Ceremonial saddle, from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to President Eamon de Valera, 1972

The Gaddafi saddle, 1972

The Gaddafi saddle, 1972

The National Museum of Ireland has a gathering of wildly diverse objects within its historical and decorative collections – The Presidential Collection.  These items are a selection of the gifts presented to the Irish President from both visiting foreign dignitaries and national organisations since the foundation of the State, the earliest items relating to Douglas Hyde.

Ethics in Public Office regulations state that gifts over a certain value (currently set at €500) received by a servant of the Irish State remain the property of the Irish State.

While most gifts remain in Áras an Uachtaráin as state property, a selection was transferred to the museum in the early 1990s, including a recent gift – a rug given to President Patrick Hillery (1976-1990) by Saddam Hussein.

However, the gift that took my interest is the ceremonial horse saddle presented by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to President Eamon de Valera in 1972, at the height of The Troubles and arms smuggling from Libya into Northern Ireland.

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The gift is comprised of a saddle, a bridle, riding whip and saddle cloth, all elaborately decorated in the traditional North African style. Sporting a leather seat and harness laced with silver embroidery designs, coloured stitching and silver stirrups attached from red leather straps, the saddle rests on a wool blanket, providing some comfort for the horse, which is also decorated in traditional style with a coloured leather patch and multi-coloured wool pom-poms.

 

 

 

 

Saddle cloth, Saddle saddle, 1972

The saddle cloth is bordered with gold embroidery and fringe, with blue and silver designs on a field of rich red. The set was gifted with a matching bridle and riding whip. Such saddles are handmade by artisans who pass the skill from generation to generation, and were widely used at occasions such as weddings and horse racing competitions as well as official state ceremonies.

 

While the gifting of a traditional emblem of the visiting dignitary’s country to the host country is a very common custom worldwide, it is the circumstances and timing of this gift from Libya to Ireland that makes the saddle intriguing, as is revealed in the official state papers from 1972 held by the National Archives.

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President Eamon de Valera, 1973 (RTÉ)

By 1972 Éamon de Valera had already led a long life in Irish politics. He had been a leader in the recruitment of men to the Irish Volunteers in the Irishtown and Donnybrook area from 1914, the commander of the Boland’s Mills Garrison during the 1916 Rising, narrowly escaping execution by the British authorities, a leading figure in the War of Independence, President of Dáil Éireann and the leader of the anti-Treaty forces during the Irish Civil War. He founded a new republican party – Fianna Fáil – in 1926), and was the President of the Executive Council and Taoiseach of Ireland four times from 1932 to 1959. He was later elected as President of Ireland – the non-political figurehead – from 1959 to 1973, retiring at age 90.

 

Muammar_Gaddafi,_1973 (PD Libya. The Telegraph)

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, 1973 (Public Domain Libya. The Telegraph)

Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, known simply as Colonel Gaddafi, was born in 1942 to a Bedouin family near Sirte, west of Tripoli on the Mediteranean coast. He was a political activist from an early age, and having decided a career in the military would best serve his political ambitions, he attended the Royal Military Academy in Benghazi and later in England.

In 1964 he had established a revoluntionary cell within the Libyan Army – the Free Officers’ Movement – which Gaddafi led to overthrow the monarchical government in a coup in 1969 to establish the Libyan Arab Republic, based on the principles of ‘freedom, socialism and unity’ and led, essentially, by Gaddafi himself. He and his Revolutionary Command Council began a series of reforms to bring Libya in line with the revolution; such reforms included stimulating economic growth such as the agricultural sector production, free health care and a reassertion of women’s equality in Libyan society, though they also included retaining a ban on political parties, banning trade unions and workers’ strikes and suppressing the press. The intellectual classes were imprisoned, and many fled Libya’s new regime, some settling in Ireland as refugees.

Libya’s main export was oil. Gaddafi claimed the trade agreements regarding its sale were unfavourable to Libya and began to control its production, leading to a rise in oil prices worldwide, leading to an inevitable increase in tensions between Libya and the Western nations over the next decades, despite Libya’s efforts to build diplomatic relations.

In March 1972 Galal Daghely, the Libyan ambassador to West Germany, was officially in Ireland to meet with a foreign trade committee, and requested to meet President de Valera.  This request was turned down, as it was felt that the purpose of such a meeting was to start the process of establishing an official diplomatic presence in the Republic of Ireland. However, on St Patrick’s Day, Daghely contacted Áras an Uachtaráin saying he had a gift from Colonel Gaddafi to President de Valera, and there would be great disappointment if it were not accepted. The Áras agreed to a short meeting to receive the gift, on the condition that the meeting not be publicised and the visit not be seen as part of an official programme.

 

Bridle, Gaddafi saddle, 1972

De Valera wrote to Colonel Gaddafi shortly after the meeting saying ‘Recently I had the pleasure of receiving his Excellency the Libyan Ambassador in Bonn, Mr Galal Daghely, who had expressed a wish to call on me during his visit to Dublin. On that occasion, he delivered to me the saddle, bridle and riding whip which your Excellency so kindly sent to me. For this gift, which richly reflects Arab skill and handicraft, I wish to convey to your Excellency my sincere thanks. In expressing my appreciation of your kindness, may I add my good wishes for your personal well-being.’

 

 

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‘Irish Republican Army’, the words in the shape of an AK-47 rifle. Mural at Springhill Park, Strabane. Copyright Peter Moloney. https://tinyurl.com/ya83jl3n

Áras an Uachtaráin was likely to have been very relieved that the meeting to receive a simple gift had not been known publically when, the following year, the Irish Naval Service intercepted the cargo ship Claudia off Helvick Head in Co. Waterford and found it to be transporting a 5 ton arsenal of AK-47s and Semtex explosive to Northern Ireland for use by the Provisional I.R.A. This shipment had been arranged by I.R.A. chief Joe Cahill with the Gaddafi regime in Tripoli in late 1972.  Libya became a major supplier of arms into Northern Ireland over the next decades, providing rifles, machine guns, handguns, explosives and even RPG-7 rocket launchers into the late 1980s.

 

Gaddafi waves to a crowd as he rides a horse during a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of the eviction of Italians from Libya. 1976(AP)

Gaddafi waves to a crowd as he rides a horse during a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of the eviction of Italians from Libya, 1976 (AP)

Gaddafi never made any secret of his country’s role in supplying the arms to the I.R.A., seeing it as a fight against the colonialism he himself hated (Libya having been occupied by Italy from 1911 to 1947, when Italy lost its colonial territories under the Treaty of Peace with Italy after World War II).

 

After a bombing campaign in Britain in 1976, Gaddafi publically stated that the bombs used were Libyan bombs in retaliation for past deeds, and refused to state that he would stop sending arms to Northern Ireland.

 

For some years there were few political consequences for Gaddafi’ regime; the Irish Government decided in 1973 that taking official action over the arms risked provoking the regime into increasing their activities and providing more arms to the north.

There were also trade concerns regarding oil supply to the West. Great Britain did not break off relations with Libya until the 1984 shooting of policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, who was on duty when she was killed by a bullet fired from the Libyan Embassy in London during an anti-Gaddafi protest.  Soon afterwards the US retaliated against the bombing of a Berlin disco in which an American soldier was killed with an air raid on Tripoli, killing over a hundred people. In 1988 the Lockerbie, Scotland, bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the death of 270 people caused the UN to impose sanctions on the Gaddafi Regime until 1999, when the Lockerbie bombing suspects were returned to Britain for trial. Gaddafi remained in power until the revolution of 2011, with his forces turning on the citizens who stood against them, eventually leading NATO to intervene on the side of the rebels.  Gaddafi went into hiding but was killed outside Sirte, his birthplace, ending his 42 year rule.

 

Colonel Gaddafi and Dom Mintoff (Times of Malta)

Colonel Gaddafi and Dom Mintoff (Times of Malta)

 

Mintoff saddle Matthew Mirabelli

Saddle presented to Dom Mintoff, Prime Minister of Malta, 1970s. (Photo Matthew Mirabelli)

The saddle gifted to de Valera and the Irish State was not unique. A similar saddle had been presented to Malta’s Prime Minister Dom Mintoff in the 1970s before relations with the West soured. Mintoff was later asked by Gaddafi to aid him in a purchase of a nuclear submarine, which he refused. On close inspection of the photograph of Mintoff’s saddle, one can see that the decorative saddle cloth is the same design as the one presented to Ireland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Gaddafi at his luxurious Bedouin tent near Tripoli after sanctions were lifted, 2007 (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire URN:9889966 (Press Association via AP Images)

Gaddafi also presented a saddle to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in March 2007, after their meeting in a Bedouin tent in the desert outside Tripoli. This meeting was part of the re-building of relations, with Libya having disarmed itself of weapons of mass destruction. BP Oil Chairman Peter Sutherland, who was also at the meeting in the desert, announced the signing of a new deal to the value of st£13 billion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both the Malta and UK saddles were sold at auction in the last few years.

The Gaddafi saddle in the National Museum of Ireland will remain in our collections as an artefact of a complex and multi-layered history.

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Photograph series; making the 1916 Rising anniversary exhibition, National Museum, 1941

 

Collections staff mount exhibition objects.

1941 saw Ireland commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising, an event which saw the largest national marking of the event up to that point. The National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street had already held two exhibitions on the Rising; Nellie Gifford-Donnelly, a founding member of the Irish Citizen Army who had also fought at St Stephen’s Green during Easter Week, curated the first 1916 Exhibition in 1932, timed to coincide with the Eucharistic Congress being held in Ireland that year. The display was installed again in 1935 with the title ‘Relics of the Fight for Freedom’. From that time, there has always been a display on the Rising, and renewed for every significant anniversary.

This series of photographs were taken during the installation of the 1941 exhibition as part of the preparations, with the images of the opening used to publicise the display in newspapers, and were found amongst the Easter Week and Historical Collections. They show the museum staff at work in the days before the anniversary, and the public visiting the displays.

View of The Exhibition to Commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Rising, central court, Kildare Street, 1941.

 

The 1941 exhibition, which was simply named ‘The Exhibition to Commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Rising’, was curated by Dr Gerard Hayes-McCoy, a renowned military historian, who had taken a curatorial post at the National Museum in 1939.

When Hayes McCoy took up this position he immediately began collecting objects which represented the rebellions and wars previous to 1916, which he felt was not only important to include in our national collections but also necessary in order to outline Ireland’s fight for independence during the centuries before 1916 to explain its roots.

Items representing the Fenian Movement, Robert Emmet, Joseph Holt and Charles Stewart Parnell were collected and exhibited for the first time. The exhibition location was moved from a side room into the central gallery space of the Kildare Street museum, normally only used for the archaeological collections such as the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara brooch.

Before it opened on Easter Saturday 12th April, newspapers across the country published the  National Museum’s press release on the exhibition’s content, written by Hayes McCoy.

Relics of 1916  Anniversary Exhibition
The National Museum, Kildare Street, Dublin, will be the scene of a striking exhibition of relics connected with the events and personalities of the Rising of Easter Week, 1916, and the succeeding epochs on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary. The special collection is already well known and since its foundation in 1935 has materially increased. The opportunity has been taken to display the Collection on a more extended basis utilising the large courts adjoining the museum entrance at Kildare Street now being prepared. No pains are being spared to make the Commemorative Exhibition worthy of the occasion and it is expected that a large public will find it worthwhile visiting when opened on Easter Saturday next, 12th April. The Museum Rotunda will be occupied with a notable group of exhibits illustrating by personal or other relics the political history of the country from some time after the battle of the Boyne when national thought took an entirely new trend till the beginning of the present century. It is intended to illustrate the historic background of the various movements out of which the Republican Movement arose and into which various lines of political thought were canalised. The exhibition proper will show the uniforms of the various military groups participating in the Rising and the aftermath, arms and other details of equipment, relics of the leaders and will include such varied items as a collection of watercolours of Countess Markievicz, the Childers Memorial Collection and numerous items illustrating the growth of the organisation. A small exhibit illustrative of the Gaelic League will also be included. It is hoped that the exhibition will lead to the inclusion in the Collection of numerous relics still in private hands. There will be no charge for admission.

 

The opening was attended by Thomas Derrig as the Minister for Education, Frank Fahy, Speaker of the Dail, Oscar Traynor as Minister of Defence, and Senator Margaret Pearse, also the sister of Patrick and William Pearse, who were photographed touring the exhibition.

Margaret Pearse and Oscar Traynor view weapons on display.

And inspecting the 1920 experimental mortar, or ‘big gun’, made in the basement of 198 Parnell Street, Dublin, underneath the bicycle shop and covert munitions factory of Archie Heron and Joseph Lawless, which exploded and killed Matt Furlong during testing.

Thomas Derrig, Oscar Traynor and Margaret Pearse view the IRA mortar, 1920.

 

The exhibition proved very popular with the public and the galleries were crowded with people viewing the relics of the period, such as this gentleman viewing (a little too closely for my comfort) an original 1916 Proclamation signed by Christopher Brady (printer), Michael Molloy and Liam O’Brien (compositors).

Viewing the 1916 Proclamation.

 

It was visited by school groups, as seen in this wonderful image of these girls in beautiful traditional Irish costume being shown a display of rifles used during the revolutionary period by a gallery attendant.

Girls in Irish dress view a display of rifles.

 

And this group posing for a photograph underneath the statue of Patrick Pearse and the Proclamation.

School group poses for a photograph at the 1916 Proclamation.

 

The Irish Army attended for special tours and talks.

Visit from an Irish Army Unit.

 

Some of my favourite photographs are those showing the collections and technical staff working to install the exhibition.  They show artefacts being mounted into wall cabinets, the uniforms of both Michael Collins and Liam Lynch being mounted onto mannequins, mounts being built, statues being restored, and large objects set on top of plinths.

Uniforms of Liam Lynch and Michael Collins being mounted onto mannequins.

 

Plinth building in the NMI Workshops.

 

Bust of female in Neo-Celtic style undergoes final restoration before installation.

 

The bust of Patrick Pearse is set onto its plinth.

