1916: THE O'CONNOR BROTHERS
Having come from a family which held strong nationalist views it seems as though Tommy and Johnny O'Connor were destined to play their part in the 1916 Rising and subsequent War of Independence. Their father Thomas Snr. and aunt Brigid had been founding members of Sinn Fein in 1905 and the brothers would no doubt have been swept up in the wave of national feeling and the Gaelic cultural revival that was happening at the time. They spent most of the early part of their lives in their native Limerick but by 1911 the family had moved to the capital and were living at number 4 Sherrard Street in Dublin's north inner city.
A young Tommy O'Connor took up employment with the Cunard Line travelling between Britain and America and on the night of April 15th, 1912 was on board the ship Carpathia that came to the aid of the sinking Titanic. In recognition of his efforts in the rescue, Tommy would receive a bronze commemorative medal. In 1915 he joined the I.R.B. in Liverpool and was asked by Thomas Clarke and Seán McDermott to act as the I.R.B. courier on the Trans-Atlantic route in order to establish regular and reliable communication with Clan na Gael. As well as delivering coded messages back and forth he would also carry significant amounts of cash back from America, cash that would eventually help fund the Rising and War of Independence.
He arrived back in Dublin just before the Rising with a coded message from New York that he described to his brother Johnny as "the most important message ever to come into Ireland" and immediately went into a long conference with Clarke and McDermott. The night before the Rising Tommy acted as Tom Clarke's personal bodyguard at his house in Fairview, Dublin. Clarke had wanted Tommy to return to America before the rebellion began as he considered him to be too valuable an asset to be lost but O'Connor refused and Clarke reluctantly gave him permission to take part in the insurrection. As a member of F. Company 1st Battalion he would fight under the command of Ned Daly at the Four Courts Garrison in the areas of North King Street and Church Street. After the fight he was deported to Knutsford Prison in Chesire, England and eventually ended up in Frongoch Internment Camp in Wales until his release on Christmas Eve 1916.
In 1917 he again took up employment on a Trans-Atlantic liner in order to resume his work as the main I.R.B. courier but when he arrived in New York he was arrested for violation of the 'Trading with the Enemy Act' and was sentenced to a year and a day in an Atlanta penitentiary. He served 10 months of his sentence before being released early for good behavior. Years later, in 1927, he would receive a presidential pardon from Calvin Coolidge the 30th President of the United States. After his release from prison in December 1921 he would accompany many Irish dignitaries on their U.S. tours and continued to raise huge sums of money for the cause at home. He would eventually settle in New York where he married and raised a family.
John S. O'Connor joined the Irish Volunteers in December 1913. On the 26th of July 1914, at the age of 16, he took part in the Howth gun-running. Afterwards, on the march back into Dublin City he was stopped on the Malahide Road and had his rifle seized by an officer of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. During the scuffle he was knocked unconscious with the butt of a police rifle and would bear the scar for the rest of his days. A few weeks later he would cheekily send a letter to DMP HQ at Dublin Castle requesting the return of the rifle!
Two years younger than his brother Tommy, he was only 18 years old when he took up arms and fought in Easter Rising under the command of Commandant Ned Daly. He was a section commander and took charge of the barricades on May Lane beside the Jameson Distillery. Years later, in an interview with Proinsias MacAonghus of RTÉ during the 50th anniversary commemorations, he would remark that the empty distillery "was a wonderful building [of] solid stone" and that he and his men "were hoping that [they'd] be attacked because 'twas such a sound position to defend".
For the first three days of Easter week O'Connor's barricade saw little action but that would all change on Thursday when they started coming under heavy fire from British sniper positions, although the most fierce fighting was taking place on nearby North King Street. On Saturday Johnny received a message from Ned Daly telling him to bring all of his men back to the Four Courts as Daly didn't want them to surrender in isolated groups for fear that they would be badly handled by the British. After the surrender Johnny was interned at Stafford Prison in England until his release in December 1916. John would continue to be involved in the activities of F Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade for the entirety of the War of Independence rising to the rank of Battalion Commander before the ceasing of hostilities in July 1921. There is no evidence that he was involved in the Civil war but it was quite common that men would not speak of their activities during that period of bitter fighting.
After the War of Independence John went back to work in a solicitors office where he qualified in 1926. He would go on to be appointed as the personal solicitor for two Attorney Generals, Mr. Justice Maguire and Mr. Justice Kevin Haugh. He became a member of Fianna Fáil from its inception and in 1944 was elected as a TD for the Dublin North West constituency. Later in life he would serve as the election agent for three presidents; Douglas Hyde, Séan T. O'Kelly and Eamon De Valera. John continued his legal practice right up until his eventual death in 1967. He had been married and raised a large family of four sons and three daughters.
- Written by Colin Farrell