Aug 01

John Flood: Fenian leader, Australian citizen and East Wall smuggler

“If loving my country through my whole life should make me wretched, I am wretched indeed…I am ready, my lords, for my sentence”

John Flood in Mountjoy

John Flood in Mountjoy


These were the words spoken by Dublin man John Flood on the 21st May 1867 as he was found guilty of ‘treason felony’ and sentenced to 15 years transportation to Australia. Described as the overall leader of the Fenian movement in Great Britain and Scotland, he had been arrested after a near escape and boat chase on the River Liffey. Never to return to his native soil, he would live a long and prosperous life in Australia, and two years after his death in 1909 up to 3,000 people attended the unveiling of a monument at his grave in Queensland. A one time resident of East Wall, this is his story…


Important arrests

On the 23rd February 1867 the Collier Brig (a coal boat) New Draper sailed up the Liffey into Dublin Port. Its approach did not go unnoticed, as police and troops awaiting its arrival were stationed on the Quay-side North and South. As it made its way along the river, two men dropped overboard into an awaiting Oyster boat and were rowed away. This sparked a pursuit which also involved a ferry and a canal boat before both men scrambled abroad another Collier where they were eventually arrested. They gave their names as William Jackson and John Phillips. They were in fact two Fenian leaders- ‘Jackson’ was the American John McCafferty and ‘Phillips’ was John Flood.

“The clever and dashing young attorney…

the still more clever and dashing young smuggler”

John Flood was born at Sutton in Dublin on the 2nd of May in 1841. His father was the owner of  a shipping company .He was educated at Clongowes   Wood, County Kildare. Fresh from College he studied for some time under the eminent barrister, Isaac Butt  .Details of any other residences during these years are unclear but we do know that by the time he was in his early 20’s he was living at Malachi-Place off Church Road , East Wall. He was employed as a as a clerk or apprentice at a solicitors firm based at number 34 Lower Gardiner Street.

Malachi Place can be seen at lower left on 1850's map

Malachi Place can be seen at lower left on 1850′s map

At this time he also had other business interests, on the opposite side of the law:

“Unfortunately for himself, like many young men of an adventurous spirit, he formed a taste for a roving life. He embarked in smuggling transactions…upon one memorable occasion he acquired no little notoriety as a defendant in a prosecution which was instituted against him for breach of the revenue laws”.

 Issac Butt would later make reference to him as “Mr Flood the clever and dashing young attorney … Mr Flood the still more clever and dashing young smuggler” and stated that he was “beyond all question engaged in smuggling enterprises- boldly, successfully, and extensively engaged in them”.

A number of descriptions of Flood emphasise that he was of striking and distinctive appearance: “A fine looking man, of large person, and frank, handsome features, adorned by an ample beard of a tawny colour, his bearing was upright and stalwart” .His twin careers on either side of the law were not his only passion, as “the troublous condition of his native land at this time enlisted his sympathy and he entered with patriotic fervor into the Fenian movement of the ’60s, quickly becoming one of the trusted leaders in the organization”.

Longford arrest


“strong manly forms, eyes with hope gleaming”

 “John Flood when quite a young man, with a career before him, heard his country call, and he responded to that call in no uncertain note.  He gave up a career that would have undoubtedly led him to a pre-eminent position in the legal profession, and took his stand with the rank and file in that great movement known as the Fenian Movement of ’67.  Along with Colonel McCafferty and such men as James Stevens, he set himself to get the Irish people to band themselves together and to tolerate the system of tyranny and oppression no longer” 

The first suspicions against Flood as a Fenian were probably in January of 1864 when he was arrested in the Longford in the company of known Fenians. Upon being searched a receipt for ammunition (that would ‘fit a French rifle’) was found upon him. Lacking any other evidence he was released without charge. He had given his correct name and two addresses, his home and his place of employment but when asked about his profession was he replied ‘a gentleman at large’.

James Stephens

James Stephens


The Fenian movement was born out of the failed Young Ireland rebellion of 1848. Amongst the participants who fled the country afterwards were James Stephens and John O’ Mahony.  After spending time in Paris together Stephens eventually returned to Ireland and from Lombard Street founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood (I.R.B) while O’Mahony travelled to New York and founded The Fenian Brotherhood. Eventually both organisations would unify, with their goal “to make Ireland an Independent Democratic Republic.” The word Fenian would come into common use as a generic term for Irish Revolutionaries. A newspaper The Irish People was founded and operated from Parliament Street, almost in the shadow of Dublin Castle. There was an informer in the office of the paper and in 1865 a developing plan for an insurrection led to it being raided and all those associated with it arrested.

(The informer was Pierce Nagle, a paper folder in the office. He lived for some time ‘in lodgings off Sheriff Street” and was “so remarkably respectable, and in every way so upright and virtuous, that he was selected by the Catholic clergymen of St. Laurence O Tooles Church to fill the office of clerk”.  He afterwards fled to England in fear for his life, with good reason it seems “Some time afterwards his mutilated body was found under the arch way of one of the London bridges, a large bacon-knife, on the handle of which was the inscription, “Death to traitors,” being embedded in his heart.”)

 Those arrested included Stephens, but after a short stay in Richmond Barracks his escape was facilitated by Fenian prison guards. John Flood “became specially distinguished by his participation in the arrangements for the escape of Stephens from Ireland. He accompanied Stephens and Colonel Kelly in their perilous journey from Dublin to Scotland. Adverse winds blew their boat into Belfast Harbour with the loss of their tiller; and it was owing to Flood’s knowledge and experience that the party were saved. He received a severe injury in the hand letting go the anchor in the hurry to prevent their being driven too far into the harbour. Flood saw Stephens safe to Paris and after a few days returned to Ireland, and almost immediately took his position as one of the first officers of the English and Scotch organisation”.

(His Australian convict record notes a distinguishing mark as a Small cut on lower joint of left fore-finger”, a souvenir of the Stephens escape)

Captain John McCafferty

Captain John McCafferty


Fenians chester

“If it had not been for the inevitable traitor…”

Once again a Fenian rising in Ireland was being been planned, initially for February of 1867 but it was agreed that this should be delayed until March. To help equip the insurrectionists, an attempt was to be made to seize the armoury at Chester Castle. The plan was probably initiated by information from IRB men within the British Army. The intention was that a large body of men would ’infiltrate’ Chester and seize a cache of rifles belonging to the local volunteer corps. These would then be used to storm the Castle which had a standing garrison of just 60 regular soldiers. It arsenal contained 10,000 rifles and 900,000 rounds of ammunition, which would have been an incredible haul for the Fenians. Once successful, the next step would have been to commandeer a train, take the arms to Holyhead, seize a steamer, sail to Wexford and look forward to a successful and well-armed rebellion. The leader of this audacious operation was the U.S. born John McCafferty, a veteran of the Confederate army during the Civil War, who was closely assisted by John Flood. Monday the 11th of February was the scheduled date for the plan to be enacted.

Things did not go as expected, as the notorious informer John Joseph Corydon (who had infiltrated the Fenian leadership) passed on the plans to the authorities the previous day. The rifles of the Chester Volunteers (needed to initiate the main raid) were moved into the Castle, and an additional body of 70 troops from Manchester strengthened the Garrison.

Fenians at Chester 1867_

McCafferty and Flood went out for dinner on the Sunday afternoon and realised from the activity they witnessed that their intentions were known. They managed to very quickly disappear, but not before sending a messenger with a countermanding order to other Fenian officers. Despite these efforts to turn their men back, an estimated 1,300 Fenians reached Chester, in small parties from Manchester, Preston, Halifax, Leeds and elsewhere. According to a contemporary report:

 “Hundreds of strangers poured into it with an ominous air of mystery, and dispersed silently through its quaint streets. The magistrates, the volunteers, the soldiers and all the guardians of the peace that could be enrolled, were preparing, as in old times, to watch all night, and were on the alert for a sudden attack.”

