GAVE YEARS OF DEVOTED SERVICE TO THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM
by Florence O'Donoghue.
Donnchadha MacNeilus was born at Malinbeg, Glencolumbkille, Co. Donegal. To honour his memory the people of his native place have decided to erect a memorial near the church where he attended mass as a boy. To make it a memorial worthy of his long years of devoted service in the fight for National freedom, an appeal is being made for funds through the generous co-operation of The Kerryman.
As a youth he took an active interest in every aspect of the reawakening national spirit, then being fostered by many small groups, particularly in the Irish language, of which he became an enthusiastic and proficient student. After qualifying as an electrical engineer, he worked in a number of places including Birmingham, before taking up employment at Haulbowline dockyard in Cork Harbour. While working there he resided in the city, and after some time found employment also in Cork.
He was one of the first to join the Irish Volunteers on their formation in Cork, and when the spilt with Redmond occurred he was one of the small minority who remained faithful to the original Volunteer Executive. In the arduous work of re-building the Cork city Companies after the split, and in organising in many parts of the country, he was one of the tireless pioneers. He was a powerful cyclist and on many a Sunday in 1915 and early 1916, with other officers from Brigade HQ, he travelled to the parades of the developing companies in many parts of the county, organizing, drilling, encouraging.
Medium sized, sturdily built, with dark hair and clear blue eyes, he was in disposition quiet, reserved, intelligent - a little austere, some would say. He was a man of great sincerity and determination, holding on to his ideals and beliefs with steady, northern combativness. Few suspected his quiet sense of humour, that, too, had a characteristic astringent quality.
When the Cork companies marched out to Macroom on Easter Sunday 1916, MacNeilus marched with them, in charge of their very limited supply of explosives. They went out prepared to do their part in the struggle which they believed was about to begin, but a confusion in orders left them at that critical time without clear or definite directions as to the action they should take. The plan upon which they mobilised was based on the assumption that the arms from Germany would be landed at Fenit, Co.Kerry, on Easter Sunday night, and that they would receive their quota early next day. When that plan became meaningless with the loss of the arms ship, they were without orders, and the result was that Cork was denied an opportunity of participating in the Easter Rising.
MacNeilus was one of those fortunate to escape arrest in the subsequent sweep of Volunteers into foreign jails and internment camps. He resumed his Volunteer activities, and on the re-organisation of the city companies in late 1917, he was elected Captain of the Cyclist Company attached to Brigade HQ. He excelled at any kind of electrical or mechanical or electrical work, and because of his proficiency it was almost inevitable that the repair of weapons should be entrusted to him. In addition to his other duties he acted as armourer to the four city companies.
Thus it was that he had almost always weapons in his custody for repair. Even before it became official policy, he had frequently declared his intention if raided to defend any arms in his possession - with his life. The raid came, and he did just what he said he would do - as anyone who knew him well could have foretold.
About 07.30 a.m on the morning of November 4th 1918, a party of five R.I.C men raided his lodgings at the home of Denis Kelleher, 28 Leitrim Street. One of them was armed with a revolver. Donnchadha's rifle, which was in the house, was not accessible to him when the police entered; but his revolver, a 32. Smith and Wesson, was in his room, and with it in hand he confronted the raiders and defied them to search or arrest him. In the desperate struggle that followed, Head Constable Clarke, was very seriously wounded. One of the police went for help, and it was only on the arrival of District Inspector Swanzy (subesquently heavily implicated in Tomas MacCurtain's murder) and four constables armed with carbines that MacNeilus and Denis Kelleher who had gone unarmed to his assistance, were finally overpowered and arrested. The struggle had gone on from 7.30 to 9 a.m when Swanzy arrived, and, as MacNeilus himself said, "By that time we were all exhausted."
