Helen Litton (née O’Sullivan
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Helen Litton (née O’Sullivan


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Helen Litton’s father, John O’Sullivan, was born in Limerick and was the second son of Captain James O’Sullivan, a member of the Irish Volunteers during the Easter Rising, and Laura Daly, sister of Commandant Edward (Ned) Daly, who was executed after the Rising. Helen discusses her interest in history and talks about Laura Daly’s uncle, John Daly, a Fenian who took part in the dynamite campaign in Britain. John Daly funded activities around the time of the Rising. Helen’s granduncle, Ned Daly, left school at 15. He was to be appointed Commandant at the Four Courts during Easter Week 1916. Her grandaunts, who were members of Cumann na mBan, are recalled. In 1918 Laura Daly, Helen’s grandmother, married Captain James O’Sullivan who had been a close friend of Ned Daly. Kathleen Daly was the wife of Tom Clarke. The Daly family did not support the Treaty. Helen’s grandfather, James O’Sullivan, admired Michael Collins but did not get involved in the Civil War. Collins was her father’s godfather, she explains. Helen’s mother, Phyllis Brolly, was born in Co. Derry, and her family moved to Dublin when Phyllis was very young. She is strongly pacifist and does not agree with armed struggle. Helen discusses the gathering of information for her family tree and remarks that Laura O’Sullivan in Limerick was helpful in providing information. Helen remembers watching the film Mise Éire, produced in 1960, and explains that the film brought the people of 1916 to life for her. While carrying out her research in around 1990, Helen met Thomas Clarke’s younger son, Dr Emmet Clarke, who was her father’s first cousin. Helen edited Kathleen Clarke’s memoir Revolutionary Woman which was published in 1991. Kathleen Daly’s description of her meeting with Thomas Clarke, and the reaction of the Daly family to the couple’s marriage are discussed. A large collection of letters written between Tom and Kathleen is now at the National Library of Ireland. The raiding of the Daly house in Limerick by the Black and Tans is recalled and Helen explains that the contents of the house were destroyed on a bonfire. She has written about Ned Daly in her book Edward Daly (16 Lives series) and talks about the few items to have survived from those times. The importance of the Daly home in nationalist circles and John Daly’s part in fostering insurgency is remembered. His Fenian role gave him an iconic status, similar to that of Tom Clarke. Helen talks about the extended Daly family. John embarked on a Clan na Gael lecture tour in America and fundraised, partly for amnesty for the remaining Fenian prisoners and partly for his own family. From this fund, he bought a bakery as a family business and also built a hall where nationalists would meet. The Daly family was central to the nationalist network but it was a cruel shock when Ned Daly and Tom Clarke were executed, Helen says. The death of John Daly, at the age of 70, occurred not long afterwards. Helen recalls the night before Ned Daly’s execution when his sisters met him for the final time. It is her opinion that because Ned Daly was brother-in-law to Tom Clarke, this brought him into increased prominence in the minds of the British authorities. In 1915, Ned Daly was staying with Kathleen and Tom Clarke in Dublin. He was sworn into the IRB, possibly because he might have heard or seen things in that household. Helen reflects on the absence of knowledge and communication because of the secrecy within the IRB. At Easter 1916 her grandaunt, Nora Daly, was sent to Cork with a message about the Rising. Helen talks about the decision made at Dublin Castle to arrest the nationalist leaders. Tom Clarke’s urgency for action in 1916 is reflected upon, and Helen says that his sole aim was to gain an independent Ireland sooner rather than later. The Daly family’s attitude to Home Rule is considered, and Helen says that John Daly was a physical force activist. The family position in the Civil War is also recalled. The anti-Treaty side was less well-armed and did not have the support of the majority of the population. All the participants had previously fought together. Her grandaunt, Madge Daly, remained head of Cumann na mBan in Limerick until 1923, but Helen feels that Madge’s sisters were probably more occupied with married life and children. She remembers Kathleen Clarke attending the ceremonies at Arbour Hill, and she says that the sisters gradually came to accept the reality of the Free State. In her opinion they, as young women, were excited to be part of historical events. Helen’s granduncle, Ned Daly, was the youngest child and only son of the family, and there was an expectation that he might uphold the nationalist tradition within the family. Apparently, the only career that Ned wished for was soldiering and membership of the Irish Volunteers filled that role for him. During the Rising he was Commandant at the Four Courts, and Helen describes his efficiency in feeding the men and organising the barricades. His stance at his court martial is discussed, and Helen reads a portion of his statement from the transcript. Before the Rising, Kathleen Clarke brought her three children to Limerick to be cared for by her sisters. She also brought a letter from Ned to his mother and Helen reads what was to be his last letter to her. She remarks that his sisters had not expected that Ned would be executed. She talks about her research into the Daly and Clarke families, and remarks that because of the passage of time it is very important to gather any available information before it is too late. The late Emmet Clarke spoke at the launch of his mother’s memoir, Revolutionary Woman, and was interviewed by Donncha Ó Dulaing. Helen recalls the emotion that Emmet showed at that time as he remembered his father. She recalls the 1966 pageant she attended at Croke Park and the Insurrection programmes shown that year by RTÉ. She also recalls attending the Arbour Hill ceremonies with her father.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

48.25 MB

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Ned Daly (Interviewee’s granduncle)

Recorded by:

Maurice O’Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore