Ciara Ó Colmáin (b.1966) and Bernadette Marks (b.1939)
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Ciara Ó Colmáin (b.1966) and Bernadette Marks (b.1939)


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Bernadette Marks explains that the Coleman family came from Swords in Co. Dublin. Her maternal grandmother was a member of the Cleary family and was a relative of the Colemans. Her father was active in the Rising with Richard Coleman, and she explains that she grew up listening to stories about the Rising. Richard Coleman’s mother had a shop on the Main Street in Swords and his father was a teacher in the local school. Bernadette details the Coleman family history and connections. She explains that the Coleman family, similar to the Pearses, were imbued with republicanism, and some examples of this are detailed. Ciara Ó Colmáin’s father was named Risteard after his late uncle Richard Coleman. An earlier relative, Thomas Coleman, was a Gaeilgeoir who apparently wrote the song Óró sé do bheatha abhaile and later sold the rights. Richard Coleman worked as an inspector for the New Ireland Assurance Company. Ciara explains that in his letters home from Mountjoy Prison and from prisons in England, he emphasises the importance of education. These letters are in the family today. Thomas Ashe was commandant of the Irish Volunteers in Swords and Richard Coleman was next in line. Bernadette discusses the meeting of the Irish Volunteers when they split as supporters of Redmond and those who remained with the Volunteers. Richard Coleman was the spokesman for the Swords group. They were involved with the Howth gun-running in 1914. Bernadette recalls her father who died when she was very young, and she reflects on the involvement of the young men of that time. Ciara looks at some of Richard Coleman’s letters written from prison. He had originally been condemned to death after the Rising but his sentence was commuted. He was interned at Usk Prison in Wales and Ciara reads the last letter he wrote to his sister Anna in September 1918. In 1916 he had been arrested but was released following the executions of the leaders. Bernadette discusses the actions of the Swords men in the Rising, explaining that they were to meet at Knocksidane on Easter Monday. They first saw action when the railway at Rogerstown was blown up on April 24th. The following day the barracks at Swords and Donabate were blown up, followed by that at Garristown. The men then made their way to Ashbourne, Co. Meath, where the battle with the RIC took place. Word had come through that James Connolly required reinforcements in Dublin city. Richard Coleman led a group of 20 men into the GPO from where some were sent to the Mendicity Institute. Richard Coleman was captain of the group of men from Swords which is why he was sentenced to death after the surrender. Ciara explains that he was held at Mountjoy Prison and would have heard the executions of the leaders being carried out. He wrote letters from the prison in which he expressed his feelings at the time, including one letter which he wrote to his mother, which Ciara now reads. There were twelve siblings in the Coleman family, one of whom, John Coleman, joined the British Army and died in action in WWI. Bernadette explains how the men regrouped following their release in 1916. Her father was in training to become a butcher in Wexford. Many of the men were on the run and kept in touch across the country. She describes the way in which her granduncle’s British army cap was to save his brother Richard. The changes to the numbers on the original Glasnevin republican plot list are discussed. The family has kept the original plaque. Ciara’s late father Risteard managed the grave. Bernadette remarks that Thomas Ashe and Richard Coleman were like-minded with regard to education, and Ciara explains that Risteard encouraged his father Francis, brother of Richard, to write about the family. She now has that account which records the lives of the twelve brothers and sisters. She says that about five nephews and nieces still survive and are in their 90s. Ciara goes through her family history file which begins with Thomas Coleman and Lily Ann Murray. She explains that Richard Coleman contracted pneumonia in Usk Prison and family requests for his release were refused. She details events around this time and describes the funeral following her granduncle’s death, which was attended by about 15,000 people. She reads the names of some of the prominent people who attended. Richard Coleman died in December 1918, a year after the death of Thomas Ashe. Bernadette mentions the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918. Ciara reads a letter which Richard wrote to his brother Francis in 1916, in which he reflects on his boredom in prison and says that he intends to go on hunger strike. From the letter it becomes apparent that Richard was paying for his substitute at the New Ireland Assurance Company, and was also applying to the courts for his release. Ciara reflects on the obvious affection between the brothers. She knew her grandfather Francis, she says, and she discusses the importance of religious practice in the family. Many letters and items of memorabilia are in the Coleman family. Richard’s 1916 medal is with a great-nephew in New York, and Ciara explains that her family has photos of her granduncle in his Volunteer uniform. She suggests that there may be other photographs in the New Ireland Assurance Company archive. Bernadette discusses the possible reason why Richard Coleman was appointed captain in the Irish Volunteers in Swords, and remarks that he, Frank Lawless and Peter Wilson were the older men in the group. Ciara remarks that Richard had wished to become a priest but did not succeed in this ambition. She discusses his career with the Christian Brothers, the Jesuits and the Vincentians, and also as a railway clerk and insurance agent. He was considered an educated man as son of a schoolteacher and this is possibly why he was chosen to lead the group to the GPO in 1916. Ciara again discusses the very large attendance at the funeral of Richard Coleman, and how this reflected the sense of nationhood felt by the populace at that time.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

45.59 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



Richard Coleman (1st interviewee’s granduncle)

Recorded by:

Robert Woods