Pivotal parts in the patriot game


Stephen Coyle

IN APRIL 1922, Rory O’Connor and Cathal Brugha, acting on behalf of the Executive of the Anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army, appointed Joe Robinson as Divisional Commander of the Scottish Brigade, which now covered two Brigade areas, No.1 Glasgow and West of Scotland and No. 2 East Coast.

In June 1922, Robinson was present in the Four Courts in Dublin, meeting with O’Connor just hours before it came under attack from Free State forces, which marked the beginning of the Irish Civil War. The following month Seamus Reader brought a 25-strong IRA expeditionary force from Glasgow to Dublin for the defence of the Republic. Following the fall of the Republican HQ at the Four Courts and later Gresham Hotel, several members of the Scottish Brigade—including four women—were incarcerated at Mountjoy Jail and Newbridge Internment Camp in Kildare.

Robinson managed to escape the net and make his way back to Scotland, but was again a marked man, this time by both the Free State Government and the British authorities. On one occasion, his fiancé, Glasgow Cumann na mBan activist Hannah ‘Pidge’ Duggan, was in Dublin transporting arms from Scotland, when she was arrested by the Free State Army and interrogated over the whereabouts of Joe. Along with Lizzie Morrin, also of Glasgow, they were brought to the Dublin Mountains and threatened with being shot if they did not give up information on Robinson.

In September 1922, the President of the Irish Republic, Éamon de Valera, appointed Robinson as political organiser for the Anti-Treaty side in Scotland. Robinson was instructed to replace the Sinn Féin organisation with Poblacht na h-Éireann in Albain (Irish Republican Organisation in Scotland). Membership was open to those that rejected the Treaty and refused ‘the allegiance of any person or persons prepared even for a moment to subvert the Republic, or to compromise in any way the claim of the Irish people for unfettered moral, material, political and economic freedom.’

“Of all the children of Irish race in foreign lands, none have been more faithful than you in Scotland,” de Valera declared in a message sent to the body’s inaugural convention in November 1922. The organisation was short lived and soon reverted to using the name Sinn Féin.

Apart from being an important source of arms and ammunition for the Republican Forces, Glasgow also became the headquarters of the Republican publicity machine after the Republicans were forced out of Dublin early in the Civil War. On his return to Scotland, Robinson published a weekly newspaper titled Poblacht Na hEireann (The Republic of Ireland). This short-lived publication also had a Scottish edition. The director of Republican publicity, PJ Little—later to be Irish Free State minister of posts and telegraphs in the 1940s—was sent to Glasgow and set up headquarters at 10 Robson Street.

Cumann na mBan also played a significant role in the dissemination of Republican propaganda. On January 1, 1923, they released a circular advertising the publication of a new news-sheet called Eire, to be launched on January 12. The paper’s brief was to increase public awareness of the work of the Republicans. The news-sheet was published in an effort to counter the national press, which Republicans perceived as being ‘pro-British and anti-Nationalist.’ It was sold through selective agents and Cumann na mBan branches. Countess Markievicz who was touring Scotland in 1923, contributed a lot of material to it. Members of the Anne Devlin branch in Glasgow edited and proof-read the paper, which thanks to John Maclean was printed in Glasgow by the socialist press. The Free State authorities quickly put the paper on its list of proscribed material and anyone found in possession of a copy in Ireland faced internment.

This was a time of co-operation between Irish Republicans and Communists in Britain. In October 1922, police intelligence noted an article in the Workers’ Republic, the Communist Party of Ireland organ, by Patrick Lavin, the Secretary of the Scottish Labour College and member of the Glasgow IRA, in which he urged Communists to aid the fight for an Irish Republic. In December, Robinson was in discussions with Communists on the question of arming, though the police believed the rank and file Communists could not be depended on to fight. They also held that Robinson’s Scottish Brigade was receiving munitions from Communists. There is evidence that John Maclean met with the Scottish Brigade of the IRA and the Scottish units of the Irish Citizen Army several times from 1919 onwards regarding his efforts to construct a Scottish Citizen Army which met with limited success.

Robinson was arrested and interrogated for two days by the Scottish authorities on January 13, 1923, but was released without charge.

Shortly before the close of the Civil War in March 1923, the British authorities arrested 110 Republican activists in Scotland and England in an effort to shut down their activities. Of the 38 arrested in Scotland, 28 were from Glasgow including Robinson, six from Lanarkshire, one from Dunbartonshire, two from West Lothian and one from Dundee. They were illegally deported to Ireland on the destroyer ‘Wolfhound’ and handed over to Free State

soldiers who interned them in Mountjoy Jail in Dublin. Four of them were women who were members of the Anne Devlin Branch of Cumann na mBan in Glasgow. There was a wave of protests from Independent Labour Party branches (copies of their letters are on the file under ‘Irish Disturbances’ in the National Archives of Scotland) and questions were asked in parliament by Independent Labour Party (ILP) MP James Maxton, the Communist Indian MP Shapurji Saklatvala and others. It was stressed that many of those deported to Ireland were in fact of English and Scottish birth with a few having no Irish ancestry at all. In October 1923 a total of £17,000 was awarded to the Scottish deportees. Joe Robinson received £415.

Revolutionaries’ legacy
Following the Irish Civil War, Joe Robinson ceased his revolutionary activities and on October 10, 1923, he married Glasgow-born Cumann na mBan activist, Hannah ‘Pidge’ Duggan (above) at St Charles’ Church in Glasgow. In 1927, the Robinsons moved to the United States, but returned and settled in Ireland in 1934. They lived in the former residence of Constance Markievicz, Frankfort House, Dartry Road, in Dublin before settling in Bray, County Wicklow.

Throughout Robinson’s eventful life, he worked as a painter and at various times owned painting and decorating companies employing several people. He was one of the pioneers of the Irish independence movement; Bulmer Hobson later said that he was one of the most ‘active workers in the national movement since 1902.’ He was an inspiration to many Irish revolutionaries, including his younger brother Séumus, during the 1909 to 1923 period. Joe Robinson died aged 69 in Bray, County Wicklow on May 14, 1955. He is buried alongside Pidge in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

After the Civil War, Séumas joined Fianna Fáil and became a senator for the party in 1928. He was appointed to the advisory committee of the Military Service Board in 1953 and received the maximum military service pension of 14 years’ service at the rank of Lieutenant-General on April 10, 1935. This amounted to £350 per year.

Séumas Robinson of 18 Heathfield Road, Rathgar, died on December 8, 1961 and was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery. According to a press report, ‘full military honours were rendered at the funeral of Commandant General Séumas Robinson, the veteran IRA leader, which took place yesterday morning from the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar. Amongst the very large attendance was the President, Mr de Valera; the Taoiseach, Mr Lemass, and members of the Government and both Houses of the Oireachtas. A guard of honour drawn from the 2nd Motor Squadron escorted the remains to the cemetery where a firing party rendered honours. Buglers from the No. 1 Army Band, under Commandant J. Doherty, sounded the last post as the coffin, draped with the tricolour, was lowered to the grave. Mr. Oscar Traynor, the former Minister for Justice, in an oration, said that no writer of the history of Ireland’s latest fight for freedom could ignore the deeds for which Séumas Robinson was responsible or the valour with which they were carried out. “It can be truly said that no member of the Irish Republican Army, whether officer or volunteer, could have exceeded the service given by him. He not only planned the actions which took place under his command but he insisted on personally seeing them carried out.’

Mrs Sarah Robinson, died at her home in Rathgar, Dublin 1935. According to her obituary in the Irish Press, repeated raids on her home at 10 Robson Street, and the imprisonment of her two sons seriously affected Mrs Robinson’s health, and she came to live in Dublin in 1926. It states that one of the many Republican visitors to the house in Govanhill was IRB man Peadar Kearney, who in 1907 composed the Irish national anthem, The Soldiers’ Song.

A portrait in oils of the late Commandant General Joseph Robinson, O/C Scotland Division, Old IRA, was presented to the Scottish Brigade at a dinner in the Grosvenor Hotel, Dublin, in May 1957. The painting, which will be exhibited in the 1916 and War of Independence Section of the National Museum, is the work of Mr Jim Cassin, a former member of the Fianna, and was presented by him to Robert Slane, Chairman, Scottish Brigade.

Another significant figure in the Irish revolutionary movement on Clydeside who also lived at 10 Robson Street until his death in 1938 was Patrick (Paddy) Morrin.

Paddy Morrin was a Glasgow-born roofer by trade, and was a Captain in ‘A’ Company, Irish Volunteers. His wife Lizzie was active in the Anne Devlin Branch of Cumann na mBan, which was attached to this Company. He came to Dublin with other Volunteers from Scotland to take part in the Easter Rising, and was billeted at Larkfield, Kimmage. On Easter Monday, he was posted to O’Connell Bridge and later Kelly’s Gun Shop, at the corner of Batchelor’s Walk. After the evacuation of the GPO, he was in the group that bored through the walls of the shops in Moore Street on Friday night and Saturday morning. He was one of the Volunteers, under the command of Seán McLoughlin, who were prepared and waiting to charge the British Army barricade at the top of Moore Street when the decision to surrender was made. After the surrender, Morrin was deported to Knutsford Jail and was later interned in Frongoch.

