Steele and McAteers’ Daring Escape

This is ‘Steele and McAteers Daring Escape from the Crumlin Road Jail’ as recorded by The Men of No Property in 1976.

This was released on the LP, ‘Ireland – The Fight Goes On’ on Resistance records (RES 1003 LP). The sleeve notes have this to say about the song: 

  1. Steele and McAteer’s Daring Escape From The Crumlin Road Jail (Traditional)

    • Although it is really traditional, McIlvogue claims it and Whoriskey sings it the escape happened during breakfast at Crumlin Jail Belfast on 15th January 1943. Hugh McAteer, doing 15 years for “treason”, Jimmy Steele, Pat Donnelly, the O/C of Crumlin at the time and Ned Maguire, a slater, forced their way through the roof, dropped 40 feet using sheets, climbed the 20 foot outer wall using an improvised grappling hook and made their escape, despite McAteer injuring his right leg. £3.000 a man was the reward put on their heads but no one informed and that Easter Steele and McAteer appeared to an astonished and delighted audience of film goers at The Broardway Cinema, Falls Roads when the IRA took it over for an Easter commemoration.

As far as it being traditional, the lyrics may have actually been written by Jimmy Steele. Steele edited (and wrote most of) the Belfast edition of Republican News after his escape. A poem about the escape is known to have been included in the March 1943 issue (although I’ve never got my hands on a copy). He regularly included his own poetry and songs in periodicals he published.

The lyrics were also printed in an undated copy of the Rushlight magazine (from some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s). In Rushlight they are laid out as three verses instead of the six that are sung in The Men of No Property’s version. They have slowed the tempo of song down in their recording, but it should be closer to that of Six Miles From Bangor to Donaghadee (as it was sung by Richard Hayward) which uses the same melody. The verses, as printed by Rushlight, fit this version better. This would also give it a more intentionally comedic and light-hearted air than the slower, more severe version recorded by The Men of No Property.

The Stephen Hayes Confession

In 1941 the IRA’s Adjutant-General Sean McCaughey investigated security lapses that had led to arrests of key personnel and the loss of weapons and equipment. He focused on the role of the organisation’s Acting Chief of Staff, Stephen Hayes. McCaughey had Hayes arrested and interrogated at various locations in Dundalk, Wicklow and lastly at 20 Castlewood Park in Rathmines in Dublin. The amount of physical force, used in attempts to coerce a confession from Hayes, is described differently depending on the source (e.g. Tim Pat Coogan, John Bowyer Bell, Uinseann McEoin and Hayes himself). Ultimately, whatever the degree, Hayes made statements implicating himself under duress.

Two charges were subsequently brought against him by McCaughey and heard by an IRA court martial on the 23rd July. These were:

1. That you, Stephen Hayes, conspired with the Irish Free State Government to obstruct the policy and impede the progress of the Irish Republican Army.

2. That you, Stephen Hayes, are guilty of treachery by having deliberately given information of a secret and confidential nature concerning the activities of the Irish Republican Army to a hostile body, to wit, the Irish Free State Government.

Hayes was found guilty and sentenced to death although McCaughey seemed in no hurry to have it carried out. Hayes’ offer to write a full confession then bought him time until a lapse by one of his guards allowed him to escape from Castlewood Park and hand himself into the police in Rathmines on 8th September. McCaughey, then Acting Chief of Staff, had himself been arrested a week before Hayes escaped. Bowyer Bell (in The Secret Army) states that, while Hayes was kept shackled and largely subsisted on bread and tea, he wasn’t subject to further violence after the court martial. This was the period in which Hayes wrote out his confession and he was mainly guarded by Liam Rice and Liam Burke. When the police attempted to raid 20 Castlewood Park, Rice had stayed nearby to intercept Pearse Kelly before he walked into a trap at 20 Castlewood Park (Kelly was expected to arrive any time). Rice was shot in the back by the police and critically wounded, but Kelly evaded capture (Rice got 20 years in April 1942, when he had recovered enough to stand trial). The police arrested the owner of the house Catherine McGoone, and her daughter Una.

Testifying at McCaughey’s trial, Hayes indicated that he had written around 140-150 foolscap pages of what he described as ‘imaginary happenings’. The then Minister of Justice, Gerry Boland, was later to call it a “…weird, fantastic concoction of his alleged connivance with Fianna Fáil ministers…” (see Irish Times, 16/10/68). Pearse Kelly, who had been part of the court martial, had also taken notes and typed up Hayes hand-written admissions. These appear to have been circulated for comments to various people such as Sean McBride and Máire Comerford. According to The Irish Times (11/9/41), Hayes’ disappearance was first noted by the police around mid-August, which seems consistent with the increasing risk of leaks posed by an ever-larger circle being made aware of the Hayes case. McCaughey had been followed, then arrested, on his way back to Castlewood Park after showing the latest admissions by Hayes to McBride at his offices (based on comments by Liam Rice recorded in Ray Quinn’s A Rebel Voice).

In his own account, published by Peadar O’Donnell in The Bell in July 1951, Hayes describes how his admissions evolved, claiming McCaughey began, more and more, to look for material that had potential to be politically explosive, in particular implicating Fianna Fáil ministers. It is clear, in The Bell, that Hayes is deliberately trying to diminish McCaughey here, while simultaneously alluding to Sean McBride’s influence. He paints McCaughey as being unwittingly controlled by others, clearly meaning McBride (who had been a government minister until June that year and was still a TD, the timing of Hayes article in The Bell isn’t coincidental). The shadow of McCaughey must also have still hung over Hayes in 1951, as he had died on hunger and thirst strike in 1946, still protesting his imprisonment on evidence supplied by Hayes.

The Special Communique
The Special Communique

Pearse Kelly (later Head of News in RTÉ) had replaced McCaughey as Acting Chief of Staff a couple of days after his arrest and issued a Special Communique announcing what had transpired with a summary of Hayes’ confession (against the express advice of McBride and in face of protestations by Máire Comerford that Hayes didn’t get a fair trial). In spite of the misgivings of McBride, it was printed and circulated to members of the Oireachtas and read out at specially convened IRA parades (you can access copies in the NLI). The government went as far as to issue a denial, on 24th September, of the allegations made in the Special Communique. Even twenty years later, Gerry Boland was still repeating those denials, saying that “…there was not the slightest foundation, for the allegations or fabrications in the famous confession.” Oddly, though, the Special Communique was mentioned in the Special Criminal Court in the various trials in December 1941 and January and February 1942 for Michael Devereux’s murder (which was detailed in the Communique). George Plant was subsequently executed in March 1942 following the trial (also based on evidence extracted under duress).

John Bowyer Bell, in The Secret Army, recorded that Hayes’ bundle of hand-written foolscap pages had been stored in an IRA documents dump from where it was later retrieved by an un-named former Chief of Staff in the late 1940s but gives no further indication of its fate. A 53-page long typed version of Stephen Hayes’ confession survives in the Annie O’Farrelly Papers in the National Library of Ireland. O’Farrelly was active in Cumann na mBan and it is not immediately recorded how the document came in to her possession. Bowyer Bell notes that a number of versions of Hayes confession had been circulated but that the full text had never been published.

Comparing it to the Special Communique, the O’Farrelly Papers version of the confession is clearly based on the same core text and is likely to be a transcribed version of the 140-150 foolscap hand written pages, presumably the one prepared by Pearse Kelly. Most of the pages are the original typed pages while some are the carbon copy undersheets (indicating that more than one copy was produced at the time of transcription). The first page is a cover page that had a statement of guilt that was apparently to be signed by Hayes and dated 28th August 1941. The formula of words used in the confession differs in emphasis from the charges brought at the court martial on 23rd July:

I, Stephen Hayes, have made the following confession of facts concerning my complicity in the conspiracy with the Free State Government through their agents, Dr James Ryan, TD, Minister for Agriculture, Tomás Derrig, TD, Minister for Education, Senator Chris Byrne, and Laurence de Lacy, to wreck the Irish Republican Army. It has been made with the hope that it will undo some of the harm and injury I did to Óglaigh na h-Éireann through my co-operation with them. I decided on making this Confession after I was made aware of the verdict of the Court martial. I further affirm that this Confession of facts is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and has been made voluntarily by me.”

The last page (MS 47,650/53) indicates that this was not the final page of the document as it ends mid-sentence. Annotations that appear in the margins include pencilled numbers and red ink. The pencilled numbers seem to indicate that the typed version of the confession had attached notes or possibly was the text used to prepare the Special Communique (which is consistent with it being Kelly’s version). A footnote indicates that names marked with an ‘x’ in red ink were (or had been) members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In December 1941, Hayes was to write that “…I was severely taxed for all the information I could give them about the I.R.B. Was I a member? Did I know if it was still in existence? Did I know who were likely to be members of it, and different other aspects of it?” (for contents of the letter see The Irish Times, 20/06/1942). These red ‘x’ in ink are worth noting.

The typed confession can be broken down into a number of sections, based on an assumption that their order reflects the foolscap pages completed by Hayes.

  1. The only exception is possibly the first section which is the cover page with his admission, dated 28th August 1941.
  2. The second contains Hayes full ‘confession’ beginning with how he first had settled into a modus vivendi with a police Chief Superintendent while he was O/C in Wexford (in the early 1930s), then how that had progressed into using his brother-in-law Larry De Leacy to put out feelers to the Fianna Fáil government on various matters. Hayes describes a policy of directing IRA strategy informed by insights into government strategy (he later dismissed all of this as imaginary). This section covers the next seventeen pages of type (pages 2 to 18). At McCaughey’s trial (reported in The Irish Times on 19/9/41), Hayes own evidence suggested he began recording his ‘imaginary happenings’ for about a week beginning around the 25th July. According to Hayes chronology he was then ill-treated for a number of days before he began writing again.
  3. The next seven pages of the typescript (roughly pages 19-25) revisits points already covered in pages 2-18 and were presumably then added from around the 3rd or 4th of August up to the 28th August. It is clear from the accounts by Hayes (in The Bell), Bowyer Bell (The Secret Army) and Quinn (A Rebel Voice) that Hayes progress was regarded as overly slow and that it was believed he was merely dragging out writing the confession. At this point the admission was written that appears on the coversheet and was dated 28th August.
  4. This is followed by almost ten pages (roughly pages 26 to 35) of lists of names detailing Hayes contacts in various places and organisations. This seems to include both those in the Free State government that Hayes claims he communicated with, plus safe houses and others that Hayes knew. This can be read both as providing details of a network of safe houses and supporters, or people who were at risk. There is no explanatory note attached to the lists but in The Bell, Hayes makes it clear that McCaughey had wanted to extract as much information from him as possible.
  5. In court Hayes described how he “… kept writing out page after page while I played for time, because I knew that when I finished the statement the verdict of the court martial would probably be carried out.” While this is apparent throughout the typed document, it is particularly so in the fifth section, from roughly page 36 to around page 47 as he again revisits the admissions made in pages 2-18, rambling backwards and forwards over various episodes.
  6. The last six or seven pages of the document are different in character as they read like briefing notes with commentary on various aspects of Fianna Fáil strategy and tactics. Clearly Hayes changed tack by this point.
  7. Unknown number of pages missing after page 53.

The admission on page 1 is dated the 28th August. Hayes claimed in court that he had his legs chained for about ten days before he escaped on 8th September (a week after McCaughey’s arrest). As he kept writing up until his escape on the 8th September, roughly from page 19 to page 53 was written (in ink on the relevant portion of the original 140-150 pages of foolscap) from around 4th August to 8th September. According to The Irish Times (11/9/41), Hayes’ disappearance was noted by the police around mid-August (as noted above) apparently as the contents of page 2 to 18 were being circulated amongst those McCaughey was hoping to convince of Hayes guilt. Meanwhile Hayes revisited those points, apparently until 28th August. Then, he had to change tactic and began adding the lists of names to continue stalling McCaughey. Pages 36 to 47 were also written sometime after the 28th August and it is tempting to see the change in emphasis from around page 47 as coinciding with McCaughey’s arrest, with Hayes now effectively writing briefing notes for Pearse Kelly (the new Acting Chief of Staff).

This schema seems reasonably credible and suggests that the typed confession in the Annie O’Farrelly Papers is close to the finished manuscript written by Stephen Hayes. The red ‘x’ marked in ink beside certain names to indicate former I.R.B. membership seems to indicate that this is the copy transcribed at the time by Pearse Kelly and used during the interrogation of Hayes.

As to the charges brought against Hayes by McCaughey? Hayes himself was sentenced to five years, for usurping the functions of the government, in 1942. The sentence is usually offered in defence of Hayes to support his innocence, but arguably prison was the safest place he could be for a number of years. Oddly, he was also given back his council job in Wexford after petitioning the Department of the Taoiseach for both an early release and a pension (see TSCH/3/S12620, National Archives). Curiously, the court case against him was very slow to take place and the charges were based on a letter he wrote to Máire Comerford which was intercepted by the authorities in Mountjoy in December 1941 (where Hayes was being held at the time). The letter is a series of accusations against other people at a time when Hayes was under considerable pressure. By December 1941, a number of people were on trial for Michael Devereux’s murder (for which George Plant would be executed), McCaughey was on the blanket protest in Portlaoise having received twenty years on Hayes’ evidence, and, others like Seamus O’Boyle (accused of conspiring to imprison Hayes) and Liam Rice, were also either awaiting trial or in prison.

In the letter Hayes gave explanations for what he included in the confession (this was reported in The Irish Times during Hayes trial on 20th June 1942). One was a charge that McCaughey had actually been trying to make a deal on behalf of the Six Counties at the time (presumably meaning a deal with the same Fianna Fáil people he was accused of having as contacts). He also claimed “…All the stuff about the English campaign is built on the arguments of those who opposed the idea, and is really an apology for it.” Another was that McCaughey had even said that J.J. McGarrity had only backed the English campaign to try and help de Valera. Hayes also noted that he had inserted specific dates for meetings that he knew he hadn’t attended and that he knew others could vouch for. As far as the accusations against him, Hayes cited various events in Cork saying that they had “…done more harm to Republican opinion than all else in every part of Ireland. Yet no-one accuses those responsible of entering into a conspiracy…”. He was also critical of Charlie McGlade, saying that some of what he took responsibility for in the confession were McGlade’s actions, such as articles in War News. Jim Killeen and Sean McBride were both mentioned as Hayes mused over being interrogated about events in 1921 and the early 1930s that Hayes believed “…points to someone, or some group outside the Northern crowd who kidnapped me.” As to the Northerners, Hayes told Comerford, “…You can only convince them in one way, and that is by the methods they have employed on so many other unfortunate, even in their own territory.

In some cases, Hayes claim can be supported by other evidence. Tarlach Ó hUid, who is generally critical of the IRA, relates the same story about Charlie McGlade as editor of the Belfast edition of War News in Ar Thoir Mo Shealbh. He also makes clear he doesn’t believe the accusations against Hayes, though, as Ó hUid points out that he doesn’t think Hayes could have orchestrated the arrests of republicans in Belfast in December 1938 (they were detained then interned, some until 1945). However, no-one contests that they were advised to return to their homes after sleeping out for two or three weeks, just days before their arrest. Erroneously, Hayes writes “…all the principal officers of the Belfast Battalion were caught and interned” in the confession, when most had evaded capture. A point possibly not lost on his interrogators.

But notably, a circumstantial criticism against Hayes, that he doesn’t address in the December 1941 letter, gets picked up later on. In October 1968, Michael McInerney published an interview over various issues of The Irish Times with the Minister for Justice in the early 1940s, Gerry Boland, in which Boland “… mused to himself once or twice in my interviews with him why Hayes had not referred to himself, personally. After all, he was the Minister in charge of the whole police force, including the political police.

McInerney also repeats a story from the end of 1938 and start of 1939, claiming that at the time, “…the IRA was preparing to make an extraordinary proposition to the Government. Sean Russell and his new executive, while deciding on a campaign of bombing of strategic targets in Britain, had decided also to abandon any idea of physical-force within Ireland. The audacious proposition they put to the Government was that, in return for an offer of peace at home, they should be allowed to use Ireland as a base for the bomb attacks on Britain. Mr Boland recalls that, at first, the idea was actually considered seriously by one or two members of the Government, but when it came before the Cabinet as a whole it was thrown out at once.

This appears to contradict all the robust denials made at the time, and later, about some claims made in the Special Communique. It may also unravel the nature of Hayes’ relationships that opened him up to charges of conspiring with the Irish Free State Government and deliberately giving information of a secret and confidential nature away. Hayes did seem to believe that reducing direct conflict with the government and, to some extent, harmonising their strategies as far as practically possible, was a valid route to achieving the stated goals of the republican movement. This is borne out by Gerry Boland’s belated, and unheralded, admissions in 1968. In his confession, he wrote that they advised the Fianna Fáil government they could push the partition issue with Britain on the grounds that “If you won’t make a deal with us, you will have to deal with the IRA.” He also wrote that they advised the government that they could link the failure of an Anti-Partition campaign to the bombing if no concessions were given, or claim the credit if successful. While Hayes wrote these statements under duress, this is consistent with the admissions made by Gerry Boland in 1968, who goes further in identifying what Russell and Hayes offered in return.

Whether a Chief of Staff had the authority to make such offers is one issue. Hayes had quietly begun to develop some of his own network, people like Jim Crofton, his spy in Dublin Castle although to what purpose isn’t clear. To the northerners, like McCaughey and McGlade, who had been pushing for a campaign in the six counties, what they could see of Hayes actions were tantamount to treachery. The fact that this perceived treachery then made sense of a series of other misfortunes that had befallen the IRA merely served as a possibility that would deliver the justifications needed to swing the wider republican community behind them in deposing Hayes. Extracting a confession from Hayes under duress, which introduced deliberate inaccuracies and obfuscations, simply exacerbated the situation.

That Hayes, in his cynicism, didn’t seem to see fit to bring a wider circle into his confidence as to his wider strategic direction, appears to have contributed to his downfall. Without preparing the ground to significantly shift IRA strategy, Hayes was left unprepared to defend that strategy when challenged. But Boland confirms that, whatever his real motives, Hayes (and presumably Russell) had communicated the IRA’s intentions to the Fianna Fáil government, just as he had been charged.

Stephen Hayes, photographed in The Irish Times, 1/24/53
Stephen Hayes, photographed in The Irish Times, 1/24/53

Not being anything to anyone: Ballagh on 1916

Robert Ballagh speaking about the government’s plans to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising this year at a recent book launch in Gorey:

 “Equating the sacrifices of the British soldiers who died …when they did so in the very act of destroying the republic we are supposed to be commemorating… They had intended displaying the names Pearse and Connolly along with many others from the opposite side in alphabetical order on a wall. Can you imagine that happening in London, with those from the Luftwaffe given the same prominence as their own soldiers, or in Arlington Cemetery in the USA? This is national self-abasement – trying to be all things to all people but in the end not being anything to anyone…

Worth bearing in mind as we get the first instalment of Rebellion,  RTÉ’s fictionalised reading of 1916,  giving an insight into what official Ireland probably wants us to make of events one hundred years ago.

Robert Ballagh at the launch in Gorey
Robert Ballagh at the launch in Gorey

1970s Christmas Messages from Republican News

Usually I don’t cover the post-1970 period directly, but here is some early 1970s Christmas items from Republican News. The articles include a two page spread on Long Kesh naming many of those interned at Christmas 1974, a number of front covers, messages from individual battalions of the Belfast Brigade and even a piece supporting freedom for Cornwall.

 img_24001974 Centre pages, including names of internees in each Cage in Long Kesh.


1973 Christmas message


1973 Cover with Christmas message

1973 Messages from each battalion of the Belfast Brigade


1972 Cover of Christmas edition


1972 Christmas message


1972 And a piece on Cornish freedom in the Christmas issue. 

Interned for the ‘duration of the war’

Nine months before the outbreak of the second world war, and a month before the IRA’s own Bombing Campaign began in Britain, the unionist government once again began interning republicans in Belfast in 1938. Some were to be held until 1945, without trial or charges.

On 22nd December 1938, the RUC carried out a series of raids across Belfast, arresting 33 men (plus one in Ballymena). Among those arrested was the O/C of the Belfast IRA, Sean McArdle and many senior republicans, like Chris McLoughlin (the Belfast IRA delegate to the 1938 IRA Army Convention) and veterans like Jack McNally and Joe McGurk. All had been imprisoned on numerous occasions, McArdle having even spent the start of that year in prison. But the raids revealed the stark limitations of RUC intelligence. Most of the IRA staff, including the likes of Sean McCaughey and Albert Price, remained at large. The quality of the RUC operation is also illustrated by the arrest of Frank McGlade. When they arrived at the McGlades to arrest his brother, Charlie (who wasn’t there), rather than returning to barracks a prisoner short, they took Frank instead. As Sean McArdle was interned, Charlie took over as O/C Belfast. Frank was to remain interned until 1945.

The Belfast IRA had also known the RUC were coming. They had been put on alert that there was a major swoop imminent in November when a number of customs posts had been blown up on the 28th and 29th (three IRA volunteers, none from Belfast, died in a premature explosion at Castlefin in Donegal on the 28th). Sporadic bomb attacks, mainly by unionists, had occurred almost every month in Belfast in 1937 and 1938. These included a bomb attack on the McKelvey GAA club’s rooms in Rockmount Street in the days before the custom posts were blown up (damaging an adjoining social club and injuring three men). There was also an attack on Brantry GAA club in Tyrone in the week afterwards (on 6th December). Needless to say, despite their ongoing bombing campaign, no unionists were arrested and, again despite the attacks occurring on the border, mostly Belfast republicans were interned.

Those republicans who believed they were known to the RUC had been staying away from their homes since the attacks on customs huts around the 28th November. GHQ in Dublin then advised them that it was safe to return to their homes. That was a couple of days before 22nd December. Liam Rice contends that it was later learned that the RUC received information from Dublin to carry out the round-up (in Ray Quinn’s 1997 book A Rebel Voice, clearly referencing Stephen Hayes, the Chief of Staff deposed and court martialled in 1941).

The thirty-four detained by the northern government were Sean McArdle, Joe McGurk, Chris McLoughlin, Jack McNally, Joe Boal, Mick Trainor, Oliver Trainor, Dickie Dunne, Billy Watson, Bobby Hicks, Jim Nolan, Frank McGlade, John McGuinness, George O’Connor, Joe Keenan, Joe Cullen, Sam Irvine, Angelo Forte, Arthur Mullen, Jim Campbell, Billy Murray, Gerry Harte and Pat Loughrey. They were taken first to the cells in Chichester Street Barracks then on to Crumlin Road prison. Many were familiar with the grind of routine arrests by the RUC only for it to then be followed days or weeks later by release without charge, mainly under section 23 of the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act. On this occasion, though, all thirty-four were served with internment papers in mid-January.

Copy of Chris McLoughlin's internment order (courtesy of Chris McLoughlin Jr)
Copy of Chris McLoughlin’s internment order (courtesy of Chris McLoughlin Jr)

In case anyone was under any illusions, the Minister of Home Affairs in the northern government, Dawson Bates, was making it clear in Stormont in the latter half of 1941 that anyone interned would not get out until the war was over. So most did not get released until 1945 and were to spend time interned in Crumlin Road, the prison ship Al Rawdah and Derry prison where they were joined by several hundred others. The conditions in all three were dreadful. Dickie Dunne, one of the thirty-four arrested on 22nd December 1938, died due to the poor conditions in prison (along with many others). John McGuffin (in his 1973 book on Internment) estimates that the experience meant that 80% of republicans didn’t re-involve themselves with the IRA on their release in 1945.

The mortality rate among the prisoners appears to have been a staggering 3%. To put that in context, the mortality rate of the British armed forces in the second world war was 3.3%. To the unionists, unconcerned by fatalities, untroubled by criticism and secure in the knowledge that they were subject to no meaningful scrutiny, internment was a triumph.

New book on 1916 (focus on North Wexford)

Last Tuesday saw the launch of ‘Proclaiming the Republic: North Wexford & the 1916 Rising’, written by myself and Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin (a local historian and a Sinn Féin county councillor in Wexford). Technically, much of the book was actually written by people from North Wexford who took part or witnessed  the events of 1916. This included the seizure of Enniscorthy, Ferns and the surrounding area in the name of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic. Seamus Ó Dubhghaill, Adjutant of the republican garrison wrote and posted up a proclamation in Enniscorthy. He later wrote:

I issued a proclamation, proclaiming the Republic, and calling on the people to support it and defend it.

Unfortunately this proclamation, probably the most important document of 1916 in Wexford, is now lost (and not just important to Wexford obviously). The book includes a foreword by Ruan O’Donnell.

The North Wexford connections go beyond the local activity in 1916. It include the likes of Máire Deegan, Min Ryan and her sister Agnes (who left Cumann na mBan in Belfast to come down to Wexford for the Rising), James Corcoran of the Citizens Army (killed in action in St Stephen’s Green) and, of course, the Mellows family. Liam Mellows provides another Belfast connection as the city companies were to travel to Connacht to fight under him. His mother Sarah was a founding member of Cumann na mBan.


The authors (Fionntán on the left, me on the right), Robert Ballagh and local re-enactors at the launch in Gorey Library

The inimitable Robert Ballagh officially launched the book in Gorey library, and endorsed the book as “...once and for all, it nails the lie that The Easter Rising was simply a Dublin affair.” He was also highly critical of the current government’s commemorative plans for 2016.

Production of the book was supported by Wexford county council and proceeds are going to a local mental health charity, It will mainly go on sale locally in Wexford (about 130 pages, softback, with some colour, price is around €10). I will try and get up kindle and/or PDF versions online in the near future. In the meantime, a limited number of copies can be purchased from me (send me a message via my gmail address, which is just jjconeill with the usual @ and  including where you are – postage should be €2.50 in Ireland, €5 elsewhere). I’ll update about the kindle/pdf versions as I work it out.

Dan Turley, a 1916 veteran shot by the IRA?

This is a long post but it is worth bearing with it. It concerns Dan Turley, shot dead on 4th December 1936 by members of the Belfast IRA. Despite being mentioned in various accounts of the IRA, the circumstances surrounding Turley’s death don’t seem to have been fully explored or understood. His family, some of whom remained active and staunch republicans, have never wavered in protesting his innocence.

Born in Belfast around 1889, Dan Turley had been involved with the Belfast Circle of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the No. 1 Dungannon Club in Belfast, since 1907. Those involved with the Belfast Circle included the likes of Bulmer Hobson, Denis McCullough (President of the Supreme Council of the IRB in 1916), Sean McDermot (who was to be executed in 1916), Ernest Blythe, Liam Gaynor and Cathal O’Shannon. Blythe remembered him as ‘quite a good fellow’. Turley had mobilised with the rest of the Belfast IRB Circles and Irish Volunteers at Easter in 1916, travelling to Coalisland.

After the Rising, he was Sinn Féin’s director of elections in Belfast in 1918, the election which led to the creation of the First Dáil. Sinn Féin stood a candidate in each of the nine constituencies in the city (Cromac, Duncairn, Falls, Ormeau, Pottinger, St Anne’s, Shankill, Victoria, Woodvale) but fared badly and made little impact. His role in the IRA after 1919 isn’t entirely clear, but as he was appointed Head of Intelligence for the 3rd Northern Division in 1922, presumably he was involved in an intelligence role up until that time. He opposed the Treaty and was eventually arrested and interned in 1922, on the Argenta prison ship and in Larne Camp. He was also treated as a suspect in the death of William Twaddell, a Unionist MP shot dead in May 1922. After his release from Larne in August 1923, he continued his involvement in the IRA.

Turley then served on the staff of Belfast IRA under its O/C, the former Quartermaster of the 3rd Northern Division, Hugh Corvin. When Corvin resigned in April 1926, GHQ had sent an organiser to Belfast, a Staff Captain called Wilson, who notified Dublin that Turley was taking over as O/C. GHQ seemed to think he was difficult to deal with and Turley didn’t last long in the role, with Davy Matthews taking over. Notably (in light of later events) Wilson seems to have been associated with Mick Price and George Gilmore in GHQ.

Turley stayed on as part of Matthew’s staff, often serving as either Adjutant or Intelligence Officer. He also remained a member of Sinn Féin. Harry White remembered hearing Turley give lectures on the party in the early 1930s, and wrote in his memoir, Harry, that Turley was a good speaker and good organiser. Remaining on the Belfast IRA staff, over the years, Turley was also to spend spells as a detainee in prison in Belfast and Derry, often with no charges brought against him. In 1930, for instance, he was picked up and held for a while, at a time when he was specifically concerned at arms dumps being captured by the RUC. Turley didn’t believe those finds were being made by chance.

Over the winter of 1931, Matthews and Turley were to hold meetings over political strategy with Harry Diamond, initially a Devlinite, but later a socialist republican who was to be elected to various offices in the 1930s and later (quoted in Monck and Rolston’s Belfast in the 1930sAn Oral History). Diamond thought they lacked a political strategy at a time when there was increasing agitation on social issues in Belfast.

In the early 1930s the Belfast Battalion was becoming increasingly active. In January 1932, they raided a house in Glengormley for arms., leading to James Connolly and Arthur Thornbury being arrested and given 18 months for larceny. Before their trial, the IRA organised for handbills to be posted up calling for their release. The northern government prosecuted both those who produced the posters, printers Joseph and Thomas Cahill (the father and uncle of Joe Cahill) and those who had ordered the posters; Dan Turley, Tom O’Malley and Willie McCurry. Turley got three months and O’Malley and McCurry a month each.

After his arrest and imprisonment in June, Turley seems to have resigned from the IRA. In a letter he wrote to his wife on the 4th May 1933, apparently referring to when he was arrested, said, “I had been quietly praying to God to guide me if I was doing right in allowing my children to continue in an organisation that, in my opinion, was going day by day anti-Catholic.” He also suspected that the arrests were down to an informer (printed in Irish News and Irish Press on 21st September 1945).

During that year the IRA issued an address to the men and women of the Orange Order, written by Peadar O’Donnell, trying to appeal directly to northern Protestants rather than through the Belfast IRA. Correspondence in early and mid-July between Matthews and the Chief of Staff do make it clear that IRA volunteers in the city did deliver it door to door in districts like Sandy Row. For a number of years, O’Donnell and others in GHQ had been liaising with individual IRA volunteers in Belfast on sociopolitical issues rather than going through formal command channels. Alongside their bypassing of the Belfast IRA staff, there was ongoing and increasingly bitter, and public, criticism of Matthews and Turley by O’Donnell, George Gilmore, Mick Price and others at GHQ.

Dan Turley’s release from Crumlin Road in September after four months included a céili to welcome him home. The real reason for the celebration after his release appears to have been that Turley had decided to go back on the active list. He was later to write that, despite his misgivings about the left-wing political emphasis, he “…went in body and soul to do everything to stop the information that was breaking out somewhere.” He believed that, before his arrest, he was “…close on it and the person, or persons responsible for it were getting afraid…”. Turley also appears to have returned to his role as the Belfast IRA’s Intelligence Officer.

According to Peter Carleton (in Uinseann McEoin’s book Survivors), later that September he was asked to deliver a letter to Davy Matthews at Pearse Hall and found Turley there with Joe McGurk, the Belfast Adjutant. The letter was from GHQ’s George Gilmore who had been openly critical of the resistance and apathy of Matthews and some of the Belfast IRA leadership to Saor Éire and left-wing policies in general. Turley appeared to have already been unpopular with Gilmore’s circle in 1926. Although Matthews was not there when the letter arrived, Turley tried to get McGurk to open it. Carleton objected to this, but Davy Matthews then appeared and read the letter (Matthews had actually been at a meeting of the Painter’s Union). He told Carleton, “This is Communist philosophy, Peter. And there is as much difference between Republicanism and Communism as there is between day and night.” Matthews also dismissed concerns that riots in Belfast were now likely, expressed to him in person by Peadar O’Donnell after rioting in Liverpool at the end of September.

A month later, the Outdoor Relief Riots were to catch Matthews and Turley off-guard. While it is clear from the oral histories collected by Ronnie Monck and Bill Rolston that individual IRA members were involved in the riots, as an organisation the IRA weren’t directly involved. This drew even more criticism onto Matthews and Turley (particularly among those members of GHQ staff that were left-wing) and increasing pressure to participate in future campaigns on social issues.

In December, the RUC ran into a group of IRA volunteers being drilled in Finaghy (later claiming 70-80 men were present). There was a scuffle and some guns were waved around but no-one was injured. As a result of this incident, Sean Turley, Dan’s son, got twelve months and Chris McLaughlin, from North Queen Street, got eight months.

In January 1933, at the trade unions’ behest, Matthews consented to the IRA taking actions in support of a rail strike that was underway. On 28th February an RUC man was killed in an exchange of fire with an IRA unit in Durham Street. By this time the Irish Catholic bishops had already become increasingly vocal critics of ‘Communism’ and the left-wing policies of the IRA and there was quite a public debate in the press on the issue. Clearly not everyone in the IRA agreed with supporting the strike. The letter Dan Turley had written to his wife in which he described the IRA as “…an organisation that, in my opinion, was going day by day anti-Catholic…” refers to the rail strike and is dated 4th May (1933).

