Ernest Bernard O’Malley (1897 - 1957)
Ernie O'Malley was
born in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland on May 26,1897 into a
middle-class family the second of eleven children. His father worked in
the Congested Districts Board, which managed land reform in the west of
Ireland. In so far as politics was concerned, the O'Malley's were
conservative nationalist who supporting the
Irish Home Rule Party of John
children spent their summers at a rented house in Rosbeg near Westport
in the care of a nanny. During these long
summers young Ernie spend his much of his time exploring the
area around Clew Bay -- an area he often referred to
fondly in his later years. The
family moved to Dublin in 1906 where Ernie continued his education at
the O’Connell School in North Richmond Street.
his secondary education at a Christian Brothers school he won a
scholarship to University College Dublin (UCD) where, in 1915, he began
to study medicine.
By all accounts
O'Malley was apolitical until the 1916 Easter Rising. Deeply affected by
what he witnessed during the weeklong confrontation between the vastly
outnumbered Irish volunteers and the well equipped British forces, he
decided to play his part in the struggle for the 32-county Irish
Republic proclaimed by Pearse on the steps of the General Post Office on
Easter Monday at the onset of hostilities. Such was his resolve that,
together with a friend who owned a rifle, he took turns firing at
British soldiers in the vicinity of the General Post Office.
The execution of
the leaders of the Uprising further galvanized O'Malley's resolve to
carry on the struggle started by the executed martyrs until their
sacrifice for a sovereign 32-county Irish Republic was redeemed. He left
his studies at UCD and by 1918 was fully occupied recruiting and
organizing units in Tyrone, Offaly, Roscommon, Donegal, Clare,
Tipperary and Dublin for the approaching showdown. .
Ireland's War of
Independence started on January 21, 1919 when Sean Treacy, Dan Breen,
Seán Hogan, Seamus Robinson and five other volunteers ambushed and shot
dead two members of a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) contingent
transporting explosives near the village of Soloheadbeg in County
Tipperary. As a result of that attack the British declared martial law
in South Tipperary.
commenced, Sean Treacy one of the leaders of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade
placed O'Malley in command of one of its volunteer units. For the next
two years O'Malley and his volunteers waged an effective guerilla war
against the British colonial apparatus in Munster by attacking RIC
stations and British army barracks, barricading roads and
ambushing British Auxiliaries (Black & Tans) and RIC convoys. In May of
1920, together with Liam Lynch and a contingent of volunteers, raided
the Hollyford barracks in Mallow, Co
Cork and made off with a substantial quantity of rifles and
On December 9th 1920, O'Malley was captured by British Auxiliaries in
Inistioge, Co Kilkenny. He was taken to Dublin Castle where he was
interrogated and tortured as 'Bernard Stewart' an alias he used to hide
his real identity, which if discovered would have resulted in his
execution. After being interrogated he was lodged in
Kilmainham Jail in Dublin. On February 14, 1921, together with Simon
Donnelly, he escaped with the assistance of a sympathetic British
soldier who smuggled a bolt cutter into the jail.
At a meeting with Mulcahy and Collins
On March 21, 1921,
O’Malley was made Officer Commanding (O/C) of the Second Southern Division
IRA comprising the Mid and East Limerick, South and Mid Tipperary and
Kilkenny Brigades. In all, he had approximately 7,000 volunteers under
At noon on July 11,
1921 a truce ending hostilities was signed. Five months later on
December 6, 1921 the British imposed Treaty was signed. The Irish
Republic proclaimed in 1916 was 'off the table' a British imposed
precondition to negotiations with the Irish delegation. For good measure
the British threw in the threat of restarting hostilities if a treaty
was not signed.
O'Malley was the
first Divisional Commander to reject the Treaty and repudiate the
Provisional government. He opposed any settlement that fell short of an
independent Irish Republic and was incensed that the Irish delegation
would unilaterally sign such a document in the name of the Irish people
under duress. The partition of Ireland and swearing allegiance to the
British were not what the he and his comrades in arms had bargained for.
Civil War that followed commenced on February 14, 1922, when Republican
forces led by Rory O'Connor and O'Malley occupied the Four Courts in
Dublin and made it the Headquarters of the anti-Treaty Republican
forces. On June 28, after a standoff of several months, Collins, under
pressure from the British, ordered an attack on the garrison. After a
two-day bombardment with British supplied artillery the building lay in
ruins. O'Malley was among the last to leave and was responsible for
directing the garrison's surrender to pro-Treaty forces
the garrison O'Malley escaped into the Wicklow mountains avoiding
certain execution if captured. Shortly afterwards he was appointed
Assistant Chief of Staff and Commandant of the Northern
and Eastern commands of the Anti-Treaty IRA. He was HQ in Dublin.
Later in November he was
also appointed Commandant of the Western Command.
On September 24 1922, O’Malley stated in a letter to Liam Lynch that he
"consider it imperative that some sort of Government, whether a
Provisional or a Republican or a military one, should be inaugurated at
One day later on September 25
Anti-Treaty members of the Second
Dáil meet in Dublin and constituted
themselves as a Republican Government. They appointed De Valera as
President and also setup a 12-member Council of State.
On November 5 1922, O'Malley was captured after being seriously wounded
at his HQ in Ailesbury Road. He
was imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail where he remained under sentence of
death until his release in 1924. His wounds and the dire diagnosis of
the doctor, a former medical school colleague,
who attended to his wound, saved him from the firing squad.
In the general
election held in August of 1923, O'Malley stood as a candidate in the
Dublin North constituency. He was duly elected but would not take his
seat in the 26- county Free State
Dáil, which would have required him to take an Oath of Allegiance
to the British Crown. Later that year he went on a 41-day hunger strike
with other Republican prisoners in support of their demands for
unconditional release from jail. He was released in July of 1924 one of
the last prisoners to be set free.
1927, after a period of recuperation and a two-year hiatus in Europe
developing his intellectual interests he traveled to the United
States initially on a fund raising trip to establish a republican
newspaper the 'Irish Press'. For the next five years he traveled
throughout California, New Mexico and Mexico spending some time in Taos,
New Mexico where he lived with the family of Irish actor Peter Golden
tutoring the Golden children. While in New Mexico he befriended a number
artistic and literary figures including novelist D. H. Lawrence, artist
Georgia O'Keefe, poet Hart Crane and photographer Paul Strand.
During that period
of his life he wrote poetry and drafted the early editions of On
Another Man’s Wound and The
Singing Flame. He returned to New York in 1932 where he continued to
write poetry and short stories and lecture on Irish history and culture.
Shortly after he
returned to Ireland in 1935 he married American
socialite Helen Hooker, with whom he
had three children. During the succeeding years he continued write
poetry and was a contributor to the literary and cultural magazine
The Bell. He consulted with John Ford on the movie The Quiet Man
and spent time interviewing former comrades in arms for one of his last
works Raids and Rallies which was published posthumously in 1978.
He was elected to
the Irish Academy of Letters in 1947.
Ken Loach film The Wind
That Shakes The Barley, is based
biographical works and the character of Damien is based partly on
He suffered a heart
attack in 1953. From then on his health deteriorated exacerbated by the
bullet fragments in his body from the time of his capture by Free State
forces during the Civil War and the toll exerted by his subsequent
41-day hunger strike.
Bernard O’Malley, a first class soldier to his comrades in arms and a
worthy equal to his literary associates,
on the March 25, 1957 aged 59.
Tomás Ó Coısdealha
cemetery AND grave location
Glasnevin Cemetery PHONE NO.
011 353 1 830-1133
ADDRESS: Finglas Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11, Ireland
O'Malley Family Plot
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