John Stephenson (b. 1951)
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John Stephenson (b. 1951)


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John Stephenson details the background to the Stephenson family in the north inner city area of Dublin. The extended clan included the Kilmartin and Kane families. Paddy Joe Stephenson’s father was a hearse coach driver. John describes them as a family who raised themselves socially, though life was difficult. There were seven in the family, and he mentions a possible link to a member of the modern day IRA. Paddy Joe’s brother Eddie fought in WWI with the British Army and when he came home on leave he did not return to France. Eddie was to become the head of the Stephenson family of Tralee. John describes the family research he undertook at the time of the 75th anniversary of the Rising. He is now continuing this research. He describes his grandfather’s activities in relation to the cultural renewal which took place prior to the Rising, at a time when he was working as an assistant librarian. Fortunately, he left some notes about his and other Volunteers’ activities with regard to training and drilling. He was a member of D Company 1st Battalion Irish Volunteers, and was working directly under Seán Heuston whom he admired enormously. John Stephenson’s cousin Jimmy has published Patrick Joseph Stephenson: Paddy Joe, 1895-1960 (2006) which includes his grandfather’s accounts and Jimmy’s own research. John recounts the fact that his coach driver great-grandfather was killed by a stray British bullet, and in the same week Paddy Joe’s cousin was killed, another innocent victim of the Troubles. John’s father Noel emigrated with his family in the 1950s and returned to Ireland in 1960, and John explains that because of this, he did not know his grandfather very well. However, he got to know his grandmother, Mamie Kilmartin, whom he describes as a formidable woman of artistic taste which he believes was inherited by her youngest son, architect Sam Stephenson. Paddy Joe Stephenson was detained at Frongoch after the Rising. John has read a description of his grandfather as a ‘socialist young fellow’. In 1921 he was a founder member with Roddy Connolly of the first Communist Party of Ireland. By 1949 he was appointed City Librarian of Dublin and was president of the Old Dublin Society. John remembers helping with the restoration of Kilmainham Gaol with family members in the early 1960s. He discusses his grandfather’s role as the first Dublin City Librarian in the Irish Free State. His home library contained many censored volumes. His family was imbued with the idea that censorship was wrong and they learned about literature from these books, John remarks. Paddy Joe’s five sons played a key role in influencing Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan to repeal the censorship laws. John feels that after Paddy Joe’s release from Frongoch he was no longer active in the frontline during the War of Independence and played no part in the Civil War. He remarks on his grandfather’s possible reasons for not taking sides at that time. Paddy Joe and Mamie Kilmartin were neighbours, though were not romantically involved until after the Rising. Mamie was a member of Cumann na mBan. John knows that his grandfather was proud of his involvement and would tell his family about it. John’s father Noel told bedtime stories based on the Rising. He would also relate anecdotes to his sons about the Emergency period. At that time, the family had moved to Cabra, and later to Stillorgan. John vividly recalls watching the drama series Insurrection on Telefís Éireann in 1966 and remarks that for him nothing new emerged as he had heard the details within his family. His grandfather’s role in raising consciousness about Kilmainham Gaol is recalled, as is the fact that he died in the year in which the restoration committee was established. Jimmy Brennan, a comrade in arms with Paddy Joe at the Mendicity Institute and a lifelong friend, was also involved in the restoration, he explains. With regard to the foundation of the Fianna Fáil Party, family lore has it that Paddy Joe was involved with Lemass in setting up the party in South Dublin, though there is no documentary evidence to support this. By the 1940s Paddy Joe was certainly a strong supporter of the party and of de Valera, whose profile became more heroic following his stance on neutrality during the Emergency. Stephenson was a public servant and could not become active in politics. His sons were involved with TACA, the Fianna Fáil fundraising body. The social circle of Paddy Joe and Mamie Stephenson is discussed. They would have frequented weekly gatherings at Davy Byrne’s in Dublin city centre with their artistic and intellectual friends. John remarks that they would have been of the petit bourgeois class rather than being bohemian. Sadly, Paddy Joe Stephenson died just two days before he was due to retire. John compares the Old IRA and the modern version, and in his opinion there is no continuum between the two organisations except in the desire for a united Ireland. He considers that many of his grandfather’s generation did not fully realise that they were going into armed action until it was upon them. The family connection with Seán Mac Stiofáin is outlined. John explains that recently he and his cousin Jimmy have been bringing more detail to the family stories. He discusses the teaching of history in Irish schools, and the people who used the charitable Mendicity Institute, who were turned out by the insurgents at Easter Week 1916.

Additional information



Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

35.90 MB

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Paddy Joe Stephenson (Interviewee’s grandfather)

Recorded by:

Maurice O’Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore