Historical Experience

John Cunningham

Interviewed 2021


In this selection, John Cunningham outlines his father’s involvement in the Kildare Mutiny of 1922. On the 15th of May 1922 over 1,200 recruits, including Michael Cunningham, of the newly established policing service of the Irish Free State broke ranks during the commissioner’s address in Kildare Barracks, raided the armoury and held the barracks under their control. The commissioner and some of his senior officers had to withdraw under armed guard while for the next seven weeks the Provisional Government and the mutineers negotiated about bringing the Civic Guard back under government control. Michael Brennan, O/C of the East Clare IRA and a leading Free State Officer in the Civil War, who later went on to become Chief of Staff of the Irish Army from 1931 to 1940. In 1932, when Fianna Fáil came to power in 1932 he resisted suggestions from the garda commissioner, Eoin O’Duffy that the army should refuse to cooperate with the new government. You can read more about Michael Cunningham HERE



JOHN CUNNINGHAM: And then, one of his first assignments after being assigned to the Gardai was, he was in the old depot. The old depot was in Kildare Army Barracks. The British hadn’t evacuated the depot in Phoenix Park yet, so the Kildare Army Barracks was taken over by the Garda Siochana under the Commissioner Michael Staines and they were based there at the very beginning. However, he told me stories one time about the reason for the Kildare mutiny, the Garda mutiny. Apparently, Commandant Brennan was hoping for one of the top jobs in the new Garda Siochana on the grounds that he was a top man in the IRA, but however Michael Staines gave the job to an ex-RIC man called Doherty from Donegal. And apparently, Doherty obviously would have been very experienced in policing matters whereas the lads from West Clare were experienced just in, like, farming in West Clare and very little else. So anyway, Doherty got the job and Michael Brennan and his followers were very annoyed, so they started a kind of an uprising. My father says that they took the rifles out of the armoury that had been confiscated from the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Anyway, in the middle of the whole thing, an armoured car of sorts arrived at the front gate of the Kildare Army Barracks, the depot as it now was. Of course, the lads immediately concluded that this had been sent over because of the uprising, but in actual fact they found out subsequently that there was no connection whatsoever, it was pure coincidence. It almost came to a shootout, it almost got nasty, except that somebody from Clare on the outside of the gate recognised the two lads from Clare on the inside of the gate and they talked the whole thing out and they all calmed down. To make a long story short, apparently, Michael Collins, when he heard about this mutiny, was furious and he got very annoyed, he was very annoyed with Michael Staines for allowing it to happen, so he immediately fired Michael Staines and replaced him with a General Eoin O’Duffy. So that was the story of the Kildare mutiny.