However, with the raid abandoned, the Fenians discarded the few weapons they had (a small number of revolvers were recovered from a Canal) and melted away. The Times reported that ‘about 2000 Irish roughs passed through the New Ferry Tollbar on their way from Chester to Birkenhead. They came in gangs of 30 or 40, and seemed to be much jaded and dispirited’. The following day a further 500 household troops arrived by train from London. (As there was no longer any threat, it is said that they arrived ‘in time for a tumultuous reception and breakfast at Chester hotels’).

While this was an anti-climactic conclusion to such an ambitious conspiracy, the contemporary press did recognise it’s significance and potential:

“..the mere look of some of the strangers was sufficient to indicate their character, if not their purpose. We must certainly give the Fenians credit for having formed a bold plan, and for having put it into execution with considerable promptitude. If it had not been for the inevitable traitor there is too much reason to fear they would have had at least a partial success”.

The Attorney General was much more direct in his assessment: “If that project had been carried out, it would be impossible to exaggerate the disastrous consequences to this country which might have followed”.

(When the planned rising in Ireland  finally took place the following month it was a disaster – the lack of arms was a major factor in it’s failure , but the ever present informers in the ranks , most notably Corydon, had a major impact too. Neither John McCafferty nor John Flood would play a direct role in these events, as by this time they were already behind bars).

After the aborted raid at Chester the identity of McCafferty and Flood was well known, not least because of the actions of ‘Corydon’ .They would have been amongst the most wanted men in Britain and they knew the risks of either staying there or  attempting to return to Ireland. But the uprising was drawing near…

A police detective on duty at the rail station claims that while McCafferty and Flood may have initially left Chester and headed to Manchester they returned, and were seen on Monday “in communication with large bodies of working people who were arriving by train”. That evening they left on the Birkenhead train. They avoided the usual passenger routes back to Ireland, but 9 days later they set sail on their return journey.

Custom House 1867  (Photo:NLI)

Custom House 1867    (Photo:NLI)

‘two persons of suspicious appearance’

 “The New Draper arrived in the river here on the 23rd February, towing up an oyster boat. She came near her berth at the Custom House, but before she reached it these two men, Flood and McCafferty, dropped from the stern of the vessel into the oyster boat, and were rowed towards Carlisle-bridge. They were pursued by the police, who had been informed they were coming over by this vessel, and were on the look out for her; indeed, one of them had followed her all the way from Pigeon House. They were called on to surrender, which they did not do, but sought to escape by jumping into a canal boat, and from the canal boat into a collier. They were there arrested, and gave false names.”

Charles Smith, Captain of the New Draper out of Whitehaven, normally engaged in the Coal trade,had agreed to give the two men passage to Dublin, leaving on 20th February. They reached their destination three days later, and in the Bay a tug steamer took the vessel in tow and proceeded up the river. Throughout this time they were under constant observation, as the authorities had been made aware that ‘two persons of suspicious appearance’ had sailed aboard. Near the pigeon-house a small boat (described as a row boat, but with a small mast) approached and a rope was thrown down to pull it alongside. The New Draper was due to berth at Georges Quay on the South side of the River opposite Custom House. As it was preparing to dock the two passengers made their exit onto the small boat and were rowed away. As they left, one of them politely addressed the captain with the words “Goodbye, I’ll see you again”.

Thomas Reilly, a police Sergeant based at College Street was one of those awaiting their arrival, positioned on Sir John Rogersons-quay. As they made their way up the Liffey he could observe those on deck and ordered his men to proceed along-side, moving as far as Creighton Street / City Quay. Here he climbed aboard a Collier to gain a better view and witnessed the wanted men make their way into the small boat and be rowed away by two men, towards the other side of the river. He rushed along onshore and accompanied by another constable commandeered one of the Liffey Ferry boats and gave pursuit into the centre of the river. They shouted a command to surrender but were ignored. Flood and McCafferty leaped from their boat into a canal-boat and from here scrambled aboard another coal-brig.

Police constable Michael Rowland was located at the Point of the wall (on the North Side of the River) when the New Draper was towed past. He crossed over on a ferry-boat and on the way he witnessed the two men climb into the smaller boat. Having reached the South Quay he joined Sergeant Reilly in the pursuit aboard the commandeered Ferry boat, and afterwards onto the canal-boat and finally onto the coal-brig.

It was here that O’Reilly and Rowland arrested the two men. Identifying themselves as William Jackson and John Phillips, they were initially returned to the New Draper before being taken to Mountjoy Prison later that evening.

Fenian prisoners being brought to Mountjoy        ( Illustrated London News)

Fenian prisoners being brought to Mountjoy    (Illustrated London News)

“…never was our country so humiliated in an Irish Court of Justice”

The Special Commission held at Green Street Courthouse began on April 8th, with 265 men accused of High Treason and Felony Treason. McCafferty was tried separately and on his own. On the 15th of May Flood faced trial alongside Edward Duffy and James Cody. Amidst the general treason / conspiracy accusations, Edward Duffy was specifically named for ‘seducing men away from the army’, and Cody with being head of ‘an assassination committee’ which was tasked with killing ‘any man who should be found giving information to the authorities of the movement of Fenians’.

The informer John Joseph Corydon gave evidence against all three and many of the others on trial. His testimony was the most substantial and damning against Flood. Civilian witnesses confirmed that Flood had been in Manchester very regularly during the previous year but made no claims to any criminal or conspiratorial activity on his behalf. Likewise he was identified as present at various locations in and around the time of the Chester raid. This was all corroborative to Corydons accusations. Aside from the informer, the most detailed evidance regarding Flood and Fenian links came from a Dublin Detective.

Launcelot Dawson, Police Constable,gave evidence of his special duties in 1864 and ’65 when he had been engaged in watching Fenian meetings and Drill assemblies. He described his time observing one particular large store-room (near Island Street) where drilling took place.  He described those who attended as ‘of the labouring classes generally’, and entrance was gained by knocking or giving a ‘peculiar whistle’, with the two men posted as ‘sentinels’ granting admission.

“These persons generally went there about seven o’clock, or between seven and eight; and continued to go in there in batches of twos and threes up to nine o’clock, or half past nine”. He stated that “fifty or sixty, and sometimes up to eighty…” used to assemble on these occasions.

He “procured a key , and got access to the premises after they had all left” . It was ‘a very extensive place’ which he believed to be a former wool-store .Paraffin lambs hung around the walls ‘secured by nails’ and the windows were  “boarded up , so that no one could see what was going on inside from the outside” . It also contained ‘some basket hilted sticks such are as used for the broad sword exercise” and no seating at all.

 He claimed that he had first noted John Flood in December of 1864 at Burkes Public House on Dame Street and afterwards observed him entering the store on at least three separate occasions when drilling was taking place. Each time he only stayed ‘perhaps an hour, or sometimes not even half an hour’.

He did not know Flood at this time, but said he had seen him ‘about town’. When cross-examined ‘Do you know everyone about town?’ he explained “No; but he is about the class of man who would attract my attention”.  He added that he had “Met him in several parts of the city …the principal place I met him was down about the North Strand”.  At the drill hall, he had taken down a description of Flood, the clothes he wore and ‘the colour of his whiskers’ but did not know his name, and afterwards did not see him until he was in custody at Mountjoy.

The three men at the Special Commission Court  (London Illustrated News)

The three men at the Special Commission Court (London Illustrated News)

As stated, the most substantial evidence against Flood was from the informer John Joseph Corydon. His background and role was fully detailed in court – he was a former lieutenant of the Federal Army of the United States who had joined the Fenians in 1862. He came to Dublin in 1865 and knew the key figures such as James Stephens and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. He lived first at Summerhill and then at Buckingham Street. In 1866 he began passing information to the authorities. That year he moved to Liverpool, and was based here during the planning of the insurrection and the Chester Raid. He was the most significant and high ranking informer in the ranks, betrayed the rising and gave evidence against many of the leaders in subsequent prosecutions.

 He first met Flood in 1865 , and described him as “the principal leader, or head- centre in England and Scotland in the absence of Stephens”, and that “Liverpool was his headquarters”. He attended meetings with Flood, McCafferty and American Fenian officers including the planning for the Chester raid.

