Republicans 'dressed as priests' to avoid detection

Dressing as a priest was the disguise of choice for many northern republicans during the most turbulent period in Irish history
John Monaghan

NORTHERN republicans used a wide variety of disguises to avoid detection in the period of partition and the Civil War, with clerical garb seemingly the most popular choice.

In interviews with former Aghaloo parish priest Fr Louis O’Kane in the 1960s, several admitted dressing as a priest to escape the attention of the authorities.

One Protestant volunteer from Belfast went to considerable lengths to deflect the interest of the B Specials.

Rory Graham, from the Cregagh area of east Belfast, was arrested by B-Specials in the townland of Labby, outside Magherafelt, in 1917.

Fr O’Kane recalled: “He said that being a Protestant he was a sort of a white-blackbird as far as the Catholic Irish Volunteers were concerned. He remained in Belfast until it got too dangerous, and the IRA Intelligence decided that if Rory were captured by the Specials, being a Protestant in the IRA, he would be very brutally killed.”

“When he was asked his name (upon his arrest in Labby) he said he was Lawrence Roderick McGlone, and that he was a student for the priesthood of the Diocese of Baltimore, USA.”

“To keep up the disguise which had been arranged weeks before, Mary Toner from Labby came and innocently asked the guard at the gate to see prisoner McGlone, that he had left his rosary beads behind him when he was arrested.”

Tom Morris, from Moneymore, Co Derry, a former British major during the First World War and later a key player in the south Derry IRA, explained how clerical dress was the best disguise, noting that “once they saw the collar, they let you through.”

While travelling to Kildress in Co Tyrone to check on a republican attack on a bridge, Mr Morris was able to escape the attentions of police at a checkpoint without any difficulty.

He said: “They just saluted me and we drove on.”

In Co Tyrone, meanwhile, volunteers on the run in Lough Neagh in May 1922 disguised themselves as a wedding party in order to cross into Co Monaghan.

Fr O’Kane recalled: “For the purpose of the disguise Lizzie Devlin was to be the bride; Mary Martin her ‘bridesmaid’; and the Coalisland volunteers were ‘groom’ and ‘best man’. This fake wedding party with a couple of others were driven safely over the border to Clones in Tommy O’Neill’s 16 h.p.”


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