‘34 Lower Camden Street – Another historic building gone forever’
By Eamon Murphy
No. 34 Lower Camden Street, the location of the founding of Na Fianna Eireann in 1909, is one of the most significant addresses in the history of the Irish independence movement. It was also the birthplace of the Irish National Theatre Society, which went on to become the Abbey Theatre. Sadly this building has recently been lost to a fire, under suspicious circumstances and was then unfortunately demolished. The building was of such importance historically, and also architecturally, that An Taisce recently said that it had “all the criteria befitting a national monument”.
Camden Street is one of the most historic streets in Dublin and according to historian Máiréad Ní Chonghaile it was “part of a medieval route from the southern suburb of Rathmines into Dublin city, the road then developed over the course of the 18th century, lined with brick houses occupied by professionals and aristocracy often associated with nearby Dublin Castle. Today the streets exhibit a strong, 19th century mercantile tradition, with their bustling mixture of shops, service providers and market traders.”
It is likely that the building at 34 Lower Camden Street was constructed in the mid to late 18th century for a local wealthy family; it is doubtful the original inhabitants were aristocrats but probably associated with one of the flourishing trades of the time. Following the ‘relocation’ of the upper class professional families from Camden Street to the outer, more fashionable, parts of the city in the early 19th century, the rooms above most premises were divided into tenement rooms. No. 34 was itself divided into a number of dwellings on the two upper floors and had a ground floor commercial unit with an attached small hall located to the rear of the building. It hosted a variety of businesses and trades throughout the years. I was unable to ascertain what businesses were operating in the building but I do know that it was a provisions merchants’ towards the end of the 19th century and it later played host to the local post office from the 1940’s onwards.
The small hall located at the back of the building is where the history comes alive. In 1902 a local amateur drama group known as the ‘Irish National Dramatic Company’ and run by W.G. Fay and his younger brother Frank, rented out the hall at the rear of no. 34 Lower Camden Street. This little known drama group began to gain popularity and went on to become the ‘Irish National Theatre Society’, which was the precursor of the modern day Abbey Theatre. A number of popular productions were held at 34 Camden Street, including W.B. Yeat’s “A Pot of Broth” in 1902 and many notable characters of the Irish drama scene, Maud Gonne, Lady Gregory, Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh were involved with the theatre at Camden Street.
The real significance of no. 34 Lower Camden Street came into being on August 16th 1909 when Countess Markievicz took up a lease on the hall for a new national boy scouting organisation that she and Bulmer Hobson had started. The new organization became known as the Irish National Boy Scouts or Na Fianna Eireann and many credit this group of young boys and its dedicated nationalist leaders, as being the pioneers of the Irish independence movement. This pivotal moment in 1909 was to herald in a new era of Irish advanced nationalism. The Fianna scouts were the first organized nationalist group to be armed and sufficiently trained. It provided credibility, and also optimism, to the emerging revolutionary movement.
The importance of the Fianna and their contribution should not be ignored in the historical narrative of the independence period, particularly in this ‘Decade of Centenaries’, which has so far completely snubbed the efforts of Countess Markivicz, Bulmer Hobson, Con Colbert, Liam Mellows, Padraig O’Riain and other key members of that groundbreaking organization. For many Irish people, the revolution only began with the founding of the Volunteers in 1913 but the efforts of Na Fianna Eireann should not be disregarded. Former Fianna Chief of Staff Eamon Martin said that “no history of the resurgent movement, which preceded and culminated in the Rising and no history of the Rising itself can claim to be complete if it ignores or fails to adequately acknowledge the enormous contribution made by Na Fianna Éireann to the struggle for our country’s freedom”.
Over 100 boys attended that first meeting of the Irish National Boy Scouts on 16th August 1909. Future revolutionaries, who later came to prominence in such organisations as the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and the IRB, were present at this original meeting. Characters such as Con Colbert, Countess Markievcz, Eamon Martin, Bulmer Hobson, Sean McGarry, Helena Moloney, Pat McCartan and Padraig O’Riain were present that August evening in 1909. The meeting was a success and all the potential recruits who turned up, enrolled for the new organization that night. Fianna Eireann, as an organization, went from strength to strength and within a few months had formed several other branches across the city and soon had national branches in Limerick, Waterford, Tralee, Belfast, Clonmel, Tuam, Wexford and other provincial towns.
Over the following years Camden Street was used not only by the Fianna but also by other nationalist organizations. Irish Republican Brotherhood meetings were regularly held here, drilling of Irish Volunteers took place in the hall, it was the first training venue for Cumann na mBan in 1914, lectures by prominent republicans such as John MacBride and Tom Clarke were held here and the Irish Citizen Army even used it for training purposes.
With the upcoming release of the pension records, we will no doubt learn more of the importance of no. 34 Camden Street as a centre of Irish revolutionary activity but evidence already exists in the ‘Bureau of Military History’ witness statements which confirm that fact. I have compiled a selection of witness statements from prominent Irish nationalists/republicans which allude to Camden Street’s role in the history of that period.
