War of Friends, Liam Mellows and Pádraic Ó Máille

Today we are highlighting the careers of two men, both of whom were elected as TDs for Galway in 1918, both of whom fought on the same side in the Rising and the War of Independence and then, sadly, took different sides after the Treaty.

Liam Mellows was born on May 25, 1892, in Ashton-on-Lyne in England. His father was an NCO in the British Army, his mother Sarah (née Jordan ) was from Co Wexford. The family moved to Dublin when he was three years old. He was educated at a number of military schools in Dublin and Cork. He became an Irish nationalist from an early age, Tom Clarke recruited him into Fianna Éireann and on April 7, 1911, he was sworn into the IRB. He was a founding member of the Irish Volunteers who gave him a full-time job.

He was sent to Galway to rebuild the Volunteers organisation and based himself in Athenry. The hardened countrymen of the area felt they had nothing to learn from him — “Who is this ladeen who talks of hard work” — but they quickly learned from him and he earned their respect. He was arrested on several occasions and employed disguises a number of times to escape. He escaped from Reading Gaol and came back to Galway to lead the minor insurrection that was the Rising in Galway after which he left for America and indeed spent some time in jail there.

He was elected to the first Dáil in 1918 and acted as director of supplies for the IRA in the War of Independence. Though diminutive in stature, Liam was a good violin player and a very good singer (‘Boolavogue’ or ‘The Bog Down in the Valley’ ), the life and soul of the party, a witty man who was always telling jokes. He was an implacable opponent of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, was arrested after the bombing of the Four Courts and imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail. Together with fellow republican prisoners Rory O’Connor, Dick McKee, and Dick Barrett, he was executed on December 8, 1922, as a reprisal for the shooting of Seán Hales and Pádraic Ó Maille.

Pádraic Ó Máille was born in Kilmilkin in the Maam Valley on February 23, 1878, to Mícheál and Sorcha, one of nine surviving children, all of whom were home educated. He worked on the family farm, was a founding member of Sinn Féin and also of Conradh na Gaeilge for which he became an organizer in 1910. He fought alongside Mellows during the Rising. He opposed the sitting Irish Party MP, William O’ Malley, in the 1918 election and was elected as MP for Galway West, and in January 1919 became a member of the first Dáil. He was re-elected in the 1921 election and again in 1922. He was pro-Treaty and during the Civil War was targeted for assassination owing to his voting for the special powers resolution. On December 7, 1922, he and his fellow TD Seán Hales were shot outside the Ormond Hotel in Dublin on their way to the Dáil. Ó Máille was shot in the spine but he managed to get Hales, who was bleeding profusely, into his car and drive him to hospital where Hales was pronounced dead.

The following morning, the four leading republicans were shot dead in reprisal for this attack. Ó Máille was often later accused of personally selecting Mellows for execution even though he was seriously wounded in hospital when Mellows was shot. In fact, Mellows’ mother and brother later defended Ó Máille from these slanderous accusations. In 1923, he was elected as a Cumann na nGaedheal TD for Galway. Being critical of the Boundary Commission, he later resigned from that party and set up a new party called Clann Éireann. He was unsuccessful in a number of subsequent elections and eventually became a Fianna Fáil senator. He died in 1946.

Our photographs today show Liam Mellows and his mother Sarah taken c1900, and the second is of Eoin O’Duffy, WT Cosgrave, and Pádraic Ó Máille at the funeral of Michael Collins on August 28, 1922. These are part of an exhibition titled War of Friends, currently on show in the Galway City Museum which includes a number of story boards and photographs as well as some fascinating artefacts. For example, the famous last letter Mellows wrote to his mother just hours before his execution is on public display for the first time, as is the revolver Michael Collins gave to Pádraic Ó Máille as a wedding present. Included are a number of personal items relating to both men. The exhibition is highly recommended and will run for a number of months.

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