A Dubliner from a relatively well-to-do family, Gerald Hughes joined the Volunteers. He took part in the Burning of the Custom House in 1921 and was arrested by the Auxies. His younger brother followed in his Rebel footsteps. An unsolved Civil War atrocity would end one of their lives and dramatically affect their parents’ future. And Gerry, despite his good IRA and CID record, would not have an easy life in the country he had fought for.
Origins and Background
Gerald William Joseph and Mark Edwin were the only children of Mark John Hughes and his wife Annie Julia ‘Nano’ Brady.
Both lads were born in the Rotunda Maternity Hospital. Gerry (also called Ger) arrived on 2 November 1902 while his parents were living at 14 Cabra Park, Phibsborough. Edwin, later known by some as Eamonn, followed on 19 October two years later. At that stage the family lived at 45 Richmond Place.
By 1911 the Hughes family had moved to 111 Clonliffe Road, near Croke Park. The father, Mark, had formerly been an Electrician but was then working as a temporary Civil Servant with the Public Records Office in the Four Courts.
Na Fianna and the IRA
Gerry became a Volunteer with Dublin Brigade initially with B Coy before transferring to A Coy (Cyclists) in 1919. When this article was written, no Military Pension file for him had been released, so there is no detailed information on his military service below. We will return to that in a future article.
As shown above, in 1933 he gave some very brief details: Na Fianna B Coy, 2nd Battalion, then IRA B Coy, 2nd Battalion under Capt. P. O’Daly and Capt. T. Kilcoyne and also Cyclists (A) Coy, 2nd Battalion – 5 years pre-Truce service in all. But doubtless it is safe to assume he took part in all the normal Volunteer activities and then participated in the Tan War operations undertaken by his Coy. At that stage, as he said, he had not applied for any military pension. However, Carmel Donegan daughter of Hughes’s best pal Bill, says her father helped Gerry eventually receive one (and he did indeed).
Custom House and Aftermath
At the Burning of the Custom House on 25 May 1921 A Coy lost eleven members captured, including Gerry Hughes. He was more unfortunate than his Coy comrades because he was among sixteen men picked out by the Auxiliaries as ‘implicated in the outrage’. Although he was luckier than the six among them charged with capital offences, he did, however, suffer a severe beating during interrogation in Dublin Castle before being sent to Kilmainham Gaol.
For his own reasons, Gerald Hughes gave a false name to his captors – Hugh William Fitzgerald. Yet he supplied his correct home address (and also stated he was unemployed). This may have been an attempt to protect his family from possible recriminations by the British; his father was a civil servant. It may also have fitted with the fact that the family kept boarders in their house, so he tried to portray himself as one of them. In any event his real name was not discovered during his detention.
Gerry appears in two photos taken by the prisoners.
Hughes was released with the rest of the Custom House Fire Brigade in December 1921.
Replaced by his Kid Brother
The previous May, when Gerry had been arrested, his younger brother Edwin (as known to his family and friends) or Eamonn as he was called by comrades, had transferred to B Coy, 2nd Battalion IRA from B Coy, Fairview Branch, Na Fianna, effectively replacing his interned brother. This would have fatal consequences almost eighteen months later.
It was not clear until very recently (November 2023) how active Gerry Hughes was after the Split. Carmel Donegan, daughter of Hughes’s best pal Bill Donegan says Gerry was pro-Treaty – which he was on the face of it. However, his situation was more complicated than that. Both he and his brother Eamonn are listed as members of Capt. Michael Murphy’s anti-Treaty IRA K Coy, 2nd Battalion on 1 July 1922. On that Old IRA Membership Roll drawn up in 1935, Gerry’s address is shown as Cabra Park. His brother Eamonn Hughes is recorded as Deceased. Behind that simple word lies a shocking family tragedy and unsolved Civil War atrocity. We now turn to the sad story of Gerry’s younger brother, Eamonn.
