From Knockhouse to Kilmainham Jail

1916-2016Local Arts worker Ollie Breslin gave a talk about his extended family connections to John Wyse Power, of Knockhouse, Carriganore, Waterford in St. Patrick’s Gateway Centre.
This family went on to have some very interesting connections to events around the Rising in 1916 and the formation of the New State.
John Wyse Power was born in 1959 and went to primary school in Mount Sion and to Secondary as a boarder in Blackrock.
The oldest of a family of nine children his sister Anne married into the Phelan clan (of Norriss’s Pub in Barrack Street but at that time they had a pub on the Quay) and another sister Cait who married Padraig O’Keeffe from Cork but also lived in Dublin.

John Wyse Power.

John Wyse Power.

At Blackrock College John Wyse Power would become interested in the Irish language and for the rest of his life he campaigned, wrote and lectured on various aspects of the Irish language.
He was also instrumental with his wife Jennie in the setting up of the Irish College in Ring.
He was sacked from his first job as a Civil Servant as he was suspected (rightly) as being a member of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) who many years later was the organisation responsible for the Rising of 1916.
He became a journalist and worked as editor for the Leinster Leader, the Freemans Journal, Irish Independent and The Telegraph.
He was an active supporter of Parnell all his life and was jailed in Wicklow for 6 months for his campaigning with the Land league.
It was here that he met his wife Jennie O’Toole from Baltinglass in Co. Wicklow who was also an active Land League campaigner.
Th]ey moved to Dublin raised a family, opened a shop ‘The Irish Farm Produce Company’ at 21 Henry Street.
The business was so successful that they eventually had four shops in the centre of Dublin.
All of these shops were also a front for a lot of nationalist activity with secret meetings happening at various times.
The shop in Henry Street is where the seven signatories for the Proclamation wrote the proclamation and signed it on the week before the Rising.
Jennie Wyse Power.

Jennie Wyse Power.

John’s main claim to fame from a historical point of view is that he was one of the original seven who founded the GAA at the famous meeting in Hayes Hotel in Thurles.
He also accompanied both Parnell and Redmond on their respective trips to New York and was treated to very high deference by the Press in New York.
His writing and wit was seen at that time as comparable to Swift.
His other claim to fame was that he was a good friend of James Joyce and indeed he is mentioned in both poems and in Ulysses by Joyce.
Jennie, his wife, was more famous than him and went on to help set-up Cumann na mBan and alongside her brother-in-law Padraig O’Keeffe and Arthur Griffith helped the emergence of Sinn Fein in the early years.
She later became a Senator and was a lifetime advocate for women’s rights.
She was a very close friend of all the main women in history at that time including Anna Parnell, Countess Markievicz, Hannah Skeffington, Maud Gonne and Elizabeth O’Farrell.
She even took a young Waterford woman Rosamund Jacob under her wing and they had many talks in Ring, Co. Waterford and she gave her introductions to meet all the main feminists in Dublin at that time.

John’s niece Anne Phelan married Willy Corrigan a young Solicitor who fought with the South Dublin Union in 1916 and was taken prisoner and brought initially to Richmond Barracks and then later Kilmainham prison.
He was sentenced to death but luckily his sentence was commuted instead to 6 years in prison.
He was released a year later after serving time in Portland Prison and Lewes jail in the UK.
Later he worked on the legal side of helping to form the new State including organising monies from the US to be hidden in Bank accounts throughout Dublin to help create the new State.
Willy also was from the Corrigan family of the Undertakers in Dublin and his dad was the respected Alderman Patrick Corrigan on Dublin Council.

Padraig O’Keeffe.

Padraig O’Keeffe.

Their undertaking firm handled most of the main republican funerals of that period including the famous O’Donovan Rossa funeral with Padraig Pearse making the inspiring speech “…The Fools The Fools they left us our Fenian dead”

Their extended family were very mixed up with Michael Collins throughout the War of Independence.
Anne Phelan’s brother Robert meanwhile was the Intelligence Officer for the IRA in Waterford during this period.

At the talk in St. Patrick’s Gateway Centre, Ollie was joined at the top table by two narrators local actor James Rockett and Julie Phelan from the Phelan family and a daughter of the late Bobby Phelan who himself was a published Historian with books on both William Vincent Wallace and the Bonaparte Wyse’s.

His talk also covered other aspects of that period with links to Waterford incl. The Howth Gun Running by Erskine Childers and how Dunmore East was used as a decoy to throw the authorities off the trail resulting in a British Gunboat and large squads of RIC and army deployed out there while the real thing was happening in Howth. Also another moving story of Dr. J.C. Ridgway who was a doctor in the British Medical Corp – he was originally from Waterford’s Grubb family, who was asked to treat a wounded prisoner (James Connolly) in Dublin castle after the Rising. Over a period of time they got on speaking terms and the Doctor even arranged for letters to go back-and-forth to his wife. However the interesting bit was that one day he was handed a telegram by mistake which was from the British Prime Minister at the time Asquith ordering that Connollys execution be postponed. However when General Maxwell saw the telegram he tore it up as he was determined that all of the main leaders of 1916 would be executed.

Ollie spoke afterwards and expressed his hope that John Wyse Power and their influence could be embraced more widely in Waterford. One idea that was floated on the night was the idea of connecting the new WIT Sports Complex with his name. As Ollie explained “It would make a lot of sense as he was born a couple of fields away from the front door of the Complex and his links to the founding of the GAA would make it appropriate”.

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