At the subsequent trial of Denis Kelleher the impression was conveyed, in the slick way these things were managed at the time, that the first raiding party of police were unarmed. Here, in his own words, is what MacNeilus said in a letter to the present writer (F.O'Donoghue):
"The statement was untrue. Constable Neilus was armed with a short Webley. It was not a case of firing on unarmed police who could not respond in kind. They had a better weapon than my .32 Smith and Wesson, and when Swanzy came with his automatic and four men with carbines they were scarcely the unarmed guardians of the peace they represented themselves as being....Sergeant Cahill (another to feature in the later inquest into the murderof Tomas MacCurtain), was asked when telling his story in the witness box, 'were you armed?' He replied 'No.' If the 'You' was singular he was correct. But everyone whe read the report took the 'You' as being plural. Constable Neilus was not asked that question for obvious reasons."
This valiant defence of his liberty and his arms by one man, alone and against superior numbers, set a standard comrades in the Volunteers, not alone in Cork, but throughout the whole of Ireland wherever Volunteers were armed, that a lead had been given at such a time when such a lead was needed. The following comment appeared in An tOglach, the official organ of the Volunteers in its issue of November 15 1918:
"In the first issue of An tOglach we said: 'Volunteers with weapons in their hands should never surrender without a fight.' A fine example in carrying out this instruction was afforded by Mr MacNeilus in Cork. Attacked in his bedroom by several policemen he inflicted a dangerous wound on one and was only overpowered by numbers after a desperate struggle in which two other policemen were injured. The record of MacNeilus as a Volunteer has been excellent; and his gallant defence against enemy aggression will evoke the admiration of every decent Irishman. The instruments of English Government who attempt to interfere with Volunteer activities must be made to understand that they do so at their own peril. The fate of MacNeilus will be watched with careful sympathy by the Volunteer organisation."
His comrades in Cork did something better than watch his fate with careful sympathy. They rescued him from Cork Jail. But that story has been told elsewhere. An tOglach commented, in its issue of November 30th:
"Bravo, Cork! In our last issue we had occasion to congratulate that fine Volunteer MacNeilus, on his plucky fight in resisting arrest in Cork - a fight which resulted in the disablement for life of one policeman and the wounding of two others. We are glad to be able to congratulate the Volunteers of Cork on having rescued MacNeilus from Cork prison. This daring exploit, by half a dozen volunteers, was skillfully planed and carried out with a courage and efficiency which we would hold up to all Volunteers for imitation. The Cork Corps are to be congratulated on having such men. Every incident connected to the MacNeilus affair gives cause for pride and is an example to all Volunteers."
After his rescue MacNeilus remained in the area and in the service of Cork No.1 Brigade. As well as doing much in his own particular field, he took part in many activities, including the Dripsey Ambush. During the Truce he went for a time to the home of his sister, Mrs Mary MacIntyre, at Malinbeg.
THE CIVIL WAR
In the Civil War he was on the Republican side of the struggle. He said at that time that he would continue to serve the ideals and principles he had started to serve in 1914 until the ideals were achieved or death had claimed him. His service now was mainly in his native Donegal, first as Engineer, 1st Northern Division, and later as O/C of the Division.
In that time of heartbreak and sundered ranks he suffered many hardships and had many narrow escapes from death. On one occasion, he was captured, beaten and tortured in Dungloe, but because he was not recognized he was released. After an attack on Glenties he got seperated from his comrades, and took shelter amongst some turf stacks in a bog. A bloodhound located him. He shot the dog and escaped.
On another occasion he was surrounded with six others in a quarry. Holding their fire until the Free State forces were close upon them; they gave the impression of being a much larger force than they were. By skilful control and leadership MacNeilus withdrew his group without casualties.
A story is told of how he saved a man in whose house he was staying from being robbed. Two armed robbers appeared in the dead of night and demanded the money which Donnchadha's host had received for cattle at a fair that day. He heard the demand for money, came out of his room gun in hand and disarmed the raiders. Then he compelled them to wash their faces so that their intended victim could recognize them. Putting them on their knees, he compelled them to swear that never again would they interfere with their neighbours.
Webmaster: Mac Niallghuis passed away in 1954 and buried with full military honours. Former Volunteers from the 3rd Western Division fired the shots over his grave.