The final resting place of Patsy o’Connor at Plot UE 18 St.. Paul’s Glasnevin.
The following story and research is by local Dublin historian Jason Walsh-McLean. Thanks to Jason for sending in this excellent account of the life and death of Patsy O’Connor and his own journey in uncovering the remarkable tale of this brave Fianna scout. We have featured Patsy before on this page a number of times. Here is his story:
It was during the Lockout centenary year of 2013 that I finally got around to reading Pádraig Yeates’ seminal work on the subject Lockout – Dublin 1913. It had been purchased as a birthday present for me some years previously by my Mother. Being a bit of a “trivia buff” when it comes to these things, I noticed upon completing the book that there was no mention of Patsy O’Connor of Na Fianna Éireann, whose name I had first come across many years previously in The National Graves Association 1985 publication The Last Post were it stated on page 39 “Patsy O’Connor of Na Fianna Éireann, died in 1915 as a result of wounds received during the strike”.
I was also intrigued by the fact that his name does not appear on the plaque in the foyer of Liberty Hall which commemorates and names the Lockout Martyrs. I decided to research this young man and try to find out as much as I could about him.
My first port of call was Pádraig himself, he told me the reason Patsy is not mentioned in the book was because he had simply came across nothing on him during his research on the events of The Lockout which lasted from 26th August 1913 to 18th January 1914. Pádraig encouraged me to research him further.
I decided to try and ascertain his exact date of death and where he was buried. Knowing that The Irish Volunteer weekly newspaper was available online, and that it gave its back page to a regular column entitled “Na Fianna Éireann – National Boy Scouts” which reported on the activities of the Fianna. I began to study each edition from its inception on 7th Feb 1914 up to its last issue on the 22nd April 1916.
I located a full page obituary for Patsy in the edition for June 26th 1915 entitled ‘Lieutenant Patsey O’Connor’ (Patsy was spelt Patsey throughout the article) which announced his death, though not its date and also stated he came from Harold’s Cross and that he had joined the Fianna in Camden Street “nearly six years ago” and was “then about twelve years of age” and that by the time of his death he was he was the Lieutenant in command of the Fianna Inchicore Sluagh.The unnamed author of the obituary who was in fact Pádraig Ó’Riain, informed the reader that both he and Patsy were involved in the Howth gun-running in July 1914 stating “Right well do I remember his gallant stand last July when we came into conflict with the police and military on the road from Howth. He was by my side when the police swooped down upon our ammunition cart that on that day.”
A photo of the Fianna with that very ammunition cart appeared a month later in the July 24th 1915 edition of The Irish Volunteer.
Ó’Riain had previously written an account of the Fianna’s involvement at Howth under the pseudonym “Willie Nelson” in the December 1914 one-off publication Nodlaig na bhFiann which also mentions O’Connor’s activities that day. James Connolly also had an article in this publication.
As to the cause of death the following was offered “During the strike riots in Dublin he was severely battoned by the police and rendered unconscious whilst in the act of administering first-aid to another victim. Patsey had passed his first aid exams, and had secured the certificate of the St. Patrick’s Ambulance Association. This act of mercy may be the indirect cause of his death, for recently he was subject to very violent headaches, which came periodically as the result of the batoning he received on the head”.
Finally, the article also stated he was joint manager and editor along with Percy Reynolds of the monthly Fianna newspaper. Fianna ran for a period between 1915 & 1916 after the success of the Christmas 1914 publication Nodlaig na bhFiann mentioned above which they had also edited.
During the course of researching back issues of The Irish Volunteer I also came across a poem in the 9th January 1915 edition, which “Willie Nelson” claims to have “received” for publication but was more likely written by himself as good natured comradely ribbing.
The poem which is untitled reads as follows…
My name is Percy Reynolds,
And I’m a clever chap:
My partner is O’Connor,
Always eager for a scrap.
We ran a Christmas journal,
A venture we made pay;
So to propagate our Kultur
Likewise to have our say –
We will run a monthly paper,
For as editors we shine.
But we’ll accept no “copy”
From that critic called O’Ryan.”
So I now knew he was born sometime in 1897, joined the Fianna in 1909, the year of its foundation aged 12, had received his injury in August 1913 aged 16, was involved with the landing of arms from the Asgard in July 1914 aged 17, had been joint editor & manager of Fianna from January 1915 and died in June 1915 aged 18. Unlike The Irish Volunteer, the Fianna newspaper is not available online and so had to be researched the old fashioned way, on a microfilm reel. A trip to Pearse Street Library where Admiral Horatio Nelson’s head supervised my research from the corner of the room followed.
Surprisingly the obituary which I located in the newspaper of his own organization was much shorter than that which appeared in the newspaper of its sister organisation. The article appeared on page 3 of the July 1915 edition and ran under the title In Memoriam June 17th 1915. While short it did contain two vital pieces of information.
Firstly it was stated that the article, again by an unnamed author, probably Percy Reynolds in this case, was written on the date of his funeral mentioned in the heading. It also stated he was buried in Glasnevin.
So between the two newspapers I knew he had to have died sometime in early June 1915 as he was buried on the 17th of that month (unless he had died earlier and there was a delay in his burial) and that he was interred in Glasnevin.
My next port of call was Shane Mac Thomais, resident historian of the Glasnevin Trust shortly before his own untimely death. I contacted Shane and he was able to tell me by checking the records that there was only two Patrick O’ Connor’s (Patsy being short for Patrick) buried in Glasnevin in 1915.
The first could not even be considered as he was too old at 58. The second Patrick O’Connor was an 18 year old bachelor electrician who had lived at home with his parents at 27 Harolds Cross and was buried in plot UE 18 in the St. Paul’s Section of Glasnevin on the opposite side of the road to the main cemetery. He had died on 15th June 1915 and was buried on the 17th. His age and the area he came from corresponded with the details supplied in the article in The Irish Volunteer and the date of internment recorded corresponded with the date given in Fianna.
Thanks to Shane I had located Patsy’s final resting place, which I determined to visit to pay my respects once my research was complete. It was here that things took an unusual turn. In the Glasnevin Cemetery records book relating to Patsy’s burial, under the heading ‘Alleged Disease or Cause of Death’ is written “Pneumonia”. I then paid a visit to the General Registrar’s Office near Christ Church to obtain a copy of Patsy’s Birth & Death Certificate’s to see if I could glean any further information. I was unable to locate a copy of his Birth Certificate. I did however locate his Death Certificate. Under the heading Certified Cause of Death & Duration of Illness the following is written: “Pneumonia 4 days. Cardiac Failure. Certified”. Both the Glasnevin records and the Death Certificate give the “informant” as Patsy’s father, Patrick Senior. The Death Certificate also states that he was present at his son’s passing.
I emailed Shane a copy of the Death Certificate and he replied “Back then, many who died of a beating were recorded as dying of something else”.
To try and get a broader picture of Patsy’ life I next researched the census 1901 & 1911 both of which are available online. I tried the 1911 census first as I knew from his Death Certificate that Patsy had been living at number 27 Harold’s Cross Road in 1915.
The 1911 census lists the family living at the same address with Patsy’s father, Patrick Senior (50) being listed as an “Agricultural Labourer” and that he and his wife Mary (48) were originally from Co. Meath. Also listed was daughter Maggie (24), her husband John O’Donohoe (24) who was listed as a “Grocer in Public House”, son’s Bernard (16) Patrick (14) and daughter Mary (13) who were all listed as “scholars”.
The earlier 1901 census lists the family living at 104 Lower Clanbrassil Street. As I found with researching my own family’s genealogy the age of those listed doesn’t always correspond with an exact ten year difference between the 1901 & 1911 census. Patrick Senior was listed in 1901 as being a 36 year old “Greengrocer”, while Mary was listed being 35 years old. By the time of Patrick Seniors own death on 15th April 1935 he was recorded as being a widower aged 75 living at 119 Harolds Cross Road and his occupation was given as “Provision Dealer”.
He lies with Patsy in the previously mentioned plot UE 18 St. Paul’s.Glasnevin. There are no other family members recorded as resting in this plot. The children listed in 1901 were John (15), Margaret (14), Bridget (12), William (10), Bernard (9), Patrick (4) and Mary (2). A Robert O’Neill aged 20 was also listed as living in the family home and his occupation was given as “servant”.
I next contacted Eamon Murphy in Australia who runs a Facebook page dedicated to the early days of the organisation, to see if he had any further information. Eamon is a grandson of former Fianna Chief of Staff Eamon Martin and has a wealth of information posted online regarding the Fianna between 1909 & 1923.
Eamon was able to supply me with a further article which appeared in The Gaelic American newspaper on July 7th 1917 titled The Irish Boy Scouts by An Irish Volunteer Officer. This officer was in fact Liam Mellows and gave a history of the organisation between 1909 & 1917.
Of particular interest to my research was the following excerpt: “Poor Patsy O‟Connor died very suddenly toward the end of 1915. During the great Dublin strike in 1913, Patsy received a severe blow to the head from a police baton while trying to administer first aid to an old man who had been badly hurt during one of the baton charges. After superficial treatment at a hospital Patsy thought he was all right as the wound healed up rapidly. But two years later he arrived home one evening complaining of a pain in his head and after drinking a cup of tea suddenly collapsed and died almost immediately. A clot of blood had congealed on the brain and two years after the blow had burst. He was a most promising boy and had been in the Fianna since he was twelve years old. – His comrades gave him the first Fianna military funeral and marched with sorrowing hearts behind his coffin draped with the Irish Republican colors to Glasnevin”.
Note the American spelling of colours when referring to the flag. It is also intriguing to note that this “first Fianna military funeral” took place on 17th June 1915 just two weeks prior to the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa in the same cemetery on 1st August 1915 at which the Fianna played such a prominent role. Outside of the Republican press there seems to have been no coverage whatever of Patsy’s death or funeral.
Earlier in the article I alluded to the fact that Patsy’s name does not appear on the impressive 1913 Lockout Martyrs brass plaque in the foyer of SIPTU’s Head Office, Liberty Hall. During the course of my research I came across a 2006 publication issued jointly by SIPTU & the Irish Labour History Society entitled “James Connolly, Liberty Hall & The 1916 Rising” written by SIPTU historians, Francis Devine & Manus O’Riordan which states on page 74: “Na Fianna were involved in the 1913 Lock Out and an officer, Patsy O‟Connor, died of head wounds sustained in a police baton charge while administering to an injured person”.
I next made contact with Labour historian Charles Callan and he was able to tell me that O’Connor is also mentioned in at least two biographies of Countess Markievicz. The 1967 publication “Constance de Markievicz – In the cause of Labour” by Jacqueline Van Voris states on pages 143/144: “The death of one boy, Patsy O‟Connor, in 1915, was thought to have been indirectly caused by his batoning in 1913 while he was giving first aid to another victim”
While the 1987 publication by Diana Norman “Terrible Beauty – A Life of Constance Markievicz 1868-1927” states similarly on page 114. “The Fianna on the other hand had become known for their discipline and dependability. Their skill at first aid was a by-word, learned in the hard school of the lock-out baton charges – the death of one Fianna boy, Patsy O‟Connor, in 1915 was indirectly attributed to his being batoned in 1913 while giving first aid to another victim”.
In fact Patsy and the Countess would have known each other as I learned from the Bureau of Military History Witness Statement given by Fianna veteran Seamus Pouch on the 15th June 1949 (W/S 267):“Among the leaders a small group used to meet constantly at Surrey House, Leinster Road, the home of the Countess, and there were introduced to every personality of repute who visited the house. In fact Surrey House soon became a meeting place for these boys – “Madam‟s Boys” – as they were introduced to personalities and amongst the Fianna were dubbed the Surrey House clique. Members of the clique were Patsy O‟Connor, Harry Walpole, Jack Shallow, Eddie Murphy, Andy Dunne and myself. Padraig O Riain compiled a Fianna Drill Text Book with the help of the Countess and others and it was a complete guide for Fianna Branches. Dr. Dunlop was engaged to teach us First Aid on behalf of the newly formed St. Patrick‟s Ambulance Brigade. The usual examination followed and a large number of us secured our certificates and badges”.
(This was the First Aid certificate mentioned in his obituary which appeared in The Irish Volunteer)
The “personalities” Seamus Pouch mentions who would no doubt have crossed Patsy’s path would have included James Connolly, who recuperated in Surrey House after his hunger strike during the Lockout and who contributed an article to Nodlaig na bhFiann which Patsy had edited along with Percy Reynolds.
Later in his statement Seamus Pouch says….
“The first important attack on Government police came about during the 1913 strike, when police went out of hand and used batons recklessly. One of our clique, Patrick O’Connor, R.I.P., died as a result of a baton stroke received when he was attending to a fallen citizen who had received a blow of a truncheon. O’Connor died suddenly at his tea some months afterwards due, we believe, as a result of the blow he received while attending to this man. He was a member of the Surrey House clique”.
Another Fianna veteran, Seamus Kavanagh in his Witness Statement given on the 9th September 1957 (W/S1670) states…
“I remember the morning that Jim Larkin addressed a huge crowd in O’Connell St. The British authorities had banned him from speaking in public in Dublin, but it was understood that he would make an appearance somehow, and we were all advised to be in O’Connell Street. He appeared on the balcony of the Imperial Hotel, and addressed a huge gathering of the citizens. He was disguised. I saw him being pulled off the balcony by the DMP. Baton charges by the DMP and by the RIC, who had been called in as reinforcements, were made afterwards to disperse the crowd. One of our Fianna boys, Patsy O’Connor, got a smack of a baton on then head, as a result of which he died subsequently”.
Given that Patsy was one of the “Surrey House clique”, it is highly probable that he is sitting in close proximity to the Countess in the photo of The Fianna Ard Fheis that took place on 13th July 1913, a few weeks prior to Bloody Sunday. The photo appeared in The August edition of Irish Freedom the newspaper of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
My research concluded, there was one last port of call. On a cold Saturday morning myself & my partner Carol drove out to Glasnevin to visit Patsy’s final resting place and pay our respects. The helpful staff in Glasnevin provided me with a small map and I was able to pinpoint exactly where UE 18 St. Paul’s was by using the map and looking at the numbers on nearby headstones. Sadly, I found that Patsy lies in an unmarked grave.
What had started out as an attempt to ascertain if the blow on the head in August 1913 did indeed lead to Patsy’s death in June 1915 had now taken a new and unintended turn. There remains the anomaly of what appears on Patsy’s burial records and his death certificate to what his former comrade’s state in their sworn statements given to the BMH and the reports that appeared in the Republican press at the time and other publications and books since.
However, there can be no doubt that Patsy O’Connor was involved in two of the most historic events to take place in the early part of the 20th Century, Bloody Sunday 1913 and the Howth Gun Running 1914. He also edited the official newspaper of Na Fianna Éireann, of which Patrick Pearse said in February 1914: “We believe that Fianna na hÉireann has kept the military spirit alive in Ireland over the past four years, and that if the Fianna had not been founded in 1909 [in Dublin], the Volunteers of 1913 would never have arisen‟.
Patsy’s 100th Anniversary falls on 15th June 2015. In this period of Centenaries, I believe it would be fitting if a permanent memorial were erected to remember this young man.
Story and research by historian Jason Walsh-McLean