He described a meeting in Edgeware street in Liverpool prior to the events in Chester at which Flood and McCafferty  gave the orders regarding the proposed raid, capture of weapons and transportation to Ireland and provided finances (£20) to enable members to make their way there. He also detailed meetings with American Fenians (who were to be officers on the raid) and his own traitorous activities to prevent the plan being enacted. Issac Butt, a one time legal mentor to Flood would now take charge of his defence against the serious accusations he now faced.

It was questioned whether such a conspiracy ever actually existed, or if it was just an invention of the informer Croydon to improve his own value:

 “How easy to pervert some intended prize fight, some gathering of a trades union into an alleged treasonable attack, and elevate himself…”

“…not one single human being has been prosecuted in England for participation in that treasonable design. In the centre of one of Englands most peaceful and prosperous districts of peaceful and loyal England, hundreds of persons assembled in that quaint old city of Chester to raise the standard of open rebellion, to make war upon the Queens troops , to seize upon one of the strongholds of the nation in open day. They came in troops from every quarter; they filled the streets of the town; and disappear as mysteriously as they came. And of all the crowd that met there in the broad sunlight- if you are to believe the story- in an act of open and audacious rebellion, not one has been prosecuted or brought to account… a rebellion passed off as a matter of course- and at this hour no single individual has been made amenable to justice for being in Chester with that party of traitors on that day”.

The fact that the trial was taking place in Dublin was highlighted and the question asked (and answered): “why was not Flood tried in Chester where the treason was committed? There is but one reason which can be assigned. They dare not submit to an English jury the evidence on which they ask you to convict”.

The character of the informer Croydon was of course brought into question, and no hyperbole was spared: “Ireland has been subject to many insults; she has borne many humiliations. But never was our country so humiliated in an Irish Court of Justice, as when this degraded ruffian was spoken of by the Queens Attorney-General as ‘Mr. Croydon, the saviour of his country’…

The evidence that Flood had been in Chester was irrefutable, with many witnesses to his presence there. The tactic of the defence was to throw doubt on his reasons for being there, even invoking his reputation as a ‘Clever and dashing young smuggler’ to full advantage – “Where is the direct and manifest proof that his presence in Chester was connected with any treasonable purpose whatever? Can you say that he is provably attained by any overt act or deed? If you cannot you must acquit him. He may have been at Chester for a thousand purposes of which you and I know nothing. He may have left it clandestinely for a thousand reasons we cannot divine. He may have been engaged in some smuggling transaction. He may have been assisting McCafferty to get away. Everything is conjecture, and upon conjecture you cannot bring in a verdict of guilty…”

John Flood was found guilty of Treason Felony as were his co-defendants. On Tuesday 21st May he gave his speech from the dock, which defiantly stated:

“The Attorney-General has alluded to me repeatedly as that wretched man. If loving my country through my whole life should make me wretched, I am wretched indeed; for I tell you now, and I tell the world that I not only abhor assassination, but I would rather go to my doom than be guilty of the moral assassination that has been practiced against me. I am ready, my lords, for my sentence”.

He was sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude. His expectations were probably worse.  Tried separately, John McCafferty had already been convicted of High Treason and sentenced to death, though this was afterwards commuted to ‘penal servitude for life’.

After the sentence had been pronounced the convicts, who had been held in cells beneath the court, were conveyed to Mountjoy Prison, escorted by mounted police and two troops of Ninth Lancers. Five months later Flood had been brought to Britain and facing transportation to the far side of the world, a journey of almost 10,000 miles.

Hougoumont in 1885

Hougoumont in 1885


To Australia with ‘The Wild Goose’

In October of that year Flood was aboard the ship Hougoumont which set sail from Portland in the South of England, bound for Freemantle, Western Australia. A three month journey, this was the first such transportation in almost 20 years (since the Young Ireland rebellion) and it would be the last such voyage of a prison ship.  Aboard were 280 convicts, and amongst these were 62 Fenians. The voyage was generally uneventful, but remarkable in that for much of its passage the Fenian prisoners produced their own weekly paper.

In a letter sent to his parents from Australia, Cork man Eugene Lambert detailed the journey:

  “We enjoyed a tolerable passage and arrived here on the 9th January, making the voyage in 89 days. Really I was heartily sick of life on board ship, the journey was so long. I managed one way or other to while away the time. Myself and my exiled friends lived very agreeably during the passage. We were kept separate from other prisoners and placed in a good part of the ship nearly amidships. We published a written newspaper on board, entitled “The Wild Goose”. I was a copyist on it and it was edited by J.Flood, he that was tried with Capt. McCafferty….Only half the voyage was over when ‘twas thought of. It was our greatest delight to have a read of it…”

 Denis B. Cashman, a Waterford Fenian kept a diary which was later published. His entry for November 5th 1867 records

 “a meeting held to see if we could start a newspaper. Meeting composed of Con Mahony, J.Flood, Duggan , O’Reilly, Cody, Casey, Noonan and self…J. Flood appointed editor…”

As Irish patriots bound for foreign shores, the appropriate title “The Wild Goose” was chosen. The Chaplin aboard the Hougoumont was Father Bernard Delaney of Dublin, who was friendly towards the Irish prisoners. He provided the necessary paper and ink for the task.

First edition of The Wild Goose (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

First edition of The Wild Goose (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

 A vivid reminiscence of preparing the paper was provided by John Boyle O’Reilly: “We published seven weekly numbers of it. Amid the dim glare of the lamp, the men at night would group strangely on extemporised seats. The yellow light fell down on the dark forms, throwing a ghastly glare on the pale faces of the men…”

 A total of seven weekly issues of “The Wild Goose” were produced, which included a double sized Christmas edition of 16 pages. Saturday was publication day and the Fenians would look forward to gathering in one of the ship’s holds and having the paper read aloud by the editor John Flood or his assistant, John Boyle O’Reilly .The content was not overtly political, but was designed to be diverting and morale building. It featured stories and poems, history pieces, memoirs of home and a fair bit of humour. It set out its ambition on the front of the first edition “I will aim to console you for the past, to cheer you for the present, and to strengthen you for the future”.

One contribution rejoiced in the memory of a spectacular Fourth of July celebration spent in Chicago. It concluded with a patriotic ambition -

“Thus do the Americans commemorate their country’s natal day. That night, sadly contrasting the position of my own country with that of the proud American republic, I fervently prayed that a happier day might dawn for my own native isle of the sea.”

 John Flood contributed poetry under the name Binn Éider (The Gaelic name for Howth is Binn Éadair ). A total of eleven of his poems appeared across the seven issues, all described by later commentators as of good quality. One in particular “Cremona” recalled the battle in the 1700’s when an Irish Brigade fought alongside the French against the Austrians. It is not hard to imagine the emotion Flood might have felt when he penned the lines

“A curse upon the traitor wretch who to the wily foe

For sordid gold the town betrayed! “

  Amongst the bumper crop of material appearing in the final edition , the double sized Christmas special were two contrasting poems by John B O’Reilly .“Christmas Night”  described  the emotions of an Irish prisoner in an English gaol on the feast day  , quite clearly based on his own incarceration in London the previous year.

But the paper was designed to be uplifting and morale building , and another Christmas verse was more light hearted and cheery –

Then, brothers, though we spend the day

Within a prison ship,

Let every heart with hope be gay, a smile on every lip.


Let’s banish sorrows, banish fears,

And fill our hearts with glee,

And ne’er forget in after years

Our Christmas on the sea”.

The Wild Goose Christmas edition (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

The Wild Goose Christmas edition (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

John Boyle O'Reilly

John Boyle O’Reilly


The Hougoumont reached its destination on the 9th of January 1868, the last vessel to carry convicts and political prisoners to those shores. When John Flood set foot on Australian soil he was in the land that would become his home for the next four decades, until his death in 1909.

(Incredibly, copies of the ship-board newspaper have survived. A century after the convict ship Hougoumont arrived in Fremantle the original hand written manuscripts of The Wild Goose were donated to the Mitchell Library in Sydney by Sheelagh Johnson the great granddaughter of John Flood.)


“He was a friend of whom anyone might be proud”

He had been sentenced to 15 years penal servitude, but after only a few years of his sentence he was released, on the condition that he would not leave Australia or attempt to return to England or Ireland. Now a free man (at least on one continent) he set out to make a new life for himself.

John Floods pardon (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

John Floods pardon (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Perhaps inspired by his journalistic endeavours on the ocean, he would become a ‘Newspaper-man’, and also become involved in the thriving goldfield and mining industries.  Having proceeded first to Tasmania, he then went on to Sydney, where he established his own paper called “The Irish Citizen” in December of 1871.  This bore the imprint “Printed and published by the proprietor, John Flood, at No. 6 Park-street, Sydney.”  and would run until August of the following year. In 1873 there was a gold-rush on the Palmer River in the Northwest, which attracted him, but he still had ink in his veins, as he soon became editor of a paper in nearby Cooktown, (Queensland). He would also spend some time on the ‘literary staff ‘of the “Brisbane Courier”. In 1881 he arrived in Gympie, another Gold-rush town in Queensland, setting up “John Flood and Co.” establishing himself as a mining secretary. But the ink beckoned again, and in 1888 he set up the Gympie Newspaper Company Ltd. and acquired the “Gympie Miner” daily. He maintained his role in the company as a managing –director and also in its ‘journalistic control’ until the early 20th century.

The town of Gympie

The town of Gympie

In Cooktown he had married a Tasmanian woman, Miss Susan O’Bryne, and they had a number of children. Three of these would die at young ages over a reasonably short time span – Valentine Patrick in 1889 (aged 6), Kathleen in 1890(aged 9) and John Oscar in 1892(aged3) His wife died in 1897 at the age of 44, and at the time of his own death in 1909 only two of his children were still alive.

Inscription on John Flood monument (Photo: John Huth)

Inscription on John Flood monument (Photo: John Huth)


A monument   “placing on record the life of John Flood”

During his years in Gympie he was a prominent citizen, who “always took an active part in local affairs”. In relation to his native land, he was    “especially recognized as a leader in all movements having reference to the Irish National question. On these matters he was consulted by those connected with the Irish Home Rule movement in all parts of Australia, and maintained a continuous correspondence with his native land. When Messrs. Redmond, Dillon, Davitt, and other members of the Irish National Party visited Gympie they were his guests”.

His status amongst the Irish population of Australia was confirmed two years after his death with the erection of a monument to his memory on the 24th September in 1911. These extracts are taken from an extensive account published in the Gympie Times newspaper –

“The hour fixed for the ceremony was 3 p.m., and by that time an assemblage estimated at between 2000 and 3000 persons had gathered round the memorial erected over the grave.  The monument which stands 14ft. high is a handsome Celtic cross in polished Aberdeen granite on a Bohn base of unpolished local granite.  It is set on a solid base of concrete and the walling and enclosure are Helidon freestone.  On the face of the monument are engraved the round tower, wolf dog and national harp of Ireland, with other emblematic designs… A lorry was drawn up on the right hand side of the memorial, on which was placed the handsome banner of the H.A.C.B. Society and with this as an appropriate background the various speakers addressed the large audience from the lorry…”

The chairman of the memorial committee began “today they were unveiling a monument to the memory of one of the most earnest, enthusiastic and patriotic Irishmen that ever lived.  (Hear, hear).  The late Mr. Flood, as they knew, was prepared to lay down his life for his country, and up to the moment of his death he had never lost his enthusiasm for the cause of Ireland.  For his enthusiastic support, he had suffered the penalty of banishment from his native land.  Of all the friends, of the late Mr. Flood, he (Mr. Power) living alongside him had a better opportunity of judging his character and know something of his inner life, and, apart from his patriotism and love of country, no better father ever lived.  He was a friend of whom anyone might be proud – courteous, cultured, and straightforward, never saying one thing when he thought another”. 

Amongst the guests was William Archer Redmond MP, son of John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.   “MR. REDMOND who was heartily received, said that cold indeed would be the heart of any Irishman if it was not moved and inspired by the spectacle in the cemetery that afternoon, a crowd assembled in thousands to do honour to the memory of a great Irish patriot and an esteemed fellow townsman...  In this truly Irish monument erected by the people of Gympie, they expressed their deep appreciation of and lasting admiration for the sterling qualities of their late townsman, John Flood, and for his self-sacrifice and his unswerving devotion to the cause of his native land and its people.” 

The inscription on the memorial stone reads:

 “Sacred to the memory of John Flood (a true Irish patriot) born 2nd May 1841 at Sutton Dublin Ireland. Died 22nd August 1909 aged 68 years. Erected in 1911 by friends and admirers to commemorate his life’s work in the cause of the Irish Nationality. RIP”.


John Flood monument (Photographed in 2013 by John Huth)

John Flood monument (Photographed in 2013 by John Huth)



Any corrections, clarifications or additional information please contact

Sources include:

“The Fenian conspiracy :Report of the trials of Thomas F. Burke and others, for high treason, and treason-felony, &c., at the Special commision, Dublin, held at the Court-house, Green-street, Dublin, commencing 8th April, 1867.”    By William G. Chamney. (Printed by A. Thoms, Dublin 1869)

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

State Library of Queensland

Voyage of the Hougoumont and Life at Fremantle: The Story of an Irish Rebel              

 By Thomas McCarthy Fennell

Irish Political Prisoners, 1848-1922: Theatres of War

By Seán McConville


(Dedicated to Belinda , a finder of lost things and a great contributor to the work of the East Wall History Group. )

Jul 12

Sean O’Casey, St Barnabas Parish and the Loyal Orange Lodge

Plaque marking site of St Barnabas Church

Plaque marking site of St Barnabas Church

Sean O’Casey was a parishioner of St Barnabas Church from 1889 to 1919, initially living at Hawthorn Terrace and afterwards at Abercorn Road. He had a high opinion of the Reverend Edward Morgan Griffin who served as Rector here between 1899 and 1918. O’Casey dedicated the second volume of his autobiography (“Pictures in the Hallway”) to him as follows:

 “To the memory of the Rev E.M. Griffin, BD, MA, one-time Rector of St Barnabas, Dublin. A fine scholar; a man of many- branched kindness, whose sensitive hand was the first to give the clasp of friendship to the author.”

In contrast to this, O’Casey took a dim view of some within the parish, obnoxiously anti catholic and critical of the less fervent members of their own flock. His description of these brethren is most unflattering. Both O’Casey and Griffin would come into conflict with some of these elements within a few years.

 While paying tribute to O’Casey in a special sermon following his death in 1964, the Dean of Christ Church recalled his “immense and affectionate regard for the Rev…” and noted also that locally there had existed a “colony of Ulster Railway workers, who were members of the Orange Order”.   The following excerpts are from “Pictures in the Hallway” .As always with his autobiographical volumes, O’Casey refers to himself in the third person as Johnny, and the parish as St. Burnupus.

02 St  Barnabas church and school

“…the little church of St.Burnupus, in its desolate seat among the dust of the dowdy streets, the cinders of the bottle making factory of North Lotts, for ever pouring out it’s murky plumes of smoke, the scarred heaps of mouldering bark and timber chips round Martin’s timber yard, the dung of the cattle, passing in droves down to the quays , the smell of the beer-soaked sawdust, floating out from the wide-open doors of the pubs, blending its smell with that of the foul rags of the festering, fawning poor…”

As seen from inside O'Casey house, Abercorn Road

As seen from inside O’Casey house, Abercorn Road

“Even when the rooms were bare of fire and scant of food, he sang and wondered that life had so much to give; and he tried to share all these sights with his mother; but he saw they had but a timid and feebly whispered message for her, sending her more eagerly back to the motherly care of her crimson geranium, her golden musk, and her fuchsia, with its purple bells and white waxy sepals drooping royally over the sadness of the cracked and withering window.

Into this glowing dwelling -place of Johnny’s came the new rector, to take up the pastorate of St.Burnupus. Quietly he came, introduced by the city’s archbishop, who left the smoke, the cinders, the timber chips, the dung, and the hearty smell as quick as he decently could in his carriage and pair, when he had safely dumped down the new rector where he was to work for the salvation of souls. The archbishop left behind a man of middle height, some forty-five years of age, a sweet face, bearded brown, now firmly streaked with silver; eyes that sometimes glowed with a ripe autumnal friendship, and sometimes glittered with a wintry scorn; small, delicate, graceful, and sympathetic hands; a warm, sensitive, and humorous mouth; a fine presence, gracefully rugged, that endorsed the confidence of a broad and scholarly mind. A man among men; few there were that could stand beside him, and when the place was found where these few where, it would be hard to say the best of them was as good as he was.

A great stir came to the parish with Edward Morgan Griffin, son of a Methodist minister, and once one of the secretaries of the Hibernian Bible Society, so that here was one who was surely a hale protestant after the Orangeman’s pattern, and a joy for ever to the simple soul believing that salvation came with the mumbling of a text of scripture. The choir began to sing well, and Johnny sat with them, singing lustily when he was in the mood, the rector telling him not to be afraid to let himself go. Bible classes flourished, and Foreign Mission work was strongly aided, Johnny acting as secretary to this activity. The vestry was enlarged and made warm and comfortable for smaller meetings. The school grew so that it had to have a new wing added; and the religious life of the parish became vigorous, homely, orderly and genuine under the direction and with the encouragement of the new rector.


Reverend EM Griffin

Reverend EM Griffin

 Orangemen, purplemen, and knights of the grand black chapter, with civil and religious liberty stamped on their stony faces, hemmed him in , smiled at him , and patted him on the back. Cordons of orange and blue and purple were all around him; and, for a time all new work was born in contentment and charm. The Orangemen were headed by the people’s churchwarden, Frank Donaldson, secretary to the Grand Loyal Orange Lodge of Dublin, a man to whom any speck of colour on a church wall or in a window meant popery and auto-da-fesof burning protestants every morning in Rutland Square, and twice a day on Sundays. His pale, pitiless face for ever stared in front of him, seeing nothing but evil and danger of a fringe on a church cloth, and a devils conjuring trick in the sign of the cross; Edward Doosard, Inspector of the Quay Police(doddering old men, in their childhood, watching the warehouses of the Port and Docks Board, showing gold and brass where the  real police showed silver, the dockers cursing them , and the carters cutting at them with their whips whenever they got in the way), his ruby face, jowled like Dutch cheese, his bull-neck forming a circle above a white collar, like a thick rubber hose, a rusty-fleshed fat hand almost always stroking a bristly moustache, and his piggy eyes trying to tell everyone that  he was a pillar of Protestantism; and John Glazier, foreman in the Great Western Railway Goods Store; a true-blue, if ever there was one; a man who would be ready to die for his faith, his rugged face carved like a stone creviced by centuries of frost and rain; his jagged teeth showing grimly when he mentioned some taint of ritualism in  some protestant church; his hands twitching as if they were edging towards a pope’s throat. …”


02 a


Extract from “Pictures in the Hallway” (1942)


All six volumes of Sean O’Casey Autobiographies, republished by Faber and Faber, are currently available in both print and kindle editions.

If you have a favourite Sean O’Casey extract please bring it to our attention.

Contact us at


Jul 11

“Kathleen Lynn , a Truly Radical Woman” – Saturday July 18th –

On Saturday the 18th July the East Wall History Group will host the inaugural Sarah Lundberg Summer School. Held in conjunction with the Alternative Visions Oral History project, the event is in honour of our friend and colleague Sarah Lundberg,  an Archivist , Historian and publisher  who tragically passed away last year.

Lynn poster

The topic of Kathleen Lynn was chosen because this remarkable woman was the subject of a major publishing project that Sarah had begun at the time of her death. This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the death of Kathleen Lynn in September of 1955.

Dr Kathleen Lynn was a lifelong campaigner for women’s rights. In 1913 she became involved with the work at Liberty Hall during the great Lockout. This led to her assuming the role as chief-medical-officer in the Irish Citizen Army and an Easter Rising participant, serving in the City Hall Garrison. Imprisoned on a number of occasions for her political activity, she was released in 1918 at the request of the Dublin’s Lord Mayor to help fight the flu epidemic sweeping the city. Working alongside her life-long companion Madeline fFrench Mullen, she founded St Ultans Children’s Hospital at Charlemont Street in 1922. Always a progressive thinker, she was instrumental in tackling the scourge of TB and brought educationalist Maria Montessori to Ireland in the 1930’s.

A number of prominent historians and activists, along with some newer voices will be taking part, and many aspects of Lynn’s life, activities and legacy will be explored in an open and participative forum.

Kathleen Lynn (third from left) with St Ultan's Hospital  staff and Lord Mayor Alfie Byrne

Kathleen Lynn (third from left) with St Ultan’s Hospital staff and Lord Mayor Alfie Byrne


See link to facebook event page here :



Jun 29

Fourth of July Parade – for the first time ever !

4th-2For the first time ever East Wall will be hosting a ‘Fourth of July’ parade , starting @ 2pm at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre. All welcome to this spectacular event , which will also hold a collection to benefit Temple Street Children’s Hospital .



Jun 21


East Wall History Banner

Would you like to get more involved with the East Wall History Group ? Here’s your chance -

Thursday 25th June @ 7.30pm

The Sean O’Casey Community Centre


The East Wall History Group was established in 2011 , and we held our first annual festival that year. Since then we have become very much a vital part of the local community and undertaken numerous projects, including researching stories from the revolutionary period, compiling details of the shops, businesses & streets that existed throughout the 20th the century, celebrated our great football heritage , erected plaques to mark significant locations and made available many photos, documents and memorabilia from our areas past .

SO WHAT DO WE DO NEXT ? Come along to this informal meeting and have your say – would you like to get more involved , can you suggest new projects , have you an expertise or skill you’d like to share . This meeting is open to all , to plan for the ongoing work of the group and to encourage more people to get involved. We hope to see you there.


We can be contacted at

Jun 01

EAST WALL FESTIVAL WEEK 2015 – Brochure now available


May 24

“ I Do Not Like Thee Dr. Fell “ by Bernard Farrell

A comedy about “Mindfulness and Mayhem “ , this week at the the Sean O’Casey Theatre , from  May Tuesday 26th to Friday 29th.


Poor ‘aul Paddy ( Robbie Sexton ) caretaker to the lost and lonely Joe ( Adrian Wenkler) is angry ,, and its payback time . Suzi ( Jane Gribbin ) the facilitator is at the Last Chance Saloon , Rita ( Siobhan O’ Sullivan Morrin )likes doctors cats cruises and the apostles , Maureen ( Lisa King ) is dutiful and kind of sexy , Peter( Fran Laycock) is mindful of being under duress and Roger ( Aidan Morrin ) well least said …….. ( dare I mention the bomb ?? )


Come along and support your local drama.

May 24


Vintage Cars, Vintage music and all for a good cause


The 2015 Rockin’ Road festival takes place on Sunday 24th May in the grounds of The National Education Centre for Blind Children, Grace Park Road (Beside Rosmini).

Kicking off at midday and running until 8pm this is a great family fun day out with something for everyone including bouncy castles and face painting for the kids plus live music, vintage bikes, cars and of course scooters. There will also be custom and classic machines including some vintage cars, plus trade and craft stalls.

Admission is just €10 with accompanied kids going free, and all proceeds after public liability insurance go to the school.

May 17

EAST WALL FESTIVAL: 1975 – 2015 “…the soundtrack of your life”.


“Music is the soundtrack of your life.”

On this date four decades ago there was great excitement in the locality. The people of East Wall were busy preparing for the first Festival, just three weeks away. And if music does, as the quote says, provide a soundtrack for our lives , then this is what was playing in the background  . MUD were enjoying their second week topping the Irish music charts , and would continue to do so for a third week too. They would be knocked from the top spot at the end of the month , and Tammy Wynette would enjoy her own three week run . “Stand by your man” would be the best selling Irish single before, during and after festival week 1975.


Meanwhile , across the water , there was something strange happening , as this oddity was topping the UK singles chart .Other tunes riding high and dominating the airwaves and turn-styles of the nation were Showaddywaddy (“Three steps to Heaven”) , 10CC (“I’m not in love”), Bay City Rollers (“Bye bye baby”) and at least one Irish Star – Red Hurley (“Love is all”).


Cover of the original 1975   brochure

Cover of the original 1975 brochure

It is hard to believe that the  East Wall Festival is forty years old in June. It certainly doesn’t seem that long ago.  Many have very fond memories of that great event, and those in subsequent years. Next Month we will remember the historic festival of 1975, and celebrate the great community we all still enjoy in East Wall.


East Wall Festival Week  2015, celebration from the 6th to 12th June.


Check out the official facebook page here :




May 09

Did your Granny make bombs in World War One? The story of the Dublin Dockyard War Munitions Factory.

The Dublin Dockyard War Munitions Factory

The Dublin Dockyard War Munitions Factory

Between 1915 and 1919 the Dublin Dockyard War Munitions Factory operated in Dublin Port. It was established by the Scottish born John Smellie, who was already operating the Dublin Dockyard Company since 1902, his ambitious attempt to establish a ship building industry in the City. Smellie has left a lasting legacy on the local community – unable to find suitable accommodation for his skilled Scottish ship builders, he had acquired land and built his own houses. These 20 unique dwellings at Fairfield Avenue (East Wall) were based on a Glasgow design and seemingly replicated nowhere else in the City, and still stand today. The munitions factory employed almost 200 local women and girls. This is the story of this almost forgotten Dublin Dockland Industry.


Troops at North Wall , August 1914

Troops at North Wall , August 1914

On 4th August 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany bringing Ireland into the First World War. The reserves were called up and thousands flocked to the colours. Everyone knew it would be all over by Christmas – except Lord Kitchener, a Kerryman and Minister for War, who suggested they may need to make at least a 3 year plan. Christmas came and went and the war wasn’t over. However, by March 1915 Britain was ready to make it’s big move to end the war by smashing through the German lines and outmanoeuvring them. This came to pass at Neuve Chapelle in France where British forces fired more shells than had been used in the entire Boer War, lost nearly 10,000 troops but made little advance on the German lines. The fall out, led by the Irish born Press Baron Lord Northcliff, put the blame on poor ordinance. The Germans were producing 250,000 shells a week to Britain’s 30,000 and those that were produced by Britain were said to be of poor quality. This lead to a huge reassessment of arms production and while Irish revolutionaries such as Patrick Pearse and James Connolly were thinking “Britain’s difficulty is Ireland opportunity” – the same thought was occurring to Industrialists, Politicians, and even many Trade Unionists throughout Ireland. There was very little industrialisation in the country outside of Belfast and many saw the war and the armaments industry being created as the opportunity to finally industrialise the country, backed by government funding, creating lasting skills and industries when the war was over, and employment, as Lloyd George would later state, for over 50,000 people.

Neuve Chapelle , March 1915

Neuve Chapelle , March 1915

Lobbying began with North Dock MP Alfie Byrne claiming Ireland contributed £15 million in war taxes and got little in return. The Chamber of Commerce in Dublin set up an All Ireland Munitions and Government Supplies Committee which undertook a survey of Dublin’s existing engineering workshops between the 16th and 24th April 1915 and suggested what uses they could be adapted for in order to win war contracts. They met a favourable reception in London, however the existing government fell and a coalition was formed. Their first act was to set up a new powerful department called the Ministry of Munitions who would award all war contracts and direct munitions production for the duration of hostilities. In July the chamber set up the Dublin Armaments Committee, “representative of all trades in the city which it was considered could assist” and organised visits to the War Office, Woolwich Arsenal, and arms manufacturing centres in Birmingham and other cities. The same month Captains R. C. Kelly arrived in Dublin and set up the Ministry of Munitions’ offices at number 32 Nassau Street. Kelly had headed up the North Eastern Armaments Committee in Britain and had shown great skill in maximising resources of the various engineering concerns available.( However in November he went on to be appointed head of recruitment in Ireland and managed to double the figures before returning to London in 1916). Initially there was great optimism, the Chamber claiming that this new industry would boost the economy with the employment of several hundred hands and the distribution of thousands of pounds per week in wages”. They also noted that large orders worth thousands of pounds had been placed with Engineering and other firms in the city. However, of the 1369 contracts offered up to August 1916 only 24 or 1.27% went to Irish companies and most of those went to the Harland and Wolfe Shipyard.


In 1916 The Dublin Chamber of Commerce, commenting on a meeting held with the new ministry, suggested that the results fell far short of what is due to this country having regard to the expenditure in Great Britain. Not surprisingly nearly 16,320 Irish people were working in munitions factories in England by 11th May 1917 attracted by persuasive advertising campaigns offering higher wages. Agents of leading manufactures visited Ireland on recruiting drives leading one Limerick writer to comment that local girls believed  money could be picked up on the floors of English Shell Factories as easily as shells on the Irish sea-shore.

The Ministry of Munitions had the power to nationalise industries which they did with the Irish Rail network in 1917. They could commandeer factories such as breweries for chemical production; they could arbitrate in labour disputes such as the long running strike between the ITGWU and the Dublin Steampacket Company between 1915-’16. They had the power to commandeer raw materials – they bought the entire wool production in Ireland in 1917, they commandeered much of the Irish merchant fleet, and became the largest purchaser of Ulster linen to be used in aircraft manufacture. They were immensely powerful with major powers of compulsion. They also issued licenses to allow workers move between jobs in priority industries. Ordinary labour problems involving individual workers were dealt with during their sittings at the Northern and Southern Police courts in Dublin. However, the Dublin representatives of the Ministry seem to have left a lot to be desired and were a constant source of criticism from Irish business interests. They failed to get a Production Depot operating in Dublin until 1917. This was a central location where Irish made products could be checked locally before being shipped to England, saving enormous expense on shipping if the goods were to be returned as faulty. There was also expert advice available to assist contractors on various aspects of what they were producing. It had been promised in March 1916 but would take a further 12 months to materialise. Curiously enough the Production Depot was located at Oriel House in Westland Row which would play a very sinister role during the War of Independence and Civil War.

John Smellie

05 Dockyard Munitions shares

For Irish companies War Contracts were survival. As the ministry controlled raw materials, if you weren’t’t producing for the war effort you were likely to go out of business. Building companies adapted to make wooden ammunition boxes, often at break-even prices or at a loss, to avoid bankruptcy. Contracts for a million boxes were awarded to Irish companies after considerable lobbying. Even then manufacturers, having invested capital to secure contracts, and successfully completed orders, often found themselves ignored for further tenders. Others such as the Dublin Dockyard Company found themselves having to pay premium prices for poor quality American steel on the open market the quality of which only became apparent at the end of the manufacturing process. John Smellie, the Scottish born owner and manager of the Dockyard had been astute enough to secure a repairs contract with the Royal Navy as early as September 1914. They were soon producing pontoon bridges, floating targets to train gun crews, fitting ship gun platforms, dept charges, wireless cabins, mine laying appliances, telegraph poles, among other war related work.

Shell and hand grenade factories had been set up in Belfast early in the war and following all the lobbying efforts it was announced that the government was to set up a National Shell Factory at Park Gate Street in 1915. This was greeted with great enthusiasm and a Captain Fairbairn Downie was brought over to run the enterprise. Downie, from Alnwick in Newcastle, was a skilled engineer and administrator, with a distinguished career in naval and military engineering as well as with Armstrong and Whitworth aircraft manufacturers before the war. Since then he had executed government contracts with various manufacturers in the Far East, South American, Canada, and the USA. He would be promoted to Major before he resigned in January 1918. Progress on the National Shell Factory was slow most of their early employees being engaged in clearing and adapting the buildings. Substantial alterations had to be made to the complex with the provision of shafting and fresh girder work. It took almost a year to hit full production. At much the same time the Lee Arrow Company at Clarke’s Bridge in Cork and the Dublin Dockyard Company independently secured shell making contracts, the Dockyard’s being for 50,000 shells and having raised capital of £20,000 set up the Dublin Dockyard War Munitions Factory at 15a East Wall on a green-field site beside their graving docks in November 1915. The building was wooden in construction with 2 corridors of 4 rows of machines. There were storage rooms at either end for the raw steel bars and the finished shells. The Dockyards had “Priority Establishment” status thus protecting their staff from recruitment; however regulations stated that only 5% of munitions manufacturing staff could be male so 12 girls were recruited and sent to the Vickers Company in Barrow on Furnace for training.  They would in turn not only train the rest of the girls recruited for the factory but also the first 50 girls recruited for the National Shell Factory at Park Gate Street.

