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A Response letter to Fighting for the Future Article

In this article, Aaron O’Maonaigh (author of the original article) reply’s to Hugh Gault excellent piece on 1916 Rising veterans George and Elizabeth Fullerton 

Dear Hugh,

May I extend my congratulations to you on your fascinating article on the Fullerton family. I was delighted to see that a fellow academic was drawn to their story, and indeed to the story of the rank-and-file of Irish Revolution who for far too long have resided on the periphery of the era’s historiography. It was interesting to see someone interrogate the motivations and inspirations which drove men and women such as George and Elizabeth Fullerton, and it is to this end that I wish to add some commentary to a number of the questions you raise in your article.

As you have aptly noted, the life into which George Fullerton was born was one of frugal comforts. You are quite right to situate his motivation within the context of the prevailing housing conditions. His familial home was far bleaker than its moniker suggests and much of the housing in the area was of similar quality. As I mentioned in my article, Frank Robbins, a fellow Citizen Army man, cited such conditions as a significant motive for Citizen Army and trade union membership.[1] These homes were cramped, cold, and families lifted literally one on top of the other. For men of George’s era a trade, either semi-skilled or otherwise, offered an avenue of escape from the abject poverty which trapped so many of his class. That George recognised this fact is attestable from a number of sources. Firstly, his occupation with the Great Southern & Western Railway Company was a reliable job with a small number of fringe benefits, a job that many were keen to earn and earnest to keep; in later life George secured an apprenticeship for his son, further evidencing his belief in the worth of such positions. The workshop in which he worked contained a sizeable number of fellow revolutionaries from both the Irish Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers, and it was from this nucleus of men that much of the local corps was derived. Fullerton would have brushed shoulders with the trade unionist and fellow GS&WR employee William Partridge, who rather ironically as a Protestant himself, successfully fought for the removal of the company’s sectarian employment practices, effectively paving the way for working-class Catholics such a Fullerton to achieve positions that hitherto fore were reserved for members of the local Protestant population and their kin.

Inchicore, where George was employed, was a hub revolutionary activity. From the very outset of the period the seeds of revolution were fomenting political unrest which ultimately came to a head during the autumn of 1913. Dublin was in the throes of a dispute between trade unions and employers. Against the backdrop of rising industrial unrest in Britain and Ireland violence broke out on the streets of Dublin city, and this violence would soon spread to Inchicore. The Irish Transport and General Workers Union opened up a branch office with an adjoining assembly hall at 122 Emmet Road in 1912 and sought to increase their membership locally by recruiting members from the abundant numbers of workers from the Great Southern and Western Railway (GS&WR) works and Dublin United Tramway Company living in the vicinity. The premises at Emmet Road were mainly used for trade union administration, however during the 1913 Lock Out the hall became a hotbed of activity, and frequent outbreaks of strike-related violence became commonplace throughout the latter quarter of the year.

Events soon turned sour locally following the decision by DUTC Chairman, William Martin Murphy, to hire scab labourers to replace his striking unionised tram drivers at the organisation’s Inchicore depot on Spa Road. On 30 August these so called ‘black’ trams were attacked throughout the city and later upon arrival at the Inchicore depot they were subject to a barrage of stone throwing from the local populace. Rioting broke out and two trams were seriously damaged, a number of DMP were injured, including one sergeant from Kilmainham station who was felled to the ground by a brick. A large meeting was convened by local councillor Pádraig Ó Cearbhaill at Emmet Hall in order to address the ever increasing crowds which had gathered along Emmet Road. The police, now backed by military reinforcements from Richmond barracks, stormed the hall and launched a baton charge upon its occupants. As a local employee and living in close proximity to same, George would have witnessed these events first-hand, further consolidating his leftist outlook.

Moving to the post-Rising period, George’s transfer from the labour-aligned ICA to the nationalist Irish Republican Army was not a sign of political conversion, nor the abandonment of his leftist principles, but rather it was due to the fact that after the Rising the former organisation figuratively melted away. The local Volunteers were far more belligerent than the remnant of the Citizen Army and it is likely for this reason alone that Fullerton, driven by the desire to continue the fight for an Irish republic, sought a transfer to the IRA. The minute books of the Citizen Army may provide further details on this, perhaps pinpointing the exact date and motivation, but I have yet to consult them; ditto the Hanratty papers at Kilmainham. I mention this transfer merely to provide context for George’s motivation during this period and not to imply that you have argued otherwise in your article.

Conditions for the Fullerton’s improved slightly in the aforementioned period and adjacent to their home in Bow Lane the family ran a small provisions store that continued to trade until the death of his wife Elizabeth. Sadly, I believe the home and adjoining store have since been demolished.

