Humphrys genealogy

Genealogy research by Mark Humphrys.

My ancestors - O'Rahilly - Contents

Michael Joseph O'Rahilly, "The O'Rahilly"

(Left) The O'Rahilly. See full size.
(Right) Nancy Brown. See full size.

Michael Joseph O'Rahilly, "The O'Rahilly",
co-founder of the Irish Volunteers (which became the IRA),
the only leader of the 1916 Rising to die in action,
born Michael Joseph Rahilly, 22 Apr 1875, Ballylongford, Co.Kerry.
See wikipedia.
He was educ local national school Oct 1880 to Sept 1889 [Bourke, 1967].
He was educ Clongowes 1890 to 1893.
He was in class at Clongowes with Paddy O'Mara. Also friends with his older brother James O'Mara at Clongowes.
Michael Joseph's nephew Dick Humphreys would much later marry James O'Mara's daughter.
In a letter of Oct 1890 [P106/51], his sister Anna teases him about some girl: "I do not think Auburn Tresses would admire that photograph as much as the original."

Researched family tree:
He researched family tree since about age 18 [O'Rahilly, 1991, p.45], around 1893.
At first he could not trace beyond Michael Rahilly, but there was a story of a connection to the poet.
He rode bicycle all round Co.Kerry, interviewing all families of Rahilly name.

He left Clongowes 1893.
Met his future wife Nancy Brown summer 1893.
He was educ Royal University of Ireland, Dublin, went in late 1893, medical faculty.
Got sick with tuberculosis, left university 1894.
Described as "medical student", 108 South Circular Rd, Dublin, when he wit his sister's mar settlement 1895.
His father died 1896. He abandoned studies to take care of the family business in Ballylongford.
Justice of the Peace: Like his father, he served as Justice of the Peace. Described as such in [Deed, Nov 1898].
He heard Nannie had been proposed to in America. Decided it was now or never.
He sold the family business in Ballylongford. Put up an ad in June 1898. Sold it for low price. He couldn't wait to get out of Ballylongford. Old house sold to Finucane 3 Sept 1898, though sale of new house seems to have taken longer.
He sailed for New York Sept 1898, going first to Amsterdam to buy a diamond engagement ring for Nannie [O'Rahilly, 1991].

He mar 15 Apr 1899, New York, to Nancy Brown [Nannie, born 4 Sept 1875].
They had a lot of money on both sides.
Honeymoon was grand tour of Europe - France, Austria, Italy.
She spoke fluent French after her schooling. He learnt French too. French was a normal language spoken in their home before their return to Ireland 1909 [Aodogán], and after that, Irish.

Start of nationalism:
His interest in Irish history led him slowly and inexorably towards nationalism.
The first indication of nationalism is in a letters controversy in 1899 in the European edition of the New York Herald, following celebrations of Queen Victoria's 80th birthday. Rahilly criticised the celebrations, pointing out the miseries her reign had inflicted on Ireland. Some of his criticism was censored by the paper as too offensive. See 7 and 14 June 1899. Copies in [P102/414].
He lived in New York for a while. His son Bobby was born New York 1900. [P106/77] has him in New York in Dec 1901.

Ireland around 1902-03, Justice of the Peace:
He returned to Ireland early 1902.
Michael Warren continued to gather family tree information for him 1902-1908.
Despite his growing nationalism, he served as Justice of the Peace again, from 1903 (prob. after representations made on his behalf by his mother) to 1907 [O'Rahilly, 1991, p.44].
Mac born Dublin, July 1903.
They lived 1903-1904 at Wilfort Cottage, near Bray, Co.Wicklow.
Researched in [NLI]. Travelled in Cos. Kerry, Cavan, Roscommon, researching his ancestry.
Wrote for Arthur Griffith's nationalist newspaper the United Irishman (in existence 1899-1906).

England around 1904:
He lived in London for a time, where he was involved with the United Irish League.
Involved with Irish Home Rule party in Brighton and London. In contact with James O'Mara who was MP there.
Researched in [BL].
Aodogán born Brighton, Sept 1904.
Corresponded on the family tree with his 1st cousin Prof. T.F. O'Rahilly c.1904-15.

