IRA Vol. John Collins: from the Bone, to Artane Industrial School to Kilmeena, Co. Mayo?

During an IRA ambush at Kilmeena, County Mayo in May 1921 a Belfast man in the flying column of the IRA’s 3rd Battalion, West Mayo Brigade, John Collins, was fatally wounded. He was buried in the republican plot in Castlebar, but who was John Collins?

On 18th May 1921, a flying column of the 3rd Battalion of the IRA’s West Mayo Brigade opened fire on the RIC in Newport hoping to draw them out into an ambush. An IRA sniper killed RIC Sergeant Francis Butler during the attack. Commanded by Michael Kilroy, but minus some of its Westport contingent (and many of its rifles), the forty-one men of the flying column had then set themselves up in an ambush position along the main Newport-Westport road the next morning at Kilmeena to await any reinforcements from either the RIC itself or from its Special Reserve (i.e. the Black and Tans). The ambush anticipated Crossley Tenders appearing from the Westport direction. According to one account the first Crossley Tender that appeared was driving quite close to a carload of nuns and had almost passed the position before the IRA could open fire. A second had been maintaining a gap of about a quarter mile and so was in a position to observe the initial ambush and halt. I’ve included a map from The Flame and The Candle below, you can also view where the ambush unfolded here. The Military Archives have digitised a map showing the positions taken during the ambush (see here) and are in the process of releasing more details through its Brigade Activity series (keep an eye on for more information).


Kilroy had positioned flank guards several hundred meters out on either side but the main body of the flying column was brought under fire by the RIC who had dismounted from both lorries, effectively pinning them to their position on the eastern side of the road. While the RIC were able to bring a Lewis gun into action, there was sufficient cover on the southern (Westport) side that the main threat was from the RIC to the north. That detachment managed to work itself and its Lewis gun into a position where it could enfilade the front line of Kilroy’s flying column forcing them to fall back to the cover of the field behind and inflicting at least one fatal casualty on the flying column.

The IRA unit had been pinned down here for an hour when John Collins was shot in the chest. Paddy O’Malley did his best to help him but as the RIC began to fire rifle grenades into their flanks and main position, Kilroy had his men retreat back field by field until they were able to make good their escape before the whole position was outflanked (Paddy O’Malley was wounded during the retreat – he also had to stay behind and was captured). When a local priest, who lived nearby, arrived at the scene to attend the wounded he found Seamus McEvilly already dead and John Collins and two others (Pat Staunton and Thomas O’Donnell) with what he called only ‘a flicker of life’. All three quickly succumbed to their wounds. A fifth IRA volunteer, Paddy Jordan, died from his wounds ten days later. One RIC man was killed and another badly wounded during the ambush.

All of the accounts of the Kilmeena ambush note that John Collins was from Belfast. The Irish Independent published his photo on 25th May 1921, noting he was an old Artane boy while the Connaught Telegraph on 28th May stated that he was “…a native of Belfast (one of the expelled Catholic workers) and had been working for some time in Westport, being noted for his industry, piety and uprightness.” It also described how he had been buried in the Republican Plot in Castlebar two days after the Kilmeena Ambush. Wreaths at the funeral read “To Jonie from his fond companions, RIP” and “In loving remembrance of dear Jonie, from his Westport friends – RIP.” The press (eg Irish Independent 24th May 1921) reported that his friends had wanted to bury him in Westport but as only half an hour was allowed by the authorities for the burial, which was also restricted to 12 mourners, he had to be buried in Castlebar.


Photo John Collins from Irish Independent, 25/5/1921

Collins reportedly worked as a tailor for Kerrigan’s of Fair Green in Westport. Another IRA man present at Kilmeena, John Pierce, was from Dublin and had also been in Artane. He had come to Westport to learn his trade as a tailor in January 1919. Since Collins was likely expelled from his work place in Belfast after the many sectarian attacks on workers at the end of the summer of 1920, that connection might have brought Collins to Mayo although it could also be coincidental. There is some controversy over Pierce’s role at Kilmeena after he was arrested as he was seen being driven around by the RIC and then he apparently disappeared. A review of evidence provided by various eye-witnesses in the Connaught Telegraph on 23rd May 1984 concluded that he was not a spy. Dominic Price reproduces a lengthy statement he gave to the RIC after his arrest in The Flame and The Candle. That evidence led to a number of raids and arrests in the immediate aftermath of the ambush. Afterwards, Pierce was held in Galway Prison until December when he was transferred to Liverpool Prison before being released in the general amnesty that followed the signing of the treaty. He joined the newly-founded National Army and in November 1922 he was a Sergeant in the tailor’s department of the Quartermaster General’s Staff.

Pierce’s statement (as quoted by Price) described how he and Collins had been out for a walk at Corrig, just outside Westport, and happened upon an IRA unit on 17th April 1921 and asked to join. They had then become part of the 3rd Battalion flying column although Pierce states that Collins had asked a priest about shooting at police as he was uneasy about it. At Kilmeena, he was beside Collins when Collins was mortally wounded. As he was only 18, he simply appears to have broken under the stress of the gun battle and Collins’ death at Kilmeena rather than being either an informer or a spy.

So what else do we know of John Collins and his Belfast origins? Very little, so far. His age was recorded as 19 when he died, which would be consistent with being at Artane as the time as John Pierce. He is described in various sources as an ‘orphan’ (notably, so was John Pierce although Pierce’s 1922 army census record shows that his mother was still alive in Dublin – so calling him an ‘orphan’ may have been based on an assumption about why they had been sent to Artane). The 1911 census has two John Collins from Belfast at Artane, one aged 11 and other aged 14. Comparing the other ‘John Collins’ in the 1911 census and the birth/death records doesn’t identify a candidate who fits both the age and was an orphan several years prior to 1921 (presuming being an orphan is why Collins was sent to Artane). The closest I can find is a John Collins who was slightly older than 19 in 1921, at 21 years of ago. That John Collins was born in Jordan Street on the edge of the Bone in 1899. His mother, a mill worker named Catherine Collins, didn’t include his father’s name on his birth certificate (and was herself born in Louth). She shared the Jordan Street house with another mill worker, Mary Whiteside, and Mary’s daughter (also called Mary). Catherine died in 1902 of TB while Mary died two years later. Mary’s daughter Mary was put into an orphanage in Belfast. John Collins presumably then ended up in Artane, and I assume this is the 11 year old John Collins in Artane in the 1911 census (although he obviously returned to Belfast again and was working there before 1920 or 1921). Whether it is the same John Collins isn’t clear – yet.

We’ll find out in a couple of months as a new book including information about John Collins is being published in April. You can keep an eye on that here at the Tiernaur Oral History Page.

[Thanks to Martin Molloy for bringing John Collins to my attention]

Belfast Brigade IRA members, 1921-22.

Here are some lists of the members of individual companies of the IRA in Belfast on two specific dates in 1921 and 1922 (transcribed from documents at the Military Archives). There some discussion of the lists at the end of this post. The lists were compiled in the mid-1930s and are based on the memory of various officers and other members. I’ve included A, B and C Companies of the 1st Battalion below (Belfast was expanded from four companies to two battalions in 1921, then to four battalions in 1922 and back to two battalions by July 1922). I’ll add more next week. If you are looking for an individual name it is probably easiest to use Ctrl+F to search for it. Names marked * appear on both the 1921 and 1922 lists, those marked ** appear on the 1922 list only, unmarked names are only on the 1921 list. Spellings of names and addresses are copied from the lists.

Note – the addresses given reflect where the men lived in 1936 rather than 1921-22. If you need to do a bit of research on individuals, there is a great website here where you can check street directories at different dates and you can access detailed data from the 1901 and 1911 census here.

