Categories
Irish Civil War War of Independence

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.

© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

https://libguides.ucd.ie/academicintegrity/referencingandcitation

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.

Categories
1916 Rising Commemoration

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.

© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

https://libguides.ucd.ie/academicintegrity/referencingandcitation

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.