Constance Cowley
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Constance Cowley


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Constance Cowley speaks initially about her mother, Mollie O’Reilly, and the O’Reilly family background. Mollie’s father came from Virginia, Co. Cavan, and with his widowed father and his sister he moved to Dublin after his mother’s death. When he finished his schooling, Constance’s grandfather had begun work as a stonemason with James Pearse at his monumental stoneworks business. Constance describes her grandparents as an unlikely couple. Her grandfather had no interest in the struggle for Irish independence. From the age of 9, his daughter Mollie attended Liberty Hall for lessons in Irish dancing where she was also to hear James Connolly’s speeches. Her father was unaware of the fact that other activities besides the teaching of Irish dancing were taking place at Liberty Hall as he was often away from home working on churches around the country. Constance explains that her mother would work with the Connolly children at Liberty Hall and would also be involved in fundraising. She ran messages between James Connolly and the shop stewards down at the quays, and at the age of 15 she was chosen by Connolly to hoist the Irish flag over Liberty Hall. It was assumed that if Madame Markievicz was chosen she would have been shot by the British. Constance describes the sequence of events after Connolly presented Mollie with the green flag emblazoned with the gold harp. Constance’s parents were founder members of the Roger Casement Cumann in Cabra and she recalls the meetings at their home or at Dick Gogan’s next door. Mrs Green, Mrs Sheridan and Mrs Lumley attended these meetings, and they would talk about their activities. Constance explains that it was from these ladies that she learned much of what she knows. In 1916, Mollie O’Reilly marched with the Irish Citizen Army under James Connolly to the GPO, and she acted as a despatch carrier between the GPO and the City Hall men who were commanded by Seán Connolly of Gloucester Street. Constance explains how Mollie would gain entrance to the City Hall by climbing over the railings. She continued with this work until the Thursday and was not arrested following the surrender. Constance describes the attempt by Mollie’s mother to extract her from the march to the GPO in 1916 and Mollie’s close connection with the Connolly family. Constance explains that she has James Connolly’s Singer sewing machine which he brought from Glasgow and which was given to Mollie by his daughter Aideen. Mollie did not approve of the Irish secular clergy as they were answerable to the bishop who was appointed by Rome and chosen under British influence. She preferred the religious orders as she felt that these people were more pro-Irish. Constance refers to the information relating to her mother which is now displayed at the National Museum of Ireland Collins Barracks. The nature of her mother’s practical character is illustrated by an anecdote from Constance’s childhood. The anecdote recalls an occasion when Mollie was returning home to Hazelhatch one evening. Constance also remembers her work at the Irish Hospitals Trust and the sweepstakes. Mollie married in 1926 and she and her husband lived off Store Street until the family moved to Cabra. Constance is the oldest child of the family and she has four brothers. She has discovered from Joseph Connell’s book that during the War of Independence Mollie was a spy for Michael Collins, working at the United Services Club on Stephen’s Green. On one occasion she noticed six British officers, minus their Sam Brownes, leaving the Gentlemans’ Room in the Club to go to the restaurant. She seated them for their meal and returned to the Gentlemans’ Room where she found six pearl-handled revolvers which she quickly wrapped in tea-cloths and placed in a Jacobs biscuit tin. She handed the tin to the messenger boy who brought it to Dinny O’Callaghan’s leather shop in Capel Street. Though her mother was anti-Free State, Constance recalls her saying that she considered Michael Collins to be a fine soldier. Constance reflects on the signing of the Treaty by Michael Collins and the threat by the British to burn every village in Ireland. Her father Ned was a member of the Corcoran family from Cashel who supported the British authorities. He worked as a motor engineer in Dublin. He was in the 5th Battalion Engineers under the command of Oscar Traynor. When he first arrived in Dublin to serve his time in a garage, he stayed in digs with Joe Good and his sister Kate on Richmond Road. This connection led to his membership of the IRA. He was involved in the attack on the Customs House in 1920, under Liam O’Doherty. Constance remembers other raiding parties of which Ned was a member, and she details her father’s escape at one time and a follow-up incident, an account of which he later wrote. Mollie O’Reilly and Ned Corcoran met at a céilidh, either in Dorset Street or at the Mansion House. Constance does not remember her father as a talkative man, though she does recall what he said to her about Martin Luther when she was studying religion at school. Neither of her parents were overly religious but had independent views. Constance again recalls the three women who were members of the Roger Casement Cumann. An incident in which her mother was injured by the British is recalled. When Moran’s Hotel in Talbot Street was attacked in 1922, Paddy Daly had gone to a bedroom on the top floor of the building, and Mollie went to call him and found that somebody had already done so. As she returned she discovered the staircase was ablaze and she had to jump from a first floor window through a glass roof. She suffered an injury to the back of her head which required sutures. Constance considers her mother’s attitude to the Civil War, during which she was arrested by order of Dick Mulcahy. She was interned at the South Dublin Union where she was to go on hunger strike. Constance remembers her mother as being very strong-minded and independent. Mollie died when she was 48 years old. Her photograph, taken at the age of 18, is examined. After Mollie’s death, Constance ran the house for her father and brothers. At this time, Ned was working at Doyle’s Garage in Dundrum. He and Mollie are buried at Glasnevin Cemetery. The Bonne Bouche tearooms in Dawson Street set up by Madame Despard and Countess Markievicz, where Mollie O’Reilly worked while she was searching for safe houses for the men, is recalled. Constance describes an occasion when her mother had to discover how Peadar Clancy had been killed and report the information back to the Countess.

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Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

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48 hours

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61.64 MB

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Mollie O’Reilly (Interviewee’s mother)

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