Michael Collins in Cleary's Upper Dorset Tenement
Edited version of an article published in the Melbourne Age Newspaper in 1996
'Michael Collins? He used to jump grandpa Dan Cleary's back fence at 21 Upper
Dorset Street. Hope you're not carrying ammunition, Mick, grandpa
Cleary would say. Didn't help during the Civil War though, Collins'
men put grandpa's daughters Auntie Maire and Auntie Nellie Cleary
straight in gaol for refusing to inform on republicans. They were
only girls, it was terrible. Nellie never recovered', Joan Cleary
said as we parted company at Dublin airport. It was from safe houses such as Cleary's that Collins mounted
his war against the British high command in occupied Ireland. According
to family legend Collins regularly passed through 21 Upper Dorset Street.
Maire and Nellie Cleary - first cousins of my own grandfather
- prayed everyday for an end to British rule. I met them only once,
in the Christmas of 1973 in a flat in the Dublin fire station
in Upper Dorset Street. Under the watchful eye of the Sacred Heart
and a string of crucifixes they took me on a remarkable journey through
the life and times of Michael Collins and Ireland's fight for freedom.
As they recounted the names of the famous republicans - Countess
Markievicz, Ireland's first female Parliamentarian, Dail Minister Sean MacEntee - who'd
been secreted out of 21 Upper Dorset Street disguised as a woman, said Joan Cleary -
and General Liam Lynch - to name but a few who'd been in the tenement - I tried to imagine what
these two old women must have been like in their youth in a Dublin
where the Black and Tans and the British Army were a law unto themselves.
|Upper Dorset as it looked in 2007. On the right is an old Georgian remnant of those heady days. The Clearys lived a few doors up the street in a tenement that backed on to Granby Lane.
|Vaughan's Hotel (2007). No longer a hotel, this Georgian building is bordered on the right by Granby Lane, which backed on to the Cleary tenement and Daniel's cooperage. Michael Collins knew it well.
When Maire produced a contemporary newspaper article detailing
the gaoling of 'The Cleary Sisters' by Michael Collins' Free State
provisional government then proceeded to condemn the connivance
of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George in destroying the republic
and the igniting a savage Civil War, I understood the depth of their
courage and of their animosity towards the British Empire. 'I disliked the British
so much for what they did in Ireland I didn't care if they lost
the war against Germany.....as for Collins, he should never have
signed that treaty. The IRA could have fought on. It's terrible
to think of the good men that were lost in the Civil War. I blame
Collins for that but the British government was so dishonest,' Mary had told me. .
While Maire walked the anti-treaty path, her cousin Donncadh Oh Ahannagain went Free State. However, not long after the killing of IRA man Dannie Shinnick
during an attack on O'Hannigan's Free State battalion at Glenacurrane,
only a mile from his own home, on 28 September 1922 he resigned from the army. A fluent Irish speaker - as was his mother Nora Cleary - Oh Annagain had used his gardening and horticulture
shop in Mitchelstown as a centre for Volunteer activities and gun
smuggling prior to the Easter rebellion. As an IRA man he'd sworn
allegiance to the republic and led the East Limerick Brigade into
battle against the Black and Tans and the British Army in ambushes
throughout East Limerick.
The Cleary women had followed Liam
Lynch, Chief of Staff of the IRA and former Galtee Mountain neighbour
of OhAnnagain. By the
time Maire was released in September
1923 - Nellie spent only a week in Kilmainham - Lynch had joined Collins in the roll call of dead, killed by Free Staters a few miles from his
home. The words of their neice Joan
Cleary offer an interesting spin on the times. 'Well,
as Maire used say, why was Collins never arrested by the British,
when so many of his comrades were?'
A photo of Josie (left) and Nora Cleary (right) provided by their niece Joan Cleary.
Daniel Cleary - born 1916 - on his Ariel, probably around 1930. Daniel was the son of John Cleary (brother of Maire and Nellie) and grandson of Daniel Cleary (see above). At 5.30 am on the morning of the Easter Rebellion in Dublin, Maire made contact with Michael O'Flannagan, Section Commander 'C' Company - at 40 Mooore Street, behind the GPO.
Waiting at her home at 21 Upper Dorset Street was Sean MacEntee, who was subsequently taken by O'Flannagan to Liberty Hall by John (Jackie) Cleary to meet the the leaders of the rebellion. MacEntee went on to become a Finna Fail minister in the Irish government. O'Flanangan was captured by the British on the following Friday.
(On the back of Daniel's bike is his cousin, Dan Howard, son of Alice Howard (nee Cleary), sister of John, Maire and Nellie.)
A subsequent story - from Rose McGrath in Dublin in 2015 - is that MacEntee actually escaped from Upper Dorset Street, not dressed as a woman but in Jackie Cleary's clothes.