Dec 09

Rory O’Connor , Jack Nalty and the chess-set fit for heroes

Rory O'Connor rememberedOn the 8th December 1922  four republican prisoners were executed by the Free State at Mountjoy Gaol . The evening before one of the men, Rory O’Connor, had been playing chess with his comrades. Upon receiving the news of his sentence , he handed his chess set to fellow prisoner , the North Wall man Bill Gannon . This set is still proudly held by the Gannon family , and featured in the recent RTE show “National Treasures”. Dara Gannon tells shares the history of his family , the chess set and it’s place in Republican history:


“The Gannon family, the ‘Nalty chess set’ and the comradeship of heroes” 


Most people in Ireland grew up with a picture of the Pope, Padraig Pearse or JFK in pride of place on the wall. The Gannon family had a picture of James Connolly in their houses over three generations. My Great Grandmother Mary Leonard originally hung it in Jane Place off Oriel Street, from where her husband Johnny had joined Jim Larkins Union and was locked out. The same portrait was hanging in the Gannon home on Middle Mountjoy Street in 1936 when Jack Nalty & Frank Ryan played chess the night before they off for Spain.

 The chess set had belonged to Rory O’Connor and was given to Bill Gannon in Mountjoy Jail. Both had been in the Four Courts at the outbreak of the Civil War and subsequently jailed together. On 8th December 1922 O’Connor was executed alongside Dick Barrett, Liam Mellows & Joe McKelvey. Having played on it the evening before his death, he handed the set to Bill saying he wouldn’t be needing it now. The man who signed their death warrants (and a total of 77 executed Republicans) was Kevin O’Higgins, an act that would have fatal repercussions. Bill was part of a three-man IRA group which shot O’Higgins dead at Booterstown five years later.

Rory O'Connor as best man at wedding of Kevin O'Higgins . They were on opposing sides in the Civil War , with fatal consequences for both men.

Rory O’Connor as best man at wedding of Kevin O’Higgins . They were on opposing sides in the Civil War , with fatal consequences for both men.

Despite this poignant history, the chess set was always associated with Jack Nalty, not Rory O’Connor nor even Frank Ryan, who spilt whisky on it that last night in Dublin. The family have consistently obeyed the instruction “never clean the stain off that board as it was made by an Irish Hero”. My Grandfather always just simply called him Nalty, & the set was known as ‘Nalty’s chess set’ in the family. It was passed to my father Pat Gannon when Bill went to New Zealand before the second world war.


The Gannon’s were a well-read Republican family who were involved in the Lockout, the War of Independence, the Civil War, left wing politics and the Spanish Civil War. My father (who is 82) was born the same year Jack Nalty went to Spain. While many anecdotes and passed down memories have survived, this is not a historically researched piece, it is a family history that is worthy of further expansion.

 The Gannon family moved from North County Dublin (near Oldtown) to the North Dock. My Great Grandparents Johnny Gannon and Mary (nee Leonard) were described by Mick O’Riordan as “a 1913 striker and a Fenian”. Johnny was a carter on the Docks, and according to family lore he wanted to be the first man to join Jim Larkins Union but having gone out celebrating the night before and he ended up being number 7 in line to sign up. Their children, my Grandfather Pat (Pa) Gannon and his siblings Mai, Bridie, Maggie, Bill, and Jack were brought up in a house where politics and progressive ideas were expressed openly.

'Pa' and Bill Gannon on O'Connell Street 1954

‘Pa’ and Bill Gannon on O’Connell Street 1954

The Gannon boys were students in Laurence O’Tooles on Seville Place, where prominent Irish Republican Brotherhood man Frank Cahill was a teacher. At the outbreak of the War of Independence Bill became involved with the IRA. Frank Teeling, a neighbour in Jane Place was part of Michael Collins Squad so I assume Bill became active through him. Pa Gannon was also involved but not to the same extent. According to family folklore Bill was ‘out’ on Bloody Sunday 1920. One account identifies him (with two other men) as bringing a Lewis Machine gun from the city centre to Coolock and then back the next day, possibly in a stolen car. I have also heard that Bill was involved in the burning down of the Customs House, being one of the men who escaped the British cordon thrown up after the initial assault. He put his gun in a bin and went into a barbers or dentists on Beresford Place and skipped the queue. When soldiers came in they arrested the man at the end of the queue. Many experienced IRA men were not so lucky. Bill was also in the Four Courts in 1922. Before the age of 20 he had been present at the destruction of two of Dublin’s most iconic buildings.