 

This female collections staff member holds a document up for the camera, while beside her we see what is probably a tricolour flag and the umbrella given to Patrick Pearse by his students at St Enda’s School as a gift in 1910. I just recently photographed and re-housed this umbrella, and seeing photographs like this, with this same artefact 77 years ago, really brings home to me how we are all only temporary custodians of our national collections, which will continue to exist, be cared for, interpreted and displayed beyond our own lives in the museum.

Collections staff member installing exhibition, Patrick Pearse’s umbrella to the left.

 

Sadly I have no names to go with these faces. If you or anyone you know has any information on NMI staff in 1941 I would love to hear from you.

Science and Art Attendant, Kildare Street, 1941

Bullet pierced picture, 5 Belvedere Place, Easter Week 1916

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As the fighting of Easter Week raged through parts of the city, other areas, even if they did not experience heavy combat, were also affected. The streets around the Volunteers’ garrison posts were dangerous places to be, particularly for the civilian inhabitants. O’Connell Street saw much looting in the first couple of days of the week as people took the opportunity to get new clothes and luxury items such as sweets, normally out of the reach of the poorer city centre residents. In most of these city centre locations it was the tenement dwellers who were caught in the crossfire between the rebels and the British Forces. Some, such as the men and boys in North King Street, were deliberately shot in the belief they were part of that rebel force. It was clear from early on that whether Dubliners took part in the Rising or not, their lives would be changed by it.

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This framed print, depicting a glamorous Edwardian lady wearing an elaborate hat, was hanging in the home of Annie Mac Swiney at No. 5 Belvedere Place, located between Mountjoy Square and the North Circular Road. On Thursday 27th April, a bullet entered the room, barely missing Annie, piercing the picture and lodging in the wall behind it. Both picture and bullet were kept as a memento, and it was donated to the National Museum in 1941, on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary.

 

 

Annie lived at 5 Belvedere Place with her sister Mary. The house was owned by Sarah Lowry who ran it as a boarding house, living in 11 rooms with her 5 lodgers. In the 1911 census her tenants included drapers’ assistants William Lane and Kathleen Murphy, Laura McGuire – a stenographer and typist who had been born in India, butcher’s assistant Patrick Sullivan and Christopher O’Conor who listed his occupation as Commissioner of New York – a wide cross-section of Dublin citizens!

5 Belvedere Place

The Mac Swiney sisters lived at 5.2, a self-contained, separate unit in the building. The sisters shared one room, in which all their household activities was carried out, from to preparing food to sleeping. In 1901 they had also been living in a single room in a nearby tenement at 20.8 Temple Street, but sharing the building with 23 other people; their situation was certainly improved in Belvedere Place.

Neither Annie nor Mary had ever married, but both women worked as stationers (sellers of books, paper and writing implements), with Annie also listed as being a relief stamper (who produced engraved or embossed designs on writing paper and envelopes). These were respectable trades for the women and would have provided them with enough to support a modest living together.

William O'Brien

Belvedere Place saw some disturbance due to its position off the North Circular Road, which had military cordons in the area. The street was also home to William O’Brien, living with his family and their boarders at No. 43. O’Brien, a tailor by trade, was also a founding member of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union alongside James Larkin, was highly involved in the 1913 Lockout in Dublin and was a close associate of James Connolly. He was not involved in the 1916 Rising, but his home was used as a safe house for a member of the Connolly family during the week.

O’Brien described what happened on the street, and at his home, in his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History.

‘On Wednesday 26th, a number of soldiers appeared near my residence and were, apparently, taking up positions along the North Circular Road down by Russell Street and Portland Row. At about 11.30 two men, whom I did not know came to my residence with Roderick Connolly, son of James Connolly, aged 15 years, who had been in the G.P.O. from Monday, with a request to my sister that she should look after him. At this time the soldiers appeared to be moving up Belvedere Place towards my residence and my sister and I thought that young Connolly might be safer in some other house than ours, I got my sister to cross the road to a friend’s and ask this lady if she would take Roderick Connolly. The lady agreed to do so, but reluctantly, and was apparently alarmed at the situation. In view of that I decided that it would, perhaps, be safer to keep young Connolly with us, and he remained.

While discussing with my sister the position of Roderick Connolly, I decided that if the British military searched the house, it would be undesirable to give the name of Connolly and so I arranged that he would give the name Carney with the Belfast address of Miss Winifred Carney who was in the G.P.O., so that if there was a check up on the address in Belfast it would look alright. I also coached him to say that he had come to Dublin to look for work and that he was lodging in 43 Belvedere Place and did not know me personally. A number of houses in Belvedere Place were searched, including the houses on both sides of mine, and one or two houses opposite. As soon as the soldiers had got into position, all the residents in Belvedere Place, and I presume in adjacent streets also, were told to keep all the windows completely closed and not to open any front doors. The state of affairs continued on Thursday; many of the soldiers sat on the doorsteps and on one occasion, when I opened the door, I was told immediately to keep it closed’.