The Red Cow Murders
Eamonn was one of three young anti-Treaty lads shot to death during the night of 6-7 October 1922. They were constant companions and had been arrested earlier that evening while going out to paste up IRA handbills near Drumcondra. The transcript of the posters found in their possession published in the papers went as follows:
“To all whom it concerns: Any person employed in the Free State forces in uniform or mufti found loitering in the vicinity of Drumcondra on or after Sunday, October 8, 1922 shall be shot at sight. This warning specially applies to the murder gang also known as military intelligence and so-called CID men. Also to any person found giving information to or helping same.
(Signed) Irish Republican Defence Association (Drumcondra Branch)
Warning: Any person found disfiguring or destroying this notice shall be drastically dealt with.“
After being searched, they were driven to Wellington (later Griffith) Barracks in the custody of three named National Army senior Intelligence officers.
Early next morning the dead bodies of Eamonn Hughes (17) and Brendan Holohan (19) were found by passers-by on their way to work many miles away.
The lads lay by the side of Monastery Road near Red Cow, Clondalkin, in rural west Co. Dublin. They had each been shot four times. Subsequently the body of Joseph Rogers (16) was found in the nearby quarry. He had also been shot and had no fewer than sixteen wounds on his person.
The Deputy Coroner for South Co. Dublin, Dr. J. B. Brennan began a hearing into the killings on 9 October at Tallaght Aerodrome. Even in the climate of regularly reported Civil War deaths, the brutal murders of the young lads were shocking and generated extensive press headlines and coverage, with widespread public interest as well as outrage.
Gerry Hughes gave evidence of identifying his brother’s remains; the two others were identified by their families. After opening statements by the legal representatives, the proceedings were adjourned to Clondalkin Library for 13 October.
Facts, Half-truths and Evasion
The Inquest went on to descend at times into a political propaganda joust between the barristers representing the government; a named National Army officer; and the victims’ next-of-kin/GHQ IRA. However, some facts did emerge, along with many mysteries, contradictory and evasive evidence and deliberately misleading statements.
For example, on 13 October the government produced at the Inquest three prisoners who it claimed were the men arrested on Clonliffe Road on the night in question. The three were not identified by name and were said to be ordinary “night-time criminal types”. They did not speak and were not allowed to be questioned during the Inquest. The only certainty is they were not the boys found dead at Red Cow.
Worse, an apparent red herring was introduced concerning a gun battle between a small National Army patrol and a party of Republicans at Jobstown, Tallaght (about one-and-a-half miles from Red Cow) earlier the same night. The anti-Treaty men used a Tommy gun, according to the Sergeant in charge. This separate incident did occur but cynically seems to have been used in an attempt by the government to deflect blame. The inference was supposed to be that the Red Cow victims could have been accidentally killed by their own side.
Start of the Nightmare
At about 7pm on Friday 6 October, Brendan Holohan and Joseph Rogers had left their homes in Drumcondra and were seen walking together in the city direction. The mother of Eamonn Hughes said he left home on Clonliffe Road at about 10.30pm in the company of the other two, with a bottle of paste, a paste-brush and a sheaf of handbills. They had been printing the bills in her house for about 3 hours before leaving, she said; they had a typewriter and printing press for the purpose.
A lawyer for the family of one of the deceased told the Inquest the boys had gone out bill-posting after a young activist named Jenny O’Toole had been subjected to abuse and mistreatment while putting up pro-Republican placards. But many years later, their IRA officers would state a different purpose for their mission that fateful evening.
Got into Army Car
Civilian witnesses at the scene of the arrests on the evening of 6 October told of seeing four military with one woman in a motor car travelling on Clonliffe Road. It dropped off the lady and moved off again towards Drumcondra before stopping suddenly at the junction with Jones’s Road. The officers in the car ordered several passersby – including the three youths – to halt, holding them up and frisking them at gunpoint. One of those stopped was an armed CID man named Charles Murphy who was told to go home as there could be trouble. Three young men were seen by Murphy and several other witnesses getting into the car with four men in uniform and being driven away towards the city via Drumcondra Road. The only one of the prisoners definitely identified by name by witnesses at the scene was Eamonn Hughes, known as a local resident. But Murphy would later be able to identify all three of the arrested men.
Lena Sandvoss who lived in no. 147 Clonliffe Road was the girlfriend of one of the officers, Comdt. Sean O’Connell (who she would marry in 1926). She stated she’d travelled home that evening from the theatre in a car with a female companion and three Free State officers – O’Connell, Capt. Nicholas Tobin and Comdt. Charles Dalton. She had first met Dalton only that evening. As she entered her front door she heard shouting on the road. Looking out, she saw a number of men in uniform holding up civilians and three men put into a car and driven away with them. She could not identify any of the soldiers involved.
A male witness identified Charlie Dalton, an old schoolmate, as an officer from the car who searched him. He also stated he had later given a requested statement about what he saw to Capt. Patrick Moynihan of Oriel House CID (who lived on Clonliffe Road) – and, more interestingly, to a brother of the deceased, Edwin Hughes (That obviously meant Gerry). Another man recognised “Patrick O’Connell or Connell, known to be National Army“, a regular visitor to no. 147. A third man said he heard one officer say that one of two revolvers he was holding he’d found in the tail of the coat of one of the young men arrested. This officer was also seen with a bunch of posters or handbills in his hand. the CID man, Charles Murphy (mentioned above) and another civilian who were at the scene also identified Charlie Dalton as one of the officers who held up the young men.
Capt. Nicholas Tobin gave evidence that he was in the car with O’Connell and Dalton. He claimed he did not know the names of the three prisoners taken on Clonliffe Road or whether two separate groups of three men had been arrested on that road the same night. His story was that he and his companions in the car (named as Driver Fehan and Comdts. O’Connell and Dalton) handed their three prisoners, plus a fourth picked up on Harcourt Street, to the Intelligence Office in Wellington Barracks. Tobin then went to the mess for a cup of tea (no drink, he added) in the company of O’Connell, Dalton and Brig. Gen. (Jim) Slattery before returning to his base in Portobello at about midnight.
As stated above, several witnesses who knew Edwin Hughes locally identified him as one of the men arrested. Nobody at the scene recognised his two companions who did not live in the vicinity.
The Central Mystery
What happened between those events and the finding of the bodies did not fully emerge at the Inquest. Reading press coverage, what look like obvious questions were left unasked and lines of questioning not pursued or objected to by one or more sides (However, press coverage was not a full transcript of all evidence). Notably, Charlie Dalton – a key figure named in witness statements – never appeared at the Inquest, despite being legally represented. All attempts by the Civic Guard to serve a summons on him were unsuccessful. At one stage the Inquest even heard he was under arrest.
Why the big focus on Charlie Dalton? Well, he had a reputation (or notoriety?) from his Tan War years. And maybe a higher profile as brother of Emmet, a Major-General in the Free State Army. whose Civil War campaign in the south was well-reported (Not an alibi, just a by the way – as it happened, Charlie was at his older brother’s wedding in Cork on the same day the Inquest opened). The younger Dalton was also O/C Intelligence in Wellington Barracks – a place reviled by anti-treaty republicans as a torture chamber – or worse.
There have since been suggestions Charlie was personally outraged by the IRA’s threat to his own home area in the handbills. And many other angles have been advanced in hindsight related to his unfortunate mental breakdown in later years. The writer sees no point in continuing that speculation here.
What’s in a Name?
