It’s no surprise that the siblings of the famous uncompromising Republican Ernie O’Malley have been overshadowed by his remarkable revolutionary and literary legacy. Nevertheless, younger brothers Cecil, Charles, Paddy and Kevin were also anti-Treaty IRA men.
- The first was arrested at the Custom House and the subject of a strange myth.
- The second was killed in his teens fighting the Free State forces in the early days of the Civil War.
- The next was interned by the Free State and later became a bank official.
- The last-named carried IRA messages hidden in his wooden leg and grew up to be a heart specialist.
Origins and Background
The Malleys came from a middle-class Co. Mayo family headed by solicitor’s clerk Luke and his wife Marion née Kearney originally from Co. Roscommon. She had moved to Dublin before they married in her local church at Fairview on 29 October 1894. They went to live in his native place, Castlebar. Ernest Bernard (‘Ernie’) O’Malley, the future die-hard revolutionary, traveller and writer, was born there at Ellison Street in 1897. He was their second son. Their other future IRA lads Cecil Patrick arrived on 5 April 1902, Charles followed in 1904, John Patrick ‘Paddy’ the following year and Kevin in 1907 after they moved to Dublin.
The father, a civil servant, relocated to the capital in the expectation of better work prospects. They settled in ‘St. Kevin’s’, a 6-bed house at 7 Iona Drive, Glasnevin in 1906. There the Malleys welcomed their eleventh and final child in 1918. On the surface, the family appear well-to-do enough to employ servants and to educate several of their sons beyond second level. Ernie, Cecil, Charles, Kevin and Brendan are known to have studied at university. But money was tight even when the father got a job with the Law Department of the Congested Districts Board (later the Land Commission).
In 1918 Ernie failed his medicine exams at University College Dublin for the second time. He had a big decision to make about his future.
His parents were strongly opposed to republicanism, wishing their brood to follow respectable careers like the military or a profession. Two sons had already joined the crown forces during the 1914-18 War (See Note 1 at end).
Ernie himself had even considered following their path into the British Army.
In 1916 he he had initially felt opposed to the Rebels but ended up firing a few sniping shots at British soldiers.
His conversion was complete when, in the aftermath of the Rising, he had joined F Coy, 1st Battalion. O’Malley was commissioned as a full-time Volunteer organiser. He would definitely not be following his parents’ wishes and in fact cut all ties with them.
So, in 1918 Lieutenant O’Malley left home to re-organise, train and establish Volunteer units in the north west of Ireland, then went to London on an arms-purchase mission for Michael Collins. That was the beginning of his long and spectacular career as a Republican. He would not return to Iona Drive until 1922. During his absence he lost one brother and gained another.
The rest of Ernie’s amazing story is beyond the scope of this article but there is tons of material available for anyone interested in more on the man. Here, we will look at the rest of his family.
Something else changed in the Malley household during Ernie’s years away from home.
It seems reasonable to suggest it was his example that led Cecil, Paddy, Charles and Kevin to follow his Rebel path. Like Ernie they all attended O’Connell’s Schools, the alma mater of so many republicans. Cecil and Kevin would also go on to successfully achieve their medical degrees and qualify as doctors (unlike their more famous brother), while Charles’ studies were tragically cut short as we shall see below.
But in the meantime they had military service to undertake.
Cecil claimed he was in Na Fianna during 1917/18 and became Captain of the Glasnevin Coy, taking part in local arms raids. He joined F Coy, 2nd Battalion in April 1918. He was a Section Leader, carried out patrols and intelligence work and was on the attempted ambush on a troop train at Killester and an ambush of crown forces lorries at Ballybough (now Luke Kelly) Bridge.
Cecil Malley was arrested at the Burning on 25 May 1921 and interned in Kilmainham Gaol.
Shot? Broken Legs? Or Impaled on Railings?
That raises a myth still often related – that one or two IRA men fell or jumped from a Custom House window. There are alternative accounts of their fate – one shot, badly injured impaled on railings and the other captured.
Years later Ernie O’Malley wrote in ‘On Another Man’s Wound‘ that a passer-by reported two men jumping from a window, one being shot and the other captured. Worse, the informant was convinced that the man killed was O’Malley’s own brother Cecil.
Even the brand new book ‘Ernie O’Malley – A Life‘ by Harry F. Martin with Cormac K. H. O’Malley (Merrion Press) says that Cecil broke both legs jumping from the roof of the Custom House.
The truth is more mundane. Back in the 1970s James McCormick, our US-based contact, asked Custom House Man Peadar O’Farrell about this incident. O’Farrell replied he had never heard of it. He added “I met Cecil as we entered Arbour Hill Barracks and he did not look like anybody who had just had such an ordeal”. We can definitely take it that Cecil Malley was not injured after jumping from the Custom House. It has not been established that anybody else was actually forced into such a feat.
