Monthly Archives: June 2020

Pádraig Ó Riain (1893-1954) and Bulmer Hobson (1883-1969)

O'Riain and Hobson

Rare photograph of Fianna Eireann stalwarts, (L-R) Pádraig Ó Riain (1893-1954) and Bulmer Hobson (1883-1969)

These two individuals were probably the two most influential figures in the establishment and early days of Na Fianna Eireann.

Bulmer Hobson was the co-founder of Na Fianna along with Madame Constance Markievicz, and Pádraig Ó Riain was its first treasurer (and later secretary).

While Markievicz was the inspirational figurehead in the movement, both Hobson and Ó Riain were the brains and driving force behind the successful running of the Fianna from 1909-1916. They were skillful organisers and administrators, and also both excellent propagandists in the Fianna’s formative years. They worked tirelessly and devoted all their spare time to promoting and advancing the Fianna organisation.

Hobson was, of course, at this time on the Supreme Council of the IRB and then secretary of the Irish Volunteers upon its formation in 1913. He was a prominent member of Sinn Fein from 1907, and at one time its vice-President. He was also a member of the Gaelic League and the GAA.

Pádraig Ó Riain was the one responsible for putting together the first Fianna Handbook in 1914, and had a weekly column in the Irish Volunteer newspaper, under the pseudonym ‘Captain Willie Nelson’. He had also had a number of articles published in the IRB paper ‘Irish Freedom’.

Ó Riain was also a member of the IRB, and was secretary of the Fianna circle, using the cover name ‘The John Mitchell Literary and Debating Society’. In 1913, upon the formation of The Irish Volunteers, Pádraig Ó Riain was co-opted onto its first Provisional Committee. He was also a prominent member of the Gaelic League.

He led the Fianna detachment at the Howth Gunrunning in 1914. At the 1915 Fianna Ard Fheis Ó Riain was elected ‘Chief of the Fianna’ (Ard Fheinne), with Hobson as Chief-of-Staff. With Hobson busy with other Irish Volunteers duties, Ó Riain also took on much of the work of Chief of Staff on Hobson’s behalf.

Former Fianna member Eamon Martin later recalled that Ó Riain had a “capacity for orderly organisation, which was exercised to such advantage to the Fianna in the succeeding years”.

During the 1916 insurrection Hobson was famously kidnapped by others in the IRB, to prevent his attempts to further cancel mobilisations of Volunteers. He was closely aligned with MacNeill, and had, as many said at the time, MacNeill’s ear and was behind MacNeill’s attempts to call off manoeuvres on Easter Sunday. He had also previously fallen out with Clarke and MacDiarmada following his vote to accept Redmond’s nominees onto the Irish Volunteer Executive in 1914.

The two men both took a step back from their revolutionary activities post-1916, although Hobson’s decision to reduce his participation was not entirely by choice, as he was side-lined by many other former comrades and revolutionaries, although not by those in the Fianna, following his failure to support the Easter Rising. He had always advocated defensive, rather than offensive, warfare and argued for guerrilla tactics in any future conflict with the British, which interestingly was adopted by the Irish Volunteers/IRA in 1919-21. As far back as 1909, he promoted this approach, as was shown in his pamphlet that year entitled ‘Defensive Warfare: A Handbook for Irish Nationalists’. A quote from the paper reads “We must not fight to make a display of heroism, but fight to win.”

Following 1916, Hobson went back to his previous career, writing and printing, and later became a civil servant following the establishment of the Free State. In many early accounts of the revolutionary period, he was often excluded entirely or his role downplayed. Recent narratives of the era, have begun to recognise his role, particularly with Fianna and the Irish Volunteers in their formative years. Hobson died in 1969.

Ó Riain, who was sent to Tyrone just prior to Easter Week to assist in organising Volunteers in preparation for the upcoming rebellion, drifted out of the movement in the aftermath of 1916, and ended up staying in Ulster and later became a bookmaker in Belfast, for a short period. In later years, Ó Riain was one of the founders of greyhound racing in Ireland. Sadly he lost touch with many of his former comrades during this time.

He later lived in Bangor, Co. Down and passed away in 1954.

*I hope to write a separate and longer biography of O’Riain at a later date.

