VOICES FROM THE NORTH INNER CITY

War of Independence

January 1919 to July 1921


James Connolly's Death Cert

James Connolly’s Death Cert

The execution of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising and the imprisonment of thousands of rebels sparked massive public sympathy. It also generated support for Irish independence and led to a landslide victory for Sinn Fein in the general election of December, 1918.
In January 1919, Sinn Fein declared independence from Britain and established a government in Dublin. On the same day as the first Dail (government) assembled (21 January 1919), two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were shot dead by Irish Republican Army (IRA) members who were acting independently.
This marked the opening shots of the War of Independence. The campaign involved a small number of IRA volunteers who waged a guerrilla war against the British state and its security forces in Ireland.
On 11 July, 1921, a truce was called to allow dialogue about a political settlement.
The Treaty would bring about the Irish Free State, a self-governing dominion, which would be made up of twenty-six counties. The remaining six counties continued to be part of the United Kingdom. The Treaty caused deep divisions amongst Irish nationalists and ultimately led to the Civil War the following year.

“Many IRA men stayed in safe houses around Monto during the Troubles and after.

Some of the women passed on information to Michael Collins’s men about the movement of British Army regiments. When officers and soldiers visited the brothels in Monto, they very often dropped their guard and confided in the women, telling them what was happening in military circles around Dublin.

The information gleaned was passed back up the line to IRA intelligence officers and then used to set up IRA attacks. One such incident took place on 17 May 1921.  A sergeant from the Cameron Highlanders and a woman aged 60, from Elliott Place, were admitted to Jervis Street Hospital, suffering from gunshot wounds. An Auxiliary policeman was also injured. The soldier had been leaving a house in the Gloucester Street area when a number of IRA men opened fire. The British soldier fell to the ground, shot in the ear. The woman was struck in the left leg with a bullet.”

BILLY-BOY PRESTON - BORN 1921, CORPORATION BUILDINGS

“My father was an auctioneer by trade and he worked for some of the big auctioneers’ firms in Dublin. One was called Battersby & Co, in Westmoreland Street. He was in the way of knowing what houses were for sale, so when 36 Lower Gloucester Street came on the market, they liked it and they bought it.

During the Troubles, the house became a safe house for IRA men on the run from the British Army. My father was also in the IRA.   He was an intelligence officer for the 2nd-Battalion, Dublin Brigade.

Because of father’s work, he could travel around the country buying and selling houses. One of his main objectives was to gather intelligence on the British.

Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy

One of the many men that stayed in our house regularly was my father’s friend, Dick McKee.   My mother converted one of the front rooms in the house into a bedroom for him, facing out onto the convent in Gloucester Street. I was only five years old at the time.

I remember on that fateful night in 1920 when the British Army raided the house.

Dick had earlier gone to a meeting with Michael Collins in Vaughan’s Hotel in Parnell Square where they were finalising the plans about the British agents that were to be shot the next morning. At that meeting was Peadar Clancy. When the meeting ended (due to a raid on the hotel by the British), Dick brought Peadar Clancy back to our house to sleep.

Loud Banging

We were all woken by loud banging on the front door. I was in my mother’s and father’s room. My father left the bedroom while I stayed with my mother in the room. The banging on the front door got louder. They could not break it in.

They then jumped over the railings of the house and down into the basement where there was a door which led into the house.  My father’s adopted sister, Florrie, who slept down in a room in the basement heard all the banging on the door and she jumped up.

They were shouting, “Open up! Open up!” She called back to them, ”Will you stop breaking down the door, please, and give me time to dress myself? I have to put some clothes on. Please wait, will you?” And in the meantime word was sent down to her to stall them, as Dick and Peadar were burning some of the papers they had been carrying in the room upstairs. When all the papers had gone up in flames, the Black and Tans finally broke down the basement door but they came up against another door as there was an inner door and an outer door which led out into the basement.

Held at Gunpoint

So, after a while, they broke down the second door and they all rushed up the stairs from the basement to the room where Peadar and Dick were staying and held them at gunpoint.

Some of them started to search the house and they ripped the place apart. They paid particular attention to the fireplace, where Dick and Peadar had burned all the papers they had on them. Some of the soldiers came into the room where me and my mother were, and I remember one of them started playing with me while the others searched the room.

They had armoured cars outside the back and front of the house, with their searchlights turned on the house in case anyone tried to escape over the roofs. They hadn’t a chance to do anything, it all happened so quick. With the number of soldiers involved, it was clear the British had received very good information about who was staying in the house that night.

Arrested

After searching the house they took my father, Dick and Peadar out, put them into an armoured car and took them over to Dublin Castle.

I remember my father telling me, years after, what happened that night in Dublin Castle. He said they were brought into a room and made to line up along with other prisoners who had been arrested that night in different parts of Dublin. My father said that this man in civilian clothes came into the room. He carried a walking cane in his hand. He went up and down the line, looking into the faces of the men.

He picked out Dick and Peadar and a young man by the name of Conor Clune, who happened to be staying in the same hotel where Dick and Peadar had an earlier  meeting with Michael Collins. He was just an innocent man picked up in the raid on the hotel that night. But my father told me that he recognised the man with the cane as one of the men that was in on the raid on our house. He was the main man that was picking people out for interrogation. When he was finished going up and down the line of prisoners, my father and some of the others were taken out of Dublin Castle and brought first to Mountjoy Prison, and from there they were sent to Beggars Bush Barracks.

Wormwood Scrubs

From there he was sent to Wormwood Scrubs Prison in London.

When my father was locked up in prison my mother found it hard to make ends meet. I remember two women who came to our house regularly while my father was in prison – Maude Gonne MacBride and Mrs Despard, two great women. They brought food to our house regularly. They kept us going with food. We owe them a lot of gratitude.

Help from the Nuns

My father also told me about the nuns in the convent in Gloucester Street. The head nun in the convent was some relation to my father’s boss. She kept watch on the street for anyone – Dublin Castle touts, informers – acting suspicious. The Castle touts were paid by the British to watch certain houses in the street. They mostly stood outside the main door of the convent, where the post box is. They always stood with their backs to the convent door and pretended to read their newspaper while they leaned up against the post box. From that position they could be observing up and down Gloucester Street and up Rutland Street. But when the nun would see one of them hanging around she would send one of the girls from the laundry over to the house to say that the street was been watched.

They watched the watchers, and they kept my father well informed about the movements of the British spies.

SEAN FITZPATRICK - BORN LOWER GLOUCESTER STREET

I will never forget the day me and Maggie MacGouran and her sister were playing skipping, outside of Hynes’s pub on Gloucester Place.

Me and Maggie were turning the rope, and her sister was skipping. We seen three men coming down Railway Street.

One of them looked into the pub and came back out. We heard him say to the others, “He’s in there.” He was explaining where the man was sitting. (They did not think that we heard them, but we did.)

They went into the pub and next of all we heard loud bangs. They then ran from the pub, up towards the ’27 Steps’, into Summerhill, and made their getaway. I did not know that it was ‘Shankers’ Ryan who was shot by the IRA. He was a policeman that lived in our street. I never seen him in uniform, he was always in plainclothes.”

CHRISSIE HAWKINS - BORN 1907, RAILWAY STREET

“I remember the time the IRA shot Becky Cooper’s brother in Hynes’s pub in Railway Street.

I was playing cards with some friends just outside Curran’s greengrocers in Gloucester Place around ten o’clock on a Saturday morning; the next thing, Bang! Bang! Bang!

We ran over to see what had happened. People came running from all around the neighbourhood to see what had happened. It was said he was spying on the IRA for the British, as he worked in Dublin Castle.”

BILLY DUNLEAVY - BORN 1907, CORPORATION BUILDINGS

Bloody Sunday

On 21 November 1920 during the Irish War of Independence, a total of 31 people were killed – fourteen British, fourteen Irish civilians and three republican prisoners.
Bloody Sunday is particularly remembered for a retaliatory attack by the Black and Tans on civilian spectators who were in Croke Park to watch a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary.
They indiscriminately opened fire on the crowds of spectators – men, women and children. Fourteen men and women were killed, hundreds were trampled on, and a small boy died in his mother’s arms. One of the victims was a Tipperary player, Michael Hogan.
Two men from Corporation Buildings were also injured, Paddy Gunnery and Patrick Caulfield.

Bloody Sunday aftermath

Friends of the victims and members of the military outside Jervis Street Hospital during the military enquiry into the Bloody Sunday shootings at Croke Park on Sunday, 21 November 1920. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

“I left Corporation Buildings to make my way to Croke Park to see Dublin and Tipperary playing a Gaelic football match. Little did I know what was in store for me.

I was enjoying the match from the famous Hill 16. Next of all, this plane flew over Croke Park and I looked up at it. He kept circling around overhead for a while, then when it came back over it started to drop thousands of leaflets down on to the crowds watching the match. They were what I would describe like confetti at a wedding coming out of the sky.

About 15 minutes after the plane had gone there was the sound of machine-gun fire coming from different directions. I didn’t know what was happening. People started screaming when they realised they were being shot at. We all started to run in all directions. It was just a stampede to get away.

Running down Hill 16, I fell to the ground and the people that were behind me fell on top of me. I was screaming for help. The people kept falling on top of me. I was being crushed to death with the weight of the people on top of me. All I remember was a man pulling me out from under the people’s feet. Some of the gravel from the ground was embedded into my face. The blood was running down my face. He carried me out to the gate where the people were all standing with their hands up in the air.

They were all being held by the British Army and Black and Tans, who were searching them at gunpoint. On the ground near where the British soldiers were, there were lots of people’s overcoats, bags and umbrellas. There were a large number of armoured cars and lorries lined up, bumper to bumper.

I remember this British soldier shouting at us to come forward. I was afraid to move. I was in shock. The soldier said to me, “I’m not going to shoot you.” The man added, “Come forward so he can search us.” That man put me onto a hackney cab and it took me to the Mater Hospital, where my mother and father were sent for. I had a broken wrist and various other injuries. I recovered slowly from my injuries.

I owe my life to that man who pulled me out from under the people that were lying on me. I never got his name. You know, that was the only way the Black and Tans could get back at Michael Collins for the execution of the British agents in Dublin that morning.

They took it out on innocent people watching a football match.”

PADDY GUNNERY - BORN 1905, 25C CORPORATION BUILDINGS

“My father was playing full forward for Dublin against Tipperary on Bloody Sunday, November 21st 1920.

It was a challenge match to raise money for the republican prisoners’ dependants’ fund.  His brothers, John and Joseph, were playing beside him in the forward line.

My father was very near Michael Hogan when he was shot. In fact, my father often told us that he thought it was Uncle John that was shot because Michael Hogan and my uncle were very similar in size.

Bullets Flying

There were bullets flying everywhere and there were 12 people killed altogether. Of the two teams playing that day, Michael Hogan was the only player killed. Of course, they named the Hogan Stand after him.”

SEAN SYNNOTT

“My father was on his way home when he met these two men in Summerhill.

I remember him coming into the house with the two of them and telling my mother that he had met them in the street.

They were after being involved in a shooting in the Gresham Hotel – they were members of the IRA and they needed some help. My mother sat them down and she made them some tea.

After a while, my father handed them his razor and he told them to shave themselves to change their appearance. After they had finished shaving they were standing talking to my father for a long time. Then my father turned around to me and said, “Mary, will you take the men down to the railway station in Amiens Street.”

He told the two men, “Look, it won’t look suspicious you walking down through the streets with a little girl.” So I left the house with the two IRA men and we walked down through the streets. We were not stopped once by the army or the police, who were all over the place. I left them at the train station. They thanked me and said goodbye.

Then that day, everyone was talking about all the soldiers that were shot that morning in Dublin.”

MARY RILEY - BORN 1910, DORSET STREET

Black and Tans

The Black and Tans arrived in Ireland after 1918 to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in their work.
Their nickname was inspired by their uniforms. As there were not enough uniforms to go around, they wore a mixture – some military (khaki) and some RIC (dark). Their nickname (Black and Tans) was inspired by their uniforms.
They were not regular troops. They were poorly disciplined, they terrorised civilians and were feared and loathed by local communities, such as those living in the North Inner City.
Their brutal tactics were encouraged by their superiors, as evidenced here:

“If a police barracks is burned or the barracks already occupied is not suitable, then the best house in the locality is to be commandeered, the occupants thrown into the gutter.

Let them die, the more the merrier…. If the persons approaching a patrol carry their hands in their pockets or are in any way suspicious looking, shoot them down…. The more you shoot, the better I will like you and I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man.”

– Lt. Col Smyth (Divisional Commander), June 1920

“The Black and Tans used to drive in the Buildings with their armoured cars.

My father was stopped by one of the Tans one night as he was coming from work on the railway.

The Black and Tans told him he would have to get a special pass from the railway because he came in so late from work.”

CHRISSIE HAWKINS - BORN 1907, RAILWAY STREET

“After tea, you were allowed out for a short while but you had to be in early as the Black and Tans and the British Army patrolled the streets day and night.

The Tans took over the hotel down on the docks, not far from our house, and used it for one of their headquarters.

My mother used to be worried sick about my brother. He was in the Volunteers and he used to go missing for the house for weeks.  My mother used to be watching out the window to see could she see him coming down the street.

He came home one night with his pals who were also in the Volunteers. They were after being involved in an incident with the Black and Tans in Abbey Street. They made their escape down Abbey Street and into a tenement house which was overhead a shop.”

BRIDGET HEFFERNAN NEÉ WHITTY - BORN 1910, MERCHANTS ROAD

“When we lived in Corporation Buildings I was only a child and my mother used to send me for bundles of sticks, which cost half a penny at the time.

It was during the Black and Tan War. There was a curfew and if anyone was found out after nine o’clock you were taken away by the Black and Tans in their armoured cars, no matter how old you were. I went for the sticks anyway and I delayed on the way down.

When I walked through the archway leading from Foley Street and the shop into the Buildings, the Black and Tans drove in in an armoured car.

Lost Baby

Mammy was panic stricken, looking over at me from the balcony.  She ran down to me as the Tans got out of their car to approach me. My mother shouted at them, ‘she’s only a child’.

She got all excited and one of the Black and Tans – I can clearly remember to this day – gave her a slap across the face. My mother was expecting a baby at the time. When the Black and Tans had a curfew there’s no way anyone could go out, not even for a doctor.

That night, she lost the baby.”

LILIAN OSBORNE

“I remember the Black and Tans – they were devils altogether.

They took over the Holyhead Hotel and the Customs House. They used to shoot from the Customs House right across the Portland Docks. You’d see the bullets whizzing down: Bang! Bang! Bang!”

BIDDY HEFFERNAN - COMMONS STREET

“The area used to be full of British troops; they used to be all around the neighbourhood.

We used to see them driving up and down the place as we made our way to school. I saw the Black and Tans raiding the home of Frank Teeling the IRA man who lived up the street from us. They came to his house on a regular basis. They used to throw Frank’s furniture out on to the street as they were searching it.”

JACK KELLY - ST. LAURENCE O’TOOLE SCHOOL

Kevin Barry

18 year old medical student Kevin Barry was hanged in Mountjoy Prison on 1 November 1920. He was sentenced to death for his part in an ambush on British troops in which one soldier was killed.
Prior to his execution, he was tortured to give the names of his IRA comrades. His refusal to tell influenced a ballad bearing his name.
Kevin Barry’s execution sparked outrage and a swell of support for Ireland’s Independence.

“I used to pal with this girl called Bolger whose father was a prison warder in Mountjoy. They lived in Gardiner Street.

Not long after poor Kevin Barry was hanged, he brought me and his daughter into Mountjoy to see Kevin Barry’s grave.

Honest to God, when I saw it, I can clearly remember thinking: ‘you wouldn’t put a dog in it’.”

SARAH FAGAN - BORN 1900, BOLTON STREET

“One thing that stands out in my memory as a child is the morning Kevin Barry was hanged.

December 8th 1920. Outside Mountjoy, all the way down the North Circular Road, they were all saying the rosary on their knees. The bell went at eight o’clock when he was being hanged, poor chap. I remember that.”

BISHOP JAMES KAVANAGH - SCHOOLED IN NORTH WILLIAM STREET

“I used to go out with this fella named Edward Doris.

Standing at my hall door in 18 Gardiner Street, he passed by, carrying a ladder on his shoulder down the street.

I called to him and he shouted back: ‘I’ll see you later.  I’ll be a bit late’.

He was always nicely dressed but that time his clothes were very shabby, so I said to myself: ‘where in the name of God is he going with that ladder?’.

I never saw him again, God rest his poor soul. He was killed in the IRA attack on the Custom House, which was burned down in the 1920s.”

SARAH FAGAN - BORN 1900, BOLTON STREET

IRA Attack on the Custom House

On 25 May 1921 during the Irish War of Independence, the IRA occupied and burnt the Custom House, headquarters of the Local Government Board for Ireland, a symbol of British authority.
Five IRA volunteers and three civilians were killed in the battle that ensued.

Do you have family memorabilia or stories about life in the North Inner City? We’d love to hear from you: