herald

Friday 18 August 2017

'Boer Tom' fought British in South Africa and across Dublin in Rising

Rebel Stories

Thomas Byrne
Thomas Byrne

Thomas ('Boer Tom') Byrne was born in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan in 1877.

He travelled to South Africa in 1896 to work in gold mines there. Witnessing injustice by the British, Tom, together with two Irishmen, Dan O'Hare and Richard McDonagh, met to discuss forming an Irish contingent to fight with the Boers. They approached Major John MacBride, who agreed to be their leader.

The first Irish Brigade later saw action at the Battles of Colenso and Ladysmith in the Boer War.

When it was clear that the British were winning the Brigade retreated with the Boers towards Portuguese East Africa.

Passage was afterwards arranged via Trieste and Hamburg to New York, where they were met by exiled rebel leader John Devoy. Tom then spent 11 years in the mines of Montana, California, Colorado and Nevada, and was a member of nationalist group Clan na Gael in each state.

Returning to Ireland on a visit in 1913 he attended the first meeting of the Irish Volunteers in the Rotunda, joining as Captain, B Company. He was sent to be an organiser in the Galtee Brigade and was involved in the Howth and Rathcoole gun-running operations.

In the weeks before the Rising Tom visited rebel leader Tom Clarke's shop on Parnell Street every day. He was well known to authorities because of his Boer War involvement and is listed as an 'extremist' in the recently-released Dublin Metropolitan Police files.

When the Rising started Tom led the Maynooth 15 - a group who marched from Co Kildare to Dublin - to the GPO on Easter Tuesday morning.

Occupied

Later in the week, he was sent by James Connolly to the occupied Evening Mail office at Parliament Street and the nearby Exchange Hotel. He saw action there and also at Capel Street Bridge and Liffey Street.

After the surrender, Tom managed to escape in disguise to the North with the help of Lucy Smyth, a Cumann na mBan member. She later became his wife, in 1919.

After the execution of Ned Daly, Tom was elected Commandant of the 1st Battalion, Dublin IRA, a position he held till 1919.

In 1920 he was arrested and sent to The Curragh where he and 50 men escaped through a tunnel in September, 1921.

In 1922, Michael Collins nominated Tom for the position of Captain of the Guard/Superintendent of the Staff at Leinster House, a position he held for 25 years until 1947. He received a medal from the South African Government in 1946.

Tom and Lucy had five children. Tom was present when their first born child Maureen died tragically at seven weeks after a British military raid in 1920.

Tom Byrne died in 1962 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery with his wife Lucy and son Myles. He is survived by his daughter Sheila, now 94 years old, and a large extended family.

Details submitted by Maeve O'Leary (granddaughter)

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