A summons for “Patrick O’Connell or Connell” was refused by the Army as there was no such officer in either Wellington or Portobello Barracks. There was no summons in the name of the senior officer present at Clonliffe Road – Sean, full name Patrick John, O’Connell – who was clearly named by several witnesses including his own colleague and his girlfriend. Sean O’Connell did not appear at the Inquest and seems to have passed below the radar of suspicion in this case. Yet, he’d been at Béal na Bláth a few months before when his boss and close comrade Michael Collins was killed. Arguably a strong motive for revenge?
“They Were Released”
According to evidence by Capt. Nicholas Corrigan of Wellington Barracks, the prisoners were handed over there to Intelligence officers Jim Slattery and Sean O’Connell which ties in with what Nick Tobin said. The arrested men were interviewed by a Capt. Seán (or Stephen?) Murphy. One was freed almost immediately and the other three discharged and seen out of the barracks after twenty minutes. In his evidence, Murphy denied that the names of any of the men he interrogated (separately) were those of the victims found subsequently at Red Cow. The names of those he did question were not revealed.
From Nightmare To Bloody Reality
Civilian witnesses in the vicinity of Red Cow testified to hearing two separate bursts of multiple gunshots and terrible screaming from about 12.15am on 7 October. They also saw National Army troops in a car in the area. It was too dark and the distances too great to identify anyone involved, but a local woman confirmed she could distinguish military uniforms as the car passed relatively close to her.
When bodies were discovered at daybreak many hours later by a passing cyclist on his way to work, he told CID men in a lorry he met further on his route towards the city. They claimed to have been out on arrest raids, were holding prisoners and that their vehicle had broken down when the witness encountered them. But they travelled to the scene at Clondalkin.
One CID witness at the Inquest was Bill Donegan, as the Reader will recall, best friend and pre-Truce comrade of Gerry, Eamonn Hughes’ brother. Donegan gave evidence of the personal items found while searching the bodies and said he discovered two parabellum bullets and an IRA poster in the jacket of Brendan Holohan. A paste brush was among the items found on Joseph Rogers.
Another CID witness was walking a dangerously thin line by giving evidence. Charles Murphy, the detective warned away from Clonliffe Road at the time of the arrests, had been ordered next day to go to the temporary morgue in Clondalkin schoolhouse. He viewed the bodies from the Red Cow and was shocked to recognise them as the three men he’d seen taken away from Clonliffe Road. Returning to his car, he told his CID comrades – one of whom was Gerry Hughes. Hughes asked him would he give evidence to that effect and he agreed. So, he ended up taking the stand as an agent of the state, to refute the state’s claim that the arrested men were not the same men murdered. As a result, Murphy was shunned by his CID colleagues, intimidated and threats made against him. He resigned from CID in May 1923 – after being exposed as helping the IRA (Full story in Military Archives, file ref. 24SP4403).
No Solace For The Families
Despite just five days of evidence being heard, the Inquest was extremely protracted, with several lengthy adjournments. There was constant skirmishing between the lawyers. An application by one barrister for the victims’ next-of-kin had sought exhumations of the deceased to confirm identities and refute the government claim different individuals were arrested. After a delay of some four weeks, this request was refused by the office of Home Affairs Minister Kevin O’Higgins.
Mrs. Annie Hughes had a terrible time at the Inquest. Initially called to identify her dead son, she was dismissed as she had not actually seen his body. She was later on the stand again as a witness. During her testimony she stated Eamonn and Gerry were in the IRA. She also outlined Eamonn’s printing activities before going out with his two companions the night they died. At the end of her evidence Annie burst into tears after complaining about laughter from some people seated near her. There had been ‘amusing’ exchanges between the lawyers during her testimony. Things would not get any better for the unfortunate woman.
The proceedings eventually concluded on 15 November in a packed Clondalkin Library before Dr. Brennan and the all-male, business-types jury of its time (One member had even complained about being kept from his business having to listen to interminable evidence!). The level of public interest was still very intense. And Republican feelings ran high – posters had been pasted up around Clondalkin and outside the library with a threat against a party named earlier in the evidence (Probably Dalton). There were claims and counter-claims of intimidation.
