“They are coming for me”

News of Eamon de Valera's sensational arrest on the streets of Ennis went around the world. Joe O Muircheartaigh recalls the remarkable day of August 15th, 1923, with the help of eye witness Charles Nono and newspapers archives.

Ennis is a big town now, one of the fastest growing in Europe demographicly experts tell us. I wasn’t always like this of course. It was once a small country town, but still a town that echoed around the world.

There was the famous 1828 day that Ennis elected Daniel O’Connell. He wasn’t known as the “Liberator” then but religious liberation was at hand thanks to O’Connell and the people of Ennis. A day that echoed around the world.

There was another big day in 1891 when Charles Stewart Parnell came to town. He was another “Liberator” but a liberator who was being hounded by his own. In Ennis he found solace and one of the greatest gatherings in history. A day that echoed around the world.

Big days and great days, but still there was no day in Clare’s long and storied history of political agitation was as memorable as eighty years ago last Friday. It was the day Eamon de Valera was arrested in Ennis, a day that echoed around the world.

Charles Nono was eleven years old at the time. He lived in the shadow of the O’Connell Monument and lived through the Black and Tan war in town. He remembers when the Tans ran amok.
Up the road from his home on 41 O’Connell Street he remembers the day the tans stormed the Old Ground and ransacked the place.

“They threw furniture out the windows. They wrecked the place as a reprisal against the Sinn Féiners. The Old Ground owner, James O’Regan was known as Sinn Féiner.”

Then there was the day down the road at O’Connell Square when the Tans turned their attention to TV Honan’s - now the Brewery. TV was another Sinn Féiner targeted by the Tans.

“He was a great personal friend of de Valera but the British could never pin anything on him.
One day a squad arrived and set explosive charges in his premises and set them off.”

There was great excitement and tension in the town on those days - but nothing compared to the excitement and tension on that August 15th afternoon in 1923. De Valera was coming to town in direct defiance of a government order which banned him from public meetings.

“He arrived in town by motor car.” remembers Charles Nono. “The car was guarded by Sinn Féiners. There were bands about the place and people were piping military tunes.

”I can remember standing near the corner of the Old Ground, near Lilly’s Land, seeing Dev in the car and the crowds following. I can see them now coming around the corner into the main O’Connell street and I raced down the street after them, “ recalls Charles

The stage was set at the O’Connell Monument for the famous Ennis occasion. Dev brought town and country to a standstill.

“From the early hours things were astir and it was evident that the meeting would be of immense proportions. Large contingents from districts with bands and flags arrived by motor car and foot prior to and during the progress of the meeting,” reported the Clare Champion.

“At 2pm the dimensions of the crowd had swelled to an enormous extent and punctually on the stroke of 2pm, de Valera arrived. He was dressed in a black overcoat and plain dark suit. He wore a black hat, a white flanned collar and a brown tie.

“Amidst unprecedented scenes of enthusiasm he descended from the car and ascended to the platform. Hats, caps and handkerchiefs were waved and salvoes of cheers rent the air. Some people even cried at the sight of the tall pale faced figure, standing erectly at the edge of the platform,”
The Champion correspondent added.

“Shake hands, my darling that I suffered so much for,” said one woman on the platform.
Home was the Hero to his Clare constituency, even if the hero who did so much to rally everyone to the cause with his famous East Clare election victory in 1917 was now an enemy in the eyes of the state.

But among his own Dev was deified - the savour of Republican Ireland. Clare wasn’t going to let Dev down was the theme for the day. Speaker after speaker hammered home this point.
“In every crisis in Irish history the voice of Clare rang true and it will do so on this occasion,” said Sean McNamara. “It’s not necessary for me to bring you back to the Parnell Split when Ennis stood true to Parnell.

“The people of Ennis, assisted by the people of Clare always stood in the gap and they stand there today. Today history is repeating itself and our enemies, helped by men of Irish blood are out for the blood of Eamon de Valera. But by heaven. Clare again stands in the gap and today Clare says that, never will our enemies hound to death another Irish patriot,” added Mr McNamara to prolonged cheers.
All the while Dev was on the podium waiting his turn to address the crowd. His time was coming but before he got to his feet, there was time for one more speech. A Miss Chambers from Cooraclare got the crowd going again.

