Charlie McMahon – Republican rebel and sporting hero

Charles McMahon is mentioned in the GPO museum exhibition on O’Connell Street as one of three 12 year-olds who were involved in gun running during the 1916 Easter uprising against British rule. He was a young Republican scout.

The aftermath of the shoot out between Irish republicans and British troops in 1916 was the execution by firing squad of leading republicans. This triggered a determined war for independence in Ireland leading to the eventual formation of the Free State and subsequently the Republic.

Five years after the Easter uprising, Charlie would play a key role in the burning down of the Custom House in Dublin in 1921 – though he was shot in the head during that incident.

This did not stop him going on to become a national hurling champion. He began his hurling career with Clann na Murcadha in Fairview then Kevins HC before transferring to the Young Irelands in 1932. While playing the sport, he had a metal plate in his head – a legacy of being shot in 1921.

His brothers were also hurling players. Peadar McMahon captained Dublin to victory from full-forward in the 1937 Junior All-Ireland Hurling Final. He was a Dublin minor in 1933. Then went on to play senior hurling with Dublin and in 1946, won a Dublin Senior Football championship medal with O’Tooles. Another brother, Felix, played with Crokes.

When Charles Eugene McMahon was born on August 3, 1904, his father, Felix Patrick McMahon, was 27 and his mother, Ellen, was 21. He had two sons with Roise McMullan between 1940 and 1942. He died on December 5, 1987, in Raheny, Dublin, Ireland, at the age of 83.

Shot in the head at the burning of the Custom House, Charlie had started his revolutionary career at the tender age of 10 and suffered other wounds before and after the Custom House but remarkably lived to 83.

Charles Eugene McMahon was born in Ballina, Co Mayo on 3 August 1904. His father Felix was a Timber Merchant & Builder from Co Tyrone and his mother Nellie (Boyle) a Donegal woman. Charlie had 5 sisters and 1 brother.

The family moved to Dublin around 1912/13. In his pension application Charlie says he was at the Howth arms landing with Na Fianna and at Easter 1916 spent 3 days in the GPO, doing despatch and food deliveries to the Manure Works and Amiens St Station.

Reassuringly, he adds he went home each night! Because of his extreme youth, he was ordered home finally on the Wednesday.In late 1918 he joined B Coy, 2nd Batt of the Volunteers and initially did intelligence work including hold-ups of despatch riders and commandeering cars from hostile loyalists.

He worked with his father in the building & joinery trade. MacMahon took part in the attempted ambush on a troop train at Killester and on Auxies at Ballybough in early 1921.

After the ambush at The Thatch, Whitehall he suffered severe injury to his ‘man-bits’ as well as badly torn hands from slipping and falling from a high gate covered in barbed wire.

He was in the April attack on the Auxy base at North Wall Hotel and shortly before the Custom House operation was involved in an armed hold up at the British Oil Co depot in Sheriff St to get fuel for the burning to come.

On 25 May, after being shot, he was captured and taken to King George V (now St Bricin’s) Military Hospital where surgeons fitted a metal plate in his skull. There are references on his pension file to both escape and release from that hospital, but it is not clear how or when he left there.

In any event, McMahon suffered epileptic fits and partial deafness from his head wound – the bullet was lodged at the back of his brain – and was unable to do his former work.Nevertheless he joined the new National Army on 27 February 1922.

He was in the assault force at the Four Courts, coming from Winetavern St where he was again wounded by glass splinters in the head, face and hands. Corporal McMahon stayed in the Army until he was medically discharged (Character & Conduct Very Good) on 3 January 1924.

Suffering increasing agonies from his head wound, Charlie attended a succession of doctors and surgeons. Their advice was against attempting surgery which would likely result in him left “an imbecile” (as the term of the time put it).

His parents were very closely involved in supporting him, financially and otherwise as he readily acknowledged. Eventually, top surgeon Sir William de Courcy Wheeler at Mercers Hospital operated and successfully removed the bullet on 10 Dec 1925.

He was able to resume work as a Quantity Surveyor and in 1937 he married Roise MacMullan. They had 3 sons & 3 daughters and lived in Malahide, Finglas and finally Raheny for many years.

Finally, like many others in the IRA, Charlie was a serious GAA man. He was a leading player in his day in both codes – football with St Lawrence O’Tooles and hurling for Kevin’s, Young Ireland and Dublin. Kevin’s club history (http://kevins.ie/default.aspx?ctrl=custom&content=18 ) refers to him as a legendary hurler.

He captained the Dub hurlers in 1932 & 1934 when they lost the Leinster & All-Ireland finals. But Charlie did win the All-Ireland in 1938 (v Waterford), four Leinster titles & two League titles in 1929 & 1939. Some recovery and sporting record for a man who’d carried a bullet in his brain for nearly 5 years!

Charles McMahon lost his sight in the 1980’s and he died on 5 December 1987. He was buried in Balgriffin (Fingal) Cemetery.

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