OLLSCOIL NA hEIREANN
THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND
TEXT OF THE INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS DELIVERED BY JOHN J. McHENRY, M.A. (CANTAB.), D.SC., PRO-VICE-CHANCELLOR OF THE UNIVERSITY; PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK, APRIL 23RD, 1964, ON THE OCCASION OF THE CONFERRING OF THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF LAWS honoris causa ON MICHAEL W. O’REILLY (Dr T.K. Whitaker, Secretary, Department of Finance, was also conferred at the same ceremony) FOR HIS PIVOTAL ROLE IN THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OF IRELAND
CHANCELLOR AND THE MEMBERS OF THE UNIVERSITY
In awarding the honorary degree of LL.D. to Mr. Michael William O’Reilly, our University wishes to pay tribute to his notable military, political and economic contributions to the life of the nation. Like so many of those young men imbued with the new ideals of the Gaelic and national revival in the early years of this century, Mr. O’Reilly had been educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. On leaving their school in Dun Laoghaire he started to work with the Prudential Assurance Company as their agent in Dalkey in 1910, and was soon promoted to Assistant Superintendent in 1913. In the same year his military career began, when he joined the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He received rapid promotion, becoming Captain of “F” Company of the Second Battalion, and later Deputy Adjutant to the Dublin Brigade. In Easter Week, 1916, he served on the staff of Commandant Joseph Mary Plunkett and, after the surrender, was deported to England and interned at Knutsford Corner, Frongoch, Reading Gaol.
After his return to Ireland at Christmas 1916, he resumed his insurance work with the Prudential Company, but later transferred to the Royal Liver Friendly Society, taking over the Enniscorthy district where he became Captain of the “B” Company of the Irish Volunteers, and subsequently was made Commandant, and later elected to the Executive Council.
One of the aims of the Sinn Fein movement, often preached by Arthur Griffith in his newspaper Irish Nationality, was the loosening of economic as well as the political hold which England has on this country. Griffith had often pointed out that large sums of money left Ireland yearly to the English insurance companies as there existed no Irish company. This defect was soon to be supplied by Mr. Michael W. O’Reilly and his associates. In January 1918 he was chairman of a meeting which formed the New Ireland Assurance Collecting Society, and he was also instructed to draw up the rules of the Society. The new company progressed from strength to strength, in spite of the fact that in 1921, when its offices were frequently raided by the British military forces, all the members of its committee were either ‘on the run’ or in gaol. The assets of the company, which had been just over a thousand pounds in 1918, had increased to one million pounds in 1939 and to fourteen millions in 1960. In devoted pursuance of the policy of Sinn Fein all these assets were invested in Ireland and served as the life-blood of Irish industries instead of contributing to the prosperity of England. The magnitude of Mr. Michael W. O’ Reilly’s contribution to Irish economic prosperity may be further illustrated by listing the companies on which he serves as director. These are – The Irish National Insurance Co., Ltd, Solus Teoranta…
PRAEHONORABILIS CANCELLARIE, TOTAQUE UNIVERSITAS:
Praesento vobis hune meum filium, quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur honoris causa ad gratum Doctoratus in utroque Jure, tam Civili quam Canonico, idque tibi fide mea testor as spondee, totique Academiae
Additional biographical information:
- The family tree of Michael W. O’Reilly can be viewed here http://wp.me/p15Yzr-1A.
- Born in Stillorgan, Co. Dublin, on 11 December 1889 (Started school at Mount Anville National School, Stillorgan National School Educated in the Christian Brothers-run (CBS) St. Eblana National School, Dun Laoghaire).
- His family home was 31 Stillorgan Road, where his parents John, a motor driver and domestic servant, and Mary (nee Lyons) O’Reilly (from Co. Kildare and Co. Tipperary, respectively) ran a small shop.
- Apprenticed to the Grocery and Provision Trade with Messrs. Bewley, Sons & Company, Ltd., in Blackrock and Henry Street before returning to Stillorgan to assist in parents running of small family small shop. Subsequently, accepted a position at newly opened Bewley’s on Brighton Road, Terenure.
- In June 1910, at the urging of his friend Mr. J.F. O’Kelly, who was then the Superintendent for the Prudential Assurance Company in the districts of Dun Laoghaire (Kingstown) - Blackrock, Michael William O’Reilly commenced his insurance industry career as an agent in the Dalkey District office of the Prudential Assurance Company.
Joining the Thomas Davis Amateur Theatrical Society (a recruiting front for the I.R.B. located in Blackrock) in 1910 was a logical step for a man who, heavily influenced by his mother’s love of reading, had for years been honing his nationalistic convictions by examining any Irish History publication he could get his hands on. He was especially interested in reading about the rapid social change of the post-Great Irish Famine period of 1847 to 1900, characterised as it was by mass evictions, the idea of an ‘Irish Ireland’ as expounded in the writings of Thomas Davis and the Young Irelanders political, cultural and social movement, and ”the necessity of de-Anglicising Ireland” as put forward by Douglas Hyde in 1892.
- On 25 January 1911 Michael Willliam married Catherine Mary Cooney. The 1911 Census of Ireland records the young married couple, both 23 years old at the time, living in a house on Maryville Terrace, in Dalkey (Source: http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai000238275/), which adjacent as it was to Dun Laoghaire (Kingstown) would have been been considered a pro-British locale.
- In Spring 1911 he joined the Dun Laoghaire Circle of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) [who are often referred to as the "Fenians"]- “a secret oath-bound society dedicated to establishing an independent Irish Republic by force of arms” – (Source: Irish Volunteer Soldier 1913-23, Page 8, By Gerry White, B. O’Shea). On account of its secretive nature no formal records for the I.R.B., which would later become known as the ‘Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood’, exist.
Michael W O’Reilly would have sworn the following oath to Irish Republican Brotherhood (I.R.B.) -
“In the presence of God, I, Michael William O’Reilly do solemnly swear that I will do my utmost to establish the independence of Ireland, and that I will bear true allegiance to the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Government of the Irish Republic and implicitly obey the constitution of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and all my superior officers and that I will preserve inviolable the secrets of the organisation.”
(Source: The 1916 Rising:Personalities and Perspectives, National Library of Ireland)
- About two weeks after the Bloody Sunday of August 31st, 1913 arising from the Dublin Lock-out he was appointed Assistant Superintendent for Clontarf District (1913 to 1916), at the Prudential Assurance Company. The district covered several areas of Dublin, including the North Wall, and Talbot Street, where Michael William O’Reilly was able to observe at first-hand the desperate plight of 1,000′s of Dublin workers and their families severely affected by the Dublin Lock-out and abuses carried out by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) – conditions which led to the formation of the Irish Citizen’s Army on 19th November by James Larkin and Jack White to protect to defend workers demonstrations from the police.
- Soon after taking up his new appointment in Clontarf Michael William O’Reilly was posted to a Circle of the Irish Republican Brotherhood which met in 41 Parnell Square under the Tom Hunter .
- On 25th November 1913 at a huge public meeting at the Rotunda Rink called by Owen O’Neill (Eoin MacNeill), Professor of Early and Medieval Irish History in University College Dublin, to form the Irish Volunteers [who in light of the formation of the anti-Home Rule Ulster Volunteer Force, were viewed as a means to safeguarding the granting of Home Rule (self-government) to Ireland], Michael William O’Reilly was one of the 3,000 attendees who enrolled as volunteers. Those members of the Irish Volunteers who were IRB members were mostly all well trained and therefore stood out and were made officers in the new movement. Subsequently, Michael W O’Reilly was elected as Lieutenant ‘B’ Company, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade.
“25 November The Irish Volunteers are formed at the Rotunda Rink. Some Citizen Army men disrupt proceedings by heckling Lawrence Kettle. Besides being secretary of the Volunteers organising committee, he is Dublin City Treasurer and a son of Andrew Kettle, who had been one of the first farmers to bring in strike-breakers. Detonators are thrown and blows exchanged before the Citizen Army men are expelled from the meeting as the crowd sing ‘God Save Ireland’.”
As ‘B’ Company grew it was decided to divide it and form ‘F’ Company, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, which has 140 volunteers based out of Father Matthew Park, with Michael W. O’Reilly as First Lieutenant.
- On 26 July 1914 marched to Howth to help offload the gun-running arms shipped in aboard the Asgard pleasure craft.
In response to the outbreak of the First World War and the signing of the Third Home Rule Bill by King George V, the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond advocated that members of the Volunteer Movement enlist in the British Army. In late September 1914, IRB-inspired Michael W. O’Reilly led a split of 60 Irish Volunteers in ‘F’ Company who opposed John Redmond‘s appeal, remaining loyal to the ideal which would lead to Easter Week: England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity. Michael William O’Reilly was subsequently elected Captain of ‘F’ Company 2nd Battalion Dublin Brigade, and the Irish Volunteers under the leadership of Patrick Pearse went about plotting a rebellion against the British with the aim of bringing about an independent Republic of Ireland.
The remaining 80 volunteers in ‘F’ Company answered John Redmond‘s call joining the renamed the Irish ‘National Volunteers‘. Thousands of National Volunteers would join the 10th (Irish) and 16th (Irish) Divisions [volunteer divisions of 'Kitchener's New Army' (as in Field Marshal Horatio Herbert "Kitchener of Khartoum" - the Secretary of State for War)] of the British Army in the First World War , respectively, fighting in the battles of Gallipoli and the Somme.
- Chain of Command: As Captain of F Company, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Michael W O’Reilly would have reported to Captain Tom Hunter, Captain, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, who in turn would have reported to Thomas McDonagh Commandant 2nd Battalion, Irish Volunteers, who would become Commandant of entire Dublin Brigade.
- Early in 1916 M.W. O’Reilly was appointed Deputy Adjutant to the Dublin Brigade which brought him into much closer contact with Irish Volunteers Headquarters at No 2 Dawson Street.
- Aged 27 he was appointed Aide de Camp to Commandant Joseph Plunkett on Easter Monday 24th April 1916, the start of the Easter Rising aimed at ending British rule in Ireland and establishing an Irish Republic – at a time when Britain was deeply engaged in the First World War.
[For an insightful 7 minutes video overview of the 1916 Easter Rising, which lasted from Easter Monday 24 April to Saturday 29 April click the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Cew_ZLgi3Cc]
- During the 1916 Easter Rising he fought in the G.P.O. as did his wife Catherine “Cathleen” O’Reilly [nee Cooney], his brother John Joseph O’Reilly and sister Mary Ann (Molly) O’Reilly (Mrs. Corcoran). All were recipients of the 1916 medal, and included in the Roll of Honour compiled in 1936 and presented to President de Valera (Source: http://irishmedals.org/gpage.html]
- Michael W. O’Reilly was one of the last to leave the G.P.O., helping to evacuate the wounded and providing the white flag (his hanky) that was used to make the initial surrender from 16 Moore Street.
[Note: 16 Moore Street is a building listed for destruction.
"The building is of considerable importance not just to the people of Dublin or the people of Ireland but to the citizens of the World. Number 16 Moore Street was the final HQ of the Army of the Irish Republic during the final hours of the Easter Rising of 1916. It was in this building that the wounded James Connolly lay in a stretcher. Also present were his fellow members of the Provisional Government; Padraic Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas Clarke and Sean MacDiarmada. These five men were amongst the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising. We owe it to the men and women of that period not to sully their reputation and memory by destroying a building so closely associated with their struggle. There are currently no roofing slates on number 16 Moore Street. The building is exposed to the elements and needs immediate work performed to protect the internal structure".
[Source: Quote from Save 16 Moore Street Petition http://www.petitiononline.com/1916loz/petition.html].
- Michael William O’Reilly led the G.P.O. garrison from 16 Moore Street to the Rotunda.
- He was imprisoned in various jails in England after the Easter Rising including Stafford, Knutsford Corner, Frongoch and Reading Gaol. While interned at Frongoch he was elected Camp Commandant of the North Camp.
- August 1916 transferred to Reading Jail. Released on Christmas Eve 1916 and contacted the Irish Volunteers in January 1917.
- After his release he ends up in Enniscorthy working for the Royal Liver Friendly Society which he resigns from in December 1917 and forms the New Ireland Assurance Collecting Society in January 1918.
- Member of Irish Citizen Army at G.P.O. in 1916 officially recorded as “M.W. O’Reilly 300 Connell Villas” (Source: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk).
Gabriel Bounin. Sinn Fein Rebellion handbook, Easter, 1916. (page 15 of 63) [Source: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/gabriel-bounin/sinn-fein-rebellion-handbook-easter-1916-lbu/page-15-sinn-fein-rebellion-handbook-easter-1916-lbu.shtml] refers to “O’Reilly, H., (Note: Should read M, ad in MW (Michael W O’Reilly)) 3 O’Connell Villa, Foster terrace— In’suranco inspector.” as being one of 200 prisoners who were “removed from Richmond Barracks, Dublin, on April 30th, and lodged in Kmits-ford (Note: Should read Knutsford) Detention Barracks, England, on May 1st, was issued on Wednesday, 13th May.
- At the 1917 IRA Convention M.W. O’Reilly was elected the Dublin representative to the National Executive of the Army. The National Executive was based on provincial representation. Dublin was regarded as a province. Eamon De Valera was elected President, and Director for Organisation was Michael Collins. (Source: Aengus Ó Snodaigh, An Phoblacht, May 11th 2000).
- Director of Training, Irish Volunteers, 1919.
- A Director of the semi-state body Industrial Credit Corporation for close to 30 years up to his death.
Selected Quotations / Attribution related to Michael William O’Reilly:
1). “1916 Rising: The Decision to Surrender
Captain Michael O’Reilly stuck a white handkerchief on a stick out of 15 Moore Street. It was immediately met with a hail of bullets. He made a second attempt, this time all was quiet. He gave the ‘ White Flag ’ to Elizabeth O’Farrell. She walked out onto the road very slowly at 12.45pm on Saturday 29th April and approached the barricade. She asked to speak to the Officer in Charge. After arranging the surrender details and returning to the leaders twice, she and Patrick Pearse left Moore Street at 3.30pm. The surrender took place at the corner of Parnell Street and Moore Street when Patrick Pearse handed over his sword, automatic pistol and holster, pouch of ammunition and his canteen to General Lowe.”
2). Split in Irish Nationalist Volunteers, Lieutenant MW O’Reilly, Cathleen O’Reilly and Family, attending the G.P.O. wounded
“…As far as ‘F’ Company was concerned we paraded on the Thursday night of each week in the Father Matthew Park and on Saturday afternoons in Andy Kettle’s field on Puckstown Road, Donnycarney. In addition we had occasional all-day manoeuvres on Sundays on the slopes of the Dublin mountains, and in which we participated with the whole Dublin Brigade. At the time of the split in the Irish National Volunteers, (late September or early October) ‘F’ Company numbered approximately 140 of whom about 80 sided with the Irish Party and about 60 remained loyal to that ideal which eventually brought us to Easter Week. The split, as it effected ‘F’ Company, was brought about by means of a strong as possible parade in the hell in Father Matthew Park, at which speeches were made by the Company Commander and the two Lieutenants, designed to influence us in the way the speakers considered we should go. As far as I remember nobody from the Battalion Staff was present at this meeting. We divided and. went to the side of the hail indicated for the supporters of either side with the result I have already indicated. Captain Magee, Company Commander, headed the 80, and Lieutenant MW. O’Reilly and Lieutenant Connaughton headed the other side. The majority who sided with the Irish Party departed and we were left in undisputed possession of the Father Matthew Park as a parade centre from that on. It is only fair to add that a few members who went on the Redmondite side that night rejoined us in subsequent months. We continued training and arming during the latter months of 1914 and throughout 1915 and the strength of ‘F’ Company remained fairly constant at about 60. M. W. O’Reilly became Captain..…….
…. Early in 1916 M.W. O’Reilly became Assistant Adjutant to the Dublin Brigade H.Q. staff…
…..Whatever the message was the girl brought or to whom in authority she gave it, I did not know, but we were all demobilised and told to go home and await further orders. I do not know who gave the direct order but it filtered through to us and it was intimated at the same time that those who lived in outlying districts should not go too far away. Consequently Seamus Daly and myself along with Harry Coyle accepted the invitation of Paddy Shortis, a Kerryman, of our Company, to go with him to the house in which he was stopping and which happened, to be the residence of M.W. O’Reilly in Foster Terrace, off Ballybough Road. We proceeded there and posted ourselves separately in different rooms, front and back, in the event of any attempt being made to round us up. M.W. O’Reilly was, of course, in the city, I presumed, with the Brigade staff. His wife, welcomed us and left shortly afterwards along with her children. Paddy Shortis provided us with food during our stay there and also added to my armament by presenting me with a small automatic pistol and ammunition….. ….. I made for the doorway leading into Henry Street. Members of the G.P.O. garrison were running to this doorway, hesitating for a moment and then darting across through a hail of fire from British forces up Mary Street way. I was grasping my rifle in my left hand while blood was streaming from the right. As I was about to leave the building I saw M. W. O’Reilly who beckoned to me to come and assist some others with a wounded man on a stretcher. I am ashamed to say I did not respond except by indicating my bloody right hand to him, and I turned and raced across Henry Street. I am sure I could have just as easily helped with the stretcher because as I joined a cluster of men from the G.P.O. in Henry Place a call went out for men with bayonets to come forward, and, forgetting my wounded hand, I darted out, fixing my sword bayonet at the end of my Martini Henry rifle….”
Source: Statement by Lieut. -Col. Charles Saurin, Collins Barracks, Dublin. Member of ‘F’ Coy., 2nd Batt’n. Dublin Brigade I.V’s. 1914 (Bureau of Military History, Source: http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0288.pdf#page=3
3).“Sean MacDermott went in search of a white flag and Captain O’Reilly gave him his handkerchief. MacDermott tied it to a stick and O’Reilly opened the door of 16 Moore Street and stuck it out. It was shot to pieces. He tried it again, this time with more success.”
4).“At Moore Street headquarters the Volunteers were stunned on learning the terms of the surrender. Most of them insisted on fighting to the death. But (James) Connolly was adamant that his boys must not be burned to death. The men began to gather in the street. Filing up and forming ranks, with sloped arms, the first group marched off under Captain O’Reilly picking up any stragglers on the way. Next, Willie (Padraic) Pearse headed the main body waving his white flag. Close behind him walked Tom Clarke and towards the rear walked Seán MacDiarmada and Joseph Plunkett, supported by his brave comrades Julia Grenan and Winifred Carney”
Source: Daily Account of 1916 Rising, by Shane MacThomáis
5). “… Captain M. W. O’Reilly, who fought with Padraig Pearse, was moved by the undefiled legacy of O’Reilly patriotism”
Source: Colonel Edward Saunderson: Land and loyalty in Victorian Ireland
6). “When I awoke, Sean McDermott had come into the yard and had begun to address us, to tell us of the decision to surrender. He spoke briefly but very movingly and many of those present were weeping. Some time after he had departed, we were paraded in single column and marched out of the yard into Moore Street, headed by Captain M. W. O’Reilly and a Volunteer bearing a white flag.
We marched back up Moore Street into Henry Street, which was littered with debris from the burning and destroyed buildings, and into O’Connell Street”
Source: Sean Lemass – 1916 Rising
7). “New Ireland Assurance Company…. provided a useful cover later on for IRB activities. Some of its principal figures, including M.W. O’Reilly and Denis McCullough, were Frongoch men”
Source: Tim Pat Coogan. ‘Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland’
8). “…He was a good friend of Captain O’Reilly, who took part in the burning of the Custom House”
Source: An Phoblacht, 29th September 2000, tribute to Harry Morgan
9). “More modern chroniclers naturally emphasized the patriotic traditions of the O’Reilly family. One amateur genealogist (M.W. O’Reilly, The O’Reilly’s of Templebridge Kildare (Dublin, 1940), 12-18), a distinguished veteran of the 1916 rising, succeeded to his own satisfaction in tracing his ancestry to Colonel Myles ‘The Slasher’ O’Reilly, a colonel of the Confederacy, who was killed in 1648; and from Myles, the family was pursued, generation by generation, as in the Book of Chronicles, back to Adam and the Garden of Eden”
Source: Colonel Edward Saunderson: Land and loyalty in Victorian Ireland
10). “Inside the camp (Frongoch) itself the running of things was left to ourselves, subject, of course, to inspections by the British Commandant. When I arrived, M.W. O’Reilly was our Camp Commandant in the North Camp. We were allotted to huts which held about twenty-five men each. Each hut immediately elected a hut leader, who was responsible to the British authorities under their regulations. The huts were inspected every morning by the British Commandant, accompanies by our own Commandant (M.W. O’Reilly). Fire precautions included the forming of a volunteer fire brigade amongst us. We also organised concerts, etc. Under Prisoner of War rules we were entitled to select certain of our men for working parties in connection with the camp work, and these men received prisoner of war pay from the British. While these working parties were carrying out their tasks around the camp, some breaches of the regulations occurred and the men involved in them, along with our own Camp Commandant, were charged before the British Commandant and penalised by being put in the guard-room. Paddy Daly, later Major General Daly, was one of those penalised. He immediately went on hunger-strike, which secured the release of all the men who had been put into the guard-room, but resulted in the removal of M.W. O’Reilly to Reading jail along with some other men from both the North Camp and the South Camp”
Source: Frank Henderson’s Easter Rising: Memoirs of a Dublin Volunteer (1998)
11). “…I was sent to Hut 14 North Camp at Frongoch and a good few of the Lewes men were domiciled in the same hut. I The Prisoner Commandant of this camp was M.W. O’Reilly, who is now Managing Director of the New Ireland Assurance Company. Parties were being brought daily before some commission in London presided over by Chief Justice Sankey. The object of all this was to try and get a statement from the rank and file that they were duped into taking part in the insurrection. Commandant O’Reilly, however, warned the men about this in each one of the huts, and I’m sure when they did appear before the tribunal they gave nothing away. In this manner we were given another trip to London, put up in Wormwood Scrubbs Prison, and when I was brought before the tribunal, which consisted of five men, I was questioned as to whether I was a member of the Volunteers. I said I was. I was then asked my rank which I gave accurately. I was asked if I took part in the rebellion. I said no but that I was mobilised for duty. Then Justice Sankey asked if I had the opportunity would I have participated, and I answered that I undoubtedly would. We were back to Frongoch, where we remained until late in July…..”
Source: Statement by Art O’Donnell, 28. Steele’s Terrace, Ennis, formerly 0/C West Clare Brigade. (Bureau of Military History, Source: http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1322.pdf
12). “The moving spirit in the formation of” the New Ireland Assurance Company
“…I think it is only right at this stage to refer to something which happened around Whit. in 1917 and which resulted in the formation of the New Ireland Assurance Collecting Society. During an earlier period, before 1916, in preparation for things to come, Arthur Griffith had in his papers frequently urged that something should be done to stop the flow of insurance premiums out of this country as part of a campaign to deal with the economic situation. It always was the first plank of Sinn Fein that everything Irish should be supported and that every effort should be made to keep the monies of the country circulating around amongst the people and re-employ these funds to create further industry. He was always very keen on trying to solve the problem of how to retain, that £5,000,000 of insurance premiums which were being annually exported from the country. One of his biggest supporters in that direction was Mr. M.W. O’Reilly, who became the founder of an Insurance Society at a later stage. As can he seen from the following history of events, Michael Collins, Doctor Jim Ryan, Liam Tobin, Eamon de Valera, the late Dick Coleman, Michael Staines and myself became the prime movers in bringing this idea to fruition. The following extract from the history of the New Ireland Assurance Company is, therefore, relevant to this story:
“While the formation of an Irish concern to compete with the foreign companies and societies which had almost a monopoly of Irish assurance had long been advocated by Sinn Fein, and while tentative plans had often been discussed, all who have supplied information for the compilation of this narrative, are agreed that the moving spirit in the formation of NEW IRELAND was Mr. M.W. O’Reilly, the present Managing Director of the Company. When he was interned in Frongoch in 1916, after taking his share n the fighting of Easter Week, Mr. O’Reilly often discussed the project with groups of his fellow prisoners, including Michael Collins and Dr. Jim Ryan, both of whom afterwards gave great help in getting the scheme actually into operation. Towards the end of August, however, Mr. O’Reilly was transferred from Frongoch to Reading Jail, where he remained till his release at Christmas 1916; and during that time nothing further was done in the matter. In January 1917, he was again in touch with Michael Collins, who was then showing his mettle as Secretary of the National Aid Association. Collins was so satisfied with Mr. O’Reilly’s idea that he was emphatic in encouraging him to translate them into action, and promised to render every assistance in his power.
“Mr. O’Reilly, like not a few who fought in the Rising, found when he came back to Dublin that the position he had occupied before Easter Week, was no longer available to him. His former employer, however, offered him an alternative post.
“As this would have taken him to Belfast, and thus would have interfered with his plans for the formation of a new Assurance Society, he declined it. In any case, he was anxious to get a more intimate knowledge of the insurance business of the Friendly Collecting Societies. Consequently, he approached Mr. T.P. Kelly, Dublin Secretary of the Royal Liver Friendly Society who put him in touch with the Enniscorthy District agent of the Royal Liver Society, whose interest Mr. O’Reilly promptly purchased. Before transferring with his family to Enniscorthy, Mr. O’Reilly again discussed his project with Michael Collins who showed a growing interest in it and renewed his promise of assistance, which he carried into effect shortly afterwards. Meantime, operating in the Enniscorthy District for the Royal Liver Society, Mr. O’Reilly renewed his acquaintance with Dr. Ryan, who was then in practice in Wexford town, and who showed that he had not lost the interest which he had evinced in Frongoch in the idea of creating an Irish organisation to deal with Irish insurance. Dr. Ryan constantly urged him to get ahead with his project.
“On the Saturday prior to the opening of Feis Charman, the Wexford County Feis, which was held in Enniscorthy at Whitsuntide 1917, occurred the meeting which may be said to have definitely decided the establishment of NEW IRELAND, Collins, true to his promise, had interested four of his friends in the scheme; and along with some other Volunteers, three of them, namely, Frank Thornton, Liam Tobin and Michael Staines, travelled down to Enniscorthy for the Feis, which was then looked upon as one of the biggest Irish-Ireland events of the year. The fourth member of the group was Dick Coleman, who had been unable to travel. All these men had taken part in the Insurrection of 1916. Frank Thornton, Liam Tobin and Dick Coleman having been only just released from Dartmoor and Portland Prisons. The three who made the journey called at the shop of Mr. T.D. Sinnott, over which Mr. O’Reilly had a flat, and inquired for the latter. The necessary introductions having been effected, the visitors broached the business which they had come from Dublin to discuss; and Mr. O’Reilly experienced the delight of feeling that the project to which he had devoted so much time and thought was at last on the way to becoming a reality Dr. Ryan joined the party shortly afterwards, and the five young men spent hours discussing the scheme in all its bearings – possibilities, difficulties, dangers, and ultimate purpose. The upshot of the talk was a definite decision to go ahead, all present pledging their assistance and undertaking to help in providing the necessary finance.
“From that moment the establishment of the NEW IRELAND was assured. The next big move, however, was not made until the end of the year, though a great deal of preparatory work and much useful propaganda had been done in the interval The meeting at which the formal resolutions were passed directing the launching of the Society and providing for its future management, was held on 5th January 1918. The presence at this meeting of Mr. de Valera, who had a few months before been unanimously elected President of Sinn Fein, indicated the importance which the leaders of the Nation had begun to attach to wresting the insurance business of the country from the foreign firms which not merely drew Irish money away for expenses and profits, but also invested outside the country all the great funds built up by the premiums of Irish policyholders. Mr. de Valera, who proposed Mr. O’Reilly for the chair, took an active part in the discussions which ensued.
“It is worth while reproducing the minutes of that historic meeting just as they were signed by Mr. Staines, who presided at the next meeting, held a fortnight later.
Here they are:
Saturday, 5th January, 1918.
“The first meeting of those interested in the formation of a Collecting Society took place on this date, the 5th January, 1918. Those present thereat were; Michael J. Staines, Michael W. O’Reilly, Richard Coleman, Frank Thornton, William Tobin, Eamonn J. Duggan, Eamonn de Valera, George J. Nesbitt, John Murphy.
“It was proposed that M.W. O’Reilly should take the chair and, after a discussion resolved:
‘That a Collecting Society to be called the New Ireland Assurance Collecting Society be formed’.
“The proposed rules of the. Society be drawn up by MW. O’Reilly and submitted for the members’ approval at a future meeting.
“The following formed the first Committee of Management:
Michael J. Staines, Dr. James Ryan, William Tobin, Richard Coleman, Michael W. O’Reilly, Frank Thornton and Daniel McAllister. Two Trustees were elected: George J. Nesbitt and Dr. James Ryan.
“The position of Treasurer to the Society was filled by Michael J. Staines, who was proposed by Michael W. O’Reilly and seconded by Richard Coleman and elected unanimously.
For the position of Secretary Michael W. O’Reilly was proposed by Michael J. Staines, seconded by William Tobin and elected unanimously.
“The next meeting was fixed for Saturday, the 19th January, 1918, at 8 o’clock
(Signed) Michael J. Staines.
19th January 1918″.
As I have stated, the New Ireland Assurance Collecting Society came into being on 5th January 1918.” Source: Statement by Frank Thornton, 115 St. Helen’s Road, Booterstown, Dublin. (Irish Volunteer Organiser; Deputy Assistant Director of Intelligence 1919; Director New Ireland Assurance Coy. 1951. (Bureau of Military History, Source: http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0510.pdf#page=53
13). “From Frongoch to Dawson Street – The History of New Ireland Assurance Co.
One of the prime objects, in fact the main inspiration in the setting up of New Ireland in 1918, was the feeling that far too much of the earnings of the Irish people was going abroad to build up the business and swell the assets of insurance and assurance companies outside Ireland. Arthur Griffith had written and talked of self-reliance in Industry, in Manufacture and Finance. The founders and pioneers of New Ireland accepted his doctrine and fought for his ideals. Its first office was just half a single room, in the other half of which its co-tenant carried on the business of a dry-goods agency. In this simple establishment the General Manager and Secretary received his callers, wrote out policies, conducted correspondence, paid claims, and got out the post, while across the floor six or seven feet away deals in stockings and orders for shirts were being sedulously discussed. Sinn Féin While Sinn Féin had long advocated the formation of an Irish concern to compete with the foreign companies and societies and while tentative plans had often been discussed, the moving spirit in the formation of New Ireland was Mr Michael W. O’Reilly. When he was interned in Frongoch, in Wales in 1916, after taking part in the fighting of Easter Week, O’Reilly often discussed the project with groups of fellow prisoners, including Michael Collins and Dr Jim Ryan (who went on to hold a number of Ministerial posts in subsequent Irish governments). Towards the end of August, however, O’Reilly was transferred from Frongoch to Reading Jail where he remained until his release at Christmas 1916. During that time nothing further was done in the matter. In January 1917, he was again in touch with Michael Collins, who was then Secretary of the National Aid Association. Collins again encouraged O’Reilly to translate his ideas into action. O’Reilly was anxious to get a more intimate knowledge of the insurance business of the Friendly Collecting Societies. Consequently, he approached a District Agent of the Royal Liver Society in Enniscorthy, whose interest O’Reilly promptly purchased. Meantime, operating in the Enniscorthy district, O’Reilly renewed his acquaintance with Dr Ryan, who was then in practice in Wexford town. Key meeting On the Saturday prior to the opening of Feis Charman, the Wexford County Feis, which was held in Enniscorthy at Whitsuntide 1917 [Note: Whitsunday was on the 27th May 1917], occurred the meeting that may be said to have definitely decided the establishment of New Ireland. Collins, true to his promise, and along with some other Volunteers, namely Frank Thornton, Liam Tobin and Michael Staines, met with O’Reilly and Ryan. All these men had taken part in the Insurrection of 1916. The men spent hours discussing the scheme in all its bearings – possibilities, difficulties, dangers and ultimate purpose. The result of the meeting was a definite decision to go ahead, all present pledging their assistance and undertaking to help in providing the necessary finance. The next big move, however, was not made until the end of the year. The meeting at which the formal resolutions were passed directing the launch of the New Ireland Assurance Collecting Society was held on 5th January 1918. The presence at this meeting of Mr Eamon de Valera, who had a few months before been elected President of Sinn Féin, indicated the importance which the leaders of the nation had began to attach to wrestling the insurance business of the country from the foreign firms, which not merely drew Irish money away for expenses and profits, but also invested outside the country all the funds built up by the premiums of Irish policyholders. Mr de Valera, who proposed Mr O’Reilly for the chair, took an active part in the discussions that ensued. Bachelor’s Walk At the second meeting of the Committee, held on 19th January 1918, it was decided that the Society should enter into an agreement with Messrs. Kapp and Peterson to rent an office at 56 Bachelor’s Walk, the premises known during the bombardment of 1916 as ‘Kelly’s Fort’. Within a year, the offices of the Society began to be the subject of unwelcome attention from the British military. This was not surprising since, from the beginning, 56 Bachelor’s Walk was not only the Headquarters of the New Ireland Assurance Collecting Society, it was also one of the unofficial Headquarters of Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers! Not only were men like O’Reilly and Thornton acting as organisers for the Volunteers and carrying out other tasks of military importance under Michael Collins, but the same might be said of every employee of the Society.
At the close of the year 1919, the Society had a membership of 3,131, and a premium income of £8,118. Business was growing so fast that by the end of 1920, premium income had increased to £37,885. In the circumstances, it was decided that it was necessary to appoint an office manager to organise the work at Head Office and control the growing staff. Mr Campbell took up duty on 8th March, 1920, and soon found himself bearing greater responsibilities than he may have bargained for because of the fact that Mr O’Reilly and most of the members of the Committee of Management were ‘on the run’ to evade arrest, they could only make contact with Mr Campbell occasionally. The Arms File The year 1921 opened up with a continuance of raids. Early in the year, the British military rushed into the front office where the officer-in-charge saw row after row of ordinary box files. On observing the name, “The Arms File”, which was an ordinary trademark name, he immediately jumped to the conclusion that he had secured the complete military records of the arms of the Volunteers. Without examining the contents of these files, which only contained ordinary correspondence relative to the activities of the Society, he ordered that the whole lot should be cleared away and brought to Dublin Castle for examination. In June 1921, the Treasurer of the Society, Mr T. Nolan, was arrested. Here is an extract from Mr Nolan’s account of his interrogation by the military officer before whom he was brought in Dublin Castle:
“He asked me what was my occupation and I replied: ‘insurance official.’
‘What company are you an insurance official with?’ ‘New Ireland Assurance Society.’
‘Who is the manager?’ ‘Mr M. W. O’Reilly.’
‘Where is he?’ ‘I don’t know, I haven’t seen him for some time.’ (Mr O’Reilly was ‘on the run’.)
Then he asked me questions concerning the Committee of Management:
‘Who is the Committee of Management?’ I mentioned the name of Mr Michael Staines.
‘Where is he?’ ‘In Mountjoy,’ I replied.
‘Mr Duggan – where is he?’ ‘He’s in Mountjoy.’
‘Mr Frank Thornton?’ ‘I can’t say – I haven’t seen him for quite a long time.’
‘Dr Ryan?’ ‘I think he’s in Mountjoy also.’ – and so on through the other names. All were either in jail or ‘on the run’.”
On the introduction of a Mr Collins, Mr. H. Hosking Tayler, F.I.A., and a Clareman who at that time was Assistant Actuary to the Pearl Assurance Company Ltd., agreed to act for the Society as Consulting Actuary
Move to Dawson St. In 1923 negotiations were entered into with the owners of No. 12 Dawson Street. A meeting was held on 16th October to enable the Committee to authorise the purchase of the premises, a momentous step, and one involving the largest expenditure that the Committee had so far undertaken. Nos. 9 to 12 Dawson St continues to be the current head office of New Ireland Assurance. To allow the business greater flexibility in terms of the types of business it could engage in, it was agreed that proposals should be made to members of the Society asking their authority for the transfer to a Limited Liability Company of all the engagements of the New Ireland Assurance Collecting Society. On 16 December, 1924, the necessary special meeting was called and the resolution was carried. Under the 1936 Insurance Act, it became necessary to separate the Life business and the Fire and General Accident business into two distinct businesses. This lead in 1938 to New Ireland Assurance taking a controlling interest in the Irish National Insurance Company Ltd. New Ireland continued to be Irish-owned up until 1976. Following rumours of an attempted takeover by PMPA, the French-based insurance group UAP came in with what was viewed as a ‘white knight’ offer acquiring an initial 33% shareholding, growing to over 80% later in the same year….. …… New Ireland as the first Irish-owned Life Assurance Company has had a long, distinguished and historically significant past. The Ireland it operates in has changed dramatically since 1919. Throughout the years, New Ireland Assurance has continued to be an industry leader, financially strong and successful.”
Source: Claire Devine
14). Michael William O’Reilly was a close friend of Collins from Frongoch days
“Letter from Michael Collins to his sister Johanna, from Dublin, 10.11.18 [day before the end of the war in France], 2 pp, an enigmatic letter. ‘Sean McG sent me a note in which he intimated that you were rather upset at the vagaries of our young friend – you ought to know what might be expected at this time of your life, & after all the experience you have had of all kinds of erratic persons. However he has returned safely. By the way it is now unlikely that the other man will call on you. ‘I’m really writing this to find out how you are? I do hope that this strange malady has not come your way. Ever so many of my friends have died of it here and thro’ the country. All sorts of great strong chaps & girls too. It seems thank goodness to be somewhat on the decline tho’ still very serious. You may of course write to the usual address put the name M.W. O’Reilly. ‘Well, things are moving fast. New Republics every day – Russia gone, the Balkans, Austria-Hungary and now Germany. As the “Manchester Guardian” said in a thoughtful leading article last week – “the Generals may make an armistice but who can make peace?” Who indeed? .. The situation is most interesting and it wouldn’t surprise me one little bit to see Bolshevism rearing its head in France “at no far distant date”. It is the day of the workers and even England itself, sedate & careful as its population are, is hardly likely to be left untouched.’ ['Sean McG' is probably Sean McGarry, a close associate of Collins and a member of the IRB Supreme Council. We have not identified 'our young friend'. The 'strange malady' is of course the Europe-wide epidemic of influenza, then new and lethal. Michael W. O'Reilly was a close friend of Collins from Frongoch days, later head of the New Ireland Assurance Company.] – With a printed Appeal from the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Dependents Fund, 1 pp, listing the officers and committee, with Collins named last among the committee members, and with a related envelope”.
Source: A letter from Michael Collins to his sister Johanna that was sold in April 2011 for €12,000 http://www.adams.ie/BidCat/detail.asp?SaleRef=7029&LotRef=448
[Additional comment by Niall O'Reilly, Grandson of Dr. M.W. O'Reilly: A trusted friend of Michael Collins, and well-respected by the British, M.W. O’Reilly used to forward personal correspondence to Michael Collins when he was on the run].
15). “The (Irish Volunteers / Óglaigh na hÉireann) Director of Training, Michael W. O’Reilly, gave me notes on musketry”
“I was at the concert [Note: Referring to the annual Emmet commemoration concert on the evening of 4th March 1919 in the Round Room of the Mansion House] and while I was in the Mansion House two of my GHQ colleagues handed me material they had promised me for An t-Óglach, the secret underground journal of Óglaigh na hÉireann, which I edited. the Director of Engineering, Rory O’Connor, gave me notes on blowing up bridges, the Director for Training, Michael W. O’Reilly, gave me notes on musketry. When on my way home that night with these papers in my pocket, I was intercepted by Detectives Smith and Wharton, G-men of the political branch of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. I resisted arrest as strenuously as I could, but reinforcements arrived from the police headquarters close at hand and I was overpowered. I had no weapon. The papers I carried were most incriminating…. …. the papers I carried and which has been found on me by (Detective) Smith were much more serious. So Michael Collins and Harry Boland approached him and offered him a bribe not to produce the papers at my court martial. He obstinately refused to accept the offer and they warned him he would produce the papers at his peril. In the event , I got a two years’ imprisonment. Smith was shot and mortally wounded on 30 July. He was the first detective to be executed in Dublin for having continued to engage in political work for the British Government after he had been warned against doing so..”
