Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

James Hayes 1888-1974

James Hayes was born in 1888 at Rathwire, Killucan County Westmeath to John and Katie (nee Rooney) Hayes. John Hayes was a Cork native who worked as a stone mason.

Interested in amateur dramatics and poetry, as a young man Hayes joined the Gaelic League and also enrolled in the Anicent Order of Hibernians. He enlisted in the Irish Volunteers on their formation at Killucan but ceased his involvement following the outbreak of the Great War and John Redmond’s call for the volunteers to support the British war effort.

Hayes apprenticed as a stone mason with father and moved to Portarlington to work on project extending the town’s Church. He was later employed constructing land commission cottages in the surrounding area. In the years which followed he developed a network of contacts at Geashill, Walsh Island and Cloneygowan.

From 1917 Hayes became involved in an informal group painting Sinn Fein slogans, erecting tri-colours and carrying out minor acts of sabotage targeting the pro-British elements in Portarlington. Later he helped found an Irish Volunteer unit at Killenard and established a company in Portarlington. In time, these formations comprised part of the 5th Battalion of the Laois IRA Brigade.

Involved in the anti-conscription and Sinn Féin election campaigns, Hayes went on the run facing a charge of illegal assembly. While continuing to oversee activities in Laois, Hayes based himself nearby in the Cloneygowan district, where he joined the local IRB circle and cooperated with the Offaly IRA.

As the War of Independence intensified, the IRA underwent a series of reorganisations. Offaly was divided into two administrative areas, with No.I Brigade covering the north and east of the county. Throughout the Summer and Autumn of 1920, on the run IRA men from Tullamore and Kilbeggan had begun to leave the towns and seek shelter in rural areas. By November a flying column was formed consisting largely of these fugitives and simultaneously  volunteers  from the  2nd battalion area operating under Patrick Quinn launched a number of attacks. Hayes cooperated with both groups and took part in ambushes on crown forces at Raheen in November 1920 and Mount Luas in February 1921.

Eventually, GHQ formally transferred Hayes to Offaly and appointed him vice O.C. of the No.I Brigade. In April of 1921, he took command of the Brigade, following the capture of Sean and Jimmy Kelly who had held the ranks O.C. and Quartermaster. Hayes set about planning an elaborate large-scale attack on Clonbullogue Barracks, but operation was abandoned when police and army detachments saturated the locality. When the Offaly Brigades were amalgamated with units from Laois and North Tipperary to form the 3rd Southern Division, Hayes recruited men to join a divisional active service unit.

During the Truce, Hayes questioned Richard Mulcahy on the compensation of officers, pointing out that having spent a prolonged period on the run he was no longer able to rely on the charity of friends. Returning to work as a mason, he relinquished his position and took up the role of vice O.C. during the Truce. In November 1921, a member of the Tullamore Battalion staff instituted disciplinary hearings against Hayes following an alleged physical altercation at a training camp near Tyrellspass.

Taking no part in the Civil War, he married Mary Finlay a Cumann na mBan member from Ballydownan, Cloneygowan in 1922. The couple emigrated to Britain, where Hayes operated a construction firm, but they later returned to live at Piltown county Kilkenny. James Hayes passed away in July 1974 and he was buried at Piltown cemetery.

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing work of P.J.Goode on James Hayes and the Cloneygowan IRA.


1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at

Military Service Pension Collection.  Offaly No. I Brigade Nominal Rolls File. Brigade Activity Report. Offaly No. I Brigade. Search online at

Bureau of Military History Statements. James Hayes Witness 1617. Search online at

Eimear Gallagher. ‘Andrew Gallagher: Remembering a Forgotten Soldier in the Irish Fight for Freedom’ Leaving Certificate Project. Online at 

P.J. Goode. ‘A People’s Army: Cloneygowan, D Company Second Battalion Offaly No.1 Brigade Irish Republican Army 1919-1923.’ (Cloneygowan) 2021.

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