Lightly tap the muffled drum: the stories of Belfast-born Vol. Jack Edwards, killed Kilkenny prison 1922, and his family

These are the epic stories of the Edwards family who lived in the Manor Street area of Belfast at the turn of the twentieth century. Later moving to Waterford, the Edwards had an eldest son in the flying column of the local IRA (and who was shot dead in Kilkenny prison in 1922), a father who had spent years in both the British Army (including the first world war) and prison service, a political activist mother and a brother who fought conservative Catholicism, joined Republican Congress and fought in Spain. This short account of their experiences merely scratches the surfaces of the extraordinary lives that some otherwise ‘ordinary’ people lived in early twentieth century Ireland.
On 19th August 1922 Belfast-born IRA officer Jack Edwards was shot dead by a National Army sentry at Kilkenny prison. A train fireman, he had joined the IRA in Waterford in 1917 and was a member of the city’s D Company and, by 1921 was a full time member of the flying column of the Waterford Brigade’s Active Service Unit. He had returned home shortly after the truce and returned to work only to return to active service in 1922. In the race between the IRA and National Army to take control of key buildings and infrastructure in the middle of 1922, he had led an IRA unit which took control of the GPO in Waterford for several days but was eventually taken prisoner and placed in Kilkenny jail. Having been told someone in the street wanted to speak to him, Edwards went to an upstairs toilet where the small window allowed prisoners to converse with people in the street outside. He was shot through the window by a sentry and died immediately (a handkerchief marked with his blood is in the Kilmainham Gaol Museum).

John Edwards blood-stained handkerchief

Handkerchief reputedly stained with Jack Edwards blood (in Kilmainham Gaol Museum image published at the link)

At the inquest into his death it was reported that the sentry had given three warnings and exchanged words with Edwards before firing what the sentry said was an un-aimed warning shot from thirty yards away (although other, later, accounts dispute whether he gave any warning at all). The lack of any imminent risk of escape and the precision of the wound would give rise to allegations that Edwards had been killed in retaliation for the death of a National Army officer several days beforehand. None of those suspicions were tempered by the fact that the single shot through the forehead that killed Edwards seemed unlikely for an un-aimed shot but had all the hallmarks of the marksmanship the sentry had gained in his twelve years of service with the British Army (you can read more on this in Eoin Swithin Walsh’s account of Edwards death in Kilkenny: in times of Revolution, 1900-23). Edwards’ remains were taken from Kilkenny to the Cathedral in Waterford and from there to Ballygunner for burial. Other IRA prisoners were given parole from Kilkenny to attend his funeral (given this all happens to coincide with Michael Collins death, the unrestricted reporting and paroles would soon be much less likely).
The inquest was reported at length in the Kilkenny People (26th August 1922). It revealed that after his arrest, Edwards had been used as a hostage by the National Army and made to check for mines during its advance from Waterford. The soldiers guarding the prison had also indiscriminately fired shots into cells (from inside the prison) on a number of occasions, badly wounding at least one IRA prisoner (called O’Neill). The cross-examination of the National Army soldiers guarding the jail included a claim that another prisoner had been seen climbing a wall, apparently intending to escape, earlier that evening. He had merely been shouted at by the guards.The other prisoners also testified that as many as twenty prisoners had been at the same windows in full view of the outpost outside that evening without being warned. Earlier that evening, other prisoners testified, the un-named soldier who fired the fatal shot had boasted that he was a crack shot and that the prisoners would find that out that night (Edwards was shot at 8 pm). The prisoners also disputed evidence from the soldiers on guard duty that more than one shot was fired (the soldiers claimed four or five had been fired). The officer in charge and others were unable to produce records to show that more than one bullet was discharged or that, in reference to Edwards’ catastrophic head injuries, explosive bullets had been issued. Jerry Cronin (O/C of the IRA prisoners in Kilkenny Gaol) went as far as to claim that the soldier who fired the shot had been the one who actually called Edwards to the window. The jury still found the soldier had killed Edwards in the course of his duty. The whole proceedings took place in the prison in a room above the apartment containing Edwards remains. Annie Edwards, Jack’s mother who was dependent on her eldest son, had to sit through the whole proceedings.

Jack

Jack Edwards, from Nioclas de Fuiteoil (1948) Waterford Remembers

Jack Edwards had been born in 1899 in Bandon Street in Belfast, the eldest child of Patrick and Annie Edwards. Annie was originally from Kilkenny (neé Houlahan) and was sitting part of her final exams to become a maternity nurse when she was told Jack had been shot dead. She had become active politically (as early as 1918 she is known to have signed the anti-conscription petition) and subsequently got involved in Cumann na mBan. Described as a ‘die hard’ republican, was constantly watched by the new Free State authorities (eg see Clark, Everyday Violence in the Irish Civil War, p168). While men were more likely to be arrested or interned (and attract the headlines), women like Edwards were providing the continuity and administrative and logistical spine of local IRA organisations. They retained the knowledge of membership, the location of dumps of weapons, documents, contacts and other assets (money, informants etc) during constant changes of the male leadership through arrest and disruption. As Annie Edwards also typified, they simultaneously had to manage grief over losing sons and partners and taking a lead role in organising and attending public protests as well as collecting and distributing supports to dependents of the dead and imprisoned.
Neither was Jack the first child Annie Edwards lost. Her and Patrick had had Jack (1899), Willie (1901), Mary (1906), Frank (1907), Josephine (1909), Teresa (1912) and George (1914). Willie died of tuberculosis in September 1918 ushering in a harrowing year for the family. Four year old George died early in 1919 (and is largely omitted in later accounts of the family). Patrick himself died in April 1919. Five months later, ten year old Josephine died of tuberculosis in August 1919. In the 1930s, Annie also described Teresa as having been ‘delicate’ since birth and still requiring the care of her mother (although Teresa did get married the year after Annie died).
Patrick had been born in Mary Street Limerick in 1865. He was working as clerk and was a member of the Royal Artillery’s militia battalion in 1887 when he went full-time into the British Army. He joined up in Limerick and was sent to Aldershot where he had completed the Medical Staff Corps school in October 1887. He subsequently spent most of his service in Ireland at various postings in Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Enniskillen, Fermoy and Youghal. He had completed his 4th class (1887), 3rd class (1888) and 2nd class education (1892) while in the army (calling to mind James Connolly’s famous quote about using army service to ‘learn all he can and put his training to its best advantage’). Patrick left the service in 1899 and then took up a post in the Belfast prison as a hospital prison warder (he and Annie had married in November 1898 in Belfast).
Patrick worked in Belfast prison until around 1908 when he then was transferred to Clonmel Gaol. In May 1913 the family moved again, this time from Clonmel to live at Long Avenue in Dundalk, where Patrick took up a post in the local prison. After the outbreak of war in 1914, he re-enlisted in June 1915. He was stationed in Cork where he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. In April 1916 he reported ill and after several months was discharged as permanently unfit for duty in July 1916 (there is no suggestion that, like Tom Barry, he was reacting to the Easter Rising). On leaving the army, Patrick returned to his post in Dundalk prison and, in January 1917, was transferred to Waterford prison. The whole family then moved to Waterford. By mid-1918 Patrick was unable to work and he died of organic brain disease in April 1919. Annie later recorded that he had been an invalid for a year before his death. She began training as a maternity nurse after her death. Despite Patrick’s long military service and subsequent career in the prisons, the successive deaths of Willie, George, Patrick and Josephine all seem to point to a life lived in near, if not actual and crushing, poverty.
The family’s move to Waterford in 1917 coincided with a sudden political awakening in Jack Edwards as he got involved with the Gaelic League, Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers. He had got trained and worked as a fireman (an engine driver) with the Great Southern Railways. As he progressed from D Company to the Waterford Brigade’s flying column he is recorded as being involved in a number of incidents. A Waterford IRA officer, Moses Roche, recorded how Edwards halted a train he was driving near Kilmacthomas. It was carrying jurors to Waterford and the local IRA intended drawing out the RIC and military into an ambush (instead they forced Roche to walk in front to draw any fire, which never came). Edwards was one of the original members of the local flying column when it was formed in April 1921. Michael Ryan recalled Edwards being involved in a raid of the County Club in Waterford. He reportedly carried IRA units from Dublin down to Munster at the start of the Civil War in 1922. When the IRA took control of the GPO in Waterford in July 1922, Jack’s younger brother Frank arrived to join him. Frank was a member of Fianna Éireann but was only fifteen at the time. Jack told his younger brother to “Go home to hell” (as told by Frank in Uinseann MacEoin’s 1980 book Survivors, the account below is based on that a more recent article in Journal of the Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society and a lengthy article on Frank here by David Smith).
Frank did but he remained active in the Fianna and joined the IRA in 1924. Jack’s death, his mother’s activism and the loss of so many family members in 1918-19 provided Frank’s political formation and he was to remain committed to the IRA through most of the 1920s although he had become inactive by the end of the decade. He had trained as a National School teacher and by 1931 he was well known for his involvement with rowing and rugby in Waterford. By 1932 he was teaching in Mount Sion and a member of the INTO.
He had also been an early member of Saor Éire, an attempt to push the IRA in a political direction in 1931. In the late 1920s and into the 1930s the IRA struggled to define a political strategy and was more often concerned with calibrating its behaviour to not inflict political damage on Fianna Fáil (believing that, on assuming power, Fianna Fáil would finally realise the republic declared in 1916). Into the 1930s, Edwards was involved in republican and left wing politics in Waterford and wider afield, including unionisation. Having achieved a high profile in protests against the forming of the right wing reactionary Cumann na aGaedheal party put Frank Edwards on a collision course with his employers at Mount Sion in the shape of Archdeacon William Byrne and local Bishop Jeremiah Kinane, both staunch anti-communists who had no qualms about using the church to suppress left wing politics. In 1932 Byrne met with Edwards to try and persuade him to split from the IRA (on the grounds that it was too left wing). Edwards refused to give in to Byrne’s demands.
Just as Catholic anti-communist doctrine was being promoted in Waterford, by 1932 various left wing activists and study groups coalesced around Waterford’s embryonic branch of the Irish Revolutionary Workers Group (many of the former or disaffected IRA members like Frank Edwards). In 1933 the IRWG became the Communist Party of Ireland and, by March 1934, some of the left republicans in the IRA split and formed Republican Congress. Frank Edwards was among the first to join and he also wrote for its newspaper (also called Republican Congress).
By 1934 Congress in Waterford was active in tackling slum landlords. Edwards was so prominently identified with the campaign that his erstwhile employers, Byrne and Kinnane (in effect the Catholic Church in Waterford) gave him an ultimatum that he would be sacked from Mount Sion if he attended Republican Congress’ Convention that September. After he attended and spoke at the Convention, on 2nd October Edwards was advised that his employment was under review. In mid-October he received three months notice of his dismissal. When the local INTO protested and then its national executive got involved, Edwards was advised that the INTO had agreed with Bishop Kinnane’s proposal that the dismissal be rescinded once Edwards sign an undertaking that he would not be involved in any organisation that did not have the approval of the Catholic Church.
The dispute escalated on to the front page of national newspapers and, when the Bishop was to read a pastoral in the Cathedral on 6th January 1935 it was expected to condemn Republican Congress, the IRA and even anyone who hadn’t recanted opposition to the 1922 treaty. He had only mentioned Republican Congress by the time some of his congregation walked out (Gardaí had been positioned inside the church in case of a demonstration). As the day of Edwards’ dismissal drew close there were other public protests including a strike observed by a small number of pupils in Mount Sion itself. However, despite public opinion being hugely in Edwards favour the Catholic church exerted pressure everywhere, with even the local Dockers branch of the ATWGU offering unqualified support to the bishop. At one protest both Frank and Annie Edwards spoke publicly to protest at the treatment of her son. Afterwards, the bishop sent a priest to Annie to advise her that if she didn’t withdraw her statement she would be refused the Catholic sacraments. She then issued a statement saying that despite the injustice the family would remain good Catholics. According to the family she was deeply distressed by her treatment.
As more public bodies issued statements of support for the bishops, the IRA staged a huge protest parade in support of Edwards in Waterford. But the Catholic church sought to close down reporting and public discussion of the case and Frank Edwards ending up moving to Dublin to assist Frank Ryan in editing and producing Republican Congress. In October that year Annie died of acute nephritis at the age of 62. She was buried with Jack in Ballygunner with the IRA, Cumann na mBan, Republican Congress and other republican and left wing organisations represented at her funeral which was described as one of largest seen in Waterford for some years.
Frank Edwards was now blacklisted from Catholic schools (literally so, as a letter was circulated saying he wasn’t to be employed) and couldn’t get any teaching work. Instead he took jobs such as pipe laying in Dublin. In December 1936 he left with the Irish contingent to join the International Brigade fighting against the fascists in Spain. Within a couple of weeks they were in action in Lopera. Ten days there saw the Irish Company of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion reduced from 150 effectives to 66. They were then pulled out and put into the Madrid front at Las Rozas, ten miles north of Madrid. On 12th January 1937, the day after being deployed at Las Rozas they advanced in the fact of artillery fire as part of a blocking action to prevent Franco encircling Madrid. A shell fell between Dinny Coady and Frank Edwards wounding both. Edwards managed to struggle back down the hill to a first aid station despite losing a lot of blood. Stretcher bearers tried to bring Coady down but he quickly died. Frank Edwards was transferred to a hospital in Madrid. It was to be the end of March before he was scheduled to leave hospital. He returned to Ireland in August 1937.

Frank Edwards

Frank Edwards in Spain with the International Brigade (last man on the right, back row). Peter Daly (from Monageer in Wexford and later killed in action) is third from left in the back row, with Frank Ryan to his left. The man in white shirt at the back (two to the right of Edwards) is Jack Nalty who was also killed in action (for more on the photo see CLR here).