Bill Gannon avoided capture at the attack on the Custom House 1922

Bill Gannon avoided capture at the attack on the Custom House 1922

He was also at Connolly Hall on Strand Street when it was firebombed by a mob of anti-communist protestors in the 1930’s. Bill’s sister Maggie (‘Peggy’) had by this time married Sean Murray of Cushendall, a War of Independence veteran. Sean had gone to Moscow after the October Revolution and studied at the Lenin school there, and afterwards was a founding member of the Irish Communist Party.

Bill was a bus driver, while ‘Pa’ was a plumber. ‘Pa’ would have known Jack Nalty from working on the oil terminals in the Docks, and through the IRA and other political activity the Gannon’s, Nalty and Kit Conway became close friends. One anecdote tells of Kit Conway relieving young Gardai of handguns, which were given to young fellas who passed them onto Bill Gannon who was watching a Matinee (Cowboys & Indians) in the North Strand Cinema.

 With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Bill Gannon and Sean Murray were instrumental in organising support from Ireland. According to one account “…the decision was taken to form an Irish unit for the Spanish Republican Army. The Communist Party of Ireland gave the task of recruitment and organisation to Bill Gannon, a Party member who had considerable experience of political work in the Irish Republican Army”. Bill was reputed to have wanted to go to Spain but Sean would not let him go as he was married with children. It was preferable that younger, single men like Nalty, Conway, O’Riordan & Tommy Woods would carry on the fight. Many of their friends and comrades would never return.

Kit Conway obit

 Memorial meeting Crop

Jack Nalty never received a burial but is remembered on the family grave in Glasnevin Cemetery Dublin. Bill Gannon is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross, Dublin. Jim Prendergast, a fellow IRA man and International Brigadier shares the unconsecrated grave. The funeral of Bill Gannon in 1965 caused upset as both tricolour and hammer & sickle flags were placed on the coffin before his burial. This was front page news in the Evening Herald and Irish Press, described as an outrage and affront to the National flag.

Bill Gannons funeral 1965

Bill Gannons funeral 1965

 Bill Gannon and Jim Prendergast grave

Jack Nalty is still remembered by the Gannon family to this day and each time the chess set is played upon his name is spoken…with pride.

Nalty Chess setThis article by Dara Gannon originally appeared in the commemorative booklet to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the death of Jack Nalty . Available from Connolly Books , Essex Street , Dublin or contact

Nalty Cover


Images credits :

Dara Gannon and Gannon family

Nugent family (relatives of Jack Nalty)

Rory O’Connor material -  Toírdhealach ó Braoín

 Conway obituary was published in the Daily Worker , New York in March 1937 Courtesy – Belinda

Nov 30

East Wall Christmas Festival 2018

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Nov 12

Civil Rights , Suffragettes and a Deadly flu – History Talks at the Sean O’Casey Theatre

We shall overcome



A series of talks hosted by the East Wall History Group throughout November 2018 . All welcome to these FREE events.


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Supported by Dublin City Council


Nov 11

Songs of the Dublin Docklands and the Great War :


This is a selection of songs by Paul O’Brien we are sharing today , a century after the Great War ended .

The songs are all based on real people , local men who lost their lives in that terrible conflict .

While there are different opinions on how we should remember or commemorate these events of 100 years ago , nobody disagrees that World War One represented an horrific loss of life and the thousands of Irishmen (and millions of other nationalities) should never be forgotten .