Source: Chapter 5 -Twenty got away in the big daylight escape from Mountjoy Jail, by Piaras Béaslaí , in the book ‘IRA Jailbreaks 1918 – 1921′, by Florence O’Donoghue (Anvil Books, 1971)
16). Official Witness Statement by Michael William O’Reilly, F.C.I.I., P.C. regarding “G.P.O. area, Dublin, Easter Week 1916, and his imprisonment later” (Bureau of Military History, 17th August 1953
BUREAU OF MILITARY HISTORY, 1913-21
STATEMENT BY WITNESS
DOCUMENT NO. W.S. 886
Michael William O’Reilly, F.C.I.I., P.C.,
59, Ailesbury Road,
Member of I.R.B. Dublin, 1911 – ;
Member of ‘F’ Coy. 2nd Batt’n Dublin Brigade, 1913 – ;
Captain and later Deputy Adjutant Irish Vol’s.
G.P.O. area, Dublin, Easter Week 1916, and his imprisonment later
Managing Director, New Ireland Assurance Company,
12 Dawson Street, Dublin. Residing at 59 Ailesbury Road, Dublin.
STATEMENT BY MICHAEL WILLIAM O’REILLY, F.C.I.I., P.C.,
Managing Director, New Ireland Assurance Company,
12 Dawson Street, Dublin.
Residing at 59 Ailesbury Road, Dublin.
I, Michael William O’Reilly, born on the 11th December, 1889, at Stillorgan, Co. Dublin, started school at Mount Anville National Schools, and subsequently transferred to the Stillorgan National Schools where I continued until I passed out of sixth standard and then went to the Christian Brothers, St. Eblana’s School, Dun Laoghaire, for a comparatively short session, leaving as a result of an eye accident which necessitated my removal to Hospital where I was treated by the famous Eye Specialists, Doctors Maxwell and Mooney. Apprenticed to the Grocery and Provision Trade with the firm of Messrs. Bewley, Sons & Company, Ltd., in their Branch premises at Blackrock, and after serving there for sometime was transferred to their Henry Street premises, and I subsequently returned home to assist my parents in a small shop that they were running at Stillorgan. While there during this period I contacted a Mr. J.F. O’Kelly, who was then the Superintendent for the Prudential Assurance Company Ltd., in the Dún Laoghaire-Blackrock Districts, and he suggested to me the advisability of taking up Insurance as a career. Meanwhile, my late Manager at Bewley’s in Blackrock offered me a position in the business which he had opened for himself at Brighton Square, Terenure, which offer I accepted and remained with him for approximately twelve months when my old friend, Mr. O’Kelly, again came on the scene and-2-informed me that there was an Agency vacant in the Dalkey District and that, if I should apply for it, he thought there would be little difficulty in my securing the appointment. I accordingly applied and in June of 1910 I had my first introduction into the Life Insurance business. My principal hobby during those years that I referred to was reading and, under the influence of my Mother, my readings included a considerable amount of Irish History and in particular the events relating to the period from 1847 up to 1900, as a consequence of which I tended towards developing a nationalistic outlook and in 1910 I was easily persuaded to join the Thomas Davis Amateur Theatrical Society which was established in Blackrock and was used largely as a cover for a Recruiting School by the local Circle of the I.R.B., into which organisation I was sworn in or around the Spring of 1911, shortly after I had been married, which event took place on 25th January, 1911, at Blackrock Church. My progress as an Agent was steady and I impressed my Superiors sufficiently to obtain their good offices in securing promotion to the position of Assistant Superintendent in the Company’s services in the Clontarf District, which event took place about a fortnight after the Bloody Sunday of 1913, and as my District covered portion of the North Wall, Talbot Street, Marlboro’ Street, Summer Hill, etc., I had ample opportunities of going around with my Agents and seeing the damage which had been done by the Police Force during the general strike of that year. My transfer to Dublin also necessitated my transfer from the Dún Laoghaire Circle of the I.R.B., and I was duly notified that I was posted to a Circle which met in Parnell Square under the late Tom Hunter. In November of 1913 we were all duly mobilised to attend the Public Meeting at the Rotunda organised by Mr. Owen MacNeill and all those others then associated with him for the purpose of bringing into existence the Irish Volunteers. Naturally at the conclusion of the meeting I handed in my name and was duly notified that I had been posted to B. Company, Second Battalion, and our first public meeting was held in the Richmond Hall, Richmond Road, Fairview, where the Company was duly formed and Tom Hunter in due course was elected Captain. Subsequently, Mr. Connaughten and myself were elected Lieutenants and, as the Company grew, it was decided to divide it and to form F. Company of the Second Battalion, which Company was transferred to the Fr. Mathew Park, and I as First Lieutenant was transferred with it and Mr. Connaughten also. In due course I was elected Captain and remained so until early 1916 when I was transferred to Headquarters as Deputy Adjutant of the Dublin Brigade. After the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war when Mr. John Redmond advocated the recruitment for the British Army, the split inevitably came between those of us who disagreed with that policy and the balance of our colleagues. My Company, F. Company, Second Battalion, was badly depleted by the deflection of those of our colleagues who decided to join the Irish National Volunteers, the body which had been formed under the aegis of Mr. John Redmond and his friends. Nevertheless, in the course of time between then and 1916 we recruited steadily so much so that we were able to form out of F. Company another Company known as E. Company, Second Battalion, of which incidentally Tom Weafer was Captain and Oscar Traynor an Officer. Training was continued intensively and a substantial Company turned out to march to Howth for the Gun Running and, as the events of that day are well known, it is sufficient to record that, acting on orders, we dismissed the Company at Malahide Road and cut across the fields through Croydon Park and, again acting on orders, left our rifles in Croydon House. Subsequently, however, that evening I was contacted by other Officers, including Tom Hunter, who advised that I should go back and secure my rifle and bring it home, which order I accordingly carried out concealing the rifle under my armpit and trousers. The events of Bachelors Walk brought recruits pouring into the Volunteers and we were kept extremely busy getting our new men into check. As Deputy Adjutant of the Dublin Brigade I was brought into much closer touch with the Head Office at No.2 Dawson Street where I met innumerable people, particularly a number of the Irish boys who had returned from England consequent upon the introduction of conscription there, among whom was Patrick Shortis. I was able to accommodate him between then and his going out on Easter Monday 1916. During the week prior to 1916 I was mainly engaged in lining up transport for F. Company and all was arranged for them to turn up on Easter Sunday in accordance with the mobilization orders which had been issued for that day. On Easter Sunday morning a knock came to my door and, on opening it, I found a very young, active and intelligent looking person outside to enquire if I was Captain O’Reilly, and on being so informed he delivered to me a message from Sean MacDermott that the mobilisation for that afternoon had been called off, but I was to stand to as other directions might be issued during the day. I consequently remained at home all Easter Sunday and devoted myself very largely to some office work which had been neglected during the previous few days. In the evening of Easter Sunday, I had a visit from, among others, Captain Tom Hunter, who advised me that the Supreme Council was still in session and he expected that a statement would be issued within a few hours. Nothing occurred, however, and I went to bed and the following morning I was knocked up and ordered to report to Commandant Joseph Mary Plunkett in a Nursing Home in Mountjoy Square with full kit and iron rations, and so, having bade my wife and children (four) goodbye, I cycled up to Mountjoy Square and located the Nursing Home in which Commandant Plunkett was then staying, not actually by reason of illness but as a hide-out. Having reported to the Commandant, he informed me that I was attached to his personal staff as Aide-de-Camp and I would accompany him to carry out such instructions or orders as he would deliver, and in due course we proceeded to Liberty Hall where he went along to a meeting which was being held between Connolly, Pearse, MacDermott and others, and I waited outside where I noticed particularly the intense air of activity with which boxes, parcels, etc., were being moved from one place to another and ultimately being transferred to waiting transport outside. It was now about twenty minutes to twelve and, as I looked out on the busy Quay in Beresford Place, I noticed a touring car pulling up, out of which stepped the O’Rahilly, who went into Liberty Hall and joined the other Leaders who were in Conference. About a quarter to twelve they all emerged and the various Companies of both Volunteers and Citizen Army were duly formed up and the column was headed by a Company of the Citizen Army, followed by Volunteers brought from various Companies, at the head of which Commandant Plunkett and myself were placed, and at about five minutes to twelve, the order to march was given. We faced south, turned into Eden Quay and got the order to turn right in O’Connell Street, and as we came right opposite the Post Office at precisely twelve o’clock, the order to halt was given, accompanied by the order to charge which was immediately taken up by the leading column who rushed into the Post Office and took up positions which had in some measure been previously allotted to them. The Post Office was occupied with comparative ease, there was very little shooting and, beyond a nasty gash which I got in my right wrist when smashing through the glass of the door leading to the back of the counter, I escaped unhurt. Having occupied the Post Office, we proceeded to sand bag the windows, doors, and mount the necessary Guards. During the process of this work, the British mounted troops charged O’Connell Street and they were met by a fusillade of bullets from the Post Office. Immediately they retired a small party was rushed out to blockade Abbey Street and, as a consequence, the Newspapers Stores, “The Irish Times”, which was then situated in Abbey Street, somewhere around Wynn’s Hotel, was raided and the paper reels were found extremely useful for the work in hand. Captain McGarry had, meanwhile, taken over the Radio Transmitting Station which was then over the D.B.C. premises in Lower O’Connell Street, now occupied, I think, by the Hibernian Bank. My next sortie from the Post Office was to the Headquarters of the National Volunteers in Parnell Street where we were advised that there were both small arms and ammunition and, while we did not discover very many small arms, we did succeed in locating quite a number of cases of Point 22 ammunition which was duly loaded on our vehicles and transported back to the Post Office, and so Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday passed over, everybody being engaged in some manner or means, either in making home made bombs or filling more sand bags, securing water or many other things that such a situation demands, and then the first big blow fell upon us, the wounding of Commandant James Connolly. Others also had been wounded and, as a consequence, instructions were given to break through the adjoining walls down to the Theatre which was then known as the La Scala occupying a site which is now held by Woolworths. This breaking through took considerable time but ultimately we succeeded in getting through to the Dress Circle of the Theatre where a First-Aid Station was duly set up with the aid of our medical help and the Cumann na mBan, and in this connection Dr. Jim Ryan, the present Minister for Health, was of considerable assistance. On the Thursday I was informed that a visitor wanted to see me and, when I came down at the side gates opening into Princes Street, I found that my visitor was none other than my Mother who had walked in from Stillorgan to ascertain what the position was and to find out if there was anything she could do, and she told me that she hoped to be able to go down and see her niece who was then residing in Fairview. On hearing this, I remembered that Pat McCrea had told me that he unfortunately had left some ammunition at his residence in Clontarf and, when I mentioned this matter to my Mother, she said she would make her way to Clontarf and try and pick it up, and much to my surprise in about three or four hours later I was again called to the side door and my Mother duly presented whatever ammunition she had been able to secure and carry with her, having incidentally passed through a British Military Guard on Annesley Bridge. Having left the ammunition with me, she bade me goodbye and walked back home to Stillorgan. She would then have been in or about her sixtieth year. Things then began to warm up and the next thing we found that Clery’s was ablaze and, as the heat grew, there was considerable excitement at the Post Office, and water and still more water had to be brought to cool the sand bags in the windows. In addition to this, we had been already advised that the Fairview Companies, which had been holding the Ballybough-North Strand line, had fallen back into Marlboro’ Street and that some of them had occupied the Imperial Hotel which was situated over Clery’s, and a number of sorties were made with a view to try and secure relief for them and, in fact, some of them did, I believe, get back to the Post Office. However, our own turn was not far behind and on Friday morning an incendiary shell struck the roof of the Post Office and penetrated into the telephonic rooms, gradually burning itself down through the shafts into the main building and, despite all our efforts with the hose which was played on the burning building and helped by the last group who were then at the back of the Post Office, our efforts were unavailing and we were mobilised and, with Frank Henderson, myself and others, were sent down to the First Aid Station to bring back as many of the wounded as possible, and when we arrived back with the wounded, dusk had fallen and we were informed that the Post Office had been vacated and new positions had been taken up in Henry Place and Moore Street. We got across to Moore Street as quickly as we could, bringing our wounded men with us, and just got to the corner of Moore Lane where a barrage of machine gun fire was playing on the brick wall on the south side of Henry Place, past which we had to get in order to make our way into Moore Street. Unfortunately, during a slight lull, a loose brick falling struck me on the knee, but we succeeded in getting into a cottage just on the corner of Moore Street where Dr. Ryan had already set up his quarters and, having bandaged my knee, he ordered me to rest and I found the soft feather bed into which I threw myself and had my first sleep for several days. The following morning, Saturday, having washed, shaved and breakfasted, I had my full kit including shaving outfit, and I made my way through the houses of Moore Street down to the Headquarters Staff. By this time we were completely cut off from other units, and the British Military held Britain Street, as it was then known, and right down to Capel Street and back up to Summerhill and were keeping up constant bursts of machine gun fire. It soon became evident that our position was somewhat hopeless, and Cumann na mBan was called upon to supply the messenger to go to British Military Headquarters, which I understand was situated in the Rotunda. Shortly Afterwards the question was asked if anybody had a razor and I immediately produced my safety razor outfit which was used in turn by the two Pearse’s, Connolly, MacDermott and Plunkett. After some going backwards and forward Commandant Plunkett informed me that I was to proceed out to Moore Street carrying a White Flag, and, as I popped out of the door, I was immediately met by a burst of rifle and machine gun fire but fortunately I was able to jump back and take cover, meanwhile holding out my White Flag which had the effect of drawing a British Sergeant up to enquire what the idea was and, on being informed, he expressed his ignorance for any truce. He was then shortly afterwards joined by an Officer who instructed him that the matter was in order, and, on being told that we were filing our men out, he told me that I should also go across the street through Riddle Row and pick up some snipers who were there and giving them quite a lot of trouble. This I duly did accompanied by him and, as we picked up a number of men, including one, Mr. Breen, who had been a Volunteer in my Company, he was violently abused by the Sergeant for alleged continuous sniping at him during the night. I overcame that difficulty and, when I got back from Riddle Row, most of our troops were formed up in Moore Street facing south, and Commandant Plunkett and myself took the head of the column and were ordered to march into Henry Street turning left, and at the top of Henry Street, thinking that the surrender would take place at O’Connell Bridge, I turned right and, after a good deal of excitement, the turn right was rectified and we were marched up to the Parnell Monument, halted and ordered to lay down our arms, etc., and in my kit bag was my safety razor, the loss of which has been one of my greatest regrets. I was standing only a short time at the head of a long line of prisoners when the British Commander-in-Chief came over to me to interrogate or perhaps question me. He informed me of the arrest of Casement and the attempted landing at Kerry, of which I did not at that time know, and generally suggested that we had been out to help the Germans which I stoutly denied. He acted a perfect gentleman and, when all our arms and ammunition had been taken from us, we were marched across Parnell Street into the grass plot in front of the Rotunda Hospital upon which we were permitted to recline and where I remember partaking of a raw Oxo cube and giving one to Willie Pearse at the same time. The night passed and in the morning we were called early, duly formed up and marched up to Thomas Street to the Richmond Barracks. I remember Thomas Street particularly by reason of the barrage of abuse which we got from the female residents of that quarter, most of whom we assumed were the wives of soldiers serving in the British Army. In Richmond Barracks our names and addresses were duly taken and, while we were in the gymnasium, I confided to my friend, Breen, that I had a steel jacket which had been given to me by Seán MacDermott and he advised that I should get that off as quickly as possible, and after gathering a small group around me, I succeeded in getting out of the steel jacket which I duly deposited in the middle of the floor, but there was much consternation when a British soldier espied it on the floor, and enquiry was immediately set on foot as to who had left it there but nobody knew. I was passed through the Detective Screening Squad and transferred to another portion of the Barracks where we were kept until almost nightfall. We were then served out with hard biscuits and a tin of beef, and just as it got dusk, we were ordered out into the Square and formed up. All sorts of wild rumours circulated through the ranks as to what our destination was, but they were soon set at rest when we were marched out from the Barracks and back down through the deserted streets in the City on our way to the North Wall. I remembered distinctly the eerie graveyard feeling which that walk, or rather the march through the City, created. Apparently curfew had been enforced as there was a deathlike silence in every street that you passed through, even the seagulls on the Liffey appeared to have sensed it and held their peace. We arrived at the North Wall and were quickly aboard the steamer, and I found myself located in one of the holds very close to a hot water or steam pipe which at times made the journey unpleasantly hot, but which, nevertheless, I was thankful for when I was awakened shortly before our arrival at Holyhead. Aboard the train at Holyhead it fell to my lot to be transferred to Knutsford Jail which is situated some distance outside Manchester, pleasantly situated if one could so describe a Jail. It is just immediately outside the Railway Station and we had no sooner crossed the Railway Bridge when we saw the gates of the jail opening wide to receive us. Here again our names and addresses were taken and we were posted to our separate cells where we were kept in solitary confinement for a matter of about two weeks, except for parade each morning for an exercise around the Prison Yard, silence also being imposed there, but I was suddenly called out of the ranks and accused of talking and got a serious warning. After some days at Knutsford, the Sergeant in charge of the wing appeared to be attracted by some of the Irish prisoners and he made frequent visits to my cell. His most cheery opening when he entered the cell during the earlier days was to tell me that “another of your blokes was shot this morning”. This news I received quite calmly because frankly I did not believe him, but unfortunately, I was to learn how true it was at a later stage. During this period of solitary confinement, time passed monotonously slow and I remember one morning after breakfast was served, which breakfast incidentally consisted of a small plate of thin oaten meal porridge, a mug of tea, a small piece of bread and a patty of margarine. It was a beautiful May morning and the sun was shining brilliantly outside when, in order to while away the time, I brought my small stool to the window so as to enjoy in some measure the beauty of the sun outside, but within a few seconds there was loud rattling at the door and, in less than a minute, the door was opened and I was taken out and brought down to the basement cells on the ridiculous charge of signaling to the wing opposite. This was about 7.45, and at eleven o’clock, after meanwhile being strongly pressed by one of the British soldier prisoners, some of whom were also interned there, to give him my Rosary Beads or even a button off my officer’s uniform, all of which I resolutely refused, I was brought before the Governor of the prison and duly charged, a charge which I denied, but the Governor found me guilty and sentenced me to three hours which I had already served, and consequently I was returned to my own cell. Shortly afterwards I was again brought before the Governor, this time to be informed that a parcel of food had arrived for me, but that prison regulations did not permit either letters or food parcels to be passed on to prisoners, but as the parcel was possibly sent in ignorance on this occasion, I would be permitted to take it, as otherwise it would probably go bad. In due course the conditions under which we were confined were raised in the British House of Commons, as a consequence of which we had a visit one Sunday from Mr. Alfred Byrne, M.P., and on his arrival, all the prisoners were allowed free movement in the large yard of the prison, and shortly afterwards we were informed that letters and parcels would be permitted as well as visitors. To my surprise, I was again called down to the Governor’s office and informed that, since they had no means of dealing with letters and parcels, we would have to set up a post office or sorting office of our own, and he was placing me in charge. I could pick whatever assistance or assistants I needed, and my choice immediately fell upon Volunteer Conroy who had on a previous Saturday morning manfully come to my assistance and aid when I was being ordered to wash out the floor of my cell, which I regarded as an indignity offered to an Officer of the Irish Army, and as he persisted and was going to call in more of the guards, I capitulated on the plea that I would do it under protest, to which he replied that, in so far as he was concerned, I could do it on my so-and-so knees. Our cell doors were open and the noise of our altercation was heard in the next door cell which was occupied by Volunteer Conroy, who came to know what it was all about and immediately took over the job, saying, “Captain, I shall wash out your cell!”. The admission of letters and parcels and the granting of facilities to visitors meant considerable freedom of action in so far as the prisoners were concerned, and our cell doors were left open from breakfast time until after supper, and considerable freedom of movement was availed of. On Sundays we would be inundated with visitors, mostly from Manchester, bringing parcels, messages, tinned fruits and tinned meat, all of which was shared around, and in due course I had a visit from my wife and my mother, and they stayed for a few days at Knutsford in a little café in the town which was run apparently by a kindly soul, because one day my wife came in with a parcel and said to me that she wanted me to take this parcel, change into the suit that was in it, and let her take home my uniform, a suggestion which, of course, I did not entertain for a moment, and she was much crestfallen when she had to take the suit which her kindly landlord had loaned her. Their visit coincided with the sinking of the ship (Note: June 1916) which was carrying Lord Kitchener to Russia and there were few, if any, mourners to be found among the prisoners when the news was announced. My mother, I think, took particular delight in this news, but my wife, being somewhat more reserved, considered this slightly unseemly. My mother, however, had a long memory and she recalled the ‘exploits’ of Kitchener when he dealt with the Dervishes in the Sudan. Staying in the restaurant in Knutsford was the Sergeant of my wing, Sergeant Allen, who claimed to be related to Allen of Allen, Larkin and O’Brien, and he appeared to take particular pride in telling my wife and my mother of how calmly I took the news which he gave of the shootings in Arbour Hill and Kilmainham, and I think it was at his instigation that the suit of clothes was sent in, as apparently he had heard rumours that those who were in uniform would have to change out of it. Time went on and my duties as postmaster of Knutsford bought me into contact with almost all the prisoners and I became consequently quite well known to them; hence on our arrival at the North Camp,Frongoch, to which we were being transferred, it was perhaps not surprising that the first contingent that arrived selected me as Camp Commandant, there being an arrangement with the British military that the internal affairs of the Camp would be managed by the prisoners themselves, that is to say, they would be responsible for the kitchen, cooking and serving of meals and the general cleanliness and upkeep of the Camp, including the fifty or sixty huts which we ultimately occupied. When we arrived at Frongoch, we found a series of wooden huts almost smothered in overgrown grass, but after a very short time the grass was trampled down and, as it appeared to be a somewhat rainy area, the trampled grass soon became replaced with soft mud. The routine of the day was breakfast at 8 o’clock followed by approximately an hour’s recreation when the entire camp then formed up in a field situated between the South Camp and the North Camp, the latter of which we were in, and were put through certain military movements. In fact, full advantage was availed of the opportunity for keeping our Companies and Battalions well drilled and disciplined, and each morning the Camp Commandant, accompanied by his Adjutant, would inspect the men while on parade. As the rain persisted and the mud became more difficult, volunteers were called for to form what was known as an R.E. Party which would immediately proceed to make suitable pathways around the camp, and pay would be at the rate of 11/2d, per hour. The required number of volunteers were found and they continued their work until the pathway was more than half-way finished when one evening after meal, I was called on to attend a meeting which was being held in the hut occupied by Mr. William O’Brien. When I arrived I found that the meeting of the R.E. Party had been gathered together and I was informed that they were dissatisfied with the conditions under which they were operating, and they proposed not to report for duty the following morning. While I was disappointed that the work was going to be stopped, I nevertheless realised I could not order them to carry on.” SIGNED: M.W. O’Reilly DATE: 17.8.53 WITNESS: S. Whelan
Blog Note: Photographs of medals are from http://irishmedals.org/gpage.html. General Post Office, O’Connell Street (413) #311 is M.W. O’Reilly, while I believe (though still have yet to confirm) #306 Cathleen O’Reilly, is my father’s mother, my Grandmother