Frank eventually found a teaching job in Mount Zion (the Dublin Jewish school). He remained active in the friends of the Soviet Union and was one of those subsequently thanked by the Soviet ambassador when diplomatic nations between the Republic of Ireland and Soviet Union were finally normalised with the establishment of embassies in 1974. Frank died in 1983 and was cremated. The oration at his funeral was given by veteran Irish communist Peadar O’Donnell.
Frank’s own obituary in the Irish Democrat (July 1983) still noted that he had been born in the north although he had been raised in Waterford. So how strong were Jack Edwards Belfast connections? In Rebel Heart (about George Lennon – Edwards former IRA commander in the flying column), Terence O’Reilly describes Edwards as having come from Belfast in 1918 although this is inaccurate since he had been in Waterford since 1917 and had come there from Dundalk. One story about Edwards time in Belfast recalls how he had been beaten up by an ‘Orange mob’ on the way home from school. As the family left Belfast when he was around 8 or 9, it is plausible. They had lived in a unionist-dominated area off Manor Street, close to the Belfast prison on the Crumlin Road where Patrick Edwards worked. In the 1901 census Catholics made up on only about 1 in 10 of residents of Bandon Street or adjoining streets such as Avoca Street where the nearest school was located (street directories show that living in the area was popular with prison staff). Possibly a sectarian attack on Jack precipitated the family move which coincided with the arrival of Patrick’s nationalist-minded mother into the household to become a formative political experience that led him to wholeheartedly engage in republican activities once he arrived in Waterford in 1917. Whatever his own motivations, it was a seminal moment in his brother Frank’s life. Frank’s own memoir, published by Uinseann MacEoin in Survivors, he quotes the following lines about his brother Jack:

March with stately step and solemn,
Lightly tap the muffled drum,
For the gloom around is now cast
There’s a soldier coming home.
Make this grave upon the hillside,
Where our soldier lad will lie.
Let us wipe out fault and fashion
And when Freedom’s day will come.
We will prove ourselves in action
As Jack Edwards often done.

‘We will prove ourselves in action’ is certainly a phrase that rings true for the Edwards family.

[Thanks to Aaron Ó Maonaigh, John Dorney and Kieron Glennon for drawing my attention to Jack Edwards and his family, and Aaron for the image in de Fuiteoil’s book]

You can read an extract from Belfast Battalion: a history of the Belfast IRA, 1922-1969 by clicking this link.

The story of John Collins, a Belfast IRA volunteer killed in Mayo in May 1921 is here.

Frances Brady, Belfast Cumann na mBan on hunger strike, 1921

Found this interesting photo online of a Belfast Cumann na mBan member, Frances Brady, on hunger strike in 1921.

Frances Brady

(Credit – see post from @Is_Mise_Fiona added above – given MacEvilly)

Brady was from Earlscourt Street in the Falls. Her father, Hugh, was a builders clerk and he and Frances’ mother, Maggie, had seven daughters and one son. She became an active republican while working in the War Office in London where she had been censoring soldiers letters home. In 1917, Michael Collins made contact with her while she was on her summer holidays in Donegal. From then, she carried out espionage for him. She also collected money for the Irish Republican Prisoners Defendants Fund (IRPDF) and carried dispatches.

Brady worked under Collins in London until July 1919 when she returned to Belfast and continued her republican activism as a member of Cumann na mBan in the city, assisting in operations and carrying dispatches as well as continuing to do work for the IRPDF. The Brady house in Belfast was used as an office by GHQ and dispatches to and from Dublin routinely passed through it. From December 1920, Brady also worked with Ernest Blythe and Joe McDonagh in the Belfast Boycott (of unionists business that expelled Catholic workers). Usually she worked out of her sisters address in Lower Leeson Street in Dublin, which was often used for meetings by Collins, Richard Mulcahy and others.

On the 3rd June, secret instructions* were sent from Captain Hudson in Kilmainham to raid 46 Lower Leeson Street as it was known to be used by a republican courier, Kathleen Brady (Frances’ sister who lived at the address). Hudson directed that a female searcher was to be picked up at Room 2 in City Hall and brought on the raid, while anything found was to be returned directly to Kilmainham.

[*you need a subscription to view this link]

Frances Brady and Joe McDonagh were in the house with its other occupants – Professor, Madame Chauvire and their daughter – when a raiding party of the 2nd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment appeared on the road outside at 7.30 pm the very same day. Lieutenants Barton and Bone and Sergeant Hurrel went straight to Brady’s top floor flat. When they burst in they found her undressed and she told them to wait a minute. Barton then sent for the female searcher to come up. When she arrived they entered and found Brady had used the time to burn papers in an otherwise empty grate. During a search of the room they found a revolver in an attaché case, binoculars, her Cumann na mBan membership card and badge, copies of An tÓglach, and, Dáil Éireann (and other) papers. McDonagh, who had remained downstairs dressed as a priest, made his excuses to the raiding party, then left the house via the back door and escaped. The military took Brady from Lower Leeson Street to their barracks then the Bridewell, which refused her entry until Barton (much to his annoyance) slowly managed to acquire the appropriate papers from the Chief of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

On 15th June Brady was tried at a general field court martial in Kilmainham. While refusing to recognise the court, she noted that it included reference to the ‘Irish Volunteers’ in the charges, pointing out that the organisation no longer existed as it had been replaced by the Irish Republican Army. She also noted that the order referred to in the charges against her wasn’t in force at the date on the documents mentioned in the same charges (the press do not record the courts response, eg see Freeman’s Journal 16th June 1921). Her sentence was promulgated and a couple of days later she was given two years hard labour and taken to Mountjoy.

On the 30th October, four of the women prisoners in Mountjoy (including Eithne Coyle, Linda Kearns, Aileen Keogh and Mae Burke) used a rope ladder to escape while a football match was taking place. The authorities were acutely embarrassed by the escape and placed the remaining women prisoners under the guard of the Auxiliaries from the next day. The response of the women prisoners, including Frances Brady, was outrage. They were also equally annoyed at the escapees for not informing them of the plan (Eileen McGrane, in charge of the Cumann na mBan prisoners, had refused Coyle and the others permission to make an escape attempt).

On the Tuesday (1st November), the women prisoners inside Mountjoy – Brady, Eileen McGrane, Kate Crowley, Madge Cotter and Lily Cotter – went on hunger strike in protest at being guarded by the Auxiliaries (see Freemans Journal, 10th November 1921). The hunger strike lasted until the 9th November, by which date Cumann na mBan had sent in instructions to come off the protest, presumably since the hunger strikers had not asked for permission to mount the protest from the Cumann na mBan leadership.

Whether the Auxiliaries continued guarding them isn’t clear, but within weeks Frances, along with Eileen McGrane, Lily and Madge Cotter and Katie Crowley, were release from Mountjoy (on 9th December 1921). After her release, Eileen McGrane had charges brought against Eithne Coyle and Linda Kearns for escaping without seeking approval from Cumann na mBan but the charge was eventually dropped (clearly, when it comes to giving/taking orders, Cumann na mBan didn’t mess around).

On her release, Frances Brady continued to work as secretary to the IRPDF in Belfast and carried dispatches from Dublin to Belfast, between the likes of Ernie O’Malley and Oscar Trainor and the Belfast IRA and Cumann na mBan leaders like Annie Ward, Pat Thornbury and Hugh Corvin. After the outbreak of the civil war, she continued in this role, along with escorting IRA volunteers and carrying arms between Dundalk and Belfast.

After the 1920s she remained and married in Dublin where she died in 1977.

Map of IRA and Cumann na mBan suspects in Belfast

suspectsmap

Here is the RUC’s complete suspect list for the IRA and Cumann na mBan in Belfast in the late 1930s, including both the IRA A list and B list. The A list largely contains those who the RUC had previously arrested and held for various periods of time. Together, the combined lists contain five hundred and thirty-five names. Estimates of IRA membership in Belfast around the end of the 1930s suggest a figure of around eight hundred, with a further one hundred and twenty in Cumann na mBanThere is a good chance that some proportion of the names on the RUC list may be false names or addresses, although it is probably only a small number. Even then the RUC suspect list would still amount to half of the projected Belfast membership of the IRA and Cumann na mBan.

