Séamus Ó Dunlaing
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Séamus Ó Dunlaing


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The Dowling family originally came from Co. Laois, and Séamus Ó Dúnlaing’s branch settled near Tara in Co. Meath. Seán Dowling was born in Ranelagh and had three brothers, Michael, James and Frank. In 1916, with his rifle strapped to the crossbar, Seán cycled with his group on Easter Monday to Roe’s Distillery which was occupied for a few days by C Company 4th Battalion before being abandoned, having become untenable due to enemy fire. Seán and Frank then returned home. The family was always nationalist, Séamus explains, and Michael Dowling, the eldest of the family, was very involved with the revival of the Irish language and history. Their father, James, who was born in 1856, is recalled as a great admirer of the Invincibles. Seán was involved in the War of Independence and the Civil War. He, along with his brother Frank, joined the IRA. They were members of the 4th Battalion and Seán succeeded Éamon Ceannt latterly as OC. At this period he was a student at UCD. Séamus recalls that his father did not talk much about his war activities but he remembers his meetings with all his friends and hearing them talk about the 4th Battalion. Seán took the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War, though Séamus remembers being told by his father that Michael Collins was correct to view the Treaty as a stepping-stone to freedom. After the Civil War Seán was very keen to keep the lines of communication open between the two sides. A trip Seán made with members of the anti-Treaty Army Executive to the Nire Valley in an attempt to persuade Liam Lynch to dump arms, is discussed, as is the subject of Seán’s ‘cover’ and how he would travel . Séamus tells an anecdote about a meeting with Lynch and an encounter with Éamon de Valera. Seán Dowling’s character and physical nature are recalled. He is remembered as a fair parent who had a great love of Irish. He was the author of two plays produced at the Abbey Theatre and was also a painter. At the end of the 1950s he became involved in the restoration of Kilmainham Gaol which was initiated by Lorcan Leonard, and was for 17 years Chairman of the Management Committee attending weekly, often bi-weekly, meetings. In 1966 arrangements were made to have de Valera formally visit the jail on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising. RTÉ archives hold good coverage of this event. Seán Dowling attended Synge Street CBS. His later education at St Enda’s from 1909, as discussed with his son, suggests that he enjoyed this period of his life very much, though the ethos of the school meant that its achievements were poor academically. McDonagh and Pearse had a strong nationalist emphasis which influenced the students. The games played at the school were hurling and football. Séamus explains that that P. H. Pearse’s father, Jimmy Pearse, was married twice. He and his first wife had four children, Margaret, Patrick, Willie and Mary Bridget and with his second wife he had a daughter Mary who married Alfred McGloughlin. Their son, also named Alfred, married Seán Dowling’s sister Marcella. The Pearses and Séamus’s grandparents would visit on Sundays, and Séamus has a watercolour, painted on a postcard by P. H. Pearse, which was sent to Frank Dowling. He also describes some other items in his possession which have a connection with the Pearse family. Séamus discusses the background to his father’s and uncles’ struggle at a time when Ireland was a British colony. The nationalists of today are also considered. Séamus again emphasises his father’s anxiety to bring the two opposing sides together during his lifetime. Seán Dowling was not actively involved in the 1966 Commemorations and was amused to get a medal at the time “for surviving a further fifty years”. He already had active service medals. He received the Old IRA pension and was also on the Pensions Board. Seán qualified as a dentist in 1924 before emigrating to the USA and practising there. When he returned home he ran a dental practice in Lower Baggot Street in Dublin and he married in 1931. His father-in-law was Ceallachán McCarthy who was very active in the Gaelic League and a keen fan of pipe bands. Séamus discusses his father’s two plays, both of which have nationalist themes. The first, The Bird in the Net, related to the life of Francis Ledwidge and was produced twice at the Abbey Theatre. The second play was entitled The Best of Motives. Séamus explains the genesis of his father’s playwriting and mentions his visit to the theatre with Todd Andrews. The Dowling family home and the visitors there are recalled. There were eight children in the family. Séamus recalls his father’s disappointment with Fianna Fáil, his denial of being a founder member, and explains that he was irritated that though Fianna Fáil described itself as “The Republican Party” it never declared the republic. Seán Dowling founded a political party, Córas na Poblachta, with F. X Meagher, Simon Donnelly, Con Lehane, Tadhg Forbes and some others. However, the endeavour was not a success, and Séamus describes the party’s policies which at that time were viewed by the church as Communist. Though the party held meetings around the country, these were not fully reported in the newspapers. Séamus remembers his father as being disillusioned, and after the party failed he took no further part in political life. Seán’s writings for serial publications such as The Bell and The Leader are recalled. He was a good art critic and was also interested in nationalism and in Irish place-names. Séamus deliberates on what his father would think of the Ireland of today and of the forthcoming commemorations in 2016. He also gives his own views on the proposed events, particularly with regard to the present state of the country. The Dowling family tree is discussed. Michael Dowling was the eldest of Seán’s generation and he became Registrar-General. His hobby was genealogy and he traced the family back to 1667. Seán Dowling died in 1988 and is buried in St Patrick’s in Glasnevin. Séamus reads a document written by his father in 1983 about various memorials with which he was associated, including a head of Thomas MacDonagh by Oisin Kelly, a bronze plaque on Emmet Bridge and a Celtic cross erected by the 4th Battalion IRA at Harold’s Cross. He remarks that his father was adamant that notes should be kept about important events.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

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44.42 MB

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Seán Dowling (Interviewee’s father), Michael Dowling and Frank Dowling (Interviewee’s uncles)

Recorded by:

Maurice O’Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore