Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

DB Review 1939 2 Batt SO(r1) Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Cyril is highlighted in this 1939 photo of the Dublin Brigade Council (Dublin Brigade Review).

Every man at the Custom House on 25 May 1921 had his own unique journey to that event. They came from many parts and different backgrounds.

But Cyril Daly stands out for a couple of reasons: he was born in England, the son of a doctor; and he had attended the prestigious Westminster Cathedral Choir School. It would be fascinating to know what influenced him to join the IRA which landed him in Kilmainham Gaol after his arrest at the Burning.

That is one of a number of gaps in this writer’s knowledge about the man’s life but hopefully that won’t spoil his story which is still well worth telling.

Eastbourne1 Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Vicinity of Cyril Daly’s original home which the writer believes is on the right, facing the line of trees.

Cyril James was born on 18 November 1897 at 14 Cornfield Road in Eastbourne, a seaside resort town on the coast of Sussex in south east England. His father William John Daly was a doctor originally from Glenties, Co Donegal. In 1894 Dr Daly had married Susan Grace Mercer, 12 years his junior who came from the Liverpool area. From all appearances, their record in the 1901 census at Victoria Place, Eastbourne suggests the Dalys were financially comfortable. The family of 6 had three servants and lived in a substantial house.

Eastbourne2 Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Another view of Cyril’s birthplace, Eastbourne (from flickr.com).

Ten years later that picture had changed dramatically. The family was split up and scattered. The father was still a practising doctor living at Gildridge Road in Eastbourne. He recorded himself as married with 6 children, all still living. There is no trace of his wife (known as Grace), either living or dead. Three daughters are living as adopted children in another house – with 12 rooms – on South Street, Eastbourne. The owner and their adoptive mother was a young Scottish married woman of independent means with a team of servants and nurses and a great name – Alice Tempest Stone.

Cyril Daly-1911 Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921And the same census shows Cyril, aged 13, with his brother Hugh (a year older) as a boarder in Choir House, next to the Catholic Cathedral in Westminster, London SW1.

Choir School drawing Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Choir School, Westminster where the Daly brothers were boarding pupils. The spire of the famous Cathedral is on left (from: http://www.choirschool.com/)

Since that school was fee-paying, clearly their father seems to have had money, despite the apparent disintegration of his family. No criticism intended, who knows what the situation actually was. It  appears his children were well provided for, financially in any event. The school was well regarded and provided a high standard of education for its day-pupils as well as the relatively small number of boarders who were destined to progress to senior schools elsewhere. One of the duties of a boarding pupil was to sing at daily Mass in the Cathedral, a tradition still carried on today.

Choir School 1935 Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Boarders in 1935. Their formal uniforms probably hadn’t changed since the Dalys’ time there. The place seems to have been a bit posh (from: http://www.choirschool.com/).

Dr William Daly died in 1915. His younger children apparently stayed in England and seem to have done well in life (one daughter much later became a magistrate in Plymouth). But the two brothers Cyril and Hugh surfaced in Dublin. We will see below how that came about.

IRA membership records show Cyril joined in 1919. He was elected Captain of A (Cyclist) Company, 2nd Battalion and subsequently transferred to F Coy. He was also Medical Officer of the 2nd Battalion. There are actually errors in this, explained later on. Only three other mentions of Cyril’s IRA activities had been found before the release online of his Military Pension files:

  • Charlie Dalton recounts Mick McDonnell naming Daly as one of those who opted out of a place in the Squad on its formation (here);
  • He appears on a late 1920 list of suspects for arrest – in very good company – while living on Bayview Avenue, North Strand; and
  • The records of his arrest and detention in Kilmainham after the Burning of the Custom House.
C Daly-IRE-WO35-71-00605 Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Daly’s name on the scarily accurate British list for suspects to be arrested in raids, late 1920.

Less than four months before the Custom House job Cyril had married a farmer’s daughter named Josephine Hunt while both of them resided at 96 North Strand, Dublin City. The marriage cert records him as a chemist’s assistant; and his brother Hugh as best man for the ceremony on 2 February in St. Laurence O’Toole’s church. The couple moved to nearby Leinster Avenue, the address on Cyril’s arrest report when he also gave his correct occupation.

IRE-WO35-85-00470 (CJ Daly e) Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Auxy arrest report for Daly at the Custom House – “Implicated in the outrage”

Like almost all the other Custom House men taken prisoner Daly was jailed in Kilmainham and held without trial until release in December 1921. Unfortunately we don’t know if he ever used his choir singing skills with his Kilmainham comrades either at Mass or during recreation seisiúns held as prison conditions relaxed to some degree in the later stages of their captivity.

There are two previously published photos taken of Daly in the Gaol.

Cyril Daly2 Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Cyril is 2nd from right in back row. Taken from ‘Revolution in Dublin’ by Liz Gillis.

Cyril Day1 Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

In this Kilmainham image, Cyril is 2nd from left (with arms folded) in the middle row. Again from the Liz Gillis book mentioned above.

However, we are delighted to now show two previously unseen photos of Cyril Daly in Kilmainham.

19PC-1A54-10 C.J. Daly Frank Bolster & Christopher Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

L-R: Cyril with Frank Bolster & Christopher Fitzsimons (© Kilmainham Gaol Archives, Ref. 19PC-1A54-10, courtesy of Gary Deering).

2010.0123 C.J. Daly Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Portrait of Cyril on background of Gaol interior (© Kilmainham Gaol Archives Ref. 2010.0123, again courtesy of Gary).

Another wider-view version of the first photo above has recently come our way. It also shows two other men as yet unidentified.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Cyril Daly, Frank Bolster and Christy Fitzsimons in Kilmainham with two unidentified others in the background (Courtesy of Neil Byrne, grandson of Christy).

Military Pension File Revelations

Some very interesting additional information emerges in Daly’s application. To start, one of his references was provided by his own brother, Dr. Hugh Daly, Army Medical Service! But the relationship was known and declared. It turns out Cyril and Hugh had moved from England to an uncle in Sligo after their father’s death. Cyril claims he joined the Volunteers, Mullinabreena Coy, Ballymote in 1913 or 1914. He was then sent to Dublin to study medicine. When the Rising broke out he was at home on holidays in Sligo. Hearing about the events in Dublin he tried to return to the city but could not get a train even part of the way till about 1 May. On his eventual arrival he found only sniping going on (He did not claim to have fought). Daly said “As a result of my activities with IRA [sic] my people refused to allow me to continue at medicine and I had to drop my studies”. The disapproving party was his uncle and guardian, a Canon James Daly of Sligo who held the purse strings to Cyril’s father’s estate.

So, contrary to the IRA records quoted earlier above, he was definitely with Dublin Brigade, F Coy, 2nd Battalion at latest by 1917 before becoming Battalion First Aid Officer in 1918 and transferring to A Coy (Cyclists) which he claims to have founded and where he was elected O/C from early 1920. In that year, among other duties he treated the IRA wounded from the Mount Street, Bloody Sunday assassinations.

In addition to his roles with 2nd Battalion from 1918 to his arrest in May 1921, he was attached to the Staff of the Director of Munitions working on supply and distribution of chemicals and explosives out of Apothecary’s Hall and Fine Chemicals in Mary Street, where he worked. His O/Cs in that were Peadar Clancy and, after his murder, Sean Russell. Another reference confirms he was also very active on the political side as Secretary of the North Dublin Sinn Féin Comhairle Ceanntair until pulled off that by Brigade O/C Oscar Traynor.

If the above gives an impression of a lack of ‘real action’, that is far from the reality. Daly did take part in field operations such as defence of Sinn Féin HQ on Armistice night 1918; “trussing up” G-Men (as a warning); the burning of Killester RIC Barracks and the Tax Office at Beresford Place; and many other armed actions. Sheltering Frank Teeling for three weeks after the latter’s escape from Kilmainham is also listed. He does credit his wife (a Cumann na mBan officer) and her comrades with parts in some of these escapades. He also claimed he was in charge of one of the floors when the Custom House was burned. Sounds like Cyril Daly was a very busy man! But he does have the references to back up his claims and one referee says he was very active and “always on something”.

Civil War Days

After his release from Kilmainham in December 1921 Cyril stayed with the IRA until Spring 1922 when he resigned as he could not agree to take part in “a fight amongst old volunteers”. But his Cumann na mBan wife Josephine did assist the anti-Treaty forces in Dublin. At that stage they were living on Millmount Avenue, Drumcondra. He describes in detail how he was in a quandary and after hesitating for some months, in October 1922 he became a “civilian employee” of the Free State Army as assistant to the Quartermaster, Medical Service. At that time of disorganisation and poor record-keeping, many medical (and line) officers had not formally attested before joining up.

This was rectified in Cyril Daly’s case on 11 March 1923 when he was officially commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in the Medical Stores on Infirmary Road, Dublin. He also worked in St Bricin’s Hospital.

He was awarded a military pension at the rank of Commandant, based on a little over 5 years service.


He remained in the Army and his next posting was as Chemist in the Curragh Camp until 1931 and, after promotion to Captain in 1934, he served in the hospital up to 1939. Daly spent the rest of his military career as O/C at the Base Medical Stores Depot. In 1942 he became an Acting Commandant before his voluntary resignation on 30 January 1947. His older bother Hugh also served in the Army and was recorded as a doctor at Portobello Barracks on his marriage cert in September 1922.

When the Old IRA membership lists were drawn up in the mid-1930’s, Cyril was listed in A Coy on both critical dates (11 July 1921, when he was in Kilmainham; and 1 July 1922). He then lived at 14 Prince Edward Terrace, Carysfort Avenue, Blackrock, south Co Dublin – an ‘up-market’ address judging by current asking prices for houses there!

Prince Edward Tce Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Prince Edward Terrace in Blackrock. Cyril’s former house is the one on left.

However, appearances can be deceptive, he was not a rich man. And anyway, Daly never forget his old IRA comrades. He had supplied references for several former IRA men in military pension applications in the 1920’s. We have seen him in the 1939 photo and he was also actively involved in the Custom House Memorial Committee. He attended the funerals of many of the Custom House Men as, one-by-one, they passed away. For example “Capt. C. Daly and Capt. W. (‘Bill’) Donegan” (another Custom House man) are listed at the funeral of old Company comrade Richard Seville at Glasnevin Cemetery in 1955.

Seventeen years later Cyril himself passed away in James’ Hospital, aged 74. He was late of Peter Place off Adelaide Road. His family death notice described him as ‘Retired Army Officer, A.M.S.’. Cyril James Daly was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery on the south side of Dublin (Plot H0/68, St Brigid section). He was survived by his widow, children, brother Hugh and two nephews, sons of Hugh. Possibly reflecting Irish social conventions (or snobbery?) of a time not so long ago, the only relatives named are two doctors and a priest; while his immediate family are strangely anonymous. Ireland has definitely changed in many ways since then – for better or worse we leave to the Kind Reader’s opinion.

CJ Daly-DN-IP Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Daly family notice (Irish Press)

So ended life’s journey for the Sussex-born Irish lad, former chorister at Westminster Cathedral and IRA Volunteer. He had travelled a long way to fight against the country of his own birth for the independence of his father’s native land, where he became a family man and career Army officer in a medical capacity.

Posh address Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

The opposite of humble beginnings? Fashionable address where Cyril went to school

Des White