By Robin Stocks
Liam Parr was one of the two men from Stockport who travelled to Dublin in early 1916 to take part in the Easter Rising. He was photographed a few years later in the distinctive uniform of the James Connolly Pipe Band. He had been brought up in Dublin where he had become a piper and was involved in Irish nationalist politics. In about 1911 he had moved to the Stockport area and helped in his aunt’s shop on Turncroft Lane. Once in England he joined the Gaelic League where he met Gilbert Lynch and the two became good friends. Lynch had been born in Reddish and worked for the Reddish Spinning Company. He became an active trade unionist and helped organise Jim Larkin and James Connolly’s visit to Manchester. They came to the Free Trade Hall during the Dublin lockout of 1913. Lynch was a very responsible young man who did not drink, and who was awarded an inscribed watch by Stockport police for coming to the aid of an officer who was being attacked.
In 1914, both Parr and Lynch joined, with others from Manchester in a group of the Irish Volunteers, an organisation which had been formed in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers. When the First World War began, they resolved to travel to Dublin and fight for Ireland rather than for the British Empire, although many Irish people chose to fight for England.
Parr and Lynch did this partly because of their Irish nationalism, but also because Lynch, in particular, had developed a strong socialist commitment that led him to believe that working people in all countries had more in common with each other than with their bosses. On Mersey Square, Lynch had been sold a copy of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by a member of the Independent Labour Party. Lynch said that reading it was an experience which entirely changed the way he thought. In early 1916 he was planning to join friends in the Clarion Socialist Cycling Club and attend the Clarion annual meet in Crewe. Instead, he decided to travel to Dublin to take part in the expected rebellion.
There were other voices in Stockport raised in opposition to the war. Some of the most vociferous came from the Communist Club, which was based in 18 Park Street, Hazel Grove. This was run by a group of anarchist communists and their clubrooms were described as “dainty, bright and charming”. They were active in the No Conscription Fellowship, which led to their premises being raided in February 1916. Several of their members refused to fight on political grounds. One, a Walter Barlow, aged twenty-one, a hat leather cutter of Strean Terrace, Turncroft Lane, said “I am an anarchist and do not believe in government of men by men.” He added that he denied the right of any man to judge his conscience. He was fined 40 shillings and handed over to the military authorities.
A fortnight after the raid on the Communist Club, Liam Parr travelled to Dublin by train and ferry. Once there he knew to go to a mill owned by the Plunkett family where about a hundred other English and Scottish Volunteers were in hiding. Here they manufactured munitions and engaged in military training. Lynch arrived a few days before Easter carrying ammunition he had smuggled from England. However, he missed his contact and his hotel was raided. He escaped and was sent to a safe house by Michael Collins.
Here he met his friend Liam Parr who introduced him to Sheila O’Hanlon, a friend of the Parr family who had been mobilising her squad of women volunteers for the planned actions. That night, the three of them found time to attend a ceilidh, which was held partly as a cover for military preparations. Lynch and O’Hanlon danced till dawn beginning a relationship which would lead to them marrying a few years later.
Two days later, all three of them were scattered around Dublin behind barricades, or in the General Post Office, under fire from the British Army.
This is a fascinating and very vivid story, but it had been entirely lost and forgotten in Stockport. Parr (my wife’s cousin) and Lynch knew not to talk openly in Britain about their activities as they would have been liable for lengthy prison terms. For this reason, the memories of their experiences had been largely lost. We had heard rumours of Parr’s activities during The Rising, but did not know whether they were true. Very recently we discovered newly-released secret documents, which had been held by the Irish Government Bureau of Military History. We found out the truth behind the family memories.
After The Rising, Parr was imprisoned in Knutsford and then Frongoch. Lynch remained at liberty, having been slightly injured and taken to hospital where sympathetic staff helped him to escape. He returned to Stockport where he resumed his political activities, campaigning for conscientious objectors, for Ireland and in support of the new Revolution in Russia. He became secretary of the Stockport Independent Labour Party and helped organise strikes and sabotage amongst dockers and munition workers.
In 1920, Lynch and Parr campaigned to elect an imprisoned, hunger-striking, Irish trade union leader as MP for Stockport. They had no expectation of victory, only of using it to bring the plight of the Irish people to the attention of the Stockport and British public.
They were helped in the campaign by the daughter of the then famous “Casey the Fiddler”. Casey was another notable Stockport character whose real name was Walter Hampson.
He travelled the country as an itinerant musician, humourist and political lecturer who used the stage name of Casey. He had been born in Dublin, but had moved to Stockport as a small child where his father worked as a chimney sweep. Casey remembered being sent as a small boy to climb and clean the chimneys of the kitchens at Lyme Hall- a terrifying experience which remained with him all the rest of his life. He became a classical violinist, at one time playing in the orchestra of Stockport Theatre Royal and the Blackpool Tower Ball Room. He was friends with members of the Halle family. Casey had travelled the world, and recounted tales in the regular columns he wrote in socialist newspapers. His stories included tales of working on steamers to South America and going up the Amazon. He played concerts in Ireland at the height of the Black and Tan War, and insisted on continuing to play even when the authorities tried to ban his appearance.
Lynch took a job in Ireland in 1920 working as a union official. In this role he was threatened with execution by the Black and Tans, only escaping by using his Lancashire accent (as he called it) to persuade his captors that they were holding the wrong man.
Parr spent most of the time in Dublin between the Rising and the end of hostilities, where many of his activities remain shrouded in mystery. We do know that in 1920, one of the republican leaders lost his attaché case in a raid. The contents must have implicated Parr, and given away his identity, because after that he was told to ”lie low”. Soon after this he returned to Stockport and he remained in the area for the rest of his life. He married, had three children and became noted as a musician and tenor singer in theatrical productions in the Catholic Church he attended. His health had been permanently damaged by the privations he suffered during Ireland’s War of Independence, and he died in 1934, aged 41, in Burnage.
Lynch remained a trade union official in Ireland, marrying Sheila O’Hanlon in 1924 immediately after the Civil War, in which she had been imprisoned again. For a short time, Lynch was a Labour TD (MP) and served in later life as president of the Irish TUC. Even at this late stage he was famed for his “booming Lancashire accent”.
Gilbert and Sheila Lynch used to return to Stockport every Christmas. We can assume that they visited Liam Parr, who had introduced them to each other on the eve of the Easter Rising.
***This post was taken with permission from the author from his website, Hidden Heroes of Easter Week. For more information about Parr, Lynch, and the involvement of people from England in the Easter Uprising, please see Robin Stocks’ new book, Hidden Heroes of Easter Week: Memories of Volunteers from England Who Joined the Easter Uprising. The launch for this book will be held Friday, 20th November 2015 at 7:30pm at the Irish World Heritage Centre, 1 Irish Town Way, Manchester, M8 0AE. All are welcome***