Veterans of the Burning were among the IRA in the first unit of a uniformed Irish Army to march through Dublin after the Treaty ratification in early 1922. They were enthusiastically cheered by large crowds as they reached the city centre.
By the end of January 1922 Beggars Bush in Ballsbridge on the southside of Dublin was an empty former British military barracks.
Under the Treaty terms, it was the first military facility to be handed over to the Provisional Government. On that short-lived regime’s behalf, the old barracks was occupied by a small contingent of armed men wearing military uniforms not previously seen in public.
This article is intended as a small tribute to the service those men and all their comrades gave to Ireland which had led to a famous day. One when the Irish public could watch their own army marching openly through Dublin without any threat of arrest for the first time (well, since the Irish Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers pre-1916). It was a peaceful day for celebrations.
Sadly, national conflict, conflagration, chaos and more bloodshed were all to resume in the near future. But such things were unforeseen on 1 February 1922.
The Takeover of Beggars Bush
On that date 100 years ago, Beggars Bush, one of many bases for occupying garrisons in Dublin, was handed over.
The old barracks dating from 1827 had in the past been used by the British army mostly as a training centre. At Easter 1916 the facility had been kept on the defensive for most of the week by the Rebels. Its most recent occupants had been the hated Auxiliaries who were in the process of evacuation from Ireland. Only a couple of weeks beforehand they had hastily cleared out their Depot at the barracks.
In early 1921 an IRA attack on the place had been considered but rejected as impractical. Now they would be able to just walk in to occupy the notorious, impregnable Bush.
On 1 February (St Bridget’s Day), men of the first unit of a newly-created uniformed Irish Army were transported by lorries from their camp in Celbridge Workhouse, Co. Kildare to the outskirts of Dublin. At the Gough monument (long since blown up and removed) in Phoenix Park they began a historic march.
Named the Dublin Guards, they wore their tailored green uniforms manufactured in Capel Street and were armed with weapons which they could carry openly. Their handguns and rifles did not need to be smuggled from abroad, captured or bought from a dodgy Tommy. The Fintan Lawlor Pipe Band preceded them on the march. The newspapers reported there were 43 men and 3 officers involved (not including the 11 or 12 bandsmen).
From the Park, the small contingent marched down the north quays before crossing the Liffey to Parliament Street and swing left in front of the seat of the new Irish Provisional Government in City Hall. On the steps, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins stood among the politicians proudly and happily watching them. Cheering crowds thronged the city centre streets to catch a glimpse of the soldiers smartly marching eastwards along Dame Street to College Green. They passed the former pre-Act of Union parliament building (Bank of Ireland), then turned right past the gate of Trinity College, heading to the barracks on Haddington Road. One of the Guards, a Dublin ASU veteran officer, left this excellent description:
“It was a great reception, a real Dublin greeting; old men were weeping and praying, children cheering and waving flags, women showering blessings on our heads. Dubliners showed their pride in their young veterans, the fighting soldiers and we were proud of Dublin. We stepped brisker, swinging our disengaged arms with abandon. We forgot the aches in our left arms due to the unaccustomed weight of the rifles we had carried since the Gough monument.
We forgot the doubts and fears for the future which had assailed us. We were heroes and saviours of the race for the moment. All the way to Beggars Bush the thousands acclaimed us and, exhausted and perspiring we finally pushed our way through the crowd and into the Barrack Square.” (Pádraig O’Connor, quoted in Sleep Soldier Sleep by Diarmuid O’Connor and Frank Connolly).
The men arrived at 3.30pm and paraded on the rain-pooled square. They were addressed by Minister for Defence Richard Mulcahy who congratulated them, reminded them of their duty to Ireland and presented their O/C with a green, white and orange Tricolour flag.
Who Were They?
Among the Guards were 1916 veterans, men who had fought in the War of Independence – and quite a few Custom House Men, some of whom had only been released from internment or jail in the previous few months.
The unit was led by Captain Paddy O’Daly, formerly O/C of the Squad. The other officers were First Lieutenant Joe Leonard and Second Lieutenant Pádraig O’Connor.
The Company Quartermaster Sergeant was Vinny Byrne and the Adjutant was Jack Byrne from the well-known North King Street Republican family.