On the first anniversary of the Rising, Paddy Morrin hoisted the flag of the Irish Republic at half-mast, over the ruins of the GPO. Helena Molony and Winifred Carney were part of a small core group of women at Liberty Hall who produced the flags.

‘We made the flags—three measuring six feet by four and a half feet,” Molony recalled. “There was a very nice sailor [slater?] from Glasgow called Morrin who looked at the flagstaff in the GPO and said: ‘We could get a flag on that. I will do it, and they won’t get it off in a hurry.’”

Morrin returned to Glasgow and was living at 10 Robson Street in Govanhill. He resumed his activities with ‘A’ Company and remained active throughout the War of Independence and Civil War and, at one stage, was Officer in Command of the Glasgow Battalion. He died aged 60 as the result of a roofing accident on November 19, 1938.

Liam Mellows: The Glasgow connection
The leading Irish Republican activist Liam Mellows who played a prominent role in the Easter Rising and throughout the revolutionary period, had a connection with Govanhill. The following is an account of how he defied a deportation order by entering Ireland from Scotland disguised as a priest.

In March 1916, Liam Mellows and Earnest Blythe were deported to England as a result of their work in reorganising the Irish Volunteers in the west of Ireland. Both of them were staying in a village in Staffordshire, and were compelled to report twice weekly to the head constable of the district. A leading Belfast IRB member called Liam Gaynor takes up the story: “From a despatch which I received from Sean McDermott [member of the Supreme Council of the IRB], I was instructed to meet them both in Glasgow, and get them safely back to Ireland. I got word to Sean with an address for them to go to Mrs Eakin, 339 Cathcart Road… Nora Connolly, daughter of the 1916 leader, was sent to England to contact Mellows and Blythe, and bring them to the Eakin flat and then get in touch with me.

“Mrs Eakin’s daughter, Maggie got in touch with me immediately after their arrival and I went to 339 with all speed. I contacted Tom White, better known to his Republican friends as Thomas Ban. We discussed the matter with Miss Eakin and she suggested calling in a Father Timothy Courtney, a native of Kerry who was C.C. in Crosshill Parish. When he arrived we finally decided to make Liam a ‘priest’ so the matter of dress was the next necessity.

“Fr Courtney went to his house, and brought a suit back with him, but the pants were inches too long, so Fr. Courtney disappeared and in a short notice of time, arrived back with a suit belonging to his parish priest who was… a great friend of John Redmond and I’m not sure yet if he asked him for the pants. But these pants were much too big for Liam the other way. Mrs Eakin and her daughters soon made the alterations. Fr Courtney gave Liam an old Breviary and instructed him on when and how he should read it. He next gave him his blessing on this journey and jokingly told him he was his first ‘ordination.’

“In order to avoid attraction, we sent Maggie Eakin to the booking office for the tickets, and she saw Liam and Nora safely on the train for Ardrossan where they took the boat to Belfast.”

Nora Connolly O’Brien in her statement to the Bureau of Military History in 1949, recalls the boat journey to Belfast: “In the train down to the boat, Liam was sitting in one corner, and I was in the other. We were not travelling together. At no time did we appear to be travelling together; except in the case of tickets, I did the buying. In the train at Greenock, a whole lot of cattle dealers got in; and they were arguing and suddenly they spotted Liam in clerical clothes; and they looked at him; and one of them said: ‘Sorry, Sir, we did not see you.’ Liam said: ‘It is all right.’

“Then we came to Belfast. I said to Liam: ‘This is a place where I am well known. We can’t get a tram—it’s too early —and a car would attract attention. We will have to walk. I’ll start off; you can follow me; then you go ahead of me; at any corner, you slow down at the corner, and I’ll overtake you; or, if I’m ahead, you will follow me.’ We lived at the top of the Falls Road; and when we came to Bank Buildings, I said: ‘It’s a straight journey now. Keep on until I overtake you.’ We went on. I was amused to see all the policemen saluting him, and he saluting them back.”

On arrival in Belfast, Mellows stayed at James Connolly’s house at Glenalina Terrace, where Nora Connolly sought clerical garments of a better fit. He then made his way to Dublin stopping overnight in Banbridge at the house of Dr McNabb, accompanied by Winifred Carney, James Connolly’s secretary.

Soon after his arrival in Dublin, Liam Mellows travelled to County Galway where he received Patrick Pearse’s despatch on Easter Monday instructing him to mobilise the following day. He proved himself to be an energetic and dedicated organiser, and was able to mobilise at least 1000 men throughout the county. One of these men was Seamus McCarra, a Glasgow based member of the Irish Volunteers, who saw action with the Carnmore Company of the Galway Brigade. Having captured the police barracks at Oranmore and occupied Athenry, the Irish Volunteers were reluctantly forced to disband when they realised their position was hopeless. Mellows went on the run, sailing to New York via Liverpool.