Remembering one of Cashel’s greatest ever Republicans 70 years after her death

Niamh Hassett

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Niamh Hassett

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news@tipperarylive.ie

Remembering one of Cashel’s greatest ever Republicans 70 years after her death

Anastasia Nevin

Anastasia Nevin was born in February 1874 the 5th child of John and Anastasia Nevin (née Lane) originally of the Green and later of Friar St. Cashel.

John was a prominent Fenian supporter and was involved in O’Donovan Rossa’s by-election campaign of 1869, just 5 years before Anastasia’s birth.

Stasia trained as a dress maker and by 1901 she owned an impressively large house on one of the most desirable streets in Cashel, John Street and had set up a successful business, employing her younger sister Helen.

By 1911, Anastasia was running a boarding house at No. 5 and her brother John along with 6 others were boarding there. Stasia’s political leanings were always clear but from 1913 onwards she dedicated herself completely to the cause of Irish Independence.

When the Volunteers were founded Stasia headed up a committee to collect money for the procurement of arms and equipment. The Volunteer movement in Cashel, with the support of the local clergy, prospered.

With the onset of the Great War and the split in the Volunteers, Cashel like many Irish towns, had a large number of men who signed up to the British army.

Redmond’s recruitment speeches played a role but the prospect of a regular income to support their families was a major lure to men with little decent employment prospects.

In 1915, Anastasia received an application for accommodation from a British Army Major and his wife. She told them she had no room for them.

The real reason she refused to have them was, by this time, her house was a centre of resistance to the Crown for the Irish Volunteers with the likes of Paddy Hogan, Seán Treacy and Pierce McCan regularly visiting.

Anastasia’s tireless fund-raising efforts continued into 1916 and she worked closely with the Volunteers in Tipperary. During the confusion of Easter Week, Anastasia took in a young Fermoy volunteer Seán O’Neill who had cycled as far as Cashel on Easter Tuesday with the intention of joining the fight in Dublin. Stasia fed him and set him off on the safest route to Dublin.

The young man returned later with a handle from the door of the GPO and presented it to Anastasia for her kindness to him.

After Pierce McCan’s arrest in the general roundup following Easter Week, Anastasia worked ever harder for the cause. She collected money for the Prisoner’s Dependant Fund and rendered every aid to further the Republican movement.

The Cashel Cumann was founded in 1917 by Stasia and some friends with Stasia as Company O/C or Branch President. The regular visitors to Stasia’s house could have come straight from the Who‘s Who of South Tipperary Republican circles.

Among many who sat around her table were Seán MacDonagh, Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, Seán Hogan, D.P. Walshe, Matt Barlow, Pierce McCan and Paddy Hogan. Newly weds Séamus Ó Néill and Áine ní Fhoghlú lodged with her when they arrived in Cashel before finding their own home.

Throughout the Tan and Civil Wars Stasia was the driving force behind one of most committed and active group of Cumann na mBan branches in the country. 1917 saw her working closely with Seán Treacy to found more Cumann Branches in South Tipperary.

In 1918, her home was given over to the cause of Pierce McCan’s election being the de-facto Cashel Sinn Féin election headquarters. On top of their own canvassing work, Stasia and the members of Cumann na mBan provided meals for the canvassers from No. 5 John Street. On polling day, Stasia went from house to house dressed in her Cumann na mBan uniform and brought people to the polling station to vote.

That night Séumas Robinson called for three cheers for the Cashel women for their extraordinary contribution to the election success. Cashel of the Kings, once the electoral seat of British Prime Minister Robert Peel had just returned its first Republican candidate.

In early 1919, Tadhg Crowe stayed with Stasia shortly after the Soloheadbeg ambush. She introduced him to her other boarders as Paddy Carroll. Meanwhile, Séamus Ó Néill was languishing in Dundalk prison and his wife Áine’s health was failing.

Áine decided to stay with her sister in her native An Rinn, Co. Waterford, leaving the entire 2nd Battalion Cumann in the care of Stasia. Stasia also agreed to look after Áine’s now empty house.

A party of British officers called to Stasia demanding the key of Áine’s house, saying they intended to requisition it as quarters.

When she refused to hand over the key, the head constable from the RIC called to her house and demanded that she hand it over. Anastasia stood her ground declaring they could send up 200 soldiers and still she would not yield the key.

Stasia immediately contacted Áine who told her where there were guns hidden in the house. Stasia and her friend Catherine Meaney audaciously entered the house and retrieved the weapons just before the army officers forced entry and occupied the house.
March 1919 saw the death of 2nd Battalion O/C Pierce McCan from Spanish flu in Gloucester Prison. His funeral in Dualla was the largest the area had ever seen. A magnificent 5-foot floral harp was carried by Stasia and Josephine Dwyer (later Grogan) in full uniform on behalf of the Cashel Battalion Cumann.

The majority of Cashel Cumann were poor women with very little or no income and so Stasia frequently made up the shortfall for the expenses they incurred.

Séamus Ó Néill, released from prison in April, replaced Pierce McCan as Volunteer Battalion O/C. Stasia was an unofficial quarter-master, purchasing and procuring weapons wherever she could, often using her own money, in order to supplement the Battalion’s meagre weapons supply.

All the while Stasia was travelling the countryside delivering dispatches and arms by bicycle even after the use of bicycles was outlawed. She continued to successfully elude the patrols and went on with the vital Intelligence work.

Stasia’s home was open to all the Volunteers in need of a good meal and a place to sleep. She organised the safe houses for the ASU to get shelter and food all over the Battalion area. The Volunteers saw Stasia’s own house as a retreat where they could build back some of their health and morale when the hardship of life on the run became too much. Stasia never failed them.

Men detained in the police barracks in Cashel knew that Stasia would visit them and bring in hot meals. She constantly sent parcels to Tipperary prisoners and to the men on the run knowing that little comforts to punctuate the hardships were important and deeply appreciated by the men.

Somehow, despite some of her Republican activities being well known, Stasia had friends from all echelons of society within Cashel and could procure help from sources many would not have considered. Sick and wounded men would make their way to her house on John St and Stasia could rely on the discretion and invaluable service of her friend Dr Russell. Dr Russell never came under suspicion because, as a Protestant, the authorities assumed him to be loyal to the Crown.

In addition, Sr Michael in the convent stored guns and ammunition for her when Stasia’s own house was too full or too hot for deliveries.

August 1920 saw the capture of Séamus Ó Néill at Blackcastle and Paddy Hogan became Battalion O/C. Stasia and Paddy worked closely together on keeping the lines of communication open so that the Cashel Battalion could operate effectively despite the fact that nearly all active members were on the run.

Stasia’s house was firmly at the centre of many of the operations in the area. She ran an efficient intelligence unit, she and the women under her command discreetly keeping watch on various suspects and reporting the movements of the RIC and Military to the Volunteers.

The war, which had been gradually building in intensity, shifted gears and Seán Treacy’s death in Talbot Street, Dublin on October 14, 1920, marked the sharp increase in both the scale and violence of the war in Tipperary.

After several failed operations Paddy Hogan realised that a spy was operating within, or close to, the ranks of the ASU and decided to kidnap Constable Murphy of Cashel RIC in the hope of getting some information.

Murphy was known to attend services on Sundays at the local Protestant Cathedral on John St and he passed by Stasia’s house to get there. The Volunteers lay in wait for him at Stasia’s house but on that particular Sunday he did not attend Services.

Naturally her high profile meant her house was a frequent target for raids. Stasia’s refusal to be intimidated and her natural confidence earned her the grudging respect of her enemies.

She hid men and ammunition during raids and always remained cool and calm as soldiers or police would search the house.

Despite frequent and thorough searches they never discovered her hiding place- a secret press concealed behind a large and heavy wardrobe.

Throughout the turmoil Cashel Cumann na mBan remained staunch and with a high level of active membership. Logistically, this meant the continuity of supply and intelligence lines to the 2nd Battalion Volunteers. Anastasia’s grasp of the importance of her role meant that, despite suffering severe financial loss, she continued with her work.

Her example served as an inspiration to the women in her area and undoubtedly contributed to the remarkable level of loyalty even through the hardest times of the 2nd Battalion women.

The third week of December 1920 saw the tragic loss of three of the Dualla Company’s finest when James and Laurence Looby and Bill Delaney were murdered whilst in Military custody. When Stasia attended the funerals in Dualla she met with a heart-sore Paddy Hogan grieving for his companions.

He had been living a hunted and harried life - on the run since very early in the War - and the awful deaths of his long-time friends were a bitter blow to him. Her warm heart never failing, Stasia asked him and others from the ASU to Christmas dinner.

The wanted men arrived at her door on Christmas Day and she shared with them all she had and for the next few days they felt a little taste of what their lives had once been.

Stasia did not forget the Tipperary prisoners especially the poor ones whose families could not afford to send them much. They could expect a regular package from Cashel Cumann na mBan to remind them that they were not forgotten and that they too were important despite their poverty.

In March 1921 more plots were being hatched at Stasia’s kitchen table. Paddy Hogan, Paddy Keane, Tom Nagle and Bill O’Donnell met there to discuss the assassination of an RIC constable. Cantwell’s pub on the corner of Main Street and John Street was only a few doors away and was a popular spot with members of the Constabulary.

On Friday evening of March 4, the four men, on receiving word that there were members of the RIC in Cantwell’s all left the house. For her safety Paddy Hogan gave Stasia a small revolver which she put in her bag. Stasia kept watch on the street, while Paddy Keane and Bill O’Donnell stood at the doors of Cantwell’s. Paddy Hogan and Tom Nagle went into the pub and shot and killed Constable James Beasant.

As the men made their getaway up John St and over Ager’s Lane, Stasia walked in the opposite direction down Main Street and went to the cinema which was filled with soldiers. She made sure that she was noticed by the officers knowing that tomorrow an alibi would be necessary. Indeed, there was such a crowd of soldiers at the cinema that a gallant officer escorted her home.

The next day, police and soldiers arrived at Stasia’s house and while some of the party ransacked her home and stole valuables, she was interrogated for over an hour in a very hostile manner. Speaking lightly of her ordeal she said simply “It was then I showed them what stuff I was made of.”

However, Sunday morning brought terrible news to her door. A dispatch rider arrived at Stasia’s house with the news that, after a long gun battle, Paddy Hogan had been killed by Military at Derryclooney and Paddy Keane was taken prisoner.

Stasia accompanied Richard Hogan, Paddy’s father, to Cahir to claim Paddy’s body. She looked after the heartbroken family in her usual kind and practical manner. Later, she walked to Dualla to Paddy’s mother to bring her money – Paddy was the Hogan’s eldest child, the family was large and his death had a devastating financial impact on them. Stasia did what she could to ease their distress and the distress of many families in the area impoverished by the War.

She raised a weekly collection to support the Volunteer families in most need. Cumann na mBan of Cashel worked together to ensure their community would be looked after through the blackest of times. Paddy’s death was a huge personal loss to Anastasia as was his predecessor’s Pierce McCan exactly 2 years earlier.

After the execution of DI Potter, the military destroyed several well-known Republican houses all over Tipperary. One of the targets was the family home on John St of Dan and Tom Taylor prominent Cashel Volunteers.

The family ran a dispensary from their home and so the Military did not burn the house down but instead destroyed every piece of furniture inside the house.

After the destruction, Anastasia went to a prosperous merchant in the town and arranged for new furniture for the family.

Later in June, three soldiers were executed in Rosegreen. That night Military went mad in the town, shooting up the Main Street and Friar Street as the residents hid in terror. Being closer to the shots than Taylors who were further up John St and away from sounds, Anastasia left her house to warn the Taylors to be prepared for another attack.

As she ran back down to her own house she could hear the Military footsteps echoing through Ager’s Lane. A strict curfew was in place and Anastasia was fully aware had she been seen she would have been shot on sight regardless of her sex. Shortly afterwards, she learned her own house was next on the list to be burnt down.

She removed her valuables and sentimental objects for safe keeping but fortunately, her dear home was spared thanks to the Truce.

When the Truce was declared in July 1921, Anastasia continued on with her work helping the Volunteer families. She also supplied food and clothing to the men in the training camps.

Never sparing herself or asking someone to do something she was not herself prepared to do, she continued to cycle around delivering dispatches.

She broke both her wrists when she fell from her bicycle at a level crossing. She kept her house open for Republican meetings and, as the arguments slowly developed over the Treaty, she like the majority of Cumann na mBan, took an anti-Treaty stand.

But the toll of the last few years was finally beginning to tell on this formidable woman. In late 1921 Stasia fell severely ill and, despite stubbornly keeping on with her work, eventually she had to give up and was confined to her bed for a month as her body demanded payment for the years of hardship she had endured.

In 1922, when Cashel fell to the Free State army, the very first house to be raided was Stasia’s. It was a bitter blow to Anastasia. For the entire Civil War, Stasia’s house was subjected to constant searches and raids. Gradually her lodgers left as the disruption was too much to bear and Stasia who had already given so much to the cause now faced financial ruin.

However, her secret hiding place was never discovered and so Stasia continued to operate as she had in the Tan War hiding men and arms in her secret press behind the wardrobe.

Stasia was no shrinking violet, she often stole or coaxed the Free State soldiers’ weapons and ammunition from them and passed it on to her Republican comrades. She said that in one raid on her house she took 2 Free State bandoliers with 50 rounds of ammunition in each which she passed on to the Republican soldiers.

She continuously carried dispatches and despite a decidedly unsubtle warning that her activities would cause her to be shot Stasia never stopped in her dangerous work. She still continued to send parcels to the many Tipperary Republican men and women now held captive by the nascent Free State.

When Civil War ended, Stasia set about rebuilding her life. The business she had built up from scratch by her own hard work and acumen was now carrying a lot of debt and the bailiffs brought the threat of losing her beloved home.

Her health had taken a serious downturn and she was never to enjoy the blooming health she had enjoyed before 1916. Stasia, ever the entrepreneur, opened tea rooms and new boarders gradually came to stay in her home. Her community work took the place of her Republican work despite her poor health.

In 1937 she applied for a Military pension and had a titanic struggle to get her work recognised. Never someone cowed by authority, she refused the first pension award offered to her but eventually her financial situation forced her to accept a better but by no means just award.

Perhaps the most telling comment on her file is from an unnamed Pension Officer: “Outstanding but cocksure and does not see why she should not be taken for granted.”

Anastasia Nevin, one of Cashel’s greatest ever Republicans departed this life on February 13, 1951. For her funeral, the local parish church was packed with the men and women who had known her and understood her tireless work for Ireland.

Her tri-colour draped coffin was carried from the church by her comrades in the IRA and a guard of honour was provided by her surviving IRA and Cumann na mBan comrades - a final service to this woman who in a thousand ways had saved their lives years before.