Photo credit: Keogh Brothers, Dublin. Part of the Bulmer Hobson Photographic Collection at the National Library of Ireland

Not dated but circa 1914-15

Herbert Charles ‘Barney’ Mellows (1896–1942)

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,;

Chief Secretary’s Office, crime branch: DMP, movement of extremists, 29 May 1915–20 April 1916 (NAI,;

Military Archives, 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, 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
(WS 286);

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);

David Hogan [Frank Gallagher], The four glorious years (1953);

Robert Briscoe, For the life of me (1958);

Kerryman, 2 Apr. 1966;

Bulmer Hobson, Ireland yesterday and tomorrow (1968);

Sworn to be free: the complete book of IRA jailbreaks 1918–21 (1971);

C. Desmond Greaves, Liam Mellows and the Irish revolution (1971);

Uinseann MacEoin (ed.), Survivors (1980);

J. Anthony Gaughan, Scouting in Ireland (2006);

Joseph E. A. Connell, Dublin in rebellion: a directory 1913–1923 (2006);

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);; internet material downloaded 2017

Wolfe Tone Annual 1946


A rare copy of the 1946 Wolfe Tone Annual.

The 14th annual in the series, which was an initiative of Brian O’Higgins, Irish poet, writer and lifelong Republican (1882-1963) and ran for a number of years (1932-1962). It was started for the purpose of raising funds for Wolfe Tone commemorations.

O’Higgins was one of the founders of Sinn Féin in 1905, joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and fought in the GPO in 1916.

According to historian Patrick Maume, “O’Higgins used the annual to comment overtly and covertly on recent history and current affairs to an audience extending well beyond his die-hard republican milieu“.

The Wolfe Tone Annual was subject to censorship on a few occasions, including stopping publication altogether the previous year, 1945.

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This 1946 edition was entitled “Laocra Na Casca – Soldiers of 1916: A New Telling of the story of Easter Week“.

It includes articles on the Rising itself (in Dublin, Galway and Wexford) and biographies of the executed leaders, including short pieces on Con Colbert and Sean Heuston.

There are articles on the others killed, including The O’Rahilly and Sean Connolly, and a brief piece on Fianna Eireann. There is also an interesting 12 page article on Liam Mellows.

Other sections of note include an account of the Howth Gunrunning and a short piece on O’Donovan Rossa.

Fianna wolfe tone annual

Fianna Eireann image featured in the 1946 Wolfe Tone Annual

Pearse from wolfe tone annual

Pearse reading the Proclamation from the 1946 Wolfe Tone Annual


Association of Old Fianna, Souvenir Programme, 30th June 1945

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The event took place at Clerys of Dublin on Saturday 30th June 1945.

Approximately 500 Fianna veterans and their partners attended. Some of those who attended on the night included Robert Holland, Ina Connolly Heron, Eamon Martin, Patrick Joseph Jordan, Seamus Kavanagh, Joseph Reynolds, Christopher ‘Kit’ Martin, Sean Nugent, Michael Oman, Seamus Pounch, Nora Connolly O’Brien, Seamus Reader, Frederick Schweppe and Frank Thornton.

The organising committee was as follows:

Chairman: James Carroll

Hon. Secretary: P. Young

Hon. Treasurer: M. Confrey

Committee members: J. Valentine, J. Grant, J. Markey, P. Byrne, L. Craig & W. McEvoy

Headquarters Battalion: Army of The Irish Republic – Easter Week 1916


‘Headquarters Battalion: Army of The Irish Republic Easter Week 1916’
By John Michael Heuston, O.P.
An account of the 1916 Rising
Published 1966
Fr John Michael Heuston, O.P. (Order of Preachers) was a Dominican priest. He was the brother of John Joseph Heuston, also more widely known as Sean ‘Jack’ Heuston.
Fr John Michael, along with Fr Michael Browne, Master of Novices at the St Marys Dominican Priory at Tallaght was given special permission, while a young Dominican in Tallaght, to visit his condemned brother in Kilmainham Gaol in 1916 before his execution.
It was a custom in the Dominican Order that men, on receiving the Dominican habit, were given a new name. So, Michael Heuston, became Father John Michael Heuston.



Joseph McGarrity and Bulmer Hobson


Joseph McGarrity (left) and Fianna founder Bulmer Hobson (right) in the USA. An excellent quality photograph of Bulmer Hobson meeting his Clan na Gael friend. McGarrity and Hobson were both originally from Ulster.

Courtesy of Villanova University, Pennsylvania.