Apr 01

From mascot to marksman – The story of William Halpin and the 1916 Rising

From mascot to marksman – The story of William Halpin and the 1916 Rising 


Easter Monday 1916 was a defining moment in Irish history. At noon of that day, a rebellion against British rule was launched in Dublin City, which was to set in motion a series of events that would shape the Island of Ireland throughout the 20th century and into the current age. On Easter Monday today, Joe Mooney of the East Wall History Group tells the story of William Halpin , an Eastwaller who was amongst those who marched out on that day to ” Break the connection with England“.

In 1916 Willie Halpin and his family were living at number 6 Valentine Terrace , now incorporated into West Road. Willie ( aged 29) worked as a plater in the Dublin Dockyard, was a trade union activist and a member of the Irish Citizen Army. His wife Tilly (nee Matilda Henry) was also politically active, and was a member of Cumann na mBan .

 W. Halpin 1898

Wharf School confirmation, 1898. Boy in front row on right of picture listed as W.Halpin

Hawthorne Tce and Ravensdale Road

The Halpin family had their roots in Wicklow, and the genealogical research undertaken by others contains many fascinating stories and connections , including involvement with the 1798 uprising and even an attempt to rescue Robert Emmet from the executioner! William’s parents were Edwin and Marianne Halpin ( from Wicklow and Wexford respectively). They had married in 1883 and had lived in East Wall for many years. Edwin was a telegraphist and for some time worked at sea. Edwin and Marianne had four children who died, and four who survived. William, the eldest, had been born in Wexford, his sister and two brothers in Dublin. The family originally lived in 26 Hawthorne Terrace, where they were direct neighbours to Sean O’Casey and his family. Edwin is described as being socialist in his outlook, and a Gaelic Revival enthusiast. He encouraged his children – William, James, Cecil and Bridget – to speak both the English and Gaelic languages. It has been claimed that Edwin was an influence on O’Casey – apparently Edwin and Marianne “conducted little theatricals in their home, which were attended by everyone on the street. O’Casey attended and sometimes took part and after the shows were over, stayed behind with others to listen to Edwin talk radical politics”. Stories mentioned of the family’s earlier years in East Wall recall Edwin receiving a gallantry award for “saving an elderly woman from drowning in the Liffey in March 1906″ and also “Bailiffs bursting into Hawthorne Tce and cleaning the house of all its contents”. This may explain the family’s move to 22 Ravensdale Road . Upon his marriage, William moved to 6 Valentine Terrace, West Road.


 Valentine Tce

The road to the Lockout

Working in Dublin Port, It would seem most likely that William Halpin was a member of the British based Boilermakers and Iron Shipbuilders Union, given his trade. In 1909, a revolution in trade unionism was to begin, when Jim Larkin left the National Union of Dock Labour (NUDL) and founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. The ITGWU, “Larkin’s Union“, represented a new form of organisation amongst the workers of Dublin. Its approach of “One Big Union” and it’s motto of “An injury to One is a concern of All” broke with the tradition of sectional “craft” unions and brought un-skilled and casual workers into the fold. Its tactic of the sympathetic strike found great resonance amongst dock labourers, carters etc and William Halpin would have been amongst many locals drawn to its ranks. The militancy of the union, significant victories against the shipping companies, and its growing popularity was not welcomed by all, of course. The Employers’ Federation, led by William Martin Murphy, decided to wipe out the ITGWU. In August 1913, the great Lockout began, an all out class war which pitched the workers against the bosses, with the Dublin Docks being a key battle ground.



 Citizen Army on Roof 02

“Labour clenches its fist” -The Irish Citizen Army

William Halpin would have witnessed much hardship during this time – the existing hunger and poverty were all made worse by the Lockout. He would have seen the behaviour of the local employers – evicting families from company owned houses at the height of winter, importing scab labour from Liverpool and Manchester and permitting these to carry revolvers, and the use of police and military to act against the striking workers. At the end of August two workers, James Nolan and James Byrne, died after being batoned on the Quays. Hundreds were injured by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) and Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) on O’Connell Street. They also rampaged through working class districts, smashing up houses and assaulting tenants.

It was against this background that the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) was founded. Jim Larkin announced from Liberty Hall that a disciplined force to defend the workers was needed, and they would create from among the members of the Labour Unions a great Citizen Army.”

William Halpin was amongst a number of locals who joined during this time. He was later to take up a position on the Army’s ruling body. Led initially by Jim Larkin and later by James Connolly, amongst the many prominent names associated with the Citizen Army were Rosie Hackett, Kathleen Lynn, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Captain Jack White and Countess Markievicz. Sean ‘O Casey was its first secretary. O’Casey was eventually to leave following disagreements with Countess Markievicz, primarily over her connections with the Irish Volunteers.

While the role of the ICA during the Lockout was hugely significant, it is its role in the 1916 Rising that it is most commemorated for. However, there was some distance to travel between these two historical events, and it was not always smooth travelling. Jim Larkin left Dublin for America in 1915, and would not return until the 1920′s. According to his own account written in 1919 Sean O’Casey stepped down and was “replaced as Secretary by J. Connolly, and afterwards Sean Shelly, Michael Mallon, W Halpin, and M. Nolan included on Executive.” (O’Casey remained very bitter about this period and it has been suggested that the character of Peter Flynn in his play ‘The Plough and the Stars’ was a satire of Willy Halpin).

The Irish Citizen Army was a workers’ militia – Citizen Army volunteers had to be members of a trade union (“if eligible”) and its goals were unashamedly socialist in nature. Later in 1913 the Irish Volunteers were formed, and were led by Eoin Mac Néill. Their goals were nationalist in nature, their support more cross- class than the Citizen Army, including some who would have been indifferent and even hostile to working class and Labour movement ambitions.

The important role played by James Connolly in uniting the two strands was described by Citizen Army member Helena Molony: “The 1913 Strike was a complete rout. Ninety per cent of the workers of Dublin were swamped in debt, and many had not a bed to lie on. The only thing left that was not smashed beyond repair was the workers’ spirit, and lucky they were to have a man of Connolly’s stature to lead them. The ideal of National as well as Social freedom, which he held up to them, gave them a spiritual uplift from the material disaster and defeat they had just suffered.”

We know that Halpin already shared Nationalist ideals alongside his socialist and trade union beliefs. Easter Rising participant Gary Houlihan described joining Na Fianna Éireann in 1910, with Halpin already involved:


“The Fianna had two rooms in the same house as Larkin’s new Union, at No. 10 Beresford Place. This house was situated where the loop-line railway meets the house line at the Abbey Street end. The house is now demolished and the space occupied by Brooks, Thomas & Co … This Branch of the Fianna was called Sluagh Emmet. There were about twenty members, some of them very tough lads while others were of a very fine type… Willie Halpin, who was captured at the City Hall after the attack on the Castle in 1916, as a member of the Citizen Army, was there too. He is now in charge of the Platers in the Dublin Dockyard.” And also “… I remember seeing the Tri-Colour for the first time at 10 Beresford Place. The origin of the Tri-Colour (Republican Flag) was told to us in the back drawing room of No. 10 Beresford Place by Willie Halpin, who later became a member of the Irish Citizen Army…”



 Citizen Army members card

The Great War- England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”

In 1914 the “Great War” broke out in Europe, and the British Empire went to war against Germany. The War was seen as an opportunity to advance the cause of Irish Nationalism, but how to do this divided the volunteer movement. Leaders such as John Redmond actively encouraged recruitment into the British Army, in the belief that by doing so Britain would grant Home Rule after the war ended. Others, such as Pádraig Pearse , believed that an armed rebellion was necessary. The Citizen Army, under James Connolly, was opposed to the imperialist war and famously hung a banner across Liberty Hall proclaiming: “We serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland”. They prepared for military action against British Rule. While they were prepared to fight alongside the Volunteers to achieve this, they were conscious of what they saw as the limits of Nationalist ambitions, and Connolly famously stated shortly before the Rising: “The odds are a thousand to one against us, but in the event of victory, hold onto your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty. Hold on to your rifles”. Citizen Army men like Halpin would have been very aware that within the broad nationalist movement there were those who had not only failed to support, but had actively opposed the workers in 1913.

