Belfast family with connections to Rising prepare to release archives

John Monaghan
27 August, 2016 01:00

A BELFAST family with connections to the Easter Rising are to release a huge set of archives to the Public Records Office, and hope to see some of its material on Roger Casement displayed in the new Casement Park.

James McCabe, from the Mount Eagles area of west Belfast, is the great-grandson of Willie John Nolan, who was one of the chief organisers of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in Belfast in the run-up to the 1916 Rising.

Mr Nolan, who lived in the Beechmount area, was a member of the Fenians and of the IRB-linked Dungannon club, and was involved in the aborted gathering of northern republicans in Coalisland the day before the Rising.

He received a medal and a pension from the Dublin government for his role in the IRA in the years leading up to partition and independence.

Mr Nolan, a member of the John Mitchell GAA club in the New Lodge, died in 1958 but did not receive a republican funeral, a decision his son Joe later said he regretted.

Mr McCabe explained: "He died during the border campaign and there were worries about people getting arrested if they showed up at the funeral."

For several years, Mr McCabe has been taking care of archive material largely amassed during those years by his great-uncle, Joe Nolan, who died aged 81 in 2005.

The family have already donated items from the Rising period and the Troubles to the National Museum of Ireland and several items to community museums in Dublin, and archive collections on the Titanic to the Maritime Museum of Dún Laoghaire.

Mr McCabe said he has handed over a batch of items to the Public Records Office (PRONI) in Belfast, and is now in the process of organising another "four to five" suitcases of archives to be donated to PRONI for public display.

Joe Nolan, a published poet and author, worked at Harland and Wolff for 25 years and was also a founding member of Falls Community Council and a youth worker at St Gabriel's in north Belfast.

Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, who previously worked in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, said Mr Nolan had sent him material which "form the core of the National Museum holdings on the Troubles" and added that the Belfast man "should be recognised."

Mr McCabe said his great-uncle began to build up his collection after seeing a fire at his Beechmount home damage a lot of his archives in the 1960s.

"He thought that it was time to start putting down his experiences and the oral history stories that Willie John had passed on to him."

The family have spoken to the GAA about donating some of the archives on Roger Casement to the new Casement Park, and have requested that a statue of the republican be erected in the grounds of the stadium when it is completed.

They have also repeated a call for his remains to be moved from Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin and buried back in his native Co Antrim.

Mr McCabe said: "That was the last wish of a dying man. One hundred years later I think the Protestant/unionist population would be mature enough to understand that there should be dignity for everyone in death."

Closer to home, Mr McCabe said his family would ultimately like to see the work of Joe Nolan recognised in his native city.

"In Belfast there isn't anything for him. We looked into the possibility of getting a blue plaque put up in his honour but the organisers said they didn't have enough information on him."





27 August, 2016 01:00 News