If you have any family stories or photos from this period you wish to share please contact :


Oct 31

A wide variety of shows at the Sean O’Casey Theatre , November 2018 :


Oct 12

East Wall Halloween Festival 2018


Oct 12

“It Runs in the Family” : 16th – 20th October 2018


Sep 09

“Take away our hearts o’ stone…” – Powerful Sean O’Casey monologues performed in New York

“It’ll have what’s far better- it’ll have two mothers”

Juno and Mary Boyle , two of the O'Caseys long suffering , but determined women.

Juno and Mary Boyle , two of the O’Caseys long suffering , but determined women.

Sean O’Casey is one of Ireland’s most famous playwrights , with his major works being as compelling today as when they were first performed almost a century ago. His most memorable characters are based on real life Dubliner’s he knew and observed , including many from  the Docklands community. They are iconic figures , with Fluther Good and Joxer Daly being part of our cities culture . Another vital aspect of his plays is the role of women , not only central to the world portrayed but also providing a sensible and balanced attitude in the face of the often lazy, misguided and insensitive males. And none of his women characters are as powerful than Juno Boyle in “Juno and the Paycock”.

Abbey actress Sara Allgood , the original Juno .

Abbey actress Sara Allgood , the original Juno .

In July the Irish American Writers & Artist (IAW&A) event at the Cell Theatre in New York invited participants to perform a short Sean O’Casey piece for screening in Dublin . With no other guidance , three of the actors involved chose the same scene to perform , Juno’s heart wrenching and powerful monologue when she finds out her son has been shot dead . Earlier in the play she had callously disregarded her neighbours suffering when her son had died in similar circumstances (because he was on the ‘other side’). Originally played by Abbey star Sara Allgood in 1924 (who reprised the role in the 1930 movie version) , one fellow performer praised her skill : “her appearance literally compelled the audience to a frozen silence”. Here are all three IAW&A performances, demonstrating how the scene can be delivered in different manners but each reflecting the heartbreak and anger of a mother .


The Sean O’Casey Festival 2018 is the the first of what is planned to be an annual event and it is hoped that we can continue to work with the IAW&A and we’d love to see performers visiting our community next year.

Join us for the opening event which will be a celebration of “The women of O’Casey” , with an absolutely incredible line up of talent. All welcome .

SOC FLYER Side 1Thanks to John Kearns , the IAW&A and all the performers for this contribution to the Sean O’Casey Festival .

Sep 04

Sean O’Casey Festival 2018 : September 11th – September 21st


Sean O’Casey is recognized as one of Ireland’s greatest playwrights . He lived for 30 years of his life in East Wall and the North Docks , at Hawthorn Terrace and Abercorn Road. It was here that he lived through an exciting period in Irish history , and witnessed momentous events. But more importantly it was here his greatest characters were born – where he met the real life residents who would become the players in his dramas , where he would share their concerns & day to day tribulations ,hear their language, their slang , their turn-of-phrase and enjoy the unique personalities that could find humour at every turn .

This year , the Sean O’Casey Festival is coming to East Wall . Here is the full programme of events , a wide variety of performances, discussions ,film and a unique walking tour . The venue for all activities is the Sean O’Casey Theatre, St Marys Road , and are FREE except where noted.


Tuesday , September 11th @ 8pm

“The Women of O’Casey”

The Festival opens up with this star studded event , featuring a great mix of local and national talents. The evening begins with a performance of a piece inspired by the work of O’Casey and devised specifically for the festival by Peter Sheridan. The Women of O’Casey is performed by Neili Conroy (Fair City, Intermission) Ruth Lehane, Roxanna Nic Liam (Fair City), Aoife Conroy, Lorna Meade (Red Rock) Gabrielle Breathnach and Jasmine Russell.

The Women of O'Casey , our opening night cast

The Women of O’Casey , our opening night cast

Joe Duffy at the O'Casey house , Hawthorn Terrace

Joe Duffy at the O’Casey house , Hawthorn Terrace

The performance will include a post show discussion chaired by Joe Duffy (RTE Broadcaster and life long O’Casey fan). Other guests will include Mary Muldowney (Dublin City Council Historian in residence) , actor Ronan Wilmot and one of Ireland’s most recognizable stars Bryan Murray.

Bryan Murray , a special guest for our opening evening

Bryan Murray , a special guest for our opening evening

The evening will also feature the unveiling of a new painting by artist Tara Kearns , commissioned for the festival .


The first week will continue with an  opportunity to enjoy five of the great playwrights one-act plays. Rarely staged , this is a not-to be-missed chance to witness another example of the greatness of O’Caseys work , with rehearsed readings of these plays taking place over three evenings with a diversity of performers :

Wednesday 12th September @ 8pm

“Time to go”  (Roxanna Nic Liam & friends)

“End of the beginning”  (Brendan Conroy and Dairine Ní Dhonnchú)

Thursday 13th September@ 8pm

“Pound on demand”  (Riverside Drama Circle)

“Hall of Healing”  (Firedoor Theatre Group)

Friday 14th September@ 8pm

Bedtime stories”

“Hall of Healing”  (Firedoor Theatre Group)

one actsThe comedy ‘The End of the Beginning’ and ‘A Pound on Demand’ were both published in 1934 as part of a collection of essays, verse and fiction. ‘Hall of Healing’ (described as a ‘Sincerious Farce’) ‘Bedtime Story’ and ‘Time to Go’ (a ‘Morality Comedy’) were written in 1951.

Saturday 15th September @7.30pm

“Under A Coloured Cap” 

A screening of the film – “Sean O’Casey – Under A Coloured Cap”directed by Sean’s daughter, Shivaun O’Casey.

Featuring old footage and interviews with O Casey himself, his wife Eileen, his son Breon, his personality comes to life. Actor John Kavanagh is the voice of John O’Casey, reading from his autobiography and his letters. The film reveals O’Casey as a diverse, gifted and innovative artists who was way ahead of his time in his vision of what drama should be. Not to be missed .

Sean O'Casey

The screening will be preceeded by an introduction from Professor Christopher Murray (UCD) , author of the definitive biography “Sean O’Casey: Writer at Work “.

(This screening made possible by the support of Shivaun O’Casey)

Sunday 16th September @ 2pm  (note venue)

“In the footsteps of O’Casey” 

Take a step back in time with the East Wall History Group & East Wall Youth Club for a stroll through the Docklands area … in the footsteps of the great playwright Sean O’Casey . Hear details of how a community developed on land reclaimed from the sea , how the workforce grew as Dublin Port and the Railways expanded and relive the story of the O’Casey family who lived here for three decades. See the houses where O’Casey lived, where he attended school and Church and also where his political beliefs and his artistic talents developed. We will meet a diverse selection of fellow residents from the past , including those who inspired the playwrights greatest creations, including some who did not appreciate this ‘honour’.

O'Casey plaque

All welcome on this FREE walking tour , where some of our local youth will help bring history to life.

Assemble outside Lidl at the junction of East Wall Road / Church Road.


The second week will feature four performances of “Shadow of a Gunman” , the first of the playwrights classic Dublin trilogy , originally performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1923.


Monday 17th September – Thursday 20th September @ 8pm

“Shadow of a Gunman”

ShadowA powerful and emotional piece of Irish drama,”Shadow of A Gunman” is as compelling today as it was when first produced . All tickets for this production are available at a special low price of only 8 euro .


Friday 21st  September  @ 8pm 

The cap and the shawl 

The Sean O’Casey Festival 2018 concludes with this very special Culture Night event where you can step back in time to O’Casey’s Dublin. Come along and view some O’Casey inspired art work and meet some O’Casey  ‘characters’ who will share their witty ‘critical opinions’ with you . The evening will conclude in a traditional  hooley in the house , an old fashioned sing song where all can join in .

A darlin event


The Sean O’Casey Festival 2018 is the first year of what is proposed to be an annual event , celebrating the work and legacy of one of our own , one of the greatest Irish playwrights of all time.



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The Sean O’Casey Festival 2018 is supported by Dublin City Council Decade of Commemorations Fund for Communities.

Aug 16

Sean O’Casey Festival 2018


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