Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Insurgency, radicalization, foreign fighters arriving to battle, freedom fighters known as terrorists, a UK coalition of nations take on the fight. Is this Ukraine, Iraq, Syria or ISIS? No it's the 1916 Easter Rising.
Perhaps the most famous American involved in the Easter Rising was Eamon DeValera who would in the years after become President of Ireland. But other US citizens joined the fray one of these was John A. Kilgallon. He was born in the village of Far Rockaway, New York in 1891. His father Luke and mother Nora (nee Walsh) emigrated from County Mayo. They married in the United States and John was their only son.
Luke earned a living as blacksmith who wisely learned how to fix cars and built a prosperous auto repair and gas station. He patented a device to put tires onto the rims and became financially wealthy in real estate.
In 1914 he sent his son to St. Enda's school in Dublin. There John Kilgallon was decisively influenced by the school's founder, Patrick H. Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rebellion. Known as "The Yank" John drilled as part of a unit known as "Pearse's Own" consisting of current and former St. Enda's students. But how did this photographer end up at St. Enda’s. Firstly his parents had the means to send him to Ireland and study at St. Enda’s with the attendant living expenses covered.
Secondly he was basically on the run. On August 20th 1912 and not even twenty one John had taken a car from his father garage and attended a party. Following the party just after 2am in the morning the car was packed with ten people and according to police reports the car was travelling at 65 mph when it struck a farm wagon, catapulting the occupants from the car and over turning.
The most seriously injured was sixteen year old Cecilia Welstead who was crippled for life following the accident. In January 1915 Ms. Welstead sought $50,000 but the Kilgallon family had removed their son from the jurisdiction and sent him to Ireland John’s father denied in court that his son’s departure had anything to do with the court case. Ms. Welstead was awarded $20,000 in damages by Justice Scudder.
He was in the Post Office during the thick of the combat, and surrendered with Pearse after six days of heavy fighting. According to Desmond Ryan’s BMH witness statement
"Holy Ge"!, cries John A. Kilgallon, in his American accent to two bewildered postal officials: "This 'ain't no half-arsed revolution! This is the business.”
After his capture, Kilgallon with an address at The Hermitage Rathfarnham was sent to the Richmond Barracks before being marched to the docks and taken first to Stafford Jail and then to Frongoch Prison Camp in Wales where he became a hut leader. The authorities offered to release him if he swore an oath of allegiance to the British crown. John rejected this offer. This had been stated in a letter to his father published in the Brooklyn Eagle in February 1917 which had been smuggled out of Frongoch by Annie Buffin the sister of Eamon Buffin who was also a student at St Enda’s and is remembered as one who had raised the flag above the GPO at the start of the Rising. America's Ambassador the Court of St. James, Walter Page, pressed the British government to release "The Yank" with US newspapers referring to Kilgallon as a ‘schoolboy’. Kilgallon was released on Christmas Day 1916.
While their son was in Frongoch, Luke Kilgallon received a letter in the post on May 11th from Padraig Pearse which reported on his son’s progress at St. Enda’s. Pearse said ‘he is very well and has made genuine progress. He has certainly benefited from his time at St. Enda’s.’ The letter was an acknowledgement of fees paid to the school on behalf of John Kilgallon.
John Kilgallon in Uniform
Part of John ‘the yank’ Kilgallon legacy to the rising is a series of photographs he took on Easter Sunday at St Enda’s of comrades on the day before the Rising begun.
John served his native country in World War I as a machinist in the United States Navy. From his service record, it appears that spent the entire war in stateside naval bases. John died in 1972 at the age of 80.