By Rhona Murray
My great grandfather was hard man. John Poole, father to 13 children and husband to Bridget Gibson. He had been toughened by life experiences. Born in Dublin in 1896, he grew up in a tenement house on Marlborough Street. Himself, his parents and his two siblings all lived in one room and shared the building with 25 others; 30 in total lived there.
A Catholic family growing up in the heart of Dublin City centre, they had been deeply affected by the nationalist movements and the fight for Home Rule. At the ripe age of 20, John participated in the 1916 Easter Rising. ‘The scrap’ as it was known to some at the time. John was joined by his father Patrick Poole (39) and his two uncles Christopher Poole (40) and Vincent Poole (35). They were all members of the Irish Citizen Army.
This is their story.
In 1883 John’s uncle, Joseph Poole, was executed in Griffith Barracks at the hands of the British Government. At the age of 28, Joseph was accused of murdering a one John Kenny during the fall out of the Phoenix Park Murders. He was put before a jury to be tried for murder and found innocent. Then he was tried a second time for the same crime and found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. It is said that the witnesses and jury in the second trial were staged so as to ensure a guilty verdict.
Joseph was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and newspapers of the time speculate on internal fighting between the two strands of the secret organisation. The murder of John Kenny was pinned on him by the Council faction of the IRB, while Joseph was a member of the more peaceful Stephentie party. It was said that the British Forces had also made up their mind to hang him. Nicknamed ‘the sixth invincible’, Joseph was classed as a threat. The hanging did not go smoothly, a hangman was drafted in from Northern Ireland who had little experience – with the rope being too long Joseph’s feet touched the ground and he did not die on impact. Frantically the hangman tried to pull him back up. The doctor ran and dragged him back down in the opposite direction and he died presumably from strangulation rather than from a broken neck. The doctor murdered Joseph Poole.
The manner in which Joseph was killed no doubt contributed to his body not being returned to the family despite petitions being sent to the Chief Secretary of Ireland on several occasions. This left a huge impression on the family; his father sought the return of his body until the day he died in 1895. In his last words, Joseph stated: “I believe it is on account of being an enemy, humble as I am, of the Government under which I have the misfortune to live, that I have been persecuted in the manner I have been. Still I am not afraid to die, or ashamed of what has brought me to the scaffold, it is not for murder, it is for being a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood that has brought me to the scaffold, and I am prepared to die for it”. And if it is not out of place I say: “Three cheers for the Irish Republic and to hell with English tyranny”.’
Inspector Mallon, the Chief of Police who led the investigation into Joseph Poole later admitted that Joseph Poole was innocent and had not killed John Kenny. Christopher was born in December 1875 – aged 8 at the time that his brother Joseph was executed; Patrick was aged 6 and Vincent was only 2. As young boys they would have been exposed to their fathers heart ache in the loss of his older son. Growing up in such emotional times, it is no surprise that the younger family members sought reprisal for the loss of their brother and uncle through their participation in the 1916 Easter Rising.
Using the British War Officer Records from the National Archives, London; Military Service Pension Collection in the Military Archives, Rathmines, Dublin; and Witness Statements from the Bureau of Military History, I have traced their service.
Christopher ‘Christy’ Poole
As the boys grew up, Vincent and Christopher both had a spell in the British Army at the turn of the century. Christopher’s service records have not survived. His Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls from the National Archives give him regimental number 4714 in 1902 after the Boer War, serving with the 2nd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment.
While serving in South Africa he learned valuable skills which would prepare him to serve for his country. Christopher joined the Irish Citizen Army in 1914. He was promoted to Captain by James Connelly and served on the Council. Christopher was active in a number in locations around Dublin during Easter week of 1916; from Liberty Hall, to St. Stephen’s Green to the Royal College of Surgeons. The records show that while carrying out his duties in clearing the Metropole Hotel on Sackville Street, Christopher Poole used his army experience to identify a person whom he believed to be a British Army spy and took him prisoner, much to the distaste of Oscar Traynor.
Traynor was Captain in the Irish Volunteers and it seems the two clashed over who was in command. He was appointed second in command to Michael Mallin at St. Stephen’s Green. His involvement included directing, fighting and organising other members of the Irish Citizens Army. Part of the group who surrendered on the April 30th, 1916, Christopher was interred in Frongoch in Wales. There he took an active role in training other prisoners, equipping the men with the skills needed to continue their fight for freedom upon release. Christopher was among the last batch of men to be released from Frongoch during Christmas 1916.
He went back to the Citizen Army and served on its Council until 1919. Serving in the War of Independence he trained members in drilling and fighting. He was involved in securing further arms from the United States before retiring in 1919 at the age of 43.
Aged 18, Vincent enlisted with the Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) on the November 18th, 1899, days after the Boer War had begun. His regimental number was 6752. By March 27th, the following year he was discharged from the Army following a string of offences; damaging public property and use of inappropriate language as well as refusal to follow instructions. While Vincent had not lasted in the British Army, he brought with him other skills to the Irish Citizen Army. Vincent was a labourer for Dublin Corporation and he was involved in opening and closing the gates of the canal sleuths according to the tide. Rumour has it he worked in sewers too. He knew Dublin very well.
Oral history gives Vincent the rank of Captain but the records give him the rank of Private. Vincent was stationed at Annesley Bridge in Fairview initially before being sanctioned to the General Post Office (GPO). While marching towards the GPO Vincent fought off heavy gun fire from snipers on the roof tops along Abbey Street, thus protecting his troops. His gun experience would perhaps imply a longer spell in the British Army, however his service papers contest the stories of the time.
Oral History Statements delivered by the Trade Unionist Thomas Leahy state:
‘During that time Poole (Vincent) kept us all in good fettle by his tales of his experiences in the Boer War; his advice and caution were very useful as we found out when the sniping would start. He seemed to smell the different kinds of bullets and the direction they came from, and many snipers fell to his shooting during intervals and periods of rest’.
So continuous was their fire that their barrels overheated and it is said that Vincent came up with the unique idea of using oil from sardine cans to cool the rifles, in the absence of more fitting supplies. His capabilities in fighting saw him being referred to in the same breath as Pádraic Pearse, Oscar Traynor and Harry Boland, as they broke through the walls of houses on Moore Street together.
Vincent Poole was a member of the group who surrendered on Moore Street on April 30th, and were taken to Richmond Barracks. Picked out by the Criminal Investigation Division, he was taken away with the other leaders and tried by court martial. At the age of 35, Vincent Poole, with a wife and four young children at home, was sentenced to death. Later, commuted to ten years Penal Servitude At only 5 foot 3 Vincent was small in stature but he had carved out quite a name for himself as being passionate about the cause. Oral Histories show that while serving Penal Servitude in Lewes, he was reprimanded for singing rebel songs while making rugs in the workshop and was sent to the cells. He went on hunger strike and in an attempt to control him the wardens tried to lure him in to a straight jacket, which he successfully resisted.
On release his passion continued and J.J. (Sceilg) O’Kelly bears witness to Vincent pulling a gun on Michael Collins in the Gresham Hotel over his concerns that the Irish Citizens Army dependents were not getting fair play in the National Aid and Volunteers Dependents Fund.
Private Patrick Poole was mobilised a month before the Rising. He recalls guarding Pádraic Pearse and James Connolly to ensure their safety ahead of the rebellion. During Easter week Patrick fought alongside his brother Christopher in St. Stephen’s Green and the Royal College of Surgeons. Digging trenches and defending themselves against enemy attack based in the Shelbourne Hotel.
Surrendering on April 30th, Patrick was marched to Dublin Castle and then on to Inchicore. Taken by boat, he was interred in Frongoch and released in December 1916. Patrick recalls his own words: ‘We were the last batch home. We were the batch they would not let home’. Patrick was present at Countess Markievicz’s home coming reception in Dún Laoghaire, as well as that of Éamon de Valera, which was called off. He continued his service during the War of Independent and the Civil War. He sided with the antitreaty side. In his statements he speaks of having his home raided as a result of this.
His commitments are portrayed in a letter to the Advisory Committee:
I wish to state that if your Committee require more particulars regarding my activities; in the Fighting for the Freedom of Our Country please let me know at your earliest convenience. Sir I also wish to state that I have been actively committed with the Fight for the Freedom of our Country from a youth to the present day.
I am Sir Yours Faithfully,
41 Sean Mc Dermott St,
Patrick’s patriotism was mirrored by his son, John Poole – my great grandfather. Age 20, John followed in the footsteps of his father and his two uncles by participating in the Easter Rising. John rarely talked about his participation among the family. He also declined to comment when reporters would come knocking on the door, or when he was invited to give sworn statements.
