Johanna Harpur (b. 1898)
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Johanna Harpur (b. 1898)


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Johanna Harpur was born in 1898 and this recording was compiled in 1988. She explains that she joined Cumann na mBan in 1917 and was appointed Captain of the Éamon Ceannt Branch. A doctor had instructed the members in First Aid, and during the influenza epidemic of 1918 they visited homes to help nurse those afflicted, mainly in tenements. Johanna was born and reared at Dillon Place in Dublin, and she remained in school until the age of 18. She recalls the week of the Rising. At the election in 1918, Cumann na mBan organised First Aid stations in the expectation of trouble, and Johanna explains that she was provided with equipment at Jervis Street Hospital. In the event, no real trouble occurred but the women fed the Volunteers during the election and at the count. Johanna’s mother’s home was a safe house, and she explains what this meant. She remembers a man in the house in 1921 who needed an operation on his hip. During the day Johanna came to the house to minister to him during the procedure though at this time she was married and was no longer a member of Cumann na mBan. The doctor removed a bullet from the patient without anaesthesia, and Johanna explains how the instruments were sterilised. She also describes an incident which occurred on the day of her brother’s wedding. She describes another incident when Simon McInerney from Clare was wounded on Thomas Street. He had been told about her parents’ safe house. Johanna’s father was from Wexford and he died in 1931. She explains how even he, a staunch Home Ruler and Redmondite, changed his views after the executions in 1916. She describes the views and beliefs he held prior to those executions. Johanna’s two sisters were also members of Cumann na mBan. She explains that her husband, Paddy Holahan, was in prison from 19 August 1922 to 19 December 1923. During this time she received a payment from the Prisoners’ Dependents Fund. She describes the effect of his father’s return home on her first son Paud, and she recounts an anecdote told to her by Mrs Sinéad de Valera relating to the return of her husband from prison at that time. Paddy Holahan died in 1948 and Johanna returned to work in the civil service where she remained until the age of 70. She remembers the first Christmas after she and her husband were married in 1921, and she explains that she spent the day looking for her brother at the various barracks following his arrest by the Black and Tans. The following day she and her sister Kitty went to Beggar’s Bush Barracks and she tells a story about what happened on that day. During the following two Christmases her husband was in prison, and on the fourth Christmas her son Paud was born. Johanna was born in August 1898 and her husband Paddy was born in October 1897, and the couple met when Paddy was drilling the members of the Éamon Kent Branch of Cumann na mBan. Johanna explains how the MacBride Sinn Féin Club was used as cover for the Cumann na mBan Branch, and the hall which they used is described. Later the Branch moved to Thomas Street where they were drilled by the Volunteers. She remembers the route marches and the camp at Howth. She describes the night when a neighbour handed in a basket of hand grenades to her mother’s house for safekeeping. She recalls the fundraising dances held at 25 Parnell Square, then the headquarters of the Gaelic League. Johanna explains that she did not have a Cumann na mBan uniform as it was too expensive to buy, and that not many members wore the uniform. However, all the members wore a green felt hat, bought from a shop in Talbot Street owned by Peadar Clancy, Maurice Brennan and another man. Not many silver brooches were worn as most women purchased the bronze version of the emblem. She recalls a rift which occurred in Cumann na mBan and she explains the reasons for this. After the burning of the Custom House in May 1921 the Truce was signed, and she discusses events at this time when she helped deliver guns to Gerry Boland. She was caught out beyond the curfew which lasted from 10pm to 4am. Her husband was Commandant of the 1st Battalion IRA at that time and he instructed her to stay at her mother’s house as the plan was to blow up the Custom House that day. It had been arranged that her mother’s house would be the safe house. Her brother, Jim Harpur, was one of those who took part in the action. He was arrested and sent to Kilmainham Gaol. He was released following the signing of the Truce. She explains that he was in the active service unit of the IRA which meant that he was on full-time duty. She believed that these men received about £4 per week. At various times, her husband, her brother-in-law and her brother and sister were all imprisoned at Kilmainham, and she discusses the painting by Jack B. Yeats which shows herself and the other women shouting to the prisoners inside. She discusses the burning of the Custom House in 1921 in greater detail, explaining that General Tom Ennis was in charge of the operation. The Black and Tans appeared to have received a tip-off, as they arrived and rounded up anyone in sight, though her husband did manage to escape. At this time Paddy Holahan was employed by Dublin Corporation and he was able to use his work place to dump guns in safety. He operated mainly at night, Johanna explains. The raid on Collinstown aerodrome in 1919 is described, and Johanna recalls the six men who were hanged in Mountjoy Jail on 14 March 1921, one of whom was one of Paddy’s men. They had been caught in an ambush in Fairview. She mentions a prediction made by one of the men in Mountjoy. During the Civil War Paddy supported the republican side while her brothers supported the Free State. Johanna explains that the majority of women of Cumann na mBan remained republican and she explains the reasons why this was so. Her husband had been offered the post of O.C. McKee Barracks, which he declined. Johanna remembers the six guns she would transport in her pram before handing them over to another woman with a pram. She recalls an occasion when she was with her sister Kitty on a tram. She was carrying papers and the tram was held up by the Black and Tans, though she escaped safely. On another occasion, all the men on the tram were taken out to be searched, and again she escaped with weapons and papers. She discusses an incident involving her sister Kitty who was a full-time Commandant in Cumann na mBan. She was searched and arrested and put into the North Dublin Union. Johanna feels that her husband tried very hard to bring the various sides together, with some success. He formed the 26th Battalion during the Emergency years. He was Commandant and he brought in men whom he had not spoken to since the 1920s. Johanna describes her furious reaction to this. One of the men he recruited was Paddy O’Daly. Members of this battalion were commissioned into the Army, she explains. Johanna remembers Countess Markievicz who was a guest at her wedding. She is recalled as a generous and down to earth person with a good sense of humour, and she and Paddy were friends. Markievicz’s work during the 1913 Lockout is remembered. The general excitement on the day of the 1918 election is recalled. This was the day on which Johanna and Paddy Holahan became engaged, and they were married at Francis Street church in April 1921, with the republican flag flying.

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Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

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48 hours

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Johanna Harpur

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