MAN THAT FOUGHT THE BISHOP
The story of
his life in Waterford
© 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
Historians and students may quote freely from this article but the
author's copyright must be respected and full attribution given.
The Edwards family - Jack, Annie and Frank-
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.
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. 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
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.
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.'
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.
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
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.
latter statement is untrue. His brother's remains were given all the rites
and honours of the Church.
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.
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.’
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.