Seán Holahan (b. 1936) Ciaran and Paddy Holahan
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Seán Holahan (b. 1936) Ciaran and Paddy Holahan


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Seán Holahan recalls his father, Paddy Holahan, and his uncle, Garry Holahan. Their mother Bridget came originally from Co. Down and their father came from Wicklow. The family lived in Dublin city centre. Seán also explains how the spelling of the Holahan surname possibly came about. His parents were married in 1920 and they reared five living children. Seán explains that he and his brother Ciarán were twins, and that the family lived in various places around the city over time. Paddy and Garry Holahan were members of Fianna Éireann and the IRB, and were active in 1916. On their maternal Harpur side, Seán’s mother Josie had two sisters, Mamie and Kitty, and two brothers, Jim and Jack. Josie and Kitty became members of Cumann na mBan after the Rising and Jim and Jack later took part in the fight for Irish freedom. Paddy Holahan explains that the Harpurs were originally Redmondites and supporters of the Irish Parliamentary Party. They did not initially support the Rising but got involved in the War of Independence. During the Civil War the Harpur women were anti-Treaty while the men supported the Free State. On the Holahan side of the family, Paddy and Garry were members of Fianna Éireann as teenagers, having joined on the same day in about 1910 at Camden Street. Seán explains that his father Paddy’s job on the day of the Howth gun-running in 1914 was to blow a bugle when he spotted the arrival of the Asgard. At Easter 1916, Paddy Holahan was with the Four Courts Garrison under Ned Daly, and his son describes his activities during the week. When Captain Laffan was shot, he became commander and he surrendered following receipt of a note from Pearse. Seán refers to an article in An tÓglach about this event. Paddy and his men were arrested and were detained at Frongoch. Paddy discusses a recently discovered letter written by his grandfather to a Capuchin priest in Church Street in Dublin. The letter was written from Frongoch in July 1916. Josie Harpur lived at John Dillon Place and her father worked at the Jameson Distillery. She was a Captain in Cumann na mBan and Seán remembers her strong nationalism, though she and her family did not remain politically active. His father, Paddy, worked in the Board of Works after Independence but was brought into the Irish Army by Oscar Traynor at the senior rank of Commandant. He headed the construction corps at the Curragh, and Seán explains that after his father’s death, the family were permitted to stay in an OPW house in the Phoenix Park. The Harpur family was split during the Civil War, and Josie Harpur’s father would not allow politics to be discussed in the house because of this. Seán recalls his uncle, Jack Harpur, who fought in Kerry at that time. Paddy explains that his grandmother, Josie Harpur, became politically active after the executions in 1916. Members of Cumann na mBan were given training in nursing skills and the Harpur home in John Dillon Place became a safe house where the injured were treated. Seán recounts anecdotes about his uncles Jack and Jim Harpur. During the Emergency the 26th Battalion of the LDF brought together men from both sides, and he explains that his father could not understand how some men could not accept one another afterwards. His father was interned at one time at Gormanstown, he says. Paddy Holahan began his career as a carpenter and was promoted to overseer in the Board of Works at the Phoenix Park. His responsibilities included Áras an Uachtaráin. Seán recalls attending Mass at Christmas at the Park and meeting President Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh and his wife Phyllis, who had also been a member of Cumann na mBan. Seán describes his mother Josie as a woman of strong character who never spoke much about her early life. He remembers attending the unveiling of the Seán Heuston memorial in the Garden of Remembrance, and explains that Heuston’s sister was his godmother. Ciarán explains that his grandfather died before the Bureau of Military History began to collect witness statements. Seán remembers his father giving a talk at Gracepark to a Fianna Fáil cumann about his experiences during the Troubles. The Holahan home was raided on many occasions by the Black and Tans, and Seán’s grandmother would talk about these raids. At the time Josie used to carry guns and messages, using his older brother Paud’s pram. Paddy explains that his grandmother was not in receipt of a pension, unlike her husband Paddy. It appears that she left Cumann na mBan but remained active, running the safe house with her sister