Weekly Series on Centenary of Events of 1919 - 1921.
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Homecoming for Eamon de Valera
From Irish Independent, 24th March 1919
It is officially announced by Sinn Fein that Mr. De Valera will arrive in Ireland on Wed. evening, and that the Executive of Dail Eireann will offer him a public welcome.
"It is expected," adds the message," that the homecoming of De Valera will be an occasion of national rejoicing, and full arrangements will be made for marshalling the procession. The Lord Mayor of Dublin will receive him at the gates of the city, and will escort him to the Mansion House, where he will deliver a message to the Irish people."
Bands, and organisations which will participate in the demonstration are asked to apply to 6 Harcourt, St. It is interesting to recall that the last occasion in which a person was officially received at the gates of the city (Leeson St. Bridge, where a facsimile of the old city gate was erected for the occasion) was April 1, 1900, when the late Queen Victoria was received by the Lord Mayor.
From Belfast Newsletter, 24th March 1919
Following upon numerous acts of provocation, outrage, and insolence, meekly borne by a patient Executive, the disloyal elements of this country have issued a challenge to British authority which must be accepted.
On Wednesday next, it is stated, the Lord Mayor of Dublin proposes to receive, at the "gates of the city’, ' the escaped Sinn Fein prisoner, De Valera, in his self-assumed capacity of "President of the Irish Republic," and to give him a welcome only accorded to Royalty.
Such an act, if permitted to take place, could only be regarded as one of rank disloyalty and treason, for it presupposes the sovereign independence of Ireland. It is clearly the duty of the Government to proclaim this rebel gathering. We have no doubt that the Sinn Feiners desire some such interference with their plans, if only for the purpose of manufacturing another grievance, and possibly with the object of provoking a breach of the peace; but, even so, this insolent, challenge-cannot be ignored, for it is a deliberate and calculated attempt, not only to discredit British authority, but to bring contempt on the Throne. Loyal citizens look to the Government to prevent the commission of such an outface.
From Irish Independent, 25th March 1919
Lieut. Gen. Sir F. Shaw, Commanding in-Chief the Forces in Ireland, has prohibited the proposed demonstration in Dublin to-morrow in connection with the arrival of Mr. E. De Valera, M.P.
At the Sinn Fein headquarters last night it was announced that they had no statement to make in connection with the prohibition. The Lord Mayor .of Dublin told an "Irish Independent" representative last night that he had no statement to make - ‘at least for the present"
Gen. Shaw, in another order under D.O.R.A. dated yesterday, prohibits the holding of a meeting or procession in Dublin on or about to-morrow on the ground that it "would give rise to grave disorder" and "cause undue demands to be made upon the police and military forces."
From the Witness Statement of Sean M. O’Duffy
On March [26th], 1919, Eamonn de Valera was to return from prison. He was to be received at Leeson Street Bridge and presented with the keys of the city of Dublin by the Lord Mayor. All Volunteers were to attend the reception, and it was generally known that the British were to use force and suppress it. Those who would attend were in imminent danger of death. It was at five o'clock on the evening of that date that I met Detective Officer Cavanagh in South George's Street. He asked me to come along and, as we walked up South William Street, Mercer Street and Gaffe Street, he told me to "take this in". As we walked along, he gave me the whole story. A large force of military had been drafted into the city. One hundred Cavalry were posted at the North Circular Road. A machine gun unit here, there and everywhere. Many other detachments were posted in the vicinity of Leeson Street, etc. I went at once to 6 Harcourt Street, where I told Harry Boland. of all I had just learned of the military preparations to suppress the entry of de Valera. He was smiling as usual and remarked that "a king would not get such a reception". The reception was called off.
From Irish Independent, 26th March 1919
The following statement was issued by the hon. secs, of Sinn Fein last night;
We have received a communication from Mr. E. De Valera, which, we feel certain, the English Censor would not allow to be published in full.
"The part of immediate consequence to the public, however, is that Mr. De Valera feels that the occasion is not one which would justify proceeding with the public reception as arranged. "I, therefore, wish to inform the public that, in deference to Mr. De Valera’s urgent request, the reception will not be held."
Low Key Return for President of Dáil Éireann
From Evening Herald, 27th March 1919
Mr. E. De Valera, President Dáil Éireann, paid a informal visit to the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House this afternoon.
Only a few people were aware of the intention to visit the Lord Mayor, and consequentially his arrival at the Mansion House attracted very little attention.
Shortly after 3 o’clock he was seen stepping from a tramcar accompanied by Mr. Cathal Brugha, speaker Dáil Éireann.
After exchanging greetings with a few friends in the street he entered the Mansion House, being received at the hall door by the Lord Mayor.
Mr. De Valera, in appearance, seemed to have undergone little change after his ten months incarceration and the anxious period he must have passed through since his escape from Lincoln Prison, and he was in good spirits.
Speaking to a number of pressmen, he said that since the censor would not allow what he wished to say, he did not see the use of making a statement. He, however, mentioned that what most journalists appeared most anxious to know was how he had escaped from prison, and where he had been since, and said these matters should remain secret for the present.
Asked what his plans for his future were, he replied that, of course, they could not make their plans public. He hoped to get into communications with the people other than through the press which was closed to him.
A deputation from Clare, he added had called on him with a request to visit Clare. He hoped to do so at an early date.
Questioned as to whether he apprehended any further attention from the police he replied ‘Of course, they took me once, and they may do so again;. Then, smiling, he joined the Lord Mayor’s party.
Eamon de Valera on the occasion of his low-key homecoming meeting with the Lord Mayor of Dublin on 27th March 1919. He is pictured here alongside the Lord Mayor and two of his daughters. This is the first photograph of de Valera since his escape from prison. Taken from the Irish Independent, 29th March 1919.
Sensational Escape of Prisoners from Mountjoy
From Evening Herald - 29th March 1919
About three-o’clock today, a number of prisoners, estimated at about 20, escaped from Mountjoy Prison, Dublin.
Amongst those who escaped were MR. J. J. WALSH, M.P. for Cork City, who was tried yesterday by court martial at Ship street Barracks , and MR. PIERCE BEASLAI, M.P., who was under arrest awaiting trial, also by court martial.
It is said that the warders in charge were caught and held down by one gang of
S. F. prisoners while the others made use of a rope ladder and cleared over the wall, 30 feet high, on to the canal bank. The sight of the men clambering over the prison wall, and dropping outside created consternation, and soon a crowd collected. The escape of Mr. R. Barton, M.P., was the last sensation at Mountjoy.
The ‘Saturday Herald’ reporter says -
An astounding exploit was made today by the Sinn Féin prisoners in Mountjoy Prison, when about twenty of them succeeded in getting clean away in broad daylight. They include J.J Walsh and P. Beasly, M.Ps.
The occurrence took place while the prisoners were at exercise at about three o’clock.
It appears that some of their number suddenly turned on the warders who were in charge of them and held them down, with their comrades arranging a rope ladder over a thirty foot wall.
How the ladder came to be fastened is a mystery, but the first thing outside public noticed was the extraordinary spectacle of me sliding down a rope from the top of the jail wall to the canal bank.
A number of people quickly collected and they immediately set about assisting the fugitives by holding the rope while they were sliding to the ground, and then directing them where to go. This went on for about ten minutes amidst indescribable commotion both inside and outside the wall.
There was a sudden pause, and this was followed by shouts and cheers of derision from the prisoners left behind.
The military guard, it is understood, had come to the rescue of the warders by this time, and the further escape of prisoners was cut off.
The prisoners who escaped dashed in various directions.
Police were soon afterwards on the scene, and are at present busy making enquiries and following up on the prisoners’ whereabouts. Traffic on the North Circular Road was held up, but so far we have not heard of the recapture of any of the prisoners.
The rope ladder which was used in the escape was seen lying across the wall at the canal side long after the men had got away. It is now in the hands of the authorities.
It is said that some of the warders who are usually on duty on a Saturday were absent today.
Various rumours are shared as to the total number of people that escaped. Some say 27, and other 33. We are reliably informed that the number did not exceed 20.
From the Witness Statement of PAtrick J. Kelly
After our success in the rescue of Robert Barton it was decided to attempt a large scale rescue of political prisoners. On Saturday 29th March at 3 O'clock p.m. we were again outside Mountjoy. Plans were made on the inside and again the clock chimes was the signal. On the outside our plans were similar to those adopted for Barton's rescue except that extra Volunteers were mobilised to act as rere-guard and cover the escaping prisoners.
My Company had the same squad in the same position. This time we had no car but each man possessing a bicycle was told to bring it along and leave it outside Cotter's. Cycle Shop, Dromcondra Road. It was a case of every man for himself after he escaped. We had all taken our places without attracting any attention.
Everything was in readiness. The clock chimed and again our rope ladder went over the prison wall. This time Downs made a perfect throw and the ladder went in at the first attempt. Inside the prison the prisoners were at exercise under the supervision of warders. As the clock sent out its chimes some of the prisoners held up the warders with imaginary guns, while others jumped on them and overpowered them. Amongst the prisoners were some prominent men who had priority on the escape list - Piaras Beaslaoi and J.J. Walsh being two of the first over the wall.
Excitement was at its highest pitch for about twenty minutes while prisoner after prisoner reached the top of the wall and jumped. When we were sure that no more were coming over we abandoned our ladder and blankets that had served us so well. I was with the party detailed to cover the prisoners retreat and with me were several of my old 1916 comrades, Paddy and Carry Holohan, Joe O'Reilly (known as Bantry Joe), Sean O'Connor (Blimey), and several others.
As the last of the escaping men passed us we retired slowly expecting a clash with the police and soldiers whom we were convinced would dash out to intercept the prisoners. However, nothing happened and we reached Cotter's shop to find all bicycles gone. We now pocketed our guns and dispersed. I had to get to the south side of the city. I jumped on a tram to O'Connell St.
Several lorries of troops and Tans passed me and I had no doubt they were going to cordon off the Mountjoy neighbourhood. My bicycle was missing for five weeks. One day I was told to go to Fleming's Hotel, Gardiner's Row, where some bicycles were awaiting owners and, sure enough, mine was among them.
From the Witness Statement of Frank Henderson
Early on Saturday afternoon, 29th March, 1919, twenty Republican prisoners, mostly members of the Dublin Brigade, escaped from Mountjoy Prison. Friendly warders had been the channel of communication and the plan of escape had thus been arranged between the Volunteer officers outside and the prisoners' leaders inside. I cannot now recollect all the details, but at any rate at a signal given while the prisoners were at exercise in the prison grounds near the wall at the canal side the warders were overpowered and the men swarmed over the wall on a rope ladder which had been thrown Over from outside. Peadar Clancy occurs to my mind as have been the officer in charge on the outside. The men who scaled the wall were met on the outside by fellow Volunteers, along with whom they hurried along the canal bank to the road at Drumcondra, mingled with the passing crowd and were brought to pre-arranged houses where they lay low for a while. This escape was successfully carried out almost without attracting the notice of any citizens who happened to be on the streets near the prison at Drumcondra or Glasnevin.
Laois Volunteers, and serial Prisoner escapee, Padraig Fleming’s refuge in Kildare
From Witness Statement of Patrick J. Doyle
At 3 p.m. on 29th March, 1919., Padraic Fleming (born at Wolfhill on March 21st 1894), Piarais Beaslai, and eighteen others escaped over the walls of Mountjoy. Prison In open daylight.
Collins had arranged that a bicycle was waiting for each man and instructions as to where each was to go. The twenty escaped and vanished into the unknown, as far as the English Authorities were concerned.
Fleming was instructed to proceed to the house of two maiden ladies, the Misses Gavan Duffy, where They received a warm welcome. He stayed there for some weeks and as he dared not appear outside the house, the good ladies helped him to pass the time by giving him. lessons in Irish.
As the hunt grew hotter and hotter for all of the escapees, but especially for Fleming, their leader, Collins decided that he must leave the city I received word in Knockbeg to expect an important visitor on a certain day. About mid-day on that day I saw a car driving rapidly down the College avenue. I went down to the hail door to meet it, and saw a lady stepping from the car.
Before this I had not the pleasure of Knowing. this distinguished lady While she was intro-. ducing herself to me arms Gavan Duffy I observed another lady in the back of the car attired in a luxurious fur coat, with fashionable toque, and struggling desperately with a complication of rugs. Finally, the rugs were cast aside and tall, gaunt figure stepped from the car, the upper part of which was wrapped in the fur coat and the rest in male attire, and then I was introduced to the man who became one of my greatest friends, Padraic Fleming.
I recollect having heard afterwards that Mrs. Gavan Duffy expended a very large amount in order to induce Dublin taxi driver to venture so far into the country in the dangerous circumstances then prevailing.
We found that Padraic's Health had been gravely undermined by his terrible prison experiences. My brother, Doctor Doyle, assumed medical care of him and, by the aid of dietary and open air exercises, he began slowly to improve. Gradually we began. to extract from him a detailed account of his prison experiences. Amongst ourselves came to be known as "Fionn", named after his famous warrior-prototype.
Fionn, after the hectic doings of his jail days, chafed against the inactivity of his days in the College, rendered imperative by the debilitated condition of his health. One source of consolation was talks with our activist Visitors who gave him first-hand information of developments on the Liberation front. After a couple of months he grew very restless, and began to worry about the condition of his own Volunteer Battalion, from which he was so long separated. He said he must arrange to review the Battalion.
Though we tried to convince him of the extreme risk, seeing that was a question of going to his home area, where police were numerous and particularly active in pursuit of the leader of the great escape, he persisted in his determination to accept the risk.
My brother, Dr. L. Doyle, Of Carlow, gave us the use of his cat, which his wife pluckily volunteered to drive, by way of cover. Early in the afternoon of the day arranged, our fair chauffeuse. arrived. attired for tennis; After some sets with members of the staff, and fortified with tea, we prepared to start Miss Brigid Cole, of the College staff, she must come as chaperone! J
ust then a visitor arrived, my cousin, Father Michael Doyle ex-War Chaplain to the British Forces
He insisted on joining the expedition, saying that' inexperienced civilians required the presence of a trained warrior on such an occasion. So we set out. I sat in the front of the car with. the chauffeuse, whilst Miss Cole sat between Fionn and Father Doyle in the back, the ladies very conspicuous in their white tennis costumes.
We drove in wide detours towards our objective. On a long straight strip of the Athy-Castlecomer road two R.I.C. constables suddenly sprang on to the middle of the road about a hundred yards ahead, yelling "Halt!" We thought it our best policy to do so. The constables advanced slowly and cautiously towards the car, by step in a crouching attitude, with their rifles trained upon us. Still covering us they took a position on either side of the car.
The man on my side, in obviously tense strain, began cross-questioning, which, I parried as coolly and carefully as I could. When finally he asked where we were coming from, I had a flash of inspiration I mentioned a place some miles back, through which we had actually passed, where there was a Protestant Rectory. With two clergymen and two tennis-clad ladies in the car, my story at least sounded plausible. At least it suggested an atmosphere, however, fictitious, of respectability, and loyalty, to the Crown.
After few more agitated, incoherent questions, they gruffly told us to drive on, which we did at the highest speed of which the car was capable, as. we felt that rifle shots from the rear were a grim possibility. Were the constables as relieved as we were? They gave me the impression of men who felt they were performing an extremely perilous duty. Who was the tall, gaunt, dark-clad 'non-player' in the back of the car' Personally, I should have felt the strain more acutely if I had then known what I afterwards learned. During the dialogue Fionn had a Webley revolver in each hand, by which each constable was covered, in expectation of a crisis in the cross-questioning.
When our excitement died down the party started to "rag" me, declaring it was my "super-superior accent" which had over-awed the simple constables,. and saved the situation. We deposited Fionn safely at his destination, and returned to the College. I suffered sharp pangs of conscience over the risk into which we had allowed the ladies to be drawn, and also my brother) whose car was notoriously well-known in the neighbourhood. After some days the Volunteers brought Fionn back to us, greatly exhilarated after his meeting with his old comrades.