1st Battalion Staff (on 11/7/1921)
Commandant James McDermott 39 Lady Street
Vice Commandant no appointment
Adjutant Joseph Magee 41 Nansen Street
Quartermaster Hugh Corvin Springfield Road
Intelligence Officer John Richards Clonard Street
Engineering Officer no appointment
Medical Officer T. Donnigan Springfield Road

1st Battalion Staff on 1/7/1922
O/C Joseph Magee 41 Nansen Street
Vice O/C Michael Brennan (USA)
Adjutant James McKeating 25 Alton Street
Quatermaster Patrick Murray 63 McDonnell Street
Intelligence Officer Thomas Hawthorn Benares Street

A Company
Company Staff (11/7/1921)
Captain Patrick McCarragher 8 Whiterock Drive
1st Lieut Art O’Donnell (USA)
2nd Lieut Hugh Elliot 31 Britons Drive
Company Staff (1/7/1922)
O/C Art O’Donnell Crocus Street
Adjutant Lawrence Maguire 30 Abercorn Street Adj
1st Lieut Edward Quinn 39 Cyprus Street
2nd Lieut Joseph O’Neill Tralee Street
Intelligence Officer Robert Donnell 40 Barrack Street
Quartermaster Patrick Gallaher Merrion Street

Adams, David 15 Abercorn Street; Allen, Pat 23 Cavendish Street; Allen, Joseph; Allen, Sean 23 Cavendish Street
Barnes, Dermot 12 St Marys Road; 
Begley, Pat Abercorn Street North; Bell, Thomas Harrogate Street; Booth, Frank 10 Alexander Street West; Brannigan, Patrick 19 Abercorn Street; Burke, William 67 Ross Street
Campell, P. Newtownards; 
Carmichael, John Mary Street; Casey, William 6 Grosvenor Place; Collins, John Mulhouse Street; Collins, Patrick Cavendish Street; Cooney, Eamon (TD, Dublin); Connor, Joseph Springfield Avenue; Connor, Michael (England); Connor, John 5 Frere Street; Cooper, Francis (USA); Corr, Patrick Lincoln Street
Dalton William 8 Cupar Street; Darby, James 45 Raglan Street; Dempsey, James Lucknow Street; Dempsey, John Lucknow Street; Dillon, John Gibson Street; Doherty, James Cullingtree Road; Doherty, Edward Cullingtree Road; Donnelly, Robert 46 Raglan Street; Downey, Patrick Rockmount Street; Dunbar, David Braemer Street Adjutant; Dunn, John Tralee Street
Elliott, Hugh 31 Britons Drive 2nd Lieut; Elliot, George 35 Leeson Street
Fitzpatrick, Owen (Belturbet, Cavan); Flavell, James Leeson Street; Fox, John Colinward Street; Fox, Michael Colinward Street
*Gallagher, Patrick Merrion Street; 
Gallagher, Francis Falls Road; Goodman, Bernard Waterville Street; Grant, Bernard Abbysinia Street; Grant, John Crocus Street; Greenan James Cullingtree Road; Guy, Seamus (address unknown)
Hamill, John (Canada); 
Hanna, Joseph Servia Street; Henry, John Leeson Street; Houston, George (USA); *Hughes, Mick 145 Cromac Street; Hyland, Joseph 13 Bosnia Street
**Johnston, James Tyrone Street; *Johnston, George 23 Abercorn Street
Keenan, Joseph Panton Street; 
Kelly, Henry Benares Street; Kerr, Like 14 Lower Clonard Street; Killen, Patrick Whiterock Gardens; 
King, Bernard 8 Alexandra Street West
Lismore, Manus Whiterock Drive; Loughran, Henry Bantry Street
Madden, Bernard Tralee Street; 
Magee, Joseph McMillan’s Place; Magee, Henry Leeson Street; Maguire, Hugh (Dublin); Maguire, Laurence 30 Abercorn Street North; Mallon, Thomas 20 Thames Street; Martin, John John Street; Murphy,  Edward 35 Crocus Street; Murphy, Thomas St James Park; Murray, Patrick McDonnell Street
McAllister, C. Curragh; McAuley, Daniel Albert Street; McAuley, James Benares Street; McAvoy, John Balkan Street; McCarragher, Patrick Whiterock Drive Captain; McCornmick, Patrick Leeson Street; McCurry, William Leeson Street; *McDade, Phil 31 Getty Street; McDowell, Charles 118 Leeson Street; McEntee, Charles King Street; McEntee, Joseph King Street; McEntee, James King Street; *McEntee, Edward King Street; McGahey, Bernard Lincoln Street; McGarry, Liam 19 Getty Street; McGivern, John Falls Road; McGlinchey, Joseph Theodore Street; McGookin, Peter Bombay Street; McGookin, Charles Bombay Street; *McGovern, Andrew Whiterock Road; McGregor, Daniel Irwin Street; McGuigan, Peter (USA); McKeating, James 28 Alton Street; *McKenna,  James 240 Falls Road; *McLoughlin, Philip 137 McDonnell Street; McMahon, Patrick 7 Ormond Street; McNulty, P. McMillans Place; *McWilliams, John Spinner Street
Nixon, James Merrion Street; *Nolan, Michael 93 McDonnell Street; *Nolan, James 93 McDonnell Street
Owens, James Dunmore Street; *O’Donnell, Art (USA) 1st Lieut; **O’Donnell, Edward Crocus Street; *O’Neill, Leonard Balkan Street; O’Neill, Sean (unknown address); *O’Neill, Joseph Tralee Street; O’Toole, John Spinner Street
Quinn, John 39 Cyprus Street; Quinn, Matthew Middiken Street; *Quinn, Edward 39 Cyprus Street; *Quinn, Joseph (USA) QM; *Quinn, Robert 42 Beechmount Street; Quinn, ? Townsend Street
Rafferty, John Nail Street; Rafferty, Hugh (USA); *Rocks, John Abbysinia Street
Scullion, Pat Tralee Street; Simpson, John (USA); Skelly, John Plevna Street; Smyth, Michael (England); *Sullivan, Patrick (Tralee Street)
Tevlin, Thoams Panton Street; *Trainor, Peter Barrack Street; Trainor, John Springfield Road
**Ward, William Bank Street; Wilson, Thomas Dunville Street; *Woods, William 23 Cavendish Street

B Company
Company Staff (11/7/1921)
Captain Patrick Osborne 16 Colinview Street
1st Lieut Thoams Gunn (Dublin)
2nd Lieut Patrick Brady 41 Iris Street
Company Staff (1/7/1922)
O/C Joseph Bradley (USA)
1st Lieut Terence Lee 46 Iveagh Street
2nd Lieut Ted Bannon (USA)

Allen, John St James Place
Barry, John Cavendish Street; Barnes, Patrick c/o 118 Leeson Street; Bailey, Patrick Irish Drive; **Bannon, Edward Linden Street; Barry, Patrick Cavendish Street; Bonner, John Ava Terrace; *Boomer, Robert Clondara Street; **Booth, Franics Jr Alexandra Street West; Bradley, Joseph (USA); Bradley, Michael (deceased); *Brady, John Cavendish Street (deceased); Brady, Patrick 4 iris Street; Brawney, J Ava Terrace; **Brown, Edward (USA); **Bunting, Seamus Alexandra Street West; Burns, Fred Norfolk Street; **Burns, James Earlscourt Street
**Carney, Joseph Balkan Street
Corvin, Peter (Dublin); Cromie, Frank (Dublin)
Devlin, Joseph Broadway, Falls Road; *Dinnen, Terence c/o 118 Leeson Street; **Donnelly, G. Falls Road; **Donnelly, Thomas Leeson Street; **Donnelly, ? Leeson Street; **Donnelly, Peter, Cawnpore Street; **Donnelly, Thomas Bread Street; **Doherty, John (USA); **Doherty, Charles (USA); *Doherty, Michael Cavendish Street; Doherty, James 14 Dunmore Street; Doyle, James Balkan Street; Dowd, Henry (unknown); Downey, Joseph (Dublin); Downey, Patrick (Dubliin); Doyle, John Balkan Street
Fanning, Donal Foyle Street Derry; Fanning, Edward Cavendish Street; *Farnan, James 13 Earlscourt Street; Finn, Seamus (deceased); Finn, James Charlemont, Armagh; Forrester, James 66 Balkan Street; Foster, Joseph (unknown); Fox, Anthony 82 Falls Road; Fox, Fred 82 Falls Road; Fox, Thomas (Athlone); Fox, John 21 Earlscourt Street
*Gallagher, Joseph Logan Street; *Galway, Thomas Falls Road; Galway Robert Falls Road; Garvey, Michael (unknown); Gilmartin, James (Sligo); Gillanders, Thomas (deceased); Gleenon, Charles (Dublin); Gleenon, Gerry Andersonstown, Falls Road; *Goodman, George (USA); Goodman, Joseph (USA); Goodfellow, James (USA); Graham, Rory (Sligo); Graham, Gerald Waterville Street; Gunn, Thomas (Dublin); Gunn, Hugh (Dublin)
*Hall, Sean (Dublin); Halley, Charles Cawnpore Street; Hannigan, James (Louth); Harte, Henry Falls Road; Harte, John Falls Road; *Harte, William Falls Road; Hartley, Patrick Iris Drive; Hartley, William Iris Drive; Harvey, John Lower Clonard Street; **Hawthorne, Thomas Cawnpore Street; Healy, Robert Hawthorn Street; Hunter, Thomas Forfar Street; Hunter, Robert (deceased)
Johnston, Alex Albert Street
**Keelagher, Brian Abyssinia Street; **Kellett, Thomas (Canada); Kennedy, Eamon (Tipperary)
Lappin, Charles Ormeau Road; **Lavery, F. Oakman Street; **Lee, Terence Iveagh Street; Leonard, Sean (Sligo); Loughran, Stephen (Dublin); Loughran, Henry Granville Street; Lynch, Michael Lombard Street
Madden, Richard Fort Street; Magee, Laurence (Donegal); Manning, William 55 Divis Street; **Martin, John John Street; Masterson, Brian (Cavan); Matthews, David Tralee Street; Mawhinney, Charles (unknown); Mawhinnney, Seamus (unknown); Menagh, George (unknown); **Morgan, James 80 Abyssinia Street; Moss, James Servia Street; Mulholland, Henry (unknown); **Mullan, George John Street; Murphy, Sean Falls Road; Murray, Robert Moreland Park
**McAtackney, Joseph Lady Street; **McBurney, James Barrack Street; McCarthy, Francis Briton’s Drive; McCann Seamus (Monaghan); Mccagney, Charles Arizona Street; McCann, Leonard (Dublin); McCormick, Patrick Glendun, Antrim; McCormick, James Glendun, Antrim; McCormick, Alex Falls Road; McCormick, Louis 34 Hawthorn Street; McCreely, James 60 Beechmount Street; **McCurry, Francis Cullingtree Road; McDonagh, Gerald (Dublin); McDonnell, Thomas Harrogate Street; McElroy, Leonard Cavendish Street; McErlean, Patrick Toomebridge, Antrim; **McFadden, John Jude Street; McGeown, Hugh 92 Plevna Street; McGivern, Thomas Falls Road; McGivern, Joseph Falls Road; McGowan, Archibald 161 Falls Road; **McGreevy, Joseph Pound Street; McKay, Patrick Dunmore Street; McKee, Charles (Kerry); McKee James, (USA); McKee, Henry (USA); *McKeever, John 6 Beechmount Street; McKenna, James (Dublin); McLarnon, Thomas Cavendish Street; McLaughlin, John Greencastle, Co Antrim; McMahan, Patrick Divis Drive; McMahan, Eugene (deceased); **McManus, John Nail Street; *McMillan, Edward Cavendish Street; McMullan, Alex 21 Bombay Street; McMullan, Michael (Dublin); McMurray, Patrick 35 Balkan Street; McMurray, Thomas Merrion Street; *McMurrough, Thomas Harrogate Street; McNamee, Patrick Holywood, Co Down; **McNeilly, John John Street; McParland, John Cavendish Street; **McWilliams, Patrick Plevna Street
*Nash, George 52 Gibson Street
O’Boyle, Joseph (Dublin); **O’Boyle, Owen Bantry Street; **O’Hanlon, Peter Albert Street; O’Hara, Henry (deceased); **O’Malley, Thomas Norfolk Street; O’Neill, Joseph (USA); O’Sullivan, Sean (Dublin); O’Sullivan, Maurice Walmer, Andersonstown, Belfast; Osborne, Patrick 18 Colinview Street (Captain)
Powderly, Joseph Irish Drive
**Rafferty, John Nail Street; Rafftery, Thomas Donaghmore, Co Tyrone; Regan, Francis 45 Irish Street; Reid, Patrick Whiterock Gardens; Richie, David (Dublin); Ryan, James Falls Road; Ryan, Charles (Athlone); Ryan, Philip (Dublin)
**Steele, James c/o 118 Leeson Street
**Tanney, James Hawthorn Street
**Wynne, Leo Falls Road; **Wynne, A. Harrogate Street

C Company
Company Staff (1/7/1921 C and E Companies were combined by 1922 and only an E Company return exists for that date)
Captain Joseph Murray (Dublin)
1st Lieut Sean McDevitt (Dublin)
2nd Lieut Robert Brennan Beechmount Street
Company Staff (11/7/1922 – all appear to be E Company men)
O/C David Matthews 31 Tralee Street
1st Lieut Bernard Mervyn Currie Street
2nd Lieut James Delaney 103 Balkan Street

Brady, Pat (deceased); Brennan, Robert 3 Beechmount Street (2nd Lieut); Burns, Pat 9 Pound Street; Bartlett, J. c/o 118 Leeson Street; Burns, M Durham Street; Burns, Peter Wall Street
Campbell, D c/o 118 Leeson Street; Crothers, J.  c/o 118 Leeson Street; Creighton, John c/o 118 Leeson Street; Cole, J (Scotland); Crawford, J (USA); Carroll, J. California Street; Croke, J. c/o 118 Leeson Street; Carville, J. (Scotland); Cunningham, James c/o 118 Leeson Street
Daly, Mick 20 Cape Street; Dunne, Louis Antrim Road; Donnelly, Gerard c/o 118 Leeson Street; Donnelly, Dan c/o 118 Leeson Street
Eastwood, John (Dublin)
Fahy, P. (Dublin); Farrelly, Pat c/o 19 Kildare Street; Flannagan, John Kildare Street; Finnegan, M. c/o 118 Leeson Street; Fitzpatrick, ? (Free State); Flannagan, John Kildare Street; Fleming, Patrick 94 Clowney Street; Fogarty, P. c/o 118 Leeson Street
Gunn, J. (Free State); Gibson, ? (Cork); Geehan, Thomas Glenard, Belfast; Galligan, J. (deceased); Guilar? J (deceased); Geoghan, Sean (Dublin)
Henry, D Arnon Street; Hughes, John (Cavan); Hamill, A. c/o 118 Leeson Street; Heaney, Henry (Derry)
Kane, Howard c/o 118 Leeson Street; Kane, Alan (USA); Kearns, C. c/o 118 Leeson Street; Keenan, Pat Tyrone Street; Kelly, c. c/o 118 Leeson Street; Kelly, Thomas (deceased); Kelly, John c/o 118 Leeson Street; Kennedy, Thomas (Dublin)
Largey, Sam California Street; Largey, J (USA); Leonard, J. c/o 118 Leeson Street; Loughran, Pat (deceased)
Magee, Frank (Dublin); Magee, Hugh (deceased); Maguire, J. (Free State); Maguire, Phil (deceased); Megran, D. 13 Upton Street; Monaghan, J. Wall Street; Montague, J. (Dublin); Morgan, J. c/o 118 Leeson Street; Morgan, J. 13 Wall Street; Morrissey, Victor (Dublin); Morton, W. California Street; Mullen, F. c/o 118 Leeson Street; Murray, Joseph (Dublin) Capt; Murray, M. Rockdale Street
McAuley, S. (Dublin); McAleese, Robert Wall Street; McAuley, P.J. Grove Street; McAleese, F. (Canada); McCotter, J. Upton Street; McCann, S. (Free State); McDevitt, Sean (Dublin) 1st Lieut; McDevitt, Brendan (Dublin); McDowell, S (deceased); McErlain, Pat (deceased); McIlvenny, C. (USA); McGuinness, James Arnon Street; McKinney, D 32 Ross Street; McMahon, P.J. 48 Bombay Street; McManus, Joseph c/o 118 Leeson Street; McManus, J. c/o 118 Leeson Street; McNally, A. Alton Street; McRory, Sean Harrogate Street
Nolan, James McCleery Street
O’Brien, James (Carrickmacross); O’Hara, James 13 Alton Street; O’Connor, P. Tyrone Street; O’Neill, H. Arnon Street
Quinn, John Emo Villa, Falls Road
Rainey, Thomas 22 Clonard Street; Redmond, P. (Free State); Reilly, John c/o 118 Leeson Street; Russell, Joseph Stanhope Street; Ryan, Joseph 92 Divis Street
Scott, Henry 42 Alton Street; Smith, Sean Gresham Street; Smith, Patrick (USA); Steele, P (deceased); Stevenson, J. (deceased); Strachan, P. (Free State)
Trainor, Thomas 12 Park Street; Tumelty, J. c/o 118 Leeson Street
Walsh, Pat (deceased)

The purpose of compiling the lists of names was part of a process of putting pension arrangements in place for veterans of the struggle for independence. Obviously, this had political connotations in the south as there were still republicans who refused to acknowledge the existence of the southern state in any form, either political or practical. To some, the pensions issue was one being driven by Fianna Fáil to try and entice more republicans into accepting the southern state.

In Belfast, the issue was more complex. There was a Pre-Truce IRA veterans organisation set-up in the city in mid-April 1935 (and tolerated by the RUC and northern government). This was the body that formed committees for the various units and helped put together the lists below. Since many from Belfast had followed Collins in taking a pro-Treaty stance (and many had not), there were still significant differences among both current and former IRA in the city. The Pre-Truce IRA had Hugh Corvin, O/C of the Belfast IRA in the mid-1920s, as secretary. It seems, from documents in the Dublin military archives, that it reported to the Director of Intelligence in the Irish Army.

The overt purpose of the lists was to identify individuals across Fianna Éireann, the IRA and Cumann na mBán who might qualify for pensions due to services rendered. Collecting the information was necessary as few formal documentary records survived and it would assist in validating future claims. The lists were to focus on two dates, coinciding with the July 1921 truce and the July 1922 attack on the Four Courts in Dublin. The Belfast returns clearly rely on those former IRA officers and volunteers who were willing to co-operate with the process (I’ve discussed the issue with regard to units of Fianna Éireann, the IRA and Cumann na mBán in North Queen Street before). In some cases, such as the 3rd and 4th Battalions of the 1st (Belfast) Brigade of the 3rd Northern Division, no lists have survived at all (as they were formed after the 1921 truce and folded back into 1st and 2nd Battalions by 1st July 1922). Not only are some unit lists missing, other existing unit lists also seem incomplete such as the 1922 list for C Company in Carrickhill.

Notably too, many (but not all) who were still active republicans have their address given as c/o 118 Leeson Street, Belfast. This was the address of a pub on Leeson Street and, given the link into the Free State’s Director of Intelligence, suggests that the information collected would also have been available for other purposes. As such, the lists are significant but are, at the same time, artefacts of the pensions process of the 1930s  with all the baggage that went with that.

I’ll add further lists next week.