Dublin Dockyard Munitions Workers

Dublin Dockyard Munitions Workers

While the Dockyard Factory awaited the arrival of the machinery from Manchester they acquired some lathes that were about 50-60 years old and began producing components for the National Shell Factory. The National Factory had ordered machines from Sweden and the USA but as these seemed to take forever to arrive they began a process of commandeering machines from Dublin Engineering works. In particular the Technical Training College at Bolton Street was a major source of equipment, much to the detriment of it’s educational role. The Fuse Factory at the Inchicore Works acquired lathes from the Technical Institute in Cork, leaving a gap in the education of apprentices for several years. The Natioanl factory recruited through the Labour Exchange following a direction from the Board of Trade to relieve some of the 2885 unemployed on the books in Dublin, 1248 of whom were women. The Dockyard Company, on the other hand recruited through personal recommendation, thus most of their girls were local from either the North or South Docks. The National drew staff from a wide area from Dollymount to Chapelizod working 3 shifts in 24 hours. This created great difficulty for them as the Trams didn’t’t start in time for girls on the 6am shift and many had a long walk to work. 20 girls were dismissed in October 1916 for poor time-keeping. The Dockyard Company worked 2 shifts, the recommended standard following experiments at Vickers in 1916, with a target of 2000 shells per week. In a short time they were producing 3000.

Dublin Dockyard Munitions Factory

Dublin Dockyard Munitions Factory

Paper produced by the NFWW

Paper produced by the NFWW

One of the early recruits of the National Factory was Christine “Molly” Maguire. Born in London to Irish Parents, she had been schooled in Belfast, and as labour problems grew in the factory Maguire made contact with the British National Federation of Women’s Workers and began to unionise the shop. The NFWW was aware of the Irish Women Workers Union (IWWU) but they felt (and the IWWU agreed) that they were better placed to represent women in the munitions Industry. Maguire was made National Organizer and spread the Union not only to the Dockyard Factory but also to the National Factories which had opened at Cork and Galway, and the Cartridge Factory at Waterford. She was so successful that she returned to England to work for the Union as an activist there. With the near collapse of the IWWU after the 1916 Rising and with so many of it’s key people in prison, Irish born Helena Flowers, the Assistant Secretary of the NFWW, spent much of 1917 – 18 in Ireland putting the Union on a sound basis, spreading their recruitment into Jam Factories and other poorly paying areas employing women for as little as 4 shillings per week. Aware that there was opposition to British Unions coming across and starting up for workers generally the NFWW claimed that a unanimous decision was arrived at with responsible sections of thought in Dublin that the munitions workers occupied a different position from the workers in the ordinary industries and should be organised into a Branch of the National Federation of Women Workers as they felt that without the strength of the Federation behind them, little could be done to secure equality of treatment for the workers in the Irish National Shell Factories.  In March 1916, twelve controlled establishments in Ireland had been referred to the Ministry of Munitions with regard to women’s wages. According to the official Ministry History nothing was done following representations to the ministry by the Engineering Employers Federation in relation to the lower cost of living in Ireland during negotiation over men’s wage increases later that year. In July the ministry specifically exempted 11 Irish establishments thus allowing them to pay below the general British rate.  In May 1917 the union secured an agreement with the ministry to place the wages of Irish women in the munitions industry on an equal footing with their British counterparts, an increase from 18 to 24 shillings per week and from 23 to 30 shillings for night shift work. Only two soap factories on the controlled register were exempted. In November 1917 a further increase of 5 shillings was awarded by the ministry and immediately the Engineering Federation lobbied for an Irish exemption. This was refused on the basis that these awards “must apply to Irish firms.” Following a strike and lock out of women at the National Factory in September 1918 they achieved the right to have women shop stewards negotiate on behalf of women workers. Then in 1919 with the munitions factories closing and the IWWU back on it’s feet, they handed their entire operation over to Louis Bennet the new leader of the IWWU.

The Irish Women Workers Union at Liberty Hall

The Irish Women Workers Union at Liberty Hall

At full production the National Factory employed 809 (of whom 531 were women), the Docklands Company just 200. As the employment of women was somewhat novel, the ministry produced numerous advisory booklets for would be manufacturers which examined such diverse subjects as the nutritional health needs of women workers, factory ergonomics, and guidelines for the efficient design and management of a staff canteen. The Women’s National Health Association of Ireland produced a booklet on “War and the Food of the Dublin Labourer” showing up the deficiencies of the normal diet for industrial work and how to correct it. A report by Dr. Stanley Kent on Industrial Fatigue led to the decision that the factories should only work 6 days a week as workers resting on the seventh were capable of longer and sustained effort and had much higher productivity than those who worked the full week without a break. The Docklands factory was unique in Ireland being the only munitions factory built on a green-field site. The Directors had visited several private operations in England in order to find the best features of each which would be incorporated into the Docklands project. The timber design and saw-tooth roof admitted an abundance of light and all the starting and stopping gears of the machines were standardised in order to minimise accidents. By the end of the war their most common industrial accident was an occasional finger injury.

The Dublin Dockyard shipbuilders - with steamer in Graving dock

The Dublin Dockyard shipbuilders – with steamer in Graving dock

Shipyard - looking towards Alexandra Basin .

Shipyard – looking towards Alexandra Basin .

Perhaps the best compliment to the early success of the Dockyard Factory was that the Port and Docks Board, seeing a downturn in business decided they needed to shed 200 jobs. They sought to channel these into munitions production. The Board felt that their engineering works could be easily converted to shell manufacturing and arrangements were set up to visit the National Factory in Parkgate Street as well as the Fuse Factory at the Inchicore Works and George Watt’s Engineering Works at Bridgefoot Street between February and March 1916. The ministry found that the Port and Docks Plant was unsuitable for munitions work, however the Board subsequently offered to supply the floor space and electric power from their power station at a favourable rate if the ministry would supply the plant and machinery. This was turned down. The board had already given a similar deal for power supply to the dockyard factory. By the end of 1916 they found to be hugely underestimated the cost involved and began renegotiating the arrangement towards the end of that year.

A contemporary description of the docklands factory described how the girls appeared to enjoy their employment. The writer claimed that modern machines required delicate handling or skill rather than muscle and the girls being of superior order had taken an intelligent interest in the work they were turning out. Smellie himself recalled that the 200 girls employed soon became highly efficient, and were quick in adapting themselves to machine work, and to all the engineering operations of shell turning, including working to gauge limits of but one or two thousandths of an inch. He Claimed It was perfectly amazing to note with what deftness of hand and eye a cut was made so accurate in judgement as to satisfy forthwith the limit gauges without resort to the usual trial and error of cut upon cut.

Labour problems at the National were constant with several strikes over non-payment of war bonuses and conditions. Captain Downie was known for his diplomacy and skill in labour problems and seemed to have a real bond with the women workers. His resignation early in 1918 came as he was increasingly frustrated by elements at the ministry in London in his attempts to promote and increase Ireland’s contribution to the War effort. He was attempting to establish an aircraft manufacturing plant at Celbridge when he resigned. Emmet O’Connor claims this was due to Unionist and British employers conspiring to freeze nationalist Ireland out of lucrative war contracts However there may have been a more sinister element to their labour problems. Joe Good, one of a number of members of the IRA including Sam Reilly and Joe Leonard who would work at the National Factory in 1918, claimed it was their policy to get the greatest possible amount of wages whilst doing the least possible amount of work – without getting fired.


