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Liam Mellows (1892 - 1922)

Irish Republican, Veteran of the 1916 Easter Rising. First and second Dail Eireann deputy,

Summarily executed by the Free State on December 8, 1922.

Liam (William Joseph) Mellows was born on May 25, 1895 in Manchester, England to William Joseph Mellows, and Sarah Jordan, of Inch, Co. Wexford. His father, who was a sergeant in the British  army was transferred, with his family, to Dublin in 1895. During Liam's early years in Ireland he lived with his grandparents in Castletown, Co. Wexford.

When he reached school age he attended the military school in Wellington Barracks in Cork and the Portobello garrison school in Dublin.  After he finished his schooling he was expected to follow in his father's footsteps and join the British army. That expectation was not an option that Mellows considered as a career path. His Irish Republican philosophy was at odds with that of his father or the aims of the British empire his father served.

In 1911 Mellows, after a meeting with Thomas Clarke, joined  Na Fianna Éireann, an organization for Irish boys founded by  Countess Constance Markievicz and Bulmer Hobson in 1909.  The organization was based on the premise that the boys would be held together by the bond of their great love for Ireland.  What mattered was honesty and willingness to undertake a life of self-sacrifice and self- denial for their country's sake.  It started out as an educational organization but over time it became more of a military-style organization for young republicans. By 1914 the organization had become more militant with the declared intent " to train the boys of Ireland to fight Ireland's battle when they are men".

In 1913 Mellows became a full-time Fianna organizer. With the help of his fellow Fianna organizers, coupled with his tireless energy and  enthusiasm, the organization spread quickly throughout all corners of the country.

 On Sunday morning July 26, 1914 Fianna boys dragged a trek-cart from Dublin to Howth to meet the Asgard and transport its cargo of rifles and ammunition back to a safe location in Dublin. On the return journey their path was blocked at Clontarf by a line of British soldiers with fixed bayonets. The boys managed to escape down a side street with their bounty which eventually ended up at Countess Markievicz's house. The next morning Mellows and Nora Connolly aided by teenage Fianna women removed the weapons from Markievicz's house to a safer location.

As Padraic Pearse said "without the Fianna there would have been no Volunteers and without the Volunteers there would not have been a 1916".

Mellows was introduced to socialism when he met James Connolly at Countess Markiewicz’s residence, recuperating after his hunger strike. Connolly was deeply impressed and told his daughter Nora ‘I have found a real man’.

Mellows was active in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a secret oath-bound fraternal organization founded in 1858 and dedicated to the establishment of an "independent democratic Irish Republic. He was also a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, an organization formed in 1912 in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers. The primary aim of the Irish Volunteers was to "secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland". The organization included members of the Gaelic League, the Ancient Order of Hibernians,  Sinn Féin, Fianna Éireann and the IRB.

In November 1913 Mellows was given responsibility for organizing the Volunteers in the Western Command. Due to his keen  intellect coupled with his analytical and organizational skills he quickly rose to prominence within the Volunteers. He also came to the attention of British  intelligence. In the latter half of 1915 he was arrested under the British "Defense of the Realm Act"; and  interned in Mountjoy Jail for over four months. On his release, he went on the run but was again arrested in early 1916 and deported to England where he served time in Reading Jail. With the help of Nora Connolly and his brother, Barney, who changed places with him during a visit to the jail, he effected his escape and returned to Dublin, via Glasgow and Belfast, disguised as a priest. He stayed at St. Enda's school in Rathfarnham where he received his orders from Pearse and Connolly before  travelling west to Galway on Good Friday proceeding the planned Easter Rising .

During the week of the Rising he led approximately 700 IRA Volunteers in abortive attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary stations at Oranmore, and Clarinbridge in Co. Galway and took over the town of Athenry. However, his men were very badly armed and supplied and they dispersed after a week, when British troops and the cruiser Gloucester were sent west to attack them.

After the collapse of the Rising in Co. Galway, Mellows made his way to New York to escape execution the fate that befell many of leaders of the Rising. .In New York he worked in the office of the Gaelic American as an organizer for the Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF) an Irish-American Republican organization founded at the third Irish Race Convention held in New York in March of  1916. FOIF was generally recognized as a front for Clan na Gael.

As a political exile from Ireland Mellows was under constant surveillance. When he spoke at meetings of the Irish Progressive League - the only Irish American group to stand out boldly for Ireland during this period - Secret Service men would sit in the audience.

 In the fall of 1917, together with Dr. Patrick McCartan, Mellows was arrested while attempting to return to Ireland using false seaman's  papers procured by Joseph McGarrity. He was detained in the “Tombs” on charges that he participated  in an "Irish-German" conspiracy to sabotage the Allied war effort in the ongoing World War. Pending trial bail was set at $7,500, a sum he was unable to raise. Clan na Gael could have easily come up with the money if it so willed. For what ever reason the Clan did not see fit to help Mellows and as a consequence his stay in the Tombs was unnecessarily prolonged. Eventually, others raised the bail money and he was released pending trial in the fall of 1918.  The case was eventually disposed of in May of 1919  when Mellows and McCartan were each fined 250 dollars for using false seaman's papers.  

The  "Tombs" incident left Mellows with a festering resentment towards John Devoy, the titular head of the New York branch of Clan na Gael. Many feel that the person responsible for the Clan's abandonment of Mellows was none other than Justice Daniel F. Cohalan a New York politician and second to Devoy in the New York branch of the Clan hierarchy.

Mellows was elected for two constituencies, North Meath and East Galway, in the December, 1918, general election in Ireland. When the First Dail met they entered his name on the roll in Irish, Liam 0 Maoiliosa. Meanwhile, Mellows was without a job in America. He left the' Gaelic American in December 1918. He went to work on the docks as a laborer before getting a teaching job at the school run by the Irish Carmelites in Manhattan. The Carmelites took care of Mellows in his time of need when others turned their backs on him.

In May of 1919 with his law case settled, Mellows planned to return to Ireland.  These plans were set aside when Harry Boland, who had just arrived in U.S. to organize De Valera's fundraising tour, got sick.  Mellows was assigned to take Boland's place. The 18-month assignment as De Valera's advance man afforded Mellows the opportunity to see much of the United States --  an enjoyable experience he described in his correspondences to friends and acquaintances.

On  Mellows return to Ireland at the end of 1920, he joined the general headquarters staff of the I.R.A. as Director of Purchases, with responsibility for procuring arms and equipment for the fighting forces. He was returned to the Dail as deputy for Galway at the general election of May, 1921.

He considered the Anglo-Irish Treaty as signed to be a betrayal of the Irish Republic, saying, in the Treaty Debates of 1921–22:

“We do not seek to make this country a materially great country at the expense of its honour in any way whatsoever. We would rather have this country poor and indigent, we would rather have the people of Ireland eking out a poor existence on the soil; as long as they possessed their souls, their minds, and their honour. This fight has been for something more than the fleshpots of Empire.”

Mellows was one of the more strident TDs on the approach to the Irish Civil War. On 28 April 1922 he told the Dáil:

”There would no question of civil war here now were it not for the undermining of the Republic. The Republic has been deserted by those who state they still intend to work for a Republic. The Volunteers can have very little faith at this moment in the Government that assembles here, because all they can see in it is a chameleon Government. One moment, when they look at it, it is the green, white and orange of the Republic, and at another moment, when they look at it, it is the red, white and blue of the British Empire. We in the Army, who have taken this step, have been termed “mutineers,” “irregulars,” and so forth. We are not mutineers, because we have remained loyal to our trust. We are not mutineers except against the British Government in this country. We may be “irregular” in the sense that funds are not forthcoming to maintain us, but we were always like that and it is no disgrace to be called “irregulars” in that sense. We are not wild people.”

On June 25, 1922, he and fellow Republicans Rory O’Connor, Joseph McKelvey and Dick Barrett, among others, took over the Dublin Four Courts. They were bombarded from a gunboat on the Liffey which the Free State borrowed from the British army. They surrendered after two days and were imprisoned in Mountjoy. Mellows had a chance to escape along with Ernie O’Malley, but did not take it.

 Imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail, Mellows, O’Connor, McKelvey and Barrett were summarily executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922

Mellows is buried in Castletown cemetery, County Wexford, a few miles from Arklow. An annual commemoration ceremony is held at his grave site, in which a wreath is laid by a member of the Liam Mellows Commemoration Committee.

Contributed by Tomás Ó Coısdealbha

cemetery AND grave location

Name:   Castletown Cemetery                                             

ADDRESS:  Castletown,  Co. Wexford, Ireland





  Posted  06/26/2011

email: tcoisdealba@hotmail.com