and her mother. Seán explains the reason why an interview was carried out with Josie Holahan in about 1980. Another recording exists of his aunt Mamie which was compiled by RTÉ. Mamie married Seán O’Connor. Seán remarks that Countess Markievicz attended his parents’ marriage, and he recalls people who would call to the family home. Peter O’Connor was a close friend of his father and had been interned in Frongoch with him. Frank Henderson was also a friend. Paddy discusses his grandfather’s role in relation to military service pension claims. He explains that some claims were disputed and authentication and witness statements were necessary. Ciarán explains the importance of archiving the memories of the relatives of the participants for future generations. Paddy has explored the roles played by his grandparents in the struggle for Irish freedom and he expresses his admiration of their bravery. Ciarán recalls a statement made by his grandfather who indicated that his priorities were Ireland, his religion and his wife, in that order. Seán explains that his father was excommunicated and that the Catholic clergy would not administer the sacraments at that time, though the Capuchins at Gormanstown Castle would do so. Paddy Holahan would afterwards attend daily Mass at Aughrim Street. Seán reflects on what would have driven his father and uncle to fight for Irish independence. Paddy suggests that this drive may have been engendered in their schooldays, possibly through the Christian Brothers at a time of resurgence of Irish culture and language. His grandfather played hurling and took part in féiseánna. Seán thinks that Paddy Holahan’s father served in the British Army in India before he married in the 1870s. When Paddy Holahan returned from Frongoch in August 1916, he joined 1st Battalion, and his grandson Paddy explained that at that time people were not clear about what to do to support the cause. Paddy Holahan was convicted for singing a seditious song at around this time. Seán explains that his father was active in campaigning for the 1918 general election. He discusses his father’s role in the surveillance of Collinstown aerodrome and explains that his aunts Mamie and Kitty were immersed in the fight for freedom and were held at Kilmainham Gaol. Ciarán tells an anecdote about his grandparents’ attendance at a rally in Dame Street and his grandfather’s behaviour on the day. He explains the reason for the foundation of Fianna Éireann in opposition to Baden-Powell’s British scouting movement. A strong sense of the injustice of the imposition of imperialism on Ireland prevailed, he says. Paddy recalls that on any occasion when the British were celebrating, his grandfather would remove supportive bunting or flags. Seán considers the recent visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland and what his parents would have thought of this event. He thinks that his father would have welcomed it as a sign of the maturity of the nation. Paddy Holahan died aged 48 when his son Seán was 10 years old, and he is buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery. He was afforded military honours by the 1st Battalion. Seán discusses the large Celtic Cross on his father’s resting place, and says that is unaware of the location of his uncle Garry’s grave. He explains that two versions exist of his parents’ initial meeting, and he remembers the couple as being very close. What survives is their belief and hope for Ireland. His father formed the Irish Woodworkers’ Union so that he could help others to live a good and responsible life. The family’s struggles after his father’s death are recalled. His brother Ciarán became a priest, and Seán worked initially with Irish Dunlop and later in Tipperary before returning to Dublin. After his marriage, his mother Josie and his sister Colette moved to Rathfarnham. The strong regard for his father is emphasised, and Seán says that Paddy was seen as an honest, upright and hard-working person. There were three sisters and two brothers in the Harpur family, and Jim Harpur attained the rank of Colonel in the Army. His brother Jack was a colourful character who claimed that he had three pensions, from the Old IRA, the Irish Army and the British Army. During the war, Jack served as ambulance driver, was injured and claimed an army disability pension. Seán remembers him very well and recounts some anecdotes in relation to him.

Additional information



Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

51.82 MB

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Paddy Holahan (Interviewees’ father/grandfather), Garrett Holahan (Interviewees’ uncle/granduncle), Josie Harpur (Interviewees’ mother/grandmother)

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