Weekly Series on Centenary of Events of 1919 - 1921.
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Robert Byrne (1889 - 1919) was born in Dublin, and was a cousin of Alfie Byrne, future long-term Lord Mayor of Dublin. He was a telegraph operator at Limerick's general post office, and was branch president of the Post Office Clerks' Association and their representative on Limerick's United Trades and Labour Council. He was arrested in January 1919 when a gun was found in his mother's home. On entering Limerick jail he led an agitation for political-prisoner status among republican inmates, escalating it until he himself went on hunger-strike. In mid-March, his health was failing, and he was admitted to Limerick Union Hospital where he was until 6th April 1919
From Evening Herald, 7th April 1919
A tragic sequel is reported to-day to the extraordinary affray in the Limerick Workhouse Hospital yesterday, when a prisoner in the charge of five armed policemen and a warder was rescued by a gang of men. The rescued prisoner, according to our Limerick correspondent, was, in the melee, wounded by bullets in two places, and died today in a house in the Clare district.
So far the fatalities arising out of the tragic wounds of CONSTABLE MARTIN O'BRIEN, aged 50. He leaves a widow with one child. He was guarding in hospital.
ROBERT J. BYRNE, aged about 24, son of business people well-known in Limerick, who was serving twelve month imprisonment imposed by court -martial, and had gone on hunger-strike
Several shots were fired during the scuffle in the hospital ward. Constable T, Spillane, of Askeaton, who lies in a precarious condition , was seriously injured in the spine. Three other constables and a warder were also injured.
The feeling in Limerick and district at the whole occurrence is one of stupefaction. People discuss the incident in awed tones.
The following official communique is issued by the authorities for publication - In consequence of the attack by armed men on the police constables and the brutal murder of one of them at Limerick yesterday, the Government has decided to proclaim the district a special military area.
The prisoner ROBERT J. BYRNE, rescued from the Limerick Workhouse Hospital yesterday from the custody of his police guard, was reported this morning to have succumbed to his injuries. He was wounded with bullets in two places—neck and back—and taken from hospital on a cart drawn by an ass. During the confusion he was conveyed to a Clare district, where he died last night. His relatives’ places of business in the city are exhibiting signs of mourning. Some houses were searched during the night without result.
The Limerick Workhouse Hospital where the shooting took place. Irish Independent 9th April 1919
Sergeant J.F Goulden, who was injured in the rescue of Robert Byrne. Irish Independent 9th April 1919
Constable J. Fitzpatrick, also wounded in the rescue of Robert Byrne. Irish Independent 9th April 1919
Constable J. Tierney, another one of the wounded RIC Officers during the rescue of Robert Byrne. Irish Independent 9th April 1919
Constable Spillane, who was also shot, with his brother and a Constable Clarke. Irish Independent 9th April 1919
From Bureau of Military History Witness Statement of Michael 'Batty' Stack (http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0525.pdf)
Rescue of Battalion Adjutant from R.I.C. custody: Up to about 1919 the activities of the Battalion were confined to organising, training and the procurement of arms. In February or March of that year, Bobby Byrne, who was Battalion Adjutant at the time, was arrested by British military and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment for being in possession of arms. He resented very much the treatment he was getting and, as a result, went on hunger strike.
This hunger strike was responsible for concessions being given by the prison authorities but, as Bobby Byrne had suffered considerably, he had to be transferred from the prison to the Limerick Union (now City Hospital) for special treatment, where he was placed in the custody of an armed guard of six R.I.C. men and one prison warder.
The Battalion staff decided that Bobby Byrne should be rescued from custody. With this object in view, a rescue party of five selected men from each Company was formed. The party was divided into two sections. A man named Jack Gallagher was in charge of one section and I was in charge of the other section. The only people who carried arms on that rescue were Jack Gallagher and myself. The others were unarmed. The arrangements made for the rescue were that I was, first of all, to visit the Union and tell him what we had intended doing.
When I had finished my visit, I would leave his room and go out of that particular ward, travelling round the hospital and by a roundabout way come back to the same ward again. While this was happening, the remainder of my party were to visit patients in the ward and pose as friends and so work their way near the armed guard over Byrne. The whole rescue was timed and, on the blast of a whistle from me, they were to rush the R.I.C. guard and pin them down. At the moment when this was happening Byrne was to jump from the bed.
Things went very well up to my sounding the whistle. The party were already in position but, immediately the whistle went, a general melee seemed to have taken place and, at the same moment as I was approaching Byrne's bed, I saw Constable Spillane fire at Byrne and threw himself on the bed on the top of Byrne. When I saw this happening, I fired at Spillane who fell over Bobby Byrne on the bed. I had then to pull Spillane off Byrne to get Byrne out of the bed.
Thady Kelly, one of the unarmed men of the rescue party, was to take Byrne away and arrangements had been made to have a horse-drawn carriage available at the front entrance.
Through a mistake, this carriage drew up at the back of the hospital. As Byrne was being taken through the ward, Constable O'Brien freed himself from the unarmed party and drew his gun and was about to fire when I shot him. He died immediately and I relieved him of his arms.
Owing to the mistake in the carriage drawing up at the wrong entrance, Byrne was taken in a pony and trap to Ryan's near Meelick. It transpired that he was badly wounded and he died that night. This exploit was really the start of I.R.A. activities in Limerick city.
The British then proclaimed, martial law and a permit was necessary to enter or leave the city. To hamper the activities of the British forces against the Volunteers who took part in the rescue, there was a general strike organise amongst the people with the object of upsetting them entering and leaving the city in the execution of their work The whole strike was engineered by the Battalion staff at the time, and Councillor James Casey, who was Chairman of the Trade Union Councils at the time gave us his whole-hearted support as far as the labour organisations were concerned.
The strike lasted a week but it served its purpose as the proclamation was withdrawn as a result. The Battalion officers never came under any suspicion, as it was arranged that they would deliberately allow themselves to be seen by the R.I.C. at the time when the rescue was due to take place.
The rescue incident was a great impetus to the movement and was responsible for considerably increasing the strength of the 2nd Battalion
Eamonn de Valera delivers an address to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in the Mansion House. Irish Independent 10th April 1919
From Nenagh Guardian, 12 April 1919
An extraordinary Ard-Fheis of Sinn Fein was opened on Tuesday in the Mansion House, Dublin.
Delegates attended from all parts of Ireland, while the Irish in Great Britain were also represented. Many of the delegates were clergy, and a proportion were ladies. The proceedings were inaugurated by Rev M. O'Flanagan, Vice-President, after which Mr De Valera briefly dealt with the results achieved during the internment of himself and other leaders, and asked Father O'Flanagan to preside, so that he might be at liberty to discuss the organisation scheme.
Subsequently, on the report of the Standing Committee, Mr De Valera introduced an amendment, which was adopted, providing that no member of the Dail Cabinet should be a member of the Sinn Fein Standing Committee except the President for the time being and the Secretary for Home Affairs, other members, however, to have a right to attend and state their views, but not to vote.
Election procedure in regard to proportional representation, organisation in Ulster, and the relationships as between the Dail and the Standing Committee were subjects discussed. The agenda contained motions on industries, Irish language, re-afforestation, taxation …
During the Ard-Fheis of Sinn Fein at the Mansion House, Dublin, Mr De Valera delivered his Presidential address - a striking and comprehensive review of the Irish situation as affected by the operations of the organisation, past and future.
At the outset Mr De Valera alluded to Lord Curzon's statement in the House of Lords on the previous night, holding that the question was whether that statesman could show how to govern Ireland without maintaining 40,000 men in the country.
If he could show that, he would confer a great favour. If that was deemed a favour he could tell the British Government that they had a Government to govern Ireland without a single British soldier (cheers).
He (Mr De Valera) was in a position in which he could give a guarantee to govern Ireland without a single British soldier.They were now in the position of having a Government that was set up with the will of the people, and if the English army of occupation were removed, the Irish people would have all the other elements added necessary to make it have the support of the Irish people.
He thanked the various bodies throughout the country that were good enough to elect them as their representatives when they were in jail. Owing to the conditions under which they were it was impossible to communicate with the bodies that showed such confidence in them. It was impossible to send out the simple message he wanted to send to the people of Ulster to show that they stood with the rest of Ireland, and to make it clear to the world that there was not a part of the country in which Carson could get a clear cut (applause).
Neither was he able to send a telegram in answer to a cablegram he got asking the Irish of America to take up President Wilson's principles. He did not ask them to back up the man, but to back up his principles (applause).
If President Wilson wanted to stand by these principles he would find in the Irish race people who would support him if no other people did so. If President Wilson did not stand by his principles the Irish race would stand by them, and if no other people would lead the way the Irish people would do so, and see that justice and right were done (applause).
He hoped that in all their dealings they would give the same honest, straightforward opinion as they had done in the past. It was a set thing to find misrepresentations in the Press of the country—that the S.F, party were intimidating people and that they were throwing mud on the people.
He had been in East Clare and Kilkenny, and there was no such thing. They had no quarrel with any nation. Before the war they had only one enemy, and they had enemy long enough to have Spain and France as allies against it—to have, if they wished, Germany as an ally against it—and to-morrow or after, they would have France or America, or some other nation against it. (A Voice : "Russia").
The enemy of our enemy," Mr De Valera went on, " must, for the time being, naturally command our sympathy. That is a natural thing, and I stand above it. As I did happen to mention Germany—I had not intended to, but it doesn't matter as it is true—I would like to say this—we have got no gold from Germany. Irishmen would not allow themselves to be the tools of Germany or any other country, and, believe me, if there were men in Ireland who would subordinate the interests of Ireland to a foreign country they would be the very same men who are subordinating the interests of Ireland to England to-day.
The men who met England's army here a couple of years ago in order to vindicate the spirit of Irish nationality would have equally well stood against Germany if Germany were cutting in here. As I said, as far as I know —and I should know a good deal more than most people who are talking—Germany neither fooled nor attempted to fool Ireland. Germany has not betrayed Ireland.
The Irish Republic was the aim of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen, in which the Protestants of the North were foremost. The Irish Republic was the dream of Emmet and it was the central aim of the men of '48 ; it was the aim of the men of '67. and the Irish Republic that was proclaimed in 1916, and to that only, they gave allegiance.
They were the trustees of the faith of these men, and he promised them he would never betray that trust. A Provisional Government was constituted after 1916; and one of their first acts after coming out of prison was to send Dr. McCarton to America as their accredited representative. It was a purely Provisional Government then. He was now a representative of the duly elected Government of the Irish people. If the principles that were preached were going to find their way really into the world the Irish Republic was established and was secured.
It was a grand thing to see America, leading the way by giving the Philippines' complete self-determination. It was said that he had called President Wilson a hypocrite. He did not call anybody a hypocrite ; he had not the means by which to judge. If complete independence were given to the Philippines that would be a proof of the sincerity of America that no one could find fault with. " If England is sincere," said Mr De Valera, " then England will do with Ireland what America is doing with the Philippines" (cheers), and she need show no anxiety whatever about Ireland, for Ireland will be able to look after herself.
" I have noticed," he continued, "that Labour is going to have on May 1st a day of no work in order to show the world that Labour stands behind the claims of self-determination for all peoples (cheers) ; that Labour stands behind the claim of Ireland, that the people of Ireland have a right to decide what form of government they will live under. When we wanted the help of Labour against conscription Labour gave it to us (cheers). … When we wanted Labour to stand down at the election and not divide us, but that we should stand fore-sworn against one enemy, Labour fell in with us. I say Labour deserves well of the Irish people : the Labour man deserves the best the country can give (cheers).
He next dealt with the Irish Volunteers, who, he said, 'are Ireland's natural army ; the last reserve." He had always held the same attitude in regard to physical force, for if he were a slave and could have a stick, he would have a stick against the tyrant that would be muster : and certainly he was not going to tie his right or left hand behind his back when dealing with such a tyrant. If the British Government were to keep him in jail until such time as he was going to say he would renounce the Irish Volunteers, then he would die in jail (applause). The position for the Irish Volunteers was now, thank God, a happy one. They had now the National Government, behind them, and no moral sanction further was needed. The Volunteers had placed themselves at the disposal of the elected Government of the Irish people. They would stand by that Government, and would do exactly as that Government commanded them.
"We will define our attitude towards that Government," said Mr De Valera, " and our attitude will be exactly that of the Belgian Government as defined by Cardinal Mercier. That will be our attitude towards the army of occupation" (applause).
The Irish cause was advanced, as it was never, he believed, advanced before in Irish history since the battle of Kinsale. All they wanted was that the faint hearts should take courage, and that they should not swallow that the Irish Republic was unthinkable because English propaganda told them so (applause).
Introducing Mr De Valera for the delivery of his address, Mr A. Griffith (presiding) said they all knew that in that gentleman they had a man in whose judgment and rectitude they could absolutely trust (cheers).
In De Valera, Ireland had a great leader—a man who lived in thousands and millions of hearts, a man with a wonderful judgment, such as he (Mr Griffith) never met in a young man, except in Parnell. Since Parnell's day there was not a man to equal De Valera, and he was sure in following and standing by him loyally he would bring the Irish cause to that goal for which many Irishmen in hopeless generations suffered, for they now lived in a hopeful generation (cheers).
It was stated that Ireland must have subscribed £50,000 to the S. F. General Election Fund, and that the organisation had been carried on without assistance from the Self-Determination or Anti-Conscription Fund, and without German gold or American dollars.
From Evening Herald 9th April 1919
It was stated at the special meeting of the Ard Fheis to-day that Ireland had subscribed £50,000 to the Sinn Fein Election Fund, in connection with the recent General Election.
A motion favouring competitive examinations for all positions in the gift of Irish boards was passed.
Mr. George Nesbitt announced that Sinn Fein had carried on its organisation without , the help of a penny piece from the Self-Determination or Anti-Conscription Fund, and without German gold or American dollars.
A motion to oppose the application of Proportional Representation to Irish public elections gave rise to a lively and interesting debate. Mr. McEnri and Mr. Ginnell spoke in favour of the motion, and amongst these who opposed the motion and welcomed the system of P.R., were Mr. De Valera, Mr. A. Griffith, Rev. Father O'Flanagan, Madame Markievicz, and Mrs. Sheehy Skeffington. The motion was allowed to drop.
At the Ard-Fheis at the Mansion House, Dublin, to-day, a most interesting discussion arose on a motion to oppose the application of Proportional Representation to Ireland, which motion was finally withdrawn.
Mr Mc.Enri and Mr. Ginnell. T.D.E , spoke against the application of P.R.to Ireland and those who favoured the system iuciuriod Mrs. Sheehy Skeffington, Madame Markievicz, REv. M. O'Flanagan, Mr. De Valera, Mr. Darrrell Figgis and the Chairman Mr. Griilith.
Mr, McEnri (Drogheda) moved that it be a recommendation to Dail Eireann to oppose by every means in their power the British Government’s "P. R" scheme, as applied to the Local Government elections in Ireland. He explained that it was the gerrymandering of the Local Government Board that they were opposed to, and not the principle of P.R.
Mrs Sheehy Skeffington considered it would be an extremely retrograde step to abandon P.R on the argument that it would give a voice to minorities. If they wanted self-determination they wanted to give a voice to minorities, and give as many concessions as possible to those who disagreed with them. Proportional representation would help republicanism in Ulster. The Ulster question, as she found in America and other countries, was the real difficulty with many sincere opponents. It would also help labour. She personally had a distinct leaning towards this system for another reason, speaking for women, she said she knew from experience that if a man had only one vote he would never throw it away on a woman (laughter and applause). It was important that women should be represented at local elections, and under of proportional representation they give women a chance.
Mr, Darrell Figgis opposed the resolution, and said he thought any scheme that helped the various aspects of the nation, he did not care what system, but working together, would be one that would help the national unity, and would not mar it. It would practically break the north-eastern block that bad been artificially created for the very lack of proportional representation.
Mr. D. McDevitt (Belfast) said that in Belfast the Labour party had been pulling the vote by one in three, for the past 25 years, and during all that time never won an election.
Under proportional representation he had not the slightest doubt but they would have an opposition in tho Corporation of from 20 to 25 members. Once, the present rule was broken that influence would spread all over Ulster They could afford to lose something in the South of Ireland, but as against that the position in Ulster would be largely changed.
Mr. Eoin Macneill, T.D.E., speaking in Irish, opposed the resolution.
Madame Markievicz also spoke against the motion, and snid that principle should always be put before expediency. She believed Sinn Fein would not lose in the long run, because if the members elected proved inefficient it would prove that Sinn Fein wero the people who might guide Ireland. She maintained that the various interests should be represented on public boards, and said it would prove that Sinn Fein was sufficiently large and strong to allow its opponents to have a voice in public (hear, hear).
Members of Dáil Éireann that held their second public meeting on 10th April 1919
Our first duty as the elected Government of the Irish People will be to make clear to the world the position in which Ireland now stands.
There is in Ireland at this moment only one lawful authority, and that authority is the elected Government of the Irish Republic. Of the other power claiming authority we can say, adapting the words of Cardinal Mercier:
The authority of that power is no lawful authority. Therefore in soul and conscience the Irish people owe that authority neither respect nor attachment, nor obedience. The sole authority in this country is the authority of the elected representatives of the Irish Nation. This authority alone has the rights to our affection and to our submission. ...The acts of the usurper have in themselves no authority, and such of those acts as affect the general interests and to which we may give ratification will have authority only in virtue of such ratification which alone gives them juridic value....Towards the persons of those who hold dominion among us by military force we shall conduct ourselves with all needful forbearance. We shall observe the rules they have laid upon us so long as those rules do not violate our personal liberty, nor our consciences, nor our duty to our country.
Our attitude towards the powers that maintain themselves here against the expressed will of the people shall then, in a word, be this: We shall conduct ourselves towards them in such a way as will make it clear to the world that we acknowledge no right of theirs. Such use of their laws as we shall make will be dictated solely by necessity and only in so far as we deem them for the public good.
In order to secure for our own government, and for the Irish Republic which the Irish people have willed to set up, the necessary international recognition, we shall send at once our accredited representatives to Paris to the Peace Conference and to the League of Nations. We shall give them all necessary authority, and that they may proceed there in a manner befitting their character as the representatives of a nation, we shall apply for the necessary safe conduct to enable them to pass through the naval and military cordons with which the power in occupation of our country has surrounded us.
We shall send also to other countries a number of duly accredited ambassadors and consuls to see that the position of Ireland is understood as it truly is, and not as English propaganda would represent it, and in general to see that the interests of Ireland in these countries are in no way neglected. We shall thus resume that intercourse with other peoples which befits us as a separate nation, that intercourse which it has been the chief aim of English statescraft to cut off and which indeed English power has succeeded in cutting off for over a century.
At the present time of general world-reconstruction it is most important that the material interests of this country at home be also looked after, and by Irishmen. It will be the duty of our Ministry to secure the co-operation and to coordinate the activities of the various bodies which have taken voluntarily to themselves the safeguarding and advancement of these interests. Towards English legislation interfering with these interests we shall act in accordance with the general principles I have already indicated, that is, we shall act as we think best for the general good.
To measures such as the English Ways and Communications Bill, designed, as regards Ireland, to prevent Irishmen from using the natural resources of their own country to benefit their own nation, handing over on set purpose to an English bureau complete control of the communications of this country, so that they may be used solely in the interests of England—to such measures we shall offer all the resistance we can command as being both injurious and unjust. It will be the especial duty of our Director of Trade to examine, in cooperation with public bodies, how best to make our resistance effective.
The Ministers and Directors at the heads of the other departments— Labour, Industries, Agriculture, Local Government—will similarly be charged with seeking cooperation with all interested in their departments. The Minister of National Defence is, of course, in close association with the voluntary military forces which are the foundation of the National Army.
It is obvious that the work of our Government cannot be carried on without funds. The Minister of Finance is accordingly preparing a prospectus, which will be shortly published, for the issue of a loan of one million sterling —£500,000 to be offered to the public for immediate subscription, £250,000 at home and £250,000 abroad, in bonds of such amounts as to meet the needs of the small subscriber.
I think that what I have said is a fair outline of our programme as it stands at present. An outline is all we are prepared to give, and so I have not attempted to go into details. The working out of the details will be the immediate concern of individual Ministers and of the Cabinet as a whole. When they are ready we shall bring them formally before you for your approval and sanction.
In asking the Dáil to approve of our programme as I have stated it, I feel that I need not remind you how short the term is that the present Ministry has been in office nor how our best energies are being absorbed with the international situation of the moment.
"That no woman should retain any occupation which was harmful to her health or morals; that if employed they should receive the same pay as men for equal work; that there was no reason why workers should not have more than a living wage if industry could support it; that bad housing should be abolished by the State; unjust manipulation with unnecessary middlemen should be suppressed by law; the curse of incessant profiteering should be frozen out by co-operative enterprise; that until the worker has been made self-supporting insurance against unemployment and old age should be provided by a levy on industry supplemented by the State when necessary; that there should be vocational training for the young but not to the detriment of a measure of liberal education."
The following is the message we propose to send to our kindred overseas:
"To all the Irish race and to all our kindred dispersed in other lands we send our greeting. From Dáil Eireann to-day, assembled in the City of Dublin, we send you tidings that the people of Ireland are marching on the road of freedom, that ‘we have taken the highway, let others think it good or bad.'
"That close friendship which has ever been between Ireland and her children that are separated from her we desire to strengthen and confirm. We desire to bind fast the love, partnership and comradeship between you and ourselves so that we may work together to place Ireland in high degree and to earn for her all good and prosperity that is hers by natural right, with the help of God. ‘May right and freedom flourish, may wrong and bondage perish in every land of the world.'
Messages had been sent abroad before, but, so long as they were concerned with proposals like Home Rule they failed to open the heart of the Irish Race, but there is not a child of the tenderest years that cannot understand what is meant by what the Dáil stands for—complete national freedom. Freedom needed no explanation. There was no need to announce that things done under freedom are better done than in any other way. Hence the present message would be understood by every Irish mind. The message, however, was not one appealing for help. They in Ireland had done much of late without any help from outside the shores of Ireland. But if help be sent they would be grateful. They did not ask alms, but they believed that the Irish abroad would be all the more eager to assist them when they saw those at home earnest, and loyal, and determined.
Hence the Dáil look to the Irish abroad to make themselves partakers in the work of freedom.
The plans which the Dáil had made would be carried out in a spirit of high national dignity, and so would they arouse the heart of the Irish people overseas. The spirit of freedom was now rising throughout the world, and the only land in which the ideal of liberty appears not to be progressing was that land which sought to maintain Ireland in bondage.
It should be their part to welcome the rise of freedom and to hold out their hands to all who stood by liberty— particularly their own people — in foreign lands.
A programme of social reform and reconstruction that not long ago might be looked upon as revolutionary, but must now be regarded as practical and moderate, has been recently issued on behalf of the American Bishops and is destined to have enormous influence in evolving a new social order. Amongst the declarations included in that manifesto were the following:—"That no woman should retain any occupation which was harmful to her health or morals; that if employed they should receive the same pay as men for equal work; that there was no reason why workers should not have more than a living wage if industry could support it; that bad housing should be abolished by the State; unjust manipulation with unnecessary middlemen should be suppressed by law; the curse of incessant profiteering should be frozen out by co-operative enterprise; that until the worker has been made self-supporting insurance against unemployment and old age should be provided by a levy on industry supplemented by the State when necessary; that there should be vocational training for the young, but not to the detriment of a measure of liberal education."
The release of the two Tipperary Children is announced by Arthur Griffith
Some weeks ago two children, one of them but 11 years old, disappeared from the custody of their parents in the County Tipperary. One of these children was seized on its way back from school by the armed forces of the English Government. Earlier on that day members of the same forces proceeded to the house of a woman named McGrath, where they seized her child, aged 8 years, and carried him to an outhouse where they kept him from 12 o'clock to 4.45 p.m. There members of the R.I.C. placed their rifles against that child's breast and threatened to shoot him unless he told them where his father had driven to on a certain evening. One of them also threatened to run his pencil down the child's throat. The child was later returned to his mother in a state of collapse. The other two children seized by the English militarist forces were brought to Dublin and imprisoned there. Their parents were refused all knowledge of their whereabouts. I have here a sworn statement made by T. Connors, the father of the child of 11 years, showing the fruitless efforts made by the father to ascertain the whereabouts of his child and the curt and evasive replies returned by the English authorities.
Dáil Eireann has considered this matter of kidnapping of children, this new war phase of the usurping power in this country, and suggested certain measures, but we need not discuss them further for the moment. On the day before yesterday the boy Hogan was released, and yesterday the little boy Connors was also surreptitiously released and sent back to his home in Tipperary.