 

It was on this day, Thursday, that the picture hanging on the Mac Swiney sisters’ wall was shot by the stray bullet coming into their home. Although there was no heavy fighting around this street, there was clearly some gunfire here, whether it was a deliberate shot that missed its target, a stray bullet from a neighbouring street, or if it was the nervous discharge of a weapon by an inexperienced young soldier.

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The note that came with the picture stated that the bullet narrowly missed Annie, and it must have been a frightening and distressing experience for her. But this bullet pierced picture tells us about more than Annie’s near miss. It shows us how even when the civilians of Dublin stayed in their homes taking cover from the danger on the streets it was still not safe for them – bullets and shrapnel could enter their houses through doors and windows, and many civilians were indeed killed in their own homes, such as 37 year old William Connolly who died of gunshot wound to his chest at his home at 27 Usher’s Quay, and 13 year old Margaret Veale was killed in the bedroom of her home at 103 Haddington Road, off Northumberland Road, the site of the Battle of Mount Street.

We may never know the exact number of deaths that occurred during this week, but it is estimated that about 500 people were killed, the vast majority of these were civilian casualties, numbering just under 300.

There were also about 2500 people injured. From the beginning of the week, the injured and dead were brought to various hospitals around the city. Hundreds streamed into Jervis Street, Mercer’s, Sir Patrick Dun’s, St. Vincent’s, Mater Misericordiae, Holles Street and Dublin Castle hospitals, brought in by the men of the Fire Brigade and the doctors and nurses who ventured onto the dangerous streets to help the wounded, some losing their own lives in their attempts to save others. Some of the stories of these brave men and women were told in the Royal College of Surgeons’ Surgeons and Insurgents – RCSI and the Easter Rising, a fascinating and moving exhibition curated as part of the institution’s 2016/1916 Commemorative Programme.

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As is the case with conflict that takes place in an urban area, it was the civilians – the citizens of Dublin – who suffered the greatest number of casualties during Easter Week. The loss of life, serious injury, losing family and loved ones, homes and livelihoods destroyed as their city burned; these events were to change their lives forever. Even a brief look at the Military Archives’ recently released files of the Property Losses (Ireland) Committee shows the impact on the ordinary citizens of Dublin.

 

This anniversary has been distinctive in its focus in a number of ways – along with the commemoration of the Rising’s leaders and participants, it has now properly recognised the participation of women in the Rising. It has also examined its effect on the lives of the civilians, especially the children, and their violent deaths. In many cases this wish to commemorate has come from the current citizens of Ireland who want to remember all who went through this traumatic event.

Annie Mac Swiney kept this bullet-pieced picture as a reminder of that event, and donated it to the National Museum with the hope that the people of Ireland would remember how she experienced 1916.

It will be on display in the National Museum of Ireland’s new 1916 exhibition – Proclaiming a Republic, at Collins Barracks, from next week.

The tricolour flag from Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, 1916 Rising

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The Royal Irish Regiment with the Irish Republic flag at the Parnell Monument, O’Connell Street (NMI Collection)

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Irish Republic flag flying on the GPO, photograph taken from a Metropole Hotel window (NMI Collection)

Probably the most famous flag of the 1916 Rising is the Irish Republic flag, with its white and orange lettering on a green field background. It was flown from the roof of the GPO on the Princes Street corner, while the tricolour flew from the Henry Street side. The flag survived the destruction of O’Connell Street, and was taken as a war souvenir by the Royal Irish Regiment. It ended up in the collection of King George of England, and was stored in the Imperial War Museum until 1966 when it was presented from the British to the Irish governments for the 50th Anniversary of the Rising. It is now in the care of the National Museum of Ireland.

 

 

Another 1916 Rising flag that was presented to the National Museum was less fortunate in its survival. These fragments of the tricolour flag that flew from the tower of Jacob’s Biscuit Factory also made the journey from England to Ireland in 1966. They are glued onto a piece of paper from a photograph album, with the words ‘Fragments of the Sinn Fein Flag which flew over Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, Dublin, Easter 1916’.

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Fragments of the Jacob’s Factory flag (NMI Collection)

On the Monday morning of Easter week the rebels took a number of buildings across the city. They hoisted flags from the highest points of these buildings as a symbol of the new Republic which had just been declared. The GPO’s Irish Republic and the Irish Citizen Army’s Starry Plough flag, flown from the Imperial Hotel, were unique. The other garrisons flew either the Irish tricolour of green white and gold, or the gold harp on a green field background. Many were made beforehand in preparation for the Rising and stored at Liberty Hall, but the Jacob’s tricolour was made at the garrison post during the week.

The garrison at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory saw a limited amount of action that week (the story of Jacob’s garrison that week can be read here). The men were mostly involved in sniping at British soldiers coming towards the city from Portobello Barracks and providing other garrisons with both supplies and men.

 

EW-3146 Jacob's Flag

Jacob’s flag fragments (NMI Collection)

Thomas Meldon was part of the garrison, and says in his BMH witness statement that they had forgotten to bring their flag with them as they marched out of Liberty Hall on Monday morning. On Thursday they received a message that the GPO was burning, and that the flag had been shot or burnt down. They decided to make a flag, and the search for the materials began.

 

 

‘After some time a quantity of bunting was found, some green and some white, but, curious to relate, no orange – stalemate, but not defeat.

A further search brought to hand a bundle of yellow glass cloths, and the work of putting together the flag was commenced. Three men were entrusted with this task – George Ward, who has answered the last call-in; Derry Connell, who is still with us, and myself. On the completion it was discovered that the rope on the flagpole had been removed, so that the flag had to be nailed to the pole, needless to say, at the risk of life. Nevertheless, it was accomplished, and according to a little book by James Stephens, the author, on that memorable week, the flag was still flying long after the general surrender.’

In fact, James Stephens, in his book The Insurrection in Dublin, described how he could see the flag flying from Jacob’s from his kitchen window on Sunday, and saw it being hauled down at about 5pm that evening.

We also have some insight as to what was happening in the factory at that moment. Patrick Cushen, an employee of Jacob’s, came to the building on Sunday afternoon after the surrender of the Volunteers to protect the factory from looters. He left an account of the scene he found, including meeting John MacBride and the hauling down of the tricolour flag –

‘Having heard of the rebels’ surrender of the factory, I ran down and saw about 90 of them getting out the windows and a lot of the rabble getting up the rope that was hanging from the office window, and tumbling the sacks of flour out. I ran round to the Caretaker’s door in Peter Street and got in to the Bakehouse. I was surprised to see between 90 and 100 of the rebels standing and sitting about.

Then one of the officers of the rebels came in to the office and asked was there anyone to take charge of the place, and they told him that I would. He said there were a lot of bombs stored away that would blow up the whole place, and as they had done no damage they did not want the blame to be left on them if any careless person handled them. He brought me round and pointed them out to me, and we came back again and he showed me where there were some hand grenades stored in the little ovens in the King’s Own Room; he left me on guard of them and told me on peril of my life not to let anyone lay a hand on them until the military came in who knew what they were.

He went away after making himself known to me, and to my surprise I found myself introduced to Major MacBride for the first and last time, as we all know he paid for his mad acts with his life.

Well, he was not well gone when a volley of shots rang out all round about where I was standing, and the sprinkler main over my head was pierced through with a bullet, and the hat was knocked off my head by a bomb fired through the open window. Luckily for me it passed out through a window and exploded over the refrigerator outside. Well, I thought my last hour had come. Just then the soldiers came in and shouted ‘hands up’, and up they went in haste, then they came over and searched me, asked me who I was and what had me there. I told them that I was an employee of the firm and that I came in to stop the looting. They said, ‘if you are a member of the Works, you know where that d… rebel flag is hanging out, and get on to it at the point of the bayonet’.

I said ‘you are not one bit more eager to get it down than I am myself, but before I go I want to show you those weapons of danger – the bombs’. Then we started on our way to the flagstaff, and went to three or four doors but could not get in the way they were barricaded. At last we got in through the Cake Room and away to the tower: I would not let him get out for fear of the snipers, but I got the rope and lowered the flag and no sooner than it began to come down than 5 or 6 shots rang out – I do not think that man could have been prouder if he was after taking the Empire of Germany.

On our way back he told me that I was a lucky man that I had nothing in my hands when he came in or he would have shot me where I was standing.’

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Live bombs, made from tin cans, and various ammunition left in the Royal College of Surgeons (NMI Collection)

The card on which the Jacob’s flag fragments are attached takes up the story from where Patrick Cushen left it. On the back is written that it was a gift from a Mr Fowler who was present in the Hotel when the flag was brought in by a Canadian soldier, and relates the following story –

‘A certain time was given for the troops of the IRA to leave Jacob’s and then this Canadian solder entered the building with another soldier. They met a man in uniform and promptly shot him, then a man in civilian attire who they directed to show the way to the flag. On arrival the civilian was told to ‘hop it’, which he promptly did. The flag was hauled down and taken to the Hotel by the Canadian who cut it up into fragments and distributed them to those present’.

Though there is no further information given with the object to help us identify either the Canadian soldier or the hotel, we can conclude that the hotel mentioned is the Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephen’s Green. The Shelbourne had been taken over by British troops and used as a base from where they fought against the Irish Citizen Army, led by Michael Mallin and Countess Constance Markievicz, at the Green and the Royal College of Surgeons, and is around the corner from Jacob’s Factory.

