Catherine Nolan

(14/09/1871 - 26/03/1945)

Amid the tumultuous revolutionary period of early 20th-century Ireland, the life of Catherine Nolan emerges as a testament to the often-overlooked contributions of women and mothers during times of revolutionary fervour. Born Catherine McNamee in 1871, her journey unfolds against a backdrop of modest beginnings, it is in the crucible of the Irish revolutionary period that Catherine’s role becomes truly extraordinary. This narrative seeks to shine a light on the resilience and pivotal influence of Catherine Nolan, a woman whose legacy extends beyond the confines of her family and home.

Catherine McNamee, was born 13th September 1871 in Archdeaconry, Kells, Meath to parents Thomas McNamee and Lizzie McCabe.  Her siblings were John(1869) born in Meath and Thomas(1879), Anne(1881), Josephine(c.1883), Teresa(1886), Lizzie(1887) born in Ballybrack.

Catherine (22), a servant, married Henry Nolan (26), a carpenter on 18 February 1896 in Ballybrack, Dublin. Her husband Henry Nolan was born in Laois on the 12th December 1869 to parents, Isaac Nolan, from Mountrath and his second wife Bridget Doyle(1843-1916).

Catherine and Henry had three children, Isaac(a.k.a Seán), Bridget Theresa and Mary. Isaac was born on 19th March 1897 at 4 Pembroke Place.  In 13 January 1899,Bridget Theresa was born in Mountainview, Ballybrack but tragically on 23rd November 1899 in Mountainview, Ballybrack The family then moved to 156 Rialto cottages in 1899 and still living there when their daughter Mary was born on 1st January 1911.

In 1911-1942, the family moved near the Crumlin road and were living in 1 Thorn Villa, a road off Rutland Avenue, now demolished. This family house, was used extensively as a meeting-place and safe house during the revolutionary period by the 4th Batt. Dublin Brigade.

There is very little written about Catherine’s direct involvement in the Irish revolutionary period in archival records. However, newspaper tributes when she passed in 1945 combined with military witness statements, gives some insight into the pivotal role that she and her family played. A tribute to her, stated: 

“The part played by the mothers of Ireland in that war was unobtrusive and little has been written of it. Only those young I.R.A. men who fought it without base or relief camps or rest billets realise how much of its success was due to other men’s mothers”.

She was a “warm friend of the fighters for Irish freedom”, Liam Mellows and Barney Mellows used to stay at her house, Eamon Martin was a frequent visitor, Joe Begley was a favourite. They were always sure of a motherly welcome and a good meal from Mrs. Nolan, who loved the boys. Later in life when she was dying  her mind was back in these days and she kept calling for the boys by name.

During the Irish War of Independence, she “swapped” sons for a year or more with Mrs Mellows. When Mrs. Mellows left for the States on a visit to “Dad” Murray, in California, her son, Barney, went to live with Catherine, while Catherine’s only son, Seán, spent much time with Mrs. Mellows in Los Angeles. Catherine’s son Seán at the time was a well-known violinist  and when H.M.V. made records of his playing in the States, Joe Begley brought them home and played them for Mrs. Nolan and Barney Mellows. Seán and his future wife Una Moran played important roles through the course of the Irish revolutionary period and their stories will be deservedly told in another article.

An extract from the Cooney sisters (Annie O’ Brien and Lily Curran) military witness statement, shows Catherine’s house at Thorn Villa (Thornville) being used as a safe house:

“I think, towards the end of April when our house was raided by the military. It happened about midnight.They were looking for Christy Byrne. He had not been staying with us for a few weeks as he had got uneasy owing to the many raids that took place in the district. He had gone to stay at Sean Nolan’s house in Thornville, Dolphin’s Barn. That house has since been knocked down. On this particular night, however, he had come back to our house to get a good night’s sleep, as he said he could not sleep at Nolan’s on account of Sean’s violin playing. He often got up in the middle of the night to play. Christy had gone to bed. We never heard the lorries and knew nothing till there was a terrible rat-tat at the door. We guessed what it meant and my sister Eileen and myself were in the kitchen and were going to run upstairs to warn Christy, but we saw the soldiers looking in the kitchen window, and realised the house was surrounded. We did go up and warn him, but told him at the same time he could do nothing about it. We let in the soldiers – we could not do anything else – and they went upstairs and arrested him. They took him away to Richmond Barracks, from there to Collinstown, and later to Kilmainham”

In the late 1930s, the council starting to compulsory purchase all the land around Crumlin to build a large housing scheme. In doing, so most of the buildings were demolished including the 6 houses in Thorn villa. The family were rehoused in 1943 to 326 Crumlin Road close to the Children’s Hospital.

Henry, a Guinness carpenter died in 31st July 1943, aged 73,  living in 326 Crumlin Road of cardiac failure, Dr Stevens Hospital.

Catherine passed away in March 26th 1945, aged 74. She was living at 135 Walkinstown Road and died in St. Laurence’s Hospital, North Brunswick Street. Her funeral took place in Lady of Dolours, Dolphin Barn, buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery

Catherine Nolan’s story underscores the indispensable role of women, often relegated to the shadows. As the wife and mother at the heart of the Nolan family, Catherine’s contributions during the Irish revolutionary period were fundamental. Her home, 1 Thorn Villa, became a sanctuary for the 4th Batt. Dublin Brigade, a testament to her relentless commitment to the cause of Irish freedom. The swapping of sons with Mrs. Mellows during the War of Independence illustrates not only Catherine’s sacrifices but also the deep connections forged during tumultuous times. As we reflect on Catherine’s life, her passing in 1945 stands as a poignant reminder of the unobtrusive yet vital contributions of women like her, whose stories deserve to be etched into the fabric of Ireland’s revolutionary history.

Person Photo
Connection with area: Mother who greatly assisted during the revolutionary period, feeding revolutionaries, delivering messages, offering her house as a safe house who lived in Thorn Villa, off Rutland Avenue.