Pensioner finds original 1916 Easter Rising treasures in her attic

Tue, 11/10/2011 - 14:47 -- Editor

A Derry pensioner has found a treasure trove of 1916 memorabilia in her attic.

The Culmore woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, contacted Newswire after unearthing original 1916 active service medals, a brass telescope from 1918, a sterling silver pocket watch and several photographs belonging to a long-dead relative who fought for the old IRA during the War of Independence in Dublin. Bernard Grealish later joined An Garda Siochana, serving in Dublin, then Quigley’s Point in Donegal.

“I was in my attic investigating a possible leak,” said the 71-year-old. “I came across an old suitcase that hadn’t seen the light of day for some 40 years. I opened it and it had all my old uncle Bernard’s things in it. I was brought up with my aunt and uncle and when he died all his belongings were given to me.

“I brought it down to the living room and went through it. I found the beautiful brass telescope and these war medals and his silver pocket watch. His old Garda baton was there also as well as some old pictures of him in uniform. I showed them to my son and he contacted an auctioneers in Dublin who said the medals alone could be worth nearly £7,000. It was a big shock. They were lying in my attic for four decades gathering dust. I didn’t realise they would be worth anything. I don’t know what I’ll do with them. I may put them on eBay soon or auction them in Dublin in a few years.”

The Galway-born Garda Sergeant was a legend in the Donegal community that he called home for many years. He rarely talked of his youth and the events that led him to help shape history that April morning in 1916. But the family have captured small snippets of his story over the years.

“I know that he fought in Dublin city centre during the 1916 rising. He told my mother that he was in the GPO, fighting alongside Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett. He said that he had been shot in the leg when they were evacuated and was taken to hospital by a nurse who was stationed at the GPO. We don’t know what happened after that.

“He used to tell my older brothers about fighting the Black and Tans. How he used a brass telescope during the War of Independence operations. I never really paid much attention, to be honest. I thought they were just stories. But it seems he had been very active in those days in the old IRA. Then he joined the Gardai.

“He was a Gardai officer for 40 years, first at Phoenix Park in Dublin, then later in Donegal. Very few people in the community, besides his family, knew that this deeply religious, reserved man who patrolled their streets, kept law and order, had been a prominent member of the fierce rebel force who took on the might of the British forces in Dublin as a man of just 22.”

The Garda Sergeant died in Altnagelvin Hospital 1971 and is buried in St Mary’s cemetery in Ramelton, Donegal.

With the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising looming the price of memorabilia is set to go through the roof. Auctions held twice yearly in Dublin concentrate solely on the vast number of items related to 1916. Everything from the brass doorknob of the GPO to the tricolour, which fluttered above the building during the week, has changed hands between collectors over the years. But it is thought that a special auction held during the centenary celebrations in April 2016 will see prices skyrocket.