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An event was held on a busy Saturday afternoon in Dublin’s city centre to commemorate IRA volunteer Patrick O’Brien, killed by soldiers of the Irish State.
The event included bagpipe airs, a colour party, speeches and a resistance song.
A colour party with Irish Tricolour and the flags of the four provinces, led by a lone piper marched into and a short distance westward up Talbot Street towards where a crowd waited beside a memorial sign that had been erected shortly earlier. The colour party took up station on the opposite side of the road.
Among the airs being played on the short march were Thomas Moore’s Let Erin Remember and The Wearing of the Green or The Rising of the Moon, the same traditional air to both different songs referring to the 1798 Rising.
THE SHORT LIFE OF A LOYAL REPUBLICAN
Gina Nicoletti, chairing the event, recounted to the crowd a short history of Volunteer Patrick O’Brien who was born on 17 August 1898 in the townland of Woodlands near Castledermot in County Kildare to a local agricultural working couple.
The O’Brien family had 16 children, all of whom survived and ten of whom lived with Patrick and his parents in a three-room house at the time of the 1911 Census.
An obituary published in a Republican newspaper on the anniversary of his death suggests that Patrick moved to Dublin in 1915, joining the Irish Volunteers in December of that year aged 17. He took part in the 1916 Easter Rising under the command of Edward Daly.
Evading capture in 1916 and returning home, O’Brien joined the local Irish Volunteers company in Castledermot but returned to Dublin in May 1917 and became attached to E Company, 3 Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers, which was based on the south side of the city.
An active IRA member during the War of Independence, Vol. O’Brien took the anti-Treaty side in the IRA split in March 1922.
In a response to a renewal of executions of IRA men by the Free State government, Liam Lynch (IRA Chief of Staff) issued the ‘Amusements Order’ on 13 March 1923 banning all cinema, theatre and sports events “at a time of national mourning” with action threatened against non-compliance.
At midnight on 23 March 1923, Patrick took part in an operation to blow up the Carleton Picture House, O’Connell Street (then near the Parnell Monument opposite the Savoy Cinema). The cinema had closed an hour before a landmine at the front entrance shattered the glass of several windows.
There were no injuries but newspaper articles reported that the sound of the explosion was heard several miles away. Accounts of what happened afterwards were gathered from one of the IRA unit, Volunteer Joseph Doody in his pension application.
The unit unexpectedly encountered Free State soldiers coming from the Parnell Monument who opened fire on them and another patrol was approaching from the southern end of O’Connell Street and the unit retreated through Findlater Place and out to Marlborough Street.
In the running firefight in Talbot Street, O’Brien was hit by at least four bullets (three in his left leg and one in his right leg). He fell wounded on the pavement between Speidel’s pork butchers and the Masterpiece Picture Palace at 99 Talbot Street and died about 30 minutes after arrival at hospital.
Patrick O’Brien was 24 and his death certificate listed his occupation as an employee of a railway company. His address was 28 Cadogan Road, Fairview which is a cul de sac of Victorian redbrick houses close to Annesley Bridge and opposite the Sean Russell statue.
Only three weeks before Patrick’s death, the Free State CID1 had raided no. 43 Cadogan Road and captured the press used to print the Sinn Féin2 paper An Phoblacht along with eight people who were on site. A number of prominent IRA families lived in the vicinity, including the Brughas.
Patrick O’Brien was buried in the Republican Plot, Glasnevin Cemetery and a volley was fired over his grave, presumably following the funeral in the cover of darkness as the IRA could not have risked such a public display during the burial, in a time of martial law.
Despite the hard repression by the Irish State on combatants, their relatives and friends, O’Brien’s family were proud of Patrick as displayed in an anniversary notice placed in The Nationalist & Leinster Times.
The Irish Independent reported on 27 March 1923 that at the inquest of Patrick’s death, his brother James told those present:
“[My brother] … belonged to the IRA since 1915 being then about 15 years of age. He had never changed his principles since then. He always intended to die as he did … rather than change his principles as he swore allegiance to the Republic in 1916.”
FLORAL WREATH, SONG AND SPEECH
A representative of Anti-Imperialist Action was called upon and stepped forward to attach a green, white and orange floral wreath to the pole beneath the commemorative sign.
Seán Óg accompanied himself on guitar singing The Foggy Dew, a popular Republican ballad about the 1916 Rising composed by Fr. Charles O’Neill.
Dublin City Councillor Cieran Perry gave a fairly short speech stressing the importance of these acts of remembrance upholding traditions of resistance in the Dublin working class, also denouncing the fake patriots who stir up racist divisions and hostility in the community.
Perry’s speech also listed some of the crimes of the Irish state, facts underlined when Joe Mooney read out the list of 70 IRA Volunteers formally executed by the Irish state along with those killed in battle or after they surrendered, or were abducted, tortured and murdered in Dublin 1922-’23.
TRAFFIC AND PEOPLE
Traffic was light along the narrow Talbot Street during the event and slowed down to ease past the crowd that had spilled from the pedestrian pavement into the street. A few minutes’ eastward of the spot is the plaque commemorating the killing of Sean Treacy by the British in November 1920.
There was a substantial number of people in support of the event on both pavements of the one-way street but others gathered too, whether out of curiosity or in sympathy. Some of those present consisted of visitors from other countries, whether as students, tourists or workers.
Not for the first time I thought that having leaflets to distribute summarising the event and the reason for it would be useful. I spent a little time explaining some aspects of the event and its history to a couple of visitors from Sweden who seemed very interested.
The uniformed Gardaí kept away from the event, though no doubt the plain-clothed political Special Branch had a few of their own in the vicinity to collect faces and try to match names.
THE ORGANISERS: INDEPENDENT REPUBLICANS
The commemorative event was organised by a group by the name Independent Republicans which has been doing great work in conserving and promoting historical memory associated with events such as the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.
The Irish Free State came to power as an instrument of British imperialism which clothed, armed and otherwise supplied the state’s National (sic) Army. Independent Republicans have collected the names of 70 Irish Republicans killed in Dublin by that Army.
The group has also devoted time and effort to researching the backgrounds and circumstances of death of many on that list, a substantial undertaking for which we owe them a great debt. Their erection of ‘plaque’ signs around the city at the spot where the fighters fell is also great work.
On Easter Saturday (8 April) Independent Republicans will be holding a 1916 Rising commemoration in Dublin city centre, details below.
Anti-Imperialist Action will be holding theirs on Easter Sunday (9 April), details below.
1Criminal Investigation Department, based at Oriel House, where police detectives and some soldiers of the Free State organised operations against Republicans including raids, assassinations, abductions and torture.
2This is not the party of the same name today. Sinn Féin began as a dual-monarchy Irish nationalist party, adopting Republicanism later in 1918. Those who later supported the anti-Republican status of the country and partition by England left the party and another large number left to join the Fianna Fáil party upon the latter’s founding. Briefly in the 1960s the party espoused socialism but split at the end of the decade and Sinn Féin under the Provisionals briefly adopted socialism again during the 1970s. The party of that name today is neither socialist nor even Republican.
SOURCES & FURTHER INFORMATION