While interned, Cecil had the distinction of being added to the Irish Medical Register, on 16 October 1921. If he received the news, it may have been an occasion for some celebrations among the Custom House Fire Brigade?
After his release nearly two months later, Malley rejoined his unit. When the republican split took place in 1922, he remained with the IRA. He claimed he was an acting Captain “i/c YMCA Frederick Street and later i/c in the Gresham Hotel – later in Hammam Hotel and Marlborough Street”. He also asserted he took part in train derailments at Clontarf and Howth and attacks on National Army patrols in Howth and Raheny before being captured on 14 August 1922. He was interned in Tintown Camp No. 3 until September 1923.
His younger brothers Charles (KIA, see below) and John (C Coy, 1st Battalion Na Fianna – interned) were also active with the anti-Treaty forces while youngster Kevin acted as a courier.
Graduation and Emigration
Cecil Malley M.B., B.Ch., B.A.O. N.U.I. finished his studies at UCD in 1925 and became an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon. He emigrated to England and worked in various hospitals as well as his own private practice. Malley became a F.R.C.S. England in 1933 (the first Catholic to gain that honour) and published two medical papers in 1935 and 1936. By 1940 he was running a clinic in the prestigious Harley Street and lived in London SW10.
Cecil had applied for a Military Pension under the 1934 legislation (MSP34REF45079). That was, of course, his entitlement and prerogative, even if his financial situation appears to have been secure. His father Luke (a Commissioner for Oaths) witnessed his claim papers in 1936 – somewhat ironic given the older man’s opposition to his sons joining the IRA in the previous decade. Despite the extent of his claimed service, Cecil was awarded a pension for just 2 and one third years service between 1920 and 1923 at Grade E. While he expressed dissatisfaction about the level of recognised service, he accepted the payments. It had taken eight years to conclude his application.
In 1935 Cecil was among the attendance at Ernie’s marriage in London to American heiress and sculptor Helen Hooker (Ach sin scéal eile!).
Life, Death and War go on for the Malleys
The 1940s involved several ups and downs – weddings and funerals – for the Malleys.
All this while WWII was raging with the two youngest Malley boys in action for the Allies and daughter Kathleen serving as a Captain in the Irish Nursing Corps during The Emergency. It seems life for the family was never dull.
1942 saw two marriages.
In April the oldest daughter Marion Nelly, known as Sweetie, married an Irish doctor with a striking name – John Patrick Gargan Daly – and the couple moved to Leeds in England.
Dr. Daly had a pilot’s licence for light aircraft. He joined the RAF during the War and it is said he lost an arm in combat with the Luftwaffe. His passion for recreational flying after the war ended would lead to a tragic outcome for him and the Malley family before the decade was out.
On 6 June 1942 in Kensington Oratory, London Cecil himself married Margaret Kilcommons, a nurse and fellow Irish emigrant from Keelogues, Co. Galway. She came from a large farming family and, despite the age shown for her on the certificate, was actually fourteen years his junior.
The couple went on to have three children – Luke Kevin in 1943, Cecilia M. Jacqueline in 1944 and Cecil P. Dermot in 1951. All were born in the southeast of England.
Three years later Cecil’s father Luke, retired civil servant aged 83, passed away at Iona Drive.
There was a happier occasion in 1947 when the youngest daughter Kathleen married Capt. Harry Hogan of the Defence Forces.
But the following year, her only sister Sweetie suffered a fractured skull when the plane her husband Dr. Daly was flying to an air rally across the English Channel crashed near the French coast. He had her flown back to hospital in England but despite best medical efforts she died on 25 July 1948. Marion’s remains were brought home to be buried beside her father in Glasnevin Cemetery.
There were no obituaries in the Irish papers for either sad event.
However in 1957 the death of the colourful Ernie naturally received major media coverage. He passed away in Howth, Co. Dublin at the home of his surviving sister Kathleen after several years of ill-health.
His State Funeral attracted a large attendance including old republicans like An tUachtarán, An Taoiseach, most of the cabinet including Custom House O/C Oscar Traynor, a host of T.D.s, Army representatives and other dignatories.
Old Civil War opponents like Frank Thornton were also there. Sean Moylan gave a graveside oration. Todd Andrews was one of the pall-bearers, all of whom were 1922 Four Courts garrison men.
The cortege passed by the Custom House and Four Courts on its way to Glasnevin.
Cecil was listed among the mourners as the fourth Malley was interred in the family plot.
He may well appear in this photo at the graveside.
Three years later there were also news reports when the Malleys again gathered at Glasnevin after their mother Marion died. Mrs. Malley was noted for her active support for social causes in Dublin, particularly the Belvedere Newsboys Club.
Among the chief mourners were Cecil Malley, London and his siblings Paddy, Brendan, Kevin and Kathleen.
Old republican luminaries President De Valera and Frank Aiken attended and the Taoiseach Sean Lemass was also represented. Many members of the medical profession were there too.
An obituary mentioned that Mrs. Malley was an aunt of Dublin-born Sir John Gilbert Laithwaite (1894-1986), whose mother was Marion’s sister Mary Kearney.
Laithwaite became the first British ambassador to Ireland in 1950. His tenure is not recalled as a success, as he failed to establish a rapport with Irish politicians or officials.
He was later made head of the Commonwealth Relations Office. Thanks to the activities of Ernie, Cecil and their Old IRA comrades, his brief did not cover the independent part of the island of Ireland. So, a senior British Imperial bureaucrat (who happened to be gay) was a first cousin of arch-Republican Ernie and all!
It appears Cecil had an attraction to Malaga in Spain from as early as 1930 when he was listed on a liner from Southampton and back. He would later retire to live there.
In 1959, he and his wife appeared on a passenger list for a return trip from England to Funchal, Madeira. No doubt a sun holiday, well before package tours became affordable to ordinary folk. It seems Surgeon Malley was enjoying a nice lifestyle for a former internee of both the British and Irish governments. What a contrast with the struggles of so many of his Old IRA comrades we have written about! However, it must be acknowledged that Cecil had studied for his degrees and was obviously good at his profession, so his success and perks may be said to have been earned. In any event, he can hardly be blamed for the poor circumstances of old Irish soldiers in his native land or elsewhere. Indeed, post-Civil War bitterness and economic woes may have been the major factors in his own emigration.
Business Ventures in Ireland – and Controversy
Surgeon Cecil Malley continued his successful medical career in London and moved house to Harrow as his children grew up. Sometime in the 1950s he also founded Midland Pharmaceuticals Ltd. in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath as a trust for his children. He later decided to branch out into other activities. In 1959 and 1960 the company bought the 700 acre Gaybrook Estate, Mullingar which was developed as a farm and stud.By 1969, the stud was said to rank 5th in Ireland and Britain and 1st in Ireland, based on yearling prices. In the mid-1970s, however, there was a downturn in the business and the stud became rundown and neglected.
The owners blamed local land agitation, including intimidation and threatening painted slogans, for the decline. A campaign was mounted for compulsory acquisition by the Land Commission so the estate would be broken up and made available to small-holders in the locality. The matter went to a hearing where the 72-year-old Malley, then retired and living in Malaga for health reasons, objected to the plan. In a statement he said four of his brothers and he himself had fought for Ireland and one of them had been killed. “We never looked for or accepted anything for it – that’s not what we fought for.” He “thought it a crying shame, however, that one’s personal possessions could be endangered in this manner.” However, as we have seen he had been collecting his military pension for decades at that stage…
It appears the Land Commission did acquire Gaybrook despite Cecil’s objection and evidence that his youngest son Dermot planned to invest significantly to restore and upgrade the stud farm.
Around the same time, Midlands Pharmaceuticals had also acquired grasslands at Liscartan, Navan, Co. Meath for finishing yearlings. The company claimed that after half the development had been completed, the massive Tara lead and zinc mines next door opened and subsequent operations hampered or stalled their plan. It is not known what became of that Malley investment, but the mine remains one of the biggest of its type in the world.
In any event Cecil Malley continued living in retirement in Fuengerola, Malaga. There he died on 21 June 1981 at the age of 79. He was survived by his widow and children. Presumably he is buried locally. His passing seems to have gone un-noted by the Irish newspapers. His widow Margaret passed away in Dorset, England in 1985.
“The Dead Irregular” – Charles O’Malley
Charles was a member of No. 1 Section, B Coy, 2nd Battalion. He took the anti-Treaty position in the Civil War. During the Dublin city centre fighting on 3 July 1922 he was among IRA men who occupied Bridgeman’s, a building at the junction of O’Connell Street and Parnell Street opposite the National Bank (later Bank of Ireland) branch. According to a press report he was found dead by Free State troops in an upstairs room, lying facing Parnell Square with a revolver in his hand. The body was removed to Jervis Street Hospital.
The coroner’s inquest found he had been shot through the head by persons unknown. Most likely he was the victim of a sniper. Ernie devoted two short paragraphs to Charlie’s death in his book on the Civil War (To this writer he seems dispassionate writing about most of his siblings; but they were in fact close and looked after each other).
