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 (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- 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’
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