Donal Donnelly (b.1939) and Caitríona Donnelly
7.0015.00 Select options

Donal Donnelly (b.1939) and Caitríona Donnelly


Want unlimited access to the Irish Life and Lore Oral History Archive? Subscribe by purchasing Gold Subscription, Silver Subscription or Bronze Subscription!

Donal Donnelly discusses his grandparents, James Donnelly and Mary Gallagher of Omagh, and explains that his grandmother was an intransigent and lifelong republican. Their home, the Tyrone Restaurant, was a meeting place for the Anti-Partition League in the 1940s and for the Sinn Féin cause in the elections in Mid-Ulster and Tyrone/Fermanagh in the 1950s. He recalls his uncles Tommy, Frank and Dan. Frank and Dan emigrated to Canada and another uncle, Michael, died in 1923 in a tragic accident in Philadelphia. Surviving family letters and photographs are discussed by Donal and Caitríona. Mickey Donnelly wrote many letters to his mother and sister, Mary B. Donnelly, which outline his opinions rather than describe events at the time. Donal remarks that Mickey was very critical of De Valera, despite being Anti-Treaty. Income expended by the family on republicans who stayed at the house is discussed. Donal’s father Peter is recalled as “the quiet man” of the family. A railwayman, he took part in the railway strike in the 1920s. He is described by Donal as a man who supported those who fought in the War of Independence. The family was very close-knit and Peter Donnelly was non-sectarian and was not regarded as an IRA man, as such. Omagh was a traditionally nationalist town, Donal explains, as he talks about the change from proportional representation to a property vote, and the introduction of gerrymandering, the effect of which was that the 65% of nationalists were governed by the minority of unionists. The hope was that Tyrone and Fermanagh would be taken in by the Free State during the time of the Boundary Commission. Donal recalls the B Specials who became a malign force, particularly because of their night-time activities. His grandmother brother, Mick Gallagher (known as Red Mick), who was involved in the War of Independence and the IRA in the 1930s, is remembered. Donal remarks that the Enniskillen Fusiliers garrisoned at Omagh forged relationships with the locals in the 1940s. Following the Cameron Report, there existed a disconnect between the governed and the government, he says. Donal explains the continuum from 1916, through the Civil War and up to the Thirty Year War. Initially he was not in favour of the resurgence of the IRA from the 1970s but with the proroguing of Stormont there was much upset, he says. The ruling class had lost its power and much had changed, despite this being disputed by the IRA. He gives his opinion on the Omagh bombing, the vested interests of the securocrats and the possibility of infiltration of the Dissident IRA. His family’s tradition of radical republicanism is mentioned, and the imprisonment of Red Mick Gallagher and Frank Donnelly is recalled. Donal reads from his book Prisoner 1082: Escape from Crumlin Road, Europe’s Alcatraz. He talks about his own imprisonment during the 1950s following his conviction of membership of an illegal organisation (IRA). He reflects on the fact that the tradition had been handed down to him, particularly since great anomalies existed in the treatment of the nationalist community. He talks about the failure of democratic politics at the time, followed by organised IRA activity in which he participated. After his conviction and imprisonment, he escaped from jail in 1960 in the company of John Kelly, who was later tried for another offence at the infamous Arms Trial. Donal recalls his teenage years when he was caught with Sinn Féin posters, and the way in which his subsequent appearance in court later affected his treatment by the IRA in prison. After his escape he did not rejoin the IRA and lived in Cork for a period to recover his health. However, he has kept in touch with some republicans from the 1950s. Caitríona Donnelly talks about her grand-aunt, Agnes Hickey, who married Michael Mallin. Caitríona Donnelly and Úna Ó Callanáin, who was also recorded for this oral history collection, are second cousins. Both of Caitríona’s parents were republicans. Her father, John McConnell, fought with the IRA during the War of Independence, was arrested in 1928 and served a year’s sentence in Mountjoy Prison for hoarding arms and ammunition. Her mother, Catherine Delaney, was a good friend of Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell who carried the surrender flag in 1916, and also of Sheila Grennan. Donal describes the Hickeys as the ‘Fenian Hickeys’ of the Strawberry Beds, and he says that Catherine would have been outside Mountjoy Prison prior to the execution of Kevin Barry. Caitríona recalls visiting Kilmainham Gaol many times with her mother and she mentions that her family was involved with the restoration of the building. She speaks about Lily Thewlis who was a member of Cumann na mBan from the late 1910s. Donal and Caitríona recall members of the Mallin family and Caitríona explains that some of the women who, in their later years in 1966, came together to place a plaque to Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell in Holles Street Hospital. Catherine Delaney also knew Dr. Kathleen Lynn. Lily Thewlis and Caitríona’s mother, Catherine, were first cousins. When her father was arrested in 1928, Catherine tried to get the IRA to remove the guns from his mother’s property but the place was being watched. Caitríona explains that Lily Thewlis dismantled the guns and removed them day-by-day, so when the house was raided no evidence was found. Lily would never thereafter say whence the guns and ammunition had been taken. Caitríona remarks that these women were very discreet and had a strong adherence to the cause. Caitríona feels that if the women had not taken the stance they did, the people of Ireland would be not free today. Donal considers the fact that the anniversary year of 1966 provided the first public opportunity to stand together, as the intervening Civil War meant that anti-Treaty people were pushed aside to a certain extent in the Free State. Caitríona and Donal discuss the reasons why those republicans opposed the Treaty. An anecdote relating to Catherine Delaney casting a vote for Sinn Féin four times in an early election is told, and Donal recalls the paraphenalia in her house in Cabra, such as a copy of the 1916 Proclamation and a portrait of P. H. Pearse. Two anecdotes relating to Bertie Ahern, a visitor to the house, are recounted.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

48.18 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



The Donnelly family of Omagh and Catherine Delaney (interviewees’ mother)

Recorded by:

Maurice O’Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore