Front view of the Ballsbridge IRA memorial. Credit – Sam (CHTM!)
A stones throw away from a US Embassy is an odd location for a memorial to a revolutionary guerrilla army.
But this is the case for the plaque and celtic cross at the corner of Herbert Park and Clyde Road in Ballsbridge dedicated to the memory of the officers and men of the IRA’s Third Battalion Dublin Brigade.
Significance and context
On the 13th of May 1973, in one of his last public appearances in office, President Eamon De Valera unveiled the IRA memorial in front of a crowd of several hundred. A little over a month later, and at the grand age of 90, De Valera retired from political office.. Commandment of the Third Battalion in the lead up to and during Easter Week 1916, De Valera died in the Linden Convalescent Home, Blackrock on 29 August 1975 aged 92.
During the 1916 Rising, the Battalion saw action at nearby Boland’s Bakery on Grand Canal Street, Haddington Road Railway Bridge, Clanwilliam House on the north side of Mount Street Bridge, St. Stephen’s School and the Parochial Hall on the south side of bridge and No. 25 Northumberland Road. After their surrender, De Valera and his men (infamously he allowed no members of Cumann na mBan to serve with him) were held in horse-boxes in the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) just a few minutes from the present day memorial.
The main focus of the Third Battalion during the post-Rising revolutionary period was the area around Northumberland Road, Mount Street Bridge, Pearse Street, Bolands Mills, Dame Street and the district known as the Dardanelles, including Aungier Street and Wexford Street.
IRA veterans march in formation to the memorial unveiling. Credit – Irish Independent (14 May 1973)
The timing of the unveiling is obviously significant. It took place during the height of the conflict in the Six Counties – in the shadow of 1972, the bloodiest year of the ‘Troubles’ in which nearly 500 people lost their lives.
A memorial to the IRA, unveiled by the President of Ireland, during the summer of 1973 has serious implications. On the day of the ceremony, two members of a British Army foot patrol were killed when a remote controlled bomb hidden in a disused factory was detonated by the IRA on the Donegall Road, West Belfast. While in The Diamond, near Coagh, County Tyrone,an IRA member was shot dead as he drove through an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) check point.
The memorial was fashioned by sculptor Dermot Broe. A second generation sculptor, his father Leo Broe (1899–1966) was an IRA veteran who saw active service in the Camden Street area with C Company, 3rd Battalion I.R.A during the Tan War. A well-known monumental sculptor and artist, he was responsible for many IRA monuments including the sixteen foot Phibsborogh Volunteer opposite the Library on the North Circular Road unveiled in 1939.
Another sculptor son Desmond, who died suddenly in 1968, was responsible for the commemorative plaque over the birthplace of Patrick and Willie Pearse at 27 Pearse Street (known as Great Brunswick Street until 1924) and the Kevin Barry memorial in Rathvilly, Carlow (unveiled in 1958).
Plaque outside 27 Pearse Street fashioned by Desmond Broe. Credit – michael7000.files.wordpress.com
Daughter Irene (1923 – 1992), another sculptor, produced busts to Donogh O’Malley and the Masalsyian prime minister Abdul Rahman.
Memorial and unveiling
On 13 May 1974 De Valera, in heavy rain, first inspected the guard of honour which was drawn from the Second Battalion, Cathal Brugha Barracks and the Eastern Command Training Depot under commander Captain Peter Archibald.
Accompanied by Colonel Sean Brennan. his senior aide-decamp, he was then escorted to seats beside the memorial, which was set in a railed area off the pavement and surrounded by tulips and other flowers in the adjoining private gardens.
Liam Kavanagh, who served as a volunteer in Bolands Mill in 1916, gave a brief address to the crowd. He paid tribute to the “courage, endurance and devotion to duty of deceased members, some of whom died in action, others from imprisonment, and other hardships and some on the scaffold.”
The Army Number One Band then played the Last Post as a small group of veterans of his the Brigade saluted their dead comrades. Later De Valera inspected the memorial with Mr. Kavanagh and Mr. Leo Kelly, secretary and treasurer of the Old Dublin Brigade. Finally, the cross was blessed by the chaplain of the Old Dublin Brigade, Fr. Tom Walsh, O.P.
Eamon De Valera inspects the memorial. Credit – Irish Press (14 May 1973)
The memorial has been diligently described by Michael Pegum as a:
“Stone Celtic cross on oblong plinth. Plinth width 69cms, depth 48cms. Total height approx 240cms. A black marble panel on the base of the cross records the unveiling. Behind the cross are three black marble slabs with inscriptions in Irish and English. Height 99cms, width of each side panel 95cms.”
Interestingly it is dedicated to men of the 3rd Battalion who ‘died for Ireland in 1916 and since’. This is interesting wording as it encompasses members of the battalion who fought and died in the Tan War, Civil War and possibly in later military action.
The text of the Ballsbridge IRA memorial. Credit – Sam (CHTM!)
The Embassy of the United States in Dublin (to give it its full title) was constructed between 1962 and 1964 on a triangular site at the intersection between Elgin Road and Pembroke Road.
So at the time of the IRA memorial unveiling, they had been there for a decade while the nearby British embassy was opened just six months afterwards.
The British Embassy has been based at 29 Merrion Road, Ballsbridge since December 1974. They were forced to relocate after their previous premises, 39 Merrion Square, was besieged for three days and attacked for 24 hours by thousands of people in response to the Bloody Sunday murders in Derry on 30 January 1972.