The Tomas Allen 1916 Society Meath held a successful weekend of commemorations over 24th-26th April just past.
To mark Republic Day a wreath laying ceremony was held in Drumree, Co.Meath, at the grave of 16 year-old Irish Citizens Army Volunteer Seamus Fox. The ceremony had been advertised locally and announced at a historic debate about the life of Vol. Seamus Fox and his father PJ. Fox, a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and National Land League.
A large number of local people attended the event, where the Proclamation was read followed by a wreath laid on behalf of the Tomas Allen Society.
On Sunday 26th of April the Tomas Allen 1916 Society held a commemoration for their namesake at his graveside in Kilglass Cemetery in Longwood Co.Meath. Up to 100 people gathered in Longwood village and marched behind a lone piper and a Colour Party of five carrying the National Flag and the flags of the four provinces.
Three generations of Tomas Allen’s family were special guests for the event, with Tomas’s great-granddaughter Siobhan Allen-Haverty laying a wreath on behalf of the Allen family. The Proclamation was read by former Republican prisoner Connie McFadden. A specially commissioned poem about Tomas Allen was written and read by Seán Heuston Society member Conor Lynam:
Revolutions begin in the mind,
Where few dare to tread.
From the mind the heart takes lead,
Ignoring the probable, dreaming the impossible.
Comrades battle dressed and drilled,
Four Courts and countless men.
Rifles, buckled belts and scuffed shoes.
The people’s army arriving in their capital city.
The court adjourned as mahogany doors swing to our step.
Thieves with black suits and white wigs eerily absent.
Justice delivered by volunteers rifles,
Fighting fierce and buildings bombarded,
Dublin reduced to rubble.
But before their bullets burst my Rebel heart a beautiful thought I must tell.
Once I stood when most kneeled,
Once I marched when most ran,
Once I rebelled against an empire,
Now you must do the same.
Derek Molyneux – co-author of the book When the clock struck in 1916 – read a passage from his book relating to Tomas Allen and his comrades’ heroic defence of the west wing of the Four Courts. The large crowd were captivated by the story, the family members visibly emotional at the graphic details of the intense fighting and heroic display of their great-grandfather:
Lieutenant Thomas Allen was placed in charge of positions in the west-wing of the Four Courts during Easter Week 1916. The Volunteers and section commanders who operated under his orders were charged with holding the line across the lower end of Church Street – the south-western flank of the 1st Battalion Irish Volunteers. This was a pivotal position.
Following the capture of the Mendicity Institute on Wednesday April 26th, the nearby barricade on Lower Church Street was under constant attack. As enemy troops inched forward in preparation for an infantry assault, from across the nearby bridge, their plans were thrown into disarray by the foresight of Volunteers such as Thomas Allen. A dramatic counter-attack, launched by Allen’s fellow Lieutenant and comrade Peadar Clancy, halted any such plans.
As the fighting intensified on Friday April 28th, British troops, in the form of the 2/5th South Staffordshire Battalion, launched an attack on the south-western flank. It was imperative to the Volunteers the flank be held. Failing to do so would have left their comrades to their north trapped between two closing pincers of an unforgiving enemy. Any tactical or strategic options left to Commandant Daly would have been lost, and the tenacious resistance that held the South Staffordshires at bay would have been impossible to continue.
This would have quickly led to the collapse of the entire 1st Battalion, which in turn would have had dramatic consequences on the Headquarters Battalion to the east, who at that time were conducting their own tactical disengagement from the GPO, based on the knowledge that the 1st Battalion were entrenched and holding their line.
This is what happened to Lieutenant Allen, as he and his men held the line.
‘As Friday evening drew near, the inevitable British link-up attack, in the form of the 2/5th South Staffordshire Battalion, whose northern flank was supported by two decimated companies of the 2/7th Sherwood Foresters under Major Raynor, was launched from Smithfield against the west wing of the Four Courts. Machine-gun rounds drummed into its stonework and smashed at the inner walls through its shattered windows. Those manning the barricade in Hammond Lane held their heads low as the fire flew over their heads before crashing into the Four Courts, causing showers of bright sparks to burst and cascade to the pavement.
Lieutenant Thomas Allen, from Moyvalley in County Meath, accompanied by Volunteers Seán O’Carroll and Seán Kennedy, positioned in the west wing of the Four Courts, returned their fire. Spent cartridges clattered to the floor at their feet as they aimed and shot their weapons down the length of Hammond Lane, until a British sniper managed to zero in on the three men. O’Carroll’s elbow was struck by a .303 bullet, which then ricocheted into 33-year-old Lieutenant Allen’s chest. He fell to the floor of the room as the fire intensified again. Those attempting to save him crawled to his aid under the streams of bullets ripping into the walls. Eventually, the father of three was evacuated under fire to Richmond Hospital, where he soon died.
As the attack got under way, the Volunteers caught in its path began putting their well-practised tactic of fire and manoeuvre to good effect. They had spent days linking their vantage points with tunnels and knew the area intimately at this stage. They fired their pistols and shotguns, ideal weapons for such untidy combat, and relocated, leaving the advancing soldiers to storm the buildings, only to find them devoid of fighting men. This vicious game of cat and mouse in the warren of narrow streets was made all the more lethal by the deadly accurate fire of several rebel snipers, who took full advantage of the confusion sown into the ranks of British troops. The attack eventually lost its momentum.’