William Christian (Member of Fianna Eireann, 1911 onwards, Member Irish Volunteers 1915 onwards):
“34 Lower Camden Street was used by the Irish Volunteers on many occasions.”
Sean O’Sullivan (Member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Manchester and Dublin, Member of the 4th Battalion Irish Volunteers):
“I joined the 4th Battalion Unit of the Irish Volunteers in 1918. The Volunteers were under the command of Acting Commandant Kelly. On return from Armagh we continued the weekly parades, drill, etc. On the formation of the Engineers’ I was transferred to them under Captain Sean McGlynn. We generally met in 34 Camden Street. The training of the Engineers consisted chiefly of lectures and the use of explosives, road blocking, demolition of railways and bridges.”
Bulmer Hobson (Member of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Founding member and general secretary of the Irish Volunteers, Founder of Fianna Eireann):
“I told the Countess Constance Markievicz of the organisation which I had founded some years before in Belfast, and she suggested that a boys’ national organisation should be started in Dublin on the same lines. On my explaining that the chief difficulty was one of money, she said that she would rent a hall at her own expense. This she did, the hall chosen being in 34 Lower Camden Street, Dublin, formerly the home of the Irish National Theatre Society. Notices convening a meeting of boys to be held at 34 Camden Street on the following Monday (16th August) to form a National Boys’ Organisation to be managed by the boys themselves on national non-party lines appeared in “An Claidheamh Soluis” on 14th August, 1909, and in other papers at the same time, and the meeting was duly held in that place and on that date. About one hundred boys attended in addition to Countess Markievicz, myself and some other adults.”
James Tully (Member of 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, 1919 onwards, Member of ASU 1921):
“I joined the I.R.A. in February, 1919, and was attached to the No. 3 Company, Engineers. There was no Engineer Battalion at the time. No. 3 Company was attached to 3rd Battalion of Dublin Brigade. Liam Archer was O.C. of the Battalion at the time and Mick McEvoy was O/C of the Engineer Company. During 1919 our activities were mostly confined to training. We trained at No. 34 Camden Street where we drilled and received lectures on demolitions; methods at derailing trains; destroying bridges and felling trees.”
Garry Holohan (Member of Fianna Eireann and senior officer 1909-1922):
“I remember Major MacBride gave a lecture to the Fianna in the hall at 34 Camden Street on his experiences in the Boer War, and I was greatly impressed by it.”
George Joseph Dwyer (Member of 4th Battalion, Dublin Brigade):
“Working side by side with the activities connected with the procurement of arms were special classes for training N.C.Os., which were held at 34. Camden Street. These were conducted by Captain Harry Murray and Vice Commandant Peadar O’Broin. These classes were held twice a week (1919). I was Section Commander at the time and was sent down to (34) Camden Street to undergo this special instruction. Our instruction consisted of rifle drill, squad and company drill, with lectures on the rifle and other military matters. When it was decided that I had received sufficient instruction I was returned to my squad (‘F’ Company, 4th Battalion, Dublin Brigade) to train them in a similar manner.”
Sean Kennedy (1st Lieutenant of C Coy,. 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers):
“I remember on occasions being detailed for duty outside 34 Camden Street while members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood were meeting and drilling inside (circa 1911).”
Seamus Pounch (Member of Fianna Eireann, Brigade Adsjutant Dublin Brigade 1918-1920):
“Towards the end of 1909 I joined, An Cead Sluagh of the Fianna or National Boy Scouts of Ireland. The object of the Fianna was the establishment of the Independence of Ireland. Each boy on joining had, to make the following declaration:
“I promise to work for the independence of Ireland; never to join England’s forces, and to obey my superior officers”.
To attract recruits a boy stood outside the Hall at 34 Lower Camden St. with a flag and answered queries and directed boys inside. The flag was green with a harp on it, but later the Fianna got its own flag, which was sky-blue with a sunburst and the words “Fianna Eireann” inscribed on it. Many joined and fell away, but those who remained formed a close comradeship and became the nucleus of the Irish Army and were destined to see a free Ireland, the hope and aspirations of centuries. The leading figure, of course, was Countess Markievicz, who provided the rent of 10/- per week for the sole use of the Hall, 34 Lr. Camden St. for the Fianna.”
Charles O’Grady (Member of Fianna Eireann, Irish Volunteers, 4th battalion):
“I enrolled in the Irish Volunteers at the meeting in the Rotunda Rink, November 1913. Sometime later I was told to parade at 34 Lr. Camden St., a hall at that time used by Fianna na hEireann, of which I had been a member. We were divided into companies and I was allocated to C/coy. Battn. IV. We paraded on Thursday nights at 34 Camden St. and at Larkfield, Kimmage, on Saturday evenings for field exercises, company and battalion drill.”