The Great War – A house divided

The difference of attitude not only divided the Volunteer movement, but often divided families too. There were a multitude of reasons why Irishmen joined the British Army – because they believed Ireland would be rewarded with Home Rule, some did feel allegiance to the Crown, and some for purely economic reasons. The pressures of “economic conscription” were felt greatly in Dublin. In contrast to grinding poverty, unemployment and casual labour – the British Army paid well, soldiers wives received a separation allowance and it also offered an opportunity to develop marketable skills and crafts.

William’s two brothers both signed up to the British Army. They were aged only 15 and 16 at the time and lied to recruiters. William travelled to their barracks in Ulster to have them released from service. This failed and he had to raise the money to buy them out. The pair were ‘bounced and battered’ all the way home. This obviously wasn’t enough to convince them, and within weeks they had re-enlisted. They served as privates in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, seeing combat in Belgium and France. Both survived the war, though James was shell-shocked, suffering from the effects of poison gas and left unable to speak. He spent a considerable period in Leopardstown Hospital in Foxrock before recovering.(James was considered a very proficient marksman , as too was William).


  Citizen Army in Croydon Park , William Halpin on right (with sword!)


“Napoleon” or “Robert Emmet” – personal recollections of Willy Halpin

Frank Robbins from North William Street was a trade unionist and Citizen Army member who knew Halpin well. His statement to the Bureau of Military History is the most extensive first-hand account of the ICA available, and formed the basis of his memoir “Under the Starry Plough”, published in 1977. Robbins details Halpin’s early role, describes his small stature, and recounts a number of amusing anecdotes:

“The supply of arms was very poor. This was, to a very limited degree, countered by some of us who were very eager, and who could afford to see in our hands more up to date weapons than the Howth rifle. (The German Mauser of 1871 was used in the Franco-Prussian War and was named the Howth rifle as a result of the gun-running). We set about organising rifle and revolver clubs; as well as uniform clubs. This was accomplished by paying a subscription of one shilling per week to the rifle club and sixpence per week to the revolver club. By this means a number of us became the proud owners of what was known as the Boer Mauser, which had a magazine of five bullets and one in the breech. We were the envy of our less fortunate comrades whose lack of means prevented them from doing as we had done. The secretary of the club was William Robert Halpin. He was then, like myself, employed in a Dublin Shipyard.”


“On occasions ripples appeared on the water, indicating some little personal grievance amongst members towards each other. I have already mentioned William Halpin. He was small in stature, formerly an active member of the Irish National Foresters. He took it on himself to appear not exactly in the dress of an officer but in something very similar. His uniform evenincluded a sword! … After one of our many parades Connolly asked the usual question “Has anyone anything to say?”Lieutenant John O’Reilly stepped forward to ask Connolly if Halpin was an officer of the Army, and if not why he did not march in the ranks the same as the other men. O’Reilly insisted that this must not be tolerated any longer. Connolly, his eyes twinkling with merriment jokingly replied, “Every regiment is entitled to its mascot”, and so ended the frontal attack on Halpin. Connolly was not the only one who had a sense of humour for such occasions”


“Halpin always endeavoured to impress upon his listeners, off parade as well as on parade, his higher knowledge of things which were happening or supposed to be happening… on various occasions on our way home at night a centre of call was Holohan’s shop in Amiens Street near the Five Lamps, where cigarettes and othernecessities of that kind could be had. George Norgrove and Elliott Elmes prepared many a story for Halpin’s benefit, the rest of our party always ensuring that Halpin was delayed somewhat so that the story concocted for his benefit would be given to either of the brothers Holohan for relay.We would eventually gather together again at the corner of Seville Place to hear our story relayed back to us by Halpin. Elmes was a droll character, small like Halpin, but of better build. He knew Halpin very well and alwaysreferred to him as “Robert Emmett” or”Napoleon”. Many tears of laughter were shed by our little group because of the funny stories told by Elmes, and the way they were told was a treat. All this was fun which Halpin took in good spirit on the occasions when he knew the joke was on him.”


( William Halpin, Frank Robbins (39 North William Street), Elliott Elmes (32 Leinster Avenue) were all Citizen Army Men working in the Dublin Dockyard, joined later by Thomas Leahy (12 Sheriff St / 3 Abercorn Tce), who was in the Volunteers up to 1916 and afterwards transferred to the ICA).



 Ad DublinDockyards 1929


From Workers’ defence to Insurrectionary force


There are no document records of Halpins activities during these years, but it is reasonable to assume he was involved with key developments and incidents.

Both Liberty Hall and Croydon Park (in Marino) became centres of activity for the ICA. Acquiring weapons was a constant challenge, and it is believed that Halpin continued to be central to this.

The importance of Citizen Army men in the Port area has been highlighted in the past – as well as being valuable eyes and ears they also had access to transport and could assist in the movement of men and equipment. Those working in engineering had access to skills, equipment and materials useful to an army preparing for battle. Grenades and bombs were ‘home-made’ and there was even an ambitious attempt to manufacture their own rapid fire machine gun. Having discussed the realities of street fighting, the possibility of knocking through walls into adjoining premises was raised. According to Robbins they recognised

“…the necessity for instruments suitable and necessary to aid in this work. Sledge-hammers were regarded as one of the best instruments and members of the Citizen Army were asked to supply them, and to use their own ingenuity as to how this supply could be obtained. A number of members of the Citizen Army were working in  the Dublin Dockyard and other kindred employments, and very often it was found that two or perhaps three Citizen Army men would have their eyes on the one sledge-hammer. I have to confess that I did, without the knowledge or the sanction of the Dublin Dockyard Company, relieve that Company of many of their 7-lbs. sledge-hammers, and for which I had the unwanted kind of prayers of many of my fellow-workers in the Dublin Dockyard who lost these valuable tools. Other articles among the many which the Dublin Dockyard Company lost from time to time were files, pieces of lathes, and borings, and latter being used in the preparation of home-made bombs.”


Drilling, marching, first aid and weapons training all became common place. Firing ranges were set up at Croydon Park and in the basement of Liberty Hall. The Citizen Army men took part in a number of competitions with members of the volunteers and gained a reputation for their superior skills. Route marches took place regularly in the City, and under the ever-watchful eye of the police mock attacks on key targets took place. As well as being useful for training purposes, these marches were also designed to fool the authorities, in the hope that when a real attack was planned they would mistake this for a drill. One regular target for these ‘mock attacks’ was Dublin Castle, the centre of British Rule in Ireland. According to one eye-witness account of the Rising this approach had some success in blind siding the authorities, but also led to some confusion amongst rebels who were unsure if this was the real thing and hesitated in their attack

Citizen Army men on roof 01

Guarding Liberty Hall

As the date for the rebellion approached Liberty Hall became a centre for preparations and propaganda, with a weekly paper The Workers Republic printed here. At one stage an attempt to seize papers was prevented by James Connolly and Helena Molony who turned away the police at gun point. This led to an urgent mobilisation of the Citizen Army, and the sight of men rushing off the job and heading from the Docks to Liberty Hall has been vividly described:


Men left their employment under the strangest conditions on that day. Some who were carters and had horses to look after turned them into the stables; others brought them to Liberty Hall. Many black-faced men cut a peculiar figure rushing through the streets of Dublin on bicycles or on foot with full equipment rifle or shotgun, bandolier and haversack etc.”


Citizen Army men in the Dublin Dockyard, including William Halpin, Robbins and Elmes were amongst those who left their workplaces to protect Liberty Hall, and some were afterwards brought before the foreman for their actions. Liberty Hall remained under constant guard from this time, including the days immediately prior to Easter 1916 when thousands of copies of the proclamation were produced on the printing press here.






“Are you prepared to fight…?”

