Secret police surveillance files detail 1916 Rising leaders’ activity

Century-old secret police files released to the public for the first time reveal the efforts made to monitor suspected revolutionaries in the 11 months leading up to the 1916 Rising.

Secret police surveillance files detail 1916 Rising leaders’ activity

Daily surveillance reports produced by detectives from the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) show they trailed key figures day and night in an ultimately futile attempt to gather intelligence.

The first five reports, for June 1-5, 1915, have been published on the National Archives website and new batches will be published weekly until April 20 next year, when the last report was filed just four days before the Easter Rising.

The 230 people the DMP watched included future signatories to the Proclamation of Independence such as Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDermott, and Thomas MacDonagh, and many other familiar names such as Sean T O’Kelly, Con Colbert, and Eoin MacNeill.

All of the reports are typed and follow the same format, beginning with “the undermentioned extremists were observed moving about and associating with each other”, before going on to note times and venues of meetings and conversations, how long they took, and who was involved.

A number of key locations in Dublin provided the backdrop for much of the surveillance, including the shop of Thomas J Clarke at 75 Parnell St, the Irish Volunteers Office at 2 Dawson St, the Irish National Forester’s Hall at 41 Parnell Square, and the headquarters of the Gaelic League at 25 Parnell Square.

In the first batch, James Joseph Walsh, referred to as JJ Walsh, the future postmaster general and later minister for posts and telegraphs from Bandon, Co Cork, was obsessively followed over several days.

The June 3 report, from surveillance on June 2, states: “JJ Walsh left 37 Haddington Road at 11.30am and walked to the City. He called on James Whelan, 17 Ormond quay, and later visited in company of Whelan the Gaelic Press, 30 Upper Liffey Street.

“Walsh then returned to his lodgings which he reached at 2.40pm. At 3.15pm he was again seen to leave and walk towards the City. He continued his journey to Green Street but the court having adjourned he returned home having in the meantime visited a Picture House in Grafton Street.

“He again left 37 Haddington Road at 8.15pm and walked via Stephens Green to the Royal Exchange Hotel where he remained a few minutes. He returned to his lodgings at 10.15pm and was not again seen out for the night.”

Major events which took place during the 11 months to April 1916 are also recorded, including the funeral of Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and the Annual Convention of Irish Volunteers as well as various commemorations and anti-conscription rallies.

Copies of nationalist newspapers and pamphlets are also included.



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