Archive for the ‘Dublin History’ Category

On a spring evening in 1942 in the North Dublin suburb of Clontarf, a tragic shooting led to the deaths of Una Ennis (aged 19) and her boyfriend John Prendergast (aged 30).

Nearly seventy-five years later, here is the story retold for the first time online. We understand this is a sensitive topic for the two families concerned and hope the chain of events can be recounted in a compassionate, factual way.

Headline in The Irish Times, 13 April 1942.

Headline in The Irish Times, 13 April 1942.

Ennis family

Una Ennis was born in 1922, worked as a typist and lived at Whitefields Lodge with her family in the grounds of Phoenix Park. Her father, retired Major-General Thomas Ennis, was superintendent of the Park.

Photograph of Una Ennis. Credit : Daniel Seery (Relative of Una)

Photograph of Una Ennis. Credit : Daniel Seery (Relative of Una)

A little bit about his background.

Thomas Ennis (1892-1945) joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914, fought in the G.P.O. during the 1916 Easter Rising and was interned in Frongach, North Wales. Upon returning home, he helped re-organise his Irish Volunteer company from 1917 onwards. He was active with E Company, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, IRA between 1919 and 1922 during which he was a founder-member of Michael Collin’s ‘Squad’.

As Oscar Traynor’s second-in-command during the burning of the Custom House in 1921, he was was shot twice in the leg and badly wounded. Joining the Free State Army in February 1922, he was in command of Government Troops as they battled anti-Treaty IRA volunteers during the Battle of Dublin (28 June to 5 July 1922) marking the start of the Cvil War. He resigned from the Free State army in May 1924 and later became superintendent of the Phoenix Park.


Major-General Thomas Ennis (with Thompson) and Commandant McCrea disembarking from the S.S. Arvonia at Victoria Quay, Cork City during the Battle of Cork (July-Aug 1922). via NLI

His brother Peter Ennis was also a veteran of the 1916 Rising and War of Independence. He became Chief of the Republican Police and during the Civil War was Chief Superintendent of the State’s Intelligence Department (Oriel House).  At the foundation of the Garda Síochána, he became the first superintendent in the Detective Branch and retired from the force in 1941.

Prendergast family

John ‘Jack’ Gerald Prendergast was born on 11th May 1911 to parents Thomas and Margaret (nee O’Sullivan). They lived at Dock House, Spencer Dock, North Wall where Thomas worked as a lock keeper.

He was known to his friends as ‘Jack’ but also ‘Sean’ or ‘Jimmy’.

Prendergast enrolled at University College Dublin (UCD) to study engineering in 1930 but left in his first year to join the Civil Service.

Several newspapers reported that he traveled to Spain and fought with the International Brigades in the Civil War for a period of three years. More on this later.


On Sunday 12th April 1942, John Prendergast left his home in North Wall at 12.45pm. His father said he “appeared to be in normal spirits” (Irish Independent, 14th April). 

Maureen Ennis, sister of Una, said that John Prendergast called to their house in the Phoenix Park about 3pm and stayed for an hour. Maureen had known Prendergast “for some time” and “knew that he was keeping company” with her sister. She believed the couple “appeared to be in the best of spirits” (Irish Examiner, 14 April)

The couple probably took a bus or a tram some of the way to Clontarf where they were spotted walking together about 5pm. It’s a distance of over 9km and it’s unlikely they would have been able to walk it in an hour.

They were seen stopped and talking together on the Howth Road near the junction with St. Lawrence’s Road.

Witnesses then heard two shots ring out.

Howth Road near the junction with St. Lawrence's Road. via Google Maps.

Howth Road near the junction with St. Lawrence’s Road. via Google Maps.


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Capel Street is certainly one of Dublin’s most diverse streets, mixing long-established family businesses with new migrant restaurants and supermarkets, not to more hardware and camping shops than any city could ever really need. Architecturally it throws up a few gems,and warrants looking up and paying attention when you walk down it. Dublin City Council’s Architectural Conservation Area (ACA) report for the street, available to read in full here, rightly describes it as “one of the most historically significant streets in Dublin city.”