Before the final planning stages of the Rising were entered, James Connolly had been fearful that the Irish Volunteers would not carry through with launching an attack on the British administration. A special meeting of the Citizen Army was held in Liberty Hall. Afterwards, members were taken individually into a room with James Connolly, Michael Mallin and Thomas Kain (mobilising officer). They were each asked three questions: Were they prepared to take part in the fight for Ireland’s freedom, were they prepared to fight alongside the Irish Volunteers, and were they prepared to fight without the aid of the Irish Volunteers or any other military force? If they were agreeable to all three questions, they were given a secret mobilisation number. William Halpin’s was number 18.



 18 Halpin

  Citizen Army membership list 1916


Easter Rising – City Hall

During the Rising, William Halpin was part of the City Hall Garrison, which came under heavy attack and was taken by the British military within one day. It was here that the first casualties on either side of the Rising occurred, DMP constable James O’Brien and Captain Sean Connolly of the ICA. Four other Citizen Army volunteers were killed throughout the day – Louis Byrne, Charles Darcy, George Geoghan, and Sean O ‘Reilly. Others were injured and most of the garrison were taken prisoner. William almost avoided capture, utilising his small size to hide within a chimney in City Hall, but was ultimately taken, badly in need of medical attention.

On Easter Monday, 24th April the Citizen Army men had gathered at Liberty Hall, before marching off to their respective targets. Captain Sean Connolly led the 30 or so men and women under his command (including Halpin) towards Dublin Castle/City Hall. Leaving Beresford Place they crossed Butt Bridge, passed Tara Street fire station and were soon making their way up Dame Street. At the Castle Gate the DMP constable was shot by Captain Connolly and died instantly. The Guard room was taken over and City Hall quickly seized. Nearby premises including Henry and James Outfitters (Parliament Street), the Daily Express offices, the rates office and a vantage point on Ship Street were also occupied. The intention was to use these positions to hamper the movement of British troops from the Castle, but the numbers were clearly insufficient for this task. Firing between City Hall and the Castle soon began.Helena Molony was dispatched to the G.P.O. to request reinforcements. Before leaving City Hall she spoke with Halpin. He was upset, because his wife was in ill health. He gave Molony a letter (‘a note for the old mott’) which she passed on to men in the G.P.O. before safely returning to City Hall.

Molony had just returned and had made her way to the roof of City Hall when she saw Captain Sean Connolly shot dead by a sniper from the Castle’s clock tower. Lieutenant Sean O’Reilly took command, and within five hours was also to die. A large contingent of British troops arrived and took up position at Dublin Castle. The Citizen Army men in Ship Street were forced to abandon their position, and those in the guard room withdrew and relocated to a new vantage point at a shop in Castle Street. As darkness fell inside City Hall, the building came under an intense bombardment, with rifle and machine gun fire ripping through the windows. The firing was relentless, with glass, bricks and plaster also dropping down. As “bullets fell like rain“, British troops moved under cover to break through a window at the back and were soon pouring in. The rebels on the ground floor were quickly captured, and gradually all the men and women on the other floors and roof were taken prisoner. All except William Halpin of course. There is no documentary or eyewitness account of his actions during the combat . However, as the garrison fell in the early hours of Tuesday, he avoided capture by climbing into a chimney. He remained here for two days, before emerging weakened and soot covered. At this stage he was captured!

Molony was later to comment: “Halpin was as brave as a lion. He did not surrender.”

 secure city hall 1916


“He had a very hard time up the chimney …”

For a number of days Halpin’s comrades had feared him dead. A record of these concerns can be found in the diary of Kathleen Lynn, (doctor, ICA member and founder of St Ultan’s Children’s Hospital), which was written during the Rising. She originally noted his “death”, but on the 3rd of May she wrote Heard afterwards that Halpin was alive and recovering slowly in Hospital”.


In her account of the Rising written years later she recalled: ” He was so small that he had tried to escape by hiding up a chimney in the City Hall; and down he came and was found afterwards. He certainly was black with Soot. He had a very hard time up the chimney, but he got alright afterwards.”

