ARRESTED IN UPPER DORSET STREET
Maire Comerford, the gun-toting Countess, the Clearys and
Mrs Tom Clarke - they were all there.
In the winter 1973/74 I met Maire and Nellie Cleary in the fire station across
the road from 21 Upper Dorset Street, Dublin. I had no contact
with them again before they both passed away in the 1980s.
But I still remember the stories that unfolded in the kitchen. A stream of famous republicans
had taken refuge, Michael Collins and Sean MacEntee among them, or passed through 21 Upper Dorset. Writer Sean O'Casey was born
on 30 March 1880 at 85 Upper Dorset Street.
|The fire station where the Cleary women spent their last
years and I was treated to one great historical journey.
EIGHT MONTHS IN GAOL
many years I've tried to piece together their experiences during the War of Independence and
the Civil War. Both sisters were gaoled in 1923; Maire on 7 February 1923
(aged 30) -according to her diary - and Nellie (aged 17) some time later. Nellie's name does not appear in a
POW list in the Irish Daily Bulletin of April 6, 1923.
Records held in Cathal Brugha Barracks indicate Nellie was released from Kilmainham on 11 September 1923. In her diary Maire lists her own release date - from the North Dublin Union - as 27 September, whereas the records have her released on 7 September. There is a possibility she was re-arrested.
(Molly in the records and Maire in her diary entries) was held in Kilmainham after her detainment at Oriel House in February 1923
until being transferred to the North Dublin Union on 3 May 1923, after the hunger strike battle. It was
a tradition for Republican prisoners to autograph each other's diary.
The first signing
appears to be a little ditty about hanging in (1) Nellie Lambert's
book, in June '23. It's followed by a poem (2) 'Oh boys who died for
Ireland' on 7 June in Bridget Reid's book, an inscription (3) 'Irish
Republican Prisoner of War' in Mary Twamley's book on 15 June and the
same inscription in (4) Lily Gleason's (sic) book on 2 August 1923.
Nellie Lambert's book - June 1923
Oh Boys who died for Ireland,
Maire Cleary - Republican Prisoner - Civil War - 11 June 1923 in Bridget Reid's book.
|Maire Cleary's signature in Mary Twamley's book - 15 June. Note the
use of the Irish language and the words 'Concentration camp'.
Maire's diary has notes about the hunger strike in April 1923 and a signing by Nora O'Shea - in Irish - on 4 April 1923. Mary McSwiney - sister of hunger striker Terence McSwiney - has signed her diary on 16 April 1923, two days into the hunger strike. Maire's diary also has a drawing identifying cells numbered 60/61/62 on the second floor and 33/32/31 left to right on the bottom floor of central hall, presumably opposite her cell.
CELL 61 KILMAINHAM
Nellie appears to have spent her whole time - Cell 61 - in Kilmainham. According
to their niece, Joan Cleary, the Free State Army was looking
for someone on the run and when their mother wouldn't or didn't
provide the information concerning the whereabouts, the army took
the girl away. Nellie was released on the orders of
a doctor, says Joan.
Sean MacEntee dressed as a women?
Joan Cleary's story about Nellie's civil war arrest included a reference to the Free Staters looking for a woman - by the name of Brown - from the North. Was the woman Sean MacEntee's wife, Margaret Brown, who was in fact from Tipperary? It was Joan Cleary's first cousin, Dan Howard, who first alerted me to the story of MacEntee escaping from Upper Dorset Street during the war of independence, supposedly dressed as a woman. It is a fact that MacEntee was in the house on the morning of the 1916 Easter Rebellion, but an alternate story is that he changed into Jackie Cleary's (Joan's father) clothes. He wrote of drying his clothes in Upper Dorset Street before being escorted to Liberty Hall by a commandant in the Dublin Brigade, Michael O'Flanagan, to meet the leaders of the rebellion. Maire had collected O'Flanagan from Moore Street at 5.30 am.
It was Dan Howard, (son of Alice Howard, sister of Jackie Cleary) who told me how when writing about the the events of Easter morning MacEntee - after his 1954 witness statement - had incorrectly identified Dan Ward, rather than Dan Cleary, as being the 'head of the family' that harboured him in Upper Dorset Street. This mistake prompted Ellen Cleary to rebuke him in a letter. Joan Doyle and Dan Howard both told of how MacEntee wrote to the sisters to correct his error. Along with thanking the family for its support on Easter morning and visiting the
women in Upper Dorset Street, MacEntee gave Nellie a position as a cleaner in his Dail office - he was first elected to the Dail in 1927. His daughter Maire was married to Conor Cruise O'Brien and
is famous in her own right as an Irish language poet.
Captured by the British after the Easter Rebellion, MacEntee was subsequently gaoled by the Free Staters while
fighting alongside Cathal Brugha in Dublin in July 1922 at the outbreak
of the Civil War. He was therefore in gaol well before the girls were arrested in 1923,
so the soldiers obviously weren't looking for him when they arrested Maire in February 1923 and Nellie in September. The story about
him being at Upper Dorset Street most likely centres on Easter Monday or a similar incident during the war of independence. If it was during the civil war it could only have been before his capture in July 1922.
Then again I'm not sure whether he
was actually arrested when Brugha was killed in July 1922, or some time later. Commander of the
Belfast Brigade, MacEntee came to Dublin in April 1921 two months before the
Truce but voted against the Treaty in December 1921.
On a list compiled from Kilmainham records are some fascinating
vignettes from the civil war. Mary (sic) Comerford, from the famous
republican family is listed as having escaped from the NDU on 5 May 1923,
two days after Maire Cleary arrived there. Maire Comerford had reported
to Countess Markievicz at St Stephen's Green during the 1916 uprising.
She was turned away due to her age. After her escape from the NDU
in 1923 she was re-captured and held in Kilmainham where she went
on a hunger strike. The Cleary girls were in good company.
Maire's signature in Lily Gleeson's book - 5 August 1923.
|Maire Cleary on the left and her sister, Nellie, on the
right at the wedding of their niece, Rose Howard - daughter of Alice Cleary - in the 1950s.
| Niece, Joan Cleary - at Nellie's left - and
Mary McGee at the far right of photo.
Cleary - daughter of John Cleary of Upper Dorset St - second from the
left, middle row in a photo taken around 1947. John's brother Thomas
served in the British Army.
Photo provided by Marie Cleary - daughter of Daniel (b1916) and granddaughter of John. Marie is married to Paddy Fortune.
Joan is in the wedding photo above.
NAMES OF OTHER PRISONERS I FOUND
On the same page that carries Maire and Nellie's names is recorded Peter Cassidy of 7 Usher Street, Dublin.
He was executed
on 17/11/22 after being arrested in Thomas Street, Dublin on 26/10/22
in possession of a webley .45 . It was a brutal time.
Mrs Tom Clarke, widow of the executed Easter Rebellion republican,
appears also. She was arrested and released on the same day, 12 February 1923.
Too famous to be treated badly?
Records held at Cathal Brugha Barracks and kindly provided by Kilmainham
Gaol in 2000. They are transcribed as they appear. Additional notes
In Feb of 1923, 23 members of Cumann na mBan (including Mary
and Annie MacSwiney, Lily Brennan and Nellie Ryan, sister-in-law
of the Free State's Commander-in-Chief and Defence Minister Richard
Mulcahy) went on strike for 34 days over illegal arrest and imprisonment
without trial of prisoners. The strike resulted in the release
of the women hunger-strikers.
On 23 May 1923, the Irish Civil War officially ended, but the
state continued to go after republicans, keeping 12,000 men and
women in prison and persecuting and harassing countless others.
By October of 1923 tension was at an all-time high in the prisons
and camps because of conditions and with no release in sight.
On 13 October 1923, Michael Kilroy, OC of the IRA pows in Mountjoy,
announced a mass strike by 300 prisoners, and it soon spread to
other jails, and within days 7,033 republicans were on hunger
strike. The figures given by Sinn Fein at the time were Mountjoy
Jail 462; Cork Jail 70; Kilkenny Jail 350; Dundalk Jail 200; Gormanstown
Camp 711; Newbridge Camp 1,700; Tintown 1,2,3, Curragh Camp 3,390;
Harepark Camp 100; and, 50 women in the North Dublin Union.
where is the autograph book you refer to ?
Essie Snoddy was my mother, this is the first time we ever knew
what cell she was in ,
mike purcell, kennedy street, carlow, ireland.
A Brutal Time
miceal puirseal [email@example.com]
On the same Civil War Prisoner List page that carries Maire and
Nellie's names is recorded Peter Cassidy of 7 Usher Street,
Dublin. He was executed on 17 November 1922 after being arrested
in Thomas Street, Dublin on 26 October 1922 in 'possession of
a full webley .45'. Cassidy was a member of the Dublin brigade
of the IRA. It was a brutal time.
Patrick Clare, of 23 Heylesbery Street, Dublin, was arrested
- 7 November 1922 - in possession of a webley.
Mrs Plunkett's cell in Kilmainham