GPO Staff in 1916 – Kildare connections 2017-03-22T04:25:35+00:00

GPO Staff in 1916:
Kildare connections

by James Durney

Kildare Historian in Residence

Sackville StreetAs we approach the centenary of 1916 the GPO seems to be the place for book launches on the subject. In March 2012 the first three books of the 16 Lives series were launched, while on 24 April it was the turn of Mercier Press’ GPO Staff in 1916, by Stephen Ferguson. The date, 24 April, ironically enough, was the day the Rising began ninety-six years ago. GPO Staff in 1916 was launched by the political journalist and historian, John Bowman.

Famous as the headquarters of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, the GPO was also the controlling nerve-centre for communications throughout Ireland. This book looks at the Rising from the perspective of the many men and women who worked for the GPO. Using Post Office records, personal accounts and photographs, Stephen Ferguson tells the story of the Post Office staff in 1916 and reveals their involvement in and response to the events of Easter Week. Their accounts provide a fresh perspective on the rebellion that recognises the crucial importance of the GPO and its staff in the event which defined Irish history and politics for close to a century.

Kildare Connections

From a Co. Kildare perspective the book is very interesting in that there are five local names in a list – in Appendix 3 – of forty-six Post Office staff suspected of complicity in the Rising.

The five Kildare entries are:

Michael Smyth (Postman), Athgarvan, Newbridge (in Military Custody)
Daniel Buckley (Telephone Attendant), Maynooth (in Military Custody)
Joseph Kenny (Postman), Rathangan (Restored to duty)
Patrick Kenny (Postman), Rathangan (Restored to duty)
Christopher Kenny (Postman), Rathangan (Restored to duty)

The list was prepared for the Under Secretary, Dublin Castle, on the basis of Special Branch intelligence reports. The Wilson-Byrne Commission examined the cases of civil servants on suspension at the time of their inquiry. They did not deal with those restored to duty before it began or with those who still remained in military custody. Since the Special Branch list had been compiled before the Wilson-Byrne Commission was set up, some suspects were no longer in military custody, but remained under suspension and were duly examined by the committee. The intelligence reports, however, were not wrong. All those implicated were ‘guilty’ as charged.

Michael Smyth was born in Rosetown Cottages, Athgarvan, in 1890. At the time of the Rising he was the Officer Commanding (OC) Athgarvan Company, Irish Volunteers. He was interned in Frongoch Camp in 1916, and later became OC Kildare Brigade in 1921. Smyth was elected to Kildare Co. Council and Newbridge Town Commission in 1920 for the Labour Party. Arrested in 1921 prior to the Truce, he was court-martialled for possession of ammunition, and imprisoned in Hare Park, the Curragh, and Mountjoy Jail.

Daniel Buckley, or Domhnall Ua Buachalla, formed the Maynooth Company, Irish Volunteers, in June 1914. He led a contingent of volunteers to Dublin and fought in the GPO during Easter Week. He was interned in Frongoch after the Rising and was elected Sinn Fein TD, for North Kildare, in 1918. Ua Buachalla later became Quartermaster, 1st Kildare Battalion.
The Kenny family of Main Street, Rathangan, were prominent republicans. The three postmen, Christopher (32), Michael (28), and Joseph (21), were arrested after the Easter Rising and detained in Richmond Barracks, Dublin, before deportation to Wakefield Jail, on 13 May. Two other brothers, Patrick (23) and John (18), were also arrested and interned in Wakefield. Christopher Kenny was released on 29 May; Joseph, Patrick and Michael were released on 2 June; while John’s release is not recorded.

James Durney

Kildare Historian in Residence

Eva Bourke 1885-1974
A Kildare woman in the GPO 1916

by James Durney

Kildare Historian in Residence

The GPO Staff in 1916 - Kildare connectionsHenry J. Burke was born in Albany, New York, to Irish parents and travelled to Ireland where he met and married Maria Kelly, of Tipperary. The newly married couple settled in Drehid, Carbury, where they inherited a family farm at Coonagh. Henry Burke was known as a ‘gentleman’ farmer and farmed extensively in the area. In the 1901 Census return his house was recorded as ‘first class’ and had four rooms with nine windows in front. Five children were recorded: John Joseph (14), Peter Paul (12), Henry George (11) William E. (8) and James F. (5). Evelline Mary, born on 3 October 1885, was a boarder at Our Lady of Sion, College and Boarding School, Eccles Street, Inns Quay, Dublin. In 1911 Eva Burke was recorded as a ‘nurse in training’ and was living at the Royal City of Dublin Hospital nurses home at East Moreland Place.

When she was finished her training Eva went to live with her aunt at Dargle Road, Drumcondra. As a trained nurse she was taking care of an elderly British colonel when news of the outbreak of the Rising reached Drumcondra. Eva cycled into the city where it was confirmed that the insurrection had broken out and then cycled back to Drumcondra where she informed the colonel she could no longer nurse him. Cycling back to the city centre Eva presented herself to Padraig Pearse at the GPO as a nurse. Her brother, Frank Bourke, was also part of the GPO garrison, and was on the roof of the building when his older sister appeared.

Eva Bourke was with Captain Thomas Weafer when he was shot and killed on Wednesday, while occupying the Hibernian Bank on the corner of Lower Abbey Street and Sackville Street. The strategic importance of the building allowed Weafer and his men to control access to the street from Amiens Street Station; members of the GPO Garrison were occupying a number of buildings on each side of Sackville Street. The Cumann na mBan women cooked meals and generally helped the men in the position, which was attacked by British troops on Wednesday. Capt. Weafer was hit by a bullet in the stomach. Another bullet hit a Volunteer, who went to his aid. Leslie Price had just enough time to whisper a prayer in Weafer’s ear before he died. She later married the famous guerrilla leader, Tom Barry, of Cork.

In the GPO Eva nursed the wounded James Connolly, who had been shot in the ankle by a British sniper. According to family lore when she found she could not sleep Eva left the GPO on Wednesday and returned to her aunt’s house in Drumcondra. After a good night’s sleep Eva returned to the GPO on Thursday morning quite refreshed. As the day progressed the fires that had taken hold on the upper floors of the GPO began to burn out of control, and it was soon apparent that an alternative position needed to be found. The female members of the garrison were ordered to leave under the protection of the Red Cross. Eva Bourke was sent with the wounded and the Red Cross section to Jervis Street Hospital.

According to her grandson, Éanna de Búrca, Eva continued her nursing work after the Rising and was not a member of Cumann na mBan. Frank Bourke was captured after the surrender and was imprisoned in Stafford Jail and Frongoch Internment Camp, in Wales. He returned home on Christmas Eve 1916 and took a bus to Drumcondra to see his sister, Eva. While on the bus he met Eva, who did not know he had been released. They travelled home to Carbury for Christmas Day.
After the War of Independence Eva was employed with Dublin Corporation as a nurse. She died at the Rathfarnham home of her brother Frank, aged eighty-nine, in November 1974.

James Durney

Kildare Historian in Residence

Discover Kildare’s role in the events of 1916