Liam Ó Briain visits Tullamore on Easter Sunday morning 23 April 1916 to issue countermand orders to the Volunteers and tell them the Rising was off.

Ó Briain set off early on Easter Sunday morning 1916 in a motor taxi to deliver the countermand order to  the local Volunteer contacts in Offaly and Tyrrellspass. Beatty he located in Edenderry but not finding Smith in Tyrrellspass, went on to Tullamore to a small shop owned by Eamonn Carroll. O’Carroll had worked in Scally’s shoe store  in Columcille Street, now the AIB bank, but was dismissed after the fracas on 20 March and how had his own store in the same street. In the kitchen of a house in Church Street Ó Briain met Séamus O’Brennan, who was on the run since the fracas in Tullamore and had been in Kimmage.

Cuimnní Cinn
Cuimhní Cinn by Liam O Briain (1951)

On Easter Saturday, O’Brennan had been ordered back to Tullamore to lead his men out and was determined to do so. O’Brennan now decided to return to Dublin to find out what was going on and went in the direction of Drumraney to pick up Peadar Bracken and then moved back to the Volunteer camp at Kimmage. Ó Briain said that Bracken and O’Brennan, after spending a week in the GPO, were held in connection with the shooting of the policeman in Tullamore and went on: ‘That shot in Tullamore about a month before the rising, was, I believe, the first shot fired in the insurrectionary period of 1916-1921.’ Ó Briain was with MacNeill again on Monday and on discovering that the rising was going ahead both had decided to join up. MacNeill’s offer was not accepted but Ó Briain fought with the Citizen Army. Ó Briain was later a professor in UCG and a well-known figure in Irish public life. He published the memoir (illustrated here) in 1951.

Cuimnní Cinn 2 (2)
Meeting Peadar Bracken  and Seamus Ó Brennan from Cuimní Cinn by Liam Ó Briain (1951)

Translation pp63-65:

Carroll’s house definitely looked like a Sinn Féiner’s house. I was told to go down the street to the small shop that had ‘Brennan’ printed over the entrance. In that small shop I asked boldly was there a Volunteer official there. The shopgirl looked at me sharply and went in to the back room without saying a word. I had noticed when I was getting out of the car that there was an RIC sergeant about a hundred yards down the street looking at the house. The girl came back and asked what business did I have there. I was sure at this point that I was in the right place and I gave her MacNeill’s order. In she went again and after a minute or two she came back and took me through to the back room. A young man was standing inside and three or four women around him. He was wearing the Volunteer uniform with a bandolier full of cartridges over his shoulder. I could see a gun sticking out of his pocket. This was Séamus Brennan, Volunteer captain of the town and on the run from the police already. A month previously an RIC inspector and a few of his men forced their way into a hall where the Volunteers were drilling. They looked at the weapons that they were holding, and then a violent skirmish occurred between the police and Séamus and his comrade, Peadar Bracken, with the result that they were knocked onto the floor, a shot was fired and the police inspector was wounded. You could say that what happened there in Tullamore was the first shot fired in the 1916 Rising.

Séamus and Peadar had come to Dublin and stayed for a month in the ‘camp’ in Kimmage for the Volunteers that had come over from England. I was there on Good Friday looking for that bayonet that I didn’t get. Séamus had returned and accompanied by the other man the previous night to seek out the Volunteers of the area. There he was ready, armed and in uniform, and here was a stranger from Dublin in on top of him ordering him about. He was angry and suspicious and I wasn’t surprised. I told him what I knew. ‘Wouldn’t it be better for you’, I said in the end, ‘to come back to Dublin with me, get to the bottom of the story, take advice and come back here on the double if that’s what you want to do’. He agreed that this would be best.

He put on a big coat, a cap and spectacles, things which he wouldn’t normally wear, and out we went, himself in the middle of the group of women. One of his sisters got into the car, me behind her, all the women waving and saying goodbye to us both, and we went down the street past the nosey sergeant who was looking closely at me, but all he could see was me smiling and making small talk about the weather with this lovely young girl who I had only met five minutes previously. Where was Séamus? Underneath our feet on the floor of the car! We got a mile or two out of the town and then Séamus looked out of the window.

‘Ye have gone too far. We have to go back about half a mile to get Peadar’. I had to tell the driver to turn around and go back. He was getting a bit annoyed and a bit worried about all this strange carry on. ”Do you actually know where you are going?’, he asked angrily. I didn’t respond. We stopped at a small farmhouse and a strapping young man came out. He got into the car on top of the other fella as best as he could manage so that they would not be seen on the road. After a couple of miles or three, they sat up on the seats and we began to talk. Peadar Bracken was angry and suspicious of the whole situation as well. They had both came from Dublin to fight, their minds were made up about that, their choices made, and it annoyed them that the big day had been postponed, and that the procrastinators and the timid had the upper hand now in their opinion. But he understood the sense in going to Dublin so that they could get the reasons behind the decision. 

We went around a few back roads until we reached a place they called Drumraney. Peadar whistled loudly and in a matter of seconds a young man stood up on the embankment. They had a conversation for five minutes and the young man saluted and left. Fifteen young men from the area were in the field behind him, their bicycles and whatever weapons they had gathered together with them. Not only were they going ‘out’, they were already ‘out’ and waiting for the Tullamore crowd. 

In the aftermath of the Rising Seamus O’ Brennan lost his employment with P. & H. Egan. Another Tullamore man who was suspended from his employment on Tuesday 21 March 1916 was Edmond (Eamonn) O’Carroll, referred to above and an employee of Malachy Scally’s boot and shoe establishment in Tullamore. He had identified himself with the Cumann na mBan movement in Tullamore when it was founded in November 1915 and helped to get it started in the town. He was booed on the morning after the affray when returning from breakfast to his work in Scally’s shop. Anne Ní Riain (Ryan), who went to live in Tullamore in 1909, confirms this in her witness statement when she mentioned that:

I was in a job in Tullamore when Mimi Plunkett came down from Dublin to form a branch of Cumann na mBan. The people who got her down were some local people such as Mr Eamonn O’Carroll, who worked in the same shop -Scally’s- as myself. I don’t know what became of Mr. Carroll eventually, but I do know that after the trouble in Tullamore in March 1916, when a policeman was wounded, he was dismissed by Mr. Scally.

Liam ó Briain

From shop boy/buachall siopa to shop proprietor

O’Carrrol’s mother, Anastasia, was a widow living in O’Connor Square, Tullamore in 1911 at the time of the census. Mrs O’Carroll was born in Waterford, as was her 23-year-old son Eamonn, who described himself in 1911 as a buachall siopa and wrote his name in Irish as did a colleague in the Excise.  Over O’Carroll’s name was written by the enumerator (presumably an RIC constable), ‘shopboy’.

Eamonn O’Carroll was a prominent separatist in 1916 and, as noted, after his dismissal from Malachy Scally’s shop after the Tullamore Incident he opened his own shoe shop in Columcille Street, but later moved back to Waterford.

For a short biography see  Liam Ó Briain  by  Paul Rouse in the DIB, vol 7, pp 7-9.

In the confusion of that Easter weekend, Ó Briain served under Michael Mallin of the Citizens’ Army in St Stephen’s Green and the Royal College of Surgeons during the rising, rather than with the Volunteers. Afterwards he was imprisoned in Wandsworth prison in London, where he spent two months. He was then interned for six months in Frongoch camp, north Wales, before being released and returned to Ireland before Christmas 1916. His recollections of the rising were published in Cuimhní Cinn (1951).

See also the witness statement given by Liam Ó Briain to the Bureau of Military History (BMH.WS0007).