Tribute to Irish Patriot, Herbert Charles ‘Barney’ Mellows
Na Fianna Eireann, Irish Volunteers, IRA/Fianna Composite Council, IRA Intelligence, Irish Republican Brotherhood, Sinn Féin, Dáil Éireann Depts. of Finance, Publicity, Education and Defence and The Irish Bulletin.
“To know Barney Mellows when he was in the early twenties was to share in some of the joy and exaltation which invigorated the national movements upon which this State is built. Barney personified this more than any man I know. I often look back upon that time, trying to find the right word for it. I never have. Perhaps some other language has it.
It was like when the knights rode out with pennons fluttering and lances flashing in the morning sun. It was light and laughter, courage and comradeship, something altogether joyous and true. It was a young country, with a spirit newly released; a young girl, lovely and full in her youth, with men making light-hearted songs about her. It was some magic that is gone, that came with the sun in the east and went down into the west for ever. There is nothing like it now. There is no one quite like Barney either.
He would not have liked me to be heroic about him. He’d laugh, and so would I. Dead men are buried with dead words and patriots with many platitudes. But behind this there is the human side, and friends like me will remember that side of light-hearted Barney of the golden age.
He was the most unsolemn. It was hard to believe that one so consistently full of fun and gaiety could be so wise, so steel-tough, when it came to the main purpose of his life. Barney of the yellow hair, cropping up everywhere in that old history-making factory, Fianna, Volunteers, old’ Sinn Féin in the pre-Dáil days… offices… drill halls… meeting-places… assignations.
His marvellous gift of organisation. His clear-headedness and memory. His sense of human contacts. His easy friendships. The ready hand, the twinkling eye behind the glasses; the salutation. His numerous-his innumerable-friends, pals and buttles. He knew more people than anyone else in the country and more people knew him. It is a name that will ring a bell in every parish in Ireland. It was a time of Christian names. There were no frontiers, pockets, barriers. Distinctions were simple. The movement united everyone. If you weren’t in it, you were either a Unionist or no damn good. And that was that.
Barney at a ceilidh surrounded by a bevy of girls and he playing away to his heart’s content. Barney at the old piano in the Banba Hall singing The South Down Militia, with the whole house in full cry:
“For the South Down Militia
Is the finest in the land….”
His music. His love for good music and his opera-going.
Barney breaking jail from Usk [Wales] and sending home a picture post-card of the front door of the jail, with the inscription:
“I didn’t come out that way.”
Barney, hidden in the Coombe and then being brought out of it, heavily disguised, only to hear the taxi-man say: “Welcome home, Barney.”
Barney, still on the run, and still disguised, on the top of a tram, on a dark night. The tram stops near Mountjoy. The conductor runs to the top, and, with a grin, whispers to the escaped prisoner: “Mountjoy, Barney, I suppose you wouldn’t like to be getting off?”
Of stories like this there are hundreds. People will always tell stories about him. Of his kindness, his abilities and they will say, he might have been many things. But he belonged to his age, and that age was Ireland’s morning.
So long, Barney. These are some of the things I will remember about you. And I will try to forget the day I saw you through the window in the guardroom of Wellington Barracks, when something terrible had happened [December 1922]. You just looked at me and then held down your head. I held down my head, too, and walked away. You did not laugh so heartily after that.”
Homage to Barney Mellows published shortly after his death in The Irish Press, February 1942.
*Anna Kelly was a prominent Irish journalist and also women’s page editor of The Irish Press. A member of Cumann na mBan, she served in the GPO during the 1916 Easter rising. In 1917 she joined the office staff in Sinn Féin headquarters at 6 Harcourt St., Dublin, working as secretary and general assistant to the party’s general secretary. She also worked on The Irish Bulletin (1919-21) and later on with the anti-treaty Republican War News during the Civil War. She was imprisoned during 1922/23 in Mountjoy, Kilmainham (where she took part in a hunger strike), and the North Dublin Union. She died of cancer in June 1958.
Anna Kelly – Dictionary of Irish Biography
Herbert Charles ‘Barney’ Mellows – Dictionary of Irish Biography