Jack Grace

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Like many of his colleagues, Jack Grace was a young man at the time of the attack on the Custom House. 18 years of age when arrested, he would be subsequently released from Kilmainham Gaol in December 1921, one week before his 19th birthday.

Hailing from Tinnahinch in County Carlow, his parents were Michael, a shoemaker, and Mary (née Murphy). He had an elder sister Mary (Molly) and two younger brothers both called Patrick. The first of these had died young and the subsequent child was given the same name. Apparently, this was not that uncommon at a time when children’s mortality rates were so high.

Tinnahinch has been called a village within a town and lies on the river Barrow bordering it’s larger neighbour Graiguenamanagh, which is located in Co. Kilkenny. Perhaps because all the main facilities of School, Church, Sports, etc. were primarily based in Graiguenamanagh, it was to County Kilkenny and, in particular, its hurling team that Jack’s allegiance would lie.

On completion of National School, Jack went to work in Bagenalstown as an apprentice to the Bar & Grocery trade. This is where he enlisted in the Volunteers before leaving for Dublin in January 1919. Details are sketchy of his early days in Dublin but it is known that he worked for a while in D.W.D. Distillery in Jones’s Road.

In Dublin, he was a member of B Coy. 2nd Battalion and took part in various actions including the Whitehall ambush prior to the attack and his arrest at the Custom House. He spent almost six months there with his comrades.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Jack (3rd from left, back row) among a group of his Custom House comrades in Kilmainham.
Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Whilst in Kilmainham, he signed a number of the autograph books, including this one of James Doyle with whom he shared a cell at one stage. The two O’Reilly brothers, killed in the action, are referenced.

Image Courtesy of Kilmainham Gaol Museum

Jack joined the National Army, enlisting in the Dublin Guards at Beggar’s Bush Barracks in late February 1922. He would go on to serve in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. As his pension application is missing, details of his Army career are vague but he was involved in the Battle of Kilmallock, where he picked up a minor wound.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Jack Grace National Army Photo

In February 1923 he was transferred to A Coy, 38th Infantry Battalion based in Cork and would later resign from the Army in March 1924.

Photo Credits; Military Archives

Like many of the Officers at that time, Jack Grace’s rank had been reduced and in the above documents he is referenced as both Captain & Lieutenant. It is not known if the statement “not due to crisis” is correct as to his reason for resigning.

To modern eyes, his ‘demob’ list of goods returned to the Army may seem strange with the inclusion of 2 Mills Bombs among breeches and blankets!

Many years later, Jack would donate his Peter the Painter pistol to the Allen collection at O’Connell’s School. This has now been transferred to the Military Archives in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines.

After leaving the Army, Jack joined the Civil Service where he would work in the Deptartment of Posts & Telegraphs until his retirement.

On 10 September 1941 he married Susan (Ciss) Foster, a native of Kilkenny City.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Wedding of Jack & Susan Foster. Eagle-eyed GAA fans may recognise his best man and best friend Mattie Power. Mattie, who was another native of Graiguenamanagh, was a hurling great winning 5 All-Ireland Hurling Championships with both Kilkenny and Dublin.

In 1954, Jack successfully applied for a secondment from his job to work with the Bureau of Military History. He served with the Bureau until December 1957 mostly covering Tipperary & Kilkenny counties. He recorded 61 of the Witness Statements and it was a job he absolutely loved.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Needless to say, he didn’t make a statement of his own, which would have made this writer’s job a lot easier!

Fifty years after leaving, his allegiance to Kilkenny remained as strong as ever and each Saturday he loved nothing more than to sit down with the Kilkenny People newspaper.

Jack remained living in Dublin until his death in 1969, eighteen months after his beloved Ciss.

He is fondly remembered.

Postscript – The Medal

Sometime in the 1960s there was a burglary at the family home and Jack’s War of Independence medal was stolen along with an equally treasured medal he received from Kilkenny GAA in recognition of his work in training the Dublin based players.

A number of attempts were made down the years to try and locate either of these medals but without any success. There is no image of what the Kilkenny medal looked like or even if it was inscribed so it’s very unlikely to surface.

Very recently though, and thanks to our own Gary Deering, I was put in touch with Conchúir Ó Dúlacháin who runs the Early Irish Militaria Facebook page. Conchúir kindly put out an appeal for information which was immediately successful. One of his members referred the request to a contact in England who had acquired the medal from his late brother. He very generously agreed to return the medal to the family at below its market value.

After 50 years, the medal finally came home!

Liam Grace