28 January 2010 Edition
2010 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis: Leinster Le Chéile Honouree
Jack Crowe – A father figure for Dublin republicans
JOSEPH ‘JACK’ CROWE is Leinster’s honouree for this year’s Le Chéile celebration, the annual Ard Fheis function when Irish republicans are honoured for their special contribution to the struggle for Irish freedom. Jack talks to ELLA O’DWYER about his life in struggle.
“EVEN though I was always called Jack,” Crowe tells me, “I was actually christened Joseph. There was no Saint Jack, so I couldn’t have been christened by that name. After all, I’d have been the first Saint Jack,” he grins. “Anyway, my story could be written on the back of a stamp.”
That droll touch, along with the ambiguity around his name and the startling resemblance to his son, Tallaght Sinn Féin Councillor Seán Crowe, tempted me to ask ‘Would the real Jack Crowe please stand up?’ He did, and it was to get me tea and sandwiches before we commenced our two-hour chat – a story that would require an Olympic-sized stamp.
Jack’s parents came from Bishop Street, near the Jacob’s biscuit factory in Dublin.
“I was born in 1929 and back then they used to call the place ‘The Dardanelles’, after the place the British were hammered by the Turks in the First World War.” During the Tan War, the British forces in that area came in for another hammering, this time from the IRA. Jack’s father was active in the IRA at the time.
“My father, Paddy Crowe, was in ‘C’ Company, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade of the IRA. and his brother, my uncle Nicky, was in ‘A’ Company. My Aunt Alice was in Cumann na mBan.
“My mother had guns and bombs in the pram, wheeling them down through the checkpoints. That was in the time of the Black and Tans.”
So Jack’s republican journey started early.
“I joined the Fianna when I was nine. That was in 1938. The Second World War broke out the next year. Then you could join Irish civilian groups like the LSF (Local Security Force) or the LDF (Local Defence Force). I joined the LSF. You could learn about weapons and relevant things like that.”
Jack shows me various pieces of family memorabilia: the IRA medal his father got after the Tan War and a photo of ‘C’ Company taken in Croke Park.
“I’d know a few of them because I met them through the years. Some of them went on to become members of the Special Branch. My father could have got a commission during the war to the 26th Battalion, being an IRA man, but he wouldn’t join the Irish Army anyway.
“He served time in Portlaoise Jail, the Curragh and Mountjoy. He was in Mountjoy during the Civil War and was on hunger strike.”
Jack fell in love with the lovely woman, Nellie, whose photos adorn the walls of his Rathfarnham home.
“I was working someplace one day when I saw this woman passing by. I fell in love with her,” he smiles, “but she didn’t fall in love with me,” he adds ruefully. “But I persisted,” he grins.
“Her name was Ellen but we called her Nellie. We got married in 1949 and we had five children, two boys and three girls. There’s Philomena, Dorothy, Michelle, Brian and Seán.”
The Crowe family eventually moved to Pádraig Pearse’s neighbourhood, Rathfarnham. “We’re 45 years here in Rathfarnham.
“The Guards were always interested in watching what was going on here in the house, the people coming and going.”
A lot of republicans visited his home: Gerry Adams, Tom Hartley and others. There wouldn’t have been a lot of extra cash around at the time and people lived frugally enough, Jack recalls.
“I remember Tom Hartley saying that there was always a very warm welcome at the Crowe home but that it must have been the coldest house in Ireland.”
His son, Seán Crowe, is on record as saying: “We think Jack only got the heating in when he knew we were moving out.”
Like other republicans at the time, life for the Crowe family involved house raids, arrests and constant harassment. Jack worked as a brickie and stonemason.
“It was handy in terms of the Guards because brickies never asked you your business and if the cops came to your boss and told them about your politics you wouldn’t be sacked, like in other jobs, which was common back then.”
Jack’s son, Seán, got the harassment too being an active young republican.
“I remember a Guard saying to me one day: ‘We’ve seen your son coming out of strange places,’ he says. ‘I hope he hasn’t been drinking up in the Garda Club,’ I reply.
“One evening I was out with Pamela Kane [a republican former POW who served time in Limerick Jail] and our Seán and his wife, who is also called Pamela Kane. The Guards stopped us and asked us for our names. Myself and Seán, who is often called Jack, said we’re Jack Crowe and the two women told the cops that they were Pamela Kane. There was some head scratching amongst the detectives that day.”
But aside from the lighter moments there were the house raids.
“Our house was often raided and I’d tell the kids not to worry about what the cops took away but to watch out to see if they left anything behind. There’d be 19 or 20 cops and they’d ransack the place. I remember we had bunk beds with the little ladders for the kids. This one cop one time was going up into the attic during a raid and he hooked on the little ladder to get up. He weighed about 16 stone and of course he fell,” Jack tells me, with the apparent utmost expression of remorse.
Jack’s mobile rings. It’s his daughter, Dorothy. “Do you want to say hello to Ella, she’s here to do the interview?” Jack asks her, handing me the phone.
Dorothy tells me more.
“My father was a widower at a young age. My mother died suddenly in her 40s and he was left to raise five children. He did a very good job and still managed to continue his republican work.”
I remark to Dorothy on the very strong resemblances between Jack and her brother, Seán. ‘They’re the spit of each other’, I remark. “Yes,” she adds, “right down to their mannerisms.” There’s a titter from Jack’s chair. “And to think”, says Jack, “that Seán thought he was a good-looking fella.”
I tentatively put it to Jack that he’s a kind of father figure for republicans in Dublin. “Yes,” he says. “Sure there were a few I unofficially adopted,” he laughs, “republicans like Pamela Kane and Anne O’Sullivan of the Prisoner of War Department.”
Jack Crowe is emblematic of Dublin’s republican story, an unsung (until now) republican who has worked quietly and meticulously in the background all his life. For once, this year he will step into the limelight.
A young Jack with his father IRA Volunteer Paddy Crowe in Dublin