From the Easter Rising to the Hollywood Hills

When the actor Arthur Shields strode towards the Abbey Theatre on Easter Monday, 1916, it was with one intent -- not to rehearse or act in a play, but to collect his rifle and take part in the greater drama that was about to shake the streets of Dublin.

Pictured, Arthur Shields

Once armed, Shields went around the corner to Liberty Hall and joined with James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army, before marching up to Sackville Street, where he was stationed in the Metropole Hotel (now the location of Penneys clothing store).

By April 28, he and the rest of the men there would have to abandon their positions and join the other rebels inside the GPO, which was already on fire. They didn't stay there very long. Shields and the remaining GPO garrison -- rebel leader Padraig Pearse included -- retreated to Moore Street.

There, they moved from house to house, knocking through dividing walls between the houses' basements. Arthur Shields and six others would eventually find themselves hiding out at the back of Hanlon's fish shop (16 Moore Street).

They were told that they would be the first line when the planned break-out occurred. In the event, that never happened -- the break-out idea was abandoned and surrender was the chosen option, to avoid further bloodshed. Had that not been the case, the movie world might have been deprived of a very fine actor.

After his capture, Shields, alongside Michael Collins, was eventually sent to Frongoch prison camp in Wales. Both men would find themselves back in Dublin by the end of the year -- Collins with a mission to destroy British rule and Shields with a mission to entertain and enthral on the Abbey stage.

Barry Fitzgerald

It is at this point that the story of Arthur Shields becomes even more interesting. Acting was clearly in his blood -- his brother William was also an actor. (He would change his name to Barry Fitzgerald (pictured directly above) and go on to have a stellar career in film, picking up an Oscar along the way.) Interestingly, before fame took hold, 'Barry' actually worked as a civil servant in Dublin Castle.

Both men would journey to the States and appear in legendary director John Ford's film of The Plough and the Stars (Shields played Padraig Pearse), which was released in 1936. It would be the beginning of a long relationship with the movie director.

Shields would appear in The Quiet Man alongside his brother and both Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne; She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (Wayne and O'Hara), and Long Voyage Home (Wayne again and Barry Fitzgerald).

Shields had a priestly quality to him that was useful for his role in the clerical flick, The Keys of The Kingdom, but there were many, many more roles that he played. He died in California in 1970, aged 74.

You might think that one burgeoning Hollywood actor taking part in the Easter Rising would be enough, but there was another, only the second fought on the British side.

That old adage about every picture telling a story is a bit wide of the mark -- some pictures can tell a whole lot more than one. Just take a look at this famous photograph from the Rising, taken on April 29, 1916, of Pearse surrendering to the commander of British forces in Dublin, Major General William Lowe.

There's Pearse in the cape. Beside him, but obscured from view, is Elizabeth O'Farrell, a nurse with Cumann na mBan. It was O'Farrell who would carry the subsequent surrender notes to the other rebel commandants around the city.

In the original version of this image, all that could be seen of O'Farell were her feet, visible beneath Pearse's cape. They looked incongruous, so they were removed and poor Elizabeth lost her place in history -- at least for a while. Her heroism was recently remembered and her name was included among several candidates to be honoured by having a new bridge across the Liffey named after her, alas poor Elizabeth missed out on that opportunity as well.

But, apart from Pearse and the early dig at feminism in the form of the excised Elizabeth O'Farrell, there is another intriguing point to the picture.

That tall man on the left is General Lowe's aide-de-camp and son, Major John Lowe, a man who would have just as remarkable a life story as Arthur Shields, once the dust of the Rising finally settled.

Following his father into the army in the early months of World War I, Lowe had already seen service in Gallipoli and Egypt. He arrived in Ireland just a few days before the outbreak of the rebellion to take up his new appointment as aide-de-camp to his father, who set up his military headquarters in Dublin Castle once hostilities commenced.

In his autobiography, Hollywood Hussar, Lowe Junior speaks in broad terms about the civilian deaths and the fighting in the capital, as well as the destruction of the GPO, but he saves the detail for a fascinating nugget about Padraig Pearse.

Once the surrender had been accepted, Major Lowe brought Pearse, accompanied by a priest, by staff car to Kilmainham Gaol. He recalls the rebel poet giving his watch and ring to the priest to be forwarded to his family.

Lowe showed some compassion in this moment by asking the driver to continue past the Gaol's gates so that the rebel leader would have more time to pass on last messages. As a token of his gratitude, Pearse gave the Major his cap badge as a keepsake, but, according to Lowe, the badge was destroyed during the London Blitz in 1940.

The Major's military career didn't end in Dublin. Lowe later saw service at the Somme before being captured by the Germans in 1918. And that's when things took a more unusual turn for the British officer.

After the war, he decided to remain in Germany to run a pickle factory, but soon turned to acting in movies. Naturally, his father, the General, was aghast, so the wayward son changed his name and became John Loder.

Tall, good-looking and debonair, he managed to get a few small parts before setting his sights higher and heading for Hollywood, where, in 1929, he appeared in Paramount's first talkie, The Doctor's Secret. He returned to England to do some more acting and, during World Wart II, went back to Hollywood as a supporting actor, mainly playing posh aristocrats.

Above, John Loder and Hedy Lamarr

For almost 50 years he would have roles in a plethora of films, including King Solomon's Mines.

Loder clearly liked the ladies, and married five times -- one of his spouses being the Hollywood screen goddess Hedy Lamarr. His final wife was an Argentinian heiress on whose ranch in California he lived until his death in 1988, aged 90.

Shields and Loder may have taken opposite sides during the Rising, but the two former combatants found a common refuge in California and on the movie backlots of Hollywood. One suspects, though, that the greatest role of each of their lives was played on the streets of Dublin in 1916.

This article, written by me, first appeared in the Irish Independent.

Views: 1462

Tags: 1916, Acting, Drama, Film, History of Ireland, Hollywood, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, Movies, Theatre, More…War

Comment by Micheal O Doibhilin on February 9, 2016 at 3:58pm

I suppose the difference between "airbrushed" and "painted" is in intent. Airbrushed has been used to suggest that this is a (relatively) modern act, deliberately to keep women out of the picture. While that was the intent, it was not an Irish decision but a British newspaper's decision and it was done in 1916 when times and attitudes were very different. We need always to judge actions in their time and place - and this is not being done with this picture which has been hijacked in Ireland today to advance a particular agenda.

The photo is well known here - the original has been seen in Ireland widely for many years now, and the story told so often  that it is like a worn record. A few years ago the national Library bought an original print and this was widely publicised.

Neither the photographer nor the editor knew Nurse O'Farrell's intention in stepping back - she only told this story later. While she would have approved of being painted out, she would not have agreed with the motive.

Comment by Peter Power-Hynes on February 9, 2016 at 6:37pm

This is a very interesting thread.  In referring to Patrick Pearse as The Supreme Commander, you have to qualify this with Tom Clarke's position and status. In 1915 Clarke and Sean MacDermott established the Military Committee of the IRB to plan what later became the Easter Rising. The members were Pearse, Ceannt, and Joseph Plunkett, with Clarke and MacDermott adding themselves shortly thereafter. When the old Fenian Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, died in 1915, Clarke used his funeral (and Pearse's graveside oration) to mobilise the Volunteers and heighten expectation of imminent action. When an agreement was reached with James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army in January 1916, Connolly was added to the committee, with Thomas MacDonagh added at the last minute in April. These seven men were the signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic, with Clarke as the first signatory. It has been said that Clarke indeed would have been the declared President and Commander-in-chief, but he refused any military rank and such honours; these were given to Pearse, who was more well-known and respected on a national level. Many of the internees, on their return from Frongoch was shocked to find Pearse was held in higher regard than Tom Clarke. I have read elsewhere that Pearse was a bit shocked to find on  being invited to join the IRB Council that plans for armed insurrection were so far advanced. See:

Comment by Micheal O Doibhilin on February 10, 2016 at 6:15am

Peter, you have given a very succinct account of the background politics of the Rising. One additional point worth mentioning is that Tom Clarke was out on license - if he stepped out of line he could go back to jail for life, something he was determined not to do, preferring death. Therefore, he deliberately stayed in the background, manipulating, moving and pushing. According to his wife Kathleen he was to be President of the Republic, and she could never understand how Pearse claimed the title. But Tom, as you say, shunned titles and rank. While revered by most, he saw the future of Ireland in the hands of the young. In my talks on him I refer to Tom as "the Svengali of the Revolution" as the simplest way of getting his role across.

Comment by David Lawlor on February 10, 2016 at 6:30am

Very interesting comments from you both, Micheal and Peter. It's interesting to note that the HIbernian Rifles, who also took part in the Rising, were kept in the dark about the whole enterprise, and essentially invited themselves to the 'party' on Easter Monday

Comment by Micheal O Doibhilin on February 10, 2016 at 8:33am

David, that is true. It could be argued that the actions of the Hibernians shows that the support for armed rebellion was wider than is currently argued as they had not been drawn into the conspiracy beforehand but were only too willing to enter of their own free will.

Comment by DJ Kelly on February 14, 2016 at 8:01am

Another great bit of research, David. Fascinating and well written. Thank you.

Comment by Thomas P. Kilcoyne, Jr. on February 15, 2016 at 2:00pm

Excellent article and interesting commentary by the posters. Thanks to all.

Comment by David Lawlor on February 16, 2016 at 4:32am

Thank you Denise and thank you, Thomas.

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Comment by That's Just How It Was on March 12, 2016 at 9:43am

 Michael Ó ………Thank you for your clarification on “intent”… yes it is always best to look at the era in which issues were raised and done… That it was a British Newspaper decision to paint/ airbrush this photo without O’Farrell, really says much about the fact that Ireland was in effect, a colonised country. The British Authorises may have went along with this, due to the fact that it was a women who helped in the surrounded, and not a man, as suggested in Neill Jordans film   "Insurrection." Director Neil Jordan, however, omitted her from his film "Michael Collins, " where her role in the surrender is portrayed by a man.! [ my article O’Farrell July 2015 Wild Geese “]  and she certainly would not have liked the motive , and the present day high jacking of the photo, to advance a particular agenda I also rather doubt that O’Farrell ,would have been  happy to have been eliminated altogether   out of her part in Irish history, why did Jordan do this ??


 Yes Clarke was out on Licence.. and was a man like you said , not overwhelmed by status or rank , just wanting to get the job done.


Peter Power- Hynes … Thank you for this information about the seven inner sanctum and when they al joined.. that was previously unknown to me…. ..  The Proclamation was signed in Jenny-Wise Power house on Henry Street however… and in my research on Wyse –Power … some sources would advise that Wyse-Power had always maintained that  these seven men signed in no particular order.. they just signed it as it was passed around to them ..Whether or not the seven had made a decision beforehand, whose name was to be added first, is not known.. However James Connolly wife, Kathleen Connolly,

“, Connolly's wife , however, has always maintained that her husband was invited to sign the proclamation first, as the other signatories acknowledged him as first president of the Republic. On the Rising's 50th anniversary, in 1966, Connolly was interviewed, and she was very scathing of Pearse and his leadership abilities “[ my article on Wyse –Power  The Wild Geese Aug 2015}  

Tom Clarkes wife held all the IRB documents for safe keeping. until she handed them over to Michael Collins..


David L. It does seem strange to me that an insurrection could be planned, and not take account of all the available skills that the IRB should have known about. That they invited themselves to the party, so to speak, is testimony to allegiance to Ireland’s cause, by putting themselves on the line, despite not having been included on the party list. … and as Michael Ó,, mentions below,  support for armed rebellion  was wider than historians currently argue  

Comment by Micheal O Doibhilin on March 12, 2016 at 3:49pm


Just a point of clarification - did you not mean Tom Clarke's wife Kathleen maintained he was acknowledged as the president rather than James Connolly's" Connolly's wife was called Nora, and as he was outside the IRB and their plans, it is unlikely he would have been seen as the leader of them all.

Re Jordan and his dire film "Michael Collins", which seems to have the destruction of DeValera as its sole purpose - well, the less said about that the better. The amount of accurate history in that film is limited to the title, most other events have been distorted, changed or invented.

O'Farrell said she deliberately hid from the photographer in the original photo, but later admitted that she wished she had not. As a life-long revolutionary, she would not have allowed the photo to be hi-jacked by anyone were she still alive - she was, even in old age, still a formidable woman!

The original plans for the rebellion we cannot now know, but we can infer some of them from the actions of the commanders on the Monday of Easter Week, when it was unclear how many men and women would turn out. As the week wore on these plans had to be modified or totally changed (e.g. Stephen's Green). Thus, when those with 20:20 hindsight complain about the tactics, they do not know what they are talking about.

One thing is very clear. Even though the plans went awry, even though the rebellion only lasted six days before unconditional surrender, it still brought about the collapse of the British Empire, the greatest empire the world had ever seen. Not bad for a "badly planned failure", I think.


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