Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Americans of the 1916 Rising

For many when you mention the United States and the Easter Rising the first association is with Eamon DeValera. DeValera was the Commandant of the Boland’s Mill garrison and when court martialed by the British Crown was sentenced to death. It is assumed by most historians that this death sentence was commuted to life in prison due to the fact that DeValera had been born in 1882 in New York. But DeValera was not the only US citizen involved in the Easter Rising. Jeremiah Lynch also known as Diarmuid Lynch was born in County Cork in 1878 but moved to the United States in 1897 after a stint working for the British Civil Service in London eventually becoming a naturalized US citizen. In 1908 he retuned to Ireland and became involved in the nationalist movement. During the Easter Rising he was Aide de Camp to James Connolly in the GPO. He was arrested after the rising and was sentenced to death for his part. Following the direct intervention of US President Woodrow Wilson his death sentence was commuted and he was released with most of the other combatants of the Rising in 1917.

Another United States citizen jailed for his part in the Rising was James Mark Sullivan. Born in Killarney, County Kerry in 1872, his family moved to America when he was young. Educated at Yale University, Sullivan became a lawyer in New York. At the age of forty he married twenty eight year old Limerick heiress Nell O’Mara. In August 1913 he was appointed US Ambassador to Santo Domingo (modern day Dominican Republic) but he resigned some months later following the emergence of fraud allegations.

He returned he Ireland and took part in the Easter Rising eventually sentenced he served his time in Kilmainham and Arbour Hill. According to Pat Lavelle "My brother in law Dick Humphreys told me that Uncle Jim Sullivan was the life and soul of the prisoners up at Kilmainham gaol. Dick knew because he was one of them. He said that they were all feeling very gloomy, most of them sentenced to death or likely to be, and that Uncle Jim came in on them like a fresh breeze with his hearty laughter and his big voice and American wisecracks and without a tremor of fear; for who could touch an American citizen if all came to all", apparently he was under threat of execution "but not executed due to his American diplomatic passport". Sullivan was the founder of The Film Company of Ireland which produced a number of early silent movies starring Abbey Theatre actors but these films were destroyed during the British bombardment during the Rising. Sullivan died in August 1935.

                                                                        Jim Sullivan c 1910

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. Importantly, his parents had the means to send him to Ireland and study at St. Enda’s with the attendant living expenses covered.

Kilgallon 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. The arrival of the letter was poignant as it arrived eight days after Pearse's execution in the courtyard of Kilmainham Gaol following his surrender and court martial. He appeared that their son was certainly benefiting from his time at St. Enda’s. The letter was also 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 his comrades on the day before the Rising begun. Below is one of those photographs believed to have been taken in the grounds of St. Enda's in the days before the Rising.

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.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

June 1917 - The Real Rising Part 1

While much of the focus of possible unrest in Ireland in 1917 was on St Patrick’s Day and Easter weekend, enforced bans of gatherings muted much of these protests. June however was a month of discontent, widespread disorder and change. In February 1917 the father of the executed leader Joseph Plunkett, George Noble Plunkett known as Count Plunkett, had been elected as an anti Nationalist party MP representing the emerging Sinn Fein to Westminster for North Roscommon.  That bye election had been one of ten held in Ireland during 1917 three of them won by Sinn Fein candidates, the others elected were Joe McGuinness in South Longford and W T Cosgrave in Kilkenny. Former Unionist candidate Colonel G O’Callaghan Westropp in the 1892 Election in Clare wrote,
‘The gospel of Sinn Fein is essentially national and non party and it is wholly free from incitement to class or religious hatred and from bitterness of personalities and objectionable kind which formerly characterized similar contests. This clean fighting was so widely appreciated that it must be worth thousands of votes to Sinn Fein.’

When Eamon DeValera was selected as a candidate for East Clare, a US newspaper editorial commented
‘The choice of a Sinn Feiner, serving time in prison, as member of Parliament for an Irish constituency caused no surprise to the London News. Ireland today, it says, is filled with "a passion of indignation" against England unparalleled for a generation. The admission of Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Ulster rebellion, to the Lloyd George ministry, after the execution of the leader of the Dublin rebellion, has been a trump card to the Sinn Fein organs. Here it is necessary to point out that the British censor has rendered it practically impossible to give representative summaries of Irish opinion outside of the organs of Ulster and the organs Sinn Fein are printed by stealth to some extent.

Quotations from Berlin dailies on the subject of the Irish situation are not permitted in London newspapers. The censorship in, London seems to be exercised through the war office which has ruled that passages In general articles dealing with military situations must be submitted to Its judgment before publication. Ireland being held by a British army of occupation under General Sir Bryan Mahon, comes within this ruling. All Sinn Fein organs come under the "seditious" class as defined by the War Office in London. The result is a state of things painted in somewhat dramatic fashion by the Vossische Zeitung (Berlin), and as the British War Office permits no exploration of German dailies to this country, we must depend upon scraps translated Into Italian Socialist dailies and Swiss pro-German organs. Even the comments of the London Nation upon the Irish - situation have not been available of late, owing to the ban upon its exposition.

Private letters sent aboard from Ireland are opened in the post office. In spite of the difficulties In the way of arriving at the facts, certain details can be set down by putting together revelations supplied In British dailies and inferences in continental European dailies. Thus, there is no doubt about the magnitude of the recent riots in Dublin and in Cork. Rebel emblems were displayed lately in both, those cities. The orders of the military ruler in Ireland, who, to all in tents and purposes, has superseded the civil government, are frequently set at flat defiance. He cannot prevent altogether the holding of meetings. Even large processions now and then wend their way through Irish towns before the military can be summoned insufficient strength to disperse them.’

In an attempt to appease the Irish and provide impetus to the proposed Irish Convention, the British authorities decided to begin releasing the prisoners they still had in captivity in Britain after the failed Easter Rising. The month started with talk in the newspapers of the Convention that would they hoped once and for all solve the Irish question allowing the Irish to dictate the result. Tired of Irish ‘hooliganism’, the Cambrian News newspaper editorial commented,
‘The deliberations of the forthcoming Irish Convention will be watched with intense interest. Whatever the nature of the constitution and machinery devised to meet the needs and whim of Ireland, one thing is certain. Whatever is devised cannot possibly be worse than the autocratic rule of Dublin Castle. Hitherto the fruits of that rule have been the agrarianism, the Fenianism, the whiteboyism, the Sinn Feinism, and the Carsonism that have cursed that unhappy island and mocked the earnest endeavours of the most enlightened section of British statesmen. Happily, to-day there is every indication that the impossibility of the continuance of present conditions have become apparent to every reasonable politician, with the exception of a small clique who, like the Bourbons. "learn nothing and forget nothing.’

On June 11th, a crowd estimated in newspapers of the day as 3,000, twice as many as the number of Volunteers who turned out for Easter Monday, gathered on the southside of the Liffey across from Liberty Hall. On May 15th, the British authorities in Dublin issued a closure order on Liberty Hall under the Defence of the Realm Act and a large force of the D.M.P. were on duty to prevent such gatherings. The crowd marched across Butt Bridge overwhelming the police force. The Count Plunkett and Cathal Brugha arrived by car behind the throng pulling up in the front of the still badly damaged trade union headquarters. As the crowds surrounded the car with the recently elected MP, the police began to move in to disperse the illegal gathering and Brugha roared from the back seat,
            ‘The British Government won’t allow us our freedom of speech.’

Brugha and Plunkett were arrested by Inspector John Mills of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. As Mills and his men marched the two men towards Store Street police station, a young lad from the crowd stepped forward and struck Mills with a hurley. Mills was taken to Jervis Street hospital as his men bolstered with reinforcements got their prisoners to the station. Westmeath born Mills, would become the first fatality since the ending of the Rising. While some newspaper reported that the policeman had been ‘bludgeoned to death’, others including Sinn Fein supporters in Offaly were calling for ‘three cheers for the man with the hurley’. It seems more likely from witness statements that the fatal blow was unintentional and was simply an attempt by the crowd to loosen the grip they had on the arrested men.  

A day later the leader of the Nationalist party John Redmond would lose his brother William and MP for East Clare who was killed for the British on the Western Front. His seat would be won later by Eamon DeValera.

On June 18th amongst many of the prisoners released was Countess Markievicz who was accorded a heroes welcome when she landed at Dun Laoghaire from Holyhead. She was taken to Liberty Hall, still the focus of the rebels where she was showered with ‘praise and bouquets’. Another rebel released in June was Thomas Ashe who would be rearrested in August in Longford and die while being force fed at the start of a hunger strike the following September.

As more rebels arrived back into Dublin arriving at Westland Row Railway station, there was more rioting in the city. On Thursday June 21st a crowd of an estimated five hundred gathered at Redmond’s Hill and began to attack the homes of convalescing British soldiers many of them who had either Union Jacks in their windows or flying from the roofs. They then arrived in O’Connell Street and entered the ruins of the GPO and unfurled a Republican flag from the roof. The police again moved in and arrested eight men and five women. Three of the men appeared in court but were released by the magistrate in an attempt not to inflame the situation in the city.

The trouble wasn’t just limited to Dublin, Cork was engulfed by rioting especially serious on June 24th when one man was reported dead when the military opened fire with machine guns after the police failed to disperse the rioters. But according to Laurence Nugent’s Bureau of Military History witness statement,
‘At the end of June at a demonstration in Cork City to celebrate the homecoming of the Irish prisoners from British jails, the military were called out and ordered to use their bayonets. One man was killed and a large number were injured. Several of the police were injured, including D.I. Swanzy. Union Jacks were pulled down and the jail was attacked. At a public enquiry later it was found that the police and separation allowance people had caused the riot’.

As in Dublin the released prisoners arrived at Cork’s main railway station and proceeded to parade to a demonstration in the centre of the city. The police backed up by the military attempted to stop the seditious speeches and running battles began on the streets. The police baton charged and more fatally bayonet charged. Thirty year old Abraham Allen, a labourer married to Hannah with one child, lived at 2 North Mall. At quarter past eight Allen left the family home with his child to see what was going on, as events began to spiral out of control on the street, he sent the child home to his mother.

At the inquest into his death local woman Ellen McCarthy said she answered a knock on her door in Riordan's Court and Allen was slumped bleeding profusely from a wound to his thigh, he had been bayoneted on the corner of Kryl Street. He was taken to the local infirmary but died of his wounds. His funeral was one of the biggest seen in Cork with a cortege that stretched the entire length of Patrick Street.

On the 26th, Sinn Fein members smashed windows in the city and re opened their drill hall on Sheares Street that had been closed by the British authorities after the Rising.   

During the month while the Archbishop of Dublin Reverend William Walsh was receiving plaudits for his stand against partition the ordinary Dubliners was suffering as bread process increased by a half penny to 6d for two pounds and there was a major sugar shortage in the city. Beer prices had also increased as production was cut by order of the British as part of the war effort as the grains were being sent to the front. It was reported that Donegal was in the grips of a famine.

Sinn Fein who was now emerging as the real force in Irish politics was pursing a policy of absenteeism, civil disobedience and violence and would abandon theirs and Arthur Griffith’s policy of Dual Monarchy by the end of the year after the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis. Part of this civil disobedience was attempting to disrupt British food supplies leaving Ireland to the Western Front and in June 400 dock workers were on strike supported by the Trade Union movement in Liberty Hall. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


By Rev. P. A. Sharkey.

God made the flag of Ireland, His angels wove each fold,
And wrapped around our sireland The Green and White and Gold.
It crowns old Ireland's mountains by Heaven's supreme decree
Above the graves of Ireland's brave it waves serene and free.

Though Britain's brutal laws have banned The Gold and White and Green,
God's angels wove its every strand, And low its glimmering sheen is,
Seen upon the mountain tops in folds of golden gorse,
Where white buds washed in dew drops

Grow, and streamlets wend their course. God made the flag of Ireland,
No puny human hands can tear from her, our sireland,
The love for which it stands— The White of Erin's virgin love,
Forgiving times untold, And bridging by His will above the deathless Green and Gold.

God made the flag of Ireland he made her sons to be the warders of their sireland,
A nation pure and free. Today no tyrant's bluster Shall cloud the Easter Dawn,
Beneath God's flag we muster, Our cry "Sinn Fein awaun!"