So, did the RUC have the IRA and Cumann na mBan completely infiltrated or under such close observation that it had details of over half the membership in Belfast? Without some sort of corresponding membership lists from the IRA or Cumann na mBan, it isn’t possible to make a direct comparison to test either the accuracy of the RUC or identify the actual proportion known to the RUC. However, it is possible to carry out some tests on the quality of RUC intelligence gathering and, to some extent, get an insight into its capacity to deliver counter-insurgency measures against the (very) low intensity campaigns operated by the IRA between 1922 and 1969.

There are known occasions on which detailed lists of IRA membership fell into the RUCs hands. This occurred when the RUC managed to intercept large bodies of IRA members at training camps, such as near Carnlough in 1932, at meetings in Pearse Hall in King Street, and elsewhere. The Belfast Battalion volunteers arrested at Gyles Quay in Louth in 1935 also had their details passed to the northern government. Where lists of these names were published in newspapers, around two thirds appear to have made it as far as the RUC suspects lists.

Ironically, the RUC even had one simple method of collecting the names of IRA volunteers. The playing staff of the McKelvey GAA club was solely made up of IRA volunteers – joining the IRA was even a prerequisite of membership, a fact that was known to the RUC. Reports on club games, including team sheets, were regularly printed in the likes of The Irish News. Yet, again, comparison of the names of players lining out for McKelveys in the likes of 1935-36 and the suspect lists shows that the RUC did not systematically include those who were effectively advertising their IRA membership.

Similarly, the list includes individuals who were no longer involved with the IRA. Davy Matthews, the former Belfast O/C was expelled from the IRA for signing a bond to get released from prison in 1934 and his name is not included. Yet George Nash, who had signed out at the same time and left the IRA, is still included on the RUC list in the late 1930s.

The likes of Murt Morgan, James Pimley and the Carleton brothers had left to join Republican Congress in 1934, if not beforehand, but still are included on the list. Liam Tumilson, who also left to join Republican Congress, is not on the list (he was to die fighting with the International Brigades in Spain in February 1937). But Jim Straney, who had went to Spain to join the International Brigades (and was killed at Gandesa in August 1938) is on the list, as is Peter Fanning, who had went to Spain with O’Duffy to fight on the fascist side.

The overall impression of RUC intelligence gathering appears to suggest it was fairly unsystematic and the lists were erratically maintained. The period during which the lists were considered valid isn’t completely apparent although it included annotations for individuals into the 1940s. Given that a primary tool deployed by the northern government was the detention/internment instruments of the Special Powers Act, this lack of attention to detail in intelligence gathering typically led to wide trawls in which large numbers were arrested, processed and detained for a period of time. The periodic mass arrests deployed by the northern government were intended to cast a net very widely rather than be targeted. Hence its initial round of internments in 1938 largely failed to capture the Belfast IRA’s current leadership. Instead, the RUC seemed to favour the use of informers, as was seen at Campbell College and Crown Entry. This was only effective in intercepting a small proportion of IRA operations.

The map below is interactive and includes all those on the list with an address (only one, a Christopher Lee, has no assigned address). Generally, individuals are located to streets rather than trying to place them where their actual house was (most of the terraces, and often streets, in which they lived now bear no resemblance to the streetscape of the 1930s and 1940s). If you click on any individual you can see their recorded address and, if they were considered by the RUC as ‘staff officers’ on the suspect list there is an ‘x’ beside ‘staff’ in the window with the details.

The full lists are also reproduced in text below the map.

Here is the list of Belfast IRA and Cumann na mBan suspects kept by the RUC in the late 1930s/1940s, organised by surname (alphabetically), and then by street (alphabetically). Except for some well known figures, names and addresses are written as recorded by the RUC.

Dominic Adams, 15 Abercorn Street

Patrick Adams, 15 Abercorn Street

R Anderson, 14 Roumania Street

Lawrence Bannon, 135 New Lodge Road

William Barret, 65 Whiterock Gardens

William Barrett, 51 Mary Street

Joe Boles, 80 Seaforde Street

Joseph Bowman, 40 Boundary Street

Charles P Boyle, 4 Lancaster Street

Leo Boyle, 133 New Lodge Road

Margaret Boyle, 54 Raglan Street

Patrick Boyle, 54 Raglan Street

John Bradley, 33 Arnon Street

William Bradley, 33 Arnon Street

J Brady, 1 Jude Street

Jack Brady, 71 Ladbrook Drive

Mary Brady, 45 Raglan Street

Phillip Brammold, 51 Whiterock Gardens

Mary Brennan, 47 Brookfield Street

Frank Broderick, 63 Durham Street

George Broderick, 250 Falls Road

John Brown, 17 Baker Street

Joseph Brown, 40 Upton Street

Sarah Brunton, 63 Vere Street

John Bunting, 37 Theodore Street

Liam Burke, 38 Locan Street

Brian Burns, 19 Linden Street

Dan Burns, 1 Highbury Gardens

Pete Burns, 19 Linden Street

Thomas Burns, 42 New Lodge Road

? Burrows, Lady Street

David Butler, 68 Raglan Street

Kathleen Cairns, 36 Clondara Street

Bella Campbell, 14 Upton Street

Francis Campbell, 38 Chemical Street

James Campbell, 2 Galway Street

Mary Campbell, 9 Rockmount Street

Peter Campbell, 1 Milan Street

Saida Campbell, 17 Malcolmson Street

Thomas Carabine, 135 Cavendish Street

Daniel Carberry, 9 Lower Clonard Street

Bernadetta Carbery, 61 Dunmore Street

Brendan Carey, 43 Dunmore Street

Patrick Carey, 8 Linden Street

Thomas Carey, 9 Carntall Street

Paul Carleton, 61 Whiterock Road

Peter Carleton, 10 Brittons Drive

Vincent Carley, 24 Lady Street

James Carlin, 15 Sevastopol Street

John Carmichael, 12 Mary Street

Charles Casey, 14 Brighton Street

Michael Casey, 14 Brighton Street

Martin Clarke, 20 Heathfield Street

Patrick Clarke, 98 Locan Street

Patrick Clarke, 4 Springfield Avenue

Sean Clarke, 4 Ross Place

Annie Collins, 16 St James Crescent

Joan Collins, 16 St James Crescent

Charles Connolly, 13 Joy Street

Patrick Connolly, 20 Leoville Street

William Connolly, 16 Panton Street

Francis Connor, 19 Jamaica Street

John Connor, 25 John Street

Mary Cooke, 8 Iveagh Parade

Gerry Cooper, 48 Nansen Street

Joseph Cooper, 48 Nansen Street

Arthur Corr, 76 Vere Street

Pearse Corry, 16 Hawthorne Street

Norah Costello, 65 Alexander Street West

James Crawford, 25 Getty Street

Nellie Crawford, 80 North Queen Street

Gerald Cullen, 8 Chief Street

Joe Cullen, 51 Rockmore Road

Gerald Curran, 205 Mountpottinger Road

Kevin Curran, 205 Mountpottinger Road

Patrick Daly, 3 Dunmore Street

Joseph Davey, 4 Concord Street

Gerard Deans, 124 Ardilea Street

Alice Deeds, 71 Brookfield Street

James Delaghan, 12 Upton Street

Peter Delaney, 13 Currie Street

Con Deveney, 903 Crumlin Road

Charles Devine, 9 Brae Fort Cottages

Felix Devlin, 13 Lowry Street

James Devlin, 26 Oranmore Street

John Devlin, 13 Lowry Street

John Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Sarah Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Teresa Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Teresa Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Joe Dickey, 20 Glenview Street