After long closing speeches by the legal representatives of all parties, the Jury took 45 minutes to reach a verdict – that the three deceased died from gunshot wounds inflicted by person or persons unknown. No mention of murder. Or perpetrators.
What the victims’ distraught next-of-kin thought of such a bland verdict is unknown, we can only imagine their feelings.
To this day, those who carried out the brutal murders have not been conclusively identified. Given the length of time since the atrocity, it is highly unlikely new evidence will ever emerge. So the Red Cow murders remain a stain on the reputation of the National Army, the Free State government – and Charlie Dalton. And they cast a long shadow on three families who lost sons.
The Victims’ Funerals
The three young men had gone to their graves well before the Inquest ended.
Joseph Alphonsus Rogers was an apprentice motor mechanic and the youngest son of a well-known bookie Thomas and his wife Anne née Donnelly. He lived with his parents at 2 St. Brigid’s Road, Drumcondra. His funeral mass was held in his local Iona Road Church, Drumcondra on 10 October. There was a large attendance and twenty motor cars were needed to take mourners to the family burial ground in St. MacCullin’s Church Cemetery, Lusk, north Co. Dublin (Thanks, Peter Rooney).
There is no sign of a military dependents claim online. But it is quite likely Joseph was a member of Na Fianna at the time of his death. He is referred to as a Volunteer on a Military Archives file (see Eamonn Hughes below).
On the following day the funeral mass for Brendan Holohan and Eamonn Hughes was held in the Pro-Cathedral, Marlborough Street. As described in the papers, the massive cortege travelled to Glasnevin Cemetery led by a large Cumann na mBan party with a guard of honour beside the hearses also provided by that force of republican women.
Brendan Michael Holohan of 48 St. Patrick’s Road, Drumcondra was the eldest son of Michael, a GPO Telegraph Clerk and Alice originally Smith. He had been working as a Clerk in Arnott’s Department Store, Henry Street. He was described by his family’s legal representative as a private in the IRA which he had joined one week before. But according to his Military Pension files, he had volunteered with 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade in April 1922. On those files, his O/C Tom Burke said he was on on active service as one of an intelligence patrol when arrested on Clonliffe Road (MSP ref. DP4496). His parents claims under the Army Pensions Acts were unsuccessful.
Eamonn Patrick (Edwin Mark) Hughes had been apprenticed to dentistry before getting involved with Na Fianna (D Coy, Fairview Branch) and the IRA. When Gerry was captured, Eamonn got a transfer to B Coy, 2nd Battalion IRA. At the time of his death he was employed on commission as Secretary and Collector for the Blind Institute and living with his parents at 107 Clonliffe Road. He was described at the Inquest by his family’s lawyer – and his mother – as a member of the Irish Republican Army.
A Wedding Amidst Gloom
The friendship between Gerry Hughes and Bill Donegan was unaffected by the horrors of Red Cow. When Donegan got married on 25 October 1922, during the final and lengthy adjournment of the Inquest, none other than Hughes was Best Man. It was a brief interlude of normality and a happy occasion in such dark times. Hopefully Gerry was able to enjoy the day despite his grief and anger over the loss of Eamonn.
Aftermath for the Hughes Family
In 1923, Mr. Mark Hughes unsuccessfully bought a claim before the Compensation (Personal Injuries) Committee in 1923. The rejection must have added insult to injury and been a kick in the guts for the still-grieving parents. Their lives had gone downhill since Eamonn’s murder.
It could hardly have been any better for Gerry Hughes. He must have felt added frustration and anger. He’d tried his best to get justice for his kid brother. But here was the state he was risking his life for, carrying out appalling atrocities, covering up its complicity and getting away with murder. Gerry would not rest easy about that.