The spirit that men such as Lieutenant Allen displayed in combat completely dismayed their enemies. In the days to follow that same ‘esprit de corps’ was tested beyond breaking point – but like the flank Thomas Allen gave his life to hold, it held under the pressure – the unimaginable pressure of surrender.
The following extract should provide an insight into just how strong that spirit was, and perhaps fill the family of the brave Volunteer Officer resting here with pride, in knowing their relative spent his last days fighting among men and women such as those featured within these pages – men and women who sang and held their heads high as they marched to an uncertain future, exhausted but unbowed – and still committed to their cause.
Several hours later, the sombre figure of Elizabeth O’Farrell was seen walking westwards along the north quays under a white flagtowards the Four Courts, which was carried by Father Columbus of the Capuchin Friary on Church Stret. Commandant Daly met them at the nearby barricade, whereupon O’Farrell handed him the surrender document. It read:
‘HQ Moore Street. Believing that the glorious stand which has been made by the soldiers of Irish freedom during the past five days in Dublin has been sufficient to gain recognition of Ireland’s national claim at an international peace conference, and desirous of preventing further slaughter of the civilian population, and to save the lives of as many as possible of our followers, the members of the Provisional Government here present have agreed by a majority to open negotiations with the British commander.’
It was signed:
Commanding in Chief
Army of the Irish Republic
29 April 1916
Daly handed it back, before speaking to Nurse O’Farrell for a while. He watched them leave before returning inside and gathering his fighting men and women to inform them of the real reason for the cessation in the distant artillery fire. They were both furious and disgusted at the news. One Volunteer commented that the Four Courts could hold out for another month. Others, including Eamon Morkan, stated they would simply not surrender. They would refuse to hand over their weapons.
After a heated and colourful exchange of words, they were eventually brought under control. It was decided that since they had mobilised under the authority of their Commander-in-Chief, his orders would be followed – regardless of their distaste at the prospect of surrendering to an enemy whom they felt had not beaten them in battle. Their weapons were another matter. Most were brought outside to the courtyard and smashed.
Commandant Daly’s men were to proceed to the small enclosure facing Chancery Place and to hand their weapons through the railings to the waiting Dublin Fusiliers. Daly ordered Lieutenant Liam O’Carroll to round up the garrison.
When the ruined weapons had been presented to relieved looking Fusiliers, a major entered the courtyard, accompanied by a section of infantrymen. He looked at the assembled men from 1st Battalion, turned to Daly and asked if his full complement was present. When he confirmed it was, the officer replied: ‘If I had known that this was the extent of the garrison here, you would have been out of this by half-past-twelve on Monday morning last.’ Daly explained there were many wounded Volunteers and Cumman na mBan members still inside the building. It was then agreed that Lieutenant O’Carroll would remain with the wounded and Red Cross personnel until the following day.
The Volunteers formed up and marched out through the Four Courts’ Chancery Gate, where a battalion of Dublin Fusiliers met them. Both sets of fighters had endured hell that week. They were escorted along the quays until they reached Capel Street, where they were instructed to turn left. Eamon Morkan was utterly deflated at his battalion’s recent surrender, but loud cries of ‘We’ll rise again!’ from the ranks behind him were heartening. The growing harmonies of rebel songs began to lift his spirits, as he and the others marched on, watched all along the way by khaki-clad troops and legions of hungry and weary civilians.
When the surrendered men reached Sackville Street, they came to a halt outside the Richmond Institute for the Blind, directly opposite the Gresham Hotel. General Lowe then bellowed, ‘Who is in charge of these men?’ Commandant Daly stepped forward. He clicked his heels as he saluted, and answered ‘I am. At all events I was.’ Lowe gave Daly a contemptuous stare.
A British officer began taking the men’s names and addresses in the ranks. He told them that if they had anything on them that they should not have, to drop it at their feet immediately, adding that they were about to be searched. The Fusiliers soon followed the officer’s orders. One soldier approached Vice-Commandant Piaras Béaslaí and pointed at his sword, demanding that he hand it over. Béaslaí refused. Instead, he pulled it from its scabbard and smashed it over his knee, shouting, ‘Long live the Irish Republic!
Such a stirring quote from Lieutenant Allen’s Vice-Commandant, is perhaps the most fitting of quotes that can be recited over the grave of a man who died for that very Republic.
It has been a privilege for both my co-author and myself to get to know such men as Thomas Allen in the course of writing this book. But as I stand here I am humbled, as perhaps we all should be when we stand over the graves of fallen soldiers. Thank you.
A minutes silence and the lowering of the flags was followed by a lament by the piper. Main speaker on the day was Paul Scannell, Chair of the Tomas Allen Society and 1916 Societies National Organiser. He read the recent Societies’ statement regarding the internment of Dee Fennell and the denial of free speech for republicans.
The commemoration finished with 8 year old Aimee Loughney playing a fantastic version of Amhrán na bhFiann on the tin whistle. The large crowd retired to Stoney’s Pub in Longwood village, where Derek Molyneux presented signed copies of his book on behalf of the Tomas Allen Society to members of Tomas’s family.