Dáil Eireann - ‘The only Government that I recognise’

Week II

Dr Ada English, acted as medical officer with Liam Mellows’ unit during Easter Week 1916.

Dr Ada English, acted as medical officer with Liam Mellows’ unit during Easter Week 1916.

Following the throwing out of the so called Galway Resolution in December 1920, by which some Galway county councilors attempted to reject the authority of the newly elected Dáil, to rescind the process of passing on the rates' revenues to the Dáil (rather than to the British authorities ); and to absurdly propose to bring the War of Independence to a close by directly offering to negotiate with the British prime minster David Lloyd George, the council'c vice-chairman, Alice Cashel, was arrested almost immediately.

She was taken to Eglinton Street Barracks. But if the Black and Tans expected that the gentle looking Alice Cashel, the national organiser of Cumann na mBan, a Sinn Féin officer of the county council, with a prison record already behind her, would be upset at this turn of events, they were disappointed. When Alice entered her cell she was delighted to share it with Dr Ada English, yet another remarkable Galway women in our struggle for independence.

Ada English (1875-1944 ) grew up in Mullingar, where her father was a pharmacist and town commissioner. She studied at the Catholic University School of Medicine, Cecilia Street (now Temple Bar ), and worked at the Mater Misericordiae hospital, Richmond Asylum, and Temple Street.

While a student she joined the Gaelic League, and attended classes given by Pádraig Pearse. She embraced the nationalist cause before becoming assistant resident medical superintendent at the Connaught District Luantic Asylum, in Ballinasloe, in 1904.

As 1916 approached she joined Cumann na mBan, and acted as medical officer with Liam Mellows' unit before it was abandoned near Athenry later in Easter Week.

When she shared a cell with Alice Cashel she had been arrested for the 'possession of a considerable quantity of seditious literature...including papers relating to Cumann na mBan, details of activities, and Dáil Eireann Convention' (Irish Times March 12 1921 )

A passionate speaker

Alice takes up their story in her Witness Statement to the Bureau of Military History some years later.

'After six weeks we were summoned before a Field General Courtmartial, in Renmore Barracks. A most formal and pompous affair, members sworn in etc, and all to no purpose as we would not recognise the court. As to the charges against me I said that I was carrying out the instructions of the only Government that I recognised.'

Alice was sentenced to six months imprisonment; while Ada got nine months.

Alice finished her sentence on July 25 1921. 'The Governor of the jail, Mr Harding, was a kindly man but of course he had to carry out the rules of the institution. We saw visitors under the eyes of our warders, with a table between us and them. The situation on my part was ludicrous. I was in jail on account of my work in the County Council, but the secretary of the Council used to come and see me, and I gave him instructions and he reported to me on the meetings of the council.'

Ada was released after six months due to food poisoning. In May 1921 she was elected unopposed to Dáil Eireann as a Sinn Féin representitive, for the National University constituency. She became a passionate speaker, vehemently opposing the treaty, and the partition of Ireland.

She famously rejected the sneers made by some male TDs that women objected to the treaty 'only for emotional reasons'; but it was for her pioneering work among the patients at the Ballinasloe (now St Bridget's Hospital ) and Castlerea mental hospitals that she is mainly remembered today.

Next week: Ada English: Politician and Psychiatrist.

NOTES: I am very grateful to have been contacted by Ms Aideen Rynne who cleared up the coincidence of Alice Cashel living at 'Cashel House' in Connemara.

Alice's sister Agnes had married James O'Mara who bought the house as a summer residence, and named it 'Cashel House' after Agnes' family. Cashel House is now a hotel.

I am taking information on Ada English from The Lady Vanishes: Dr Ada English, patriot and psychiatrist, by Professor Brendan Kelly, published in Irish Times October 13 2014


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