Easter Rising leaders spied on in days before O’Donovan Rossa funeral

Chief Secretary to Ireland told police there must be ‘no interference’ in funeral

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, one of the leaders of the Fenian movement, photographed shortly before  his death. Photograph: Getty Image.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, one of the leaders of the Fenian movement, photographed shortly before his death. Photograph: Getty Image.


The leaders of the Easter Rising including Padraig Pearse, Thomas Clarke and Thomas McDonagh were closely monitored in the run up to the Jeremiah O’Donovan-Rossa funeral, newly released police files reveal.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) kept a close eye on what they deemed as “extremists” in the days preceeding the funeral on August 1st, 1915.

The DMP reports have been issued by the National Archives in advance of the centenary of the funeral which occurs on Saturday. It marks the start of the Easter Rising centenary commemorations.

The police closely monitored Tom Clarke’s tobacco shop at 75 Parnell Street and the Irish Volunteers office at 2 Dawson Street. Among those observed in his shop were Thomas ‘Boer’ Byrne, whose daughter Sheila O’Leary is still alive and who gave an interview to The Irish Times last month.

Another building put under close surveillance was 41 Parnell Square where the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and the Irish Volunteers met and drilled.

Two nights before the funeral there was a major gathering there which included Pearse, Con Colbert, Eamon Ceannt, Major John McBride and Thomas McDonagh, who was chief steward of the funeral. All were executed for their parts in the Easter Rising.

‘No interference’

In the police reports, the Chief Secretary to Ireland Augustine Birrell has scribbled in the margins “there will of course be no interference by the police unless a breach of the peace is committed which is unlikely”.

A detailed report on the O’Donovan Rossa funeral procession was provided two days beforehand by Superintendent Owen Brien of the DMP.

When the old Fenian O’Donovan Rossa died in New York on June 29th, 1915 at the age of 83, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) were determined to use it as a rallying point for nationalist Ireland. “Send his body home at once,” Tom Clarke cabled to John Devoy.

In his report to the chief commissioner of the DMP, Superintendent Brien listed all the organisations that were involved in the organisation of the funeral.

“Delegates from America will be in attendance and nothing is being left undone to make the affair as impressive as possible,” he wrote.

“Those concerned are anxious that the greatest harmony will prevail and, as far as can be gathered, nothing of an unseemly nature is anticipated.

“At the same time, in an assembly of this nature, no one can foretell what may occur, particularly when persons of different views are brought so closely together.”

Superintendent Brien also wondered about the possibility of a demonstration after the funeral at Bachelor’s Walk. It had been the site a year previously of the shooting dead of three civilians by soldiers from the King’s Own Scottish Borderers who had been sent to intercept arms shipments which were landed at Howth.

The funeral passed off peacefully. It is remembered today for Pearse’s famous oration which ended, “the fools, the fools, they have left us our Fenian dead and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace”.