Last Refuge


Rory O'Connor

Rory O'Connor

As the Decade of Centenaries comes to a close there seems to be a bit of unfinished business and even a hint of Civil War recrimination, although mercifully without any gun play. Early last year three former Clongowes Wood College students wrote to then tánaiste and enterprise minister Leo Varadkar seeking to erect a commemorative plaque at the birthplace of independence leader Rory O’Connor (1883-1922), a fellow old Clongownian.

Varadkar did not warmly receive the proposal of a plaque commemorating an ‘Irregular’ being placed on his office wall. O’Connor was born at 23 Kildare Street, Dublin, in what is now the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment building. The then tánaiste predictably ignored their impertinent and subversive request.

So the trio of troublesome Clongownians brought their suggestion to Dublin City Council, whose plaques and commemorations committee fully supported the initiative. O’Connor had been an engineer with Dublin Corporation while moonlighting as director of explosives and planner of prison escapes during the War of Independence.

Even the Jesuits in Clongowes acknowledged O’Connor as a distinguished former pupil 10 years ago when his photo belatedly joined an array of judges, bishops and diplomats on its rogues’ gallery of famous ‘old boys’. Clongowes Wood is better known as a creche for Blueshirt lawyers than an academy for armed revolutionaries.

For the past year the council’s request to erect the plaque has been bounced like a hot potato between the Office of Public Works and the enterprise department, with officials fearful of revisiting Free State war crimes. Rory O’Connor was executed with three other leading Civil War prisoners in December 1922.

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon has taken up the issue and is pressing enterprise minister Simon Coveney (another old Clongownian) on when the plaque for O’Connor will be erected.

O’Connor’s execution has been a ‘law and order’ highlight for older Blueshirts as his death sentence was signed by then home affairs minister Kevin O’Higgins. A year earlier O’Connor had been best-man at O’Higgins’s wedding but he took the IRA/republican side in the Civil War, while O’Higgins became a minister in the pro-treaty provisional government. Unfortunately, O’Higgins, yet another old Clongownian, became a belated Civil War casualty when left-wing republicans shot him dead in Booterstown, Dublin, five years later.

One of the Clongowes old boys told Goldhawk: “If the Government keeps stalling on the Rory O’Connor plaque, we may have to wait for the Shinners to take office. Louise O’Reilly will surely support the initiative if she becomes enterprise minister. Already Sinn Féin councillor Micheál Mac Donnacha, chair of the city council’s commemorations committee, has warmly backed the plaque project.”

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