Seamus McGowan by R.M. Fox 1955
In the first of Sean O’Casey’s major plays, The Shadow of a Gunman, presented at the Abbey in the early twenties, there is a young Volunteer who goes out one day ‘catching butterflies’, as he explains to an inquisitive friend. The model for this character was Seamus McGowan, A Citizen Army veteran, whose funeral took place recently in Dublin.
Seamus McGowan who was given the rank of Assistant Quartermaster General in the GPO during the rising was a trusted worker in Liberty Hall when the preparations were being made.
One day a seaman who had travelled in South America and Mexico brought to Connolly Hall the idea of a light machine gun which he said could be made easily. Connolly listened to his story and then sent for McGowan and another army man O’Neill.
“Here is a man with a Machine Gun in his head” , he said “ I want you to get it out!”
For months McGowan and O’Neill toiled in Liberty Hall. They had no blue prints or specifications but they drew their own plans. They bought a small hand lathe for £10 and were dependant for metal upon Citizen Army men working in the city.They worked with blistered hands to get the gun finished in time for the Rising. McGowan always insisted they could have been successful but they could not obtain the necessary adjustment of a cartridge belt of webbing in time to be of use.
Some of the women were working on this till the small hours of Easter Sunday morning when it was decided to abandon the attempt.
When the rising came it was McGowans task to supervise the transport of munitions from Liberty Hall to the G.P.O. for Connolly had promised that the hall would be evacuated. McGowan left Liberty Hall around six o’clock on Easter Monday for he remembered the Angelus bell sounding as the convoy crossed the tramlines by O’Connell Bridge. Connolly sent several messages before this and was insistent that he should leave earlier but McGowan would not go till he had gathered up everything serviceable to the struggle.
This convoy presented a motley appearance as, guarded by a double file of armed men, it proceeded slowly through the city. There was a motor van , a judges carriage that had been commandeered, a cab taken from a hazard, two carts of cauliflowers picked up on the way and brought in to add to the stores , and an “old yoke” belonging to the union.
The varied assortment of guns, bombs, munitions, scrap iron, accumulated at Liberty Hall was brought across the city and delivered safely by Seamus McGowan at the G.P.O. When he set out Liberty Hall was left deserted except for Peter Ennis the caretaker.
From that time on, during Easter Week , McGowan took his part as one of the garrison but at the time of the evacuation he emerged again for he suggested a plan of making their way to the Four Courts and linking with other groups of insurgents.
Pearse was impressed by this plan when the final consultation was held around Connolly’s bed where he lay wounded. After the sortie it proved impossible to get beyond a shop in Moore St. but McGowan’s plan was thought well of by the leaders.
Seamus McGowan was a rugged, resolute character who remained loyal to his republican principles throughout all the years since. When he was making bombs in Liberty Hall basement there was an accident and a flying fragment of metal was embedded in his forehead.
Those who have seen Sean O’Casey’s Shadow of a Gunman will remember the man who brought a bag of bombs to the lodging and went off to be killed in an ambush.
This is a speaking likeness of Seamus McGowan, no butterfly chaser but a resolute Citizen Army man typical of those Connolly lead in the Easter Rising.
By R.M. Fox 1955