Turley was summoned to a meeting in Dublin on the 5th April which he was told was to be an IRA army convention. He was accompanied by two other senior Belfast IRA staff members. He had intended to resign from the IRA, this time for good. Not only had he been unable to expose the informer he suspected among the Belfast IRA, he also disagreed with IRA strategy. Based on his letters, it is also clear that he personally did not get on with a number of other IRA veterans. But at the meeting, he was told that he had been secretly under investigation and was now under arrest. He was placed in a car and driven over the border into Monaghan. While in the car, he was told that he was being charged with giving information to the enemy. Initially, Turley felt that he would be exonerated by a court martial. He was held for a week without anything happening until the next Tuesday night, when he was questioned by a member of GHQ staff. He was asked to admit that he had given away arms dumps. The interrogators beat him badly and after three hours and more threats he agreed to confess, assuming this would lead to a court martial at which he could plead his innocence.

In the morning he was given a statement to sign, which included that he had given away Thornbury and Connolly. He refused and was again beaten for an hour and a half, eventually signing a confession. He was then court-martialled with Mick Price as the prosecuting officer. There was, of course, a history of antagonism between Turley and Matthews and the left republicans, like Price, in GHQ. In that regard, he may have been the victim of a personalised attack by those who disliked him in GHQ.

Turley was found guilty and sentenced to death for spying but agreed to going into exile on pain of being shot if he returned to Belfast. Initially it was suggested he move to Canada, but he refused and in the end Sean Russell accompanied him to Glasgow. Within a few weeks, he seems to have moved to Southampton. Rumours then appear to have circulated that he had returned to Belfast and, at the end of September, two masked gunmen broke into the house he had shared with his wife in Dunmore Street and searched it (finding nothing).

By 1936 Dan Turley had definitely returned to Belfast. Certainly for some considerable time he had been living openly with his own family home in Dunmore Street. As he was in receipt of public assistance, he was to attend the Public Assistance Bureau at 3 pm in the afternoon of the 4th December. He had already been out at mass in Clonard monastery that morning. As he walked along Clonard Street and into Kashmir Road, a car drew alongside him and gunmen jumped out. They shot him four times. When passers-by rushed to his aid they found his hand clasped on a small statuette of the Child of Prague that he carried in his pocket. He died in the Royal Victoria Hospital half an hour later.

Turley himself had written in 1933 that he had concerns that an informer was active and that he was being targeted because of his suspicions (suggesting that he had openly voiced his disquiet among colleagues). Obviously, as he was no longer involved, he was in no position to have given away either the Campbell College raid (in 1935) or the Crown Entry meeting in 1936, which led to the arrest of all but one of the Belfast IRA staff.

Joe Hanna, another 3rd Northern Division veteran, had replaced Turley as Intelligence Officer of the Battalion and was the sole member of the Belfast IRA staff to escape the Crown Entry raid. A letter captured on 15th January 1937 by the RUC in a raid on the home of William McAllister, the Belfast Adjutant, showed that, late in 1936, the Belfast Battalion had been ordered not to carry out any armed actions for a few months. Turley’s death appears to have been carried out despite this order, suggesting it may not have been fully sanctioned by the IRA leadership.


A man called Frank Moyna appears to have been the person who first identified Turley as an informer. In Harry and Ray Quinn’s A Rebel Voice, two stories are told by Harry White, one about the interrogation of Frank Moyna the other about someone who tried to identify a senior IRA figure as an informer earlier in the 1930s. In Ray Quinn’s book this person is identified as the same person who first pointed a finger at Dan Turley. It is clear from the footnotes in Harry, that this is Frank Moyna. Moyna’s name was mentioned in court in connection with the IRA in 1933, some months after Turley’s court martial. This was during the George Gibson court case which led to the imprisonment of some senior Belfast IRA staff and escalated until an RUC man was shot dead in Roumania Street. Harry White had Moyna held for questioning in 1944 but felt that they couldn’t securely prove his guilt. Perhaps not coincidentally, Moyna’s detention was also believed to have prompted a raid on Dan Turley’s son’s house.

In the background, Albert Price and Sean McCaughey had been investigating the security lapses in 1935 and 1936. The raid on McAllister’s home in January may have been the last straw. On 26th January, Hanna attended a court martial in a club on Bow Street then went home. On his way back to Bow Street to hear the verdict he was shot dead at the corner of Marchioness Street and McDonnell Street.

Tim Pat Coogan was later to describe Turley’s as probably the most contentious of all IRA court martials. The most damning comment though is in the prison memoir, published in 1985, by Tarlach Ó hUid. He states that, in 1940, a Chichester Street RUC Detective called Davidson told him that shooting Dan Turley was an injustice. Davidson was presenting Ó hUid with internment papers and they had a pointed exchange that referred to people being shot in the street as informers, during which Davidson said, “In Hanna’s case, that’s one story, Terry. But they committed an injustice over Dan Turley.” (I dtaca le Hanna de, sin scéal amháin, Terry. Ach bhí said san éagóir ar Dan Turley.)

Dan Turley sons remained active in the republican movement and seem to both have been certain of his innocence, and, it would seem that that belief was shared by some senior IRA figures. His son Dan had been producing Republican News with Harry White in 1944 and into 1945 when he was arrested and printing equipment and other material deemed illegal was seized (after Frank Moyna’s questioning).

Turley himself had written about whoever was betraying the Belfast IRA, that he believed that he had been “…close on it and the person, or persons responsible for it were getting afraid…”. Based on the current evidence, Turley appears to have been very much a victim of circumstances. Indeed the RUC admitted his innocence and confirmed Joe Hanna’s guilt to Tarlach Ó hUid. Suspicion, rightly or wrongly, also seems to have fallen on Frank Moyna. Hanna, it is possible (although there is no evidence to confirm it), may have moved against Turley to distract attention from himself in December 1936, contravening the order that the Belfast IRA remain inactive. But this may even have put Hanna under further suspicion. Either way, whether it was Moyna pointing the finger, or Hanna, once Turley fell into the hands of GHQ he found himself at the mercy of his political critics. Given that Turley may have had a history of clashing with Mick Price going back into the 1920s, his selection as prosecuting officer for Turley’s court martial may have ensured a successful prosecution. Either way, Price would have had a conflict of interest as a direct critic of the Belfast leadership. Notably Matthews may have taken the hint and had also left the IRA by the end of the same year.

Taken as a whole, it is hard to escape the conclusion that, rather than being an informer, Dan Turley was twice sacrificed by an actual informer like Joe Hanna or by Frank Moyna (Moyna’s motivation for this isn’t entirely clear). The first time was to his opponents in GHQ, as Turley was getting too close to the real informer. The second to try and distract attention when that informer was close to being discovered. Either way, if Tarlach Ó hUid is to be believed, even the RUC have confirmed his innocence.

