Colbert Kearney
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Colbert Kearney


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The Kearney family came from Ardee in Co. Louth. Peadar Kearney’s father left to establish himself in business in Dorset Street in Dublin. Though Peadar enjoyed a comfortable childhood, his father’s business was gone by the time he became a young teenager. He was raised by his father in the nationalist tradition, and Colbert mentions a late 19th century nationalist named Willie Rooney who had a strong effect on him. As a young man, Peadar joined the IRB in about 1902. Colbert considers his grandfather’s consistently strong attachment to the IRB over any other organisations he later joined. He discusses Peadar’s activities in the period before the 1916 Rising, and explains that he was interested in drama and wrote short stories and songs. Colbert lists some of his songs which include ‘A Soldier’s Song’ and ‘Whack fol the Diddle’ (also known as ‘God bless England’). Peadar Kearney was born in 1883 and he married Eva Flanagan, whom Colbert knew, shortly before 1916. He lived next-door to Seán MacDermott and was close to Thomas Clarke. Colbert considers the small area of Dublin city from which the Rising sprang. In 1916 Kearney was a member of the Supreme Council of the IRB, and just before Easter he was on tour in England with the Abbey Theatre as a stagehand and with an occasional walk-on part. He returned to Dublin when he heard about the Rising and the events which followed the issuing of the Countermanding Order. He spent the week in Jacobs Factory. Colbert discusses his reason for not surrendering, and explains that his grandfather went on the run and escaped arrest. His eldest son Pearse was born later that year. Colbert remembers Peadar as a tough, wiry man who would have sacrificed much for the cause but who would have not given himself up unnecessarily. His wife’s family, the Flanagans, were well-off but both parents died when Eva and her sister Katie were quite young. He emphasises the fact that to Peadar, his wife Eva and everything else came second to the nationalist cause. After the Rising, he and his family were left without any source of income. The charismatic Peadar Kearney’s status both within his own family and in wider circles is discussed, as is his comic song output. Apparently he was composing songs from an early age, and he is recorded as having contributed to club song-journals. He considered himself a poet in a sense, with his lyrics converted into ballads. Colbert recalls the status of his songs before the more recent Troubles when a song such as ‘Down by the Glenside’ would often be heard. Colbert feels that his grandfather was an organiser who travelled to England and Scotland on IRB business during the War of Independence, and he recalls the circumstances surrounding his arrest after Bloody Sunday. It was known by the authorities that he was close to Michael Collins and others. He was sent to Ballykinlar in Co. Down where he was to spend the best part of a year before his release owing to his and his wife’s poor health. Colbert considers the loss of the power of the IRB with the coming of Independence and particularly after the death of Michael Collins. During the Civil War he worked as a censor at Maryborough Prison. He applied for the military service pension in the mid-1920s. Peadar Kearney died in 1942, and is buried in the Republican Plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, along with Thomas Ashe and Piaras Beasley. Colbert is impressed by his grandfather’s idealism and dedication, and expresses his admiration for his comical songs.. Peadar Kearney had two sons, Pearse and Colbert, both of whom were named after Irish patriots. Colbert recalls the absolute pride and admiration felt for his grandfather within the family. He discusses his grandfather’s sense of disappointment in the new Free State, and also the controversy over his composition, ‘A Soldier’s Song’. It was not until 1932 that he was paid for the song rights. Criticism also occurred about the suitability of the song as a national anthem. Peadar Kearney was a Collins man but the Cumann na nGaedheal government did not support him which is a curious fact, remarks his grandson. As an IRB man, his was a life of one of secrecy and it is difficult to recover his story fully. His medals are in the family. Colbert examines some photographs, one of which features in his nephew Jimmy Bourke’s book The Soldier’s Song. Peadar’s sister Kathleen was the mother of Brendan Behan, and Colbert recalls her second husband and Brendan’s membership of the IRA. At the time of Peadar’s death, Brendan was in Mountjoy Prison. Another sister, Maggie Kearney, married theatrical impresario P. J. Bourke. Colbert remarks that Seán O’Casey was taught Irish by Peadar Kearney. He greatly admires his grandfather, Peadar Kearney, and feels that he took the only route possible at the time in an attempt to achieve Irish freedom.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

38.64 MB

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Peadar Kearney (Interviewee’s grandfather)

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