Passing it today, I noticed a little plaque that reminds us that it is people at much as buildings that make streets and give them character. While you could easily miss it passing by, this little plaque remembers Aidan McElroy, who spent “most of his working life” on the street. It is rare to see such a memorial to an ordinary Dubliner in the city,  and it’s a touching reminder of the strong sense of community that plays a part in making Dublin what it is.




The location of the plaque, beside 31 Capel Street.

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The ‘Red Dean’ Hewlett Johnson meeting Fidel Castro during a visit to Cuba. (Image Credit: University of Kent Special Collections)

The Round Room of the Mansion House has witnessed many historic gatherings, but also a few good scraps in its time. In January 1947, the Reverend Hewlett Johnson visited Dublin and spoke there on the subject of religion in the Soviet Union. Known as the ‘Red Dean’,  Johnson’s lecture was interrupted by student protestors and broke down into physical violence, with arrests and plenty of column inches following. The meeting had been called by the Irish-Soviet Friendship Society, who enlisted supporters as bouncers on the night, with some coming from the ranks of the IRA. One of the bouncers was none other than Brendan Behan.

The Dean of Canterbury was a somewhat unlikely supporter of the Soviet Union, and his visit to Ireland attracted significant media attention. Months before his arrival, The Irish Times reported Johnson’s views in detail, including his claim that Josef Stalin “has nothing of ruthlessness in his face, nothing of dominance in his manner.” The Dean had met Stalin for almost an hour privately during a visit to Moscow, and was enthusiastic about all aspects of the Soviet Union.

One of those who showed up to disrupt the meeting was Ulick O’Connor, who later became a biographer of Brendan Behan, on the other side of the debate that night! In his biography of the writer,O’Connor wrote:

On the night of the meeting, the street outside the Mansion House in the centre of the city was packed with police and members of the public.Brendan had been hired as a chucker-out and he shouted cheerily to members of the Special Branch as he marched into the meeting: “it’s good to see you here protecting us instead of attacking us for a change!”

O’Connor remembered that half way through the speech, “a group of students rose in the balcony and, walking down the stairs, announced they were leaving as a protest against the meeting. The bodyguards sprang into action and, in the melee which took place as the students left, some of them were taken to an ante-room and beaten up.” While O’Connor stressed these students were not part of any right-wing group, he did note that there were “right-wing groups present who came with the object of breaking up the meeting.” The Irish Times reported on the presence of Nazi flags, along with shouts of “Up Franco!” and”Down with the Jews!”



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David Garrick, the most celebrated actor of his time.

This week, I used my ‘Hidden Histories’ slot on Newstalk to look at David Garrick (1717-1779), arguably the first modern actor and a man who attracted huge crowds when he performed at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre in the role of Hamlet. When the poet Alexander Pope saw him act  for the first time he was so moved that he commented, “that young man never had his equal as an actor, and he will never have a rival”

More importantly to this piece though, Garrick was one of the main forces in reforming 18th century theatre. Reforming acting was one thing, but reforming audiences was another entirely!  With  varying degrees of success, men like Garrick and Thomas Sheridan (manager of Dublin’s Smock Alley)  sought to change the way people engaged with theatre, ensuring that most of the action happened on the stage and not off it.

Anyway, here it is:

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Liberty Hall: A centre of political and cultural radicalism.

Earlier this year I gave a talk on the Fintan Lalor Pipe Band for a conference entitled Music in Ireland: 1916 and Beyond. The FLPB would come to be seen as the ‘band of the Irish Citizen Army’, and were in their own right an important part of Jim Larkin’s  cultural  vision. This is an edited version of that talk.

Studies of the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and other working class organisations in the revolutionary period have tended to focus on their political histories – examining events and themes such as the Lockout of 1913, the Easter Rising  and the political ideology of leaders like Larkin and Connolly.  There is still, I would maintain, much work to be done on the culture of the radical trade union movement of revolutionary Ireland.

