Jeremiah Mee

Jeremiah Mee was born on a subsistence farm at KnickanesGlenamaddy, Co Galway, on 29th March 1889.  He was the fourth child in a family of five boys and four girls. In the 1901 Census Jeramiah Mee was aged 11 years and living with his parents, four brothers and two sisters at Knockauns, (Knickanes) Glenamaddy, Co. Galway. He doesn’t appear in the 1911 Knickanes Census taken on 2nd April as by then he had graduated from the R.I.C. Police Depot and was stationed in Kesh, Co. Sligo. The 1911 Census places him in House No. 6  where his age is given as 22. He used his initials on the form which was a requirement for members of the military and constabulary. He attended Stonetown National School from 1893 to 1901 where his nationally-minded teacher was John O’Keeffe N.T.. John lived near the entrance to O’Keeffe housing estate which is named after his family in the town of Glenamaddy.

Jeremiah lived an unremarkable life until at the age of twenty when by chance he was dispatched to Williamstown R.I.C. station to renew a dog licence. He was invited to join the station constables in a card game and before he departed it was suggested to him that he should join the force. He talked it over with his parents the following day and they thought it would be a good career move as he was at a loose end with little employment prospects either at home, or, abroad. In 1910 he entered the R.I.C. training depot in the Phoenix Park. He admits to barely meeting the minimum height requirement. The average height of constables was 6ft with many over 6ft 4ins. He enjoyed his stint in the training depot and maintained that one of the happiest occasions of his life was the day he donned the police uniform and swaggered down Grafton Street. He was pleased with his salary which was the equivalent of that of a bank clerk, or, a teacher and his prospects of promotion were better. He liked the outdoor life and the emphasis on physical fitness which went with the job.

His first appointment as a police constable was in Kesk, Co. Sligo, in February 1911. It was a quiet, off the beaten track place with nothing to do in the line of police work. He spent two and half idyllic years there where he got on exceedingly well with his comrades in the station. There was no serious crime to report and he enjoyed patrols which brought him into contact with the local law-abiding community.

He was transferred to Collooney in 1913 where discipline, adherence to regulations and form-filling was the order of the day. Unlike in Kesh he wasn’t encouraged to mingle with the community as the custom in the station was to stay aloof. The atmosphere didn’t agree with him and he requested a transfer.

In 1914 he moved to Geevagh where he found the place to his liking. In 1915 he relocated to Ballintogher. Here it was suggested to him that he should join the British Army where his proficiency in gymnastics and first aid training would stand him in good stead. While stationed there he had to keep an eye on the drilling routines of the Volunteers who had a visible presence. Things began to change following the execution of the 1916 leaders. A constable from the locality was shot dead in the assault on Ashbourne police station. He noticed a change in people’s attitude to British rule in Ireland. Sinn Féin were becoming active on the ground dividing farms.

His next move was to Grange where police visited offshore islands in search of poitín stills. The exercise was more for show that anything else. Mrs Hannah Sheehy-Skeffinton addressed a gathering in Grange while he was stationed there. She was none too complimentary about members of the R.I.C. which included Jeremiah who were in attendance keeping a watching brief. While in Grange he became involved in promoting union membership in the force. Unlike in England a police union was not recognised in Ireland. As a result, he fell out of favour with his superiors and got transferred to Listowel in July 1919. Constable Lynch was killed by the I.R.A. in Grange around this time.

The I.R.A. were more active in the south than in Sligo. Landlords and their agents needed protection. Sean Hogan was arrested in May 1919. Dan Breen and Sean Treacy were seriously wounded and two policemen killed while helping to free Hogan at Knocklong railway station. The British government was concerned that the I.R.A. were getting the upper-hand and that the R.I.C. weren’t up to the job of maintaining law and order. Early in May 1920 Tomás Mac Curtain, Lord Mayor of Cork, was assassinated in a revenge attack. The I.R.A. attacked Kilmallock R.I.C. station on 27th May 1920.

A decision was made to locate British soldiers in large towns in the south to counteract the threat which the I.R.A. posed. As part of the new game plan most of the constables in Listowel R.I.C. barracks were to be dispersed throughout the county to make way for the British Army. Jeremiah Mee was assigned to Cloghane at the foot of Mount Brandon. The constables in the station conferred and decided that they would resist any effort to move them to make way for the army. Jeremiah was selected to represent fourteen of his comrades. On 19th June 1920 senior police and army officers visited the station to spell out their plans to counter the I.R.A.  A highly-decorated senior officer called Colonel Smyth addressed the assembled men. He intimated that from that point on I.R.A. suspects were to be shot on sight and assured them that no questions would be asked by their superiors and that no charges would be preferred against them. It didn’t matter if innocent people were killed in the process. As a sweetener they were assured that their pay and working conditions would improve and that grievances they had would be addressed.

Jeremiah responded by saying – “By your accent I take it that you are an Englishman. You seem to forget that you are addressing Irishmen.” After a heated exchange the officers withdrew. Jeremiah and his comrades refused to budge. They immediately drafted a memo detailing what Colonel Smyth had said and approached a local priest to arrange for it to be forwarded to I.R.A. headquarters in Dublin with a view to publication. Nothing happened for a few days.

On 6th July 1920 Jeremiah and four of his comrades decided to leave the force without going through the formal process of resigning. On the 7th of July they took a train to Limerick and from there they travelled to Tuam by car. They knew that they would be treated as deserters if captured and accused of treachery for having contacted the I.R.A.. After negotiating many road blocks and following a few close shaves they arrived in Tuam where they dispersed. Jeremiah set out for Glenamaddy to visit his family. He was warned by a friendly R.I.C. man that the Tans were on the look out for him so he hid in a lime kiln in Polshask, a townland which adjoins Knickanes, to avoid capture. He decided not to stay for long as word was sure to get out that he was in the vicinity.

There is no record of him having made contact with local leaders of the I.R.A. while on his covert visit to Glenamaddy. Patrick Treacy, Kiltullagh, in his submission to the Bureau of Military History made on 19th May 1956 stated that he himself joined the Kilkerrin branch of the I.R.A. on 20th April 1920. He doesn’t make any reference to Jeremiah Mee. Treacy states in his submission that approaches by the Glenamaddy/Kilkerrin and Polredmond I.R.A. Companies to families of local R.I.C. men, Thomas Glennon from Polredmond and Patrick Quigley from Glynsk, to get them to resign from the force proved successful. They became the first Republican Policemen in Glenamaddy following the truce in 1921.  There is no mention of Jeremiah Mee, the most prominent local or national constable to resign from the R.I.C., having been approached in this regard.

 “This Question of Republican Police brings to my mind another duty performed by the I.R.A. in this area. We approached families who had a member or members in the R.I.C. with the object in view that these families would get in touch with their R.I.C. members and induce them to resign from that force. I remember distinctly one such family Glennons of Polredmond Company area. The result was that Thomas Glennon of the R.I.C. resigned, joined the I.R.A. and with Volunteer Patrick Quigley of Glynsk Company area became the first two Republican Policemen in Glenamaddy just after the truce in July, 1921. I remember that rooms were provided for them and paid for by the I.R.A. so that a full-time police service could be available in the town of Glenamaddy.  I cannot remember any friendly member of the R.I.C. in the Glenamaddy or Kilkerrin Company areas.” Patrick Treacy, Statement to Bureau of Military History, 1956.

Jeremiah travelled by train from Glenamaddy to Ballymote where he got in contact with trusted members of the I.R.A. whom he had come to know when he was stationed there. From there he made his way to Dublin to meet the leadership of the I.R.A.. Colonel Smyth’s address was published in the ‘Freeman’s Journal’ on 10th July 1920 and there was pressure in London to hold a public enquiry. Jeremiah met Michael Collins and Countess Markievicz at the Labour Party offices in Abbey street. On 19th July 1920 Colonel Smyth was shot in Cork County Club.

Revenge for the Listowel mutiny wasn’t long in coming. Early in the Spring of 1921 Jeremiah’s  parents’ home, farm machinery, farm animals and crops were destroyed by the Black and Tans. On the same night the Town Hall in Glenamaddy and Ballinastack Dance Hall which was situated close to his home and which he was known to frequent were burned to the ground. His parents and siblings were abused and traumatised.

He worked with Countess Markievivz, Minister for Labour in the First Dáil, for a period organising employment for members of the R.I.C. who had resigned in objection to the involvement of the Black and Tans in policing. He gave advice to Collins on how the I.R.A. should deal with the R.I.C. and played a part in getting the support of the Dublin Metropolitan Police to disarm and not accompany the Auxiliaries and Black and Tans on raids.

From 20th to 24th October 1920 he took the perilous trip to Listowel disguised as a cattle dealer. He did so at the instigation of Collins who wanted him to organise an underground movement within the R.I.C. that would provide information on army plans. He met former comrades who agreed to remain in the force solely for this purpose. He visited Paddy Breen’s pub in Listowel where he found the Black and Tans socialising. In April 1920 the Provisional Government passed a decree that members of the public should ostracise the R.I.C.. Kelly and McNamara, former comrades in Listowel, were charged with spying but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them. They were both dismissed with immediate effect. They later travelled to the U.S.A. to organise support for the Irish cause and spread the word of the atrocities committed by the Black and Tans, of which they had direct experience. Jeremiah Mee travelled to London to deliver a message to Joe McGrath and from there he went to Manchester to attend a convention of the Irish Self-Determination League. He addressed meetings in Liverpool, Leeds and Cardiff where he received a hero’s welcome and was asked to recount the details of the Listowel mutiny. At one point he was congratulated by a member of the British constabulary for taking a stand against the primitive conditions and low wages which members had to endure both in England and Ireland.

The situation throughout Ireland was deteriorating by the day. Cork city was burned by the Black and Tans and numerous atrocities were being reported across the country. Martial law was imposed. Jeremiah spent Christmas in Dromahair where he evaded capture. His next mission was to organise a boycott of goods manufactured in Belfast. Belfast businessmen were selling much of their products to Catholics in the south while at the same time dismissing Catholic employees in the North. He was relatively successful in this mission posing as a drapery salesman.

He was still in active service and had evaded arrest when the truce was called on 11th July 1921.   In February 1921 the Belfast Boycott was suspended. He was transferred to the Irish White Cross which was established to relieve distress among people caught up in the Anglo-Irish War. On 29thJune 1922 Civil War broke out when some republicans refused to accept the Treaty negotiated with Britain. As a result, funds for the White Cross petered out and Jeremiah became unemployed. By all accounts he never joined the I.R.A and he didn’t take sides in the Civil War but nevertheless he was arrested and incarcerated for four months during the Civil War.

In September 1924 he secured employment with British Petroleum (BP). He found that promotion in the company was based on denominational affiliation. He became involved in Union activity to secure better treatment for Catholic employees and as a result was dismissed. In 1932 he applied to be reinstated in the Civil Service and secured a position as an Employment Insurance Inspector in the Department of Local Government in Longford. In 1936 he was transferred to Mullingar and in 1948 he moved to Dublin.

He never forgot his comrades in Listowel and kept in regular contact with them. During the years preceding his death he took great pains to ensure that his fellow mutineer, John McNamara, would receive a state pension. On 18th April 1950 he made a detailed submission to the Bureau of Military History in which he outlined in great detail the events which led to the Listowel Mutiny and the role he played in assisting the resistance movement after he left the R.I.C..

In the years leading up to his death he busied himself writing his memoirs but, unfortunately, he didn’t survive to see them published. He married Annie O’Rourke of Drumkeeran, Dromahair, County Leitrim, in Ballintogher parish church on 16th August 1920. They had two sons and four daughters. He died at the relatively young age of sixty-four in 1953. He is buried beside his wife who predeceased him by five years in Glasnevin Cemetery where a simple headstone marks his final resting place.

Fr Anthony Gaughan, historian and author of numerous books, and a native of Listowel, published “The Memoirs of Constable Jeremiah Mee RIC” in 1975 with the cooperation of Jeremiah’s daughter who had possession of her father’s papers.

A Memorial Plaque was unveiled in his memory in Glenamaddy in 1989 to mark the centenary of his birth. He is remembered with respect and admiration in his native parish where he spent his formative years. He exemplified courage, patriotism, perseverance and selflessness in the face of brutality and intimidation.  He made huge personal sacrifices in pursuit of Irish freedom and justice and he deserves to be remembered and honoured as a national hero who provided vital leadership at great cost to himself and his family in one of the most challenging times in Irish history. 

AuthorPat Keaveny

Sources:
Jeremiah Mee : Statement to the Bureau of Military History. 18th April 1950 
The Memoirs of Constable Jeremiah Mee RIC by J. Anthony Gaughan. 1975, 2012 
Patrick Treacy: Statement to the Bureau of Military History. 19th May 1956   
Roscommon Champion, September 1989    
Tuam Herald, September 1989  
1901 Census of Ireland     
1911 Census of Ireland