Street Station, passed over the ruins of the Imperial Hotel, crossed Sackville Street, then turned south nearly as far as the offices of the Port and Docks Board. It then proceeded eastwards over the Liffey, and performed some evolutions over the buildings on the South Wall. As it came low an excellent view of its design was obtained by the hundreds of persons observing its movement. Three figures could be seen in the airship. The navigating officers acknowledged the cheers of the crowd by waving their hands’.

Another airship was sighted a month later on Thursday 20 July, and the Irish Times described it as an airship ‘of a type not previously seen by the citizens’, which manoeuvred slowly over the city for about half an hour.


This begs the question as to why this airship flew over Dublin on these days.

A second photograph shows it passing over D’Olier Street, which is clear enough to identify what type of airship it was.




The shape of the balloon envelope and the car underneath matches the SS Class blimp (Sea Scout or Submarine Scout) which the Royal Naval Air Service put into production in February 1915 after the Imperial German Admiralty declared that all enemy merchant vessels found in the waters around Great Britain and Ireland would be destroyed. These airships were equipped with bombs and a Lewis machine gun, as well as a camera, and would act as escorts for ships to protect them from the threat of the German U-boat.


As the SS Class blimp carried a camera, I suspect the purpose of this ship’s flight over Dublin was to take aerial photographs of the city centre. Aerial reconnaissance was well established by 1916, and there had been major developments in the quality of cameras. It is estimated that over a million photographs were taken by British forces during the course of World War I.  If the Dublin airship did take aerial shots of the post-Rising city I have not yet found them in a public collection, but I will keep looking.


So was this the first visit of an airship to Dublin?  The first airship stations in Ireland, such as Malahide and Johnstown Castle in Wexford, weren’t built until 1918, so this airship must have travelled from a station somewhere around the west coast of Britain, the closest being Anglesey and Pembroke, or was possibly on anti-submarine patrol in the Irish Sea.  Ces Mowthorpe, in his book Battlebags, records that the SS-17 broke free of its moorings in Luce Bay in Scotland, probably sometime in 1915, and drifted across the Irish Sea, complete with crew, until they were able to land in Ireland. However, that ship most likely landed in the northern Irish counties, so this rare photograph in the Smith album may well be an image of the first airship in Dublin.


Limerick tax roll, Four Courts Explosion, 1922




Though the Four Courts on Dublin’s Inns Quay was one of the main buildings occupied by the Irish Volunteers in 1916, it escaped the destruction that devastated the city centre. It wasn’t so lucky six years later, when it was occupied by Republican Forces opposed to the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and destroyed on 30 June 1922 in a massive explosion that rocked the city and saw the start of a bloody civil war.  It was also home to the Public Record Office, and this burned fragment of a 1737 tax roll from Askeaton, Co. Limerick, was presumably picked up on the streets afterwards, and donated to the museum in 1937.






On 6 December 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, bringing an end to the War of Independence and establishing the Irish Free State, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. Opinion within Sinn Fein was immediately split, with the pro-treaty members believing this to be a step towards a fully independent state in a situation where continuing the war with England would lead to complete defeat, and anti-treaty members viewing the terms, which included retaining the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown and the separation of Northern Ireland from the south, as unacceptable.  Tensions grew, and on 16 April 1922 about 200 men under the command of Rory O’Connor occupied the Four Courts in the hopes of creating a situation which would make the Treaty unviable and restart the fight for an all-Ireland Republic. From there high profile assassinations and kidnappings were carried out, including the murder of Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson on 22 June.

The pro-treaty candidates won the majority vote in the 1922 general election, and formed a Provisional Government led by Michael Collins.  Under increasing pressure from Britain to crush the rebels, the Free State forces received two 18 pounder artillery guns and other weapons and set up a cordon around the Four Courts area. At 4.07 in the morning of Wednesday 28 June the shelling of the building began from across the Liffey, now officially seen as the beginning of the Civil War. Dan Breen, a member of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade and author of ‘My Fight for Irish Freedom’ wrote that the headlines in the British newspapers the following morning read ‘Collins shells the rebels; Collins makes good’.


Two days into the fighting there was a large explosion in the western end of the complex, destroying it and the large central dome of the Courts.  The western block housed the Public Record Office, and was used by the Republican forces to store munitions. This explosion led to the eventual evacuation and surrender of the garrison.

Patrick Kelly, a Lieutenant in the anti-treaty I.R.A. describes the moment of the explosion from his position around the Capel Street area in his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History. ‘At this point there was a terrific explosion and a column of smoke and flame shot several hundred feet in the air. The Four Courts had blown up. The explosion shattered windows all around us and debris of all sorts fell into the street’.


Cumann na mBan had also splintered over the Anglo-Irish Treaty, when it adopted a new constitution taking an anti-treaty stance in 1922. Officer Annie O’Brien remained with the anti-treaty faction, and was staying with friends in Kildare when news of the fighting in Dublin reached her. She made her way back, determined to take up her position at a First Aid post. She describes coming down Winetavern Street and watching a Free State soldier loading a shell into an 18 pounder gun, who then ordered them out of the danger zone. ‘We went down along the south quays as far as the Metal Bridge, but it was manned also. Just then the shell was fired at the Four Courts and we saw the dome collapse and our hearts nearly collapsed too when we thought of all our friends there. We saw a shower of papers rising from the building. We thought none of the garrison could have survived. The shop where we were standing shook from the terrific blast’.


