Lisdonagh House, Caherlistrane

The lives of Eve O'Flaherty and Michael McHugh

Mary J Murphy

Caherlistrane

My name is Mary J. Murphy; I work as a writer and researcher. I’m very interested in local history and heritage, particularly aspects of that in the Caherlistrane Knockma hinterland, which in fact is where we live. For this project I’m going to touch on aspects of the lives of Eva O’Flaherty from Caherlistrane and Michael McHugh from Caherlistrane. They were born within a year of each other, Eva in 1874 and Michael in 1873. She was born to landed gentry and he was born into the postal service in Caherlistrane. Both, although born in North Galway and Caherlistrane were involved in Dublin during Easter Week in the Rising.

Eva O’Flaherty’s story is nothing less than remarkable, she is the subject of my second book, it’s called “Achill’s Eva O’Flaherty, Forgotten Island Heroine” because although born in Caherlistrane, she ran a knitting factory on Achill Island for fifty years and knew Graham Green and Derek Hill and the great and the good came to her door in Achill for years.

But stepping back to her Caherlistrane beginnings with relevance to 1916, she came from a very nationalistic family, following her schooling in Mount Anville and Alexandra Colleges in Dublin, she went to Paris, where she studied Millinery and then she opened a Hat Emporium in a very swish part of London and in tandem with all of that, what you might called fripperies, she was also a serious intellectual, a reader and very interested in politics, through her O’Gorman mother, and her O’Flaherty father, Martin O’Flaherty, he was a very important Young Irelander, he was one of the defenders for John Mitchell during his 1848 treason felony trial.

Eva, to cut a very long story short, found her way back in Dublin via Paris and London, back in Dublin in 1914, where upon she turns up in Cumann na mBan with Louise Gavin Duffy and the original founders of the Cumann na mBan. The nuisance of it all is that we know just enough to be tantalised by Eva’s 1916 involvements and what we know from her private nurse who was with her for six months before she died, which is when Eva did all of her talking about Sean McDermott, who was a particularly good friend of hers and who she knew very, very well and we know from then that Eva, high born and all that she was, was not afraid to hop up on a bicycle and act as a courier of some description, in and around the GPO, which people know is where Sean McDermott was based during the Rising. She was delivering some messages of some description; she may have been one of the sixteen, so called “basket women” who carried messages in the baskets of their bicycles, prompted by a call Sorcha McMahon and Kathleen Clarke.

Tom Clarke, I believe asked them to get a group of trustworthy women for bringing messages to and fro, because it’s hard to imagine in these days of iPods and mobile phones and what not, that you know getting messages from A to B was no small thing. During a Rising, you just had to cut the telephone wire and that’s it no more communication, so these basket women, of whom Eva may have been one, were extremely important and some of them, alot of them have been forgotten, they just fell through the cracks of history, but we are here today, to remember people like Eva O’Flaherty who was pivotally involved and we know that she kept up her friendship with alot of these Cumann na mBan people during the years because other people who minded her in Achill recall, her getting regular letters from Dr. Kathleen Lynn, Kathleen Clarke, wife of Tom Clarke, Máire Comerford, a really famous Cumann na mBan woman, who I’d say raised hell and caused havoc everywhere she went and that’s no bad thing sometimes, and people like Anita McMahon. Eva also knew Countess Markievitcz and Maud Gonne during her time in Paris, so although here history is elusive and shadowy and very hard to draw back precisely her involvement in many aspects of her life, because she didn’t marry, she didn’t have a family so until we tripped across her story accidently a few years ago, her life had in fact been forgotten, but it certainly of some signification at the time in Easter Week 1916, in and around the GPO Dublin.

Again, here we are in Caherlistrane, where we remember another person born in the parish in 1873, who was involved, this time much more actively and more highly documented in the 1916, and that man would be Michael McHugh, it just so happens, that he was the grandfather of both Brendan O’Carroll and Eilish O’Carroll of “The Mrs. Brown’s Boys” global phenomenon, that’s in fact, neither here nor there, because Michael McHugh who features and whose life story features very prominently in my third book, it’s just called “Caherlistrane”, if people want it, it’s in Charlie Byrnes and Kennys in Galway. It goes into some detail about Michael McHugh’s involvement in the Rising.

Born into the Postal family in Caherlistrane, he worked in The Tuam Herald, he progressed to The Freeman Journal in Dublin around 1910, he was an original member of the Irish Volunteers with Pearse, Bisley, Séan McDermott and the like. He was one of the co-founders of the McHale branch of the Gaelic League, he was a member of the Dublin Typographical Society and what makes all those three interesting is that they all had the same address along with Michael Collins’ headquarters Lower Gardiner Street in Dublin. So we have documented proof from his pension file, we know an awful lot of Michael McHugh’s movements, to cut to the point, we know that he was an active commandant on the ferocious North King Street, Church Street battles in Dublin towards the end of Easter Week, his commanding officers would have been, men like Martin Conlon T.D., Fionnan Lynch T.D. later a judge and people like Desmond Fitzgerald, Garrett’s father, turned up on his widow’s pensions file, speaking up for him, saying as to why his wife, should be granted a military pension, even though Michael technically died in 1924, not on active duty as a Volunteer but his illness subsequently that he died from can be traced back to when he was imprisoned in 1920, following maybe ten days after the infamous Bloody Sunday incident in Dublin, when Michael Collins sent out crews of his men to basically assassinate British service agents and British military personnel in Dublin, further reading is required for anyone who is interested.

But, Peter Bolands’ witness statement in the Bureau of Military History mentions Michael McHugh as a member of the inner circle of Michael Collins’ intelligence network about Dublin Castle, it’s a long and fascinating story.

Eilish O’Carroll, in my book, on the foreword, eludes to it but it needs to be expanded upon and more research is needed, but yet again, we have this second highly involved Caherlistrane born person, on the streets involved in combat, in Dublin during the 1916 Rising.

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