During the Civil War period (1922-1923) George was arrested and interned at firstly in Mountjoy Prison (15 Sept. 1922) and later at Newbridge Internment Camp -“Tintown ‘A’”- until 20 December 1923 where he undertook a twenty-two day hunger strike which was to have a drastic result upon his health.[2]

The themes of family, hardship, and frustration litter George’s Civil War correspondence. His absence as a father figure and main bread winner for the family was a frequent feature of his letters to Elizabeth, and his concern regarding the financial and familial hardship caused by his continued imprisonment was a common lament of his. Each letter contained enquiries of the children’s wellbeing, alongside details of George’s treatment during the course of his internment. To maintain regular contact the Fullerton’s concocted an ingenious method of secreting the letters away in clothes which were then delivered to the internment camp. The letters were written on scraps of paper and then sewn into the hems of shirts and trousers by his wife Elizabeth.[3]  On 5 March 1923 George wrote to Elizabeth, who had allegedly received some rough treatment during a Free State raid on their home and adjoining small provisions store: ‘I received your letter on Saturday and I was shocked to hear the way you were knocked about by those fellows raiding the house […] I know it is hard on you, there by yourself. I hope the children were not frightened.’[4] Elizabeth appeared to be believe that an informer had been passing information to the Free State’s shadowy intelligence department, the Criminal Investigation’s Department (CID), a notion which George dismissed:

‘It is bad luck for you to have to suffer the indignity at the hands of these, after all we suffered by the other people [the British]. You say that there must be information given to these people. But it must be only while you were excited that you thought this, for what could anybody tell.’[5]

Life was no less easy for George inside Newbridge who claimed that the bad marksmanship of his gaolers and divine intervention were the only obstacles that stood between life and death.[6] George described conditions inside the camp as ‘inhuman’ and spoke of the isolation faced by the prisoners in the ‘very trying circumstances.’ Yet he remained steadfast in his convictions, ‘No cause was ever got without sacrifice and this cause is worthy of all the sacrifices that any Irish man or woman is called upon to make.’[7]

It may be possible to draw a number of conclusions from Fullerton’s Civil War correspondence. Life inside the internment camps dotted around the country, where conditions were often primitive, was one filled with boredom and hardship, alleviated only by the arrival of letters from home and the frugal comforts of leisurely pursuits. The men arranged, where possible, field sports, card games, amateur dramatics, lectures on a variety of subjects, and lessons in the Irish language, Gaeilge. George wrote with glee and a sense of elevated pride that he was learning Gaeilge while at Newbridge. That George was seemingly approaching the language with an ignorant curiosity would suggest that he may not have attended the local Christian Brothers School at Goldenbridge – who were steadfast in their promotion of the Irish language – where he was born, or perhaps he may never have achieved even the slightest proficiency from his years of schooling. Conversely, it may have been due to his fraternal associations that Fullerton was drawn to studying the Irish language. Members of the various local organisations (IRA, ICA, IV, CnB, Sinn Féin, ITGWU et al) all moved in overlapping circles, they schooled together, lived together, worked together, and in some instances inter-married. It was this social glue which bound them, and in many cases reinforced their convictions. In his letters George mentions several local men, acquaintances and fellow revolutionary internees, it is quite probable that he engaged in the form of leisurely instruction that he did as a result of the comradeship to which he was well-acquainted from the beginning of his revolutionary, and indeed social life.

I hope that this coda of sorts may help further to clarify some if the excellent points which you raised in your article, and should you require anything further please feel free to contact me via the editor. Thank you again for your illuminating study.


Beir bua agus beannacht,


Aaron Ó Maonaigh

Baile Átha Cliath

Endnotes and references


[1] Daithí Mac An Mháistir’s masterful study of the ICA is fantastic apropos the social background of that movement. Daithí Mac An Mháistir, The Irish Citizen Army: The World’s First Working-Class Army (Dublin, 2017)

[2] Mountjoy Prison General Register 1921-1926, male prisoners, 4 July 1922 (Irish Prison Registers 1790-1924, Book no: 1/54/1); Location of prisoners ledger (Irish Military Archives [IMA], Civil War Internment Collection, CW/P/01/01); List of prisoners held in custody (IMA, Civil War Internment Collection, CW/P/01/02)

[3] George Fullerton to Elizabeth Fullerton, letter 1, undated [c. 1923], Newbridge (Fullerton letters, private collection, USA)

[4] George Fullerton to Elizabeth Fullerton, 5 Mar. 1923, Newbridge (Fullerton letters, private collection, USA)

[5] Ibid.

[6] George Fullerton to Elizabeth Fullerton, letter 2, undated [c. 1923], Newbridge (Fullerton letters, private collection, USA)

[7] Ibid., emphasis retained as in the original letter.

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