12 December 2005

Remembering the Past: Richard Coleman - republican son of Swords

An Phoblacht

BY SHANE Mac THOMÁIS

Richard Coleman was born in 1890. He was from a family of eleven, all of which were active in the Gaelic League. His father was a teacher in the Swords New Borough Male School on Seatown Road, which Richard attended. Richard later attended O'Connell's CBS on North Richmond Street, Dublin.

He later became a Christian Brother but left after four years and ended up working in Swords for the Prudential Insurance Company.

When Thomas MacDonagh came to Swords in April 1914 to recruit for the recently-formed Irish Volunteers, Richard was among the first to join. When John Redmond forced a split in the Volunteers later that year, the remaining Volunteers elected Richard as their captain.

On Easter Sunday 1916, Richard mobilised the Fingal Battalion at Saucers Town and prepared them for the following day. On Easter Monday they, along with other Volunteers from surrounding areas, came under the direction of Thomas Ashe, whose instructions were to prevent British reinforcements from reaching Dublin.

On Tuesday, Thomas Ashe was asked by James Connolly to send 40 men to Dublin city. Ashe decided to send 20 and the remainder fought at the Battle of Ashbourne under the command of Frank Lawless.

Coleman went with the GPO contingent. On reaching the GPO, the group was split into two. Six men became the tunnelling unit around the GPO — 'the engineering corps' — while the others under Richard were instructed to reinforce the garrison under Seán Heuston in the Mendicity Institute.

Connolly's parting words to them did not augur well for their mission:

"I don't think you will all get there, but get as far as you can.''

They got as far as the Mendicity Institute unscathed.

The Mendicity garrison, under intensive fire, surrendered on Thursday. Richard and his comrades were marched to the Rotunda Hospital for identification purposes. Richard was court marshalled and sentenced to death, but this was commuted to three years penal servitude. He was sent to Dartmoor and then to Lewis Prison. He was released under the general amnesty of 1917.

Like many released prisoners Richard campaigned for Eamon de Valera in the Clare by-election in 1918, and was imprisoned in Mountjoy. He went on hunger strike, and after the death of Thomas Ashe, was transferred to Cork Jail and then to Dundalk. He began another hunger strike in Dundalk, and was released shortly afterwards.

He was soon re-arrested along with others as part of the British authorities' 'German Plot' conspiracy.

The prisoners were assembled first in Dublin Castle on 17 May 1918 and then sent to Usk and Gloucester Jails in Britain. Conditions were harsh in the jail and attempts were made to criminalise them with the order to wear prison uniforms. They resisted and at the direction of the Home Office, the prison governor, Young, capitulated. On their first night in Usk, the internees won the right to free association, the right to receive and send letters, to smoke and to wear their own clothes.

Despite their victory, the prison regime weakened the men and with the onset of a severe winter, many succumbed to the influenza virus which had reached epidemic proportions, killing hundreds outside the prison walls. Richard was among a group of POWs struck down by the virus. They were left in their damp and cold cells for three days after the flu struck them down. On 1 December, a new prison doctor, Dr Morton took up his new duties in the prison and immediately diagnosed that Richard was suffering from pneumonia and had him transferred to hospital. He died a few days later on 7 December 1918.

Richard Coleman's remains were released to his brother and taken to Dublin where they lay in state for a week in St Andrew's Church, Westland Row. Over 100,000 people filed past the coffin to pay their last respects. Volunteers in uniform formed a guard of honour.

A public funeral procession in driving rain from Westland Row to Glasnevin was followed by over 15,000 people. Three volleys of shots were fired over the grave at the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.


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