Patrick Dignan, 30 Anderson Street

Dan Doherty, 47 Sheriff Street

Michael Doherty, 67 Theodore Street

P Doherty, 17 Herbert Street

Terence Doherty, 37 Dunmore Street

Bridget Dolan, 22 Durham Street

Christina Dolan, 22 Durham Street

Margaret Dolan, 22 Durham Street

Robert Donald, 80 Sultan Street

Terence Donegan, 30 Milan Street

Bernard Donnelly, 702 Shore Road

John Donnelly, 10 Brighton Street

Lily Donnelly, 571 Donegall Road

Mary Donnelly, 26 Unity Street

Owen Donnelly, 702 Shore Road

Patrick Donnelly, 702 Shore Road

Robert Downey, 17 Clonard Gardens

Sarah Doyle, 10 Brittons Drive

Joseph Drummond, 36 Kent Street

E Duffy, 1 Milton Street

Francis Duffy, 127 Jamaica Street

John Duffy, 248 Grosvenor Road

M Duffy, 1 Pinkerton Street

Stephen Duffy, 10 Thompson Street

Dickie Dunne, 26 Valentine Street

Robert Dunne, 15 Whiterock Crescent

Hugh Edmond, 24 Rockville street

Peter Fanning, 41 Fallswater Street

James Farrell, 99 McDonnell Street

James Farrelly, 31 Vulcan Street

John Farrelly, 55 Vulcan Street

Bernard Fee, 65 Sheriff Street

John Fegan, 16 Panton Street

James Ferran, 19 Beechmount Street

John Ferran, 19 Locan Street

Thomas Ferran, 82 Beechmount Street

Robert Finnegan, Englishtown Hannahstown

Daniel Fitzpatrick O’Reilly, 13 Ardmore Avenue

J. Fitzsimons, 122 Divis Street

Desmond Flanagan, 496 Doengall Road

Thomas Flanagan, 14 McQuillan Street

Hugh Flavell, 32 Alexander Street West

Angelo Forte, 176 Tates Avenue

Jack Gaffney, 9 St James Place

James Gallery, 13 Herbert Street

John Gettings, 70 Beechfield Street

Joe Gilhooley, 10 Cyprus Street

Arthur Gillen, 10 College Court

J. Gillen, 27 Andersonstown Road

Patrick Gillen, 10 College Court

William Gillen, 10 College Court

Desmond Gillespie, 17 Wandsworth Road

Alexander Gilmore, 5 Teresa Street

John Girvan, 7 McMullan’s Place

Jean Goodfellow, 45 Crumlin Street

George Goodman, 75 Stanfield Street

Joseph Gorman, 20 Balaclava Street

Margaret Gough, 58 Clowney Street

Kathleen Graham, 71 Upton Street

Liam Graham, 62 Beechmount Avenue

Charles Gray, 33 Rockmore Street

Gerard Greenan, 18 Saul Street

Patrick Grimley, 75 Ardilea Street

John Hall, 5 College Place North

J.M. Halligan, 24 Plevna Street

Annie Hamill, 12 Shiels Street

James Hamill, 12 Shiels Street

Sean Hamill, 12 Shiels Street

Jim Hamilton, 5 Dimsdale Street

Jim Harvey, 34 Kilmood Street

Jimmy Hasty, 63 Stanfield Street

Patrick Hayes, 22 McQuillan Street

William Headley, 25 Leoville Street

Jim Heaney, 2 Edward Street

Richard Heaney, 23 Havana Street

Nora Hegarty, 32 Clowney Street

Joe Henderson, 109 Balkan Street

Catherine Hendron, 18 Altcar Street

William Henry, 33 Columbus Street

Joseph Hewitt, 18 Boomer Street

Patrick Hickey, 5 Upton Street

Bob Hicks, 132 Glenard Gardens

Patsy Hicks, 5 Alma Street

Sean Hicks, 5 Alma Street

Doris Hill, 8 Beechmount Avenue

? Hillen, 10 Garnet Street

Thomas Hodgkinson, 9 Brighton Street

Mrs R Hope, 59 Andersonstown Park

James Hughes, 81 Hawthorne Street

John Hughes, 4 Masseren e Street

Joseph Hughes, 48 Butler Street

Joseph Hughes, 23 Plevna Street

Patrick Hughes, 8 Gortfin Street

Mollie Hurson, 2 St Paul’s Terrace

Anthony Irvine, 42 Alton Street

George Irvine, 4 Gracehill Street

Samuel Irvine, 23 Majorca Street

John Jackson, 32 Rockmore Street

Mary Jordan, 89 Albert Street

Jim Kane, 28 Milan Street

Robert Kavanagh, 100 Divis Street

Frank Kearney, 14 Odessa Street

James Kearney, 14 Odessa Street

Hugh Keenan, 32 Short Strand

Joe Keenan, 33 Falls Road

John Keenan, 43 Short Strand

Malachy Keenan, 33 Falls Road

Michael Keenan, 43 Short Strand

Sean Keenan, 28 California Street

Agustine Kelly, 168 Oldpark Road

Billy Kelly, 18 Frere Street

Dominic Kelly, 39 Upton Street

Frank Kelly, 11 Little Patrick Street

James Kelly, 18 Campbell’s Row

John Kelly, 10 Iris Drive

Kathleen Kelly, 57 Brookfield Street

Rose Kelly, 57 Brookfield Street

Susan Kelly, 18 Beechmount Parade

Francis Kennedy, 18 Jude Street

Gerry Kerr, 67 Vere Street

James Kerr, 58 Ardilea Street

James Kerr, 17 Oakfield Street

John Kerr, 27 Whiterock Drive

Patrick Kerr, 54 Durham Street

William Killen, 11 Brook Street

James Kinnaird, 12 Lemon Street

James Kinney, 11 Colinpark Street

Willie Largey, 36 California Street

Hannah Lavery, 5 Whiterock Drive

Paddy Lavery, 22 Lincoln Street

Tony Lavery, 39 Balkan Street

James Lecky, 45 Mary Street

Charles Leddy, Mooreland Park

Christopher Lee, no address

Thomas Locke, 10 Elizabeth Street

J. Logan, 34 Steam Mill Lane

Terence Loughlin, 53 Mary Street

Dan Loughran, 42 Garmoyle Street

Thomas Loughrey, 19 Sidney Street

Patrick Lowe, 10 Ward Street

Matthew Lundy, 35 Forfar Street

Marcus Lynn, 10 Milan Street

Jackie Mackin, 36 Ton Street

James Magee, 48 Leeson Street

Patrick Magee, 52 Dunmore Street

Rosaleen Magee, 52 Dunmore Street

Hannah Magennis, The Cottages Glen Road

Joe Maguiness, 24 Milner Street

Thomas Maguinness, 137 New Lodge Road

Annie Maguire, 33 Abercorn Street North

J. Maguire, 55 Theodore Street

Lily Maguire, 25 Crocus Street

Charles Mahony, 52 Glenview Street

John Mallon, 9 Garnet Street

Michael Malone, 10 Thomas Street

Mrs Manning, 4 Forfar Street

John Markey, 24 Steam Mill Lane

Thomas Marley, 63 Bombay Street

Hugh Martin, 20 Glenpark Street

Leo Martin, 27 Rockville Street

Hugh Matthews, 11 Albert Street

James Matthews, 53 Masserene Street

Joe Matthews, 32 Regent Street

James McAleese, 16 Milan Street

Dan McAllister, 81 Lincoln Street

Joe McAllister, 10 Islandbawn Street

Patrick McArdle, 44 Bow Street

Sean McArdle, 39 Beechmount Street

Hugh McAreavey, 74 Raglan Street

Hugh McAreavey, 74 Raglan Street

Alex McAtamney, 56 Fleet Street

John McAvoy, 25 Sheriff Street

Joe McBrine, 13 Colin Street

Patrick McBrine, 13 Colin Street

John McCabe, 55 Springview Street

Chris McCann, 24 Garnet Street

