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Men at Arms

Maurice Earls writes: During the Great War of 1914-18 between 35,000 and 40,000 Dubliners fought in British uniform. Towards the end of his book Dublin’s Great Wars Richard S Grayson discusses how three individuals fared after the war.

Emmet Dalton, who fought with the IRA and previously with the British army, was in some ways highly representative of his times. The majority nationalist opinion in 1914 was supportive of the Irish Parliamentary Party which, under Redmond, had advocated enlistment in the British army as a means of advancing Irish national interests. This position became increasingly unpopular and after the rising public opinion supported a more radical national politics, including a war to expel the British.

During the War of Independence Dalton achieved high rank and was close to Michael Collins. But after Collins’s assassination he withdrew from the military, resigning his commission. He subsequently worked as a film producer and was one of the founders of Ardmore studios. He wrote a screen script based on Collins’s and his own War of Independence experiences but it was never made into a film.

It seems Dalton found the orthodoxies of the Free State and the Republic trying. He said he was “thoroughly fed up” with the way in which the raid on Mountjoy jail, in which he had participated, was commemorated every year saying that there were other actions he was involved in “more daring and certainly more important” which were never referred to.


This suggests a certain alienation from the values of the new state, which was perhaps related to his service in the British army during the war, service which he was proud of and which the state did not particularly acknowledge. He was with his British army comrades when news of the rising came through. Speaking of himself and others like him he said: “We were surprised, annoyed and we thought that it was madness.”

In a letter to The Irish Times in 1966 he reminded readers that it was also the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, where “thousands of young Irishmen fought with great gallantry before losing their lives”. These young men, he said, “were volunteers who answered the call of Ireland’s political leaders of that day”. Dalton died in March 1978.

Robert Callaghan, who was a Dubliner and it seems a unionist, was born in Clontarf in 1886 and was struck by a bullet in October 1916 in Macedonia which blew away most of his right jawbone and left him blind and disfigured. When he was released from hospital he had two false eyes and went to live with his father on Drumcondra Road. A series of other treatments followed and he later married the daughter of a surgeon, Violet Hortense Hunter. In addition to his physical condition, Callaghan also experienced difficulties with his pension, the army pensions department claiming that he had been overpaid. At that time, he was living in Booterstown, an area represented by Edward Carson, who took up his case and managed to have most of the decisions against him reversed.

Callaghan remained loyal to his original political orientation. In 1938, during the Sudeten crisis, he wrote to the war office saying “in the event of great Britain becoming involved in war, may I, a war blinded officer, now practicing as a masseur and medical electrician, offer my services in these capacities?” His offer was declined, presumably politely. He died in December 1948.

Michael McCabe does not fit into any of the standard political categories. He was a veteran of the 1916 rising, having taken part as a fifteen-year-old; his father had been in the IRB. He later served in the British army and was wounded in 1918. He happened to be in Dublin in 1922 and met his old Fianna comrade Liam Mellows. He then joined the anti-Treatyites and took part in the occupation of the Four Courts in 1922. As a result he became a prisoner of the Free State.

He rejoined the British army in the 1930s and was serving when he applied for his IRA pension in 1938. A note from him in his pension file dated 1941 apologises for a delay in responding to an earlier mail and says he had been on active service for the previous year and was “somewhere in Abyssinia”. He survived the war and left the army in 1946, taking up residence in Drumcondra and later moving to Portrane, where he died in September 1975.

16/5/2019