Harry James Boland (1887-1922)

Harry James Boland was born in Phibsboro, Dublin on the 27th of April 1887. He was the third of five children born to James and Kate Woods. The oldest child in the family, Nellie, was born in America in 1884. The next child, Gerry, was born in Manchester, England in 1885. Harry and his younger siblings, Kathleen and Edmund were born in Dublin in 1890 and 1893 respectively.  

The Boland children were born into a family with a long history of physical opposition to the Britain's occupation of Ireland. His paternal  grandfather was a Fenian who took part in the successful rescue of  Colonel Thomas Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy   in Manchester in 1867. The aftermath of that rescue was the execution of the Manchester Martyrs, William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O'Brien on November 23 of the same year for their participation in the rescue.

Harry's father James was either involved with or was a member of the Invincibles, a militant group within the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who retaliated against the eviction of tenant farmers by landlords during the Land Wars of 1879 through 1882. After the May 6th 1882 Phoenix Park killings of the British Chief Secretary for Ireland Frederick Cavendish and,  the Under Secretary for Ireland, Henry Burke James and his family fled to the United States to avoid arrest for his ties to the Invincibles who carried out the killings.  During the time James spent in the United States he came to know and work with O'Donovan Rossa and Patrick William Nally  leading Fenians in the United States at that time.

The Boland's were living in Ireland when Harry was born in 1887. He attended the Synge St. Christian Brothers' School until he refused to return to the school due to a problem with one of the brothers. After that Harry attended the De la Salle College in Co.Laois. During the three years he spent there he played hurling; a Gaelic game he excelled at.

In keeping with his strong Irish nationalist leaning Harry was a prominent member of the Gaelic League(1).

In 1904, Harry together with his brother Gerry joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB)(2).  Some accounts have it that the Boland brothers were recruited into the IRB after a hurling match by the referee, Maurice F. Crowe. Crowe, a Limerick was active in both the  IRB and the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) a common occurrence at that time.  It would not have been a hard sell to recruit the Boland's as they were already predisposed to joining organizations hostile to the British despotic rule in Ireland. 

Harry was active in the GAA since his school days. At age twenty he became a member of the Dublin County GAA Board.  In 1908 he played for Dublin  against Tipperary the first game of the all-Ireland hurling final that ended in a draw. He was a substitute in the replay that Dublin lost. From 1911 through 1918 he was Chairman of the Dublin County GAA Board.

On a GAA related trip to London in 1908 he befriended Michael Collins who at that time was the treasurer of the Geraldines GAA Club, one of the many GAA clubs in London at that time.  Just as he himself was recruited into the IRB by a member of the GAA,  he too combined his GAA dealings with his IRB recruitment activities. When  a potential recruit crossed his path he donned his IRB recruitment hat.  Such was the case with Collins. After a period of coaching   Harry introduced him to Sam McGuire the head of the IRB in London who administered the IRB oath to Collins in 1919.  In the process of becoming acquainted  Collins and Boland became close friends, a friendship that was ended by their opposing loyalties with regards to the terms of the Angle- Irish Treaty of 1921.

Harry and his two brothers, Gerry and Edmund  joined the Irish Volunteers at the first enrolment rally at the Rotunda in Dublin in late November 1913. The original aim of the Volunteers was to safeguard the granting of Home Rule introduced in the British parliament in 1912 and opposed by the northern unionists who had organized the Ulster Volunteers to oppose its implementation by force if necessary.

At the onset of WWI in 1914 the Volunteers split into two factions when John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party had gained some leverage within the Volunteers, called on its members to join the British Army hoping, perhaps, that the British meant when they said that the purpose of going to war was to restore the "freedom of small nations" and that Ireland, a small nation,  would be first on their list. Whatever Britain's reasons for going to war,  Irish freedom was not one of them. 

Those who heeded Redmond's call and joined the Britain army became known as  the National Volunteers. Many of those volunteers who survived the war formed the backbone of the British supported and equipped Free State army during the "Civil War" brought about by the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The remaining Irish Volunteers, who ignored Redmond's call, consisted mostly of members of the IRB and other nationalists groups. Those Volunteers were the main force that took part in the Easter Rising in 1916.

During the week of the Easter Rising Harry and his brother Edmund fought in the General Post Office (GPO) garrison.

After the surrender on April 29, Harry was amongst the 191 volunteers who faced a Field General Court Martial. Field General Court Martial.  He was charged

with "taking part in an armed rebellion and in the waging of  war against His Majesty the King, such act being of such a nature as to be calculated to be prejudicial to the Defence of  the Realm and being done with the intention and for the purpose of assisting then enemy".

 He was found guilty and sentenced to ten years penal servitude. After a short stay in Mountjoy Jail in Dublin he was transferred to Dartmoor prison in Devon in England and afterwards to Lewis prison in Sussex before being released in 1917.  It was during his time in prison that he and his fellow prisoners decided to contest the forthcoming British General Election in 1918 as Sinn Fein candidates. Instead of  taking their seats in Westminster parliament they would convene their own parliament in Dublin.

After his release from prison he opened a tailor shop in Abbey Street in Dublin that doubled as a communications center for the IRB.  He ran as a Sinn Fein candidate in the 1918 General Election and was elected for South Roscommon. When the First Dáil Eireann was meeting in January 1919 Boland was not present.  Both he and Michael Collins were on their way to England where, in February, they successfully freed de Valera from Lincoln jail.  During the convening of the Dail others answered the roll call for them and they were officially marked present. At the third Dail meeting in April de Valera replaced Cathal Brugha as Príomh Aire (Prime Minister)

After de Valera took office he appointed Boland special envoy to the United States. He arrived in the U.S. in June of 1919.  In his possession was a document entitled  ‘Ireland’s Address to the Free Nations of the World’, otherwise known as Ireland’s Claim to Independence, which had been proclaimed at the First Dáil and published by Fergus O’Connor. As the document was suppressed by the British  Boland concealed it during his journey in the soles of his boots.  For the next two to three years he travelled the country campaigning for recognition of the Irish Republic. He also helped raise funds for the of Bureau of Military History .

Boland worked closely with both Collins and de Valera  in organizing and planning strategy prior too and during the War Independence. He disagreed with the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed on December 6, 1921 and sided with the anti-Treaty forces. As a consequence he parted company with Collins who was a member of the delegation that negotiated and singed the Treaty.  In 1922, he was re-elected to the Dáil. He was the principal intermediary between the treaty's supporters and opponents leading up to the onset of the Civil War.

Boland was shot by an officerof the Irish Free State Army on 31 July 1922 in the Skerries Grand Hotel in Dublin shortly after the onset of the civil War. . Two officers entered his room, one of whom shot and mortally wounded him. He was unarmed.  He refused to name his killer when asked by his sister Kathleen. The only thing he told her was that his killer was a friend who was in prison with him.

He died several days later in St. Vincent's Hospital.

He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.



(1)  The Gaelic League was founded in 1893 by Douglas Hyde to foster the revival of the Gaelic culture including  its language, folklore, sports and arts that over the centuries of British occupation were forcefully subverted and denigrated in an calculated attempt to destroy all semblance of the  Irish identity The League's first newspaper was An Claidheamh Soluis (The Sword of Light) and its most noted editor was Patrick Pearse.


(2)  At that time the IRB was more or less stagnant . In 1905 two young Ulster Republicans, Denis McCullough and Bulmer Hobson founded the Dungannon Clubs whose purpose was to encourage young Irishmen to join the IRB instead of enlisting in the British Army.  Their  ultimate goal was complete independence from Britain and the establishment of an  Irish Republic. In 1908 Tom Clarke and Sean McDiarmada joined up with McCullough and Hobson in preparation leading up to the Easter Rising in 1916. 


Contributed by;  Tomás Ó Coısdealha

cemetery AND grave location

Name:    Glasnevin Cemetery                                      PHONE NO.    011 353 1 830-1133

ADDRESS:   Finglas Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11, Ireland

LOCATION:  Republican Plot.




Back to Biographies                                                                                                                                                                        Posted  12/05/2013