‘On the base of the Pillar was a white poster. Gathered around were groups of men and women. Some looked at it with serious faces, others laughed and sniggered. I began to read it with a smile, but my smile ceased as I read, ‘Poblacht na h-Eireann, the Provisional government of the Irish Republic – to the people of Ireland.’ –Ernie O’Malley – O’Connell Street, Easter Monday
Ernie O’Malley was captured by British Auxilliaries in Inistioge, Co Kilkenny. He had been planning an assault on Woodstock House, and his capture was accidental. Much to his disgust, he had failed to destroy some notes, which contained the names of members of the 7th West Kilkenny Brigade, all of whom were subsequently arrested. Having been badly beaten during his interrogation at Dublin Castle and in severe danger of execution, he escaped from Kilmainham Gaol on 21 February 1921 along with IRA men Frank Teeling and Simon Donelly, through the aid of a sympathetic British soldier.
At his arrest he had identified himself as ‘Bernard Stewart’ as his true identity was unknown at the time of his escape. O’Malley was placed in command of the IRA’s Second Southern Division in Munster, and for operations in Limerick, Kilkenny and Tipperary.
His writings describe the often vicious guerrilla warfare fought in the martial law area in the south of Ireland. On one occasion, O’Malley ordered the killing of three captured British officers in reprisal for British Army killings of IRA prisoners. In all his field activities he displayed substantial courage and was wounded several times.
The British were aware of his role: while in custody under the alias ‘Bernard Stewart’, he had seen a memorandum referring to a ‘notorious rebel and officer of the IRA named ‘Ernie O’Malley’ whom they were very anxious to capture.
Ernie O’Malley had strong literary skills. His most famous work is a well received memoir about the Irish War of Independence titled ‘On Another Man’s Wound’ which he wrote while traveling in Mexico and Peru.
Photo credit: 1916 Easter Revolution in Colour