Remembering The Irish Revolutionary Ernie O'Malley – Irish Revolutionaries
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Remembering The Irish Revolutionary Ernie O'Malley

Remembering The Irish Revolutionary Ernie O'Malley

Born Ernest Bernard Malley, in Castlebar, County Mayo, on May 26 1897. He was born into a lower-middle-class family and was the second of eleven children.

His father, Luke Malley, was a solicitor's clerk with conservative Irish nationalist politics; he supported the Irish Parliamentary Party. His mother was Marion Malley (nee Kearney).

The Malley family lived opposite a RIC barracks, and Ernie later noted the family's cordial relations with the RIC, saying that policemen would nod in courtesy when his father walked by. Ernie's first cousin, Gilbert Laithwaite, would become the British ambassador to Ireland in the 1950s.

The Malleys moved to Dublin when Ernie was still a child and the 1911 census lists them living at 7 Iona Drive, Glasnevin. His older brother, Frank, joined the British Army at the outbreak of World War I.

O'Malley was studying medicine at University College Dublin in 1916 when the Easter Rising convulsed the city, and he was almost persuaded by some unionist friends to join them in defending Trinity College, Dublin from the rebels should they attempt to take it.

After some thought, he decided his sympathies were with the rebels and he and a friend took some shots at British troops with a borrowed Mauser rifle during the fighting, provided by the Gaelic League.

After the rising O'Malley joined the Volunteers something he had to keep hidden from his family who were still pro-establishment. He joined F Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade because its base was north of the Liffey on 25 Parnell Square.

In 1918 O'Malley left his studies in Trinity college and was now a full-time organiser for the IRA, a job which brought him all over Ireland and meant increasing attention from the crown forces. During the Tan war, he was involved in many daring activities which included attacking RIC and British army barracks.

He was captured by the British at Kilkenny in December 1920, found in possession of a handgun. Much to his disgust, he had failed to destroy some notes, which contained the names of members of the 7th West Kilkenny Brigade, all of whom were subsequently arrested.

At his arrest, he gave his name as Bernard Stewart. Having been badly beaten during his interrogation at Dublin Castle and in severe danger of execution, he escaped from Kilmainham Gaol on February 21st 1921 along with IRA men Frank Teeling and Simon Donnelly, with the aid of a British soldier who was also an Irish republican.

O'Malley was placed in command of the IRA's Second Southern Division in Munster, and for operations in Limerick, Kilkenny and Tipperary for the remainder of the Tan War.

O'Malley like the vast majority of IRA leaders and vols was against the treaty that was signed in December 1921. He was one of the IRA officers who occupied the Four Courts in Dublin and was appointed the assistant chief of staff of the IRA during the civil war.

O'Malley surrendered to the Free State Army after the Battle of Dublin but escaped captivity and travelled via the Wicklow Mountains to Blessington then County Wexford and finally County Carlow.

This was probably fortunate for him, as four of the other Four Courts leaders were later executed. Thereafter, he was appointed the commander of the anti-Treaty forces in the provinces of Ulster and Leinster and lived a clandestine existence in Dublin.

O'Malley was critical of the defensive strategy of Liam Lynch who was Chief Of Staff of the IRA during the civil war. O'Malley believed that the IRA needed to use conventional warfare, as opposed to guerrilla warfare, if they were to win the war.

O'Malley was captured again after a shoot-out with Free State soldiers at the family home of Nell Humphreys at 26 Ailesbury Rd, in the Ballsbridge area of Dublin city on November 4th 1922.

O'Malley was severely wounded in the incident, being hit over twenty times (three bullets remained lodged in his back for the remainder of his life). A Free State soldier was also killed in the gunfight. Anno O'Rahilly who lived at the house was accidentally shot by O'Malley during the raid.

By the time O'Malley recovered from his wounds, the Civil War was over and he was transferred to Mountjoy Gaol. During this period of imprisonment, he went on hunger strike for forty-one days, in protest at the continued detention of IRA prisoners after the war.

During this time he was elected as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin North at the 1923 general election. He did not contest the June 1927 general election and was one of the last republican prisoners to be released following the end of hostilities.

O'Malley returned to University College Dublin to continue his medical studies in 1926 where he was heavily involved in the university hillwalking club, and its Literary and Historical societies, but he left Ireland in 1928 without graduating.

In 1928, he toured the USA on behalf of Éamon de Valera raising funds for the establishment of the new Irish Republican newspaper, The Irish Press.

He spent the next few years travelling throughout the United States before arriving in Taos, New Mexico in 1930, where he lived among the Native Americans for a time and began work on his account of the manuscript that would later become On Another Man's Wound. He fell in with Mabel Dodge Luhan and her artistic circle that included such figures as D. H. Lawrence, Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Strand, Ella Young and Aaron Copland.

Later that year he travelled to Mexico where he studied at the Mexico City University of the Arts and worked as a high school teacher. His US visa having expired, he slipped across the Rio Grande and returned to Taos where he worked as a teacher again until 1932 where he travelled to New York, where he met Helen Hooker, a wealthy young sculptor and tennis player, whom he would later marry.

In 1934, O'Malley was granted a pension by the Fianna Fáil government as a combatant in the Irish War of Independence. Now possessed of a steady income, he married Helen Hooker in London on 27 September 1935 and returned to Ireland.

The O'Malleys had three children and divided their time between Dublin and Burrishoole, County Mayo. Hooker and O'Malley devoted themselves to the arts, she was involved in sculpture and theatre, while he made his living as a writer.

In 1936, On Another Man's Wound was published to critical and commercial acclaim. This book was his personal accounts of the Tan war and is regarded as one of the best books ever written about this period of Irish Revolutionary history.

O'Malley remained in neutral Ireland during The Emergency, involving himself as a member of the Local Security Force. However, during the war years, the O'Malleys' marriage began to fail.

Helen O'Malley began to spend more and more time with her family in the United States and, in 1950, took two of the couple's three children to live with her in Colorado. She divorced her husband in 1952.

The third child stayed with his father. O'Malley sent his son to a boarding school in England, as, despite his republican politics, O'Malley was an admirer of the English public school system of education.

Throughout his life, O'Malley endured considerable ill-health from the wounds and hardship he had suffered during his revolutionary days. He was given a state funeral after his death on March 25th 1957.

A sculpture of Manannán mac Lir, donated by O'Malley's family, stands in the Mall in Castlebar, County Mayo.


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