Luke Dillon  (1850 -1930)

Luke Dillon was born in the town of  Leeds in England in 1848.  His parents had earlier emigrated  to Leeds from Co. Sligo in Ireland to escape  the devastation and squalor caused by the contrived Famine of the 1840’s.  In the 1851 census Luke and his parents are listed as living in Lower Cross Street. This was in a district of Leeds called the Bank and was almost totally Irish at that time. The poverty and squalor there in Luke's day was appalling. In fact, Lower Cross Street is specifically mentioned in Friedrich Engels' "The Condition of the Working Class in England 1844.

Notwithstanding the hardship they endured in Leeds,  they probably would not have survived if they remained in Ireland through 1847 (Black 47) one of the worst years in Irish history when hundreds of thousands died from starvation.   

 In 1854 at the age of six Luke emigrated to the U.S. with his family and settled in Trenton New Jersey.  Finding it difficult to secure a decent job, Luke, like so many other young men of that time, had no other choice than to join the United States Army. He signed up with company ‘E’ of the U.S. Infantry Regiment and was posted to Montana and later to Wyoming.  His military service continued until 1870.

Later that same year Luke returned to the East coast and settled in the Philadelphia area.  It was there that he met James Gibbons, a printer and William Carroll, a physician who were both active in Clan Na Gael. Having already been educated in the savagery of English colonial rule in Ireland, Dillon was ready to play his part for Irish freedom. He  joined Clan Na Gael who at that time, were replacing a faltering Fenian Brotherhood. Dillon threw himself whole-heartedly into the work and was widely known and respected.  As a result, he rose quickly to a leadership role in Clan Na Gael.

 By the late 1880’s, Clan Na Gael in Philadelphia had made plans to take the war home to England.  Dillon was an integral part of the planning which, was a dynamite campaign targeting high profile sites  in London. In 1884, Dillon along with Roger O Neill and another man were successful in bombing the posh Carleton Club and the well known police headquarters at Scotland Yard. The following year, 1885, Dillon and fellow patriots where able to intensify their level of activity by bombing the British House of Commons. Their next target was London Bridge; however, a premature explosion killed two of the attackers,  whereupon, Dillon  returned to America with no one the wiser about his involvement.

By the late 1880’s, Clan Na Gael were having serious difficulties with two emerging factions.  Devoy, who did not agree with the London dynamite campaign joined Dr. P. H. Cronin to oppose the O’Sullivan faction who was responsible for organizing the dynamite campaign. Although Dillon participated in the campaign he, nonetheless, sided with Devoy against the Chicago faction who had been suspected of misappropriating funds.  Dillon gave evidence to a 'Trial Committee' convened in Buffalo N.Y accusing Sullivan of trying to bribe him with Clan money and also of alerting the British to one of the London bomb plots. After that he became a marked man by O'Sullivan loyalists. 

The murder of Dr. Cronin by O'Sullivan's henchmen, coupled with the negative publicity generated by the subsequent trial almost destroyed the organization. O'Sullivan lost his remaining influence within the organization as a result all the negative publicity, coupled with the unwanted scrutiny of the organization and lingering doubts regarding the misappropriated of the organizations funds.  It took the organization ten years to recover from all of the bad publicity and the simmering divisions within its ranks. However, by the end of the century, Devoy with help from Dillon managed to reunite the factions and refocus their efforts on the task at hand, the liberation of Ireland.

Throughout the 1890's Dillon continued to promote the organization, raise funds, and help those on-the-run from Ireland for their actions to oust the British occupiers.  In 1899 when the British went to war to control  the gold mines in the Dutch Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State in south Africa, Dillon saw this as an opportunity  to strike another blow at England. Together with two comrades, John Walsh and John Nolan, he set out to disable  the Welland Canal locks located between lakes Erie and Ontario in Canada. The rationale for disabling the locks was to prevent the Canadians from sending  troops and material to help the English in their war effort. On April 21, 1900 an explosion caused some damage to the locks,  but did not put them out of operation. Shortly after the explosion Dillon and his two comrades  were arrested in nearby Thorold and held for trial in connection with the explosion.   Although the evidence against Dillon was flimsy the outcome of the trial was a forgone conclusion due to the influence of the Orange Order in Southern Canada at the time.  Interestingly, Dillon who was convicted under the name of 'Carl Dallman' served a longer sentence that the others.

On numerous occasions during his years in prison he refused appeals by Clann na Gael leaders, including Joseph McGarrity, to admit guilt and petition the Canadian government for clemency. He stated in a letter to his contemporaries his steadfast belief that 'The rest of my life would not be worth such a surrender of principle'. 

 Apparently he was assumed to be dead by many of his friends until an article appeared in the New York Times on July 12th 1914 stating the Irish ‘patriot Luke Dillon” had been released from a Canadian jail for having been sentenced for an attempt to blow up the Welland Canal.   The article went on to say that Dillon had notified McGarrity of his release via telegram and had asked for McGarrity to make arrangements for a meeting in Atlantic City NJ.

At the time of his release Dillon was 65 years of age.  He remained active in the organization  and became a reliable member of McGarrity’s inner circle.  He lived to see his dream of taking the fight to England in the 1916 Rising.  Luke remained true to Pearse’s Irish Republic until his death in 1930 at the age of 81.  He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery along with many others who shared his dream of a free sovereign Ireland.

Contributed by;  Tomás Ó Coısdealha

cemetery AND grave location

Name:        Holy Cross Cemetery                                        PHONE NO.      (610) 626-2206

ADDRESS:     626 Baily Rd, Yeadon, PA 19050

GRAVE LOCATION:     Section 28


Back to Biographies                                                                                                                                                                            Posted 01/07/08