Jim Watkins (b.1931) , Part 1
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Jim Watkins (b.1931) , Part 1


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The origins of the Watkins family are described by Jim Watkins. He initially recalls Henry Watkins who was a Judge-Advocate in the British army in Flanders, and explains that owing to his family relationship with the Walters (Dukes of Ormond) he came to Ireland. The Watkins family moved initially to Saggart and later to Tallaght. Jim explains that prior to the Rising, his father, Thomas Watkins, along with his brothers John and Willie fled the country as they were wanted by the RIC for engaging in subversive activity. John worked in the making of explosives at ICI in Wales during WWI. Thomas was also in Wales and while there he learned how to use explosives through his quarrying work. Willie became a locomotive driver for the Western Railway. Thomas and John Watkins returned to Ireland for the Rising. Jim recalls Ned Boland (Éamon Ó Beoláin), brother of Gerry Boland who was later appointed Minister for Justice. Gerry was Commandant of the 4th Battalion IRA and Jim lists the names of the men in the group. On Easter Monday 1916 Thomas Watkins, Jack McCoy and a third man went into Dublin, but they did not get through the ‘ring of steel’. They went on to attack various RIC barracks in the county, and it is said that the group mounted an attack on Tallaght aerodrome and Baldonnel. Jim also mentions the attack on the water pumping station at Baldonnel. John Watkins had a reputation as a dangerous man, he nephew says. He was arrested in Tallaght by the RIC and imprisoned in Beggars Bush Barracks, later to be transferred in chains on a destroyer from Dublin to Belfast. He was held at Ballykinlar Camp. Jim recalls that his father Thomas was a crack shot, and he tells an anecdote about his assignment as security to Gerry Boland, Minister for Justice, during WWII. Thomas was with Michael Collins in Athlone prior to the Civil War, and Jim recounts a story told to him by his father about this time. He was on the run at various times and his son describes meeting someone who remembered sheltering him in Co. Westmeath. While on the run, he married Diana Fitzgerald from Brittas at Saggart in 1922. Jim examines a list of men from Co. Dublin who were in custody, including his father and his uncle John Watkins, and he discusses some of the other men listed. An anecdote is told relating to John Watkins and a despatch which he was taking to P. H. Pearse. Following the signing of the Treaty, Thomas was disappointed that the country was not united and he switched his allegiance to the anti-Treaty side. He was interned at the Curragh during the Civil War. A photograph showing Thomas and Paddy Byrne from Blessington is discussed. Ernest Dease OBE, the ex-RAF Squadron Leader who was a fighter pilot in WWI and became active in the Local Defence Force (LDF) is recalled. He had a royal connection in that his mother was a sister of Lord Lascelles who was married to Princess Mary. Another LDF member, Bailey Butler, Professor of Zoology at UCD, and his connection with the conservation of the head of Saint Oliver Plunkett, is remembered. Jim mentions his ancestor who married a Roman Catholic, and the legal effects of this are explained, along with the fact that the ancestral home was Ballinabarna House, situated between Ferns and Enniscorthy. A photograph showing Tom Watkins instructing a drilling group at Mount Seskin during the Truce is examined, and his friends Gerry Boland and Tim Doyle are recalled. Jim reads from an account of an operation in which Tom and Gerry Boland were involved, and an account is read relating to an event in Wicklow during the Civil War. The Boland family connection to the Manchester Martyrs’ escape attempt is mentioned, and Jim recalls another story involving Gerry Boland and a security alert during WWII. Tom Watkins received a Black and Tan medal. His time at Tintown in the Curragh is recalled and Jim explains how the men smuggled letters out of the camp. Every September in later years, Tom Watkins, Colonel Matt Feehan of the Irish Press and Paddy Murphy, Secretary of the Department of Defence, would visit Liam Lynch’s grave at Kilcrumper near Fermoy. Jim has in his possession an unsigned affidavit by an Old IRA man relating to Tom Watkins, and he discusses the event mentioned which occurred at Kilbride Military Camp. Tom Watkins was friendly with Dick Mulcahy and Seán Mac Eoin. Jim remembers Mac Eoin saluting his father whenever he passed by their home and Tom’s handshake with Dick Mulcahy at a Dublin Castle function. While Tom was held at Portlaoise Prison he went on hunger strike. Another prisoner, George Gilmore who had a reputation as an escapologist, is recalled. Tom Watkins and his brother John established a business bringing sand and gravel from Brittas for the repair of the Four Courts after the building was damaged, and for years they had a contract for paving roads in Co. Dublin. The business employed 50 men in 1939 and paid above the standard wage. Jim recalls the hard manual work and the constant stream of men who came looking for work. He discusses the difficult times he observed in the 1940s and 1950s. Jim expresses his pride in his father and uncles who stood against an empire. John is recalled as fearless, and a great friend of Ned Boland who emigrated to the USA and is buried there. Jimmy Ruttle’s grandfather, who hid Tom Watkins and Paddy Murphy from the Black and Tans, is remembered. After Independence, the two men added a room to the Ruttle house in Manorkilbride, which is now known as the ‘De Valera Room’. A photograph is examined which shows the handover by Jim Watkins of the last Union Jack flown over the Curragh, and Jim explains the history of this flag. Gerry Boland, Thomas O’Derrig, Liam Deasy, and Dan Breen were some of the visitors to the Watkins house during Jim’s childhood. He recalls his many conversations with Breen and he remembers asking him about the Soloheadbeg massacre. He recalls the men who were on a list of those to be executed by the Old IRA. One of these was Michael Whelan, an RIC man who was a first cousin of Jim’s mother Diana. Her fiancé told her of this so that Whelan could make good his escape. He was sent to England until the Troubles died down and he later returned to Ireland. An incident during the Civil War is described in which Diana and some other women were caught under fire from Free State soldiers.

Additional information



Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

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44.55 MB

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Thomas Watkins (Interviewee’s father) and John Watkins (Interviewee’s uncle)

Recorded by:

Maurice O'Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore