Eamon de Valera made his first visit to Tullamore on 29 July 1917

‘England will give nothing to Ireland out of justice or righteousness. They will concede you your liberties when they must.’ T.M. Russell quoting C.S. Parnell

by Cosney Molloy

Intimations of the change of mood in Ireland were, of course, obvious from May 1916 and none more so than a year later when de Valera visited Tullamore on 29 July 1917, shortly after his win in the famous Clare by-election.  The meeting addressed by Eamonn de Valera, M.P., was held at the GAA grounds at Ballyduff Park and had a county-wide attendance. De Valera came to recommend the policy of abstention from Westminster and attendance at the Peace Conference when the war was over.

19170721 TKI De Valera to Tullamore-1
The advertisement for An Aeridheacht Mór in Tullamore on 29 July 1917 at Ballyduff GAA grounds.

To paraphrase a report of the time:

Eamon de Valera, fresh from his victory in East Clare, made his first visit to Tullamore in July 1917 to a huge crowd. A large force of police was stationed in the Lower Barrack Street [now Kilbride Street] area where it was thought there might be trouble. The women and children known as the Separationists had, it was learned, been organised for a hostile demonstration. Small red, white and blue flags were to be seen, but also those of Sinn Fein in Barrack St but not as prominently displayed. No banner was put up for Separationists in Barrack St as was contemplated. Mr de Valera accompanied by Mr Séamus Brennan arrived by motor car and shortly after another Dublin car which included Mr Phil McMahon late of Lewes Prison. Mr de Valera spoke of the Irish language movement, the League of Nations and the [Irish] Convention. The latter he said was of no use as now they were insisting on absolute independence. ‘Colonial Home Rule will not be sufficient to get Irish people to fight, that day is gone’.

Seamus O'Brennan-1
Seamus O’Brennan accompanied Mr de Valera to Tullamore in July 1917.

The chair of the Tullamore Sinn Féin Club at the time and the county organiser was T.M. Russell who was also a member of the county council and president of the North Offaly executive of Sinn Féin. Russell was a former I.A.O.S. employee from Limerick who came to to Tullamore in 1915 or 1916 and came to police notice quickly and was imprisoned in the swoop of 1918. He was a happy man that Sunday 29 July 1917 and on Tuesday 31 July expressed his thanks to the Tullamore club and  to the Sinn Feiners who had attended in such numbers from Birr, Edenderry, Kilcormac, Killeigh, Tubber, Kilbeggan and Moate. Russell quoted Parnell’s words to the club meeting that ‘England will give nothing to Ireland out of justice or righteousness. They will concede you your liberties when they must.’ Peadar Bracken commented at the same review meeting that ‘all industries stood to derive successful development and prosperity from absolute national independence’.

The man who accompanied de Valera that day in Tullamore was Seamus O’Brennan

Captain O’Brennan was in the GPO for the 1916 Rising He was then aged 30 and had been born in Daingean about 1886. Séamus O’Brennan married Miss May Margt Doody, daughter of James T. Doody, Tullamore in 1922 having earlier spent several terms in prison. He was released with others a few months earlier from Ballykinlar. At the time of his death in March 1968 his Offaly comrades still alive included Capt Séamus Kelly, Mucklagh and Mr Joe Doolan, Harold’s Cross, Dublin. Captain O’Brennan was survived by his son Fergal and his daughter Deidre and his brothers Alo and Edward. Educated at the old CBS Tullamore and in Daingean NS he entered the GPO in 1903 and soon after joined the Keating branch of the Gaelic League and the Geraldine Football Club with two others, but after six months’ probation all three lost their jobs, obviously for their patriotic tendencies. He returned to Tullamore where he joined P. & H. Egan’s and was there in 1916. Earlier he helped form the Tullamore Volunteers in 1914. O’Brennan was wounded trying to escape from Ballykinlar while another man was killed. He was a personal friend of de Valera since the 1917 Ennis election and for a time served him as a bodyguard. President de Valera and old comrades were among those who attended the funeral in 1968.

The Separation Women and children

The reference to the separation women in the August 1917 report arose of the Tullamore incident of March 1916 when a number of them attacked the Irish Volunteers ‘Sinn Féin hall’ in Tullamore and were permitted to do by the police who came in for much criticism subsequently. Now in July 1917 the police were taking no chances. But, in truth, the atmosphere had changed and now Sinn Féin was in the ascendant in Tullamore and elsewhere and grew massively that year and again in 1918. Why were the soldiers wives so poorly thought of by 1917. For one thing urban wages were low in the war years of 1914-18, food prices rising and the public services were keenly trimmed by the ratepayers who sat on the town and county councils and in the poor law unions. All of this would go some way to explain the resentment against the separation women who, relative to the working man, and depending on the number of children, were in receipt of a good income each week during the war. Of course the emotional distress of one-parent families in constant dread of the knock at the door with bad news from the Front was never considered. Excessive drinking and child neglect cases featured in the press on a regular basis, but there was little or nothing in the way of child care or counselling for afflicted families of soldiers killed in the war.  The ‘government woman’ of early 1916 was by mid-1917 indirectly likened to a prostitute. The Guardian reading James Pike, editor of the Midland Tribune, wrote of the chief supporters of the parliamentary party candidate at that Clare by-election in July 1917 that the Irish Parliamentary Party ‘has a following of separation allowance ladies and children who nightly parade the streets’. As against this kind of support for the Parliamentary Party there was ‘the genuine enthusiasm of the country districts’ for de Valera.

In 1934 Eamon de Valera, by now the President of the Executive Council, performed the opening ceremony for the Tullamore GAA Club’s new O’Connor Park grounds. No doubt his first visit of seventeen years earlier after the historic win in East Clare was recalled and now in 1934 he had another election to win and the county of Offaly proved to be solid behind Fianna Fáil and would largely remain so up to the present time.

In 2015 and again in 2016 de Valera’s grandson, Eamon Ó Cuiv, was the guest of Fianna Fáil at commemorations in Tullamore and spoke eloquently of memories of his grandfather and of the vision of the 1916 leaders.

The best recent life of de Valera is that by the late Ronan Fanning.

For further information on Offaly and 1916 see Offaly Heritage 9. Almost all of the books  below can be viewed or purchased at Offaly History Centre, Bury Quay, Tullamore.

  1. Byrne, Michael, Tullamore town in 1916: the making of the Tullamore Incident (Naas, 2016), 296 pp, soft cover, €14.95, hard cover, €19.95.
  2. Byrne, Michael, ‘The by-elections in North King’s County/Offaly in 1914 and 1918’ in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 19-87.
  3. Byrne, Michael ‘The Tullamore malt workers strike fiasco of 1916 and the malting industry in Tullamore’, in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 203-26.
  4. Byrne, Michael ‘1916 and the politics of the Midland Tribune and Tullamore and King’s County Independent’ in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 144-56.
  5. Byrne, Michael, ‘Another Decade of Centenaries, 1913-23: The Biddulphs, the Great War and the decline of the big house in King’s County/Offaly’, in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 247-56.
  6. Byrne, Michael, ‘A Birr official [James Mahon] in Dublin: Experiences of the fighting of Easter Week, 1916’, in Offaly Heritage 9, pp 338-39.
  7. Byrne, Michael, ‘Henry Brenan, the King’s County Crown Solicitor, 1916-21’ in Offaly Heritage 9, (Tullamore, 2016), pp 340-45.
  8. Byrne, Michael ‘A tale of two Kerry men drinking after hours in Hayes’ Hotel, Tullamore in 1916’, in Offaly Heritage 9, in Offaly Heritage 9, pp 346-48.
  9. Byrne, Michael, ‘The diary of Geraldine Fitzgerald, a Birr nurse working from Stephen’s Green during Easter Week 1916’ in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016),  pp 354-60.
  10. Byrne, Michael, ‘Fate and the tragic end of Sergeant Philip Ahern of Tullamore’ in Tullamore Annual 2017, pp 24-5.
  11. Condron, Breda, ‘Mucklagh’s Seamus (Jimmy) Kelly’, in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016),  pp 400-02.
  12. Condron, Condron, ‘Lt. Joseph Wrafter’ in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016),  (Tullamore, 2016), pp 403-5.
  13. Cullen, James P., ‘A retrospective military analysis of the 1916 Rising’ in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016),   pp 258 -79.
  14. Heavin, Padraig, ‘West Offaly and the 1916 Rising’ in Offaly Heritage 9, pp 168- 178.
  15. Hellocamera, DVD on Faithful Rising: documentary exploring the key roles of two Offaly men in the 1916 Rising [Peadar Bracken and Eamonn Bulfin], €15.
  16. Hughes, Paul, ‘Prelude to rebellion: the 1916 “Tullamore affray” in context’ in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 89-109.
  17. Joly, John, ‘An Offaly man based in Trinity College in 1916 and defending the Union’, pp 361-82. Extracted from John Joly, Reminiscences and Anticipations (London, 1920).
  18. Ó Corráin, Daithí (ed.), ‘J.J. O’Connell’s memoir of the Irish Volunteers, 1914-16, 1917’ in Analecta Hibernica, No. 47 (2016), pp 1-102. This article contains some references to the Tullamore Incident of 1916.
  19. O’Bracken, Fergus, ‘Simply a Tullamore Man: A Stonemason or a British Gaol Bird, or an Offaly/Irish Rebel Leader?, in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 327-37
  20. O’Bracken, Fergus, Peadar Bracken, Irish Freedom Fighter, 1916-21 (first edition 2009, second edition 2016).
  21. Molloy, Ciara, ‘ “The gallant old legion”: Cumann na mBan in county Offaly, 1915-1922’, in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 228-45.
  22. McEvoy, Sean, ‘The declining fortunes, strength, and influence of the Home Rule movement in Offaly, 1910 to 1916’, in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 3-17.
  23. McEvoy, Sean, ‘The GAA and Nationalism in Offaly 1884-1918’, in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 180- 201.
  24. Reilly, Ciarán, Edenderry, 1916 & the revolutionary era (Naas, 2016), pp 184, pb, €15.
  25. Pey, Brian, ‘Eamonn Bulfin of Derrinlough’, in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 111- 143.
  26. Offaly County Council, Offaly 1916-2016 commemorations. A DVD of film footage of the commemorations in Offaly in 2016 to mark the 1916 rising, includes the restored 1966 film of the commemoration of the rising in Tullamore.
  27. Offaly County Council. One family, many visions, the Bulfin family exhibition catalogue, pp 16, pb.
  28. O’Meara, Gerard, Lorrha people in the Great War (2016), sb, pp 382, €25.
  29. Ní Riain, Áine, in O’Donnell, Ruán; Ó hAodha, Mícheál (ed.), Voices from the Easter Rising (Dublin, 1916), pp 171-4.
  30. Shortall, Lisa ‘Sources for the study of the revolutionary period in King’s County/ Offaly (1912-1923)’, in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016) pp 281-319.
  31. Smyth, Miriam, ‘The making of “Faithful Rising’’’ in Offaly Heritage 9 (Tullamore, 2016), pp 349-53.