Dan McCann, 71 Albert Street

Ed McCann, 8 Jude Street

Edward McCann, 24 Garnet Street

Kathleen McCann, 10 Norfolk Street

Patrick McCann, 57 Locan Street

? McCartney, 2 Oranmore Street

Sean McCaughey, 15 Heathfield Road

Thomas McClarnon, 128 Cavendish Street

Gerry McClinton, 41 Madrid Street

Hugh McCloskey, 8 Islandbawn Street

Hugh McCloskey, 8 Islandbawn Street

Jack McCloskey, 47 Beechmount Crescent

John McCloskey, 50 Elizabeth Street

Edward McCluskey, 90 Raglan Street

Hugh McConnell, 20 Pound Street

W.J. McCorry, 81 Sultan Street

Pat McCotter, 6 Sevastopol Street

Matthew McCrory, 44 Balkan Street

Charles McCrystal, 28 Willowfield Gardens

J McCullough, 48 Amcomri Street

J. McCullough, 12 Frere Street

Lily McCullough, 43 Brookfield Street

Norah McCullough, 26 Iveagh Parade

Patrick McCullough, 131 North Queen Street

Ellen McCurry, 81 Sultan Street

John McCurry, 81 Sultan Street

Willie McCurry, 53 St James Road

Frank McCusker, 40 Servia Street

Jim McDermot, 49 Lady Street

Richard McDermott, 49 Kilmood Street

James McDonnell, 81 Locan Street

Jim McDonnell, 61 Vere Street

Peter McDonnell, 28 Parkview Street

William McDonnell, 80 Sultan Street

Margaret McFadden, 21 Waterville Street

Charles McGahey, 1a Herbert Street

Vincent McGarhavan, 53 Rockville Street

Liam McGarrity, 14 Artillery Street

Thomas McGarrity, 13 Fallswater Street

Thomas McGeown, 4 Inkerman Street

Francis McGibbon, Beech Cottage

James McGinley, 28 Rodney Parade

Bridget McGinn, 10 Parkview Street

John McGinty, 32 North Queen Street

Charles McGlade, 126 Ardilea Street

Frank McGlade, 126 Ardilea Street

John McGoldrick, 51 Cawnpore Street

Sam McGoldrick, 51 Cawnpore Street

James McGovern, 35 Winetavern Street

James McGowan, 24 Parkview Street

Peter McGowan, 38 Dunmore Street

Violet McGowan, 25 Parkview Street

Charles McGrath, 33 Rodney Drive

Hugh McGrath, 27 Dunmore Street

Lucy McGrath, 20 College Square North

Norah McGrath, 20 College Square North

John McGrillen, 34 McAuley Street

Frank McGrogan, 72 North Queen Street

Thomas McGrogan, 36 Rockdale Street

R McGuckian, 13 St James Drive

Mary McGuigan, 86 Clowney Street

John McGuinness, 31 Hamill Street

Joe McGurk, 115 Durham Street

Sarah McGurk, 115 Durham Street

Charles McHugh, 15 Garnet Street

Murty McIlduff, 17 Gamble Street

Chris McKay, 34 Milan Street

Frank McKearney, 14 Odessa Street

James McKearney, 14 Odessa Street

Bernadette McKee, 40 Sevastopol Street

Teresa McKee, 9 Springview Street

John McKeever, 6 Beechmount Parade

Ambrose McKenna, 11 Beechmount Drive

Elizabeth McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

Francis McKenna, 240 Falls Road

Jean McKenna, 50 Forest Street

John McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

Mary McKenna, 37 Fort Street

Patrick McKenna, 10 Foundry Street

Patrick McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

Rose McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

William McKenna, 10 Foundry Street

P McKeown, 17 Beechfield Street

Robert McKnight, 32 McAuley Street

Brian McLaughlin, Longwood Terrace Whitehouse

Patrick McLaughlin, 36 Library Street

Mary McLaughln, 10 Galway Street

Alex McLoughlin, 15 McQuillan Street

Chris McLoughlin, 54 Vere Street

Mary McLoughlin, 4 McCleery Street

Frank McMahon, 12 Dimsdale Street

Peggy McMahon, 46 Lincoln Street

Jock McManus, 458 Donegall Road

Matilda McMillen, 13 Cavendish Street

Richard McMillen, 20 Moira Street

John McMullan, 5 Abercorn Street North

J. McMurray, 35 Balkan Street

Sandy McNabb, Elmwood Avenue

Jack McNally, 21 Ardliea Street

Denis McNamee, 23 John Street

Henry McNamee, 23 John Street

Hubert McNearney, 77 Herbert Street

Billy McNeill, 34 Bond Street

Henry McNeilly, 65 Thompson Street

Francis McNellis, 10 Scotland Street South

Thomas McNulty, 7 Dunsdale Street

Martin McParland, 57 Lincoln Street

James McPartland, 2 Frere Street

Patrick McPhillips, 45 Ross Street

John McQuillan, 46 Lepper Street

Andrew McRoberts, 6 Conway Street

? McShane, 60 Balkan Street

Liam McStravick, 16 Little Donegall Street

Eileen McTaggart, 86 Eskdale Gardens

Phil McTaggart, 134 Ardilea Street

Joe McVarnock, 40 Stanhope Street

Mary Meleady, 203 Falls Road

Nellie Meleady, 203 Falls Road

Richard Menagh, 23 Springfield Road

James Mennan, 16 Crumlin Street

Frank Milne, 58 Chatham Street

Henry Mohan, 67 New Lodge Road

James Monaghan, 26 Colligan Street

Marie Moone, 8 McQuillan Street

William Mooney, 4 O’Neill Street

James Morgan, 22 Lancaster Street

Murtagh Morgan, 27 Quadrant Street

Thomas Morris, 184 Ardglen Park

Patrick Morrison, 25 Violet Street

Annie Morrissey, 9 Tyrone Street

Joe Morrow, 7 Woodstock Road

Francis Moyna, 31 Bombay Street

Josephine Moyna, 41 Bombay Street

James Mulholland, 50 Chemical Street

Liam Mulholland, 83 Gracehill Street

Joe Mullen, 12 Upton Street

James Mulligan, 81 Forfar Street

John Mulligan, 5 Madrid Street

John Mulligan, 219 Mountpottinger Road

Patrick Mulligan, 58 Madrid Street

Thomas Murphy, 27 Sydney Street

Gerry Murray, 101 Joy Street

Gerry Murray, 67 Mountpottinger Road

Joe Murray, 67 Mountpottinger Road

Thomas Murray, 5 Sorella Street

William Murray, 66 Chemical Street

George Nash, 52 Gibson Street

Mary Nash, 4 Abercorn Street

Gerry Neeson, Hannahstown

John Noad, 56 Clyde Street

Kevin Nolan, 1 Ton Street

Margaret Nolan, 93 McDonnell Street

Seamus Nolan, 17 McCleery Street

Gerry Nugent, 84 Balkan Street

Bridget O’Boyle, 18 Colinpark Street

Bridie O’Boyle, 129 Brompton Park

Dan O’Boyle, 13 Regent Street

Thomas O’Boyle, 76 Ardilea Street

John O’Brien, 26 Eliza Street

Sarah O’Brien, 9 Kildare Street

Frank O’Connor, 19 Jamaica Street

Gerry O’Connor, 182 Nelson Street

John O’Connor, 182 Nelson Street

Mary O’Donnell, 29 Whiterock Crescent

Mary O’Farrell, 10 Albert Street

Hugh O’Hagan, 18 Rockville Street

