Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Patrick McDonnell 1894-1949

Patrick McDonnell was born at High Street, Belmont in 1894. His family were extensive farmers. His brother was a member of the IRA during the War of Independence.

Moving to Dublin, McDonnell was employed as a shop assistant in Pims Department Store on South Great Georges Street. He won a Dublin Senior football championship with Kickhams and later won a Junior championship in Offaly with Belmont in 1923.

McDonnell was present at the first meeting of the Irish Volunteers at the Rotunda in November 1913 and was one of the new organisation’s earliest recruits serving as a member of ‘G’ company 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade.

In September 1914 the volunteers spilt over John Redmond and the Home Rule party’s support for the British war effort. McDonnell remained a member of Eoin MacNeill’s Irish Volunteers who opposed British Army recruitment.

The spilt strengthened the position of IRB military council within the Volunteers. When MacNeill rejected the councils plans for a Rising on Easter Sunday 1916 the IRB men deferred their rebellion for one day.

On Easter Monday morning Patrick McDonnell was given a list of volunteers and sent to act as a mobiliser around Dublin. Arriving at St Stephens Green he joined up as part of the Garrison in Jacob’s biscuit factory where he was stationed for the remainder of the week.

Arrested in the aftermath of the Rising, McDonnell was deported to Britain and imprisoned at Knutsford, Chesire and Frongoch, Wales. On his release from custody, he found that he had lost his job and with few prospects was forced to return to the family farm in Offaly. In Belmont he helped to establish an Irish Volunteer unit and was elected company captain.

In late 1918 a strike occurred at Perry’s Mills close to Belmont and troops from Birr were deployed to the village to protect the mill facilities. McDonnell was not employed at the mills, but he served 4 months imprisonment for illegal assembly after an exchange with men from the Imperial Yeomanry.

McDonnell was involved in road blocking operations and snipping operations throughout the War of Independence. He helped to plan the successful Belmont Ambush in October 1920, but fearing lax security advised the operation be cancelled or postponed.

He was not involved in the Civil War and moved to Dublin in the 1920’s, where he was a prominent member of the ITGWU. He relocated with his wife to Garrycastle, Athlone in the 1940’s. McDonnell was killed while attending a funeral at Clonmacnoise in 1949 when a tombstone collapsed. He was buried in the same graveyard a few days later.

In 1966 on the 50th Anniversary of the Easter Rising, GAA President Alf Murray unveiled a plaque at Clonmacnoise to Patrick McDonnell, his neighbour from High Street James Kenny and Kieran Kenny of Banagher, all of whom were veterans of the Rising and buried at the site. The event was attended by 100 Old IRA men, the St Colmcille’s pipe band and military honours were carried out by a detachment from the FCA.

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing work on Patrick McDonnell and Belmont during the revolutionary decade, carried out by Padraig Heavin.


Sources:

J.F. Burke. The Midland Tribune 1916-1966 supplement article online at https://www.offalyhistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Supplement-1966.pdf

Padraig Heaney ‘On the banks of three rivers: Stories from West Offaly’ (Cork) 2015.

Padraig Heaney. ‘West Offaly and the 1916 Rising’ In Offaly Heritage 9 edited by Ciaran Reilly. (Tullamore) 2016.

Dr. Philip McConway. ‘Offaly’s links to the 1916 Rising’. Online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkEiuHJc8J0

Military Service Pension Collection. Patrick McDonnell MSP34REF1561 Online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection- 1916-1923

Leinster Reporter. 11 January 1919.

Irish Independent. 26 April 1966.

Westmeath Independent. 12 February 1949.

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