(Reading time main text: 7 mins.)
Harry Boland, shot in the stomach by a Free State soldier, died of blood-loss and shock on 1st August 1922, one of the early victims of the Irish Civil War. Many more would die later.
He came from a Fenian family, his father was a trade union activist and Harry was a member of the IRB, also a founder member of the Irish Volunteers, prominent in the Gaelic League, a keen hurler and later active in administration of the GAA1.
Harry Boland was also an elected national politician, USA liaison/ organiser of De Valera’s fund-raising tour there, anti-Treaty, attempted conciliator, anti-capitulation and soon made a martyr.
Relatives organised commemorative events for him throughout the bank holiday weekend: Saturday in Skerries, Sunday at the Faughs2 GAA Club (team Harry played for) and Monday at the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, where Boland is buried.
EVENT AT GLASNEVIN CEMETERY
Tadhg Crowley chaired the crowded event in Glasnevin at Harry Boland’s graveside and Gearóid Ó Beoláin read the Irish language version of the Proclamation of Independence.
Both are cousins of Bróna Uí Loing, for ten years a weekly campaigner to Save Moore Street From Demolition whose two sons had prominent roles in the weekend, Diarmuid Ó Loing with the Faughs GAA Club on Sunday and Donncha DeLong3 on Monday.
Orla O’Donovan (another cousin) spoke and asked Cathal Brugha (relation of another famous Civil War martyr of the same name) to lay a wreath at the graveside (as Boland lay dying, he had asked to be buried next to Brugha, who in early July had also been fatally shot by Free State soldiers).
The speakers included Éamonn Ó Cuív, TD (grandson of former President De Valera) and Cathal Brugha also spoke.
The main oration was given by historian Gary Shannon who zipped through his interesting speech at good speed but intelligibly. Peggy Galligan of the NGA4 read Ó h-Uigín’s song “Soldiers of ‘22” as a poem. A piper played laments with homage displays by the colour party.
A wreath was laid and the Soldier’s Song5 was played by the piper, many in the crowd singing along the Irish6 language lyrics version.
The Glasnevin event had begun at 12 noon, concluding about 2.00pm with the podcast panel discussion scheduled for 3pm, which gave time to get some refreshments (though the queues in the café tend to be slow-moving), chat or wander around looking at some graves.
The grave I wanted to find was Anne Devlin’s, whom the late and lamented Mícheál Ó Doibhlin did so much to drag out of relative obscurity and into the light of history. I was saddened to see the inscription referring to her as “a faithful servant” of Emmet’s, rather than as his comrade.
THE PANEL DISCUSSION
The podcast discussion hosted by the Hedge School was held in a function room in the Museum building and soon there was standing room only, which of course was too much for some who had already been standing for two hours around the grave-side.
The panel consisted of Éamonn Ó Cuív TD, historian Liz Gillis, Boland family historian Donncha De Long and Tim Crowley, from the Michael Collins Centre in Clonakilty, Co. Cork with History Ireland Editor, Tommy Graham as chairperson and interviewer.
Many aspects of Harry Boland and his times were discussed with many interesting points brought out and, at times, debated. It was never boring, not for one minute. A contribution from the floor presented convincing evidence that it was the old IRB that had founded the GAA.
Donncha DeLong pointed out that in writing Irish women out of history, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington’s contacts with US anarchists, including Emma Goldman, had been overlooked. It was as a result of those that Soviet delegates loaned Irish Republicans the Tsar’s crown jewels.
Was Boland sent to the US to get him out of the way during the Treaty negotiations, was one question. In reply it was pointed out that he was an obvious choice to go as Boland was the head of the IRB in Ireland and had strong connections with the IRB in the USA.
On the other hand, replied another, Harry Boland’s USA trip obligated him to step down from that position, which opened it to Collins. Subsequently the IRB in Ireland was mostly pro-Treaty.
Why had Harry Boland conciliated and worked to set up a framework to avoid Civil War but had not conceded on the Treaty? It would have gone against his honesty, was one reply and another that conciliation was one thing and capitulation quite another.
Could the conflict have been avoided? No, “the unseen hand” of Churchill was there all the time, ensuring that the two sides would not come together.
Boland’s brother had not been permitted from jail to attend Harry’s funeral funeral, which seemed nothing short of vindictiveness.
The whole three-day weekend of events and their variety of aspects and locations was a wonderful tribute to Harry Boland and great organisational achievement by his family.
As a historical discussion event, there was no reason that Ó Cuív should not be present on the podcast panel; his grandfather De Valera was a close comrade of Boland’s and they spent a long time together on the former’s speaking tour in the USA.
Ó Cuív was able, from his family’s lore and his visit to Lincoln Jail to add much to the discussion and in particular to the detail of the famous escape of De Valera, Milroy and Seán McGarry and of the series of taxis used and false trails laid.
As Michael Collins had been a former close comrade of Boland’s and also of De Valera and had issued the arrest warrant for Boland, it was also entirely understandable to have a Director of the Michael Collins Centre participating in the discussion.
Many interesting points were made and debated; I was very interested to learn that Harry’s father had been an active trade unionist; that background might have helped Harry get Labour to abstain from contesting the 1918 elections, giving Sinn Féin a clear run against Redmond’s party7.
On the events in Skerries where Boland received his stomach wound, the point was made that he might have survived were it not for the eight hours’ delay in getting him to a hospital, in a journey first to an army barracks (which actually passed a hospital) before final delivery to St. Vincent’s.
As, to my surprise, no-one had done so, I felt I had to ask the opinion of the panel regarding Boland’s alleged words that Collins would not let him live as Boland knew too much. The opinion of two panelists was that if Collins wanted him dead, he’d have had him shot in the head.
And also not brought to hospital but dumped on the roadside, as had been done to many others later. It was also said that Collins would not have left a former friend to die slowly in pain. I didn’t argue but felt these answers largely unconvincing.
The Free State pattern of “shoot in the head and dump by the roadside” was largely a feature after Collin’s death (three weeks exactly after Boland’s). The soldier who fired the shot may have been trying to shoot Boland but he made a grab for the gun, which had him shot in the stomach.
Another shot afterwards would have made everyone think of an execution rather than a scuffle during arrest. That would account for the long delay in getting him to hospital. Of course, it could also have been unauthorised action by his captors, of the ilk of Paddy Daly8 later.
The commemorative event at the graveside was in my opinion a different matter and there should have been no confusion about what it was that Boland stood for and which not only Collins but later De Valera had worked against – the Republic proclaimed by document and deed in 1916.
I felt the presence of prominent Fianna Fáil speakers and even a speculation as to what the future might have held were Collins not killed in IRA ambush, muddied that which Boland had stood for and which had cost him his life.
Families are not monoliths and even in strongly nationalist or republican families, there can be many strong differences of opinion, as I know from my experience of my own background. It may be that the speaker list was everyone’s choice or it may have been a compromise.
Cathal Brugha, of the same name as his famous grandfather, said some things with which I disagree but in conclusion, some things I strongly endorse, viz that commemorations are about the present and the future and that we should strive to bring about that Republic for which Boland strove.
ANOTHER TYPE OF COMMEMORATION
During the panel discussion, loud motorbike engines could be heard from the road outside. Leaving the cemetery, I found another type of commemoration in full flow further south. Young motorcyclists were roaring up and down the road, doing ‘wheelies’ while crowds of youths watched.
It was a commemorative event in honour of a young East Wall motorcyclist, Calvin Gilchrist, killed last year in a crash between two motorbikes and a car. I am not aware if the circumstances have been entirely clarified. Many floral wreaths were laid out near the scene of his death.
In Ireland, fatal traffic accidents, along with substance overdose and suicide, are the major cause of young people’s deaths and serious injury.
1Gaelic Athletic Association/ Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, primary national association of Gaelic sports in Ireland, including football and hurling. It is non-professional and the largest dommunity sporting association in Ireland and probably in Europe. The final competitions are played annually in its stadium in Dublin, one of the five largest-capacity stadia in Europe.
2From “Faugh a Ballagh” (/ˌfɔːx ə ˈbæləx/ FAWKH ə BAL-əkh; also written Faugh an Beallach), a battle-cry of Irish origin, meaning “clear the way”. The spelling is an 18th-century anglicization of the Irish language phrase “Fág an Bealach” [ˈfˠaːɡ ə ˈbʲalˠəx], also written “Fág a’ Bealach”.
3Ó or Ui/ Ní (according to gender) Loing and DeLong are both variations of the Long family name, while Ó/ Uí/Ní Beolláin is the Irish version of the Boland family name.
4National Graves Association, primary organisation caring for Irish patriot graves and erection of memorial plaques, totally independent of any political party and of the State.
5Composed by Peadar Kearney and Patrick Heeney, also called Amhrán na bhFiann, the bars of the chorus of which constituted the Irish National Anthem.
6The Irish language lyrics were composed by Liam Ó Rinn and is the version most commonly sung today.
7A clear but unnecessary run because an election pact would have returned many Labour and Sinn Féin candidates, the defeat of the Parliamentary Party would have been just as absolute and the resulting Dáil might have been less likely by majority to accept the Treaty.
8Paddy Daly was a member of the IRA and of the assassination “Squad” put together by Collins. Like most of the Squad but unlike most of the IRA, Cumann na mBan, Fianna and ICA, Daly took the Treaty side and was made a Major-General in the “National” (sic) Army, where he and men under his command displayed a vicious attitude towards even surrendered IRA and their active supporters.
Faughs GAA Club: https://www.sportsjoe.ie/gaa/the-people-of-faughs-gaa-club-205038
History Ireland Hedge Schools podcasts: https://www.historyireland.com/hedge-schools/
National Graves Association: http://www.nga.ie/
Michael Collins Centre: https://michaelcollinscentre.com/
The motorcyclist’s death: