Liam Parr was born William George Francis Parr in 1891 at 45 High Street Dublin and lived most of the next twenty years in different tenements in the Liberties. His father worked as a plumber and it is likely that Liam learnt the same trade in his youth. This was a strongly nationalist household and the only family memory of childhood that has been passed down is of spitting on the statue of King Billy in College Green.
Liam became an enthusiastic player of the Irish war pipes and singer and probably had links of some sort with Fianna Eireann, the republican youth organisation launched by Constance Markievicz. He would have been about 18 when the first branch was formed in Lower Camden Street, so perhaps he was more of a helper. He was probably involved in an early Fianna Eireann pipe band and had musical connections with Andy Dunne and Tom O’Donoghue.
When he was nineteen he moved to Manchester where he had family. His grandfather, before settling in Manchester, had sailed from Dublin to New York in the 1860s and had fought in an Irish regiment in the American Civil War. Liam Joined the Gaelic League where he made friends with Gilbert Lynch, an active trade unionist who was to help organise the visits of Jim Larkin and James Connolly to Manchester during the 1913 Dublin lockout. Together they helped set up the first Manchester company of the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and began drilling on the moors.
In February 1916 Liam travelled to Dublin and stayed at the Plunkett family mill at Kimmage preparing for the planned insurrection. He must have had connections with the outpost at 28 North Frederick Street because he met his friend Gilbert Lynch there on about Good Friday. Gilbert had just arrived in Dublin with smuggled ammunition, but had missed his connection, and not knowing Dublin or where to go, had gone to a hotel where he barely escaped arrest in a raid. Michael Collins played a role in sending him to N Fredrick Street where he met Liam. On Easter Saturday Liam introduced Gilbert to a family friend, Sheila O’Hanlon, who was active in the republican women’s organisation, Cumann na mBan. The three attended a ceilidh that night and Gilbert said that he and Sheila danced until 6 am. This began a romance that would lead to their marriage after the end of the Civil War. Gilbert says that he was still with Liam the following morning at North Frederick Street and together they heard of the cancellation order. It is hard to see why Liam was not at Kimmage at the time as other members of the garrison reported that they were supposed to be confined to the mill that weekend.
Liam was with the contingent from Kimmage who arrived at Liberty Hall on Easter Monday. He initially went to the GPO, but was then sent across the road under the command of Thomas Weafer to occupy the buildings around the Dublin Bread Company. These housed the wireless transmitter which broadcast news of the Rebellion using Morse code. As firing intensified, he was evacuated to the GPO and then with the others to Moore Street.
The remains of the buildings that Liam had been occupying.
He was arrested at the surrender but used the name William Power and said his address was North Frederick Street, Dublin. He was imprisoned in Knutsford prison and then at Frongoch camp in Wales. He took part in musical concerts there, in one, being listed as singing the ‘Vales of Arklow’.
He was released just before Christmas 1916 and remained in Dublin for most of the next four years. He joined the fourth battalion of the Dublin brigade and resumed his bag piping, playing with the James Connolly pipe band. He helped deValera with the 1917 East Clare election campaign. Here Liam was described as playing the pipes in a car with deValera and Larry Ginnell ‘as they entered Clare.’
Liam Parr- The sporran is characteristic of the James Connolly Pipe Band
He temporarily returned to Manchester in 1920 to help Gilbert Lynch organise a by election campaign to elect the imprisoned William O’Brien to Westminster for the Stockport constituency. The campaign was run from Liam’s parent’s house in Stockport and was intended to highlight the situation in Ireland, as there was never any likelihood of O’Brien winning the election.
Back in Dublin, Liam was working for the New Ireland Assurance Company, an organisation that often acted as a front for Collin’s intelligence and other activities. In November1920 Liam was advised to lie low because his identity and address had been captured when Richard Mulcahy lost an attaché case during a British raid. We can’t be certain what the papers said as they were destroyed in the Blitz, but they are thought to include plans for the Dublin Active Service Unit and for acts of sabotage and arson in Manchester. This was only a few days before ‘Bloody Sunday’.
Liam travelled back to his parents in Stockport near Manchester where their house was raided and ‘he was knocked about from pillar to post’, in the words of his widow. He remained in Stockport the rest of his life and married a woman he met through the Gaelic league. They had three children and he worked as an insurance agent and then as a plumber. He was noted for performing singing roles in productions at his local church but was never in good health dying in 1934 aged 42.
Most of this information comes from Parr’s pension applications, various witness statements, Frongoch lists at British National archives, family memories and ‘the life and times of Gilbert Lynch’ ed Aindrias O’Cathasaigh (Irish Labour History Society)
The fuller story of Liam Gilbert and the other Manchester Volunteers is in ‘Hidden Heroes of Easter week- Memories of volunteers from England who joined the Easter Rising’ By Robin Stocks.
Also the website:
If anyone has more information about Liam or the Manchester Volunteers I’d love to hear from you.