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Guide to the Ernie O'Malley Papers AIA.060

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2596

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Rebecca Altermatt

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on December 20, 2022
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Finding aid was updated by Aki Snyder to include page counts for digitized materials.   , December 2022

Historical/Biographical Note

Ernie O'Malley (1897-1957) was an Irish Republican Army officer during the Irish War of Independence of 1919-1921 and a senior commander of the anti-treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War, 1922-1923. O'Malley wrote four books, On Another Man's Wound,  The Singing Flame,  Raids and Rallies,  Sean Connolly of Longford in addition to numerous poems, short stories, articles and reviews. A renaissance man, O'Malley was interested in art, archaeology, folklore, photography, literature and history, but also in the lives of those he fought with during the Irish Independence movement. In the 1950s he interviewed over 450 survivors of those he had fought along with, and these interviews were the basis for the episodes covered in his  Raids and Rallies and  Sean Connolly.

O'Malley was studying medicine at University College Dublin in 1916 when the Easter Rising took place. Although not a nationalist at the time, O'Malley having been invited by some friends to help defend Trinity College, Dublin in case the Irish Volunteers attempted to take it over, he decided his sympathies were with the rebels and thus began his military career. When he went on the run in 1917, he was asked by Michael Collins to organize IRA brigade units throughout rural Ireland and later as a Commandant General, at age 24, he commanded the IRA's Second Southern Division in Munster with 7,000 men. O'Malley was captured twice during his military career, the first time by the British in Kilkenny in December 1920 after which he was interrogated and badly beaten. With the threat of execution imminent he, and two other IRA men, escaped from Kilmainham Jail on February 14, 1921. At this arrest he had identified himself as 'Bernard Stewart' and when he escaped, his true identity was still unknown. O'Malley was captured a second time in the civil war on November 4, 1922 after a shoot-out with Free State troops in a house in Dublin. Critically wounded, he managed to survive prison for almost two years and 41 days on hunger strike before finally being released in July of 1924. Although still not well, he decided to seek a warmer climate hoping to recover both physically and spiritually and traveled in Europe spending time hiking in the Pyrenes, museum hopping and self-studying art and architecture while constantly writing. After returning to medical studies in Dublin for 1926-28, he was asked to go with Frank Aiken to the United States by Eamon de Valera to raise funds for the establishment of a new independent newspaper, The Irish Press. His notes and impressions of these journeys, 1928-1935, are included in the collection in Notebook Series and elsewhere in the Correspondence Series. O'Malley settled in Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico for 1929-1932 and while there met many artists and writers and occasionally lectured on modern Irish history and literature while writing his memoirs. He also traveled extensively in Mexico in 1931 for nine months following his interests in folklore, archaeology, modern Mexican art and teaching, - all the while writing.

In 1932 during the height of the Depression, O'Malley returned to New York to finish and publish his memoir, On Another Man's Wound. With introductions from Paul Strand, met many of the city's literary, theatre and artistic circles. He continued to write articles, poems and short stories, but only his poems were published. The manuscript for his memoir was rejected many times. In the meantime with the change in government in Ireland, he became eligible for a pension for his military service and wounds, and this led to his return to Ireland to secure his pension. While in New York he also met his future wife here, Helen Hooker, a sculptor and photographer, who had travelled extensively in Europe and Russia. Helen was the daughter of Elon Huntington Hooker, a wealthy businessman and founder of Hooker Electrochemical Company from Greenwich, Connecticut. When he returned to Ireland in 1935 she followed him. They married on September 27, 1935, and he returned to medical school. The couple settled initially in Dublin and later in County Mayo, Ireland, on a farm. O'Malley continued writing and Helen continued her sculpture, photography and theatre interests. The couple had three children. After the marriage broke down in the late 1940s and Helen effectively returned to the United States, seized two of the children, Cathal and Etain, and brought then to America where she initiated divorce proceedings in 1950. O'Malley's youngest son, Cormac, remained with his father. The divorce was finalized in 1952. After being in poor health for several years Ernie O'Malley died in 1957 in Dublin.

During his lifetime, O'Malley published one critically acclaimed work about his experiences in the Irish War for Independence: On Another Man's Wound. His second volume,  The Singing Flame, covering the Civil War was only published posthumously. O'Malley had published a series of articles in  The Sunday Press in 1955-56 describing his and other fighters' experiences, using the interviews he had conducted with former IRA men. These were also published after his death as  Raids and Rallies. The collection includes this serialization as well as reviews and publicity on these works and others in the Clippings and Publicity Series.

In 1991, Prisoners: The Civil War Letters of Ernie O'Malley was published by his son Cormac and Richard English, the latter who also went on to write his biography,  Ernie O'Malley: IRA Intellectual in 1998. In 2007, Cormac edited and published  No Surrender Here!The Civil War Papers of Ernie O'Malley, 1922-1924, being a compilation of anti-Treaty military communications and his father's letters from prison during the Civil War. Cormac also edited and published  Rising-Out: Sean Connolly of Longford, 1890-1921 in 2007.  Broken Landscapes: Selected Letters of Ernie O'Malley, 1924-1957, also co-edited by Cormac and Nicholas Allen was published in 2011.