Walk down Parnell Street towards the Rotunda hospital and you’ll pass the junction with O’Connell Street, followed by the Parnell Heritage Pub (formerly the Parnell Mooney) and then at the corner you’ll reach Conway’s Pub which is closed at present. Opposite Conway’s across the junction with Moore Lane is a hoarded off site. Wooden panels and advertising boards hide an empty space fronting out onto Parnell Street. Behind that is a small surface car-park and next door is the Jury’s Inn hotel.
It’s a fairly featureless site, but one with a certain weight of history associated with it. This site, 68 Parnell Street was formerly home to Devlin’s pub and hotel. A building of huge significance during the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War.
The building itself was once a four-storey structure with a bar at ground floor level and rooms to hire on the floors above. It was bought by Liam Devlin and his family in 1920.
In his Bureau of Military history witness statement Frank Thornton, the Deputy Assistant Director of Intelligence to Michael Collins spoke about how Liam Devlin had taken over the licenced premises in mid-1920 and began running it with his wife. Devlin was originally from Derry but had moved to Greenock in Scotland and had become involved with the Irish Volunteer movement while based there. He moved to Dublin around 1918 and took over the running of what became Devlin’s pub in 1920 along with his young family. Liam Devlin’s son Denis Devlin (born 1908) would later gain a certain literary fame as a poet while also working for as an Irish diplomat in Italy during the 1950’s.
Through his existing connections with the Gaelic League and the IRB Liam Devlin came to be introduced to Michael Collins and quickly offered Collins and his Intelligence staff the use of his premises as a safe-house and meeting place.
Collins used a number of city centre premises as offices and meeting places during the time of the War of Independence, many in the Parnell Street and Square area such as Vaughan’s Hotel and Jim Kirwan’s. Information would be sent to him in these locations, and he would also use them to meet new recruits and make plans for upcoming operations. Devlin’s soon became a sort of unofficial HQ for Collins and his men.
Again as Frank Thornton’s witness statement noted;
We used Devlin’s extensively and every night Mick, [Collins], Gearóid O’Sullivan, Liam Tobin, Dermot O’Hegarty, Piaras Beaslaí, Frank Thornton, Tom Cullen and Joe O’Reilly met there, the events of the day were discussed and plans were made for the following day. Any particular Column leader or Brigade Officer arriving in town was generally instructed to report to Devlin’s.
Eamon “Ned” Broy, the infamous double agent who was nominally a “G-man” intelligence officer with the Dublin Metropolitan Police but was in fact feeding information to Collins also remembered Devlin’s well. He remarked that it was known by the men as the “No 1 joint” at the time. It was to Devlin’s pub that Broy went to meet Collins after he had been released from prison. Many expected Broy to be killed and were delighted to see him safe and well, Collins celebrated his release in a somewhat unusual manner, Broy remembers Collins marking their reunion “by demanding a wrestling bout with me”.
The benefits of a welcoming city centre location were obvious but the hospitality of the Devlin family was an added bonus, while the premises’ status as a pub provided a good cover. As Thornton noted:
Mrs. Devlin acted in the capacity of a very generous hostess. Visitors from the country never left without getting a meal and in quite a large number of instances a bed for the night. It can be readily understood that a headquarters of this kind in the heart of the city was valuable to the movement generally and particularly to the Intelligence end of things, for, being a public house, no notice was taken of people continually going in and out.
This helps show the role of Devlin’s in the War of Independence and it was of clear importance and use to Collins personally, however it also had a significant role at the end of the Civil War. After the cessation of hostilities between the pro and anti Treaty forces in May of 1923 a general election was held in August of that year which elected the new Cumann na nGaedheal government led by W.T. Cosgrave. One immediate issue facing the government was how to demobilise a national army that had grown to a great size during the Civil War but was no longer needed in peacetime.
A hardcore of army officers, many of whom had been members of the Dublin Guard such as Liam Tobin, feared for their own positions under this demobilisation and some viewed themselves as being unfairly treated in relation to some former British Army officers who had joined the pro-Treaty forces during the Civil War. On the 7th March 1924 an ultimatum was sent to Cosgrave signed by Tobin and Colonel Charles Dalton demanding an end of the demobilisation.
This was understandably viewed as a mutinous act from a section of the armed forces. Immediately afterwards a number of recruits refused to parade and arrest warrants were issued for Tobin and Dalton. By the 18th of March a group of roughly 40 armed men, including Dalton and Tobin decamped to Devlin’s to plan their next move and in response Kevin O’Higgins, the Minster for Justice who had token over the de facto leadership of a government divided by the issue sent lorry loads of loyal Army troops straight to Parnell Street. Two Cumann na nGaedheal TDs, Joseph McGrath and Daniel McCarthy attempted to negotiate with the surrounded mutineers to deescalate the situation. Tobin and Dalton, knowing Devlin’s well from their days there with Collins escaped along the building roofs and ultimately any threat of a wide scale army mutiny or even a coup d’état soon disappeared. The 1924 mutiny resulted in Richard Mulcahy resigning from his role as Defence Minister as well as nine TD’s resigning their seats from the Cumann na nGaedheal government.
More importantly it demonstrated that after almost a decade of death and violence, and only months after the end of a bloody Civil War, that it was elected government, and not the military that held the power in Ireland. It may be argued that the gun began to leave Irish politics after a period of intense militarisation on a spring night on Parnell Street outside a long demolished pub.