Redmond Cox-From Manchester to Dublin and the kidnap of Bulmer Hobson

In January 1916 Redmond Cox  was working in a Manchester grocer’s shop and  living with his sister. Three months later he was behind barricades  in  Church Street, Dublin fighting against  the overwhelming might of the British army  as a Volunteer in the Easter Rising. Cox was one of four volunteers from Manchester who secretly travelled to Dublin to prepare for the insurrection they had heard was in the offing. He  remained  under fire for the whole of Easter Week under the rebels were all forced to surrender.  After serving a period in prison  he re-joined the Irish independence struggle, fought again through the War of independence and eventually settled and lived the rest of his life in Dublin. Sadly, the experiences of Cox and the other Volunteers from Manchester had been written out of the history books. The Volunteers who returned to England remained at risk of arrest for their entire lives so were frightened to tell their stories except to their immediate families. Only now as families can speak freely and  new documents are released can  the part played by the  Manchester Volunteers be finally added to the histories of Ireland  and  of Manchester.

Redmond Cox was born in Boyle in County Roscommon in 1893, but came to Cheetham, Manchester as a child. He  preserved  his Irish identity and, in 1914, became one of the scores of Irish nationalists in Manchester who  formed  companies of the Irish Volunteers. On Sundays they would  buy ninepenny  rail tickets  and  travel to the moors above the city and go training. When the European war started, their sergeant advised told them that it would all be over in three  months and that they should join the British army  and get some  military training.

Many did as he suggested, but Cox was one of four who, in early 1916, resolved to  travel to Dublin where they had heard that ‘action’ was  being planned. Most of the Volunteers from England and Scotland went to the Plunkett’s mill at Kimmage, but Cox went to the home of Martin and Peig Conlon at 11 Altinure Terrace,  Cabra Park.(later known as 76 Cabra Park)Martin Conlon O'Donovan with blur 1.

Martin Conlon (in centre) at  meeting for O’Donovan Rossa funeral. Markievicz (front right)

We don’t know if the Conlons had links in Manchester, but Peig did say that Michael’s “people were over there.”[i]  Cox trained with f company of the first Dublin battalion of Volunteers and was already at the Conlon’s house on Easter Monday morning when the insurrection began.. Martin Conlon was an IRB “centre” and the house  must have been a hive of activity as the  rebellion approached. Peig was a member of Cumann na mBan and carried the  orders for the Rising to Spiddal on Good Friday.  Meanwhile  the house itself became  a temporary prison for  Bulmer Hobson who was being held  under armed guard in the sitting room  to prevent him making any further attempts to  cancel the rebellion.

Cox himself  wrote that  he  “mobilised in Blackhall Place (Colmcille Hall) with the company and after the mobilisation we took up our station in North King Street in the Convent.” [ii]

The first battalion built a series of barricades around Church Street from the Four Courts up to North  King Street,  Cox spending most of the week protecting the barricades near  the Father Mathew Hall. Here  he was with another volunteer from Manchester, Gilbert Lynch who had originally gone to the GPO before being sent to Church Street  as a reinforcement.  Lynch had been an active socialist and trade unionist in Manchester, as well as a nationalist, and had helped to organise the meetings there  in 1913,during the lockout, when Jim Larkin and James Connolly spoke to huge demonstrations in the city.

Redmond Cox  and Gilbert Lynch spent most of Easter Week close to the Father Mathew Hall. This was a command post as well as a first aid post commanded by Martin Conlon and staffed by members of Cumann na mBan (including Peig Conlon). This was not a safe place for the injured, and some of the fiercest fighting  and worst atrocities of the rising  were to occur  within a couple of hundred yards of the Hall.

father mathew hall from richmond barrack 1916

Father Mathew- Church Street.

Later in the week, as the fighting intensified, Gilbert Lynch was injured  so became one of the patients in the Hall.  At the surrender, he was sent to Richmond Hospital wearing Redmond Cox’s coat although he was 6-7 inches shorter than Cox..

As the fighting approached the Hall on Friday night Cox had been withdrawn to the four Courts where the rebels were shocked to hear the news of the surrender. Redmond Cox was arrested and marched  to the gymnasium at Richmond barracks where ‘G men’  sorted through the rebels looking for leaders to  court martial.  Cox was not singled out for special treatment so was sent on an overnight boat to Holyhead in Wales, and thence to Knutsford prison in Cheshire.

Gilbert Lynch evaded arrest in hospital as the staff pretended he was an English holiday maker. He gave his return ticket and identity papers to Martin Conlon who was being searched for by the military. Lynch eventually succeeded in charming the authorities into giving him replacement papers so arrived back in Manchester wearing Redmond Cox’s  ill-fitting overcoat.   Gilbert had to use the ticket belonging to  another Manchester rebel who was now in prison,  but he safely made it  home and reassured  Cox’s family that he was uninjured, though in prison.  Martin  Conlon  had safely escaped to England  where  he visited Lynch’s family in Manchester; I don’t know whether he had family there or elsewhere on ‘mainland Britain’

12. Gilbert Lynch as an older man. ( Kate Hayes and Aindrias O Cathasaigh).jpg

Gilbert Lynch photographed in later life.

Cox was kept in  Knutsford prison in solitary confinement for about a fortnight before he was released and sent back to Dublin.

He worked in various mental hospitals  in Ireland before getting a job at  Grangegorman in Dublin in 1919.  Back in the capital he  re-joined  the first battalion of the Volunteers and found himself in the thick of the War of Independence. He was soon taking part in an audacious scheme to free Robert Barton from Mountjoy Prison. This involved  throwing a rope ladder over the wall and catching Barton in a blanket  before he hit the ground. They misjudged his weight and almost dropped him, but he escaped injury.

Cox  was responsible for the company arms dump, which he  hid within the hospital. At the time of ‘Bloody Sunday’  raids become more frequent and during one a  volunteer  escaped capture by having himself locked in the padded cell, and pretended to be a patient. The medical superintendent  of the hospital remembered that he “ behaved very like an acute maniac until the raid was over when he resumed his duties as a nurse.”[iii]

Cox was active in patrols and raids all through the Tan War but few details have been  preserved. In June 1921 we know that he was part of a plan to dress up in patient’s clothes and attempt to  disarm an RIC policeman. The plot was foiled but the rebels had so much support among the staff at the hospital that  he avoided arrest and kept his job,  continuing to work at Grangegorman all his  working life. He became head attendant, married and was living within the hospital when he died in 1956.

We have  been trying to tell the story of Redmond Cox and the other Easter Riding Volunteers who travelled from the Manchester area. We have  given talks  in Manchester , Yorkshire and Dublin and been interviewed for radio and TV. We have produced a website at https://hiddenheroesofeasterweek.wordpress.com  And we have written a published a book- ‘Hidden Heroes of Easter week- Memories of volunteers from England who joined the Easter rising’ by Robin stocks.

We hope that more information will continue to come to light. When it does, we add it to the website and will put it in future editions of the book.

Redmond Cox is one of the Manchester Volunteers we know least about because we haven’t  been able to make contact with  any of his family members or anyone with  stories or memories of him. We have been able to tell reasonably full stories about most of his comrades because we can  combine  official documents with  memories, stories and  oral history from family and community members. If anyone has any information or pictures of Redmond Cox that they were willing to share, we would love to hear from you.

Thanks. Robin Stocks

[i] . Conlon, Mrs Martin (Peig) witness statement WS419

[ii] Cox, Redmond. Pension application. MSP34REF1983

[iii] Ellis, Vincent. Witness statement WS 682

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