James O’Hanlon, 43 New Dock Street

William O’Hanlon, 13 Woodstock Street

Cassie O’Hara, 135 Castle Street

Charles O’Hara, 15 Thomas Street

Con O’Hara, 15 Thomas Street

Mary O’Hara, 40 Amcomri Street

John O’Hare, 1 Jamaica Street

Hugh O’Kane, 27 Rosevale Street

Michael O’Kane, 40 Abercorn Street North

Thomas O’Malley, 14 Norfolk Street

Charles O’Neill, 6 Parkview Street

Chris O’Neill, 17 Milan Street

Dominic O’Neill, 16 Norfolk Parade

Frank O’Neill, 6 Parkview Street

Joe O’Neill, 52 Marine Street

Patrick O’Neill, 30 Kilmood Street

Patrick O’Neill, 37 Lincoln Street

John O’Rawe, 35 Oakman Street

Richard O’Rawe, 51 Oakman Street

Ambrose O’Reilly, 2 Oranmore Street

John O’Reilly, 38 Beechmount Street

Albert Owens, 8 Brighton Street

Frank Pimley, 10 Divis Drive

Isaac Pimley, 10 Divis Drive

James Pimley, 14 College Street West

Joe Pimley, 10 Divis Drive

Albert Price, 122 Percy Street

? Privilege, Garden Square Greencastle

Edward Quinn, 12 Arnon Street

James Quinn, 57 Grove Street

Kathleen Quinn, 57 Grove Street

Matthew Quinn, 21 Rodney Drive

Patrick Quinn, 118 Glenard Drive

Thomas Quinn, 19 Upton Street

John Quinnn, 57 Grove Street

Bernard Rafferty, 93 Butler Street

Peggy Rafferty, 2 Rockville Street

Sean Rafferty, 2 Rockville Street

John Rainey, 33 Cape Street

Thomas Ratican, 17 North Queen Street

Joe Reid, 19 Milan Street

Patrick Reid, 19 Milan Street

Thomas Reid, 61 Fredrick Street

? Reilly, 31 New Dock Street

Ed Reilly, 51 Clonard Gardens

Gerry Rice, 11 Balkan Street

Joe Rice, 5 Herbert Street

Liam Rice, 36 Merrion Street

J. Roberts, 49 New Lodge Road

Bernard Rooney, 71 Thompson Street

D Rooney, 101 Cyprus Street

Patrick Rooney, 45 Thompson Street

William Rooney, 23 Leoville Street

? Russell, 39 Raglan Street

Hugh Russell, 32 Plevna Street

James Ryder, 31 Rodney Drive

Mary Sands, 25 Servia Street

Michael Sands, 25 Servia Street

James Savage, 2 Burke Street

John Scullion, 76 Harcourt Drive

Susan Shannon, 25 Falls Road

James Sharpe, 9 Alton Street

John Sherry, 30 Servia Street

Joe Sloan, 41 Grosvenor Place

William Sloan, 28 Rodney Parade

J. Smith, 67 Forfar Street

Mules Smith, 29 Sheriff Street

William Smith, 8 Malcolmson Street

Jimmy Steele, 70 North Queen Street

James Stewart, 12 Rockdale Street

Jim Straney, 57 Thompson Street

Jim Sullivan, 89 Sussex Street

Henry Taylor, 46 Chatham Street

Peggy Taylor, 22 Servia Street

John Teague, 45 Springview Street

Mary Teague, 57 Mary Street

James Thompson, 13 Andersonstown Park

Patrick Thompson, 8 Arran Street

Margaret Thornbury, 22 Clondara Street

Michael Tohill, 19 Hardinge Street

Denis Toner,  14 Malcolmson Street

Joe Toner, 89 Ardliea Street

Dan Trainor, 32 Nelson Street

James Trainor, 66 Rockmore Road

John Trainor, 66 Rockmore Road

Michael Trainor, 66 Rockmore Road

William Tully, 4 Quadrant Street

Liam Tumelty, 11 Little York Street

Ellen Tumulty, 11 Little York Street

Eileen Walker, 42 Bombay Street

Joe Walker, 42 Bombay Street

John Walsh, 38 Glenpark Street

Michael Walsh, 30 Chemical Street

Liam Watson, 8 Malcolmson Street

Denis Whelan, 97 Bridge End

Thomas Whinery, 24 Chemical Street

Harry White, 72 Andersonstown Park

Liam Wiggins, 22 Torrens Road

Isabella Wilkens, 1 Strathroy Park

John Wilson, 57 Norfolk Street

Eugene Wright, 28 Hasting Street

Malachy Wylie, Graham’s Cottage Ligoniel

A brief history of Cumann na mBan in Belfast from the 1920s to 1960s

This is a short history of Cumann na mBan in Belfast from the end of the civil war through to the 1960s. Obviously, anyone with information that enhances the story or adds further details is more than welcome to share it in the comments section.

Jack McNally (in his 1989 autobiography, Morally Good, But Politically Bad) names those prominent in Cumann na mBan towards the end of the civil war and into the mid-1920s and later. He includes Mary Donnelly, Sally Griffen, Kitty Hennessy, Kitty Kellet, Maggie Kelly (née Magennis), May Laverty, Margaret McGrath, Sally McGurk (née Ward), Miss McKeever, Mrs McLoughlin, Mrs Muldoon, Bridie O’Farrell, Cassie O’Hara, May O’Neill (née Dempsey), Mary Rafferty, Susan Rafferty and Mrs (Annie) Ward. Annie Ward had succeeded Norah Connolly as head of the Belfast Battalion of Cumann na mBan and led the organisation through into the 1920s.

Cumann na mBan in Belfast, as elsewhere, largely staffed the web that linked the various republican organisations together, collecting and moving intelligence and clandestine communications between IRA, Cumann na mBan and Fianna units and officers, assisting in moving weapons and establishing networks of dumps and safe houses. While Cumann na mBan also fundraised to support prisoner’s dependents and distributed republican newspapers, that was not the limit of its activities. The likes of May Laverty and Mary Donnelly are both known to have participated in IRA operations, such as helping move and plant explosive devices.

As one of the key republican organisations Cumann na mBan attended meetings and participated in restructuring alongside the Belfast IRA and Fianna Éireann in the late 1920s. Generally, as with Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan was organised in two units, one covering the Falls and surrounding districts and one covering north Belfast, the Markets and Ballymacarrett. In 1926 a batch of An Phoblacht intended for Cumann na mBan was intercepted in the post. It contained 110 copies which suggests that this was the membership around this time (by the late 1930s the RUC believed membership to be around 60). By the early 1930s, May Laverty and Mary Donnelly were still prominent Cumann na mBan leaders in Belfast. Another was Cassie O’Hara, who had been engaged to Joe McKelvey and her continued support, like that of the likes of Bridie O’Farrell, maintained the Belfast unit’s sense of continuity and legitimacy.