“We have seen English guns and English money used to destroy the Republic proclaimed by Pearse and his immortal comrades in 1916, and set up by the will of the people in 1918.
“We have heard their catch cry: ‘Destroy the Republic to win the Republic’. But we people of Clare are not blind; we, people of Clare are not knaves.

‘You have stood like a rock in the tempest; the wild wrath of the forces of disruption have left you unshaken, and the spirit of our glorious nation safe in the protection.

“We welcome you today; tomorrow we give you another mandate in the name of the Irish nation. We always give it to a statesman - just as our forefathers did to Daniel O’Connell and to Charles Stewart Parnell.”

“Eamon de Valera then rose, and taking off his overcoat prepared to address the meeting. He was unable to speak for some time, so great was the outburst of cheers and he was visibly touched by the extraordinary demonstration of enthusiasm,” reported The Clare Champion.

It was 2.33pm, by which time young Charles Nono had found the vantage point he was looking for. He was looking down and across at de Valera, ready and waiting like thousands of others to hang on Dev’s every word.

“At that time there were some buildings on the other side of the Square which later became Gerry McMahon’s auctioneers. Running from O’Connell Street and coming out the back of those buildings at the top of Parnell Street, there was a narrow lane. There was a hoarding around the buildings being demolished, we climbed up and got a great view across the Square. I can still see Dev. He spoke in Irish first, then in English. It was very clear.”

“I come here as one of you, to tell you that I have never stood for destruction. I have never stood for brother’s hand being raised against brother’s. I have never stood for playing the enemy’s game, and the enemy’s game is to have one part of the nation fighting the other part.

“I have always preached only one gospel and that is the gospel I preach to you here today. That gospel is that if this nation kept together and was united we would achieve independence,” Dev added.
As Dev talked away the multitudes cheered. Then the cheering stopped as it became apparent that something was up. “Down to our right which would be the top end of O’Connell Street, there was some movement going on. The next thing we saw two or three Free State soldiers coming through and people were running away,” recalls Charles Nono.

“The soldiers are coming,” went the shouted warning to Dev as the soldiers moved in.
“Armed with rifles and bayonets fixed, the soldiers surrounded the platform. They were accompanied by an armoured car on which a Lewis gun was mounted.” reported the Champion.
“Do you want me,” said Dev to the officer in charge.

“I do,” replied the officer. “I want to take you prisoner,” he added. “Very well. I am ready but have consideration for the people,” said Dev. “They are coming for me,” Dev then told the crowd. “It will be alright. I am going with them but I am glad it was in Clare that I was taken,” he added.

“At that stage we decided to get the hell out of there. We hared off down the same narrow lane, back on to O’Connell Street. The Callanans, who I was with, went up to the Town Hall, where they lived and I went to my house which now lies opposite the entrance to Dunnes Stores,” recalls Charles.

He was safely home, but wasn’t finished with this remarkable de Valera day just yet. He wanted more an wasn’t content to stay indoors. Minutes later Charles saw de Valera marching by his front door.
“The rumble of the crowd moving down from the Square could be heard louder and louder. We opened the door and could see Dev with a white bandage across his forehead. I can see it now. His hat was being carried by Countess Markievicz and she was holding on to his arm and talking to him. The crowd was following behind.”

“At the home Barracks gate, Dev was permitted to shake hands with his supporters and bid them farewell. He last words are said to be: ‘Goodbye now boys, whatever about me, maintain the Republic,” reported The Champion.

The curtain was drawn on a remarkable day in Clare political history. A day that will always have a special place and a day that helped further cement the legend of de Valera in the Banner County.
Two weeks later, the people of Clare showed what Dev meant to them when they voted him to another historic election victory. And, the following year, on August 15th, Dev was back in O’Connell Square to give another famous speech.

“I’m afraid, I would disappoint a number here were I not to start by saying: ‘Well as I was saying to you when we were interrupted’.

Surely one of Dev’s greatest lines.

Courtesy of the Clare Champion
August 2003