John ‘The Yank’ Kilgallon

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Photograph of American John ‘The Yank’ Kilgallon in what looks like a Fianna Eireann uniform at St. Enda’s, Holy Thursday, 1916.

This photo was taken outside the front steps of St. Enda’s on Holy Thursday, 20th April 1916.

John was a senior ‘University’ student at St Endas. He was one of three Irish Americans at St Endas during that period. He enrolled in September 1914. In a letter Pearse wrote in July 1914 he mentioned John Kilgallon’s upcoming enrollment: “I have got another Irish-American for next term, his name is Kilgallon and his father owns real estate at Far Rockaway. He is a young man, and he will rank as a University resident.”

He was part of Pearse’s inner circle at St Endas and subsequently became a member of the Rathfarnham ‘E’ company of the Irish Volunteers which became known as ‘Pearse’s Own’; many members of ‘E’ Coy came from, or once attended, St Endas. A number of these were now students at UCD but were still living at St Endas as ‘boarders’ and involved in part-time teaching and administration work. They formed what became known as the ‘University Group’ at St Endas.

Several of these young men were also members of the Fianna IRB circle known by the cover name “The John Mitchell Literary and Debating Society”. These included Desmond Ryan, Eamonn Bulfin, Fintan Murphy, David Sears, Joe Sweeney and Frank de Burca. Given that IRB/Fianna connection with this group, it is likely that John Kilgallon was also a member of this IRB circle. It is also probable that he was once (or still was) a member of Na Fianna in 1916 when this photograph was taken, or certainly involved with the national boy scouts in some form. It is possible that as these young men progressed from the Fianna to the Volunteers, they hung onto their Fianna uniforms due to costs, difficulties in obtaining new uniforms etc. Another possibility is that he just borrowed this uniform or ‘found’ it at St Endas. In Kilgallon’s subsequent pension application, he did not claim for any Fianna service however, the official pension period only began on April 23rd 1916 for which he claimed service as a member of the Irish Volunteers.

A member of the ‘University Group’ Frank de Burca recalled that “for some months previous to Easter Monday 1916 I was, with the other members of our group, engaged in making preparations for the Rising. Every evening we spent in the “University Room” making hand-grenades, filling cartridges with shot and fashioning batons for use against looters, etc.”

Kilgallon was also a keen photographer and it was his camera which was used to take the photograph of John above. John also took this photograph on Easter Sunday outside St Endas of his fellow ‘Pearses Own’ volunteers. Included are, back row, Eamonn Bulfin, Conor McGinley, Frank Connolly, Desmond Ryan and Peadar Slattery, kneeling are Brian Joyce, Frank Burke, Eunan McGinley and Joe Sweeney.

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Kilgallon was stationed in the GPO with his company in 1916 and Desmond Ryan remembers John’s reaction when they entered the GPO on Easter Monday:

“Holy Gee!! cried John A. Kilgallon in his American accent to two bewildered postal officials. “This ‘ain’t no half-arsed revolution! This is the business. Thousands of troops and seige guns outside. The whole country is ablaze. Twenty transports outside are coming in when the submarines have sunk the rest of the warships. We have our own mint. Light your pipes with Treasury notes and fling all but gold away. When we do things, we do things!”

He was said to have saved Eamonn Bulfin’s life when he pulled him in from a window which was under heavy fire in the GPO. He also gained notoriety when he appeared in the GPO later in the week dressed as Queen Elizabeth I after raiding the costume from the waxworks in Henry Street.

After the Rising John Kilgallon was arrested and sent to Stafford Jail in England. His address in the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook is given as ‘The Hermitage’, Rathfarnham, Dublin. After Stafford he was sent to Frongoch, Wales until December 1916. According to Lyn Ebenezer there were four US citizens at Frongoch; along with Kilgallon, the others were Peter Fox, William Pedlar and Michael Joseph Lynch. Ebenezer also claims that Kilgallon gave his place of residence as James Street, Far Rockaway, New York and that President Wilson personally intervened in his case. In 1917 he was deported back to the United States and joined the US Navy where he served briefly in World War I. He remained in America afterwards and took no further part in the fight for Independence.

Research and text by Eamon Murphy. Photographs courtesy of the Pearse Museum and Eanna De Burca .

Sources:

Irish Times Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook 1917

O’Mahony, Sean 1987, Frongoch:University of Revolution

Ebenezer, Lyn 2006, Frongoch Camp 1916 and the birth of the IRA

O’Buachalla, Seamus 1980, The Letters of P.H. Pearse

Sisson, Elaine 2004, Pearse’s Patriots: St Enda’s and the Cult of Boyhood

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement No. 694, Fergus (Frank) Burke

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement No. 141, James Kenny

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement No. 724, Desmond Ryan

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