The Donohill Republican Court
In his book The Singing Flame Commdt. Gen. Earnán Ó Máille (Ernie O Malley), OC of the Second Southern Division IRA, made two references quoted below to a house in Donohill. The first was in the introduction to the book and reads as follows,
“One evening in July 1921 a despatch rider asked to see me. He was shown into the kitchen of Mrs. Quirke’s in Donohill in south Co. Tipperary. The despatch was from General Headquarters and stated that all hostilities would cease after forty-eight hours by twelve noon on 11 July”.
O Malley believed that the Truce would only last for two or three weeks. He took advantage of it to organise and strengthen his Division and prepare for a resumption of hostilities. In chapter one of the book he gives this account of his decision to move his Divisional HQ,
“After three weeks of truce we decided to change divisional headquarters. We had remained in Mrs. Quirke’s in Donohill for nearly three months. She had never complained. The numerous despatch riders and visiting officers had been fed there, though occasionally we supplied the food ourselves. I told her that we intended to leave.
‘Sure what do you want to do that for?’ She said. ‘You’re always welcome. I’m rough and ready but the house is yours. You’re not a bit of bother in the world. I like to see the boys around.’
‘We’ll will come back when the war begins,’ I said, and she hastened to prepare an egg-flip.”
Molly Quirke’s house was situated in the townland of Ballinvassa, Donohill. It was three or four hundred metres in a crooked lane off the R496 road, commonly called the “Anglesey Line” locally. Its co-ordinates are R900 444. The house and its associated farm buildings were well hidden from the road. The local IRA Volunteers had taken care to dig hidden defensive trenches and concealed firing points in the hedges near the house. They had also safe escape routes mapped out in case of an enemy raid. Those precautions never had to be used, which says something for its suitability as a safe house.
As well as using it for his HQ O Malley also used it as the site of the local Republican court. It must be appreciated that the IRA, and its allied Sinn Féin public representatives at both local and national level, set up a parallel administration independent of, and in defiance of, the British administration. They established a Republican police force, court system, a tax collection service, and, of course, an army. In the civilian sphere of the administration they could rely on the co-operation of the “official” public service.
More importantly the overwhelming majority of the population accepted the legitimacy of the Republican system, withdrew their allegiance from the British authorities, and freely gave it to the Republic and its servants. That was the real, practical victory of the Republicans and the reason why they won the War of Independence. The British government’s writ had been reduced to an empty, irrelevant shell. It is known that some locals were taken into custody, usually for breaking curfew, and either fined or imprisoned. Those cases were heard in Molly Quirke’s house.
In another of his books, On Another Man’s Wound, O Malley described Molly and her house,
“The house consisted of a kitchen and two rooms. ‘Mrs. Quirke’s’ it was known. She was a strong character, a tall woman with long bones; untidy hair in wisps stuck out at the back of her neck and on her forehead. She was always at her ease in conversation. I never saw her ruffled. She took satire, banter and discussion at her ease, and she seemed to look on danger as a joke. Her voice was rough, but she was never angry. When we were worried, trying to work out a problem, she poked fun, smiled at us, or later in the evening made us laugh with some trite remark. In her heart I’m sure she thought the boys were only playacting, God help them, trying to be soldiers. She assumed that I was delicate because I was thin and did not eat much; bottles of an iron tonic which followed me around were a proof that there was something wrong with me. First thing when I got up she had an egg-flip ready for me, and she put whiskey in it. ‘What good is it without a drop in it, I’d like to know’. Instead of a feather with holy water, the usual goodbye, mine was now an egg-flip and a warning word not to get killed. My welcome whenever she saw me through the half-door or heard my shout in the distance was an egg-flip.
When I left her word to be called at a certain hour she often would not; then I had to make a hurried scramble in badly kept-in rage to attend a staff meeting or inspection. If I said anything to her she would say calmly: ‘Musha, I knew you were tired, God help you, and you wanted the rest.’ She respected my papers and maps and did not disturb them, and she had no passion for a meticulously settled organization of articles of furniture. I never knew how unreal our ideas and the – to us – importance of our doings were to her. She was a woman, the house had to be swept, food to be cooked, the small percussions and repercussions of life to be solved and lived; but she followed with womanly sympathy, helped us with her mothering instinct and her easy, restful strength”.
Molly Quirke, nee O Dwyer, and her husband Jack had no children. John (Jack) died on 23 August 1944 and his wife Mary (Molly) on 30 December 1948. They are both interred, along with her niece Winifred O Dwyer, near the north wall of the old graveyard in Donohill.
About 1948 their former neighbour Philly Ryan (W) bought their farm of seventeen Irish acres of fertile land for £1,760. The house was occasionally rented out for short periods. But eventually it and the farm buildings became redundant and fell into disrepair and decay. In the late 1980s the stone was purchased by Frank Ryan (Young Jack) and used to landscape his rockery, build walls around his lawns and by the River Multeen in Millbrook. Except for a few stones roughly marking the outline of the house nothing now remains of that farmstead.
Apart from Ernie O Malley, Quirke’s house was visited by some of the greatest fighters of the Third Tipperary Brigade IRA. They included Con Moloney, one time Brigade Adjutant and later Second Southern Division Adjutant and finally Deputy Chief of Staff of the IRA. Dan Breen served as Quartermaster of the Brigade and then as Divisional QM, and was elected thirteen times as a TD. He and his wife, Áine Malone, spent part of his honeymoon in the house. Michael Fitzpatrick (“Micky Fitz”) was Assistant Divisional QM to Breen. Seán Fitzpatrick was Adjutant of the Brigade and was later promoted to Commdt. Gen. and OC of the First Midland Division IRA. In the summer of 1921 Dinny Lacey was Vice Brigadier of the Third Tipp Brigade. Amazingly all of them, with the exception of Lacey, survived the Civil War.
Thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of countless nameless Irish people like Molly Quirke Ireland won its independence. History, and decisions effecting the destiny of this country, were made in her house. May all of them be gratefully remembered forever.
Suaimhneas síoraí tabhair dóibh go léir, a Thiarna. Amen.