Following his near escape, eventual capture, and during his recovery period Halpin continued to worry about Tilly’s well-being. Father Aloysius, who administered to the rebellions leaders before their executions referred to Halpin in notes he took at the time:


“Again it is a pleasure to acknowledge goodness whenever and wherever it is met, and I must here record another act of humanity and kind-heartedness on the part of Lord Powerscourt. Meeting me at the Castle on the occasion of one of my visits to James Connolly he asked me if I could visit or get one of the Fathers to visit the wife of one of the prisoners – Wm. Halpin of the Citizen army. The poor fellow, he said, was anxious about the wife as she was in a delicate state of health when he was leaving home. Halpin, he told me, had been taken in an exhausted condition from a chimney and it would be a help and comfort to him if we could reassure him about his wife’s health, I undertook to visit Mrs. Halpin and Powerscourt said I could see the prisoner afterwards and at any time I wished.”


  Lynn - 3 may diary



In good company


Following his recovery Halpin was transferred to England along with hundreds of other rebel prisoners. Documents from the time record that Halpin (listed as shipbuilder) was amongst a group of 25 prisoners “removed from Richmond Barracks on 15th June and lodged in Knutsford Detention Barracks”.


The paths of Citizen Army men from the Dublin Dockyards would cross briefly, before they all finally ended up together in Frongoch Internment camp in Wales.


Thomas Leahy,amongst the first prisoners sent to England, recalls these reunions of sorts:


“One morning, the last of the wounded prisoners arrived from Dublin Castle; this would be somewhere in the month of July, and I was very much surprised to find that two of them were very close pals and next-door neighbours. All three of us had started our apprenticeships in the same firm William Halpin ship plater; Elliott Ellems, driller. We did not get much time to make any arrangements for the future or enjoy our new-found company, due to the fact that I with others was ordered to pack up all our belongings and be prepared to be removed to an internment camp in North Wales, called Frongoch. We did not get the chance of saying goodbye, but we did meet again some weeks after at the camp.


Amongst other prisoners Halpin spent his time with in Frongoch was Peter Carpenter whom he had known in East Wall and was also an ICA member. Peter had seen action alongside Thomas Leahy at Annesley Bridge and in the G.P.O before their capture. Peter’s brother , Walter was o/c of the Citizen Army Boys Corp, and had narrowly avoided capture himself at the G.P.O. (Their father was the Walter Carpenter of Caledon Rd , jailed in 1911 for insulting King George).

Frongoch later became known as the “University of Revolution“. Granted prisoner of war status, the men implemented their own command structure and used the opportunity of their incarceration to drill, train and engage in intense political education and debate. It was here that the organisation that was to prove so effective against the British Authorities between 1919 and 1921 took root.

Frongoch Internment Camp

Frongoch internment camp

“…towards the struggle to come

William Halpin was freed as part of a widespread release of Republican prisoners. Back in East Wall by early 1917 he was to continue his activities as a trade unionist and also his involvement in military activity against the British administration.

These accounts by Thomas Leahy of his own his post Frongoch experiences can be reasonably assumed to be a similar story to Halpin’s and reflect a similar mind-set:


“After a week or so, I got employment in my old firm, The Dockyard Co… I was pleased to see the new spirit in the people. No time was lost in putting into practice the lectures, instructions and what had to be done, as laid down in the prison and camps. All of the year 1917 was taken up with reorganising, recruiting and taking part in all events towards the struggle to come… We also had to find work for our men. The young men had become more interested than formerly, and were joining the Volunteers and Citizen Army, which was a good sign. They never spared themselves or thought time too long when asked to work for any purpose connected with the fight for independence. Many hard nights were spent by them in the Dockyard and railway shops, together with drilling and learning the use of arms or raiding for them, the political side was still looked after by the leaders, and meetings, lectures and concerts were organised for funds and, in many,cases, broken up by the police. Arrests were quite frequent for the simplest act, or for helping in any way.”


“The work went on making train wrecking tools, hand bombs and everything that would be handy and useful when required. Several British naval vessels came to the Dockyard for repairs as the firm was on the Government list for such and several raids were made on these vessels for arms when most of the crew were ashore. Any other ships we thought had arms were searched also.”