Geraldine O’Donell, the proprietress of O’Donell’s Nursing Home on Eccles Street was inside the Four Courts caring for the wounded when the explosion occurred. She reported that from quite early in the fight the garrison were tunnelling an escape route, fearing they would be trapped, and that just as the tunnel was practically finished the explosion took place that destroyed the dome. She speculated that it was caused by a shell that touched off the ammunition stored there.



It is unclear what actually caused the explosion. Reports vary from the building’s fires reaching the store of explosives, a Free State shell hitting the store, and the rumour that the Republican forces deliberately mined the area. We will probably never know the exact cause, but we know that nearly a thousand years of irreplaceable Irish archives were lost on this day as they burned and scattered across the city. 18th and 19th century census records, court records, military, parish and legal records which would have been such an important resource for historians, researchers and other members of the public will now never be studied.  Ernie O’Malley, in his book ‘The Singing Flame’, describes seeing ‘leaves of white paper; they looked like hovering white birds’.  This fragment of a tax roll from Askeaton was one of those leaves of white paper, and its partial remains give us a hint of what was lost in the mere seconds of the explosion that destroyed the Four Courts that day.




Metropole Hotel bowls, Sackville Street, 1916



Just a few doors down from Elvery’s (where the cricket bat met its end) was the Metropole Hotel.  Situated directly next to the General Post Office, and occupied by about 22 members of the Irish Volunteers under the command of Oscar Traynor during the Rising, it came under direct fire from the British Forces and was burnt to the ground in the fires that spread though the city centre. This stack of five bowls, fused together and blackened by the fire, was picked up as a souvenir and later donated to the National Museum in 1939.

ImageThe Metropole Hotel was actually four Georgian houses renovated as a hotel in the 19th century. It was located on the corner of Sackville Street and Prince’s Street, next to Eason’s & Son newsagents, D. Dimmit & Son’s insurance office, an office building (Browne’s), and Manfield & Sons shoe shop on the corner of Middle Abbey Street. On the evening of Tuesday 25th April a garrison of Irish Volunteers, mostly just arrived into the city centre from Fairview and Summerhill, was ordered to occupy this block of buildings by digging through the interior walls, and to erect barricades and post men at windows and other vantage points for defence from British snipers on Abbey Street.  According to Oscar Traynor, they entered the Metropole and gave notice to the guests that they had fifteen minutes to leave. Over the next few hours there was a series of written communications between James Connolly and W. H. Oliver, the hotel manager, organizing passes to ensure the safety of the remaining guests and himself as they left the city centre. Supplies such as bedding and food (and the odd cigar) were also requisitioned, one example in the NMI (for bread, onions, sausages, mutton and chicken) is signed for by Liam Tannan as ‘received on behalf of the Irish Republic’.


The fighting intensified from rifle fire on Tuesday to shelling by Wednesday night. As the Metropole garrison held their position, they watched the fires taking hold on the other side of Sackville Street, and tried to signal the men there to leave. After an almost quiet start to the Rising, the street was in chaos at this stage. Joseph Good, an Irish Volunteer from London, described the experience in his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History. He was posted to the top floor of the hotel as lookout, along with 12 young civilian lads who had asked to join the fight, whom he described as ‘rather depressed; long gazing at burning buildings caused them to moan in their sleep’.  


W.H. Oliver also gave an account of what he saw in his short diary of the week (NMI Collection). His view was probably representative of the opinion of many in Dublin that week, writing on the Wednesday ‘What a row the big guns make, rather terrifying but still glad to hear. The devils must quake at the Met’. He observed a dead civilian lying on the street near O’Connell Bridge, and witnessed groups of panic stricken people trying to leave the area, ‘some with white flags, others wrapped in white cloths and blankets, some holding up hands. They all seemed of the poorer class and the sight was a most moving one’.


It seems the roof of the Metropole was set on fire by an incendiary bomb sometime on Thursday night, but the outpost was considered vital for defence and so was not evacuated until the official order came through on Friday, at which point the building was firmly ablaze. The G.P.O. was also in flames and being evacuated at this point, and Frank Henderson stated that in the confusion the men at the Metropole were nearly forgotten until Sean MacDermott sent him to tell them to follow the main body into Moore Street via Henry Street. As they ran across Princes Street into the G.P.O., another Irish Volunteer Londoner who went by the name of John Neale was hit, the bullet exploding his ammunition pouch and ripping open his lower torso. He died of his wounds the next day.  The hotel was burned to the ground by Friday night.


Of all the objects in the collection that represent the destruction of Sackville Street, for me the bowls from the Metropole Hotel are the most expressive. They’re such an everyday, common object that sits on a shelf of any home, and I can imagine them sitting stacked on a dresser in the restaurant or kitchen, ready to be used. But these bowls are blackened and fused by the fires, and ingrained with soot and ash. There is even a river of molten glass along one side, presumably from a glass vessel that was next to it which melted in the extreme heat. Considering the complete destruction of the building, it’s amazing they survived in this form at all.


As for the Metropole Hotel itself, by 1922 it had been rebuilt in a lovely classical style by architect Aubrey V. O’Rourke, and was opened as The Metropole, containing restaurants, bars, a ballroom and cinema. It was closed in 1972 and sold to the retail chain British Home Stores (BHS), and was subsequently demolished and replaced with a new concrete building. It’s now home to the O’Connell Street branch of Penny’s.