Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Jim’s father, an ex-crown policeman, fell out with him over his membership of the IRA. They both now rest in the same grave. It took the Grim Reaper to re-unite them. Just one example of the many families divided during the long and lasting British presence in Ireland.

Two of Jim Heery’s relatives were in contact after the appearance of his name in a previous post. It has been really interesting to swap and share information with Brian and Michael C. Heery. As a result this writer realised there were common family links to a small village in north Co Dublin early last century.

Two Paths to Garristown

James Michael Heery was born on 4 April 1892 in Ballyroan, Abbeyleix, Queen’s County, now Laois. His parents were John, a Cavan-born RIC Constable and Anne Walsh from Co Offaly. In 1894 the father’s job took the family to Garristown, Co Dublin where he served until 1905. Late that year John Heery was pensioned from the police and became the local sub-postmaster.

The following year began very badly for the family when Mrs Anne Heery died in January from TB, aged just 39. Despite their grief, they could hardly have missed the arrival in the village, later that year, of a young couple from Co Carlow. Serving RIC man Stephen Kirwan and his new wife Ellen Byrne (the writer’s maternal grandparents) took up residence beside the Barracks, directly across the road from the Heerys’ post office.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
OSI Map from early 1900s

The regulations of the RIC had co-incidentally brought the Heerys and Kirwans to the same spot far from their origins. In such a small place and given their common police background, the two families very likely became at least acquainted. They and all their neighbours were enumerated by Const. Kirwan in the 1911 census.

A Different Road for Jim

By then 19 year-old Jim Heery had moved out and was living as a boarder in the house of Mary Delaney at 21 Lower Rutland Street in Dublin’s north inner city. He worked as a Clerk in the Engineering Department of the Post Office. To that extent he had followed his father’s new career. But from there on young Heery’s life was to take a direction directly opposed to his dad’s former crown police job. It would be far from a criminal path – except to the British administration and those of a unionist outlook.

Alibi at Easter 1916

James M. Heery appears on the list of civil servants involved or suspected to have taken part in the Rising. He was among those arrested at the Surrender and ended up in Stafford Jail, England. Enquiries revealed the police had no information on his political associations, while the British did not know where he’d been arrested and were unable to pin anything on him. So he was released on 14 June and returned to Dublin. But he was suspended from his job in the Post Office. Jim applied for reinstatement and was turned down.

However, he wrote protesting his innocence, offering a pretty far-fetched explanation of what happened to him on Easter Monday. “….I went out again about 5 pm, and near Nelson’s Pillar, was forced by two armed men into the General Post Office and was kept prisoner by rebels until the surrender to the Military took place.”

Unfortunately the archives do not record the reaction of Jim’s bosses to his creative excuse. The head of the organisation, A.H. Norway, simply noted his ‘official character’ was good; he performed his duties satisfactorily; and nothing was known in the Post Office about “his political views or (possible) activities.” This was despite their snooping with his loyalist landlady unearthing his Irish Volunteer’s membership card and a few rounds of ammunition in his lodgings at Drumcondra, Dublin City.

In actual fact Jim had served under James Connolly in the GPO, something the British never discovered.

A Delaying Action?

Michael Heery has an interesting theory about an episode Jim may have been involved in on Easter Monday. According to Lady Fingal’s memoirs “70 Years Young“, several British officers including her husband were at Fairyhouse Races when word of the Rising came through. They drove to Dunboyne Castle and tried to phone their Dublin barracks for orders. On several occasions they were told to await further instructions. It wasn’t till late that night they decided to go to Dublin anyway.

Lady Fingal says they heard later the voice on the phone was “one of the Rebels who had taken over the telephone exchange”. Michael believes Jim Heery, through his Post Office contacts, may have had a hand in this ruse which kept a few military officers out of the action in Dublin at the start of the Rising. Be that as it may, there is no doubt Jim was with the GPO Garrison until the Surrender.

Garristown Raided

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Re-enactment of Garristown Barracks seizure by Fingal Old IRA Commemorative Society & the local Historical Society, 2016 (Courtesy of Cathal Boland)

In north Co Dublin the rest of Jim’s family were also caught up in Volunteer activity in a different way. Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy’s Fingal Brigade forces took over Garristown village on Easter Tuesday. The RIC Barracks (evacuated except for one unarmed man) was searched for arms, but none were found. In the Post Office the communications equipment was put beyond use. This may have totally outraged the postmaster, who was of course Jim Heery’s father, against the ‘Rebels’ including his own son. In any event they never spoke a civil word again.

After the Rising

Getting back to Jim’s suspension from his job in the Post Office. Following a review by two senior British officials of the cases of civil servants suspected of involvement in the Rising, Heery was among 23 men sacked.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Heery’s name on the list of GPO officials investigated. Along with Liam Archer, later another Custom House man and Army COS (findmypast.ie)

But he did resume his activities with the Volunteers (C Coy, 2nd Battalion) which he had joined in 1915. During 1917-18 he was on duty in the election campaign in Co Armagh, attended parades and manoeuvres and took part in the seizure of a consignment of pigs destined for the British military in Dublin. Heery also served as an armed scout for Dublin Brigade and Army Conventions and participated in the Rotunda mails raid and the attempted rescue of Laurence Ginnell M.P. from Mountjoy Jail. He was among the party which unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Lord French in the city centre.

In Action Again

By 1919-20 his activities moved up a notch to include armed patrols and the execution of DMP Asst. Commissioner William Forbes Redmond in Harcourt Street. On that job he was in the covering party for the Squad hit team, as Paddy O’Daly later confirmed. In December 1920 Heery became a paid full-time ASU man doing armed patrols, ambushes on the Liffey quays and the aborted Killester train attack. He said he carried a grenade sometimes, a gun on other occasions.

Jim Heery was captured while taking part in the Burning and interned in Kilmainham. A fellow prisoner was ASU comrade Joe Gilhooly who lived at the same address, 39 Hardwicke Street. Both appear in one photo of a group of ASU men in the Gaol.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
L-R: Front Christy Fitzsimons, Billy Doyle. Middle: George Gray, Jim Harpur, Jackie Foy, Paddy Evers, James Doyle. Back: Jim Heery, John Muldowney, Jim Gibbons, Joe Gilhooly, Peter Ratcliffe (Names courtesy of Brian & Michael Heery).

On 4 November, a month before the general amnesty for internees, Heery was released early because of his failing eyesight.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Official report of Jim’s early release (from findmypast.ie)

In 1922 he joined the ‘new ASU’ (Dublin Guards), but not long after had to leave. By June Jim had been finally reinstated to his Post Office job, now under Irish administration. He took no part in the Civil War. His fighting days were over. But there were battles ahead.

Heery’s eyesight was causing him problems and over the following decade he needed to attend various doctors. He attributed his ill-health to his military activities.

Military Pension Saga

Jim had not applied under the 1924 Act, probably because he had a secure state job and was not in financial difficulties. But 10 years later his eyesight had deteriorated further and was keeping him off work on half pay. That possibly pushed him to apply for an IRA pension under the 1934 Act. Frank Henderson said in support of his application Heery was a well known man” and “quiet, a thundering good fellow who was [in 1935] broken up in health“.

He was not on the short original ASU list and that, plus his claim to have been with the Squad for one job, became an issue. A very important one, as it determined rank and therefore the level of his pension. So he fought his corner and referees such as Oscar Traynor (who formed the Unit) vouched that Heery was indeed a member. Traynor also described him as a very quiet type, very good, adding He was one of the very early Squad.

Gains and Losses

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Heery was assessed for just under 6 years service at Grade D officer rank and in 1935 was awarded a military pension from 1 October 1934. It was timely, as around that time he had to retire from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs on health grounds. He did qualify for civil service superannuation (pension). But he was only in his early 40s and would never be able to work again.

Jim again became a ‘problem case’ like in 1916. This time he was a “Double Pensioner”, receiving more than one payment from state Central Funds. This was a no-no for the miserly Irish government (Compare that treatment to our current bunch of multi-pension TDs!). He was offered a choice between (a) reduced civil service and full military pension, or (b) no military pension and increased superannuation. The calculations were complicated and arcane in the extreme. But option (a) was financially better and that was what he chose. It meant he would be paid just over £145 a year.

As the years passed Jim lived at a few addresses in Dublin city. His family believe he never visited his home place in Garristown until after his father’s death under tragic circumstances in 1934. The two had never managed to reconcile their opposing political convictions.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Jim is seated on the extreme left in the first row (Courtesy Jim Langton via Gary Deering)

In 1950 his ASU membership was again formally recognised and honoured with a Service Certificate. Thankfully he was well enough to attend the function with his surviving old comrades.

Twilight Years

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Sketch by Jimmy Wren (used with his kind permission)

His family say that from 1937 Jim was fondly looked after by his siblings. In advancing age, he went to live with his unmarried sister Mary Josephine at 21 Ely Place, Dublin City. She cared for him until he became totally blind and suffered other medical problems. Her own failing health meant Jim had to enter Clonturk House home for the blind where he was a resident for some time. After a stroke in 1966 he was moved to St Brendan’s Hospital in which he passed away on 9 February of the following year aged 76.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Irish Independent

He had never married and was survived by two sisters and three brothers. Two days later James Michael Heery was buried in the old section of the graveyard in Garristown. He was laid to rest in his parents’ plot, finally at peace with his estranged father. Their grave was restored and nicely decorated for the 1916 Centenary year.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Courtesy of Michael & Brian Heery

Jim Heery may have been a quiet, modest man who is almost forgotten these days. But he chose action over words and was well able to fight when his country called and later when his health declined. We are pleased to be able to remember his active part in the fight from 1916 to the Burning. And recognise the hardships he suffered for The Cause.

Des White