What James Larkin attempted to do in Dublin from the time of his arrival in the city in 1908 amounted to more than political revolution –  there was an enormous social dimension to his project. Emmet O’Connor, Larkin’s most outstanding biographer to date, contends that Liberty Hall was the centre of a working class “counter culture.” It had a theatre, a printing press, a workers co-operative shop, food facilities and more besides. To the movement of Larkin and Connolly, culture formed an important component – and perhaps no aspect of it was more important than the Fintan Lalor Pipe Band, who would lead their movement through the streets.

Jim Larkin’s arrival in Ireland:


Jim Larkin’s mugshot from Sing Sing Prison, 1920.

Jim Larkin, born in Toxteth in Liverpool to Irish parents in 1867, remains the single most important figure – and one of the most divisive figures – in the history of Irish trade unionism and labor politics .He arrived in Ireland in 1907 as a trade union organiser with the National Union of Dock Labourers, sent to organise on the docks of Belfast,  where he succeeded in doing the unimaginable and defying the sectarian divisions there, something well-documented in John Gray’s study City in Revolt. Larkin was renowned for his deployment of the sympathetic strike tactic  – believing that an injury to one was an injury to all – undoubtedly one contributing factor that led to his sacking by the NUDL and his decision to establish his own union, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union,  which he based in Dublin. This was a revolutionary union committed to the overthrow of capitalism, and modeled on the politics of syndicalism – that is a belief that workers’ could transform society through unified industrial action.  A journalist from The Times in Britain wrote of ‘Larkinism’ in 1911 that:

For the present it is enough to say that the object of Mr.Larkin’s Union is to syndicalise Irish Labour, skilled and unskilled, in a single organisation, the whole forces of which can be brought to bear on any single dispute in the Irish industrial world.

 Summing up ‘Larkinism’ himself, Jim Larkin stated:

“The employers know no sectionalism. The employers give us the title of the ‘working class’. Let us be proud of the term. Let us have, then, the one union, and not, as now, 1,100 separate unions, each acting upon its own. When one union is locked out or on strike, other unions or sections are either apathetic or scab on those in dispute. A stop must be put to this organised blacklegging.”

The rise of Liberty Hall:

Larkin based his new union in what he called Liberty Hall,  a former hotel which had fallen into rack and run. This premises offered everything an emerging movement could need;  as Emmet O’Connor has noted, it “offered rooms for band practice, Irish language classes, a choir and a drama society.” Liberty Hall would prove a tremendous resource to the labour movement, providing the location for a printing press for example, and as Christopher Murray has noted in his biography of Sean O’Casey its former life as a hotel proved invaluable on occasion, not least in 1913 when “the old kitchens were still usable in the basement.”


More than a trade union HQ: An advertisement from James Connolly’s The Workers’ Republic.

Much has been written of Larkinism in labour dispute –  little has been written of the culture that surrounded Liberty Hall.  Indeed, the Manchester Guardian was so moved by Larkin’s project, that they proclaimed “no Labour headquarters in Europe has contributed so valuably to the brightening of the lives of the hard-driven workers around it…it is a hive of social life.” For Larkin, there was an enormous emphasis on the self-respect and dignity of the working class, and in their visible orgnaisation and solidarity.James Plunkett, in an essay of remembrance, recalled that:

Torchlight processions and bands, songs and slogans and the thunder of speeches from the windows of Liberty Hall, these were his weapons, and he calculated than a man with an empty belly would stand the pain of it better if you could succeed in filling his head full of poetry. Those who previously had nothing with which to fill out the commonplace of drab days could now march in processions, wave torches, yell out songs…It was Larkin’s triumph to inject enough of it into a starving class to lift them off their knees and lead them out of the pit.

 An often overlooked but hugely important part of Larkin’s personality – and something James Connolly shared – was his commitment to a teetotal lifestyle. The public house was often denounced in the pages of his newspaper The Irish Worker, he denounced the popular politician Alfie Byrne as Alfie Bung for owning a pub, and even led the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union onto a temperance parade in 1911. As much as anything else then, Liberty Hall was designed to get men out of the pubs and to keep them out of the pubs.

This in the context in which the Fintan Lalor Pipe Band was born – the emergence of a ‘counter culture’ for the working classes, which brought learning, creativity and community into the doors of a crumbling old hotel, and invented Liberty Hall. Later, one newspaper would describe it as “the brain of every riot and disturbance” the city witnessed.