Patrick Egan (Sgt. and Lieut. “C” Coy. 4th Battalion Dublin Brigade 1916; O/C. Battalion Communications post 1916):
“We joined the Fianna early in 1913 at 34, Lower Camden Street and were drilled by Con Colbert and Barney Mellows.”
George White (Member of ‘C’ Company 3rd Battalion Dublin Brigade from 1917 onwards and Quartermaster A.S.U. Dublin from 1921 onwards):
“I joined C. Company, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers about June 1917. Joe O’Connor (Holy Joe) was commandant of the 3rd Battalion. Parades were held weekly at 41 York St. and 34 Camden St.”
Seamus Kavanagh (Member of Irish Volunteers from 1913 onwards,Signal Officer 3rd Battalion. Dublin Brigade 1917-1918, Captain ‘C’ Company, 1921):
“Being now a staff Lieutenant and responsible for the training of the signallers in the different Companies of the Battalion, for which I used the hall at 34 Camden Street (1918).”
Molly Reynolds (member of Cumann na mBan from its inception in 1913):
“Shortly after the formation of [Cumann na Ban in 1913] it was decided that we should learn drill and marching. As no room in Harcourt St. [the headquarters of the Inghinidhe na hEireann Branch of Cumann na mBan] was large enough for this purpose, Madame Markievicz gave us permission to use the Fianna. Hall at 34 tower Camden St. on one or two nights a week.”
Seamus Kavanagh (Member of Fianna Eireann since 1909, Captain, H/Company, 1st Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers and I.R.A.):
“From 1909 until the end of 1920, we attended, on an average, twice weekly meetings at 34 Camden Street where we received instruction, and attended lectures on Irish history. In the earlier stages, I was detailed to give instruction to units which had been formed at 34 Camden Street.”
(*Seamus was born in Liverpool and is not to be confused with the other Seamus Kavanagh who was also in the Volunteers around the same time but was born in Dublin).
Annie O’Brien (Member of Cumann na mBan 1915-1924):
“Cumann na mBan, Inghinidhe Branch met alternately at 34 Camden St. and 6 Harcourt St. We had the lectures on First Aid, arms classes, etc. in Harcourt St. and the drill in Camden Street.”
Patrick Ward (Member of Fianna Eireann 1909-1913, Member of ‘B’ Company, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, 1914 onwards.):
“I remember on one occasion, I think the year might be about 1913; Major McBride was invited to give a lecture in the hall, 34 Camden St. He agreed, and gave a lecture dealing with the warfare of small nations against their oppressors with, of course, the background of the Boer War as material.”
Alfred White (Quarter Master General Fianna Eireann):
“The method of organisation of the Scout movement, just then founded by Baden-Powell in England, was adopted; but with an Irish and military basis. Its coming was heralded in the July 1909, number of An Claideamh Soluis by a note, written by P.H. Pearse, recommending attendance at a meeting to be held in 34 Lr. Camden St. to found Fianna Eireann. In August 1909, Pearse announced that at the meeting Constance de Markievicz had been elected Chief Scout, and Padraic Ó’Riain, General Secretary.”
Eamon Martin (Founding member of Fianna Eireann 1909, Member of Provisional Committee and Executive of the Irish Volunteers, Chief of Staff of Fianna Eireann 1916 onwards):
“Accordingly, I went to the [first Fianna] meeting which was held in what I learned later was a small Theatrical Hall at, 34 Lower Camden Street. The first [Fianna] group, called An Cead Sluagh, was formed from this gathering and met at the Camden Street Hall.”
The following Fianna Officers have all mentioned the hall at Camden Street and its significance to the Irish revolution, either through the Bureau of Military History or elsewhere:
Peadar O’Mara, William Christian, Michael Lonergan, Barney Mellows, Liam Mellows, Con Colbert, Bulmer Hobson, Countess Markievicz, Padraig O’Riain, Paddy Ward, Christopher Martin, Eamon Martin, Fred Mellows, Sean Saunders, Sean Kennedy, Seamus Pounch, Charles O’Grady, Patrick Egan, James, Willie, Leo and Theo Fitzgerald (brothers from Pearse Street), Percy and Frank Reynolds (brothers), Harry and Leo Walpole (brothers), Garry and Paddy Holohan (brothers), Brian Callander and Bob Holland.
One of those who attended the first Fianna meeting was Michael Lonergan. Lonergan went on to be a senior officer of Fianna Eireann before he moved to the USA in 1914. In 1948 in a letter written to the Bureau of Military History he stressed the significance of the hall at Camden Street. He said that “the first meeting to organize [the Fianna] was held in a hall at the rear of 34 Lower Camden Street. This place should really be designated some kind of a national shrine for it was there that things actually started”.
As far as I know no efforts were ever made to ‘list’ or preserve the building at Camden Street. In the 1940’, 1950’s and 1960’s many ‘Old Fianna’ parades used to march past the hall in recognition of its contribution in years gone by. In April 1950 a special parade was held on Camden Street to honour Countess Markievicz’s role in the foundation of Fianna Eireann. Eamon de Valera also placed a wreath on the door of the building to pay respects to the memory of Markievicz. The building at that time housed a Post Office and was still in reasonable condition.
I visited the building on several occasions in the last few years (2007, 2008 and 2009) but it was by then abandoned and in a fairly derelict state. I even attempted to enter the building to see the condition inside but was unsuccessful. I wasn’t able to determine who owned the building either, despite numerous calls to Dublin City Council (DCC). On December 12th 2011 I discovered that the building and three adjoining buildings were sold for €770,000 to an as yet unnamed developer. The developers then encountered difficulties gaining planning permission for their proposed development on the site, plans which included an amusement arcade and apartments. Fast forward to April 5th 2012 and James McMahon, DCC Engineer for Dangerous Buildings, inspected the buildings and deemed the buildings structurally unsound, and liable to fire and/or collapse. Two days later, yes TWO days later, Dublin Fire Brigade was called out at 1.30am on April 7th (not even two days later, a day and a half really) to a report of flames coming from the roof of no. 34 Camden Street. Due to the efforts of Dublin Fire Brigade the fire was eventually extinguished and didn’t spread to adjoining buildings. However the damage was so great to no. 34 that it was subsequently demolished.
Questions must be asked as to the circumstances of the fire and coming so soon after it was declared unsafe and liable to collapse at any stage. The fire also occurred less than four months after a developer purchased the building, with plans to redevelop them. I can’t say I know all the facts so I have to be careful what I say but if that is not suspicious then I don’t know what is.
The National Trust for Ireland or An Taisce have said that:
“The destruction of such a historic and culturally significant place presents a serious threat to Dublin’s continued status as a UNESCO City of Literature – a status shared by only 3 other cities, and monitored continually. Heritage tourism is of increasingly essential importance to Ireland’s economy. Given both major historical connections, the site must be understood as a National Monument, and is of comparable importance to no. 16 Moore Street. This site qualifies as a National Monument under several criteria, and is of far too great significance to be left demolished – where the only vision for the birthplace of the nation’s cultural renaissance is of a slot machine hall. An Taisce is now seeking to persuade the State to buy the site under a compulsory purchase order, declare it a National Monument, reinstate the building, and list adjacent Georgian buildings on the Record of Protected Structures.”
It was a sad day for Irish history when no. 34 Lower Camden Street was lost. However as An Taisce have said the site itself is still of importance so hopefully something can be done to create a memorial fitting to the young pioneers of this country.
Photograph by kind permission of Don Conlon.
“Fianna Eireann and the Three Rock Mountain drowning tragedy”
By Eamon Murphy
In 1906 Countess Markievicz took up summer residence in a small two-roomed cottage near Balally, at Barnacullia close to the Three Rock Mountain in South Dublin. She had been looking for somewhere quiet, close to nature but not too far away from the city. She wanted a location that was suitable for her hobbies of painting, writing and walking. This small cottage was ideal for her and was only one shilling a year. As it turned out this was the place that introduced her to advanced nationalism. The previous occupant had left behind some ‘Sinn Fein’ magazines and she was enchanted and inspired by the stories that filled the pages of this nationalist publication. It subsequently led her to approach Arthur Griffith about getting involved with Sinn Fein.
The cottage was used on and off over the next five or so years, mostly during the summer months however by 1912 it had become one of the centres of activity for her beloved Fianna. It proved to be an ideal camping location for the boy scouts. It was relatively isolated which meant they could carry out extracurricular ‘scouting’ activities, such as drilling, signaling and target practice, without fear of interference.
Another of the popular activities for the Boy Scouts was swimming at the Barnacullia quarry pool at nearby Three Rock Mountain. It was also a popular spot with the locals and on Sunday July 27th 1913 a local lad named Peter Doyle, decided to go for a swim with a friend but unfortunately got into difficulties as he entered the quarry pool. He wasn’t able to swim and soon began to submerge in the 25 foot deep pool. He was frantically calling for help and his companion ran to neighbouring houses to raise the alarm. Unfortunately none of the locals he found could swim so he ran to the nearby Fianna camp at Markievicz’s cottage. The first group of Boy Scouts he happened upon immediately ran to the quarry to assist. When they arrived at the pool, Peter was nowhere to be seen and was feared to have drowned.
The four young Boy Scouts, Harry Walpole, Thomas Crimmins, Edward ‘Eamon’ Murray and Thomas McCabe, instantly dived in to the deep pool and started to search for him. They continuously dived for him, each taking turns, for a couple of hours until they were too exhausted to carry on. Two of them sustained severe wounds from the sharp granite rocks.
The Fianna lads then built a raft and went out in turns to see if they could see Peter. By now, several local policemen had arrived and proceeded to take notes of the incident, as the Fianna boys continued to search for Peter’s body. A large crowd of about one hundred people had also gathered at this stage. Several of those watching the event reminded the policemen that it was their duty to help in the search for the boy, but they reportedly stated that they had no intention of getting wet.
A witness later recalled to Liam Mellows that the police “were taunted with cowardice and one of them, in desperation, after admitting that he could swim, actually went as far as to take off his pants but – promptly stopped there!!”.
After some time the body of Peter was located by Thomas Crimmins and the boys then took turns in giving CPR but it was no use; he had sadly already lost his life. At this point the police tried to take over but were stopped by the group of Fianna boys, who now carried the body back across the mountain in a makeshift stretcher to the boy’s family.
The four young boys were actually much younger than the deceased Peter Doyle, who was 20 years old, and indeed younger than most of the onlookers too, which only made their act of bravery much more heroic and admirable.
At the inquest, the Fianna boys who took part in the rescue attempt were highly praised by the Judge. It was suggested the ‘Royal Humane Society’ bestow medals of bravery to the courageous Fianna lads but they refused such an honour from an association with the word ‘Royal’ in it. As a result, the local residents of the Glencullen, Balally, Barnacullia area decided to honour these boys themselves. On August 10th, a ceremony was held at Balally to present the four boys with specially commissioned gold medals and certificates in recognition of their brave efforts to save Peter Doyle. Prominent local man Mr. Charles Hanlon, who presided at the event, said that “the people of the neighbourhood who had witnessed the sad death of Peter Doyle and the gallantry of the Boy Scouts are anxious to pay tribute to these boys for their manly and courageous conduct. The people have nothing but esteem for the Boy Scouts”. The poet Mr. Joseph Campbell made the presentation.
Countess Markievicz, present at the ceremony, expressed gratitude on behalf of Fianna Eireann and also thanked the assembled crowd for their kindness and generosity in allowing the scouts to use the local area for camping.
Despite the tragedy and the sad nature of the whole affair, the incident had the effect of increasing the popularity and status of Fianna, especially in the South Dublin area. The locals were so impressed that it was suggested at the medal presentation that they should start a ‘sluagh’ (branch) of Fianna Eireann in the locality. As soon as the meeting was finished, over twenty young local lads put their names forward for enrollment.
The event also occurred two weeks after the 4th annual Fianna convention (Ard Fheis) was held at the Mansion House in Dublin on July 13th. After the convention, several of the country delegates decided to join their Dublin counterparts in camping out at Markieivicz’s cottage at Balally. Delegates from Cork, Limerick, Kerry and the female ‘Betsy Gray’ sluagh from Belfast were among those who stayed. Many of them witnessed this act of bravery and it inspired them greatly. The story of the brave young Fianna boys was now being told to all the Fianna branches across the country. The act was also worthy of a mention in the national newspapers.
*An interesting side note on Balally Cottage is that, in 1914, it was briefly used to store Howth rifles before they were moved on again. Also in 1916, James Connolly’s family stayed there during Easter week.
Eamon Martin was born in 1892 at the family home in Island Villas, situated just off Great Brunswick Street in Dublin. Eamon attended the nearby St. Andrew’s school and upon leaving school in 1907 began a tailoring apprenticeship following in the footsteps of his father. Eamon was also member of the ‘Father Anderson’ branch of the Gaelic League from the age of fifteen and was a prominent member of the local hurling club.
He was a founding member of Na Fianna Eireann and attended the inaugural meeting at 34 Lower Camden Street in Dublin on 16th August 1909. He was appointed to the Dublin District Council of the Fianna. He was originally part of ‘An Cead Sluagh’ which was the first Fianna branch but soon set up his own branch in the city which became known as ‘Sluagh Wolfe Tone’. At the first Fianna Ard Fheis in 1910 he was elected to the Fianna Eireann Executive Council.
Eamon Martin was also a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) from 1911 onwards and was part of the special Fianna Eireann circle, which used the cover name ‘The John Mitchel Literary and Debating Society’. Con Colbert was ‘centre’ of that circle.
In 1913 Eamon Martin was an original member of the Provisional Committee of the Irish Volunteers. Eamon Martin was also, alongside Con Colbert and Michael Lonergan, one of the first officers of the Irish Volunteers and was appointed as Captain to the first military sub-committee. Martin, Colbert and Lonergan assisted with the training of the new military outfit. They were among the first members of the Volunteers to have military and drill experience, having been drilling with Fianna Eireann since 1909. In fact in the months leading up to the formation of the Volunteers, the Fianna were secretly drilling IRB members in preparation for the new movement.
Eamon Martin was one of the members of the Executive Committee of the Irish Volunteers who, along with Sean MacDermott, Piaras Beaslai, Patrick Pearse, Con Colbert, M. Judge, John Fitzgibbon, Liam Mellows and Eamonn Ceantt, voted against accepting Redmond’s nominees in June, 1914. This vote bitterly divided the Volunteers headquarters staff and it ultimately contributed to the split of that organisation later in the year. Eamon Martin also worked as an assistant to Liam Mellows, on the Irish Volunteers Headquarters Staff, throughout 1914.
Eamon Martin assisted Bulmer Hobson in the planning of both the Howth and Kilcoole Gunrunnings in 1914. During the Howth gunrunning Eamon was, along with Padraig O’Riain, in charge of the Fianna detachment. He was in sole charge of the Fianna cycle corps at Kilcoole.
During the restructuring of Fianna Eireann in 1915, which came about following a proposal from Eamon Martin himself at the Ard Fheis, the organisation was developed into a Battalion with nine companies. Eamon Martin was appointed to the position of Commandant of the Dublin Brigade with Sean Heuston as Vice-Commandant, Eamon held this rank of O/C throughout the 1916 Rising. He was also appointed as Director of Recruiting and Organisation.
In 1915 Eamon Martin was a member of the O’Donovan Rossa funeral committee; the committee was a who’s who of the republican/nationalist world at the time.
At 12 noon on Easter Monday 1916, Eamon, along with Paddy Daly, led a team of Fianna and other Volunteers to capture the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park, with the intention to blow up the ammunition supplies which would cause an explosion to be heard all around Dublin, and which was to be the signal to commence the rebellion. After personally reporting back to Connolly and Pearse in the GPO on the outcome of the Magazine Fort mission he was directed to Commandant Ned Daly in the Church Street, North King Street area to join the fight there. He fought with extreme bravery until he was shot on a mission to advance on Broadstone Station. A British sniper shot him in the chest, which pierced his lung and severely wounded him. He was carried back to Volunteer lines and then brought to Richmond Hospital. At Richmond hospital Eamon met Father Albert Bibby of the Church Street Capuchins for the first time and they were to remain close friends until Father Albert’s death in 1925.
While at Richmond hospital, Eamon’s friend, the surgeon Sir Thomas Myles, cared him for until he was well enough to be smuggled out. Sir Thomas Myles, who was an honorary British army surgeon, had known Eamon since the gunrunning at Kilcoole when he had provided his yacht “The Chotah”. When the British came looking for Eamon in Richmond hospital, Sir Thomas Myles put on his military uniform and in his car, drove out of the hospital grounds with Eamon in the car’s passenger seat. He wasn’t stopped and was waved on and saluted by a British soldier on guard outside the hospital. Myles was worried for his friend’s safety as ninety three death sentences had so far been handed out to prisoners. Eamon Martin later stated that ‘as every combatant member of the original Irish Volunteer Executive who had been arrested, apart from Beaslai, were executed, it was assumed that I would have also been executed if arrested’. Eamon then went to Belfast to recuperate from his gunshot wound and it was feared he would not survive. It was then recommended that he escape to the United States in case the authorities got wind of where he was and also as the warmer climate would benefit his lung condition.
Before Eamon left for America, a meeting was held to re-organise the Fianna. At this meeting he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Fianna, a position he was to hold until 1921. Eamon reported to John Devoy when he arrived in America and gave many talks and lectures at Clan na Gael meetings across the United States, and along with Liam Mellows was very successful in raising funds for the Republican cause.
He returned from the US in 1917 to take over complete command of the Fianna and to head up the Fianna IRB circle. He reported to Michael Collins on arrival and passed on the information of a plan to land arms off the coast of Wexford, which ultimately failed owing to the arrest of Liam Mellows in New York. Eamon worked closely with Michael Collins over the following years on the issue of training of future volunteers, the transfer of Fianna Eireann members to full Volunteer membership and other Fianna, Irish Volunteer and IRB matters. He was a senior member of the six man IRA/Fianna Eireann ‘Composite Council’, which was formed in September 1920, and which was composed of members of the Irish Volunteers G.H.Q and Fianna G.H.Q. Eamon resumed his close working relationship with Liam Mellows following his return from America and acted as his assistant in the ‘Department of Purchases’ (or Q.M.G Dept.) in 1920/21.
Eamon became well known for his numerous disguises during the War of Independence and particularly his impersonations of priests while he was on the run from the authorities. During this period, Eamon became a Judge in the Dail/Republican courts that were set up. Eamon was Chairman of Rathdown Rural District Council and was also a member of Dublin County Council, all while he was on the run.
By late 1920, the net was closing down around Fianna Chief Eamon Martin and constant raids by the British were taking place at his work, the homes of close family members and even at the homes of people with similar names, in their efforts to track Martin down. The final straw came when one of the ‘secret’ Fianna offices was raided. Implicating evidence was found which pointed to Countess Markievicz and Eamon Martin’s senior roles in the Fianna Eireann organisation. Markievicz was brought to trial and sentenced to two years; Eamon Martin now left for Europe.
Eamon first travelled to Germany to negotiate for arms and later went to England on Dail Eireann business. He then went to the newly formed Soviet Union and met up with Roddy Connolly and Archie Heron who were there at the time. He later joined up with Dr. Pat McCartan, in Moscow, who was sent to the Soviet Union to negotiate for recognition of Irish Independence. Along with McCartan, he had a meeting with the Soviet Foreign Minister Georgy Chicherin. He also briefly met Lenin and Trotsky. He spent several months in Russia.
Eamon Martin, along with Barney Mellows and Frank McMahon, represented Fianna Eireann at the IRA convention at the Mansion House in March 1922. He took the anti-treaty side during the subsequent Civil war and was arrested following the ‘Battle of Dublin’. He was sent to Mountjoy but while there he developed a neutral position in the conflict and used his contacts to try to bring an end to hostilities. He shared a cell with Liam Mellows, his closest friend in the movement, until Liam was sadly executed on December 8th, 1922. Eamon was credited by many commentators, including Peadar O’Donnell, as being the real influence behind the social thinking of Liam Mellows. Eamon had known Liam and his brother Barney since the early days of the movement. He first encountered the Mellows brothers when they joined the Fianna in 1911. Eamon was the one who ‘sounded out’ Liam’s suitability for the IRB in 1912 and he later introduced Liam to the Connolly family. Eamon later said that both Liam Mellows and James Connolly were his inspiration in the movement. In September 1913 James Connolly was on a hunger strike and Eamon, along with Francis Sheehy Skeffington and William O’Brien, went to Lord Aberdeen to press for Connolly’s release, which they successfully obtained. Eamon later remarked that it was Connolly, and not Pearse, who was the real driving force in the 1916 Rising, particularly in the months leading up to Easter week. James Connolly’s daughter Ina later said that “Eamon, in troubled times, and out of sincere admiration for my father, became a firm friend of the family”. Eamon also remained close to the Mellows’ family and in 1942 Eamon unveiled the ‘Liam Mellows’ Bridge in honour of his old comrade.
Eamon was a very popular figure in Dublin, and indeed throughout Ireland, during the independence period and counted many of the central revolutionary characters amongst his close personal friends including Countess Markievicz, Con Colbert, The Connolly family, Bulmer Hobson, the Reynolds brothers, Cathal O’Shannon, Piaras Beaslai, Bob Briscoe, Liam Langley, Padraig O’Riain, Sean McLoughlin, Paddy Ward, Sean Prendergast, Garry Holohan, Denis McCullough, Liam and Barney Mellows and many other influential Irish revolutionaries. Bob Briscoe later said that Eamon had a “valuable contradiction, he was a man of great personal courage, who also had the common sense, which heroes often lacked”. Sean Prendergast added that Eamon “appeared to be cast in the same mould as Liam Mellows – a quiet, easy-going, simple type. Eamon was of strong muscular and medium build, fair-haired, a Celt to the fingertips. He dressed in kilts, which were always becoming to him, and spoke Irish and, as we perceived, a good dancer. A tailor by trade, he was deeply sincere and enthusiastic, a very likeable person among the boys as he could make and hold friends”.
After 1923 Eamon went on to be very active in the republican commemoration scene. He was one of the organisers of Countess Markievicz’s funeral in July 1927. Eamon was also, for many years, president of the Old Fianna Association; he was the president of the Fianna Jubilee anniversary Committee in 1959 and he was also on the ‘Michael Collins Memorial Committee’. He was a trustee of the Kilmainham Jail Restoration Committee; and he was heavily involved with the National Graves Association. Eamon was also very active in striving to achieve peace between the two Civil war sides in the years following the war and as one of the initiators of the ‘1916-21 Club’ in the 1940’s, was one of its first presidents.
He was also one of those who originally suggested a Garden of Remembrance back in 1935 and finally in 1966, after years of set backs, Eamon was part of the committee which made that idea a reality. It was also said that he had made a financial contribution to help bring about its completion. He was chairman of the Wolfe Tone memorial committee and unveiled the monument at St. Stephens Green in 1967. In 1965 Eamon was appointed to the Easter Rising 50th anniversary committee by Taoiseach Sean Lemass. Eamon personally donated, on behalf of Fianna Eireann, the Memorial statue at the Capuchin Monastery in Raheny in recognition of the gallant and brave efforts of Father Albert, Father Dominic and other Capuchins in 1916. He donated a children’s ward in our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda in memory of his dear friend and mentor Countess Markievicz; he donated a plaque in Barrington’s Hospital in Limerick in memory of his old comrade Con Colbert, and he made other similar gestures in many locations around Ireland.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, Eamon was also in charge of the National Association of the ‘Old Fianna’ and was responsible for the distribution of Fianna Eireann service medals and the ‘National Certificate of Service’, which were all signed by him as Chief of Staff. In 1959 he was presented with the first and specially made ‘Golden Jubilee’ gold medal at an official ceremony to recognise his achievements during his lifetime. In the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, Eamon gave many lectures around Ireland, the UK and the US on the topic of the Independence movement and the part played by the Irish Volunteers, and particularly the Fianna.
