50 Years Ago


On June 23, 1947 Republicans gathered again in the assembly field at Sallins, Co Kildare. It was Bodenstown Sunday. Frank Driver of Ballymore Eustace,Co Kildare gave the oration. He was a veteran Republican who at the age of 12 had been a Sinn Féin tally-clerk in the 1918 general election.

In 1922 he was the youngest Republican internee in the Newbridge Prison at 16 years. Again interned without trial at the Curragh in the early 1940s and from 1957 to ’59 he was a most loveable character.

In the forties and fifties he showed his devotion to the Irish language – he was a resident “of an Irish-speaking hut 1942-45 – and was most popular and affectionately regarded by the youth above all”.

Bell says that the “traditional oration” delivered by this dedicated Republican signified that “the Republicans were back in business”.

“Most important was the Army report, read to the crowd, the first public sign that the IRA still existed.

“Despite the obstacles, the cynicism, the residue of suspicion and doubt, despite the enforced recess after the Ardee Bar arrests, the IRA did exist. There was a legitimate Executive, an Army Council, a GHQ, and even a paid organiser to knit up the ravelled ends of the national network.”

Tony Magan and Micksie Conway were the first and most important men to be released in December 1946 on expiration of sentence following the Ardee Bar arrests of the previous March.

Bell notes that they “immediately began picking up the loose ends. Conway was already considering giving up revolutionary politics for the Church. He seemed intent on building up the IRA before he withdrew into a monastery.”

In point of fact Conway continued his IRA activity until September 1950 when he joined the Cistercian Order at New Mellifont, Collon, Co Louth as a lay brother, Brother Maolmhuire.

Coogan met him over 20 years later when he told him he was “first attracted to the IRA by the dedication and religious fervour he saw in its leaders. It matched his own religious feelings and made him see the IRA as something noble and pure”.


He goes on: “The formidable figure of the 1930s (when he was sentenced to death by the Free State) is no more. He is a low-sized, greying man with sincerity and decency radiating from blue, kindly eyes, from his weather-beaten, disciplined face and his warm, strong handshake”.

He told Coogan he was “very hopeful of the reforms and the renewal of the Church set in train by Vatican II. Driving back to Dublin after interviewing him, my abiding impression was that it would be difficult to meet a more sincere man,” Coogan concludes.

Magan, on the other hand “was willing to help but he was trying to put together a bakery business at the same time,” Bell records.

Tony Magan, of whom we shall hear a lot more, was a Co Meath farmer who made his mark on the Republican Movement. He sold his farm and eventually gave all his time and money to the Cause.

In the matter of the bakery trade, his sister and their aunt operated a confectionery business at Main St, Longford known as Murray’s Cafe from the 1930s right in to the 1950s. Known as “Tot” Magan she was captain of the local St Ita’s Camogie Club and was active in Gaelic circles.

Similarly, Tony had fluent Irish, having studied under Máirtín Ó Cadhain in the university of the Curragh. Coogan says that many people he interviewed told him they believed Magan belonged in the Church with such people as Conway.

This should not be surprising to close observers of the Movement. Liam Pilkington of Sligo GOC Third Western Division IRA 1921-23 went on to become a Catholic priest in Monmouthshire, Wales while remaining a faithful Republican to the end. Two other Republican soldiers of the same period also took the same course.

A member of the Teeling Column on active service in South Fermanagh in 1956, Joe Daly of Garlow Cross, Navan, Co Meath joined Micksie Conway in New Mellifont as a lay brother in the late 1950s.

Another Republican activist and Curragh internee of the 1950s, Michael Joe O’Keeffe of Mullagh, Co Clare went on to minister as a priest in the southern United States.


Back in 1947, however, as soon as enough prison sentences had run out the new Executive met and elected a new Army Council. Bell notes that Fleming was ignored and Willie McGuinness moved from OC Dublin Unit to Chief-of-Staff, Seán Ó Néill became Adjutant-General and Conway stayed on GHQ.

He continues: “Jack Finlay became a full-time organiser at a minuscule wage under orders to travel through the country appointing local COs and contacting sympathisers. Seán Sheehy took over as CO of Dublin and once more the centre of the net was in place.”

While the Celtic Congress, a purely cultural body forging links between Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Mann, met in Dublin on June 23-24, 1947 the wider circle of Republican support was acquainted with the re-organisation of the IRA.

The previous years’ renewed coercion had failed to quench the flame that would guide yet another generation to struggle for the freedom of Ireland.
(More next month. Refs. The Secret Army by J Bowyer Bell and The IRA by TP Coogan.)
Correction. May 1997 instalment: Goertz’s “vain attempt to leave Ireland in a sailing boat in the autumn of 1941.”