“…a shower of sods ” on Church Road


During 1918 crucial elections took place, which saw Sinn Féin win a resounding victory across the country, seen as a legitimate mandate for Irish Independence. In the North Dock Ward the candidate was Phil Shanahan, who went up against Alfie Byrne (who had been a hate figure for Larkin and the ITGWU years earlier). During the election campaign street violence broke out in East Wall -


“During one of our meetings down the Church Road, or East Wall, we met with a very hostile crowd who were mostly all Scotch people working in the Dockyard, and the followers of Alfie were also strong there. When I rose to open the meeting and to introduce Sean T. O’Kelly and Jim Lawless, also Phil Shanahan, we were met with a shower of sods and Union Jack Flags waving all around us, but it did not last long, as the precaution was taken before hand for this, and acompany of 2nd Battalion Volunteers were near at hand and, with batons, cleared the place of the objectors in quick time. We were allowed to hold our meeting without interruption after that. After the election was over and results known there was great rejoicing in the North Wall camp and a great blow to Alfie Byrne and his followers.”


Jim Lawless was also a significant figure and the local support for the independence struggle is illustrated by the men literally putting their money where their mouth was:


“When the Dáil Loan was floated, I was instructed to collect for it in my firm and right well it was taken by the workmen, who bought shares from £1 to £10, paying up weekly. I handed over all monies every week to Jim Lawless, who was responsible to Mick Collins, Minister for Finance at that time.”



British troops at junction of O Connell St. and Abbey St. in 1920

War of Independence –

In purely military terms, the 1916 Rising was a failure. However, the rebellion and subsequent events created a dynamic which were to lead to were to lead to the War of Independence, the treaty of 1921 and the establishment of the Irish Free State.


Thomas Leahy commented following the establishment of the first Dáil in 1918: Shortly after that event we of the Citizen Army kept in touch with the Volunteers and came to an understanding for co-operation in all orders that might be issued.” The Citizen Army maintained a separate identity to some degree, but the Irish Republican Army emerged as the military challengers to British Crown forces.


We have seen no record of Halpin’s military involvement during this time, but it has been claimed that he was active in H Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Amongst the actions attributed to H Company are the ambushing of troops in Dorset street and Capel Street, attacks on the GWR Hotel and Custom House and an attempt to rescue Kevin Barry. During an IRA raid to capture British Army weapons on Church Street Kevin Barryhad been captured and was hung in Mountjoy prison. It was said that the death of Barry affected Halpin greatly.

The years 1919 to 1921 saw Dublin City suffer greatly, with Guerrilla warfare fought out on its streets. – Black and Tans and auxiliaries terrorised the population, ambushes and assassinations by Republican forces were common place and gun battles were regular and a source of great danger to civilians. The Dock area witnessed much of this, with the British military based at North Wall Quay and particularly infamous incidents such as the burning of the Custom House. Between February 1920 and July 1921 a strict curfew was imposed,the impact of which is described in Padraig Yeates A City in Turmoil:

“There were some unexpected complications arising from the enforcement of the curfew in Dublin Port. Thick fog hampered operations on the quays, although the Port and Docks Board had its own power supply for lighting. An even bigger problem was the refusal of dockers to work late if it meant they would be stranded in the port during the curfew. They absolutely refused to berth ships between midnight and 5 a.m., regardless of the tide. As a result the time for turning around a vessel frequently doubled. The average delay experienced by colliers rose from 12 hours to 26, exacerbating the coal shortage in the city. The movement of herds for export also required careful timing now that the cattle market could not open until 6a.m. and animals could not enter the city and be driven through the streets to the docks only when the curfew ended.”

An incident which had a particular impact on East Wall occurred in June of 1921 when an ambush at Newcomen Bridge resulted in the death of a local child. Andrew Hanratty , aged nine of 13 Moy Elta Road died when a grenade thrown at a military vehicle bounced off and exploded on the pavement . Andrew was hit by shrapnel in the leg and head and died later in hospital. It is a tragic possibility that those involved in the ambush and the child’s family knew each other, as there were a large number of republican activists based locally.



Treaty , Civil War and afterwards.