Given his service in the IRB and IRA, including mobilising for the Easter Rising in 1916, it would be a significant gesture if his family were asked, for the centenary of the Rising and the 80th anniversary of his death, if they would like a plaque with his name added to the County Antrim monument in Milltown. It will not change the fact that his family had to live with his name being tainted as that of a traitor since 1933. But it would remove any suspicion for once and for all and both restore his good name and recognise his long service to republicanism.

Terminology: ‘Tan War’ or ‘War of Independence’?

So is the ‘Tan War’ or ‘War of Independence’ the preferred term to describe the period from 1919 to the truce in 1921? Next year will be the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916, which was known at the time as the ‘Sinn Féin Rebellion’ and other variants of ‘Rebellion’ (‘Easter’ or ‘Irish’ or just ‘1916’). All these were gradually displaced over time by the name ‘Easter Rising’ which it will be almost universally known as next year.

One way of measuring this is to compare the frequency with which the terms ‘Easter Rebellion’, ‘Sinn Féin Rebellion’ and ‘Easter Rising’ are found in Google Books or The Irish Times in the decades after 1921. Up to the 1960s, they all appear with more or less the same frequency, apart from the 1940s when ‘Easter Rebellion’ was the main term used. From the 1960s, ‘Easter Rising’ became the common term used. In that decade it was used twice as often as the other terms combined.

A variety of terms are also used to describe the post-1916 revolutionary period in Ireland. But even defining the time span in question is tricky. Can you even, meaningfully, regard it as merely post-1916? Indeed, it can be taken to mean the years that begin with the militarisation of independence with the formation of the UVF in 1912, or the mass importation of weaponry starting with the Larne gun-running of April 1914. Clearly, a case can be made that it was the Easter Rising of 1916 that really draws a line between the unsuccessful constitutional Home Rule projects of the mid-1880s onwards and the eclipse of constitutional nationalism in favour of militant revolutionary separatism.

It is possible to argue for an earlier date if you believe that it is all unified within a historical continuum that includes the founding of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1858, or more loosely, back through the famine to 1798 and beyond. Alternatively, it is possible to argue for a post-Great War date of 1918, by when the Home Rule on offer had also been watered down to nothingness, and, linking it to the election of that year and subsequent formation of the First Dáil.

Two of the most commonly used terms can both be regarded as unsatisfying. Many republicans deride the use of the phrase ‘War of Independence’ since, obviously, independence was not what emerged at the end of the ‘war’. In the 1920s (and after), it was more common to cite the actions and strategies of both the Dublin and Belfast administrations as evidencing the lack of independence achieved. Based on its frequency of use in Google Books and The Irish Times, ‘War of Independence’ seems to have gained currency after the Republic of Ireland Act came into force in 1949. Up to then ‘Black and Tan War’ or ‘Tan War’ was more commonly used.

The ‘Tan War’ term though, is relatively meaningless in Belfast where the reprisals and killings carried out by the Black and Tans, and, Auxiliaries from the summer of 1920, were, instead, carried out by RIC officers and unionist militias. It is clear from the tenor of contemporary and later correspondence, such as the Pension Award archives, that the Belfast Brigade’s limited engagement with the Black and Tans or Auxiliaries was used to minimise the Brigade’s overall contribution. This in spite of the fact that around 25% of all casualties in Ireland from 1919 up to the outbreak of violence in Dublin in mid-1922 occurred in the Belfast Brigade’s operational area. The violence deployed by the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries was supplied, instead, by the unionist militias and RIC in the north. With honourable exceptions, the proportional intensity of the northern violence is largely understated in accounts of the period. Arguably, the phrase ‘Tan War’ similarly fails to address the reality of the period in ignoring the Belfast (and general northern) experience.

Once the 1916 centenary is out of the way and attention drifts to the period after 1918, it will be interesting to see what becomes the prefered terminology.

Mobilising in Belfast for 1916

In a previous post on Belfast in 1916, I had added the list of Irish Volunteers from the Belfast Companies involved at Easter 1916 compiled as part of the military pensions committee’s work in 1936. The list contained 156 names which didn’t seem consistent with other figures given for the number of Irish Volunteers from Belfast who had mobilised at Easter 1916 (the suggested figures seem to vary from 90 to 130).

In the witness statements made by those involved to the Bureau of Military History, the actual numbers are a bit clearer. Excerpts from three statements are included below that shed some light on the Belfast contingent that mobilised. It was effectively divided into four sections, three companies that were to travel to Dungannon and Coalisland on Easter Saturday, a fourth that was to arrive on the Sunday morning, along with an expected contingent that was to arrive by boat in Belfast from Glasgow then travel onwards with the Belfast Volunteers on the Sunday. Once linked up with the Irish Volunteers from Tyrone they were to travel to the west and serve under Liam Mellows command, including the provision of a  defensive screen along the River Shannon.

1916 service medal
1916 Easter Rising service medal

The first account is by Cathal McDowell, who was Captain of A Company in the Irish Volunteers and also an IRB member. He gives an exact figure of 114 Volunteers travelling on the Saturday in three groups, one of 30, one of 20-25 and the remainder in a third. If the list of 156 names compiled in 1936 is credible, then that would mean 42 were travel on the Sunday morning, which seems consistent with the groups travelling on the Saturday. Frank Booth, another Belfast IRB man, describes what transpired with the Glasgow contingent. Booth was to travel on the Sunday but the remaining 42 men never left Belfast that day but are included on the list (showing that the list indicates only that they mobilised, not that they travelled to Tyrone). Finally Pat McCormick, who represented the IRB’s Scottish Division on the Supreme Council, explains what happened to the Glaswegians.

Cathal McDowell:

From Tuesday or Wednesday previous to Easter Week we had orders to march to Coalisland, Co. Tyrone. The rifles were transferred by taxi on Holy Thursday, and the contingent for Coalisland was divided up into three batches.

The first batch to move were unemployed man and men who had the weekend off – I had charge of this batch. The second batch was under the command of Archie Heron who had been made an officer a short time previously. The last batch was under the charge of Peter Burns and Sean Kelly. The first batch left midday on Saturday; the second batch left about 5 or 6 o’clock on Saturday, and the third batch arrived around midnight. There was a further batch to leave on Sunday morning – men who were working late on Saturday night such as barmen – and also a contingent that was expected by boat from Scotland. This Scotch contingent did not arrive in Belfast, and the Sunday morning contingent did not travel.

On my arrival in Tyrone I met a man whom I met previously in Belfast. His job when I met him in Belfast was a travelling inspector who visited the different circles, and it was in this connection I had met him. I can’t remember his name just now, but he walked with a limp. I discussed with this man the problem of billeting the men in Coalisland. He made arrangements for billeting and the protection of the district where the men were to be billeted.

I informed him that there was 114 men in all due to travel from Belfast. My first contingent numbered 30 men. The second contingent numbered about 20/25 and the remainder of the 114 were due to arrive on the last train. The 30 men who travelled with me were to occupy billets three miles outside Coalisland, The second contingent under Archie Heron were to occupy billets about a mile from Coalisland. The third batch were to occupy the town of Coalisland. This batch was under the command of Peter Burns and Sean Kelly.


Frank Booth:

On Friday night – I think it was Friday night as the moat of the Belfast Volunteers had left for Tyrone before Saturday night – I got orders to remain in Belfast on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning, to proceed to the Scottish boat and contact a party of Glasgow Volunteers expected that morning, and to guide those men to Coalisland, Co. Tyrone, by train on Sunday morning I think it was also on Friday evening that Sean Cusack came to my house and showed me a note signed by Sean McDermott. This note mentioned names of 2 men Cusack should contact. Cusack told me of his plans for leaving for Co. Cavan. it was after 8 P.m. on Saturday night when I finished my work as a bread server. All the Belfast Volunteers who were travelling to Tyrone had left Belfast by then. On Sunday morning at 6 a.m. I proceeded to the docks to make contact with the Glasgow contingent as per instructions. No Volunteers arrived by the Glasgow boat. I got no instructions as to how I was to introduce myself to the Glasgow crowd had they travelled to Belfast. On thinking back of this mission of mine to the boat I feel that had the Glasgow Volunteers arrived in Belfast on Easter Sunday morning I and they might have round ourselves in a pretty difficult position as I had not procured any cash for railway tickets to Tyrone. I might have had finance sufficient for a fen men and myself, but the others would have had to provide for themselves. In the afternoon of Sunday I and Marry Osborne travelled to the Northern Counties Railway to get a train for Coalisland. When we were waiting at the station for our train, a train arrived from Cookstown with all the Belfast men returning from Coalisland.

Pat McCormick:

I travelled to Belfast, arriving there on Holy Thursday morning. I contacted Dan Branniff who then worked in Belfast. Dan and myself came to an arrangement that I should travel with the Belfast men on Saturday to Dungannon and that Dan was to remain in Belfast and meet the Glasgow boat due to arrive there on Sunday morning and put the Glasgow men travelling on it in touch with a Belfast contingent due to leave Belfast on Sunday morning for Tyrone. As it turned out, none of the Glasgow men travelled to Belfast on Sunday morning. There was about 40 to 50 young Glasgow men already in Dublin with the Kimmage garrison.

Republican Congress on #poppyfascism, 1934

In 1934, Republican Congress held a public rally in Dublin that was a “demonstration of protest against the exploitation of their dead comrades and, against the mockery of the living in these Imperialistic displays”. Two Belfast representatives, whose names were not given, also addressed the meeting. Relations between many of those in Republican Congress and the Belfast IRA had been quite fraught for several years dating back to before the split that led to Republican Congress being formed. So it seems unlikely that those who spoke were officers of the Belfast IRA and were more likely drawn from a small group of Belfast republicans like Peter and Paul Carleton, Robert McVicker and Willie McMullen.

Tensions over the wearing of poppies and displays of the Union Jack were very contentious in the 1920s and 1930s in Dublin. ‘Poppy-snatching’ – where people had their poppy grabbed from their coat – was common place in Dublin. Indeed, from 1926, the Easter Lily gained prominence as a republican symbol that was in response to both the poppy, and, the Free State (since Easter Lily sellers refused to acknowledge the authority of the Free State and apply for a peddlers license, they were often prosecuted). In Belfast, republicans were often prosecuted simply for wearing an Easter Lily symbol, which judges derided as a ‘Sinn Féin poppy’.

The Irish Times account of the meeting (published on 12th November 1934) is below:

About noon yesterday a small number of people assembled at the corner of Middle Abbey street. in response to a notification issued from the offices of the Republican Congress, 112 Marlborough Street, Dublin. The notice was that ex-Service men and Republicans would hold a meeting. About 12.30 a procession was formed and some 200 persons. mostly young men, but including a body of men wearing War medals and ribbons, marched from Abbey Street up O’Connell Street to the Parnell Monument, then to College street and back to Abbey Street. The procession was headed by a cart, which later served as the platform for the meeting. There was frame-work formed round the cart, which bore many inscriptions, such as “Republican Masses March Again,” “Neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland.”
Behind the cart was carried a painted banner, The chief feature of this was a man in a blueshirt and the inscription “Workers’ United Front Against Fascism.”

At the meeting a crowd of persons, many wearing poppies, listened to a series of speeches, which, as time progressed were delivered to am ever diminishing audience. There was a disturbance of the proceedings about half an hour after the speeches began. A man made a dash towards the platform. He was closely followed by a number of Civic Guards, who held him.

Mr. Peadar O’Donnell, seeing the arrest, cried out from the platform, “I demand the release of that man.” Several men jumped from the platform and ran Into the confused crowd of protesting people, who closed about the Guards. In the crowd voices cried that the Guards were trying to break up the meeting. Superintendent Hurley spoke to the people on the platform, apparently explaining the situation, and meanwhile the man was bundled into a police lorry and taken away. There was no further disturbance at the meeting.

Mr. B. Smith (ex-Tank Corps) presided at the meeting. and said that it was demonstration of protest against the exploitation of their dead comrades and, against the mockery of the living in these Imperialistic displays that had taken place for the past ten years in the City of Dublin. It proved a definite break of the Irish ex-Service men with the Imperialist forces which had ruthlessly exploited them since 1919.

Mr. R. Connolly said that if ex-Service men had been given medals for a cause which the workers despised it must. he remembered that those medals were rewards of valour and they should salute them. He wanted the youth of Ireland kept out of the next war. It was only the peace policy of Soviet Russia which was keeping back the dogs of war.

Mr. T. Ellis (ex-Royal Garrison Artillery) said that since the overthrow of the last. Government the position of the workers had been made ho better. Mr. Frank Ryan said that he was proud to he on that platform for they saw united men of the British Army, of the Irish Republican Army and of the Irish Citizen Army, and they had there also representatives of the Belfast working-classes. The Jacobs and the Guinnesses had come out that day with their moth-eaten Union Jacks and sang “God Save the King,” but at the meeting they had the plain men who had borne the brunt of the war.

Mr. Sean Murray said that those who fought under Mulcahy, Blythe and O’Duffy were not better than those who fought under the King.

Mr. Peadar O’Donnell said that such a band of ex-Service men could walk through the streets without fear from the mass of the people because they were standing with the mass of the people.

Two representatives of Belfast, whose names were not announced, also addressed the meeting.

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