Canteen at National Shell Factory , Parkgate Street

Canteen at National Shell Factory , Parkgate Street

Canteen at Dublin Dockyard War Munitions Company , Dublin Port

Canteen at Dublin Dockyard War Munitions Company , Dublin Port

The National’s canteen was run by a mix of volunteer and paid labour and rarely functioned during the nightshift leading to claims that workers couldn’t even get a cup of tea during their shift. At least 5 workers died in work related accidents, whereas the Dockyard Company was only affected by one strike and that was an illegal one involving 15 apprentices who seemed to have poor records in time-keeping.  The Ministry of Munitions intervened before it could spread and effect production among the munitions workers. The most serious accident experienced by the dockyard factory was when a single girl lost a finger when it was caught in a lathe. The streamlined design meant there was a minimum handling of the shells and a steady flow towards the end of the production line.

Economics was probably the main motivator for the Munitions Factory girls. While there was a feeling that Irish workers should be cheaper than their English colleagues and women work for less than men, the English rates had been widely reported in the media and created a sense of expectation among would-be recruits. The basic rate was £1 per week for girls over 18 (reduced to 15s if work was stopped for reasons such as air-raids etc). After a four week qualifying period a complex productivity scheme kicked in. For most girls the economic freedom this brought was life changing. The sudden increase of disposable income among the Munitions Factory girls was enough to attract cosmetics companies such as Pomeroy Skin food, Ven Yusa Oxigen Face Cream, and the Oatine Company to distribute their products, targeted at munitions factory workers, in Ireland. Sean O’Casey also found the local impact of the factory significant enough to mention it in his play “The Silver Tassie”, where one character is said to have plenty of money she earned working there.

15 Pomeroy ad

John Smellie, manager of the Dockyard, claimed that many of the girls had fathers, uncles, brothers, or neighbours, serving at the front and had read letters sent back home telling how shells had exploded in the hands of gun-crews due to poor manufacture. For many it was personal, the high standards of their work, would keep their families alive. During the Easter Rising the girls at the National Shell Factory all reported for work and despite heavy fighting produced 800 shells during Easter Week. Mrs Ryan, a district Nurse writing in the State of Public Health Report for 1916 claimed that many women nursing new-born babies chose to work in the shell factories to stretch family incomes and meet the extra expenses involved. However, a curious case involved 20 Irish girls working at a shell factory in Hereford in England in 1917 saw them dismissed and sent home for destroying moral at the Factory. The girls sang Sinn Fein and republican songs all day long and cast aspersions on the “Tommies” at the front. The English girls began to wear Red and Blue colours to which the Irish girls responded by wearing green, white and orange. The episode culminated in a pitched battle at the local train station one Friday evening and the Irish girls were shown the door in order to restore peace and productivity. Some echo of this can be seen in a photograph of the National Factory where what appears to be a Republican Flag sits beside a Union Jack to inspire the female workers. Interestingly, Fianna member Gary Holohan, who worked in the Power Plant at the Docks, stated that many who lost their jobs at the Docks after the 1916 Rising found employment at the Dockyard Munitions Factory afterwards.

A harp flag can be seen here at National Shell Factory Parkgate Street

A harp flag can be seen here at National Shell Factory Parkgate Street

Unlike the National Shell Factory, the operation in the docklands was shut down during the Rising. As the British Army took control of the area they dismissed all but essential staff needed to operate the port. The electricity supply, provided by the Docklands Power plant, appears to have been sabotaged during the Rising so it would have been impossible to work anyway. The infamous police undercover agent ‘Chalk’ had reported in April 1916 that four members of the Citizen Army were working at the National Shell Factory in Parkgate Street as labourers. These would appear to have been members of the Kimmage Garrison Joe Vize, Matt and Joe Furlong, and another volunteer named Moloney who had all come over from London. About a week before the Rising Vize walked into work smoking a pipe which he refused to put out. He was instantly dismissed. The others then walked out in sympathy with him. They were surrounded by armed guards but were not intimidated by the bayonet’s being thrust at them, and they simply continued out of the factory. The soldiers didn’t’t know what to do next. All were called up before a munitions employment tribunal but the Rising intervened before any action could be taken. Significant numbers of Volunteers and Citizen Army men worked in the Dublin Dockyard Company and Dublin Port generally so it’s likely that there was a similar infiltration of the Dockyard Munitions Factory in the run up to the Rising, though we have yet to see evidence of this.

16 DublinDockyard

A total of 648,150 shells were produced by the Dockland Company with much of the component parts coming from smaller workshops in the Dublin area. Each of the girls at the Dockyard Factory was on a personal bonus and according to the directors took a personal interest in maintaining high standards of production. For girls such as Florence Lea from Sandymount it was life changing. She went from a Dress-makers apprentice on 2 shilling per week to a munitions worker earning 50 shillings for a 48 hour week by 1918. Similarly 16 year old Mary Johnson from St Mary’s Road, East Wall, not only found earning a man’s wages gave her independence but allowed her to make a significant contribution to the family household budget as the cheap nutritional meals provided at the Dockyard factory significantly contributed to her disposable income. During World War II when times were bad in Dublin she moved to Birmingham to work in munitions as an experienced veteran along with others from the community. (Perhaps it was a new sense of economic freedom during these early years that saw her pursue a career as a Tivoli dancer also too).

Mary Johnson (to right of photo)- Munitions Worker

Mary Johnson (to right of photo)- Munitions Worker

Mary Johnson - Tivoli dancer

Mary Johnson – Tivoli dancer

In April 1919 with the war at an end the Dockyard Factory closed, the girls were laid off, and the factory and it‘s contents put up for auction on the 30th April. The other factories in Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Waterford followed over the ensuing months. Attempts to buy out the factories as going concerns were rejected and the equipment sold off piece by piece at auction. Smellie had actually tried to offer his factory as a going concern but there were no takers. The machinery was sold as scrap for £1,600, about a tenth of their cost. The Factory itself was withdrawn for sale and broken up to be recycled. The inventories of the National Factories were widely advertised throughout Lancashire, Yorkshire, and other counties in Britain and much of the machinery left the country. Despite all the lobbying and arm-twisting by Irish Politicians and Business Groups the munitions industries impact on the Irish Economy was short-lived. As the Secretary of the All Ireland Munitions and Government Supplies Committee, Edward J. Riordan put it, “the eyes of Irish Businessmen were opened to the hopelessness of their expecting to receive anything like fair-play from English officials either high or low.”

For John Smellie, whatever patriotic motives he may have had, the munitions factory guaranteed the survival of his shipbuilding business during lean times. As the only privately built factory in Ireland, he was prepared to take on new practices to make the business work. But he wasn’t sentimental. For all the innovation in his wooden saw-toothed factory, it was easily dismantled and sold off or reused and the land handed back to the Port and Docks Board. His was the first factory to close and his plant and machinery sold off before the National Factories had shut their doors. He was a realist and didn’t look around for alternative uses.

19 Dockyard Sale

Aside from the women who for a few brief years saw their working status enhanced and their right and ability to represent themselves recognised, the main beneficiaries of the short-lived munitions industry were arguably the IRA who used the factories as a training ground for operations such as the underground bomb and hand grenade factory set up at 198 Parnell Street in 1919, a number of whose staff were also employed at Parkgate Street.  The training and experience they had received would prove extremely useful as the War of Independence got underway.  Even some of the equipment used at Parkgate was bought by the IRA during it’s closing down sale to equip their deadly new enterprise.

Inside the Dublin Dockyard War Munitions Company

Inside the Dublin Dockyard War Munitions Company

If you have any clarifications, corrections or additional information please contact us. We are particularly anxious to hear from family members of women (or the small number of men) who were involved with the Munitions Industry. All contributions or assistance will be fully acknowledged and credited.

We would like to thank all those who helped compile this feature, including the Dublin Dockworkers Preservation Society, the Sean O’Casey Theatre and the Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre who helped us host two public talks on the topic. Thanks to the Pat, Paul and all the O’Brien’s for the family material on Mary Johnson, and to Ronan Waide for sourcing an important detail relating to the equipment sell off.  Much appreciated.

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