Halpin opposed the treaty of 1921, on both socialist as well as republican principles as did many in the Citizen Army. He fought on the Republican side during the Civil War and was injured by a Bomb during an attack in Bolton Street. After recuperating he went on the run and continued with the Anti-Treaty Forces up to the cessation of activities in 1923. In subsequent years, he had his own way of commemorating those he had fought alongside. It has been said that every Easter his family would gather around a flagpole in the front Garden and honour the fallen of 1916. One of his daughters was named Constance, after Countess Markievicz – Citizen Army officer and the first Minister for Labour (1919-22). He also served with the ARP (Aghaidh Aer-Ruthar or Air Raid Protection) Corps as a Warden during the Emergency 1939 –‘45. Given the events of the time it is possible he assisted in the rescue operation following the North Strand Bombings . He maintained his trade union involvement and was a representative of fitters in Dublin Port, with his son also being active. William Halpin died in 1951.

wr halpin

Brothers in arms .

As detailed earlier,Williams’s two brothers took a different path, joining the British Army during World War One. Both survived, though James was shell shocked, gassed and unable to speak for a considerable time.

Cecil went on to join the Free State Army in 1922. However, he deserted after a short time. He was enraged by taunts of “taking the King’s Shilling” and particularly by what he saw as the disrespect shown for those who fell on the battle fields of Europe, many whose deaths he would have witnessed.

Cecil, accompanied by James, “called out” some men he felt had showed this disrespect in a city centre pub and ended up brawling with them. This left both as marked men which led to Cecil’s desertion and him taking the boat to England. James stayed and was prepared to challenge those involved. It is likely that William used his own position and good standing in the Republican movement to protect both his brothers, and Cecil eventually returned to the City.

Cecil became a professional entertainer, specialising in song and dance routines. When work became scarce in Dublin he again moved to England. Here he pursued his entertainment career and eventually became a bit player in the British film industry. The wonderful picture below shows Cecil, on left , with Jean Kent in the 1949 “Trottie True”. Also known under the title “The Gay Lady”, two future screen legends Roger Moore and Christopher Lee had early roles in this comedy/musical.

Cecil died in England in the early 1960’s, while James died in 1975.


Cecil Halpin (left) with “The Gay Lady” in 1949

 image- Halpin Family / Rootschat

“There’s a uniform that’s hanging…”

The house on Valentine Terrace remained in the Halpin family until the late 1960′s. At that time its current resident Lar ‘Lagger’ Redmond moved in. Lar remembers shortly afterwards he found a Citizen Army Uniform and military belt behind a dresser. According to Lar “the uniform was all threadbare, but the belt was in perfect condition”. He also commented on the flag-pole attached to the front of the house, “It was about 10 foot tall” that a tri-colour used to fly from. As far as Lar remembers, Valentine Terrace was officially renamed as part of West Road sometime in the 1970′s. William’s Grandson, Colm Halpin currently lives in St. Mary’s Court, Church Road , and is an active socialist



City Hall plaque 2

 Plaque on Front of Dublin City Hall



There is no first-hand account by William Halpin of his activities. Histories put on record by Frank Robbins and Thomas Leahy, fellow Citizen Army members and Dublin Dockyard workers, were invaluable.

In relation to City Hall garrison, we used an official state record of the rising (compiled in 1945), and the eye witness accounts of participants Helena Molony, Kathleen Lynn and William Oman, all of the ICA. These are available in full on The Bureau of Military History website, or can be provided by e-mail in PDF format directly from the East Wall History Group.

Details of William Halpins Civil War and ARP service, plus later photo, were provided by Hugo McGuinness.

For non-military background,we drew on the extensive and fascinating genealogical research undertaken by the extended Halpin family. We also interviewed Williams Grandson, and current East Wall resident, Colm Halpin. The 1901 and 1911 census were also consulted, as was the St Josephs school archive.

(Like much of our local history research, this project should be considered as a ‘work in progress’. Any further information, corrections or clarifications would be most welcome. Further information on East Wall/North Wall/North Strand Citizen Army members is being compiled. Also, any assistance or suggestions for other topics we should cover will be gratefully received.)


Contact: eastwallhistory@gmail.com





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