Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Peader/Peter Bracken 1887-1961

Peader Bracken was born at Tullamore in 1887. His parents, Joseph and Ann Bracken lived at Quarry View sometimes referred to as Tinkers Row. Joseph was a stone cutter at the nearby Ballyduff Quarries, Bracken and several his brothers qualified as stone masons. Several families associated with stone cutting at Ballybuff, including the Brackens, Molloys and Wrafters were later prominent in the republican movement.

In his teens Bracken became involved in a small but vibrant Irish- Irelander circle operating in  Tullamore. He joined the Gaelic League; various small political groups espousing separatist politics and was sworn in as a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Between 1910 and 1914 he worked in Australia but returned to Ireland in time to witness the spilt in the Volunteers movement.

After John Redmond’s call for recruits to the British forces the movement divided between the National Volunteers whose members supported Redmond and the Irish Volunteers under Eoin MacNeill which opposed recruitment. In Tullamore, Bracken was appointed captain of MacNeill’s Irish Volunteers.

In November 1914 a large-scale cattle drive involving hundreds of people occurred at the Digby Estate in Geashill. Bracken was sentenced to six months imprisonment for his part in the drive. On his release from Mountjoy he was appointed to lead the Athlone Brigade and was informed by Patrick Pearse of plans for a Rising in 1916.

In the spring of 1916, animosity between Tullamore republicans and those with relations serving in the Crown Forces reached boiling point. On 19 March, words were exchanged during a Cumann na mBan collection at a GAA game.  The following day, well wishers gathered at the town’s railway station to see off soldiers returning to the front. Later that  evening, a hostile crowd gathered outside the Sinn Féin meeting rooms. When stones were thrown at the building, Bracken fired over the crowd.

In response, the RIC entered the hall and in the confrontation which followed Bracken opened fire wounding Sergeant Phillip Ahern. In the aftermath of the shooting several Tullamore men were detained. In the confusion, Bracken escaped from the building and went on the run to avoid arrest, but remained in the midlands expecting to take part in a rising at Easter.

Following Eoin MacNeill’s countermanding order on Easter Sunday, Bracken travelled to Dublin seeking clarification on the situation from Patrick Pearse.

Instructed to remain in Dublin, Bracken was assigned command of a unit from the Kimmage Garrison which occupied Kelly’s Gun Powder Stores at O’Connell Street Bridge on Easter Monday and was involved in heavy fighting throughout the week. Arrested in the aftermath of the Rising, Bracken and other Tullamore Volunteers were charged in connection with shooting of Sergeant Ahern but were unexpectedly released that summer after legal wrangling.

Taking charge of the newly constituted Offaly Brigade, Bracken was also elected to the national executive of the volunteers. He served as Brigade O.C. until 1920, after which he operated as an organiser for GHQ.

In the spring of 1920, Bracken married Marie Kelly. A Cumann na nBan member, Marie was the sister of Easter Rising veteran Seamus Kelly. Bracken was arrested close to the Kelly home at Screggan outside Tullamore in early 1921 and interned at the Rath Camp on the Curragh.

Following his escape with three others from the ‘Sub Cage’ punishment section in September 1921, he worked as an administrator in the Dail Courts and later served as a court clerk in the county from 1923 until his death in 1961.

Opposed to Treaty, Bracken did not play a prominent military role in the Civil War and in January 1923, he was associated with the Neutral IRA’s unsuccessful attempt to promote a peace settlement.

He joined the Volunteer Reserve during the 1930s and was heavily involved in the Local Defence Forces during World War II.

On his death in 1961, Bracken received a full military funeral to Clonminch Cemetery. The firing party included his nephews James, Paddy and Joseph who had recently returned from serving with the Irish Army on a U.N peace keeping mission in the Congo. The oration was performed by Joseph Hurley, a Jesuit priest, and Gaelic League activist.


Sources:

Bureau of Military History: Peader Bracken (Witness 361)

Military Service Pension Files. Peader Bracken (MSP34REF25453): Search online at www.militaryarchives.ie

Fergus Bracken. ‘Simply a Tullamore man: A stonemason or a British gaol bird, or an Offaly/ Irish rebel leader?’ In Offaly Heritage 9. (Tullamore) 2016.

Michael Byrne. Tullamore and 1916.The making of the Tullamore Incident. (Tullamore) 2016.

Michael Byrne. The Tullamore Incident:20 March 1916. Prelude to The Easter Rising.

Online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5PgPfxxHaU

J.F. Burke. The Midland Tribune 1916-1966 supplement article ‘First shots fired prelude to the Easter Rising.’ Online at http://www.irishidentity.com/stories/firstshots.htm

J.F. Burke. The Midland Tribune 1916-1966 supplement article ‘Peader Bracken held O’Connell Bridge’ online at www.offalyhistory.com

Paul Hughes. Prelude to rebellion: the 1916 ‘Tullamore affray’ in context. In Offaly Heritage 9. (Tullamore) 2016.

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

John Wrafter. ‘The limestone quarries of Ballyduff, Tullamore. Part 5- Wrafter stonecutting heritage still alive’ online at https://offalyhistoryblog.wordpress.com/

Freemans Journal. 24 November 1914.

Irish Press. 17 July 1934.

Leinster Reporter. 13 January 1923. 27 January 1923.

Offaly Independent. 31 March 1934. 7 September 1940.12 July 1941. 21 February 1953. 28 January 1961. 4 February 1961.

Ulster Herald. 8 October 1921.

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