17 April 2003 Edition

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Fógraí bháis

Cathal Holland

When someone you knew so well dies, it's difficult to put in words and express your feelings, especially when the person has been a close personal friend and companion for over 60 years.

Such was the case with Cathal Holland and myself. I first got to know Cathal in 1937 when we were in our teens and members of Saint Joseph's branch of the Gaelic League. St Joseph's was a very active branch, with camogie and football teams. There used to be Irish language classes every Thursday night and céili dance classes afterwards. They also organised céilis in a wee room in Marquis Street on Saturdays.

Cathal and I never missed them. I didn't know him then as well as I got to know him in later years but we all enjoyed ourselves at any functions organised by the branch.

I think it would be proper to mention some names of people that Cathal and I often reminisced about - Tom Heenan, who used to teach a bun rang, a great Gael and an ardent republican who enthused us with the spirit of Pearse and all things gaelic. Then there were Joe Diamond, George MacAtaghney, Frankie MacDermott, not forgetting the girls; the Park sisters, Alice Boyle, Lena Robinson, etc.

There were also the Ardoyne girls, the Tierney sisters, Mary O'Donnell, Mary Toner, Sheila Burns, and Helena Maguire, to name but a few.

Sean McCaughey, who died on hunger strike, and Rocky Burns, shot dead in King Street, Belfast, also attended classes at the St Joseph's branch.

Cathal and I were Volunteers at that time, as were most of the lads in the branch. When five of us escaped from Crumlin Road gaol and as I was being brought to a safe house, Cathal was mobilised to guard me. He once told me that he was given a Thompson sub machine gun that was as big as himself and that he hadn't the faintest idea how to use it.

When he saw who it was he was guarding he said, "heavens I thought it was some important person, it's only Eddie Keenan".

I never saw him again until about five months later, when he came looking for me in our furnished flat in Clanbrassil Street, Dublin. I had just returned from the Naul, a small village five miles from Balbriggan in County Dublin. I had gone to see about a job on an estate called Weston House.

Billy Watson was to come with me but he was in love and wanted to return to Belfast to get married. Cathal arrived as we were discussing the situation. Tom Heenan had given him our address.

Cathal had been in Belfast but had had to leave in a hurry as the cops were looking for him. When he heard about the job in the Naul, he volunteered to come with me.

I could write a book about our adventures there, but I'll leave that for another day.

I left the Naul in January 1941 and returned to Dublin. After attending a protest meeting against the execution of George Plant in Dublin, I was arrested and interned in the Curragh. I never heard from Cathal until one night after we were locked up in our huts someone said, "what's that coming?"

Everyone looked out the window and saw a mattress passing as if it was floating on air.

The door opened and in came my wee mate Cathal. It was great to see him again.

He told me he had been working on the Bog of Allen for a few months when Maurice O'Neill from Kerry was about to face a firing party. Cathal went and asked the Gaffer if it would be alright if he got the men in his hut to say the Rosary for the soul of an Irish republican about to die. The Gaffer said it was alright so Cathal got the men together and said the Rosary and then he got up and made a political speech condemning the government. They all decided to do a one-day strike and when the other huts heard this they all decided to join the strike.

The next day the strike started and the Gaffer sent word to the Gardaí, who in turn informed the Free State Army. They came in armed to the teeth in lorry loads and surrounded the whole camp and lined all the workers up against the wall and took their names.

Wee Cathal came along and a soldier asked him his name and when Cathal gave it the soldier called out "we've got him".

Cathal was arrested and sent to the Curragh. He was the only one in the camp who could say it took the whole Free State Army to arrest him.

He was active again when the Border Campaign started and received a bullet wound to his side. That is a story in itself.

He learned photography from a German he met. He and I tried to start a wee business in 44 Parnell Square when we were released from the Curragh in 1945. He was making handbags and wallets and I ladies sandals, something I learned from Paddy 'the Crib' Duffy from Dundalk.

Cathal's greatest love was the Irish language, which he spoke at every opportunity. He was proud to have been involved in the fight for Irish freedom.

Just a few weeks ago, when he was staying with me, he was delighted when somebody told him that he was still a member of the Irish Republican Army as he had never resigned! So we had a good laugh, thinking we may still be eligible to be called up again.

All who knew Cathal will remember him for his remarkable sense of humour. He was always smiling and had a twinkle in his eye that endeared him to everyone. He made fun of everything and didn't let anything get him down.

His love for the Irish language was known to everyone and he spoke it at every opportunity. He loved Gaelic songs but he also had great songs in English, German and a couple in Italian.

He was a romantic of the old style and sang romantic songs of the '30s, and he was a great singer himself.

In his photography business he was known for his professionalism; he set people at ease with his sense of fun.I saw him one day as I was visited him when a customer came in to make inquiries.

The lady was only in a few minutes when he had her splitting her sides laughing. He took photographs of total strangers and sent them the photos without asking for any payment. He was a most remarkable photographer.

If there is a place in heaven for old Irish republicans, Cathal will certainly be welcomed by Pat Hannon, Liam Burke, Big Tom Heenan, Paddy Kavanagh and all our old friends and of course by his beloved wife Moya and youngest daughter.

I measc laochra na Poblachta a d'imigh romhainn go raibh d'anam uasal a Chathal

Do shean chara, Eddie.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1