Barney Mellows circa 1911
Mellows, Herbert Charles (‘Barney’), was born on 24 March 1896 at 10 Annadale Avenue, Fairview, Dublin, the last of five children (four sons, one of whom, John, died in infancy, and one daughter) of William Joseph Mellows, a soldier, born in Gondah, India, with Kilkenny roots, and his wife Sarah (née Jordan), from Monalug, Castletown, Co. Wexford. In 1901 the Mellows family settled in the McAffrey’s Estate (now Ceannt Fort) in Mount Brown, Kilmainham, Dublin, and later in nearby Mountshannon Road.
Barney attended the local St James CBS. In 1911, at the age of 15, he, along with his brothers, Liam and Frederick, joined the republican Boy Scout organisation, Na Fianna Éireann. Within a year he was inducted into the IRB. In 1912 he passed his entrance examination with distinction and began working as a boy clerk with the Inland Revenue.
He joined the Irish Volunteers in November 1913 as a member of the 4th Bn, Dublin Brigade (eventually becoming adjutant), and played a prominent role in the gunrunnings at both Howth (26 July 1914) and Kilcoole (1–2 August 1914). By 1915 he was quickly rising through the Fianna ranks; at their 1915 ardfheis (annual congress), he was elected to the twelve-member ard-choisde (central council), and was subsequently elected as Fianna GHQ director of finance.
His employers, having become aware of his revolutionary activities, dismissed him from his Inland Revenue position of assistant clerk (he had been promoted the previous year). This allowed Mellows to devote himself to the republican movement, and he became a full-time organiser for both the Irish Volunteers and the Fianna, operating out of the Volunteers HQ at 2 Dawson Street, Dublin.
During 1915–16 he was under constant surveillance by DMP detectives, his daily movements and activities recorded in official reports submitted to Dublin Castle more frequently than any other republicans except The O’Rahilly and Thomas Clarke.
Aware as early as January 1916 of the upcoming Easter revolt, in March 1916 Mellows was involved, along with Nora Connolly, in an elaborate and successful ruse to smuggle his brother Liam out of England, where he had recently been deported.
On Easter Monday 1916, Barney Mellows took part in the raid on the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. He was then instructed to report to Captain Frank Fahy of C Coy, 1st Bn, who occupied the Four Courts. Fahy appointed Mellows his aide-de-camp, with responsibilities for issuing supplies and ammunition. After the surrender, Mellows was arrested and sent to Stafford Prison, England, and eventually on to Frongoch, Wales.
Upon his release in December 1916 he was prominent in reorganising the Fianna on a national basis, and was appointed adjutant general, and later director of intelligence, at Fianna GHQ. He was also employed as a senior staff member at the Irish National Aid office set up to assist recently released prisoners. In February 1917 he was arrested as an ‘Irish leader’, along with Seán T. O’Kelly, Darrell Figgis and others, and deported to Fairford, England. He was arrested again in May 1918 in the ‘German plot’ crackdown and held at Usk prison, Wales, until escaping on 21 January 1919 along with Joseph McGrath, Frank Shouldice and George Geraghty.
Mellows was particularly active throughout the war of independence in both the Fianna and IRA, acting as principal liaison officer between the two organisations. Appointed to the IRA/Fianna composite council set up in 1920, he worked under Michael Collins in the IRA’s intelligence department. He was also attached to Dáil Éireann’s Department of Finance, and at various other stages to the publicity, education and defence departments, and worked on the dáil’s newspaper, the Irish Bulletin.
After the Anglo–Irish treaty of 1921, Mellows refused a commission in the national army and took the anti-treaty side in the civil war. During the ‘battle of Dublin’ (28 June–5 July 1922), he was appointed by Oscar Traynor as officer-in-charge of supplies in the area known as ‘The Block’ on O’Connell Street. Mellows evaded capture after the general surrender in Dublin, and went into hiding for several months, while still directing Fianna activities, and was also associated with the staff of the Northern and Eastern Command of the IRA.
He was arrested on 6 December 1922, two days before his brother Liam was executed. Imprisoned at Wellington (later Griffith) barracks, he then spent time at Newbridge barracks, Mountjoy gaol, Kilmainham gaol, and eventually Harepark internment camp until his release in 1924. At Harepark, he was on the camp council, gave regular lectures in military tactics, and took part in a hunger strike for forty days. While imprisoned, he was elected in August 1923 to the dáil as an anti-treaty republican for Galway (1923–7). He stood for the same seat for Sinn Féin in June 1927, but was not elected.
Mellows remained active in republican circles after the civil war, and was prominent in IRA and Fianna veteran associations. As with many other anti-treaty veterans, he was ostracised by the new Free State establishment, and unemployed for most of the 1920s. He worked briefly with the Irish Press newspaper upon its establishment in 1931 and, after the accession to government of Fianna Fáil in 1932, returned to the civil service, as a junior executive officer in the accountant general section at the Revenue Commissioners in Dublin Castle.
A popular figure, Mellows was a cheerful, witty and debonair character, and certainly more extrovert than his two older brothers, Liam and Frederick. It was said that he ‘threw himself into the struggle with enthusiasm; he was forever the happy warrior, undaunted by the perils of the time, and an inspiration and a joy to his comrades’ (Ir. Press, 26 February 1942). He also established a reputation as an accomplished singer and musician, particularly a pianist, and was noted for his many musical performances around the country.
Despite his outgoing nature, Mellows was of modest character, and never sought acknowledgement of his substantial contribution to the independence struggle. Perhaps because of this he is often overlooked when the story of those years is told. The execution and revered status of his brother Liam may also have played a part in relegating Barney’s role to the sidelines in the revolutionary narrative. He was, though, a significant figure, who deserves to be better remembered.
Mellows suffered several bouts of serious illness during the 1930s, with medical advice attributing his condition primarily to his 1923 hunger strike and ill treatment in prisons and internment camps throughout the revolutionary years; an earlier spell of tuberculosis (1906) also probably took its toll.
Mellows, who never married, retired from work in 1938 and spent the next few years in and out of hospitals. In January 1942 his health rapidly deteriorated and he was admitted to Our Lady’s Hospice in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, where he died on 25 February 1942, aged only 45. He is buried in Glasnevin cemetery.
Eamon Murphy – “Mellows, Herbert Charles (‘ Barney’)”. Dictionary of Irish Biography. (ed.) James McGuire, James Quinn. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Sources and References:
GRO (birth, death certs.);
NAI, Census of Ireland, 1901, 1911, http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie;
Chief Secretary’s Office, crime branch: DMP, movement of extremists, 29 May 1915–20 April 1916 (NAI, http://www.nationalarchives.ie/digital-resources);
Military Archives, http://www.militaryarchives.ie: military service pensions collection: organisation and membership: Fianna Éireann series: Dublin and GHQ (MA/MSPC/FE/1);
Military Archives, military service pensions collection: pensions and awards files, Herbert Charles Mellows (MSP34REF16537);
BMH, witness statements, http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie: Aine ni Riain (WS 887); Alfred White (WS 1,207); Bulmer Hobson (WS 87); Frank Fahy (WS 442); Garry Holohan
(WS 328, 336); Joseph Reynolds (WS 191); Laurence Nugent (WS 907); Margaret
O’Callaghan (WS 747); Mary Flannery Woods (WS 624); Nora Connolly O’Brien
London Gazette, Mar. 1912; Aug. 1914;
Ir. Independent, 12 July 1912; 16 Oct. 1922; 14 Aug. 1926; 27 Feb. 1942; 24 Apr. 1952;
Irish Volunteer, 15 May, 24 July, 18 Dec. 1915;
Fianna, July 1915;
Weekly Irish Times, 1916 rebellion handbook (1916);
Evening Herald, 22 Feb. 1917; 16 Feb. 1921;
Meath Chronicle, 29 Oct. 1921;
Ir. Times, 29 Sept. 1923;
Freeman’s Journal, 5 July 1924;
Connacht Tribune, 28 May 1927; 28 Feb. 1942;
Ir. Press, 31 Mar., 19 May 1934; 26 , 27 Feb. 1942;
Dorothy Macardle, The Irish Republic (1937);
Desmond Ryan, The rising: the complete story of Easter week (1949);
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Kerryman, 2 Apr. 1966;
Bulmer Hobson, Ireland yesterday and tomorrow (1968);
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Uinseann MacEoin (ed.), Survivors (1980);
J. Anthony Gaughan, Scouting in Ireland (2006);
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Marnie Hay, ‘The foundation and development of Na Fianna Éireann, 1909–16’, IHS, xxxvi, no. 141 (May 2008), 53–71;
Dublin’s fighting story 1916–21: told by the men who made it (2009 ed.);
Terence O’Reilly (ed.), Our struggle for independence: eye witness accounts from the pages of An Cosantóir (2009);
Derek Molyneux and Darren Kelly, When the clock struck in 1916 (2015);
electionsireland.org; internet material downloaded 2017