Some More Kavanaghs

Owen Kavanagh


In January 2005 an article that I put together listing the Kavanaghs who fought in the Easter Rising was published on the Clann website. Using “The 1916 Proclamation” by John O’Connor as my prime source, I found that thirteen members of the Irish Volunteers Dublin Brigade who bore the name Kavanagh had responded to the mobilization order and took up arms for freedom on Easter Monday in 1916.

Since then I hadn’t thought about the subject very often, but it’s funny how things can just pop-up out of nowhere. Nowhere turned out to be a set of six compact discs entitled, Sinn Fein and Republican Suspects 1899-1921, that I acquired from Eneclann Ltd., in Dublin. The CD’s contain Dublin Castle’s secret surveillance files, known as Personality Files which were compiled by the Special Branch of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). I hoped they might contain some information about Sean Kavanagh (see article on this website dated 15 December 2004), but if not, they would at least provide insight into this fascinating period of Irish history.

Unfortunately, the surveillance records made no mention of Sean Kavanagh, but they did contain a surprising bonus. A small six page file gleaned from over 19,000 pages of microfilm released by the United Kingdom’s Public Records Office in Kew (London) deals with two other Kavanaghs who, it looks like, also answered the Volunteer’s mobilization order. I say “looks like,” because neither is mentioned in The 1916 Role of Honour which was assembled by the National Museum of Ireland and is considered to be the definitive record of those who participated in the Rising.

The file starts at the end of July 1916 with a report that one Michael J. Kavanagh, a suspended assistant clerk in His Majesty’s Stationery Office, Dublin, who had been absent from that duty for a period of three and one half months, was now applying for reinstatement to his former position. A memorandum from the Under Secretary’s Office in Dublin Castle, dated 27 July, stated that Mr. Kavanagh claimed he was absent from the Stationery Office because he had been a prisoner in Frongoch Internment Camp in North Wales. He contended he had been deported for his part in the Easter Rising and was recently released by order of the Home Office after an appearance before the Advisory Committee in London. The memorandum further stated that Mr. Kavanagh’s case, in common with others of a similar nature, would be investigated by a Special Committee and suggested that the Committee be advised of Mr. Kavanagh’s return to Dublin.

On 28 July, Mr. E. O’Farrell, Superintendent at the Stationery Office, acknowledged the receipt of the Under Secretary’s memo and added his notation to the file stating that Michael J. Kavanagh was suspected of being involved in the Easter Rebellion.

In quick order the following correspondence took place: on 31 July, W. J. Byrne of the Special Committee wrote to the Judicial Division of the Chief Secretary’s Office, advising they were prepared to consider the case immediately upon receipt of Mr. Kavanagh’s papers from the military and police authorities. On 1 August, the Judicial Division directed the Dublin Metropolitan Police to furnish a full report about this man and his connections with the Sinn Fein movement and the recent rebellion.

On 2 August , Inspector George Love and Superintendent Owen Brien of G Division, Detective Department, Dublin Metropolitan Police, submitted their report to the Special Committee. It stated that Michael J. Kavanagh of 5 Pleasant Street, Dublin, as well as his brother William, had been seen on numerous occasions, up until the outbreak of the Rebellion, arriving and leaving their home in Irish Volunteer uniforms. These events were witnessed by Constable Harry Kells (see Authors Note), of B. Division who lived at No. 7 Pleasant Street. The report went on to say that neighbors at their previous residence, 15 Saint Kevin’s Terrace, New Bride Street, knew the brothers to be members of the Camden Row branch of the Irish Volunteers.

In closing, the communication stated that both men had fought at the South Dublin Union during Easter week, were in the general surrender, and were deported to Wakefield Detention Prison in England on the 6th of May 1916. It concluded with the advice that they were released from internment and had returned home to Ireland within the past two weeks.

The six page file ends with a brief hand-written notation made by W. J. Byrne of the Special Committee on 16 August that leaves us up in the air as to whether or not Michael J. Kavanagh ever got his job back. The notation said the Committee had interviewed Mr. Kavanagh and would report further. The file ended at this point. Based on this correspondence, there seems to be little doubt the two bothers participated in the Easter Rising and deserve to be considered for inclusion in the Role of Honour.

Fortunately, the story of the Kavanagh brothers did not end here. The Personality Files that were released in 1997 by the National Archives in Kew under the 70 Year Rule contain secret intelligence on over 440 individual suspects who were under surveillance by the DMP and the R.I.C. Many hours were spent scrolling through the six CDs and when the task was finally completed I was rewarded with further evidence that Michael and William Kavanagh were interned in England for their involvement at the South Dublin Union during Easter week.

During the search I came across a DMP file that dealt with one Edward Stynes, a 20 year old apprentice in the Engineering Department of the Post Office at Aldborough House in Dublin. On 13 March 1920, a party of military and police searched his residence at 22 Sullivan Street and removed a number of documents, namely, a booklet entitled Sinn Fein Leaders of 1916 and manuscripts of songs that glorified the 1916 Rising. Mr. Stynes was taken into custody, charged with possessing seditious material in violation of Regulation 27 of the Defense of the Realm Act and lodged in Mountjoy Prison.

After eleven days, on 24 March , the Law Officers of the Crown advised that no legal proceedings should be instituted against Mr. Stynes and instructions were given for his discharge from custody. The file ended with a notation from the Under Secretary’s Office that Edward Stynes was discharged from Mountjoy on 25 March 1920.

In addition to the correspondence, Mr. Stynes’ file also contained copies of the songs and the booklet that were confiscated by the search party. The forty page booklet was published by Cahill& Co., Ltd., 40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin, in 1917. Its’ full title was, The Sinn Fein Leaders of 1916, With Numerous and Complete Lists of Deportees, Casualties, Etc. It was in these Lists that Michael and William Kavanagh once again appeared. They were listed among 376 individuals deported on 6 May 1916 from Richmond Barracks in Dublin to Wakefield Detention Prison in England. Richmond Barracks was where the Volunteers of the Dublin Brigade who fought at the South Dublin Union were imprisoned after the general surrender on Saturday of Easter week. This find lends credence to the Dublin Metropolitan Police report dated 2 August 1916 which stated that the Kavanagh brothers were believed to have participated in the rebellion at the South Dublin Union and were subsequently deported.

In addition to the record of Michael and William Kavanagh, the search of the List of Deportees revealed some very unexpected information. The publication claimed there were 20 other Kavanagh/Cavanaghs sent to English prisons in Knutsford, Stafford, Wakefield, Wadsworth and Lewes between 5 May and 16 June 1916. Faced with this new knowledge, my first thought was to see how many of the 13 Kavanaghs listed in my article of January 2005 (based on The 1916 Role of Honour) could be found in the Sinn Fein Leaders publication . Cross-checking the two, I discovered nine of the thirteen were named in the brochure. Four, namely Liam, Daniel and Priscilla Kavanagh and Mary (Kavanagh) Duggan could not be located. Since the official British Military Headquarters’ figures, issued in July 1916, showed that more than 41 percent of those arrested after the Rising were not deported, there is a good chance the missing four had been released. With nine Kavanaghs accounted for there were still another eleven according to The Sinn Fein Leaders of 1916, who were banished to prisons in England. There was no information found that would confirm that any of the eleven were actively involved in the Easter Rising, but the fact remains that in the frenzied aftermath of the hostilities the British deported over 2,500 prisoners to England, many of which were not connected to either the Rising or the Irish Volunteers. It is probably into this “not connected” category that the eleven fall. But, there is one fact that all these figures add up to and that is, there were certainly a considerable number of Kavanaghs involved in the crusade for Irish freedom.

As the search through the Personal Files continued there was another question about the Kavanagh brothers that began to plague me. I was keen to know if they continued their activities during the War of Independence. The answer to this question came to light as a result of the Conscription Crisis in the Spring of 1918. On 16 April, after lengthy debate, the British House of Commons passed the Military Service Bill extending conscription to Ireland. The fact that the British government was putting machinery in place that could result in up to 150,000 Irishmen being drafted into military service galvanized public opinion in Ireland. Anti-conscription meetings were held all over the country and the nationalist population was vocal in their determination to resist any effort to enforce the new law. After a meeting of the country’s Catholic Bishops at Maynooth Seminary, the Church proclaimed that the Military Service Bill was oppressive and inhuman and the Irish people had the right to resist it by any means that were in accordance with the laws of God. What the crisis did do was bolster public support for Sinn Fein and change the image of the Irish Volunteers from a group of radical activists to the representatives of everyday Nationalist opinion. It also resulted in both Sinn Fein and the Irish Volunteers experiencing dramatic increases in their memberships.

Additionally, the same day the Military Service Bill was passed, the DMP Detective Department circulated a report entitled, Sinn Fein and Conscription which in part said, that because of the conscription problem the Sinn Fein organization could now count on drawing many of the younger members of the Nationalist Party into its’ ranks if it decided to precipitate violent action. The Detective Department felt that if conscription were not a national issue they would be able to launch a vigorous campaign against Sinn Fein. By charging its’ leaders with being in league with Germany they reckoned that Nationalist and Clerical support for the organization would vanish and many of Sinn Fein’s members would drop out.

On 17 May, the Government made a major effort to divert attention away from the furor over conscription by attempting to discredit Sinn Fein. In what became known as the “German Plot,” the authorities arrested many of Sinn Fein’s leaders, including Eamon DeValera, Arthur Griffith, William Cosgrave and Countess Markievicz on charges of conspiring with the enemy, Germany. But, in the end Ireland did not see conscription implemented. Throughout the Summer and Fall of 1918 the Government hesitated over introducing it because of the general atmosphere of unrest. Then, in November, the signing of the Armistice removed conscription from the Irish agenda.

For months during the storm over conscription , the G Division of the DMP intensified its’surveillance of known Sinn Fein members. Their activities, speeches, meetings and comings and goings were regularly reported to the Under Secretary’s Office, the Chief Commissioner of the DMP and the Military Headquarters of the Irish Command. It was in an August 1918 report by G Division Superintendent Owen Brien, that Michael and William Kavanagh, after a two year absence, turned up once again. Superintendent Brien wrote that on Monday, 19 August, about 15 men and 7 women attended the weekly meeting of the Central Sinn Fein Club in Sinn Fein Hall, 6 Harcourt Street, from 8 to 10:15 PM. One of those in attendance was Michael Kavanagh. Further, on Tuesday, 20 August, a Meeting of the Ard Chomhairle, Sinn Fein, was held in the Mansion House, Dublin, from 10AM to 8PM. About 40 delegates from the City and different parts of the country were present. One of the delegates listed was Michael Kavanagh. Again, on Wednesday, 21 August, a list of ten “suspects” met in the Sinn Fein Hall from 8:30 to 11:15 PM. Two of the men on the suspect list were Michael and William Kavanagh. These surveillance reports provided the answer to my question. Yes, the brothers Kavanagh did continue their nationalist activities in the years following the Easter Rising.

This exercise started with the purchase of the set of compact discs entitled, Sinn Fein and Repubican Suspects 1898-1921. in hopes of finding material relating to Sean Kavanagh, Michael Collins Intelligence Officer in Kildare (1919-1921) and Seamus Kavanagh, a veteran of the G.P.O., in 1916. I found nothing pertaining to either individual, but the Kavanagh name led me off in a completely different direction. Ironically, if Michael Kavanagh hadn’t applied for reinstatement to his position in the Stationery Office none of this research would have happened. But since he did, I was able to follow the faint trail of his footsteps through one of the most interesting and exciting periods in Irish history. But for me, the journey has resulted in even more questions. I wondered if the brothers were involved in other major events in the history of the period. Did they maintain their Irish Volunteer membership, did they take up arms during the War of Independence, did they vote for or against the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 and did they become involved in the Civil War? Can these questions be answered? So far as I know, there is only one place left where the search can be continued and that is the Military Archives at the Cathal Brugha Barracks in Rathmines , Dublin. Amongst the Archives major collections are Irish Volunteer Force files and Civil War operations and intelligence reports; could there be any mention of the Kavanaghs there? Probably the best chance for an answer lies in the most important collection of all, the Bureau of Military History (1913-1921). It is here among documents, photographs, press-cuttings, etc., that there is a compilation called Witness Statements. The objective of the Bureau in soliciting statements from veterans of the War of Independence was to bring together material that would be the basis for the history of the movement for Irish Independence. Between 1947 and 1957, 1,773 Witness Statements were gathered from involved individuals who wanted the chance to record their own stories. Who knows how many of these statements were written by Kavanagh/Cavanaghs? I know that Sean and Seamus Kavanagh both wrote statements, but did any other Kavanaghs avail themselves of the opportunity?

Would further research at the Bureau of Military History in Dublin reveal more information about Michael and William Kavanagh or would it lead us in a completely new direction and introduce us to more new Kavanagh cousins?

Author’s Note:

Several years after his report was made in this incident Constable Harry Kells of B Div., DMP, with 20 years service, was promoted to Detective Constable and assigned to the Crime Section of G Division. It was in this assignment that he came to the attention of Michael Collins, Director of Intelligence for the Irish Volunteers. Peadar Clancy, Vice Commandant of the Dublin Brigade of the Volunteers, then interned in Mountjoy Prison, sent word to Collins that Kells was carrying out identity parades at the “Joy” trying to find out who had executed Alan Bell on 25 March 1920. Bell, a former Resident Magistrate, was working for Dublin Castle on a strategy aimed at crippling Sinn Fein. He was questioning bank officials in an attempt to discover where Sinn Fein’s funds were hidden. If they could be found then the authorities would move to confiscate the more than £ 357,000 in National Loan money Collins had collected as Minister of Finance. Bell’s killing was a clear warning to the Castle that any effort to locate this money would be dealt with quickly and ruthlessly

On 13 April Clancy received a note signed M.C. advising that the writer would be going to Kells tomorrow. The next day members of Collins’ “Squad” caught up with Harry Kells and shot him as he was walking down Camden Street on his way to work, A passing motorist brought Kells, who had been shot through the chest, to Meath Hospital, but he was dead upon arrival.


Augusteijn, Joost, From Public Defense to Guerilla Warfare, Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 1996.

Coogan, Tim, Pat, Eamon de Valera, The Man Who Was Ireland, Harper Collins, New York, 1993.

Coogan, Tim, Pat, Michael Collins, The Man Who Made Ireland, Roberts Rinehart, Boulder, 1992.

Dwyer, T. Ryle, The Squad, Mercier Press, Cork, 2005.

Eneclann Ltd., Sinn Fein and Republican Suspects 1899-1921, Dublin Castle Special Branch Files, Electronic Publishing Division, Dublin, 2006.

Gallagher, Frank, The Four Glorious Years 1918-1921, Blackwater Press, Dublin, 2005.

Mackay, James, Michael Collins: A Life, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh and London, 2006.

O’ Connor, John, The 1916 Proclamation, Anvil Books, Dublin, 1999.