Isaac "Seán" Nolan (Seán Ó'Nualláin)

(19/03/1897 - 14/09/1955)

Seán Nolan (a.k.a Seán Ó’Nualláin, born Isaac Nolan), revolutionary, musician, solicitor and Dublin Sheriff was born on 19th March 1897 at 4 Pembroke Place to parents Henry Nolan and Catherine McNamee. The family lived in Mountainview, Ballybrack in 1899 (Catherine’s parents house), where his sister Bridget Theresa Nolan was born on 13th January 1899 but died aged 10 months old. They then moved to 156 Rialto Cottages from 1901-1911, where his sister Mary was born on 1st January 1911. Shortly afterwards, the family required a larger house and moved to 1 Thornvilla, off Rutland Avenue, Crumlin and now demolished. The 1911 census shows Seán,  aged 14, could speak both Irish and English. The family lived in 1 Thornvilla until it was demolished and later made way for the Rutland Avenue Flats. In his teens, Seán joined the Gaelic League and later was sworn in as a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He became a carpenter, working for a short period for Guinness with his father Henry.

Revolutionary period
Seán served in the IRA in the periods between April 1920 and September 1923 during the War of Independence, Truce period and Civil War. During the War of Independence (January 1919 – July 1921), he took part in general IRA activity and operations including: the taking over of houses surrounding Arbour Hill Barracks for a planned escape of prisoners; a raid on the Great Southern and Western Railway (GS&WR) works and the destruction of armoured plating; raid on canal boat at Sixth Lock, Ballyfermot and destruction of ammunition destined for British forces in County Clare.

Seán was appointed Assistant Battalion Quartermaster in early 1920 and took care of the Battalion’s arms dumps; helped manufacture two small arms dumps; made stocks for Parabellum pistols; repaired rifles and shotguns; the burning of vacated Crumlin Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Barracks; the destruction of military stores in the Dark Lanes(now Sundrive Road), Dolphin’s Barn; supplying the plans, information and keys of the building for a raid on Brewers House, Guinness, James’s Street for shell cases; a raid on Kingsbridge Railway Station for arms; the burning of supplies contained in military lorries on Crumlin Road; an ambush of Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel at Red Cow Inn, Naas Road, Clondalkin (May 1921); sniping of troop train leaving Kingsbridge Railway Station; armed patrols to counter possible reprisals following ambush at Black Lion and armed duty for a week during attempted operation to rescue Frank Teeling, Simon Donnelly and Ernie O’Malley from Kilmainham Jail.

On 10 July 1921, Seán was ordered by Diarmuid O’ Hegarty and Richard Mulcahy to go to Belfast City to deliver the Truce instructions to local IRA officers. That same night in Belfast, he states that he took part in a gun battle in the defence of the Falls Road under the command of Joe McKelvey. The following day he travelled to Draperstown, County Tyrone where, following some difficulty, he also gave the Truce orders to local IRA officers.

During the Truce period, Seán Nolan was Quartermaster of a General Headquarters (GHQ) training camp at Bohernabreena. He was then appointed Quartermaster of the Four Courts Garrison which involved overseeing the fortification and maintenance of the building’s defence; supplying food to the garrison and supplying arms to the Guards Company. He took part in the arms raid on the Civic Guards depot, the Curragh, County Kildare and a raid on a train at Liffey Junction railway station.

Taking the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War (June 1922 – May 1923), Seán Nolan was arrested by National Forces at the fall of the Four Courts in June 1922. He was interned in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin until January 1923 and then transferred to Newbridge, County Kildare where he took part in a tunnelling escape operation and a hunger strike. He was released in December 1923.

Talented Violinist and America
Seán was a talented violinist and became one of the most outstanding fiddlers of his time. In 1925 and 1928, he travelled to Los Angeles to live with the Mellows family. He played music under the names “Seán Nolan and his Orchestra” and “Seán Nolan’s Dublin Orchestra”. He published tracks include medleys of hornpipes, jigs, reels and flings on vinyl that are listed in two music catalogues, Victor Records(1927) and His Masters Voice Records(1932).

Joe Begley, a well known republican, brought Seán’s records home from America to Ireland and played them for Mrs. Nolan and Barney Mellows who was living in the Nolan house.

Seán’s late night violin playing also had a part to play in Christy Byrne being arrested. An extract from the Cooney sisters – Annie O’ Brien and Lily Curran witness statement, show 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 Seán 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 Seán’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 America, he moved to Hollywood as worked as a carpenter on sets, where he met Charlie Chaplin, Bebe Daniels, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Valentino and other great artists of the time.

Return to Ireland and Marriage to Una Moran
Having returned to Ireland in 1928, Seán married Una Moran from Ballysax, Curragh and 25 Herbert Avenue, Merrion, Dublin at St. Michael’s, Dun Laoghaire on 23rd June 1933. Una had been involved in Cumann na mBan during the revolutionary period. The lived in 372 Lower Kimmage Road for the majority of their married lives.

Solicitor and Sheriff of Dublin
In 1935, Seán started practising as a solicitor working for James O’Connor, Dame Street before opening up his own practice at 6 South Great Georges’ Street. After 18 years, in March 1953, he became High Sheriff of the Co. Borough of Dublin.

Art and Music Scene
Seán was well know in art and music circles and on the walls on his house on Kimmage Road Lower he had works of Seán Keating, Maurice McGonnagle, Harry Kernoff, Desmond Stephenson and de Gennaro.  The artist Seán Keating had been friends with Seán Nolan since they were in the Gaelic League in their teens. Seán has a portrait painting of him in the National Gallery by Seán Keating named “Homage to Frans Hal”. A Gaetano de Gennaro (1946) of Seán exists in the family archive. Seán was also also a keen magician and was part of the Society of Irish Magicians.

Seán Nolan died in 13th September 1955 after becoming ill while swimming on holidays in Alassio on the Italian Riveria. His body was flown home to Dublin by Aer Lingus and buried in Mount Jerome. The celebrant was Rev C. Ó’Nualláin C.S.Sp. (Relative). A firing party from the Fifth Easter Batt. under Capt. J. J. Duggan, accorded military honours. The funeral was attended by a whose who of Dublin, including his family, including members of the Oireachtas, Bench, Bar, the Four Courts Garrison, Old Cumann na mBan and the Fourth Battalion Old I.R.A.

Seán’s legacy as a patriot, musician, and respected member of society endures, reminding us of the profound impact one individual can have on the world around them. As we commemorate his life and achievements, we honour not only the man but also the spirit of resilience and creativity that defined him.

You can listen to some of Seán’s music here

Person Photo
Connection with area: Republican, revolutionary, violinist, solicitor and Dublin sheriff who grew up in a safe house in Thornvilla, off Rutland Avenue and lived on Lower Kimmage Road