Derry’s Dan Black-one man’s role in the fight for Irish independence

Dan Black is pictured here wearing a hat and directly behind Eamon de Valera at a functioning following his visit to Derry and a rally at Celtic Park. Also pictured to the right of Mr de Valera is the former Bishop of Derry, Rev Dr Neill Farren.
Dan Black is pictured here wearing a hat and directly behind Eamon de Valera at a functioning following his visit to Derry and a rally at Celtic Park. Also pictured to the right of Mr de Valera is the former Bishop of Derry, Rev Dr Neill Farren.
  • Dan Black joined the IRA in Scotland
  • He had been a member of the Fianna in Derry as a youth
  • He was awarded the Military Service Pension in the mid 1930s

A series currently being run each Friday in the ‘Derry Journal’ penned in 1953 by former Irish Volunteer Liam A Brady charting Derry’s part in the struggle for Irish independence from 1913-1923 has prompted the relatives of one man from the city to tell the tale of how he played a full role in the events of that turbulent period.

Dan Black was born in Derry in 1899 and after an initial period living at number 4 Elmwood Street the family moved to another close by at number 5 Tyrconnell Street.

Mr Black spent his working life as a merchant seaman and a docker. The ferry runs between Derry and Scotland would have undoubtedly made the young man a useful conduit for transporting arms and information. This probably explains why he was sworn into the I.R.A. in Greenock at the age of 20. Dan Black had been a member of the Republican youth organisation, Fianna na hÉireann before this period.

Documents from Dublin

In 1934 the Freestate Government introduced the Military Service Pensions Act for former members of the IRA who fought in the War of Independence against the British.

In the documents retrieved from Dublin by his family many years later the depth of the role that he played both in Derry City and in Co Donegal in the ‘troubled times’ are revealed. In order to make a claim for a pension from Dublin it was necessary for former Volunteers to submit a statement to the Board that approved or denied this financial allowance.

Dan Black and his wife pictured on a trip to Dublin for the commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

Dan Black and his wife pictured on a trip to Dublin for the commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

So, in late 1934, Dan Black penned this letter and sent it to Dublin.

The text of the letter runs as follows.

“I Daniel Black, hereby certify that I joined the I.R.A. in the autumn of 1919, in Greenock in which place I don’t claim to have done anything of note, outside my active duties as a Volunteer, in drilling and selling Republican pamphlets. I came to Derry and joined ‘C’ Company, Derry City Battalion, about the end of May or beginning of June, 1920. I was appointed Section Commander.

“I took active part in the week’s fighting in the city against the Imperial Forces in June, 1920. I done picket duty on Protestant property in July, 1920 and street patrols for the preventing of looting, raiding for stolen property, guarding prisoners, parades, drilling and company routine work. I acted as a armed guard on Republic Courts at I.R.A headquarters.”

Members of the Derry Bridage of the IRA on procession during De Valera's visit.

Members of the Derry Bridage of the IRA on procession during De Valera's visit.

Of his activities in 1921 Dan Black said: “I took part in organising and collecting funds for the Battalion, usual parades etc, instructing sections etc in January, February and March. I took part intelligence work, Belfast boycott work and another work I took part in was escorting rifles from the Ebrington Barracks, which were smuggled from the Imperial Forces stationed there at this time and transported arms and ammunition from Shamrock Hall (Battalion Headquarters) to Ballymagroarty.

“On April 1 I took part in an attack on the Lecky Road Barracks occupied by the RIC. A policeman was killed, and one died from his wounds. On April 12 I took part in an armed raid on the Great Northern Railway Goods Depot. One Sergeant of the B Specials was shot.

“I still carried on my usual parades and routine work in connection with ‘C’ Company and in about August, 1921 I took part in raiding houses in Derry and Donegal for men who went off with Prisoner’s Dependants Funds-usual company drilling, assisting in doing armed duty with Republican Police in court work, which I just can’t remember at the moment.

“In 1922, I took an active part with the Republican Forces in County Donegal and was sent to Birr in King’s County from Finner Camp, Donegal as escort in transporting rifles and ammunition to County Donegal. from Letterkenny I was transferred to Raphoe. I was in charge of a small company to take over Castlefin and had charge of them in several engagements with Imperial Forces whilst stationed here. Including, Clady, 8 & 9th May, 1922 and a successful raid on Donaghmore House and a fight at Lifford against Specials and military.

Republicans on board a lorry which was part of the cavalcade that greeted De Valera on his arrival in Derry.

Republicans on board a lorry which was part of the cavalcade that greeted De Valera on his arrival in Derry.

“Other raids took place on the Castlederg border. During this time I had about 20 locals organised for outside work around this area and from this source I gained a lot of very useful information. From Castlefin, I went to the hills of West Donegal at the outbreak of the Civil War and was sent back with my own column in company with another column to do duty along the borders.

“It was while on this work that I was captured in the early hours of the morning by the National Forces. I escaped.

“I declared this to be a truthful statement to the best of my knowledge.”

Signed,Dan Black.

Anti-Treaty forces

Through this statement it becomes obvious that Dan Black was a member of the Anti-Treaty forces during the Civil War period. The simple declaration of the his role was not enough to ensure that he would be awarded a pension. His claims would first have to be counter-signed by witnesses before even begin considered by the Military Service Pensions Board.

Crowds begin to gather along the Lone Moor Road to await the arrival of Eamon de Valera when he paid a visit to Derry in 1951.

Crowds begin to gather along the Lone Moor Road to await the arrival of Eamon de Valera when he paid a visit to Derry in 1951.

The declarations made on the pension form itself confirms that Dan Black had continuous active service from the period between April 1, 1919 and March 31, 1920. He was listed as being attached to the Derry City Battalion.

This period of service was verified by his officer in command in the city at the time, well-known Republican figure, Patrick Shiels. Two other officers also verified that Dan Black had taken part in the defence of Derry during the pogrom of 1920 at St Columb’s College when it was attacked. Those other I.R.A. men were Henry Moore who became an officer in the Free State Army and John Mullan, listed as being from Argyle Street in Derry. This section of the form also verifies Mr Black’s declaration of having participated in the attack on Lecky Road Barracks as well as having ambushed police at the city’s General Post Office.

Activities in Co Donegal

As stated in his declaration Dan Black also operated within the I.R.A. in Co Donegal and in this section of the pension form it is verified by an I.R.A. man in the area at the time, Sean Hegarty, that he was trusted to an extent that saw him sent to Birr, now County Offaly, and bring weapons back to Donegal.

Other referee’s to Dan Black’s activities in Donegal were Captain John Mullan of the Free State Army and Captain William Doherty of Buncrana. Officer in command in this area of Donegal is listed as S Lehane who also said that the Derry man took part in all engagements against Free State troops in Co Donegal.

Men who also backed up Dan Black’s claims were high-ranking Derry republican John Fox as well as Peadar O’Donnell and a John O’Neill from Coalisland in County Tyrone.

Dan Black himself wrote: “We ambushed the police force in Clady, Co Tyrone and I was in charge of operations. Peadar O’Donnell came to my rescue with 100 men.

“I was appointed by S Lehane to the rank of captain in 1922 and I was a captain until the end of hostilities. I was not in the Free State Army.”

Notably, Dan Black’s witness statements on his pension forms are signed off by Patrick Maxwell the notable solicitor and abstentionist nationalist MP for Derry at Stormont in that era.

Dan Black passed away in 1961 at the age of 62 whilst at the family’s holiday home at Quigley’s Point in Donegal. He is buried in Derry City Cemetery.

Dan Black pictured at the back on the left on a trip to Dublin with fellow IRA veterans. The ex Volunteers can be seen wearing their medals from the War of Independence.

Dan Black pictured at the back on the left on a trip to Dublin with fellow IRA veterans. The ex Volunteers can be seen wearing their medals from the War of Independence.

A picture of the Derry IRA training in a field believed to be behind were the Creggan Estate is now around 1920. Dan Black is pictured kneeling sixth from the right pointing his rifle.

A picture of the Derry IRA training in a field believed to be behind were the Creggan Estate is now around 1920. Dan Black is pictured kneeling sixth from the right pointing his rifle.