Typist who was Collins's spy in Dublin Castle


IRISH LIVES:ELIZABETH MERNIN, aka “Lily” and “Little Gentleman” (1886–1957), an intelligence agent, was born on November 16th, 1886, in Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Having worked as a typist in Dublin, in 1914 she was employed as a shorthand typist at the garrison adjutantss office in Dublin Castle.

A member of the radical Keating branch of the Gaelic League, she was introduced to Michael Collins in 1918 by her cousin Piaras Béaslaí, began work as an intelligence agent for Collins in 1919, and used her position to obtain important documents and (in 1920) information relating to the auxiliary police and intelligence officers. One of Collins’s most important contacts in Dublin Castle, known by the alias “Little Gentleman” (believed by many to denote a British intelligence officer), her most important contribution was identifying the residences of British intelligence agents, later killed by Collinss squad on Bloody Sunday (November 21st, 1920). She also helped two of Collinss principal associates, Frank Saurin and Tom Cullen, to identify senior British agents in Dublin, and used a room in Clonliffe Road to type secret reports for Collins. She was discharged from British service in February 1922 and was employed as a typist in the Irish army from July 1922 until her retirement, in February 1952, during which time she was based mainly at Clancy Barracks.

Although unmarried, she gave birth, in June 1922, to a son in London, and there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that his father was Piaras Béaslaí. She lived in Dublin at 167 Mangerton Road, Drimnagh, and died in Dublin on February 18th, 1957. She was awarded a military-service pension for her work in the revolutionary period; her statement to the Bureau of Military History is in the Military Archives.

Marie Coleman

From the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, dib.ie