The lads in 500 NCR gave Michael an inscribed gold pocket watch when he had to leave Ireland in 1927. Today, the man’s memory and the very same gift are both treasured by his descendants in America.
His grandson Michael Anthony, born in the USA, comes from a line of Mayo men from the Ballina area who share the same forename. It was an honour to have himself and close family present at the 2018 Commemoration in the Custom House where his Grandfather had been arrested on duty in 1921.
Michael Duggan was one of ten children born between 1891 and 1908 to Michael, a Farmer and Lizzie O’Hora who lived in Rathbal. The family surname is actually spelled Doogan on their 1901 census return and their records are slightly difficult to find in general.
However, it is known that Michael was born on 7 Nov 1898, the youngest of five sons, with the same number of sisters. The younger boys were never going to inherit the Duggan farm or be able to make a living at home, even after their mother died in 1915. As was the way back then, most moved away to earn a living after leaving their local school. Michael and an elder brother Andrew ended up in Dublin working as Shop Assistants, an occupation which produced many members of the Dublin Brigade IRA.
His IRA Years
When the Duggans joined up has yet to be revealed, but Michael was already a member of B Coy, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade before 1919 when he transferred to A Coy (Cyclists).
His brother Andrew (1894-1967) who lived on Jones’s Road, Drumcondra was also in that unit. Family information has it that Andrew had previously been with the local Volunteers in Co Mayo as a Lieutenant and QM. Later, his own wife and children did not even know of his past in the IRA.
Nothing further is known about the brothers’ activities until Michael was arrested at the Burning on 25 May 1921.
His address was 500 North Circular Road, in the vicinity of Croke Park, where he seems to have lived for many years. Judging by the handsome watch he was later given, he became good pals with his housemates there.
Like most of the A Coy men involved in the Burning, his luck ran out that day. Michael became one of the prisoners interned in Kilmainham Gaol where he featured in a couple of autograph books. The memento put together by his Coy Captain contains one of the only two known photographs of Volunteer Duggan.
The Civil War and Arrest
Following his release under the General Amnesty in December that year, Michael remained with the IRA. In 1922 when the split over the Treaty opened, he sided with the forces opposed to the settlement agreed with Britain and became a member of No 2 ASU. Still inspired by and living up to the words he’d written in jail in 1921 recording his hopes for his country.
His family confirms they knew he was indeed an anti-Treaty man. That was not unknown to the Free State authorities either and Michael was definitely on their radar. There are two reports of him being arrested in 1923.
Irish Independent, 31 March: “In Dublin city area troops arrested Ml. Duggan, 570 North Circular Rd; E. Byrne, 66 Capel St; James Sherlock, Capel St; and John Carroll, 59 Capel St. The four arrests were made in connection with irregular activities.” (This prompted the owner of 570 NCR to write denying anybody named Michael Duggan lived at her address. It should have read no. 500).
A few days later the Freeman’s Journal published an official communique (dated 3 April) from Army Headquarters claiming – “Michael Duggan, Edward Byrne, J. Sherlock and J. Carroll were arrested in Dublin last night. Duggan was in charge of an Irregular column operating in the North side of the city. One of the exploits in which this column took part was the burning of Captain McGarry’s house.“
A very serious allegation, as pro-Treaty T.D. Sean McGarry’s young son Emmett (7) had died after the fire on 10 December 1922 and his twin Sadie, along with their mother, suffered burns. However, no charges were brought and nobody was ever held accountable for that tragic, widely condemned and controversial arson attack.
It is not known whether Michael Duggan was interned. But life post-Civil War was difficult and uncomfortable for Republican activists like him. Most of them were too well-known to the authorities and former comrades turned opponents. Employers and even neighbours could be hostile and make reports to the military or CID. They were harassed, raided and regularly brought in for, no doubt, robust questioning. Years later Michael told his son, Michael John, that “every time someone was shot, or an IRA related offence happened, he was rounded up with the usual suspects.“
In previous articles we have seen how economic necessities forced many Old IRA to leave their native country. But that was not the only reason to quit these shores. The political situation also made the Free State a dangerous place for many anti-Treaty Republicans. Duggan recalled to his son that “the Police told him to leave Ireland or they were going to eventually kill him. That is why he went to New York”.
Exit to a New Life
Michael Duggan was most probably very wise to leave when he did. The future for Republican die-hards was to become even more ominous in the coming decades. On 23 October 1927, two days after the date inscribed on the watch his pals gave him, he sailed from Cobh, Co Cork on the RMS Andania bound for Long Island, New York.
He was recorded aged 29, height 5 foot 8½, with fair hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion; an unmarried Shop Assistant whose last permanent place of residence was Ballina, Co Mayo. Michael landed safely on 1 November and is recorded living in Manhattan, New York City in the US Federal Census of 1930.
Family and Tough Times
The previous year, Michael’s future wife had arrived in New York on another liner from Cobh. Kathleen Mary Whyte was a native of Dunamon, south Co Roscommon and headed to a cousin who lived in Rye City, Westchester, a suburb of New York City.
Kathleen and Michael first met in New York. They married in Rye on 27 November 1930. The couple lived in White Plains, Westchester and had a daughter Kathleen jnr. and son Michael John. In the 1940 US Federal Census they are listed in the town of Harrison in the same county.
His grandson Michael Anthony, a retired Los Angeles Law Enforcement Officer who lives in Nevada, tells a bit more about his Grandfather’s early years and later life in the Big Apple which he has learned through his father:
“[Grandpa] opened a ‘speakeasy’ bar during prohibition in New York. He refused to pay protection money to the Mafia and they blew up his place with a bomb. He had a hard life after the bar was destroyed and had trouble with the drink but worked the rest of his life in the grocery business.”
The 1940 census showed Michael’s occupation as a Clerk – Retail Grocery Store. His 1942 US Draft Card elaborates that he worked for First National Stores at 57 Post Road, White Plains.
“When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, Michael tried to enlist in the Army, Navy, and Marines. They would not take him due to his age.” He was then 43.
“In the late 1950s he developed lung cancer. My father told me he was desperately trying to stay alive because he wanted to meet me, his second grandson. But he died a few months before I was born.”
Custom House Man Michael Duggan passed away at the age of 61 in Westchester, New York on 17 August 1959, survived by his widow, daughter and son. Kathleen Whyte Duggan continued to live in the same county until her death in 1986. They are buried together in Valhalla Cemetery, White Plains.
The Man of Principles
“My father also recalls from his childhood that they used to get knocks on the door of their home late at night. Unknown Irishmen would come in explaining that they could not return to Ireland. My grandfather would find them a job and a place to live.”
Michael Duggan knew how they felt. After all, he himself had been that soldier once.
He comes across as a loyal and honourable man who fought for the principles he strongly held during his life and would not suffer fools gladly. Another anecdote from his grandson: “One time when my father was a child, he was watching a Saint Patrick’s day parade in New York with his Dad. There were a large number of Irishmen marching in it. My father asked Grandpa why he was not marching with them. His reply was that he never saw any of those men when the bullets were flying.”
Duggan sounds like the kind of Irishman who, had he stayed in Ireland, may have actively followed his strong Republican beliefs all his life. Continuing on that road into the 1930s and 40s could well have led to him paying a very high price. Even worse than what happened to him for standing up to the Mafia in New York. He could have lost his life, not just his business.
Today, three generations of the Duggan family live in the USA, including:
- Michael and Kathleen’s children Kathleen Failla and Michael John Duggan;
- grandsons Joseph, Sean and Neil Failla; and Michael Anthony Duggan and his sister Robin Harris;
- great grandchildren Jacqueline, Emily, Alex, Nicholas and Kieran Failla; and Michael Liam and Mary Kathleen Duggan.
To quote grandson Michael Anthony again: “My father [Michael John] retired as a Captain and a Vietnam War veteran after 23 years in the US Marine Corp. He is still alive at 84 years old. My dad regrets not listening to his father’s stories as a kid. He thought my grandfather was making them up.” We can all identify with that! But thankfully a good bit of family lore has been handed down and shared with us.
Michael Anthony notes that his own son Michael Liam is the first Duggan in four generations not to serve his country carrying a gun. Hopefully none of the younger generation will be required to do so in the future.
The family are all rightly proud of their IRA ancestor Michael Duggan from Rathbal, Co Mayo.
And that watch from 1927 which, like his family line, is still going strong. His home country has not forgotten Michael either. One of the Custom House Fire Brigade. RIP.
Many thanks to the Duggan family for sharing their recollections and stories and their active support of the Commemoration Group.