Johnny O’Connor was second generation Irish. His father’s parents hailed from counties Cork and Kerry and his mother’s from Cork and Galway. His grandparents had left Ireland seeking a better life after the famine of the mid 19th century. Johnny’s parents Jack and Mary lived in the East end of London where they had been born and grew up together knowing each other from their early school days. Both his parents were tailors and proud to be Irish with their house full of ‘Irish-Ireland’ traditions with history and music to the fore. The O’Connor family was made up of four sons and four daughters and their house was used as an IRA safe house during the War of Independence for IRA men on the run. In 1920 another son Joseph crossed the Irish Sea to help the cause and spent a number of years in prison. Mary O’Connor died in 1951 aged eighty four.
Johnny O’Connor joined the Irish Volunteers unit based in London. Initially there were two units founded in London, one on either side of the River Thames. Originally boasting over five hundred volunteers, the outbreak of World War One and the exodus of Irish men to fight for the British Army led to the merging of the two companies that now had just one hundred men. These men were trained by men like brothers Joe and Martin Cassidy in St. George’s Hall near the Elephant and Castle. One of O’Connor’s fellow Volunteers at the hall was one Michael Collins who would later have such a pivotal role in the formation of the Irish state. After a visit to the Volunteers headquarters at No.2 Dawson Street and to Bulmer Hobson, the organisations Quartermaster by the Liverpool Volunteers’ commander Liam McNieve found that the idea of setting up a central location for the units in Britain was met with resistance. McNieve had heard about an offer from the Plunkett family to use some of their land at Larkfield as a base for the men from London and Liverpool and after an inspection that offer was taken up. Monies that were gathered in Britain and out of the personal cash of the Plunkett family was used to purchase mattresses, blankets and food supplies.
On January 15th 1916 O’Connor made his way across the Irish Sea for the very first time from London by ferry through the Welsh port of Holyhead. Johnny reported that ‘ninety five percent of us had no relatives in Dublin and very little cash’. On his arrival at the North wall he made his way to Neary’s Hotel on Parnell Street. For one pound a week, O’Connor had his own room and three square meals a day. After a raid on the hotel when a cache of weapons was found in the room occupied by Gilbert Lynch, Michael Collins arrived at the Hotel and told the Volunteers staying there that they should pack their bags and to make their way to Kimmage. Larkfield was already heavily fortified when O’Connor arrived and their days were taken up with military drilling and weapons training. On one occasion in February the British authorities attempted to investigate the happenings at the estate but a couple of warning shots from the sentries sent the British scurrying away.
AN EXTRACT FROM THE FORTHCOMING BOOK 'RADIO OGLAICH NA hEIREANN - REBEL RADIO' BY EDDIE BOHAN