Back to America, 1905:
He moved to Philadelphia autumn 1905 to help rescue Brown family business.
Lived "Slieve Luachra", Lansdowne, Philadelphia 1905-1909.
His friend James O'Mara resigned from Home Rule party June 1907 to join Sinn Fein (founded 1905). The O'Rahilly also became a Sinn Fein supporter.
He wrote on 23 Feb 1908 from "Slieve Luachra" to James O'Mara, after the defeat of Sinn Fein in the Leitrim North by-election of 21 Feb 1908: "It is disappointing after Sinn Feiners have kept pegging away for nearly a decade, but nations move slowly and it seems hard to enlighten the men of places like Breffni Ua Ruarc".

Return to Ireland, 1909:
He returned to Dublin May 1909. Lived 1909-1910 on Leeson St, Dublin.
June 1909 letter lists him at 38 Upr Leeson St.
1909 donation to Sinn Fein lists him at 68 Lr Leeson St.
He wrote on 10 Jan 1910 and 18 Jan 1910 from 38 Upper Leeson St to James O'Mara. About Sinn Fein fundraising. Signed "Michael Joseph O'Rahilly".
Not listed in [Thom's] 1910.
Moved to 40 Herbert Park, Ballsbridge, Dublin in 1910.

Family tree work reached a climax:

He adopted the name "The O'Rahilly":

He wrote his surname "ua Rathghaille" in his entry at 40 Herbert Park in [Census, 2 April 1911]. He filled in the census form in Irish. House has 12 rooms, they live with 2 servants. Also in the house is "Síghle Brún" (Sheila Brown, born 1890, America, unidentified relation of Nancy).
He wrote in 1911 from 40 Herbert Park to James O'Mara. Signed "Michael Joseph O'Rahilly".
He bought a De Dion Bouton automobile c.1911.
He was very musical. Sean T. O'Kelly (later President of Ireland) remembered him singing "The Camptown Races" (search YouTube). This became a favourite song in our family.
He helped produce and wrote for Arthur Griffith's newspaper Sinn Fein (successor to United Irishman, in existence 1906-14).

Protest against Coronation and Royal Visit, 1911:
George V succeeded in 1910. His coronation was planned for 1911, to be followed by a Royal Visit to Ireland.
See letter from The O'Rahilly opposing the visit in Freemans Journal, April 3, 1911.
The coronation was 22 June 1911. That day, The O'Rahilly addressed a massive Anti-Coronation meeting in Dublin [Mac Eoin, 1980, p.130].
He then protested the Royal Visit of the king to Ireland, 7th-12th July 1911. He erected a banner across Grafton St: "Thou art not conquered yet, dear land". The banner was seized, but not before much publicity was gained [O'Rahilly, 1991].
No British monarch visited southern Ireland again until Elizabeth II in 2011.

[P102] has a letter to The O'Rahilly, 22 Jan 1912, from one Seán Ó Cuill, claiming to have invented perpetual movement: "we must act quickly".
He joined Executive Committee of Gaelic League Mar 1912. See Gaelic type created by The O'Rahilly (and closer and closer).
Spent months on massive project translating Dublin street names into Irish. Many of the translations seen today are originally by The O'Rahilly.
In 1912 he built a summer house at Ventry, Co.Kerry (in the Gaeltacht).

Co-founded The Irish Volunteers, 1913:
O'Rahilly's articles in Sean MacDermott's radical newspaper Irish Freedom, summer 1912, are an explicit call to Irishmen to arm themselves, and analysis of previous rebellions, purely on the military grounds of why they failed.
He took over the Gaelic League's paper An Claidheamh Soluis, and politicised it. The first edition of new-look paper, 1st Nov 1913, carried the famous article "The North began" by Eoin MacNeill, arguing for the need for an armed pro-Home-Rule force to counter-balance the anti-Home-Rule Ulster Volunteer Force. O'Rahilly encouraged him to follow through with this idea, this led directly to foundation of Irish Volunteers.
He was co-founder of the Irish Volunteers, Wynn's Hotel, Dublin, 11th Nov 1913 (the movement to arm Irish nationalists, forerunner of the IRA, see Genealogy of the IRA). He became treasurer. First public meeting at the Rotunda 25th Nov, membership rapidly grew to tens of thousands.
As the Irish Volunteers grew to a national movement of 200,000 members, it came under the control of John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party (against the wishes of many of the radical founders).
Nancy joined committee of Cumann na mBan at its founding, 5 April 1914, Wynn's Hotel, Dublin [McCoole, 2003].

Howth gun running, 1914:
As Director of Arms, The O'Rahilly was instrumental in organising the Howth gun running with Erskine Childers, 26th July 1914, an operation kept secret from most of the Volunteer leaders (including Pearse, who much resented not being involved).
When British soldiers shot unarmed civilians who had been heckling them on Bachelor's Walk that evening, O'Rahilly raced to the scene with his loaded Mauser, but all was quiet.

The build-up to the 1916 Rising:
The Irish Volunteers split over WW1, Aug 1914, the majority following John Redmond to fight for Britain against Germany.
O'Rahilly remained with the minority force under the leadership of MacNeill, but heavily influenced by the IRB, who now planned to carry out a rising.
O'Rahilly refused to join the IRB. He was regarded as part of the MacNeill (more cautious) wing of the Volunteers, excluded from secret plans for a rising.
He was by no means against an unprovoked insurrection (e.g. see letter to James Connolly's Workers' Republic 22nd Jan 1916), but he believed it must have some military chance of success, not be merely a symbolic "blood sacrifice".
Even then, "If the cancellation had not been ordered by MacNeill", the Proclamation of the Republic "would have included O'Rahilly's name" [O'Rahilly, 1991].
The Easter Rising was set for Easter Sunday 23rd Apr 1916, but MacNeill discovered the plan, and after the shipment of German arms was lost in the small hours of Sat 22nd Apr, MacNeill issued orders, night of Sat 22nd Apr, to cancel the rising (see timeline).
O'Rahilly delivered the orders to the South of Ireland, night of Sat 22nd Apr, returned to Dublin Sun night 23rd Apr.
In the words of Yeats: "He told Pearse and Connolly He'd gone to great expense Keeping all the Kerry men Out of that crazy fight; That he might be there himself Had travelled half the night."
He was woken Mon 24th Apr morning, told that Pearse's men were going ahead, realising there was no way of stopping it now, he went to join them without hesitation.
Sighle describes him leaving for the Rising in [P106/976] and also here in "Ireland: A Television History".
He was assigned as aide de camp to the leader Patrick Pearse at the HQ in the GPO. Also in the GPO were James Connolly and Tom Clarke and Sean MacDermott and Joseph Plunkett and Michael Collins and The O'Rahilly's nephew Dick Humphreys.
In the words of Yeats: "Then on Pearse and Connolly He fixed a bitter look: 'Because I helped to wind the clock I come to hear it strike.'" Though [Martin, 1967, p.36] points out there is no evidence O'Rahilly said these words.

The 1916 Rising:
The 1916 Rising started noon, Easter Monday 24th Apr 1916. The rebels seized buildings around Dublin.
The British responded slowly, putting their efforts into securing Dublin Castle and isolating the GPO.
The gunboat Helga moved into the River Liffey and shelled rebel positions. Large areas of the city centre, especially around the GPO, burned down, hundreds of civilians killed. The GPO was being destroyed from afar, had to be abandoned.
Evacuation of the GPO, dusk, Fri 28th Apr 1916, O'Rahilly led a group trying to reach William & Woods factory up on Parnell St to set up a new HQ. O'Rahilly blessed by Fr. John Flanagan. He says: "Father, we shall never meet again in this world."
Aodogán said his father had no interest in dying: he was looking for a safe house, getting a uniform from one of the prisoners, etc.
O'Rahilly said a sad goodbye to Desmond FitzGerald (father of the future Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald). Garret described O'Rahilly as his father's "hero of that period" ["The Motivation of 1916", Irish Times, 13 July 1991].
As leaving, O'Rahilly says: "But fancy missing this and then getting killed running for a tram or catching cold" [O'Rahilly, 1991, p.220].
The last thing he said to Desmond FitzGerald was "Look after Richard."
Manchán Magan in Cé a Chónaigh i mo Theachsa? sums it up: "It was a suicide mission."

The O'Rahilly's death, 1916 Rising:
O'Rahilly took his men up Moore Street, under machine-gun fire from British barricade at top of street.
O'Rahilly hit badly, pulled himself into Sackville Lane (which led from Moore St to Moore Lane). Middle of war zone, nobody could get to him, he died later that night. See account of his death in "Ireland: A Television History".
See Note written by The O'Rahilly as he lay dying.
He died in Sackville Lane, night of Fri 28th - Sat 29th Apr 1916, age 41 yrs.
Pearse surrendered to General Lowe at the same barricade, later on Sat afternoon. Even had O'Rahilly survived, he would probably have faced execution.
He was bur Thur 4 May 1916 in Glasnevin Cemetery. This was one of the founding burials of what soon became the Republican Plot. Corrigan's were the only undertakers that would agree to bury him. See [P106/384] and [P106/385].
See admin in Dublin of effects of £330 in England, sealed in London 8 Feb 1918 [National Probate Calendar, England].
See biographies [Bourke, 1967] and [O'Rahilly, 1991].

Burnt papers: Just before the Rising, O'Rahilly gave a bundle of papers to a neighbour, Mrs. Hogan, for safekeeping. The last thing he said to his wife was: "Don't forget about the papers - the boys will be interested in them." A few weeks after the Rising, she went to Mrs. Hogan, who, afraid they were seditious papers, had burnt them. Aodogán suspected they were the O'Rahilly family tree.
However most if not all of The O'Rahilly's family tree research does seem to survive, in P102 - O'Rahilly papers. Maybe there was something else, or something more organised and final, in that bundle.

Nancy was pregnant when her husband was killed, the child was born 3 months after his death.
She supported her husband's politics, and became very active after his death.
She was vice-president of Cumann na mBan autumn 1917.
Nancy and Nell and Anno and Sighle all worked hard on the election of Desmond Fitzgerald of Sinn Fein as MP for Pembroke (Donnybrook, Ballsbridge, Ringsend) in the general election, Dec 1918. Fitzgerald's election in a "Unionist" area was considered surprising, but the vote shows the area was in fact only 1/3 Unionist.

"Madam O'Rahilly" was on Provisional Committee of Cumann na mBan 1920-21, in War of Independence.
[P106/96] shows that she was one of the speakers at a big gathering of Irish-American friends of Ireland on 18 Jan 1920, at Lexington Opera House, Lexington Avenue, New York. There were 5,000 people in the audience.
She was on executive of White Cross Fund, end of 1920 [Ward, 1983]. The Irish White Cross Society was founded Jan 1921 to cope with distress and destitution in Ireland during the War of Independence.
Though she did not participate in Cumann na mBan's dangerous field assistance to the IRA in War of Independence.
She was regarded as an honorary figurehead by militant younger members [Ward, 1983].

Jailed in Civil War:
Nancy was on the Executive of Cumann na mBan at the meeting at which Cumann na mBan voted to reject the Treaty, 5 Feb 1922.
She took the republican side in the Civil War 1922-23.
She was arrested 4 Nov 1922 when Free State raided her house, 40 Herbert Park, and the Humphreys house, 36 Ailesbury Rd, Dublin. Mary MacSwiney was arrested at Herbert Park.
Nancy was in Mountjoy prison 4 to 11 Nov 1922 with Nell and Sighle. The three of them went on a brief hunger strike.
Nancy was released 11 Nov 1922. Nell and Sighle stayed in prison for a long time.

"Madam O'Rahilly" and "Sheila Humphreys" signed appeal by Irish National Aid Association for the relief of Irish political prisoners, post-1931.
She did charity work for Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.
She lived 40 Herbert Park until her death.

Nancy dies, 1961:
She died 11 Apr 1961 [gravestone], 40 Herbert Park, age 85 yrs, searched [GROI] 1961, not found.
See obituary in Irish Press, 12 Apr 1961. Copy in [P106/318(9)].
See obituary, funeral list in [P102/632] and [P106/715].
She was bur with her husband, Republican Plot, Glasnevin.
The President Eamon de Valera was at her funeral. Funeral mass celebrated by Alfred O'Rahilly.
Michael Joseph and Nancy had issue:

  1. Robert Rahilly,
    Bobby, born 14 Mar 1900, New York.
    His father sent a one-word cable to his family at Quinsborough: "Boy". The reply on 17 Mar 1900 was also one-word: "Joy" [P102/70].
    He was possibly born 17 Mar 1900. See letter on his 1st birthday in 1901 [P106/86].
    Named after his grandfather Robert Brown.
    Listed as "Michael Joseph Robert Rahilly" in 1900 letter [P102/208(115)] and at death 1903 and in Ellen Mangan's will 1903.
    We list him as "Rahilly" since he died before family changed to "O'Rahilly".

    He died 19 Aug 1903, Wilfort Cottage, near Bray, Co.Wicklow, age 3 yrs [GROI].
    He died after a short illness, peritonitis (disease of membrane of abdomen), which had lasted 7 days.
    He was bur with grandfather at Lislaughtin Abbey near Ballylongford (see 1916 letter).
    There is a stained glass window to his memory in the church in Ballylongford, with an inscription in Irish.
    [P102/80] is inscription in Irish for his grave or memorial. Not used on grave. Possibly this is what was used on stained glass window.

  2. Mac O'Rahilly,
    Richard McEllistrim Rahilly, always called "Mac". Sometimes known as "The O'Rahilly".
    Named after his grandfather Richard Rahilly and his grandfather Richard McEllistrem [though think they spelt it "McEllistrim"].
    "Macalister" on birth cert [GROI] is think the Anglicisation.
    He was born Fri 3 July 1903, at the home of Kathleen White, 122 Lr Baggot St, Dublin [GROI].
    On the day, much to his mother's resentment, his father went off to watch the Gordon Bennett motor race near Athy, Co.Kildare.
    The 1903 race was Thur 2 July 1903, 7 am to 5 pm.

  3. Aodogán O'Rahilly.
    Named after the poet.
    Known as Egan in youth. Later "Aodogán" - which is how he himself spelt it.
    He was born 22 Sept 1904, 47 St.Aubyns, Hove, Brighton (see map and street view).
    His father The O'Rahilly got a souvenir from their time in Brighton - the key of the room where Parnell died in 1891, in 10 Walsingham Terrace, Hove. This key is now in [P102/82].
    He was bapt Egan John Eoin O'Sullivan O'Rahilly. Egan after the poet. John because the priest refused to baptise him unless they gave him a proper saint's name. Eoin O'Sullivan after the poet of Meentoges.

  4. Niall O'Rahilly,
    pronounced "Neil",
    birth cert and passport and family papers say born 3 Jan 1907, "Slieve Luachra", Philadelphia,
    apparently NOT 6th/7th Dec 1906.

  5. Maolmuire Ó Rathaille,
    also "O'Rahilly",
    Maolmuire (pronounced "Mweelra") is the Irish form of "Myles",
    sometimes called Myles, or Milo,
    born Nov 1911, Dublin,
    have searched [GROI] 1911-14, not found.

  6. Rory O'Rahilly,
    born after his father's death, 25 July 1916, 40 Herbert Park, Dublin,
    named at birth as Michael Joseph O'Rahilly, after his father,
    but called Rory, think NOT Ruarie,
    bapt 27 July 1916.
    On his birth cert, his late father, who had just been killed in an armed revolt against the government, is described as a "gentleman" [GROI].
    The doctor at his birth wouldn't take a fee. He said he was "honoured" to deliver him.

As a student in the 1890s, The O'Rahilly carved his name on a wooden rail in the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin.
See larger and full size. See other shot.
The carving is now preserved in the Kilmainham Gaol Museum.
See 2016 photo.
See also the writing desk of The O'Rahilly.
See also Richard Rahilly carving his name.

The O'Rahilly shown running the family business in Ballylongford in Oct 1896 in the ledger books of Tim O'Connor of Tarbert Island.
See larger and full size.
After his father dies in Mar 1896, The O'Rahilly seamlessly carries on running the family business, importing "kilds" of stout and porter through O'Connor.

The O'Rahilly sold the Ballylongford business in 1898.
The account for him with Tim O'Connor of Tarbert ends in Feb 1898.
See larger and full size.

The 1903 Gordon Bennett motor race.
The O'Rahilly went off to watch the race just as his wife was about to give birth to Mac in July 1903.
The race is featured in the story "After The Race" in Joyce's Dubliners.

Letter in Irish Independent, 19 June 1909, simply signed "Ua Rathghaille" (no first name).

Sketch of The O'Rahilly's banner protesting the Royal Visit of George V to Ireland in 1911.
This is [P102/264].
See also shot from Cé a Chónaigh i mo Theachsa?.

The O'Rahilly and family, c.1912.
At the Humphreys house, 54 Northumberland Rd, Dublin.
Back: Mac, Nancy Brown, The O'Rahilly.
Front: Niall, Aodogán.
See full size.
See copy in [P106/108(2)].

The O'Rahilly and his wife Nancy Brown, 54 Northumberland Rd.
This is [P106/106(1)]. See full size.
See copy in [P106/106(2)].
See copy in [P106/119].

Back: Sighle Humphreys.
Middle (Left to Right): Dick Humphreys, The O'Rahilly, Emmet Humphreys (born 1902), Mac O'Rahilly (born 1903).
Front (Left to Right): Aodogán O'Rahilly (born 1904), Niall O'Rahilly (born 1906).
The Humphreys house, 54 Northumberland Rd, c.1915. Shortly before 1916 Rising.
This is [P106/109(2)].
See larger and full size. See back.
See copy in [P106/109(3)].
See copy in [P106/109(4)].

The 5 sons and their mother, est c.1940s.
See full size.
Back: Aodogán.
Centre: Nancy Brown, Niall.
Front: Mac, Rory, Maolmuire.

Radio Kerry show (2012)

Program on The O'Rahilly. On the show "In Conversation with Weeshie", Radio Kerry, 18 Jan 2012.
From Terrace Talk with Weeshie Fogarty, Radio Kerry.
Guests were Padraig O Concubhair (Ballylongford historian), Michael Finucane and Tim McEllistrem.



Online 1916 papers

Sources yet to be consulted


Papers to be consulted


Memorials to The O'Rahilly

Pictures of The O'Rahilly

"A great wish came over me to say how proud I was of being his niece and of being alive to see such a day, but any display of feeling was absolutely taboo in our family. ... So, knowing how an announcement of my feelings would be frowned on I scarcely said, 'Slán Leat' to Michael although in my heart I knew I never would see him again."
- Sighle Humphreys recalls her uncle The O'Rahilly leaving for the Rising on Mon 24 Apr 1916.
From [P106/976].

"Isn't The O'Rahilly a great man? Coming in here to us though he is opposed to this Rising!"
- Patrick Pearse, moved by the appearance of The O'Rahilly at the GPO.

"It is madness, but it is glorious madness."
- The O'Rahilly to Constance Markievicz after he arrived at Liberty Hall on the morning of the Rising.
Quoted in [O'Rahilly, 1991, p.207].

"I envy O'Rahilly - that is the way I wanted to die."
- Patrick Pearse, awaiting his execution.
Quoted in [O'Rahilly, 1991, p.223].

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