100 years ago: the secret wedding in Dundalk Gaol

Local film-maker Marcus Howard tells the remarkable tale of a secret wedding in Dundalk a century ago

Marcus Howard


Marcus Howard

100 years ago: The secret wedding in Dundalk Gaol

Diarmuid Lynch and his wife Kit were married in secret in Dundalk Gaol on April 24th 1918

April 24th 1918 saw one of the more extraordinary events to have ever occurred in Dundalk Gaol - the secret wedding of Diamuid Lynch to his wife Kit.

Lynch had been a key architect in the planning of the 1916 Easter Rising.

However, in February 1918, after masterminding the seizure of a herd of pigs which were being driven from the market at North Circular Road to the North Wall for export, Lynch was arrested and charged with ‘unlawful conspiracy to seize pigs’.

He was moved from Mountjoy Gaol to Dundalk Gaol on 20th March.

The regime in Dundalk was more relaxed. Friends were permitted to provide him with a new bed, mattress and pillow, while the local Cumann na mBan (Women’s Volunteers Corps) were allowed to supply the inmates with seventeen dozen eggs to celebrate Easter. In April a deportation order was served on Lynch.

As an American citizen he was to be sent back to America.

He had foreseen this and had already applied to the prisoner governor for temporary parole in order to marry his fianceé. This would then allow Kit to enter America as his wife. Parole was denied. Then Lynch asked permission to marry her in prison. Not waiting for the answer, he started to make his own discreet arrangements.

James McGuill’s witness statement from the Military Archives records:

“I proceeded to Dublin and went to the Mansion House where a meeting was in progress convened for the purpose of getting all political parties in the country united in a determination to resist conscription by all the resources of a united people.

“After the meeting I met Arthur Griffith and Eamon De Valera and they told me to take the G.H.Q. letter to 6 Harcourt Street, which I did. I then took the other letter to the young lady’s address. This letter contained the information of Lynch’s early deportation and expressed his strong desire to be married to her before the deportation order became effective.

“The letter pointed out that the marriage ceremony would give her the status of an American citizen and as the wife of a deportee she could claim the right to travel to America with her husband. The letter also instructed her to see her clergy and make all the arrangements for the marriage to take place in the prison. The letter also stressed the urgency of the matter as he expected to be deported within a few days.”

On 24th April 1918, Kit, her sister Carmel and the Capuchin priest, Fr. Aloysius Travers, arrived at Dundalk Gaol. They had filed a request to visit three inmates: Diarmuid Lynch, Frank Henderson and Michael Brennan.

Henderson’s witness statement in the Bureau of Military History records:

“Arrangements were then made, unknown to the British authorities, for the marriage ceremony to take place inside the prison. Ecclesiastical permission was obtained by a Dublin priest… I received intimation of this about twenty minutes before the visit, and was given instructions to put my back against the door of the visiting room, carry on a pretend conversation with the bride’s sister… The marriage ceremony was carried out without a hitch and in the presence of the necessary witnesses.”

The visiting room had a counter designed to keep prisoners and visitors apart, it proved no obstacle to the determined couple. Ernest Blythe tells how the priest drew the couple aside for a confidential ‘chat’, and the essential words were spoken by the necessary parties.

Later that same day, Lynch announced his marriage to his co-prisoners. Word soon reached the ears of the governor. Lynch was taken from his cell and put on a train for Dublin under the armed guard of Detectives Patrick Smyth and Daniel Hoey. Kit, Carmel and Fr. Aloysius were travelling on the same train. McGuill records: “When the train arrived the bridegroom, bride, priest and the bridegroom’s escort took their seats in the same compartment. I then telephoned Dublin informing H.Q. that the ‘happy’ couple had departed for Dublin”

When the train arrived in Amiens Street Station, a crowd of well-wishers led by De Valera and Collins were there to welcome the newly married couple. Harry Boland told Lynch the Volunteers stood ready to rescue him, but Lynch declined, refusing to risk any harm to the men.

Lynch and Kit sailed to Liverpool. They were re-united in New York on 1st June 1918.

In May 1919, Patrick Lee delivered a silver-plated, inscribed tray to Kit and Diarmuid, a gift from Lynch’s fellow prisoners in Dundalk Gaol. The tray is still displayed in the Granig farmhouse where Lynch was born.

The inscription reads:

“Souvenir of the marriage of Diarmuid and Caitlín Lynch in Dundalk Jail on the 24th April 1918. Presented to them by the Irish Republican Prisoners then in Dundalk Jail as a mark of their friendship and esteem and a tribute to Diarmuid’s distinguished services to the Irish Republic.”