How a volunteer’s role in Howth gun-running created an irreparable family breach

After the Howth gun-running, an attempt to disarm the Volunteers led to Dublin’s forgotten Bloody Sunday

Guns being landed at Howth in 1914.The figure at the right is Erskine Childers.Photograph: courtesy of National Museum of Ireland) Easter Rising 1916

Guns being landed at Howth in 1914.The figure at the right is Erskine Childers.Photograph: courtesy of National Museum of Ireland) Easter Rising 1916

Sat, Jul 19, 2014, 01:00

When carpenter Jeremiah Hennessey turned out for a routine route march at Fairview on Sunday, July 26th, 1914, he had no idea that he would be participating in an event that changed the course of Irish history and cause an irreparable breach with his father.

The Howth gun-running was a daring operation carried out in broad daylight. If the foundation of the Ulster Volunteers had inspired the formation of their nationalist counterparts, the Larne gun-running operation on the night of April 24th-25th had provided another militant precedent.

That night Jeremiah (24) described what happened in a letter to his father, Jeremiah snr, who was in charge of the Coast Guard station at Cushendall, Co Antrim, and his stepmother, Mary.

Dear mother and father,

I received your letter and was glad to see by it that you are all well as this leaves me T[hank].G[od] I expect by the time you get this note, you will have read about our gun- running. By the way, I am a member of a corps of the Volunteers, and yesterday morning we assembled for parade in the ordinary way but of course in larger numbers and marched to Howth, a 9 mile march and were drilling there when the lugger came into the pier.


The coast guards and police tried to stop us but we were armed with long batons and the sight of those was persuasion enough to keep them at a civil distance. Of course the paper exaggerated a lot more than really took place. Nevertheless, we were held up by the military, who met us with fixed bayonets and a bit of a fight took place, still we came off alright and only lost 20 rifles, a very small loss compared to the number we ran and escaped with.

An order has been issued to all volunteers in the city to remain in town for the holiday as we are expecting further trouble from the police searching for the arms, which are partly hidden and more have them in their hands. In the volunteer hall, it was great excitement, the bayonet charge, some shots were fired but the majority of the Vols had no ammunition otherwise more damage would have been done to the soldiers.

I believe they let themselves out of control in Bachelors Walk, and made a very cowardly attack on a defenceless crowd of women and children. You can see all in the papers so I will not relate any more of it now. I don’t expect I will go home next week as anticipated; in any case, it is only a short time since Whit . . .

His father replied by return, disowning him.

Dear son.

Your letter is to hand and I may say that I am surprised to hear that you have joined them, while I wear the clothes of a coast guard officer. If anything happened to you in that scrimmage, where would I have been as I have got to look out for myself and my wife in our old days, as I can ask no help from you . . .

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