How much is really known about the Lads involved in the Burning?

Some Readers related to individuals have family memories and stories, even photos – many of which you have kindly shared. Those personal insight are brilliant. Please keep them coming!

In the background, our research has produced a spreadsheet of basic facts on the men (Credits listed at end). So we may as well share some analysis. Like where were they from? What ages were they on 25 May 1921? Had they anything in common apart from being arrested at the Burning? Were all of them really IRA members? What happened to them later? 

We have not (yet!) identified let alone researched all of the several hundred who played some part in the Custom House operation. But we can start with one well-defined group – those jailed in Mountjoy and Kilmainham, comprising 103 names based on archive documents.

The British Arrest & Prisoner Lists

The first, compiled on 25 May, included a sizeable number of civilians uninvolved in the Burning. Most were later let go from Arbour Hill Detention Barracks and avoided jail.

The second list, created a few weeks after the Burning, named the men kept as prisoners, 98 in all.

So, where do we get the 103 names? 

  • Five false names have been identified. The real men are included and the alias identity ignored. That of course doesn’t affect the total number of 98 on the final list.
  • The names of two known prisoners do not appear on either list and have been included. Even though two more men aren’t added, the number of names goes up to 100
  • Omitted was one severely wounded man kept in the military hospital. Total upped to 101.
  • One IRA man from the initial list talked his way out of Arbour Hill Detention Barracks and avoided Kilmainham. Updated total 102.
  • Also added is one more IRA lad who escaped from the Burning but was arrested shortly after on another charge. Final total 103. (Further details at end of article, below).

Sadly we don’t know how many of those heroes had their Weetabix for breakfast on the morning of the Burning. But we can begin by sharing where they originally came from.

Origins

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Arrested men by county of birth

From various records (listed at end) we’ve tracked down where all 103 came from. 

The Burning was of course a Dublin operation, led by the northside 2nd Battalion. So, unsurprisingly, almost two-thirds (66) of those captured were Dubs. Sixty two from the city and four more from the county. For the city Dubs, a really important sorting shows the northside-southside split was46:16! (OK, some would say jail is the natural place for a northsider….).

The remainder came from 19 different counties – plus one born in England.

Three men hailed from places now north of the Border: Ned BreslinDerry City; Mick LoveCo. Fermanagh; and Thomas Murphy – Belfast City.

A few of our smallest counties accounted for a surprising number – 3 each from Longford, Carlow and Kilkenny.

Other counties with several men involved were Mayo (5), Wicklow (4), Kerry (2), Cavan (2), Laois, then named Queen’s County (2); and Roscommon (2).

Finally, Cos. Clare, Cork, Offaly (then called King’s County), Limerick, Meath, Sligo and Wexford each had one native involved. 

The sole prisoner not from this island, Cyril J. Daly, was born across the Irish Sea – but his father had emigrated from Glenties, Co Donegal.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

North Men, South Men, Comrades All….

Not as cosmopolitan as the 1916 men with their Scots, English, Yanks, a Finn and a Swede. However, the Custom House Fire Brigade jailed in Mountjoy and Kilmainham did represent all Four Provinces.

Home v Hospital Births

Reflecting social conditions of the times, every one of the men from outside Dublin city arrived as home births.

In the capital, only seven of the 62 city Dubs were delivered in a maternity hospital. Five in the famous Rotunda at Parnell Square on the northside; and two in Holles Street, on southside Merrion Square (Both hospitals are still in use).

Twins

Dubliner William Adderley had a younger twin sister, Elizabeth. Michael Love from Co Fermanagh was the younger twin of Mary, who sadly did not survive infancy. James (aka Joseph) Murphy was the elder of twin boys born in Dublin. Unfortunately the younger lad, Patrick, died at 5 months.

Brothers In Arms

The only siblings captured were the Lanes, Edward ‘Ned’ and Michael from Dublin City.

Dubliner Tom Flood’s brother Eddie got away from the Custom House that day; and fellow-Dub Sam Robinson’s older brother Christy from Kevin Barry’s old 1st Battalion H Coy also escaped arrest. There may be other similar cases. We’d love to hear about them.

Fates Worse than Capture

It would be remiss of us not remember the brothers Paddy and Stephen Reilly, killed in action at the Custom House along with fellow IRA Eddie Dorins, Sean Doyle and Dan Head. All were Dubliners.

Two other Dubs – civilians John Byrne and James Connolly – were tragic innocent victims, along with Corkman Mahon Lawless. The final fatality was Englishman and Custom House House Keeper Frank Davis

We’ll end there for the moment. Occasional future articles will reveal more snippets.

Des White

Notes

(1) Known aliases used on arrest.

  • ‘George Lewis’ was really Frankie Freyne (His own corroborated account).
  • ‘Francis Lewis’ was actually Tom Kilcoyne (His own corroborated account).
  • ‘Stephen O’Neill’ hid the real identity of Jim Foley (His own corroborated account).
  • ‘Hugh William Fitzgerald’ was used by Gerald Hughes (Group detective work confirmed others’ conclusions).
  • ‘James Thomas Shiels’ was the assumed name of Tom Flood. The real Shiels was an IRA man but interned in Ballykinlar when the Burning took place (Group detective work).

(2) The first of two arrested not named on the lists was Dubliner Jim Conroy. His Military Service Pension (MSP) file and references confirm he was captured. We have not worked out the false personal details he gave. 

(3) A second ‘undercover’ prisoner is Joseph Griffin (2nd Battalion I/O, a Kerryman). We know from his photo in Kilmainham and his MSP file he was captured at the Burning. But no sign of him on the lists. He did use his real name in Cyril Daly’s autograph book, but must have used an alias when arrested. This we have failed to identify.

(4) The severely wounded man was Charlie McMahon (shot in the head at the Burning). He was kept under arrest in KGV Military Hospital.

(5) Jack Young was initially held in Arbour Hill but was released when the British could pin nothing on him.

(6) Mick Stephenson is the ‘honorary’ CH Fire Brigade Prisoner. He narrowly escaped from arrest at the Burning. Only to be jailed in Mountjoy on another charge a week later.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Gerry Cassidy, Gary Deering, John Dorins, Liam Grace and kind Readers Patrick Johnson, Winnie Doyle Dunne & Louise Lowe whose inputs helped resolve a few cases.

Sources

Information on births based on official records from the General Register Offices of Ireland and England & Wales and/or 1901 & 1911 Census returns.