News

RIC logbook casts light on War of Independence

Seamus McKinney
14 December, 2015 01:00

A Royal Irish Constabulary logbook dating back to the early part of the last century has revealed how police in the north were recording the movements of republican leaders.

The log details surveillance of many leading republicans who were active in the 1916 Rising and later in the War of Independence, including Proclamation signatory, Sean MacDiarmada and Rising leader, Major John McBride. Both were executed for their parts in the rebellion.

The book, used by police in Lisburn, was uncovered by Derry memorabilia collector, Frankie McMenamin.

While the volume was originally found in a house clearance in south Down twenty years ago, Mr McMenamin said it has only recently come to light.

"It was given to me by a County Donegal collector who specialises in material from 1916 and the Irish War of Independence.

"I couldn’t believe it when I started reading through the hand written entries," said McMenamin

The entries – in perfect copperplate handwriting – record the activities of well-known republicans, including northern leader, Bulmer Hobson, who swore Padraig Pearse into the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It also records surveillance of Belfast republican, Denis McCullough, a close confidant of Hobson and MacDiarmada.

Born into a Presbyterian family near Lisburn, Ernest Blythe became a journalist with the North Down Herald as well as a leading IRB figure and later founder of the Abbey Theatre. His movements near his native Lisburn were also recorded.

Mr McMenamin said: "The book appears to be a log of who was using security files, often listing what was added to the file on a particularly individual when it was returned.

"Some of the stuff shows how paranoid the police in the north were. There’s an entry about a Michael Bradley in a pub in Lisburn in 1919 ‘giving vent to Sinn Féin and Bolshivic (sic) rubbish’

"Another entry gives a very detailed description of a Sean Neeson moving from Glasgow to Ireland; it notes his brown eyes, regular nose, fair complexion, round face and thick dark hair. It also comments that it was no longer used by the IRA in Scotland but might be again."

Frank Gallagher, a journalist and editor of the 'New Ireland' newspaper, is listed more for the tragedy that befell his brother who was shot dead while training (presumably with the Irish volunteers).

Mr McMenamin said it was not just republicans who were spied upon.

"There’s a fair bit about the UVF and the Larne gun-running in April 1914. There are reports of 350 men taking part in skirmishes and even accounts of where the UVF got their carrier pigeons.

"On the 23rd April 1914, there’s a police account of 500 UVF men marching through Lisburn," he said.

In its account of the guns being landed, the log notes: "Submitted filed on 27th 4-14, mobilisation and landing of arms at Larne. 860 Mauser rifles and 8,600 cartridges brought to Lisburn."

Mr McMenamin said the log book was one of the most intriguing finds of his career as a collector.

"We think of 1916 and the War of Independence and we think of the south but here it was in full flow in the north as well," he said.

14 December, 2015 01:00 News

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