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Monday, January 20, 2014 12:00
Dead Interesting
Historian Shane MacThomáis brings Dublin’s cemeteries and graves back to life

The revolutionary Bob de Coeur

“MY FATHER was a Frenchman and I know all about revolutions. De Coeur is my name, that’s the way you say it, De Coar.”

There were Bob de Coeur’s first words to Liam O’Briain on Easter Monday, 1916.

Bob de Coeur, who is described as ‘every inch a Dubliner’, was born in 1879. He worked at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory and became heavily involved in the Labour movement.

In 1912 he was elected president of No 16 Branch of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union and later that year, with financial assistance from Jim Larkin, founded the Fintan Lalor Pipe Band.

During the 1913 Lockout he led his colleagues in their strike at Jacob’s and his enrolment in the Irish Citizen Army on its foundation was a natural progression.

On the outbreak of the 1916 Rising, de Coeur joined with the men and women of the Citizen Army and served at St Stephen’s Green and later the Royal College of Surgeons under the command of Michael Mallin.

Liam O’Briain later recalled how he was handed a pick by de Coeur and while digging became distracted by a beautiful woman “with a deep protestant look about her”. De Coeur quickly interrupted his respite shouting “Get back to your digging man, that trench needs to be wider. Sure yer giving yourself no arse room”.

As the first day of the Rising went on it became clear to Mallin that he had made a tactical error. Perhaps overestimating the size of the group that he would have under his command or underestimating the vulnerability of his position in St Stephen’s Green surrounded by tall buildings such as the Shelbourne Hotel, he was hopelessly exposed.

He decided to move to a position in the Royal College of Surgeons where they would be less vulnerable and here they stayed until the order to surrender came from Connolly.

Mallin called the garrison together, explained the situation and told them that the order to surrender had come.

De Coeur and Thomas O’Donoghue discussed the possibility of placing Mallin under arrest and continuing with the fight but Mallin predicted their plan and said “we came out as an army and we are now going to surrender as an army”.

Bob de Coeur was released in December 1916 after being interned in Frongach and despite consistent ill health played an active role during the War of Independence and took the anti-treaty side during the Civil War.

He died in March 1935 and is buried in St Paul’s, Glasnevin Cemetery in plot FD 29

• The Irish volunteers exhibition curated by Shane MacThomáis will run in Glasnevin Museum until March 22.

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