Charles Monahan was the first Belfast casualty of 1916.
He had been born on 21st March 1879 to Robert and Johanna Monahan, who lived at 23 Reilly’s Place, off Cromac Street in the Markets. Robert was originally from Wexford, where the surname Monahan is mainly found in the area between New Ross and Hook Head in the south of the county. His mother, Johanna, was born Johanna Nolan and was originally from Kildare.
Robert was a sawyer, one of a number who lived in Reilly’s Place (at the end of the street was John Brown’s Cromac Steam Saw Mills). At the time of the 1901 census, he and two of Charlie’s brothers were were working as mill sawyers or wood cutting machinists. The spelling of Reilly’s Place changed over the twenty years after 1879, becoming Riley’s Place but it is no longer there (it was largely demolished in the 1970s). Its location can be seen on the map below.
Charlie was one of seven children and had an older brother and sister Johanna (born 1872) and George (born 1876), and a younger sister and three younger brothers, Edith (born 1881), James (born 1883), Joseph (born 1886) and Alfred (born 1889). The girls worked in the textile mills, while George, Charlie and James were all wood machinists. His youngest brother, Alf, apprenticed as a poster and lithograph artist.
Charlie had attended the Christian Brothers School in Oxford Street and had trained as a machinist, moving to Dublin in around 1900. In Dublin he lived with Mrs Byrne in 70 Seville Place. While there, he got involved in the GAA (with St Laurence O’Tooles club), the Gaelic League and acquired some further training as a mechanic. He also joined a Dublin Circle of the IRB, while his brother Alf joined the Belfast Circle. His mother died in 1903, while his father died in February 1908. Some time around 1910 he appears to have gone to the United States, returning in 1915.
Prior to the Easter Rising, he was a late addition to the team going down to Kerry as Sean McDermot had him replace Joseph O’Rourke (secretary to the Dublin IRB Centre) almost as they were about to leave. According to Sean Prendergast, Monahan had returned from the United States as an expert mechanic and wireless operator, which is suggested by tools found on his body after he drowned. O’Rourke had been in charge of money and the orders for the mission and he handed these over to Monahan. The team selected for the mission was led by Denis Daly and included Con Keating, Dan Sheehan, Colm O Lochlainn and Monahan. They were given their last instructions by McDermot and Tom Clarke they day before they were to start their journey. The night before they left, Charlie and Con Keating stayed in Connaught Street in the house of Eily O’Reilly, Michael O’Hanrahan’s sister (O’Hanrahan also lived there). According to Denis Daly:
On Holy Thursday night at 44 Mountjoy Street we were given final instructions by Seán MacDermott. They were to the effect that the five of us were to proceed to Killarney by train on Good Friday. At a specified time after the arrival of the train in Killarney we were to go to the road junction on the Killarney-Killorglin road, about a quarter of a mile north of the Cathedral, where we would be met by two motor cars with drivers who would have come to that point from Limerick. We were then to proceed in the two cars, via Killorglin, to Caherciveen, force an entrance to Maurice Fitzgerald’s Wireless College there as quickly as possible, remove the necessary equipment to the cars and take it to a point on the Castlemaine-Tralee road where a party of Tralee Volunteers were to take it over, All of us were armed with revolvers. It was estimated that we would be able to complete the mission and hand over the wireless equipment to the Tralee men before daylight on Easter Saturday morning.
They met with the two cars in Killarney as planned, with Monahan in the car driven by Tom McInerney. After that nothing went to plan. The two cars got separated with the wireless expert (Keating) in McInerney’s car with Sheehan and Monahan. As they passed by the Laune River, McInerney appears to have mistaken directions they were given and, at 10pm, in the darkness, drove off the pier and into the water at Ballykissane. You can see the pier in the photo above (the only difference today is the warning bollards). Only McInerney survived.
As news got out about the drowning, word reached Alf who was with Liam Mellows in Galway during the Rising. Alf didn’t realise that one of those killed with his brother Charlie. According to Eily O’Reilly, Michael O’Hanrahan was badly affected by Keating and Monahan’s deaths (the O’Hanrahans hailed from New Ross in Wexford). A close aide of Sean McDermot and Tom Clarke, Sean McGarry, wrote that there were tears in Tom Clarke’s eyes when he had to inform other IRB members of Monahan’s death.
Charlie Monahan’s remains weren’t recovered from the water until 30th October when they were washed ashore. Even then, his head and feet were missing. They were only found on 3rd November 1917.
Charlie Monahan lies buried in Dromavally cemetery in Killorglin.