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Art O’Donnell Manuscript

Art O’Donnell (1890-1973), formerly Commandant, West Clare Brigade (1921) and Paymaster for Clare County Council (1919-21).

The manuscript was written during his internment in Frongoch, North Wales and principally contains poems and ballads of Irish and Clare provenance and a most interesting sketch entitled ‘my beloved cell’. Approximately 1,800 Irish rebels were interred in Frognach, ‘the University of Revolution’ between June and December 1916 following the Rising. Prisoners included men such as Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy and Michael Brennan.

Art O’Donnell was sworn into the I.R.B. in 1908 by his first cousin Con Colbert (executed 1916), who was visiting the O’Donnell home in Tullycrine. (W.S 1322, Bureau of Military History, Witness statement.) Art attended meetings of the I.R.B frequently in Dublin while attending St. Patrick’s college and in 1913 was responsible for distributing anti enlisting leaflets all over West Clare on the brink of the outbreak of World War 1. In 1914 Art was teaching in Low Island school in Kilydysert, Co. Clare, when at the same time he formed a small local circle with Sean Mac Namara “Jacko Mack”, Martin Griffin and Frank Mc Mahon which concentrated on recruiting locally for the Irish Volunteers.

In 1916, a meeting of the newly formed Clare County Board of Irish Volunteers took place in the Board Room at Ennis Workhouse where the master of the workhouse Frank Barrett ‘was detained’ until the meeting had finished:

BG/En/86 (Ennis Board of Guardian Minutes)
Master’s Report, 29th Jan, 1916
‘…that whilst engaged in the provisions store at about 3:15pm on the 29th ultimo, he received a message from the hall porter that a large body of men had entered the board room. He immediately proceeded to the Boardroom, the door of which he found on arrival locked on the inside. He knocked, and on giving his name, was admitted, when the door was immediately relocked. He asked those present by whose authority they came there and took possession of the room. They replied they had the unanminous consent of the Board of Guardians to come there to hold a meeting. He next inquired their business and was informed that it was to hold a meeting of the County Board of the Irish Volunteers. He explained to them that the Board of Guardians had no authority to grant the use of the Boardroom for such purposes as was shown by the letters of the Local Government Board heard at the last meeting of the Guardians, he explained the contents of this letter protested against their holding a meeting, and asked them to leave. He was told they would not leave until they had transacted their business and furthermore he was ordered to sit down as he would not be allowed to leave until they thought fit. Under the circumstances, held up as he was, he could do no more until the meeting concluded when he made a report to Head Constable Hourahan who was in the yard inside the outer gate.’

On Saturday, 22nd April Art O’Donnell in attendance at the Fianna Hall in Limerick with several others such as Michael Brennan, Comdt. Colivet and Sean O’Dea learned of Casements arrest and the consequential loss of the arms transmission. This lead to suspension of operations until GHQ in Dublin issued word for further action. The volunteers in Clare were one of the first to reorganise after the Easter Rising and were heavily surveyed during this period. On the 29th April, 1916 Art O’Donnell was arrested and spend a week in Limerick Gaol and then sent to Richmond Barracks in Dublin along with many other volunteers from around the country such as Michael and Padraig Brennan, Austin Stack and Sean O’Dea before being sent to Frongoch, North Wales where he remained until late July, 1916.

Upon his release he recommenced duties to train, organise meetings and activities in Clare and detect and ensure the safety of arms and ammunition still existing which could be amassed.

In January 1917 Clare was divided into a number of Battalions where a commandant was appointed to each area. Art O’Donnell was one of these appointed Commandants together with Micheal Brennan, Sean Mc Namara, Bertie Hunt, Michael Quinn, Seamus Connelly, Eamon Fennell and Michael Moloney.
On 11th July, 1917 with De Valera’s landslide at the East Clare election celebrations ensued through the format of public drilling by the volunteers and ultimately arrests were made and trials by District Court Martial followed. Art O’ Donnell was sentenced to two years hard labour commuted to one in Mount joy Gaol, Dublin. It was here on the 20th September that the famous ‘Thomas Ashe hunger strike’ took place. Force feeding was commenced upon the prisoners and on the 25th September, Thomas Ashe (President of the Supreme Council of the IRB) died as a consequence of this force feeding. This had an enormous effect on the volunteer movement and growth throughout Ireland.

In December 1917 O’Donnell was moved to Dundalk Gaol where he was temporarily released under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ and returned home to Clare and resumed activities until his re-arrest in March 1918. O’Donnell remained in Belfast Gaol until the end of World War I and was released with Michael Brennan on 24th December, 1918.He returned to Clare and resumed training, activities and strengthening communications with other brigades in the surrounding areas. He was again arrested during an incident with the R.I.C in 1919 but was released one month later on medical grounds. In an attempt to re-establish order in the county due to agitation on the land question, O’Donnell was responsible for the establishment of the first circuit criminal court in Clonina House, Cree where he was appointment registrar. This system was adopted and sanction for use throughout the country by Minister for Justice, Dail Eireann, Austin Stack.

At this time all the county council and district councils were Sinn Fein elected candidates and to prevent the seizure of funds by the British authorities it was decided that the collection of rates be given to the trustees directly where the funds would released according to the Council’s needs. This was done through the Paymaster. Art O’Donnell was the appointed paymaster in August 1920. He was arrested in November and sent to Cork Jail and then onto Ballykinlar Camp where such men as Sean Lemass and Dr. Tom O’Higgins were also being interned.

In December 1921 the Anglo Irish Treaty was signed and O’Donnell was finally released from prison.

The manuscript was kindly donated by Art O’Donnell’s son, Hugh, to Clare County Archives to ensure its care and preservation.

Art O’Donnell’s witness statement taken by The Bureau of Military History which documents his own activities in West Clare from 1908-21 is available for consultation in the Local Studies Library.

External Link: Art O’Donnell's Witness Statement

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