The other NCOs were Sergeant Major Michael Stephenson, Sergeants Jim Harpur, Jim McGuinness and Seán O’Connor. There were five Corporals – Mick Dunne, Jeremiah ‘Sam’ Robinson, Billy Phillips, Billy McLean and another man who left the Army to rejoin the IRA before the Civil War began (His name must be included below; in all, four of the original Dublin Guards are known to have followed that path).
According to a 1923 look-back article in An tÓglach, the unit also included Custom House Men Ned Breslin, Billy Doyle, Jackie Foy, Seán Sliney, Jack Young, Christy Fitzsimons, Tom McKenna, Peter Ratcliffe, Eddie Flood, Paddy Brunton, George White, Paddy Evers, Joe Gilhooly, Mick Walker and John Muldowney. A few of the remaining troops had possibly also taken part in the Burning (By the way there is at least one error in the listing in An tÓglach – J. Conroy should have been Isaiah Conroy).
There were even a few photos in a couple of British publications (used here because they have survived in good quality).
Naturally, many Irish newspapers reported on the events, including some in the north. The Belfast Newsletter noted how spectators waiting on the parade to arrive “passed the time pleasantly in hooting members of the Royal Irish Constabulary who happened to pass in lorries decorated with miniature Union Jacks.” (The use of such identification marks by both sides was one of the Truce arrangements). The northern unionist press unsurprisingly took a dismissive and jaundiced view, even asking why the ‘Free State’ needed an army.
That totally contrasted with nationalist papers in the north and the vast majority of southern Irish papers which ran really upbeat articles.
A couple of newsreels of the march, takeover and presentation of the colours can be found here and here.
As shown above, a good number of still photos survive from the historic day. However it is difficult to make out most of the soldiers’ faces in the majority of the pictures.
One Brilliant Photo
Happily there is one image showing a slightly larger group of the Guards on parade in Beggars Bush taken three days later (on 4 February, by Panograph Photo of New York, Leeson Street, Dublin). It has fantastic resolution and is excellent for zooming in, with most faces visible and in good focus.
We know of other copies hanging on a wall in the Beggars Bush pub; our good comrade Diarmuid O’Connor has one; and there is also a damaged one online in UCD archives.
But for the rest of us the best full size version can be found online here courtesy of South Dublin Library and the Brophy family.
There is only one problem to aware of – the names listed on the associated document are incomplete and contain many errors! Another version (above) has been found and its caption appears to be fully correct. Although it is difficult to match the names as they are laid out with the men’s images. Here is the caption for anybody interested in sorting it all out.
And the full listing of names appears in the table below. We would love to hear from relatives of the men.
|Alec Purcell||Mick Dunne|
|Mick Delaney||Paddy Mullins|
|Billy McClean||Jack Hunter|
|Jerry Gaffney||Jim Harpur|
|Mick Kerrigan||Tom McKenna|
|Don McCarton||Joe McGuinness|
|Davy Golden||Sean Burke|
|Jim McGuinness||Joe Carroll|
|Joe O’Connor||Sean O’Connor|
|Specky Kelly||Paddy Ninepence O’Connor|
|Miner Dowling||Jack Foy|
|Paddy Evers||Joe Downey|
|Joe Byrne||Paddy Dalton|
|John Sliney||Ned Breslin|
|Jackie Hanlon||Billy Doyle|
|Christy Fitzsimons||Mick Walker|
|Isaiah Conroy||Mick Stephenson|
|Sam Robinson||Peter Ratcliffe|
|Dan Brophy||Charlie Downey|
|Paddy Morrissey||Jack Young|
|Paddy Brunton||John Muldowney|
|George White||Christy Martin|
|Eddie Flood||Billy Murphy|
|Jack Bermingham||Frank Traynor|
|Mick O’Hanlon||Jack Byrne (Company Adjutant)|
|Christy Connell||Paddy O’Connor (2nd Lieutenant)|
|Jimmy Wynne||Paddy O’Daly (Captain)|
|Dan Walsh||Joseph Leonard (1st Lieutenant)|
|Leo Purcell||Vinny Byrne (Company Quartermaster Sergeant)|
Little Sign of Dark Days To Come
On 1 February 1922 there were no hints of political turmoil on the streets during the parade. But, behind the scenes, the Treaty split was widening among politicians and the IRA. Perhaps the label on one photo used above “Guards – Irish Republican Army” hints at how complicated things already were in a new state where diverging visions for her future had already emerged.
So, after the rejoicing and ceremony of 1 February 1922 were over, the future for the men of the Guards was not straightforward. Serious questions of allegiance would be faced by individuals.
One image showing the Pipe band leading the Guards past the Four Courts, is particularly poignant, considering what was to happen at that location from 28 to 30 June 1922. In that battle, there would be Custom House Men from the Beggars Bush takeover on both sides and Paddy O’Daly (by then a Brigadier General) would accept the surrender by the IRA Garrison.
At that stage the new army’s honeymoon was well and truly over. Soldiers wearing green uniforms were seen as enemies and targets for other Irishmen. In turn, the army waged a bitter and dirty war against republicans, including former comrades. In 1924, elements of the same force would even mutiny (The Army Crisis) and its general staff were sacked before its place as Aid to the Civil Power fully under Dáil control would be settled.
What Happened the Takeover Men?
The vast majority of the Guards from that day served in the Civil War with the pro-Treaty forces. Many were commissioned as officers or otherwise promoted. All would survive, apart from Mick Dunne, Jack Young and Billy Philips who were killed in action. A few became embroiled in Free State atrocities in Kerry.
At least five of the original Guards are known to have resigned to rejoin the IRA – Paddy Brunton, Billy Doyle, Paddy Evers, George White and Mick Walker (The first four were formerly ASU members and all five coincidentally were Custom House Men) – and fought for the anti-Treaty Republicans during the Civil War.
And the Barracks?
Beggars Bush went on to become the main Depot for the pro-Treaty forces, later to be termed the National Army. Many recruits would enlist there before and during the Civil War. It would be the scene of the execution of leading anti-Treaty man Erskine Childers on 24 November 1922.
The old barracks was decommissioned in 1929. It is now used as offices by various government agencies and hosts two museums.
A Proud Day
At the Bush on this date 100 years ago, a uniformed army in Ireland not recruited by some foreign power made its public debut to great acclaim. That we can celebrate the event in a relatively peaceful and prosperous country is thanks to the contribution of those first soldiers in uniform and many other great Irish men and women patriots.
Hopefully – at least on 1 February 1922 – each and every one had cause to feel some pride like Pádraig O’Connor did, as another step was taken towards the end of British rule for the greater part of the island. Something the soldiers had fought for, the people had voted for and had collectively suffered to achieve. An achievement which should never be dismissed or forgotten.
For Custom House veteran and old ASU officer Captain Padraig O’Connor from Beggars Bush Barracks there was a second notable event of a totally different kind on 27 February. He married Bluebell native Nellie O’Brien in Clondalkin church.
Comment by Yvonne Sliney — February 1, 2022 @ 6:22 pm
Another fantastic article Des, I am so proud of my Grandfather’s role in history.
Comment by Peter Duffy — July 24, 2022 @ 1:21 pm
Excellent article, photos, and research Des. One of the men listed in the photo of the Guards entering Beggars Bush Barracks dated February 4th, 1922 – Jerry Gaffney is on my list of members of E Company 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade. He is the last entry on an official typed Company roll up to 11th July 1921, no address but typed after the name – since deceased
I have just been looking through the recently released Military Service Pension Collection – May 2022 and came across File ref DP306 – Gerald Gaffney – other names – Jeremiah Gaffney where his mother, Christine Gaffney made an unsuccessful application under the Army Pensions Acts. She states that he took part in the Custom House attack and was “monumental in the escape of Rory O’Connor from the Curragh. I have confirmed that Gerald Gaffney was in the Curragh and did in fact organize the escape – check the Witness
Statement no 1673 made by Daniel E. Ryan
I could not find Gerald/Jeramiah Gaffneys name on any of the Custom House lists and suggest he may have slipped under the radar as he was executed in Mountjoy Prison in 1924, my apologies if he is listed
I look forward to your comments
Comment by chcadmin — July 24, 2022 @ 5:36 pm
Thanks for your kind remarks and that further info. on Jerry Gaffney. Excellent finds.
I’d say you’re spot-on as to why/how his participation at the Custom House
In fact his whole career was over-shadowed by the episode leading up to his execution.
Now, thanks to yourself his name can be added to the Custom House list.
All the best
PS- sent you a PM.