John began his service in the GPO and was then transferred to City Hall in order to take part in the attack on Dublin Castle. As a private he obeyed orders of his senior offices throughout. During the attack on Dublin Castle he was taken prisoner and lodged in the confines of the Guardroom of the Castle. John was mercilessly beaten and his right leg severely wounded. John went on to participate in the War of Independence but retired due to his injuries.
Several family members that knew my great grandfather John have explained that his participation in the Rising was something he did because he felt it was important to fight for the freedom of his country. He refused however to glorify an event that left him scarred for life, both physically and mentally. John spent the rest of his days making atonement for his participation. Waking early every morning, he would cycle down to his church on Merchants Quay for 7am mass; unable to walk the route as a result of his leg injuries during the Rising. Determined to seek atonement he dedicated himself to his religious beliefs. John went on to become a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis. He was buried in the full Habit of the Order.
While the Military Service Pension Collection has shone a light on the details of the service of our male family members, it has done little to record the efforts of informal female participants. My great grandmother Bridget Poole, nee Gibson, is said to have slung guns over her shoulders, and draped herself in a shawl in order to sneak them in to the GPO. In addition, she was said to have dressed James Connolly’s leg. Claims that unfortunately go unrecorded, but nevertheless tales that live on in our family. The Irish Times newspaper has Bridget at the opening of the Garden of Remembrance in 1966.
As all of this was happening in Dublin, my Cork side of the family were equally doing what they could to support Home Rule, albeit through a different approach. In 1914, my great grandfather John Murphy of Kinsale ran for election under the Irish Parliamentary Party. In reading the Cork Examiner archives, through Irish Newspaper Archives, it is apparent that John Murphy was a well-respected member of the community.
During his election campaigns John Murphy urged people to overthrow the current council members, who he accused as being anti-nationalist. He exclaimed: ‘The golden opportunity has arrived and let us hope you will respond in a truly national spirit (cheers)… Home Rule is destined, with God’s help, to bring peace, contentment, and happiness to our country (cheers)’.
Like many families at the time we had a relative serving in the First World War. On my Grandfather’s, (Benny Clarke, Bernie Poole’s Husband), side of the family, his uncle John Horan enlisted in the British Army and served alongside Christopher Poole in the Boer War in South Africa before enlisting again in the 8th Hussars (The King’s Royal Irish) for the First World War. John Horan was in France on August 20th, 1914, having been mobilised in Dublin on August 6th, 1914. For his efforts, he earned The 1914 Star, The British War Medal and The Allied Victory Medal. John returned to Dublin in May 1919, no doubt coming home to a very different Dublin to that of which he left. He lived in Moore Street upon his return, and did so until he passed away in 1952.
While the names of the leaders of the 1916 Rising shall go down in history this centenary, it is important for us to remember all those who participated in the events in one way or another. However big or small their participation we should be proud that these men and women stood up and fought for a cause that they so truly believed in. We should equally be proud of those who fought with the British Army in the First World War at this time. We take this time to remember all; may they rest in peace.
Rhona Murray is a keen family historian. In her day job she works for Ancestry – the world’s largest online family history resource. Her enthusiasm and interest for this line of work stems from her Sunday afternoons spent with her beloved granny Bernie Clarke, hearing first-hand about all of her ancestors. This interest is backed up by her academic research experience. This article utilises sources from various online platforms in order to build a holistic story including: Irish Newspaper Archives, Military Archives, Ancestry, and the Bureau of Military History. Written in memory of William Murphy, son in law of John Poole, who passed away February 2016 RIP.
Steve captions for images they appear in order as images in article. Could you intergrte images into article please.
John Poole, third row from the front, fifth from the left. Irish Times Newspaper Negative 68E167
Bridget Poole, nee Gibson, greeting a 1916 veteran at the opening of the Garden of Remembrance. John Poole was invited but declined to attend, their oldest daughter Kay went in his place, seen behind her mother. Irish Times.
Vincent Poole’s 1916 and War of Independence medals.
John Horan’s First World War medals.
Unfortunately, when the election took place John Murphy placed second to James O’Neill for the Kinsale constituency. Regardless, both he and his son Humphrey continued to dedicate their lives to politics for years to come.