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To Remember Spain.


Charles Patrick Donnelly. Poet, republican and UCD student. He died at the Battle of Jarama in Spain, 1937.

Next week, a series of lectures will take place in Dublin to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, and to highlight the Irish dimensions of the conflict.

Over a number of nights, some of the leading historians on the Irish dimensions of the Spanish Civil War, such as David Convery and Brian Hanley, will be joined by international speakers like Emilio Silvia and Soledad Fox. The meetings take place in Liberty Hall and the Unite Hall on Middle Abbey Street, and are free to attend.

I’m delighted to speak on Thursday alongside Seán Byers from Belfast. My talk will look at commemoration in 1930s Dublin, and the frequently violent nature of it all. Events in Spain shaped much of this from 1936 onwards, and certainly contributed to anti-communist hysteria. You might be feeling all ‘commemorated out’ by now, but I promise this will all be rather different from what you’ve been surrounded by in 2016!

Our congratulations to Harry Owens on producing such a magnificent programme of talks.


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I must confess, that from time to time I do buy books based on their covers alone. Sometimes, it can be because of who the illustrator is, and other times for what the books capture of Dublin past. I couldn’t resist Terence de Vere White’s A Fretful Midge (1957) recently when I stumbled across it.

The front of the book shows 12 Aungier Street, today home to JJ Smyth’s pub, and the birthplace of the poet Thomas Moore. There is a great blog post on Architecture Ireland about this building through the ages. The building once had a bust of Thomas Moore in its exterior, visible in the illustration above, but it is no more today:

On the 28 May 1779, the house became the home of Thomas Moore. His father, John Moore, was a grocer and wine-merchant and ran the business from the ground floor of the family home. Moore passed the first twenty years of his life in the house, where the ‘entertainments given by my joyous and social mother could, for gaiety, match with the best.’

12 Aungier Street as we see it today is a very different building from that of the 1780s, when Moore grew up within it.  As the Architecture Ireland post notes, the 1960s brought great changes to the streetscape:

However, the arrival of the sixties heralded a period of economic growth in Ireland and historic buildings all over the city were pulled down to make way for office blocks and housing complexes. Unfortunately, number 12 did not escape the destruction, and in 1962 it was largely demolished by Dublin Corporation, despite the pleas of those who wished to have it preserved. The following year it was reconstructed to appear as it had when Moore occupied it. Some of the original features were restored, including two hall doors, however, very little authentic fabric remains. The large paned Victorian windows were replaced with Georgian replicas and the bust of Thomas Moore was again removed from the façade.

This unfortunate demolition resulted in the loss of a historic monument. The house’s reconstruction failed to respect the layering of fabric that had built up over time, telling the story of the building. Today, it appears that the house has all but lost its connection to Moore, with only low-lying plaque in the wall indicating the site’s cultural significance.


`”Reconstructed in 1963″ – Plaque on the building today (Image: CHTM)

Now I’ve admitted to buying the book just because I liked the illustration on the front, I should give it its rightful praise. Inside, it has proven a great read.Terence de Vere White (1912-1994)  was a lawyer, writer, playwright and literary editor of The Irish Times from 1961 to 1977. The book has some very colourful insights on twentieth century Dublin, for example describing how a family that were loyal in their political convictions responded to the Rising:

We were living in Marlborough Road when the Easter Week Rebellion of 1916 took Dublin by surprise….That action, call it what you please, was resented by the vast majority in Dublin at the time. We went in broad daylight with our nurse to the barricades in Donnybrook and gave food to English tommies. All round us others were doing likewise. No one protested. It must have seemed the most ordinary and normal of actions or we would not have been allowed to go out with our nurse to perform it.

From the back windows of our house we could see the tower of St Mary’s in Haddington Road.From talk overheard I thought there were snipers up in the tower and I looked at it with awe as I was going to bed; with too, too,I hope, for the lonely men up there in the tower, now a dark shadow against the flaming sky of the city which a gun-boat in the bay was pounding to rubble.

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