Ernie O'Malley: Mayo-Born Freedom Fighter and Writer

Ernie O' Malley was born in Castlebar on the 26th of May 1897. His family moved to Dublin in 1906. He was educated at O'Connell's Schools and attended UCD, where he studied medicine.

He was a member of The Irish Volunteers and he joined the rebels on the Thursday of the Easter Rising in 1916 and was interned following the collapse of the rising.

He was staff captain in the IRA during the war of Independence and he held a roving commission as an organiser for Michael Collins.

At the request of Sean Treacy, he was attached to the 3rd Tipperary Brigade and. He took part in the attack of Hollyford barracks (10-11 May 1920) and was wounded during an attack on Rear Cross Barracks (11th. July).

While serving in Co. Kilkenny he was captured and imprisoned under the name of Bernard Stewart (in spite of torture he refused to reveal his identity). He escaped in February 1921 and took command of the 2nd. Southern Division.

O' Malley was the first Divisional Commander to reject the Treaty and repudiate the Provisional government. He raided Clonmel barracks on 26th Feb 1922 and this provoked a protest from the British to the Provisional Government.

He was O/C, HQ Section of the garrison at the Four Courts, which was occupied on February 14th, 1922 and he remained in the building after the bombardment by the Provisional Government on 28th. June. He was one of the last to leave and while there triggered off an explosion which destroyed the Public Records Office. He was captured and almost immediately escaped. The civil war spread and he took part in a raid on Enniscorthy Castle.

As a member of the IRA Executive and O/C of the Northern and Eastern areas, he was appointed to the Army Council (16th October 1922) and became Chief of staff of the Irregulars.

In November 1922, during a raid on a house in Aylesbury Road, Dublin he was wounded, captured and sent to Mountjoy Jail where he remained under sentence of death until July 1924. He undertook a 41-day hunger strike in 1923 and was returned as a Sinn Fein TD for North Dublin. He refused to take his Dail seat, as the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown was still mandatory. Under medical advice that he would lose his walk, he was released in 1924.

He recovered his health and spent two years in Spain where he was in contact with the Basque separatist movement. He came back to Ireland in 1927 and decided against resuming his medical studies. He traveled instead to the USA and while there, raised money for the newly established newspaper "The Irish Press".

He traveled for a while throughout California, New Mexico and Mexico. He settled for some time in Taos, New Mexico where he lived with an American family. While there he wrote some poetry and drafted the early editions of "On Another Mans Wound" and "The Singing Flame". He was Irish Representative at the Chicago World Fair in 1933. He later moved to New York where he got married.

He returned to Ireland in 1935 and divided his time between his homes in Burrishoole Lodge, Newport, Co.Mayo and Dublin. He was elected to the Irish Academy of Letters in 1947.

He died in Howth, Co. Dublin in March, 1957 and was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery. He was given a full state funeral with full military honours. The funeral was attended by then President, Sean T. O Ceallaigh and by the Taoiseach, Eamon De Valera.

"On Another Mans Wound", his account of the period from 1916 to the end of the war of Independence was published in London in 1933 and it was serialised in "The Irish Press". His sequel "The Singing Flame", dealing with the Civil War period was published in 1978 from a manuscript in the library of UCD.

The O' Malley art collection was given on loan to The Irish Museum of Modern Art from The Irish American Cultural Institute. It was exhibited in The Linenhall Arts Centre from June 26th – July 25th, 1993.

A sculpture by Peter Grant that depicts Manannan Mac Lir, (The Sea God) was presented to the people of Castlebar by the family of the late Ernie O' Malley and has been mounted on the Mall across from Daly's Hotel in his memory.


Ernie O' Malley Memorial, The Mall, Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

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Tags: Authors, Intellectuals, Irish Freedom Struggle, Revolutionaries

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Comment by That's Just How It Was on January 17, 2016 at 8:40am

Yet another veteran of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence... who did not receive and plaudits or accolades. Thank you  Brain Hoban for bring this to the attention of the Wild Geese Friends globally .


Comment by Cormac O'Malley on January 17, 2016 at 11:08am

Brian, Thanks for that input on my father, Ernie O'Malley. Actually "On Another Man's Wound" was first published on London and Dublin in 1936. The American title, published by Houghton Mifflin the next year, 1937, was "Army Without Banners". Both books have been edited by me and published again - with photographs - by Mercier Press of Cork in 2012 and 2013.  Also part of the Irish American Cultural Institute's O'Malley Art Collection has come on loan to Westport's Custom House in over recent years. This November Mercier Press also published "Western Ways" a book of unpublished photographs taken from 1937 to 1945 by both of my parents in and around Clew Bay with beautiful, nostalgic images of landscapes, seascapes, islands, local people and their farm at Burrishoole Lodge, near Newport, Co Mayo where I was raised.

Comment by Brían Hoban on January 17, 2016 at 11:26am

Thanks Cormac. I keep trying to promote heritage of County Mayo. This for me is a labour of love. I enjoyed meeting you at Castlebar launch of "Western Ways". We will have to continue to lobby for the erection of a suitable memorial (or at least clean up of Macmanaman Mac Lir Memorial) in Castlebar, birthplace of your esteemed father. 

Comment by Peter Power-Hynes on January 17, 2016 at 2:40pm

Hi Brian,  Great article on a very intriguing man. I am particularly interested in your comment that Ernie O'Malley triggered the explosion in the Public Records Office. Do you have a source for this? Many books on the subject suggest that a stray shell fired by the Free State Army  ignited ammunition stored in the records room. However, it now appears from a letter which came to light a few years ago that the "Irregulars" in the Four Courts were ordered by Oscar Traynor O/C Dublin District, to explode two mines before evacuating. " I have asked them to blow their mines as a signal of their retirement." The letter is now in the Military Archives Dublin. and can be seen on this link:   Other sources say the mines were made up of two lorry loads of gelignite.  The explosion was heard 20 miles away. I doubt if the Free State Artillery Gun was still firing shells once their troops had entered the building. The explosion killed a number of the Free State Troops. Rory O'Conner was a qualified Engineer (UCD) who had laid 1500 miles of Railway track in Canada before returning to Dublin, so would have been very familiar with the use of gelignite. 


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