<

p style=”text-align:justify;”>

A reunion of 1920s and 1930s, and later, Belfast Cumann na mBan volunteers (taken in 1971 and reproduced in Ray Quinn’s A Rebel Voice)


Cumann na mBan also prominently supported left wing initiatives (particularly stressed by the likes of May Laverty). In 1932, it held a flag day all over Ireland in October to raise funds to support those involved in the Outdoor Relief Riots in Belfast. The northern government response was predictable as, in the next month, two Belfast members, Mary Donnelly (Unity Street) and Sarah Grimley (North Queen Street), were given prison sentences for posting ‘seditious’ hand bills in Vulcan Street on the eve of a British royal visit in Belfast. Donnelly spent three months and Grimley two months in Armagh Jail (see Irish Press, December 17th 1932). Donnelly also allegedly had Cumann na mBan documents in her possession that stated that its aims were: “…(a) Complete separation of Ireland from all foreign Powers, (b) Unity of Ireland, (c) Gaelicisation of Ireland.” Speaking from the dock after refusing to recognise the court, Mary Donnelly said: “…We will carry on to the end until we get a Republic.

In 1933, under Eithne Ni Chumhail’s leadership, Cumann na mBan reviewed its relationship with the Second Dáil organisation (composed of those members elected to the second Dáil who maintained that it was the legitimate source of authority in Ireland). Up to then, Article 1 of the Cumann na mBan constitution required members to recognise the continued existence and authority of the Second Dáil. This limited it’s capacity to attract new members. Miss MacSwiney and two others resigned when the proposed change that only required members to “…never render allegiance to any Government but a Republican Government for all Ireland…” was passed at the convention in Dublin in June (the IRA had broken its link with the Second Dáil by 1926). At the same convention, the Cumann na mBan executive also announced the formation of Cumann na gCailíní, for girls aged 8 to 16. This facilitated an influx of new members later in the 1930s. The convention additionally agreed to embark on a campaign to propagate social reconstruction on the lines laid down by James Connolly and for an intensive campaign in the north (see Irish Press, June 14th, 1933). May Laverty was prominent in this campaign.

Following the mass arrests of Belfast republicans that October (1933), Cumann na mBan again raised funds to support the dependents of those who had been imprisoned. In June 1934, Belfast contingents from the IRA, Fianna, Cumann na mBan and Cumann na gCailíní had marched in uniform in Dublin prior the annual IRA ceilí in the Mansion House. Leading Cumann na mBan figures like Eithne Ni Chumail had supported Republican Congress but returned to Cumann na mBan when Congress began attacking the IRA.

In 1936, May Laverty again took a lead role in the public protests against de Valera’s government. In June, Cumann na mBan demanded entry to the meeting in St Mary’s Hall where the Anti-Partition League was founded (initially called the ‘Reunion of Ireland Organisation’). The meeting was chaired by ex-Belfast IRA O/C Hugh Corvin and while the likes of Padraig MacLogain attended, Cumann na mBan was refused entry and the IRA did not support the project. In 1937, as part of the Military Pensions Act, an ‘Old Cumann na mBan’ Association was formed in Belfast from members who had been active up to 1922. As with similar associations, it was boycotted by many who refused to endorse the Free State government.

Prominent members of Cumann na mBan in Belfast in the mid to late 1930s included Una Burke, Bridie Dolan, Crissie Dolan, Bridget Hannon, Dorrie Hill, May Laverty, Violet McGowan and Maggie Nolan. A Cumann na mBan and a Cumann na gCailíni contingent had participated in the funeral procession for veteran Fenian and IRB organiser Robert Johnston (also the father of poet and author Eithne Carberry), in March 1937, in Greencastle.

Dorrie Hill and Madge Nolan were present, representing Cumann na mBan, in Pearse Hall in King Street in October 1937 when a Belfast Brigade Council meeting was interrupted by the RUC and all those present had their names taken (despite the Belfast IRA staff being present the RUC thought it was a meeting of Joe McKelvey GAA club).  The likes of Josephine Brady and Mary McAreavey both received significant sentences for possession of weapons or documents in the late 1930s, while Bridie Dolan was badly injured in a premature explosion. Bridie O’Hara and Mary Hewitt were both expelled from Britain during the Sabotage Campaign of 1939. Cumann na mBan was prominent in the very public demonstrations of republican strength in Belfast in the late 1930s, such as the burning of gas masks in May 1939.

In September 1939, there were forty-eight members of the Belfast contingent at the Cumann na mBan conference in Dublin (Eithne Ni Chumail was still the leader at this time). The RUC believed that Cumann na mBan in Belfast was divided into two companies. Peggy Rafferty led the Belfast Cumann na mBan contingent at the infamous 1939 Bodenstown commemoration. At the time, Annie Hamill was in charge of Cumann na gCailíní in Belfast. Many of those involved in Cumann na mBan  were relatives of prominent IRA members, such as Bridget Corr (sister of Arthur), Mary McLaughlin (sister of Chris) and Ellen McCurry (sister of Willie John).

In October 1940, Isobel Murphy, Mary and Bridget O’Hare and Elizabeth O’Toole got two years each for distributing Cumann na mBan leaflets outside a cinema on the Crumlin Road. Cassie O’Hara was one of the first Cumann na mBan member to interned in the 1940s and was soon followed by others. Mary Donnelly, though, was killed when a German bomb destroyed her family home in Unity Street on 16th April 1941. The same night, Bridget Corr’s mother and brother were killed by another bomb at their family home in Vere Street.

Prison conditions in Armagh were very bit as bad as those that the men had to endure. Those imprisoned in Armagh included Madge Burns, Nora McDowell (the only one who had children), her daughter Una, Teresa Donnelly, Bernadette Masterson, Mary McDonald, Nora McKearney, Cassie O’Hara (O/C of the Armagh prisoners) and Nancy Ward. In the autumn of 1943, the Cumann na mBan members in Armagh Jail decided to embarked on a hunger strike. You can read more about the hunger strike here, but briefly, the women joined en masse on 21st November, although by the time Therese Donnelly was given the last rites after twenty-two days it was apparent that the protest was being robbed of publicity and it was decided to call it off (it was a lesson ignored by the men who went on hunger strike the next March). The same pressures and family hardships bore down on the women as the men and inevitably some had to sign out.

The last Belfast Cumann na mBan prisoners were among the eight released in July 1945 (including Cassie O’Hara), but like the IRA itself, the organisation was slow to rebuild in Belfast. Joe Cahill records that, by 1956, Bridie O’Neill was O/C of Cumann na mBan in Belfast (and apparently had been for some time). As in previous eras, Cumann na mBan looked after much of the transportation of weapons to and from dumps. In the lead up to the campaign, O’Neill had organised her units to collect and move weapons from Belfast to the border where they would be used during the campaign. Arrests during the Border Campaign also showed that Cumann na mBan continued to collect funds (officially these were for the ‘Freedom Fighters Fund’ – see Fermanagh Herald, October 18th 1958). O’Neill was the only women interned during the 1956-62 campaign (she interned for seven months). Again, as in 1945, Cumann na mBan was largely intact due to the low number of imprisonments but was slow to re-engage its membership.

By the time the early 1970s, the IRA was directly admitting women as members presenting a different challenge to the rationale for Cumann na mBan to continue to exist (it largely supported Cathal Goulding in 1970 and later).

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, talk.to.tom. 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 gmail.com)  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.