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British Army troops outside the Shelbourne Hotel, St Stephen’s Green. Note the nurses on the balcony above the entrance (NMI Collection)

By Friday of Easter week, between soldiers in Irish Regiments in the British Army and the arrival of 10,000 British troops from England (diverted from the fighting in France), there were about 16,000 British Army soldiers in Dublin.

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British Army troops around St Stephen’s Green after the Rising (NMI Collection)

Our Canadian soldier however, was not one of those sent from England on the Wednesday and Thursday, nor was he stationed in Ireland. He was most likely in Dublin on leave from the war at the Front, as were many other soldiers from British Commonwealth nations such as Australia and New Zealand. When the Rising started, these soldiers reported for duty to their nearest barracks or to Trinity College which was also operating as an Officers Training Corp (and held a stock of arms), and so formed part of the body of soldiers involved in the suppression of the Rising.

However, the tale he told to those in the hotel that he had entered Jacob’s Factory and shot a man in uniform is not factual. Not only did Patrick Cushen not mention any incident of a shooting, but there are no records of any combatant death occurring around Jacob’s other than Irish Volunteer John O’Grady, who was mortally wounded around the Mount Street area while trying to reach the Boland’s Mills garrison. It seems the Canadian soldier’s statement was an ill-advised boast to his audience.

 

The Jacob’s Factory flag fragments will be on display in the National Museum of Ireland’s new exhibition Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising in the Riding School at Collins Barracks in March 2016, along with the rest of the museum’s collection of 1916 garrison flags, including the Irish Republic and Starry Plough. Though it is not be the only garrison flag in the museum’s collection, it is certainly the smallest.

 

Nun’s Veil; Liam Mellows ‘on the run’, 1916 Rising

Veil used to Liam Mellows to escape Ireland, 1916 (NMI Collection EW.1108)

The Rising of Easter week 1916 came to an end on Saturday 29th April when Patrick Pearse led the official surrender of the Irish rebels to Brigadier General Lowe. The leaders of the Dublin garrisons each in turn surrendered as the news was brought to them over the next couple of days. The rank and file Volunteers had another option; to disappear back into their communities and continue to fight for independence. They would have had to have laid low, knowing that as they had been drilling (many in uniform) in public since 1914, they could be easily recognized by the authorities as an Irish Volunteer or Irish Citizen Army member. For some going ‘on the run’ was the only option. Liam Mellows, the leader of the Rising in Galway, was one such man.

This piece of black gossamer cloth fashioned into a veil, was worn by him as he escaped to England after some months on the run in Ireland. He was accompanied by Pauline Barry, and both travelled disguised as nuns.  It was donated to the National Museum of Ireland in 1941 by Sr Lelia MacKenna.

Though the 1916 Rising is remembered mostly as a Dublin event, it was intended by its planners to be countrywide. Branches of the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan in towns and cities such as Cork, Enniscorthy, Limerick and Galway planned the insurrection with the Dublin leaders and awaited the arrival of weapons and ammunition into Ireland and for the final commanding orders to proceed with their plans. Those 20,000 weapons, organized by Roger Casement to come from Germany on the SS Aud, failed to reach Ireland when the ship was intercepted by the British Navy on 20th April. This was to be a major factor in the failure of the Rising.

Roger Casement and Crew of U19, Kerry, April 1916

The order to start the rebellion was quickly followed by Eoin MacNeill’s countermanding order on Saturday 22nd April. This confusion led to many Volunteers not turning out, or being unsure of what action to take. Outside Dublin, by the time couriers reached them with the news that the Rising had started in the capital the regional police and army had already been alerted, making action impossible. Because of this, armed insurrection took place in only a handful of areas outside Dublin; to the north Louth, Meath and Ashbourne saw fighting, and the Volunteers proceeded with the Rising in Enniscorthy and Galway.

In Galway about 2,000 men had joined the ranks of the Irish Volunteers which had been organized by Liam Mellows since March 1915. It drew much of its membership from the strong IRB movement in the area, led by Tom Kenny, which had its root in the region’s large agrarian community. Mellows had been arrested in Tullamore and deported to Reading Jail in March 1916, and Laurence Lardner was commanding the battalion in his absence. However, he escaped, arriving back in Ireland disguised as a priest on Easter Monday.

Early that morning the Galway Volunteers received news that the rising had been called off, only to be followed later that day with a message from Pearse that the rising had started in Dublin and the Volunteers were to proceed with their plans – to occupy police barracks and send men to Tralee to collect arms; a redundant task considering the arms had not landed. Many of the Volunteers that had gathered now dispersed, lessening their numbers, though others continued, attacking police barracks in Clarenbridge, Oranmore and Gort on Tuesday. On Wednesday a group of Volunteers came face to face with the Royal Irish Constabulary at Carnmore Crossroads. Shots were exchanged, and Patrick Whelan, aged 34, an RIC Constable with 8 and a half years of service, was killed in the confrontation.

The now 500 strong group of Volunteers under Mellows’ command gathered in Athenry, armed with a small number of rifles with about 30 rounds of ammunition each, old shotguns and other weapons. This lack of arms and ammunition ensured no further attacks could happen and they began retreating further to defensive positions. While camped at the abandoned big house at Lime Park rumours of a large oncoming military forces began to circulate, and the Volunteers finally disbanded at Moyode on Saturday.

Liam Mellows Irish Volunteer tunic, given to Pauline Barry as a token of thanks for her help in his escape (NMI Collection)

Most of the rank and file rebels were arrested and deported to English jails and Frongoch the following week. Laurence Lardner went into hiding in Belfast, Tom Kenny travelled to Boston and Mellows, along with two of his officers – Alfie Monaghan and Frank Hynes – decided to try to return to Dublin via Limerick. They were on the run for the next five months, escaping over the mountains of Derrybrian and into the mountains of Co. Clare.

Sean McNamara of Crusheen, Co. Clare described these months for Mellows, Monaghan and Hynes in his witness statement. Michael Maloney discovered the three men on his land in the Knockjames area and, being himself a member of the IRB and Irish Volunteers, brought them to a hut on the land and supplied them with food. He told McNamara as his commanding officer, who began to collect funds to support them, including over £100 from the Daly Family in Limerick. The men spent five months in the Knockjames mountains hut, and McNamara describes this time almost fondly – ‘Liam had his violin , there were visitors, music and songs, often a wrestling bout and always the Rosary in Irish led by Liam’. In October Volunteer Michael Fogarty brought the order from GHQ Dublin that Mellows should go to America. McNamara was to accompany Mellows to the house of Fr Michael Crowe, the parish priest of Kinvara, who had procured two nun’s habits which were to be used by Mellows and Miss Pauline Barry of Gort as a disguise. McNamara leaves them with Fr Crowe, who later reported that the two ‘nuns’ had attended mass at 6.30am the next morning, describing Mellows as ‘the most perfect nun in appearance that I ever saw’.

They then travelled as a group – Fr Crowe, Bluebell Powell dressed as a novice and the two nuns – by car to Cork, calling at hotels and convents along the way, Mellows’ disguise holding throughout the day.

Veil used to Liam Mellows to escape Ireland, 1916 (NMI Collection EW.1108)

Mellows travelled in this disguise from Cork to Liverpool, and made his way to the house of Republican Peter Murphy. Murphy worked for the Liverpool and Mersey District Shipping Federation, an Employers Association, and, along with his assistant, he began making arrangements to get Mellows onto a ship to New York. Mellows stayed in this house in Liverpool for two weeks. Nellie Gifford-Donnelly, one of the founding members of the Irish Citizen Army and a combatant in the College of Surgeons during the Rising, was also on the run there, waiting to get to America on a false passport.

Nellie Gifford-Donnelly

Murphy arranged for Mellows to sail as a coal trimmer under the name of John Atheridge on a tramp steamer. Nellie helped disguise Liam by dying his hair, and he joined a ship which sailed first to Barbados and then New York, arriving after 6 weeks at sea. During that journey Mellows had risen to the position of Leading Stoker before the ship reached New York in about December 1916.

Sketch of Liam Mellows disguised as a ship's stoker, dated 19 December 1916 (NMI Collection)

Mellows began work with John Devoy on the Gaelic American newspaper, but was soon arrested by the US authorities and imprisoned in the Manhattan Detention Complex in New York, charged with aiding the German enemy. He was released in 1918, and continued to tour the US, speaking for the Republican cause, and helped organize Eamon de Valera’s fundraising trip to America in 1919-20. On his return to Ireland he continued activity through the War of Independence and opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921. He was one of the 77 men officially executed by the Irish Free State Forces, being shot on the morning of 8 December 1922, aged 30.

Liam Mellows, disguised, c. 1920 (NMI Collection)

It is sometimes difficult to square this strange relic with Liam Mellows. There is no denying that there is an element of humour to this story, which is not normally associated with the Liam Mellows we are presented with. Images of him show a young man with a serious demeanor. It is evident in his face that he is an intelligent and understated man. We know that he was able, determined, dedicated to his beliefs, and clearly very hard working. From a young age he was held in very high regard by Thomas Clarke and James Connolly, and was entrusted with the task of mobilizing the west of Ireland. He earned the trust and respect of the men he led. He would of course have been aware in his months in hiding and during his escape that his capture could very likely lead to his death. But I can’t help but wonder if, when handed this black veil to wear, he raised a smile, or perhaps an eyebrow.

Liam Mellows in disguise with Alfie Monahan on his right, Father Sweetman with Sean Etchingham behind (NMI Collection)