Born in June 1898, he spent his childhood in Stratford-on-Slaney, where he was educated by his father who was the local National School teacher. His father (Martin M. Gleeson) was a staunch supporter of John Redmond (who campaigned for Irish Home Rule ... and won it). Martin was also a local county councillor so took an active interest in local Irish politics. He enthusiastically embraced the Gaelic Revival movement and was a strong supporter of the Gaelic Athletic Association (having founded a local GAA Club in his native Tipperary in 1885). He also tried to introduce Gaelic Games to West Wicklow but with only limited success. He is reported to have concluded that "a west Wicklow man with a hurley in his hand is a danger to himself and all around him". Jack's early education by his father no doubt imbued him with a strong sense of Irish Nationalism and a desire for his country's self-determination.
|Rockwell College, Cashel, Tipperary (founded 1864)|
Such political leanings would have been developed further when he became a boarder in Rockwell College secondary school in Tipperary. He started there in 1913 (aged 15). At that point, negotiations for Home Rule were in full swing. This was granted the following year but implementation was delayed due to the outbreak of World War I. Young Irish men were encouraged to join the fight in order to restore the "freedom of small nations" (and thus help ensure implementation of Home Rule for Ireland after the war).
|Jack is in the front row, far left (aged about 16)|
|John Redmond won Home Rule for Ireland|
... but lost it due to WWI
But just 2 months before he left the school, the Easter Rising of April 1916 took place followed by the execution of the principal leaders. This turned the tide of public opinion a full 180 degrees and paved the way for the dominance of republican philosophy over nationalism. (1) All these events would have shaped Jack's political thinking. But so too would Rockwell College itself.
|14 executions took place in Kilmainham Gaol between 3rd & 12th May 1916|
Rockwell produced several notable revolutionaries who would have attended the college before or during the time that Jack was there:
- Thomas MacDonagh (1878-1916) was a graduate of Rockwell and one of the seven leaders of the Easter Rising. He was executed on 3rd May 1916, about a month or two before Jack left Rockwell. No doubt there would have been much talk about the executions, especially given the fact that Rockwell had such an immediate connection to one of those executed.
- Éamonn de Valera (1882-1975), the third President of Ireland, was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising and the only one to escape execution. But 13 years previously (1903), he was appointed teacher of Mathematics at Rockwell College and figured prominently on the rugby team. His time as a Maths teacher was short-lived and he left the following year.
- During Jack's final year in the college, Seamus O'Neill, a lay professor, was arrested 10 days after the Rising under DORA regulations (Defence of the Realm Act 1914). This was part of a government clampdown on Sinn Féin (of which he was a member). He was known in the school for his nationalistic stance. He was detained for 6 months and was released after a period of being on hunger strike. He resumed work on 16th Nov 1916 and (according to the college journal) "the boys gave him a hearty ovation on his re-appearance."
- William Quirke (1896-1955) was probably 2 years ahead of Jack at Rockwell and during the War of Independence he served with the Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as an Intelligence Officer.
- The brothers Tadhg (1890-1970) & John (1891-1942) Crowley were both members of the Irish Volunteers. Tadhg later became a politician while John holds the Guinness World Record for the longest hunger strike in history (94 days, from August to November 1920).
|Éamonn de Valera, ex-Rockwell teacher, under arrest after the Rising|
The year after Jack left Rockwell, the college (with nationalistic fervour) abandoned rugby and cricket in favour of Gaelic games. Jack played rugby in Rockwell and carried his love for the game with him for the rest of his life, eventually becoming President of the Leinster Branch of the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union).
Thus Jack grew up with many influences, both at home and in school, that would have shaped his political thinking.
|UCD, Earlsfort Terrace (from The Lawrence Collection, Ireland 1890)|
Around September 1916, Jack entered the Earlsfort Terrace campus of University College Dublin (UCD). He was to spend the next 3 years there pursuing a degree in civil engineering (I studied medicine in the same building some 65 years later). Earlsfort Terrace is a mere 20-minute walk from the city centre ... so Jack had swapped the rural quietude of Cashel for the urban buzz of Dublin. But the centre of the city was in ruins - the Easter Rising and the subsequent bombardment of the GPO (General Post Office) by British Forces had converted many of the buildings on the main thoroughfare to heaps of rubble. Over 1000 members of the Irish Volunteers were interned. The mood of the people had shifted away from Home Rule and towards complete independence from Britain (i.e. a Republic). Irish soldiers returning from the Western Front were branded as traitors - they felt stabbed in the back. And conscription of Irishmen was expected in the very near future, much to the anger of a volatile Irish public. It was against this backdrop that Jack started his university career.
|The GPO on O'Connell Street after the Rising|
I have struggled to understand this formative period of my grandfather's life and his role within it. And I am not alone in my confusion. There are several important reasons for this. Firstly, in school, we were never taught Irish history beyond 1916 - it just stopped suddenly, leaving the impression that "we all lived happily ever after". Many of my generation grew up in ignorance of the deep divisions that emerged in Irish society and which moulded Irish politics for the next 100 years. History beyond 1916 would have been taught at home. So large differences in knowledge probably exist today among the people of my generation. Has education changed? I believe so, but I don't know what they teach in textbooks today.
Secondly, this is an extremely complex time in Irish history and a lot was going on in parallel during this relatively brief period (1916-1922). As a result, it is easy to get confused. And thirdly, we must remember that history is written by the victors ... so the version of history that has been taught previously is likely to be from the biased perspective of those who triumphed. In short, all may not be what it seems.
So this is my attempt at understanding what happened, how my grandfather was involved, and what he must have gone through. And why did he never talk about it? Is the truth better left unsaid? Should we let sleeping dogs lie? Or is it the case that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it? The effects of what happened 100 years ago are still felt today. And if we cannot learn from the past, how will this impact on our future? So here goes ...
|Jack's employment history - extract of records from the Military Archives, Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin|
(click to enlarge)
Records from the Military Archive at Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin detail Jack's employment history and his time with the Irish Volunteers (which later became the Irish Republican Army, known today as the Old IRA). He worked for Mr P. J. Foley, Engineer, in Grafton Chambers, Dublin for 6 months, and did a 15-month stint working for Wicklow County Council. The exact dates for each of these periods of work are not known. Some of this work would have taken place while he was completing his engineering degree. In Wicklow, he would cycle around the county, from building site to building site, and assess the amount of gravel that was present at each site to see if they needed an additional delivery. The gravel was for road building and repair. And he would estimate the volume of each gravel pile by applying the formula for the volume of a cone (a story my father enjoy's relating as he has a personal fondness for mathematical formulae).
|A pile of gravel approximates the volume of a cone|
During the 21 months he spent in New York (Nov 1920 - Aug 1922), Jack spent 11 of them working for the Western Electric Company. He also spent 4 months as a Clerk of Works for a church ... but I can't make out the name of the church and I don't know if this was in the US or in Ireland upon his return. Either way, he was unemployed in New York for a period of some 6-10 months. Is this significant? I'm not sure. I did come across an account of gun-running from New York City which involved a man called Gleeson but I don't know if it was him (see Footnote 5).
|Jack's history with the Volunteers - extract of records from the Military Archives, Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin|
(click to enlarge)
According to his file, Jack joined the Irish Volunteers in Oct/Nov 1917. Prior to this, many of the Volunteers were still interned and it was only following the release of most of them in Dec 1916 that the Volunteers started regrouping and recruiting new members. Through 1917 into 1918, he served in C Company, 3rd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade, under the command of Captain Paddy Flanagan, who rose to prominence within the IRA and co-ordinated one of the Bloody Sunday attacks. (6,7,8) The Dublin Brigade of the IRA was divided into 4 Battalions, which were subdivided into Companies. The 1st and 2nd Battalions covered the North side (West & East of O'Connell Street respectively), the 3rd Battalion covered the inner city (Jack's Battalion), and the 4th Battalion covered South & South-West Dublin. (4)
In 1920, Jack served for 6 months with the Volunteers in Wicklow, under the command of Captain FitzPatrick. He acted as an "instructor", but what this actually entailed, we don't know. But in October 1920, he was tipped off that he was on "the Igoe List" and escaped to New York where he stayed for 21 months (see previous article).
But there is a gap of at least 1 year - 1919 is missing. What happened? Jack was struck down by Spanish Flu at some point (possibly Nov 1918?) and this may account for the missing time. What is clear though is that Jack left the Volunteers for at least 12 months, possibly longer.
|The three pandemic waves of Spanish Flu:|
weekly combined influenza and pneumonia mortality United Kingdom 1918–1919
Jack probably caught it during the 2nd wave (Oct 1918-Jan 1919)
It would be unusual for a university not to be a bed of activism and insurgence during a revolution, and UCD was no exception. Almost 500 staff & students had fought in the British Army during WWI, several others were involved in the Easter Rising (Pearse, MacDonagh, Hayes, Ryan) but many more fought in the War of Independence. Eoin MacNeill was Prof of Early Irish History at UCD since 1908 and was Chief-of-Staff of the Irish Volunteers. Several other staff (including Prof Hugh Ryan, Chemistry) were republican sympathisers.
Many of the students were involved in IRA activity including Todd Andrews, Sean MacBride, Michael Rynne & Niall MacNeill - all would later become prominent Republicans. Two students were executed for their part in IRA attacks - Kevin Barry (Nov 1920) & his close friend Frank Flood (Mar 1921). Barry was a first year medical student and Flood was an engineering student. Barry's execution drew widespread protests among the students and, together with the subsequent raid on university buildings by Crown Forces, generated intense anti-English feeling throughout the student body. (4)
So what did Jack do while he was in the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers (1917-1918)? Nobody really knows, but family lore supposed that Jack made explosives which would have been used to blow up police or military barracks in order to get hold of the guns and ammunition inside. There is some evidence to support this theory ...
James O'Donovan graduated from UCD with a BSc in chemistry in 1916, the same year Jack enrolled in the engineering course. O'Donovan remained on in the university to conduct post-graduate research which was sponsored by Nobel's Explosives Company (founded by Alfred Nobel, who later set up the Nobel Prize). His work on explosives research brought O'Donovan to the attention of several members of the IRA who worked in UCD and he was recruited to the organisation. His main contacts were Thomas Dillon (Chemistry lecturer), Rory O'Connor (engineering graduate) and Richard Mulcahy (a former medical student who had dropped out). All three had fought in the Easter Rising. Of note, O'Connor became Director of Engineering of the Irish Volunteers (March 1918). His remit included "devising the strategy and tactics of sabotage operations and the use of explosives in combat." (He later led the Anti-Treaty forces to occupy the Four Courts in April 1922 and was subsequently executed without trial by the Free State forces in retaliation for the assassination of one of their members.)
|Thomas Dillon was later posted to NUI, Galway|
In late 1917 & early 1918, O'Donovan conducted weapons experiments on behalf of the IRA (at the behest of Thomas Dillon). Jack may have helped him (at least during 1917-1918, the time period he says he was with the Dublin Brigade) although there is no mention of him in O'Donovan's 1957 Witness Statement. (10) The work focussed on producing explosives for detonators in particular, but he also experimented with poison gas, glanders and botulism. They would frequently raid quarries for gelignite and detonators, and experimented making explosives in the basements of various places around Dublin city centre. But much of this work was preparatory in nature, as hostilities only began in early 1919 following the Soloheadbeg Ambush. As a result, there was little demand for explosives until hostilities entered the reprisal and counter-reprisal phase in 1920 (when Jack was in Wicklow), and moreso in the latter half of that year. Thus any involvement Jack had with explosives may have been quite limited.
|1957 Witness Statement from James O'Donovan|
Jack's role with the Wicklow Volunteers (1920) was "instructor" which may have involved instruction in the use of explosives or how to make them, but this is just supposition.
Jack departed for the US in Oct 1920 and stayed in New York for 21 months. He returned in Aug 1922, 2 months after the start of the 11-month Irish Civil War. Five months after his return, he joined the National Forces at Beggar's Bush Barracks on 12th Feb 1923 (see previous post). From this we can surmise that he would have been Pro-Treaty. The Civil War came to an end some 3 months after this. What did Jack do for these three months? We don't know. Like many men, he never spoke of his time in the Volunteers or the Civil War.
|Jack's Army Commission 1924, signed by WT Cosgrave|
Further research may throw some additional light on what Jack did during these formative years of the Irish nation.
Or then again, maybe not.
To quote his favourite motto: "a closed mouth catches no flies".
From the above account, we can put together an approximate timeline of events in Jack's life and set this against the larger backdrop of social & political events happening around him during that period. This helps put his story in context.
|1914||Jul||28||start of WWI|
|1916||Jun||?||Jack graduates from Rockwell College.|
|1916||Jul||Battle of the Somme starts (ends in Nov 1916).|
|1916||Sep||Jack enters UCD to study engineering.|
|1916||Dec||release of many interned Irish Volunteers|
|1917||Oct||27||All Ireland Volunteer Convention aids recruitment||Source|
|1917||Oct-Nov||Jack recruited to the Irish Volunteers (Old IRA). Served under Captain Flanagan in C Company, 3rd Battalion in 1917/18.|
|1918||Apr||widespread condemnation of attempted conscription in Ireland.|
|1918||Nov||11||end of WWI. Armistice Day riots in Dublin.||Source|
|1918||Dec||in National elections, Sinn Féin win landslide victory.|
|1919||Jan||?||?Jack no longer involved with the Volunteers? possibly due to Spanish Flu? or finishing his degree? or both?||Source|
|1919||Jan||21||Sinn Féin forms breakaway government & declares Irish independence. Soloheadbeg Ambush. Informal start date of the War of Independence.|
|1919||Jan||?||?Jack starts work for PJ Foley, Engineer, Grafton Chambers, Dublin. Work experience prior to his degree / qualification?|
|1919||Jun||?||Jack qualifies from UCD with a BE in Civil Engineering.|
|1919||Jul||?||Jack starts work for Wicklow County Council for 15 months.|
|1920||Mar||?||Jack joins the Wicklow Volunteers and acts as an "instructor" under unit commander Captain FitzPatrick for 6 months||Source|
|1920||Oct||30||Jack gets tipped off that he is on "the Igoe List" (see previous post) & leaves for America.|
|1920||Nov||1||execution of Kevin Barry (UCD medical student)|
|1920||Nov||13||Jack arrives in New York. Stays with his Aunt Nora.|
|1920||Nov||21||Bloody Sunday - 14 British intelligence officers (the Cairo Gang) assassinated in Dublin.||Source|
|1921||?||Jack worked for 11 months with Western Electric (now part of GEC, General Electric Company).|
|1921||Dec||6||Anglo-Irish Treaty signed in London by Michael Collins & Arthur Griffiths.|
|1922||?||Jack worked for 4 months as Clerk of Works for a church (in the US? in Ireland?)|
|1922||Jun||28||Civil War starts. The Public Record Office at the Four Courts is destroyed in a large explosion. 800 years of Irish history goes up in smoke.|
|1922||Aug||20||Jack returns from America. Lands in Liverpool.|
|1922||Aug||28||Michael Collins funeral. Jack arrives back in Stratford. Ireland is in the throes of Civil War (which would not end for another 9 months).|
|1923||Feb||12||Jack joins the National Forces at Beggar's Bush Barracks as a Lieutenant.|
|1923||Apr||18||Jack promoted to Captain.|
|1923||May||24||Civil War ends.|
|1924||Oct||1||Jack officially gets his commission for joining the Irish Army.|
Resources & Links
1) UCD Decade of Centenaries 1912-1923 Timeline
2) What's the difference between Irish Nationalism & Irish Republicanism? ... see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_nationalism and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_republicanism
3) Terrorist Histories: Individuals and Political Violence since the 19th Century. Caoimhe Nic Dhaibheid. Routledge, 3 Nov 2016. Pages 43-50.
4) The Dublin Brigade IRA 1917-1921 ... at https://www.theirishstory.com/2016/08/31/the-dublin-brigade-ira-1917-1921/#_edn1
5) Was Jack involved in the East Side Gun Running project? ... http://mspcsearch.militaryarchives.ie/docs/files//PDF_Membership/8/MA-MSPC-RO-606.pdf (Gleeson is mentioned in the witness statements)
6) Flanagan Patrick. C Company, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers. Born in 1895 died in Farnham House, Finglas, Dublin on the 10th of February 1935, aged about 21 years old during the Rising. Fought in the Boland's Bakery/Boland's Mills, Grand Canal Street area. During the War of Independence he served as a Company Commanding Officer as well as the Commanding Officer of the Dublin Brigade Active Service Unit and took part in a large number of Irish Volunteer and IRA attacks and operations including those on 21st of November 1920 (Bloody Sunday) at Pembroke Street, Dublin as well as the attack on the Custom House on 25 May 1921. He took the Anti-Treaty side in the Civil War ... from http://www.irishmedals.ie/bolands.php
7) Biography of Paddy Flanagan ... https://www.customhousecommemoration.com/2019/06/08/paddy-flanagan-republic-custom-house-burning/
8) Paddy Flanagan later went on to command the ASU. He led the Bloody Sunday attack in Pembroke St. He developed a form of dementia in his late 30s, possibly due to tertiary syphilis, and as a result his wife was denied his military pension. See We Bled Together: Michael Collins, The Squad and the Dublin Brigade. by Dominic Price ... I have this on Kindle)
9) Witness statement of Byrne Sean Member C Company 3 Battalion IV Dublin 1916 ... http://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0422.pdf
10) Witness statement of James L O'Donovan ... http://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1713.pdf