You ask about Col. OConnell. There were two, and both were very close friends of mine. The first was Col. Ginger OConnell, who was Assistant Chief of Staff to General R. Mulcahy during the Black and Tan times. After the treaty he stood by the free state side. But the man you are interested in was Col. Jephson OConnell. He also was in the Free State Army with me. He was a priest, and one of the most devout and wonderful Catholics I have ever known. he came from Cork and was a young curate, hearing of the terrible casualties in the war, he joined the British Army as an Army Chaplain. He was attached to the Irish Guards and fearlessly went into action, over the top, invariably with them, comforting the dying and helping the wounded no matter how heavy the fire. The way he went through it all unharmed the troops looked upon as a miracle so several of them told me later. After the war he returned to Cork, still a curate and waiting for a parish curacy. The I.R.A. struggle was then in full blast and seeing these young patriots going out and often dying unshriven, he joined up with Tom Barrys columns and went round with them - but as a priest, not as a fighter, though often in great danger himself as he wore no clerical clothes. At the time the Archbishop of Cork was Dr. Cahalan, [w]ho was very pro-British and fiercely anti-I.R.A. When he heard of Jephsons activities he ordered him to cease them at once, and return to his control. But Jephson saw his duty to be with those in mortal tander, so he refused and defied the Archbishop. At that, he was de-frocked and everything done to stop him. But once a priest, always a priest so, as he still had his power of hearing confessions and giving the last Rites, he continued with the columns.
When the treaty came he, like me, accepted it. He joined in the Free State Army as an ordinary officer and was specially given the rank of Colonel. He took no part in the fighting but, being extremely capable, he was most helpful in administration and organisation. From our first meeting we became friends, and the more we saw of each other the closer our intimacy became.
Inevitably in such conditions, many of the officers in the Free State Army were of a very rough type, poorly educated, tough and not really amenable to discipline. They did good work under the Guerrilla conditions of the Black and Tan Times, but as the civil war came to an end they became more and more a dangerous problem, for their solution to any difficulty was physical force, including assassination! All quite unacceptable in a civilised and peaceful state. I only intended to stay in the Free State Army till the troubles were over, and at this particular time I was in command of the large Portobello Barracks in Dublin, which then contained not only Army Headquarters but also the Ministry of Defence. I discovered through my own intelligence service that these disgruntled officers were [p.1] arranging to rebel, seize the Ministry and the G.H.Q. and declare a new Republic, with themselves in power. They were led by that remarkable character, Joe McGrath, later of Sweepstake fame. As a number of the conspirators were very senior officers as well as several members of Dail Eireann, to deal with the whole situation was clearly for the Civil Government rather than for G.H.Q. The widespread unrest was well known, but not that there was an organised plan for mutiny all over the country and to seize power in Dublin! I decided to consult Jephson, because both his moral and physical courage and his integrity were outstanding. We had long and urgent talks, and in the end decided that Yeats was the best man to take the matter up with the Cabinet and convincee them of the seriousness of the situation and the need for firm and instant action. So I went to see Yeats in Merrion Square and arranged to bring Jephson along the next evening. I did so, leaving them alone to discuss thing and after a long talk Yeats fully grasped the situation and went to see Kevin OHiggins, of whom he rightly thought highly.
Action took place at once, and the next day, I was sent for by Dick Mulcahy, the Minister of Defence and General Eoin ODuffy, the Chief of Staff. Of course they had no idea that I, not Jephson, had initiated it all; and I told them all the startling information I had. They then gave me a free hand to deal with the situation in Portobello Barracks, regardless of any ones rank. I found there was very little time for, sensing danger, the mutineers had decided to act. The centre of their power was in the armoured car corps, which was stationed in Portobello, most of its officers being with them. So the night before they were to rise, I confined them all to their rooms, and put loyal officers in charge of the cars, sleeping beside them ready for instant action. The next morning the mutiny broke out all over the country, several small barracks were seized, and in others officers and men left with weapons and ammunition ready to move to Dublin. But, alas for them Dublin was quiet. The Government decided that all officers who did not want to stay could leave Portobello and I had them all carefully searched as they left. As a result, far from seizing the place, it was the only big army post in Ireland that did not lose even one round of ammunition. Getting no support from the people. The malcontents soon became tired of being on the run and the whole thing frittered out in a very few weeks.
An amusing incident happened to me just at this time. There was one of those queer characters that Dublin so often provides to make life lighter, wandering about the streets at that time. He was Phillip Little, the brother of a leading District Justice, and he was a religious crank. He was a stockily built, grey haired man who went about bare-headed and wearing a large sort of smock of sack-cloth, with a big iron crucifix hung round his neck by a heavy chain. His chief conviction was of the immorality of young women, whom he denounced in public at all times to the [p.2] blushing confusion of many a young innocent. A girl student from T.C.D. whom I know was in a tram when he got in. Though sitting at the far end he stretched out his arm, pointing at her and shouting Behold, the scarlet woman of Babylon. Her offence was that she wore a white blouse with a small V neck! Turning to some chuckling Shawly women near him muffled to their ears he said Meet you in heaven, my dears!
Just after the Army mutiny when the strictest arrangements were in force at the main gate of Portobello Barracks, the door of the Camp Commandants Office, near the Guard Room, burst open and Phillip Little appeared and harangued me, denouncing the troops in the barracks for, when off duty, strolling with girls down the poorly lit paths by the neighbouring canal, and even holding hands and kissing. He demanded that I should at once put a stop to it and patrol the paths! I was furious by this breach of orders at the gate and his refusal to stop when I ordered him out. So I called out the guard, who, grinning with delight, put him in a cell, pricking his behind gently with their bayonets to keep him on the move. I gave the Military Police on duty a piece of my mind, got two Civic Guards outside to move him on, and then had him put outside. The last I saw of him as the guards moved him on he was shaking his fist at me and shouting Anti-Christ, Anti-Christ! Alas, after that whenever he saw me in a Dublin street he started to shout Anti-Christ, Anti-Christ!, quite embarrassing, yet people, knowing him, just laughed.
A friend of mine who knew his brother, was asked by him to dine. He went full of curiosity expecting if not a Barmecide Feast, at least a hermits fast. Not a bit of it, for he had a first-class meal with excellent wines and quite brilliant and witty talk. No signs of sack-cloth, nor even of religion.
[signed:] D. G. Mac Manus.