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