He also became involved in the literary world and provided funds to help set up the “Irish Democrat” in London. However he was best known for being responsible for getting literature magazine “The Bell’ off the ground and was on its editorial board, alongside Peadar O’Donnell, Roisin Walsh, Frank O’Connor and Maurice Walsh, for a number of years.
He died in May 1971 and his funeral was one of the largest seen at Deansgrange cemetery for years and it was attended by many surviving members of the revolutionary period. Among the attendees was the Taoiseach Jack Lynch. Eamon de Valera, the President, was unwell at that time but sent his aide-de-camp Col. Sean Brennan. A firing party from Collins Barracks rendered honours at his graveside and a bugler sounded the last post and reveille. Frank Sherwin was the Marshall of the Guard of Honour and was joined by surviving veterans of the Fianna.
One of Ireland’s great patriots was finally being laid to rest.
By Eamon Murphy
Fianna Memorial stone at the Capuchin Monastery in Raheny. It was donated by Mr. Eamon Martin, in 1959, in memory of Fathers Albert and Dominic.
Calvery and Memorial at the Capuchin Monastery in Raheny. They were both donated by Mr. Eamon Martin, in 1959, in memory of Fathers Albert and Dominic.
Belcamp Park, Raheny.
by Eamon Murphy
In late 1909 Countess Markievicz took up a lease on Belcamp Park in North Dublin.
Belcamp Park was a large farmhouse with twelve bedrooms, outhouses, stables, a walled garden and was situated on seven acres of farmland. It was once the home of parliamentarian Henry Grattan; and his father James Grattan had been born there.
The aim was to set up a self-sufficient commune for herself and her Fianna boys. A place where they could partake in outdoor exercises, away from the harsh realities of inner city Dublin and grow enough food to survive without outside assistance. Markievicz and Bulmer Hobson had been inspired by several agricultural and market garden communes and cooperatives which had previously been in existence in Ireland; in particular they were impressed with the commune in Ralahine in County Clare, set up by Arthur Vandeleur. Even though Vandeleur’s experiment had ended in failure, they were captivated enough to contemplate setting up their own. At the time, James Connolly even advocated such projects; writing about it in ‘Labour in Irish History’, in the chapter entitled ‘Irish Utopia’.
They enlisted the help of their friend Helena Moloney in setting up the Fianna cooperative but unfortunately all three had no farming skills nor did they know how to run such a scheme. Faced with this lack of knowledge they recruited Donnchadh O’Hannigan, a recent graduate from the Glasnevin Agricultural College, as head gardener to help them in their new venture. Donnchadh, along with his brother Donal, set about transforming the gardens and fields so they could produce crops to feed the commune. They also had chickens and a few cows. The scheme was a failure almost from the beginning. The large group of Fianna boys who settled at Belcamp had no interest in agriculture and were more interested in camping in the grounds, drilling and shooting practice. In addition to this lack of interest they were plagued with other problems, such as no electricity, poor water supply, damp conditions, and worst of all, over grown fields and gardens.
Photograph of members of Fianna Eireann at the Belcamp Park ‘Commune’ in early 1910. Con Colbert is on the right. The two older ones are possibly the O’Hannigan brothers. Source: Eamon Murphy
Markievicz and Moloney were too busy with Inghinidhe na hÉireann to take control of the project and most days they cycled to Dublin to attend meetings and assist with organizing. Markieivicz had also recently been elected to the Sinn Fein executive, which took up more of her time. When Markieivicz and Moloney did have time to spend the day at Belcamp, they spent most of it cooking and cleaning up after the Fianna boys. Bulmer Hobson was always either busy in Dublin at meetings or was away in Belfast. Within a short period, the cooperative had serious financial difficulties.
The end of the scheme finally came when Constance’s husband Casimir arrived back in Ireland after spending time in Poland. He was angry to discover that that his wife and the ill-conceived commune were the butt of jokes around social circles in Dublin. Others, such as Sean McGarry, called the trio ‘idiots’ for getting involved in a scheme that was destined to fail. Casimir was further incensed when he discovered the financial woes of the ill-fated venture. He soon managed to put an end to the commune despite having some difficulty getting out of the five year lease arrangement of £100 per year. The scheme lasted less than a year in total and had losses of almost £250.
Despite all this the Fianna boys enjoyed their short time at Belcamp. Future revolutionaries such as Con Colbert, Eamon Martin, Paddy Ward, Garry Holohan, Seamus Kavanagh and the Reynolds brothers were all part of the ‘Belcamp Commune’ and it was one of the places where they first learned the military side of things with daily lessons in the use of firearms, camping and drilling. Along with 34 Camden Street, it is one of the most significant addresses and locations of the early independence period and one which should not be forgotten.