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Frank Edwards

Margaret Aylward Dr Edward Barron Philip Barron Denis Cashman Raymond Chandler Paddy Coad Patrick Comerford Donncha Ruadh Val Doonican Sean Dunne Frank Edwards Alfie Hale John M Hearne William Hobson Dr Thomas Hussey Charles Kean John Keane Edmund Leamy D. P. Moran Gen Dick Mulcahy James Nash Peter O'Connor Jas Louis O'Donnell Pádraig Ó Fainín Gilbert O'Sullivan John Redmond Edmund I Rice James Rice, Mayor Lord Roberts V. C. John Roberts Frank Ryan Thomas Sexton Archbishop Sheehan Susan Smith John Treacy Luke Wadding William V. Wallace Cardinal Wiseman Bullocks Wyse Lucien Bonaparte Wyse




The story of his life in Waterford

Copyright © David Smith 2002

This article is an expanded version of the article that first appeared in 
DECIES No. 58: Journal of the Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society, 2002.

Researchers, Historians and students may quote freely from this article but the author's copyright must be respected and full attribution given.
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The Edwards family - Jack, Annie and Frank-
The Edwards family consisted of the father, Patrick; the mother, Annie; three boys, Jack, Willie and Frank and three girls, Josephine, May and Tess. The family came to Waterford from Belfast in 1917 when Edwards was ten years old. Edwards has written that his father and mother had no background in the national movement; that stance came from his maternal grandmother's family in Co. Limerick.[2] Shortly after arriving in Waterford where they lived at number eleven John Street, the family suffered a series of deaths that claimed three members within a year.[3] The oldest son, Jack, had experienced sectarian violence as a young boy when he was beaten up by an Orange mob whilst walking home from school. Nothing else is known about the family before their arrival in Waterford but as soon as they did, Jack, aged eighteen, joined Sinn Fein, Connradh na Gaeilge and the Irish Volunteers.


Jack was almost six feet in height and was very well built with fine features and he soon became the life and soul of every Gaelic gathering in the city.[4] He was a member of the 4th battalion, No. l. Waterford Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and was attached to D Company. During the War of Independence he had to leave his employment as a fireman with the Great Southern Railway because of his political activities and he went 'on the run' as a member of the East Waterford Flying Column. After the treaty Jack was one of the garrison that took over the Waterford infantry barracks from the British forces. At the beginning of the Civil War, he drove some trains carrying IRA units from Dublin to their stronghold in Munster, where a fresh stand was being made.

  When Waterford city was besieged by Free State troops in July 1922, he was a member of the Republican garrison that defended the city. He was stationed in the Head Post Office on the Quay and Edwards tells how he, (aged fifteen), turned up at the Post Office only to be told, by Jack, to 'go home to hell.'[5] Jack was taken prisoner following the siege and was imprisoned in Kilkenny jail. On 19 August 1922, he was speaking with some comrades in the prison yard when he was told that someone on the roadway, outside the prison wall, wished to speak with him. Having hurried to his prison cell and whilst he was shouting down to his friend he was challenged by a sentry. He ignored the sentry who took aim and shot him dead.[6] Jack Edwards’ mother was sitting the midwifery examination when she was called out of the hall to be told her son had been shot. The family, and the IRA in Waterford, believed that Jack's death was a tit-for-tat retaliation for the killing in Barrack Street of twenty-one year-old Lieutenant Commandant Ned O'Brien of the National Army during the previous week and for the killing in an IRA ambush near Clonmel, in that same week, of two members of the National Army. 

  It is at this point that a major discrepancy occurs between the version of events as told by Edwards in Survivors and the facts as related to me by witnesses and as reported in the local newspapers. Edwards' version has gained great currency in books, magazines, newspapers, on the Internet, and in speeches. He wrote, referring to his brother's funeral

I went to Kilkenny to claim his body. In spite of everything, there was a great turnout when it arrived in the city, but the doors of the Church were shut against him. The Christians and the Provisional Government, you could say, were hand in glove.[7]


The latter statement is untrue. His brother's remains were given all the rites and honours of the Church.

At the Cathedral the remains, borne on the shoulders of the pallbearers - were met by the Rev. Father O'Connell, Adm., and Rev. Father Murphy, C.C. who preceded the coffin to the mortuary chapel where it was placed on a catafalque. On Tuesday morning, Requiem Mass was celebrated by Rev. Father O'Connell at eight o'clock ... Large numbers visited the church on Tuesday morning ... the face of the deceased being visible through a glass inserted in the upper portion of the ... coffin. At noon, the funeral took place to Ballygunner. A large crowd congregated ... and the hearse ... preceded by the T.F.Meagher Sinn Féin Brass and Reed Band moved off. At Reginald’s Tower the sentries on duty presented arms as the cortege passed, a similar tribute being paid by the National Guard at the De La Salle College, who turned out at Newtown under the command of their officer, a bugler of the party sounding the Last Post.[8]

The reasons for Edwards' statement that 'the doors of the Church were shut against him' is a matter for conjecture, but a hint may be gleaned from a comment made by Joe Monks, his comrade in the Spanish Civil War, who wrote about Edwards that 'in his heart he was a bitter man. His bitterness was directed against ... the Catholic hierarchy that had had him dismissed from his school teaching post.’[9]

  His brother's death was a seminal moment in young Edwards' life. The loss of a revered brother in such a fashion cemented his republicanism, just as the deaths of his brother and sister from tuberculosis, caused by the terrible housing conditions, helped to advance his growing socialism. If Jack's death had been a baptism of fire for young Edwards, his mother's activities confirmed him in the republican faith.