Later generation O’Malley writer, Cormac K. H. (Ernie’s youngest son), said on an online forum his uncle Charles was a UCD veterinary student due to sit his final exams the day after his death. Unfortunately nothing new about Charles is revealed in Mr. O’Malley’s latest book on his father Ernie.
Charles O’Malley, aged only 18, was one of twenty seven fatalities from the Battle for Dublin buried in Glasnevin Cemetery alone during the week ending 7 July. They were combatants from both side and civilians including women and children. A tragic loss of life and devastating blows to their families. RIP all.
Another Malley lad known to have been in the IRA, Paddy, was imprisoned by the Free State during the Civil War and took part in a 41 day hunger-strike. Paddy went on to become a bank official. He died in 1964. An obituary was published in the Irish Press. He was survived by his widow, three sons and four siblings, including Cecil.
The fourth of the brothers involved with the IRA was the third-youngest, Kevin. As a 15-year-old kid he smuggled messages around the city. They were concealed in his prosthetic lower leg. He later became yet another Malley doctor, a leading heart specialist in Dublin. He died in 1985.
The two youngest sons were born too late to play any part in the War of Independence or Civil War. But both kept up the family’s tradition of involvement in armed conflicts.
Brendan served with the British forces as an officer of the Medical Corps in the Italian theatre during World War II. He later had his own successful private practice in London. He died in 1982.
Dessie (who also used the surname O’Malley) went to sea. During WWII he is said to have survived two sinkings by U-Boats in the Atlantic. Then he was severely wounded in a Japanese attack off Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He had to spend years in an Australian hospital recovering. It appears he became a New Zealand citizen in 1981.
Last but not least, their sister Kathleen, later Mrs. Hogan. There is no indication she was active during the Anglo-Irish conflict but her nursing service during The Emergency has been mentioned above. She cared for Ernie at her home in Howth in his final years (their heart specialist brother Kevin kept a close eye on him too). Kathleen was widowed in 1963 and lived until 1987. She was survived by her only daughter, Margery and her family.
As we have seen, even the family of such an iconic staunch Republican as Ernie O’Malley had a few contrasting political positions. Typical of the complex relationship between people from Ireland and the adjoining island. Divided and sometimes extreme loyalties.
It is unexceptional that the father Luke Malley was a crown civil servant and that he and his wife leaned towards maintaining the established order in Ireland. Many young IRA men grew up in similar family situations, like sons of policemen.
Even the fact that four Malleys fought with the British while five were in the IRA is not unheard of in other cases.
However, what must be almost unique was their blood relationship through their mother’s side to the one-time Permanent Secretary of the Commonwealth Relations Office!
It may also be seen as ironic that two Malleys forged medical careers in the land of their old foe. But perhaps some of the Malleys viewed independent Ireland as unfriendly? No country for anti-Treaty folks?
However, times and mindsets change. Even for Ernie. In 1956, with his health obviously in decline, he wrote to his daughter Etáin: “I don’t want a Celtic Cross. I wish to have a good slab of granite over me, and face me to the East, towards the old British, for you were once buried in Ireland facing your enemies. Indeed they are no longer my enemies. Each man finds his enemies in himself.” We don’t know if Cecil shared that philosophy, but he seems to have found life in Britain to his liking for many decades after fighting against their rule in his own native land.
With such an outstanding historic figure as Ernie in the family it was always going to be difficult for his siblings to live up to his reputation or avoid living in his shadow. However, from all appearances they managed quite well!
And Custom House Man Cecil did manage to achieve something that Ernie didn’t. He pursued his republican ideals against his parents’ wishes while also meeting their aspirations for a professional career.
It is only fair to say that Cecil, Paddy, Charles and Kevin Malley did serve their country in their own ways, although over-shadowed by their big brother. Their other siblings also led very interesting lives. All left their footprints – maybe a bit faint at this stage – on the pages of history.
Note 1: Those two brothers were:
- Francis Luke ‘Frankie’ (born Dublin, 1896) who served as a Lieutenant with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and King’s African Rifles. He died of tropical fever in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) on 19 June 1921; and
- Albert Victor Patrick ‘Bertie’ (born Castlebar, 1900) a Private with the Northants Regiment and Connaught Rangers, who also died from a fever in Kaduna, Nigeria on 14 January 1925.
Note 2: The family photos above (and others) taken by Helen Hooker O’Malley (later Roelefs) can be found here and were contributed by her son Cormac O’Malley.
Note 3: The image of Ellison Street, Castlebar is thanks to Mayo Library.