About Our Residents
Sheila O’Leary gracefully handed over her chain of office to Anne Waters at the last residents meeting. Congratulations and thanks to Anne for taking on the role of Mayor of Nazareth House for the next year. This is Anne’s first venture into politics! June 2017
Lucy A Smyth & Thomas F Byrne
both Garrisoned in the GPO, Easter Week 1916
Our resident, Sheila O'Leary is the only person living to have both parents in the GPO in 1916!
Sheila had two parents in the GPO in 1916. Her Mum was Lucy Agnes Smyth. During Easter Week 1916 Lucy hid arms, mobilised Cumann na mBan, delivered dispatches, and tended the wounded at the GPO and The Hibernian Bank including James Connolly. In 1916 Lucy was romantically linked with Con Colbert who called her ‘the nicest girl in Dublin’. He was a rival for Lucy’s affection with Sheila’s Dad the dashing and gallant 6”3 soldier Captain Tom Byrne.
During Easter week Lucy was part of the group of Cumann na mBan nursing contingent who bravely escorted the wounded Volunteers under fire in the battlefield to Jervis Street Hospital around the time of the main evacuation of 300 Volunteers and three women to Moore Street from the blazing GPO. A bullet took the top of a bottle of ether one of the women was carrying. No respect was given to the Red Cross flag. They sought refuge in The Coliseum Theatre where they prepared to die, such was the ferocity of fire coming from the British Parnell Street Barricade at the end of Moore Street. Armed Volunteers who escorted them tunnelled through houses with pick-axes and hammers and climbed on rooftops to lead the way to safety. They carried the wounded on stretchers.
When they reached Williams Lane on Princes Street the women received conditional absolution from Fr Flanagan. They were in a very grave predicament and trapped between two burning barricades. They hoisted their skirts and jumped over the flames. They miraculously all survived without a singe though a flitch of bacon they were carrying got a little overdone and all supplies were abandoned! They made their way to Abbey Street and proceeded with caution on to Jervis Street Hospital where the exhausted women remained overnight on the floor in the dispensary. A nurse entering the room shrieked as she thought they were dead.
In Kilmainham Jail, while awaiting execution Con sent a message to "the nicest girl in Dublin" via Fr Albert. Lucy never revealed what it was. Sheila many years later, after Lucy’s death, found a lock of Con’s hair amongst her personal items. Con left Lucy a parcel during Easter Week but Lucy never got it. Con gave a pistol to Lucy that used to be on display at the National Museum in Dublin. Following Con’s execution in 1916 Lucy became close friends with Con’s sister Lila. Sheila’s youngest sister was called Lila after Lila Colbert. Lucy showed Lila love letters and poems that Con had written to her. Con Colbert’s nephew, Con now lives in Raheny and he and Sheila have met over lunch. Con was a P.E. teacher up in St Paul’s College Raheny before he retired and he taught Sheila’s two sons P.E.
In 1919 Lucy married the very handsome and courageous Capt Tom Byrne who had arrived in the GPO after marching 26 kilometres from Kildare with “The Maynooth 15” overnight. They were the only troops to mobilise outside of Dublin and make it into the GPO. As he entered the GPO after his arduous and dangerous trek leading the Maynooth 15, Lucy brought him a basin of water and a pair of clean socks. Tom later gave her his watch and some money for safe-keeping. She assisted his escape in disguise up North after the surrender. Neither remarkably were imprisoned in 1916.
Sheila’s father was already an extraordinary soldier and the younger Volunteers were in awe of him. Tom had already lived several lives on three different continents by 1916. He was born in Carrickmacros in 1877. He travelled to South Africa in 1896 and worked in the gold mines. Tom fought with the Boers and Major John MacBride against British injustice. After the Boer War Tom then spent 11 years working in the mines of Montana, California, Colorado and Nevada.
Tom returned to Ireland on a visit in 1913 financed by a small win in a baseball lottery and attended the first meeting of the Volunteers. He was well known to authorities because of his Boer War involvement and military experience and is listed as an Extremist in the recently released DMP files as one of the more frequent visitors to Tom Clarke’s shop. Padraig Pearse gave him instructions to mobilise the volunteers in Co. Kildare. Due to the countermanding order, they were only 15 men when they marched to Dublin on Easter Monday via an overnight stay in Glasnevin Cemetery where they hid their weapons in one of the towers. The Maynooth 15 were jubilantly greeted by Pearse and Connolly when they arrived in the GPO on Easter Tuesday morning. Later in the week, Tom was sent by James Connolly to protect the Mail Office on Parliament Street via the Exchange Hotel and he saw much action there and also around Capel Street Bridge and Liffey Street. He was a sniper on the roof of the Exchange Hotel which protected City Hall next to Dublin Castle.
In December 1916 after the execution of Ned Daly, Tom was elected Commandant of the 1st Battalion, Dublin IRA, a position he held till 1919. In 1920, he was arrested and sent to Brixton and Wormwood Scrubs for five months. He was rearrested in autumn 1920 and sent to Rath Camp, The Curragh where he and 50 men escaped through a tunnel. One of the men he escaped with was Con’s brother Jim.
In 1922, Michael Collins nominated Tom Byrne for the position of Captain of the Guard at Dail Eireann a position he held for 25 years until he retired at the age of 70 in 1947. He received a medal from the South African Government in 1946. Tom and Lucy had five children though Sheila’s older sister Maureen died at seven weeks as a result of a ‘British military raid’. Sheila recalls an idyllic childhood growing up in the Phoenix Park, her playground was the gardens of Aras an Uachtarain. Her Father she says was a gentle giant and she never once heard him raise his voice. He was a keen fisherman. Her Mother was as avid reader and a loving Mother. She made jams and preserves and she cycled to Clontarf Baths during the summer months for a swim. Sheila wishes she had asked her parents more about their revolutionary lives. She is in awe of what her parents sacrificed for their country and feels she has left their legacy for the Irish nation to know and honour forever.
As part of commemorating the 1916 rising, Shiela attended the Easter Sunday parade.
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