Derry’s role in Easter Rising remembered

Michael 'The O'Rahilly.' (1708MM12 )
Michael 'The O'Rahilly.' (1708MM12 )
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While the most famous and historic incidents of Ireland’s revolutionary period in early part of the 20th century took pace in Dublin and the south west, newly published documents show that Derry and the north west also played a key role in the fight for independence.

Thousands of eyewitness accounts of the revolutionary period from 1913 to 1923 have recently been published online by the Irish Bureau of Military History. ‘Journal’ reporter Michael McMonagle takes a look at the detailed account given by Derry republican Liam Brady, a Fianna Eireann organiser in Derry and Donegal.

While the most famous and historic incidents of Ireland’s revolutionary period in early part of the 20th century took pace in Dublin and the south west, newly published documents show that Derry and the north west also played a key role in the fight for independence.

The Bureau of Military History’s website recently published thousands of documents offering a unique insight into this turbulent period of Irish history. They are transcripts of interviews carried out with people with first hand experience of the events, including former members of the IRA, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Éireann and the RIC.

One of the longest and most detailed interviews was conducted with Derryman Liam A. Brady, from Waterloo Street, in 1952. He is described as being the Officer Commanding of Na Fianna Éireann in Derry 1920-22 and a Fianna organiser for Donegal. He gave a full and frank account of what were described as “national and military activities, Derry 1914-22.”

Mr Brady initially tried to join the Fianna when he was 13 years-old but was turned down because of his age. He was later admitted, however and went on to command the organisation in the north west.

He said he learned his politics as a young teenager by listening to the conversations of the older men in the United Irish League’s rooms in Waterloo Street. He regularly watched the parades of both the Irish Volunteers and Carson’s Ulster Volunteer Force in Derry.

When the Irish Volunteers split in 1914 over the First World War he sided with the republican element which in Derry had set up a new premises in Orchard Street.

He joined the Fianna in 1914 and the following year he was appointed commander by Michael O’Rahilly, better known as The O’Rahilly, the director of armament for the Volunteers who was later killed during fighting in the Easter Rising in Dublin. The O’Rahilly came to Derry in November 1915 and addressed a meeting in the John Mitchell Hall, Volunteer headquarters in Derry.

Mr Brady recalled; “I had the great honour of receiving my commission in Fianna Eireann that night. As Dan Doyle, the then OC, was leaving Derry for a situation in Dublin The O’Rahilly appointed me to take charge and act as organiser. He promised to send me a sword when he got back to Dublin.”

He also gave an account of how the Volunteers were supplied with ammunition by a Derryman who was serving in the British army at Ebrington barracks. Six thousand rounds of .303 ammunition were smuggled out of the barracks while the Volunteers staged a torchlight procession as a distraction. The ammunition was later sent to Dublin for use in the Easter Rising.

Smuggling

Ammunition smuggling was one of Mr Brady’s main duties with the Fianna and the bullets and bombs he transported with shipped throughout Ireland.

The smuggling operation was led by Derry IRA man Paddy Hegarty. Explaining how it worked, Mr Brady said; “Paddy Hegarty was in touch with a man from Buncrana named William Donaghy, known locally by the nickname of William Black as the was a blacksmith by trade. He came to Derry with a horse-drawn van periodically and delivered large amounts of .303 ammunition to Hegarty’s tobacconist shop, Foyle Street. It was immediately repackaged into parcels containing 500 rounds; most of these parcels were taken by me to John Doherty’s, Lower Road, James Lynch’s Sloans Terrace, Leonard’s, William Street, and lots of other places where they were kept until they were required.”

He had a narrow escape when delivering one particular package of ammunition. “One day I was asked by Paddy Hegarty to bring a small parcel of ammunition and 100 detonators to Ned McDermott’s tobacconist’s shop, Strand Road. After receiving the package I went to get my top coat which was hanging up in the back room and as I was leaving the shop Paddy called me back and handed me a parcel of tobacco asking me to deliver it to the canteen of the RIC barracks, Strand Road, telling me to be sure to deliver Ned McDermott’s package first. I went on my way and meeting a few chaps that I knew, got into conversation. We walked and talked until we got to the gate at Victoria Barracks. Then without thinking I walked in and delivered what I though to be the parcel of tobacco. The two parcels were about the same weight and tied with string across. When I came out and moved away from the Barracks something urged me to open up the parcel which I had with me and I got a shock to find that I still had the tobacco and the parcel containing the ammunition and detonators was laying in the RIC canteen.

“I had no time to lose; I had to make up my mind quickly. Should I run away from the place or take the risk for going back for the parcel? I turned and made for the open gate, walking down the yard. After being questioned by the policeman on the door when I landed at the canteen, Constable Brennan asked me what I wanted and I told me I had left the wrong package by mistake. He reached to the shelf and handed me my parcel of ammunition and I handed him the parcel of tobacco. Coming out of the gate I hadn’t gone far when I could feel my whole body shivering and my knees getting week.”

Mobilisation

He also described the activities of local republicans during the Easter Rising in Dublin. “On Easter Thursday night Roisin O’Doherty brought a dispatch from Volunteer Headquarters in Dublin to Seamus Cavanagh, the Derry OC, ordering mobilisation for Easter Sunday.

“That night Seamus Cavanagh notified a select number of volunteers to meet at John Doherty’s shed at the top of William Street not later than 11.30 that night. Each man was to bring the heaviest top coat he had, his rifle, revolver and ammunition, with all the other equip[ment and enough rations to last for two days. Cavanagh told me to call off any Fianna parades for the next week and not let any of the boys near the John Mitchell Hall.

“In Doherty’s shed Cavanagh checked his men who numbered 17. Their equipment consisted of 5 Lee Enfield Rifles, 5 Mausers, 2 Howth and Martin Henrys (sic) and about 100 rounds of ammunition per man and 22 hand made bombs.

“In Doherty’s shed the volunteers settled themselves as best they could under the circumstances as every man was keyed to such a pitch expecting fireworks at any moment. The place inside was in darkness. No one was allowed to smoke or to light a match. There was a split in the door with which the volunteers could see out, as a street lamp was burning outside. There was a tense moment when two policemen put their backs against the door. They stood there for about ten minutes, Little did they know that a number of rifles were pointed at them ready to shoot if they made one false move. After waiting to 5.30 the next morning the Volunteers, through Dennis McCullough of Belfast received MacNeill’s countermanding orders, calling off the mobilisation with instruction to wait for further orders,” he said.

Mr Brady also said the Rising could have been much more widespread if Derry republican Jospeph O’Doherty, who later represented Inishowen in the First Dáil, had not been delayed while travelling to the city.

“Joseph O’Doherty, a republican officer who later became a representative of Donegal in Dail Eireann had left Derry earlier in the day to proceed to Dungannon where he made preparations with the volunteers en route to the Rising arrived back in Derry half an hour late. Had he arrived before MacNeill’s orders the Volunteers would have proceeded to Strabane and Omagh where they would have been joined by other contingents and the Rising would have been extended to the North.”

The Derryman’s statement also includes accounts of visits to the city by Madame Pearse, mother of PH Pearse, in January 1918, and of Eamonn DeValera the following month.