Annie Edwards was, like her sons, an activist; she was a committed member of Cumann na mBan and also a member of the movement to free the Waterford Republican prisoners who were imprisoned by the Free State forces during the Civil War. The following is an example of her activism. This letter was sent to Mr. P. Brazil, Town Clerk, Waterford.

A Chara,
Kindly bring before the Mayor and Corporation at your next meeting the following resolution passed by a meeting representative of the Mothers, Wives and sisters of the Waterford Republican Prisoners:—

  That we call on the Corporation to pass a resolution calling on Irish Local Authorities to enquire into the conditions of Jails where these prisoners are being detained, and to pass a further resolution protesting against the deportation of any such prisoners.

  I view of the fact that the mayor [Alderman Vincent J. White T. D.] has voted for the Death and Deportation Order, we think it only right that the other members of the Council should state publicly whether they also are in favour of Irish republican Prisoners being deported from their native land.

  The undersigned will be in attendance at the Corporation meeting tomorrow evening at 7.30p.m.

  Susan Foley, Anne Edwards, Mary Margaret Creed, Frances Neilan, Nelly Wyley and Kitty Brennan.[10]

At the subsequent meeting of the City Council the mayor ruled the matter out of order because (a) the language in which the letter was framed was disrespectful to the Council and to himself as mayor and (b) the letter was not received in time to be dealt with in correspondence.

  Cllr Cahill protested against the ruling and proposed that the delegation be heard and this motion was seconded by Cllr Walsh, supported by Cllr Jones. The mayor said he had already ruled on the matter. Cllr Larkin supported the mayor and suggested the deputation should send a letter couched in proper language and that they then be heard in committee but this was unacceptable to the deputation present. Several persons, of both sexes, who had taken up positions in the auditorium of the Council Chamber, created pandemonium and the business of the Corporation was held up for about two hours. The meeting could not resume until the disturbers had been cleared from the Council Chamber by the military.

One can only imagine the effect that all of this had on the mind of an impressionable fifteen year old. He was already a member, since 1917, of Fianna Eireann, a republican youth movement founded in 1909 to counter what was thought to be the anti-nationalist Scout Association of Ireland. On joining the Fianna, members had to declare; 'I promise to work for the independence of Ireland, never to join England's armed forces and to obey my superior officers.' The Fianna was regarded, locally, as a stepping-stone to the IRA.

  After attending school in Waterpark College, Edwards went to the De La Salle teacher-training college in Waterford where the majority of work was carried out through the medium of Irish, and he became a national schoolteacher. He was now in the prime of life, a tall, strong, well-built young man who was a member of Waterford Boat Club where he rowed for the senior eight. He was elected to the committee of the club in March 1931 and he was a playing member of Waterford City Rugby Club's 1st XV. In October 1932, he was admitted to membership of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) at a meeting in City Hall (he had obtained a teaching post at Mount Sion schools) and in the following week he was voted on to the committee of the Gaelic League at the annual general meeting of that body.

  It would appear that the coming together of Edwards and Mount Sion School was a match made in heaven. The school's nationalist and gaelic ethos were in tune with his own and the teaching of all subjects through the medium of Irish would have been very close to his heart. Furthermore, his school superior Brother Flannery (a man of wide cultural tastes who appreciated the fine arts, particularly music) believed, like Edwards in Brother Rice's apostolic work of caring for the poorest children and that it was no use trying to educate boys who were hungry—the body had to be fed as well as the mind. Brother Flannery sought out those boys who were often in want of the very necessities of life and he took care to have meals provided for them in the monastery. One of my interviewees, a former pupil of Edwards, told me that Edwards did likewise. Boys were given meals, on a regular basis, at his Barrack street home where the family now lived.

[1] Joe Monks (1985), With the Reds in Andalusia, (The John Cornford Poetry Group). The new commander of the XX International batallion [in the Spanish Civil War], a Mexican named Colonel Gomez, came to Chimorra to visit his No. 2 Company. Gomez … wanted … to shake hands with … him that fought the bishop.
[2] Uinseann MacEoin (1980), Survivors,Dublin, Argenta Publications), P. 1.
[3] The first to die was Willie, aged seventeen years. He died from tuberculosis on 21 September 1918 and his father did not long survive him. Patrick, a prison warder, had joined the British army during the Great War and, having survived that conflict, he died in Waterford of organic brain disease on 1 April 1919 aged fifty four years. Josephine, aged ten years, died of tuberculosis only four months after her father on 1 August 1919. The family lived at number eleven John Street at this time.
[4] Nioclás de Fuiteoil (1948) Waterford Remembers, (Waterford, National Graves Association, East Waterford, p. 34).
[5] MacEoin (1980), Survivors, p. 5.
[6] The family was now living at KerryPark Terrace, Waterford.
[7] MacEoin, Survivors, p. 4.
[8] Munster Express, August 26, 1922.
[9] Monks, With the Reds in Andalusia, 1985.
[10] Minutes of the Corporation meeting, Waterford City Archives.


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