In an extract from the just-published book ‘Kerry 1916: Histories and Legacies of the Easter Rising – A Centenary Record’ which profiles some of those arrested in Kerry in the aftermath of the Rising.
Over 100 Kerry men and women were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Rising, many of them serving lengthy jail sentences.
Among them were many who rose to national prominence and fame in their later lives, including JJ McElligott from Tralee, who later became governor the Central Bank, Mortimer O’Connell from Ballinskelligs who would become Clerk of Dáil Éireann, sisters Nell and Anno O’Rahilly who became prominent republican activists, Paidín O’Keeffe from Rathmore who was Clerk of Seanad Éireann and Cork TD, and Tralee journalist Michael T Knightly who was Ireland’s First Chief Press Censor.
McElligott, James John
During Easter Week, he was stationed at the GPO and volunteered to bring food, under heavy fire, to colleagues on the other side of Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street).
He spent most of the week on the roof of the GPO and was asked to clear a suspected sniper’s base at a house on Moore Street. He was arrested and jailed in Stafford Prison in a cell beside Michael Collins. He was released on 26 May. His involvement in the Rising cost McElligott his job in the British civil service. He returned to journalism, working with the British journal, The Statist, but entered the new Irish civil service in 1923, joining the fledgling Department of Finance as assistant secretary, later promoted to secretary, one of the most senior posts in the civil service. After an accomplished career, he became governor of the Central Bank in April 1953. After retirement as governor—when he was replaced by another Tralee man, Maurice Moynihan—McElligott remained a director of the bank until 1960. He died at his home in Blackrock, Co Dublin, in January 1974.
Mortimer (Mort) O’Connell was born in Ballinskelligs in 1894 and studied at Blackrock College. He worked in Dublin as an excise officer and lived at 34 Dartmouth Square in Ranelagh. While at home in Ballinskelligs on holidays in May 1914, he joined the local company of the Irish Volunteers. Back in Dublin he became acquainted with prominent activists like Bulmer Hobson and Fionán Lynch from Waterville. He joined the F Company of the 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade but maintained a low profile because of his employment as an excise officer.
In January 1916, O’Connell took Timothy Ring, an IRB member from Valentia and a Western Union cable company employee, to meet the Supreme Council of the IRB in Dublin. On Easter Saturday night, O’Connell was instructed to guard leading IRB member Bulmer Hobson who was being held against his will at 76 Cabra Park because of his opposition to the Rising going ahead. He received a telegram from Killorglin on the afternoon of Easter Sunday saying that Con Keating, Daniel Sheehan and Charles Monahan had drowned at Ballykissane. On Easter Monday, O’Connell went to Blackhall Place with rifles and helped to form a barricade at St Mary’s Lane. He was at various locations during the remainder of the week, including Bow Street, Smithfield and Capel Street.
On Friday 28 April, he was ordered to retreat to the Four Courts. He was rounded up with others following the surrender and witnessed Captain Lee Wilson signalling out Thomas Clarke, Seán Mac Diarmada and Michael Collins for arrest. O’Connell was taken to Richmond Barracks and was deported to Stafford Prison. He was taken from there to Frongoch in Wales. He remained active during the War of Independence and was arrested in 1920. In later years, he joined the staff of Dáil Éireann, becoming head of the Office of Bills, assistant clerk of the Dáil and clerk of the Dáil.42 He died in 1956.
O’Rahilly née Humphreys, Mary Ellen (Nell)
Mary Ellen (Nell) O’Rahilly was born in 1871 in Ballylongford and was a sister of Michael (The O’Rahilly). She married David Humphreys, an eye surgeon, in 1895 and they lived in Limerick city and had three children. Her husband died in 1903 and, with her sister Áine, the family moved to 54 Northumberland Road, Dublin. Her son, Dick, fought with his uncle, The O’Rahilly, in the GPO during the Rising. During the first days of the Rising, Humphreys went to the GPO to see them both. She brought a number of medals of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and distributed them among the Volunteers. In the aftermath of the Battle of Mount Street Bridge, fought near their home on Northumberland Road, Humphreys was arrested, as her home was known to the authorities as a place frequented by Volunteers.
She was taken to the RDS in Ballsbridge where she was held in a horsebox for the remainder of Easter Week and was later taken to Richmond Barracks. Her brother, The O’Rahilly, died on Moore Street during the fighting. After her release, her home became a centre of republican activities. During the War of Independence, her family home on Ailesbury Road was used as a safe house by the IRA. When the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in December 1921, all of the Humphreys family opposed the Treaty and, during the Civil War, Humphreys opened her home to anti-Treaty IRA members. IRA leader, Ernie O’Malley, was arrested there by pro-Treaty forces in November 1922. A gunfight broke out between the troops and O’Malley and Humphreys’ daughter, Sighle. During the fight, Áine O’Rahilly was wounded.
Humphreys and Sighle were arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail and later Kilmainham Jail. Both were released in July 1923 and Humphreys became a member of the O’Rahilly Sinn Féin Club in Donnybrook, but resigned in 1924. Like many of the hard-core of republican women, such as Nora Connolly, Helena Moloney, Maire Comerford, Eithne Coyle, Margaret Buckley and many more, the O’Rahilly/Humphreys women were prominent political activists in the following decades, many of them involved as leaders of left-wing initiatives in the 1930s. Nell Humphreys died in 1939 and is buried in Abington, Murroe, Co Limerick.
Patrick ‘Páidín’ O’Keeffe was born in 1881 in the Cork part of Nohovaldaly in the parish of Rathmore, which straddles the Cork-Kerry border. He became a postal clerk and worked in London until 1901 before being transferred to Dublin and taking up a position in the GPO. He lived at 35 Camden Street. O’Keeffe joined Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers and in August 1914 was involved in the landing of arms at Kilcoole, Co Wicklow. During Easter Week he was garrisoned in hotels in the Sackville Street (O’Connell Street) area. Following the Rising, he was interned in Frongoch and lost his job in the post office. In 1917, he became general secretary of Sinn Féin and was arrested in 1918 during the ‘German Plot’.
While in prison, he was elected to the First Dáil for the Cork North constituency and sat for Cork in the Second Dáil. He lost his seat in 1922 and, taking the pro-Treaty side in the Civil War, he joined the National Army. O’Keeffe became deputy governor of Mountjoy Jail and held the post until August 1923 when he was appointed clerk of Seanad Éireann. He retired in 1947 and remained living in Dublin where he died in 1973.
Michael T. Knightly was born at Ballyard, Tralee, in 1888. He became a journalist and worked for the Kerry Weekly Reporter and the Kerry News and in 1913 moved to Dublin to write for the Irish Independent. He became president of the Irish Working Journalists’ Association.
He was a housemate of Thomas Ashe in Dublin and joined the F Company of the 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers under Fionán Lynch. Knightly waited for orders on Easter Sunday but did not receive any. When he went to work at the Irish Independent on Easter Monday he heard the Rising had begun. He went to the GPO where he met The O’Rahilly and fellow Tralee man, J.J. McElligott. He was based at the GPO for the remainder of Easter Week. Patrick Pearse instructed him to fill empty milk tankards with water, fearing the water supply to the GPO would be severed. Knightly was invalided for most of Easter Week with a growth in his throat. When apprehended by a British soldier after the surrender, he was recognised and asked, ‘Of course, you’re here as a journalist?’ to which he responded, ‘No, I’m here as a soldier of the Irish republic’. Following his arrest, he was jailed in Wakefield Prison. He was moved to Frongoch and was released in July 1916. In the following years, Knightly remained active in the republican movement, acting as a minute-taker at Sinn Féin meetings. He travelled to London as part of the secretarial team accompanying the delegation to the negotiations on the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921. He became the first editor-in-chief of Dáil and Seanad debates, a post he held until 1955. He also served as chief press censor during World War Two. Retiring to Dunmore, Co Galway, he died in 1965.
‘Kerry 1916: Histories and Legacies of the Easter Rising – A Centenary Record’ by Editors Bridget McAuliffe, Dr Mary McAuliffe and Owen O’Shea profile some of those arrested in Kerry in the aftermath of the Rising.