Sean Boylan snr’s role in War of Independence marked in Co Meath

Father of All-Ireland-winning former Meath manager was active in struggle for freedom

A corner of Co Meath was transported back a century on Sunday as former All-Ireland winning football manager Sean Boylan joined locals in commemorating his father's role in the War of Independence.

Gen Sean Boylan, the man directed by Michael Collins to oversee the ambush of a train carrying British troops to the opening of the Northern Irish parliament by King George V in Stormont in June 1921, was commemorated in his native Dunboyne on the 50th anniversary of his death.

The ambush, which took place just weeks before the ceasefire that led to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, was not a success as the Volunteers lying in wait were spotted by an RAF flyover before the train arrived.

However, many of Boylan’s actions as officer in command of the First Eastern Division of the Irish Republican Army achieved their aim, with more than 20 Royal Irish Constabulary barracks in Meath attacked and closed between November 1919 and Easter Sunday 1920, the event – organised by the Fingal Old IRA Commemoration Committee – heard.


Boylan's family originated in the Hill of Tara area, and had been active in the struggle for Irish freedom, playing a prominent part in the 1798 rebellion and Fenian rising. As a champion hurler in Dunboyne, he formed his own branch of the Irish Volunteers, using his GAA connections.

Deeply involved

He was to become a close associate of Patrick Pearse, and deeply involved in the organisation of the 1916 Rising in the locality, although he had to travel to Tara on that Easter Sunday to announce that it was being aborted that day.

After the Rising he was arrested along with his three brothers, and spent time in Wandsworth Jail and Frongoch camps in Britain. It was at Frongoch that he first came into contact with Michael Collins, whom he later joined in the Free State army.

After the truce in 1921, one of Boylan’s tasks was to help evacuate Black and Tans and IRA prisoners who might otherwise face reprisals – and he arranged for thousands to be transported to Britain on cattle boats, Sunday’s event heard.

Sean Boylan jnr recalled that, as a young man with his father, and for many years after his death, he visited Sr Eithne Lawless, who had been Collins's secretary, in her convent in Dublin, every Easter and Christmas.

“We are here today to honour a generation and a nation that they could not have imagined,” he said, recalling from the standpoint of the Covid-19 pandemic that the men and woman who fought for Irish freedom a century ago also had to contend with the great flu epidemic that was raging at the time.