Sunday, April 20, 2014

My tenuous genealogical connection to the 1916 Easter Rising

John A. Kilgallon was born in the Village of Far Rockaway in 1891. His father Luke Kilgallon and
mother Nora Walsh Kilgallon immigrated from County Mayo. They married in the United States, and I cannot say whether or not they knew each other in the old country. John was their only son. My connection (remember I said it was tenuous) to the Kilgallon family is that my grandmother's half-sister, Agnes Cosgrove, was Nora Walsh's niece. Agnes immigrated to the United States in 1912 at the age of 16 and lived with her aunt's family.

Luke was a blacksmith who wisely learned how to fix cars and built a prosperous auto repair and gas station in the Far Rockaways. He patented a device to put tires onto the rims. In 1914 he sent his son to St. Enda's school in Dublin. There John was decisively influenced by the school's founder, Patrick H. Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rebellion. Known as "The Yank" John drilled as part of a unit known as "Pearse's Own" consisting of current and former St. Enda's students. He was in the Post Office during the thick of the combat, and surrendered with Pearse after six days of heavy fighting. After his capture, the British sent John to Frongoch Prison Camp in Wales. The authorities offered to release him if he swore an oath of allegiance to the British crown. John rejected this offer. As he stated in a letter to his father that was later published in the Brooklyn Eagle in February 1917,  he could not make such an oath without violating the principles that he had and his comrades had fought to uphold. America's Ambassador the Court of St. James, Walter Page, pressed the British government to release "The Yank." The British government yielded to the pressure, most likely thinking of the larger political picture, and Kilgallon was released on Christmas Day 1916. John served his country in World War I as a machinist in the United States Navy. From his service record, it appears that spent the entire war in stateside naval bases. John died in 1972 at the age of 80.

My mother who had known John described him as a very quiet, almost meek man. She could not believe he would have participated in such a violent event. One wonders how the this youthful experience shaped the rest of his life.


  1. Hi Gregory,

    Really insightful post. I'm currently working on a project which is seeking to highlight the lives and stories of ordinary citizens involved in 1916, who eventually ended up residing in the US. I find John's story fascinating, and I'd love to find out more about him and your genealogical link with him


  2. Conor,
    Glad to hear your are interested. Send me your e-mail address (I won't post it).