Ten years later he applied for a Relief Gratuity on behalf of his parents for the loss of their youngest son. His letter outlining his brother Eamonn’s death and the impact on his parents is remarkable and very poignant. To support the claim, Gerry offered some information on his own Old IRA activities and stated he had never applied for any pension.
He did an excellent job. What he wrote was highly articulate and succinct, a masterly touch. His mother was approved for payment of a partial dependents’ gratuity (one-off payment) of £112-10-00 under the Army Pensions Act, 1932 – without any of the petty quibbling we have seen in many other deserving cases.
On Eamonn’s military dependents file (MSP ref. DP4559), his O/C, Custom House Man Michael Murphy, described Eamonn as a Sergeant (Section Leader) and stated he was acting under orders and was armed when arrested. Murphy added that young Hughes had been an excellent soldier.
In 1946 Gerry applied for a posthumous Service Medal for Eamonn to be given to their mother and that honour was duly awarded.
Edwin aka Eamonn Hughes is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, plot PH173.
Back to Gerry – A Brief American Sojourn
Having had his membership of the CID terminated, Gerry sailed from Belfast to Quebec, Canada on 15 August 1923 on board the Canadian Pacific ship S.S. Marloch.
His occupation was listed as Harvester, one of a large number of men on the voyage from various parts of Ireland who gave the same description. As Readers will know, their destination country was and still is a major wheat producer and there was a high demand for immigrant workers to save the crops. There was also a major shortage of work in Ireland, as Gerry was painfully aware. However, there is a family story about the real reason Gerry Hughes went to North America. Unfortunately we are not at liberty to reveal it here. Maybe some day?
Nothing more is known about his time across the Atlantic. Then, just over two years later on 21 August 1925, he landed back in Liverpool on his way home to Dublin. The passenger list showed his place of last permanent residence as the USA.
Years At Sea
In Ireland, Gerry said, “opportunities for employment were unfavourable due to unreliable conditions”. The Free State was no country for another Old IRA man. But he secured a job with the Marconi International Marine Communication Co. as a seagoing Wireless Telegraphist. This entailed long spells away from home and he had over six years service on ships by 1933 (when he applied under the Military Pensions Acts on behalf of his parents). He continued on as a ship’s wireless operator for some time afterwards.
When he eventually left life on the waves Gerry got a job with the Department of Posts & Telegraphs in Dublin doing clerical work.
The only other records found for Gerry are on the death certificates of his parents and other relatives like his maternal grandmother Julia Latimer. In 1939, his father passed away at Weston, 13 Crosthwaite Park West, Dun Laoghaire; the death was registered by “George [sic – must be a clerical error] Hughes, son”, same address. When his mother died in 1953, the certificate shows her son Gerald W. J. Hughes had been living with her at 99 North Circular Road. Till their dying days, Mr. and Mrs. Hughes never got over the loss of their youngest son Eamonn.
Gerry subsequently lived alone and never got married. But he did have his social circle. Every year up to his death, he had Christmas dinner at the family home of his lifelong old pal Bill Donegan, as his daughter Carmel Donegan recalls.
Gerry Hughes died suddenly on 1 April 1970 at his home, 184 Phibsborough Road. He was aged 67, a retired Post Office Clerk and the last survivor of his small immediate family, mourned by cousins, relatives and friends.
Gerald William Hughes, alias Hugh William Fitzgerald of Kilmainham Gaol renown, was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery (plot YJ165.5, St. Patrick’s section). His funeral was arranged by his great pal Bill Donegan despite the latter having suffered a bad stroke. The family of one of Gerry’s cousins, Denis Hughes (1911-1983), later had his name recorded on the headstone.
We are delighted to remember Custom House Fire Brigade Man Gerry Hughes not long after the 53rd anniversary of his death.
And his only brother Eamonn, a little over 100 years after his murder in dark times. RIP both.
The writer would like to thank the Donegan family for assistance with this article.
A future article will look at what is revealed in Gerry Hughes’ Military Pension files…