RAF policeman’s mum ran rifles for Michael Collins

RAF policeman’s mum ran rifles for Michael Collins

For Joe Costelloe, who turns 84 this month, the centenary commemorations have prompted him, like many other Irish people, to look back on his family history.

Originally from Limerick, he now lives in Newham, has the unique story of being the son of parents who helped toward the 1916 Rising, as well as serving in the Royal Air Force for 22 years.

His mother, Mary O’Shea, born in 1900, worked as a servant in Croom in Co. Limerick, and helped transport arms and messages for republicans.

“The IRA didn’t want to be caught with weapons by the black and tans so it was easier to get women to help out. She would carry them in a pram, and move bits and pieces for them,” he says.

“She was tied to a lamppost twice, to send out a warning to others not to follow suit, and the second time they told her she would be executed if it happened again. She worked alongside Michael Collins.”

His father, Michael, also helped co-ordinate the rebellion in Limerick, and, he presumes, this is how they met.

“They’re influence did have a big impact on me and the way I thought. Serving in the RAF I have travelled the world, and the background of always speaking politics at home helped me.

“I studied it for seven years and it really aided me in later life to understand and relate to people across the globe.”

John eventually went on to join the police service, and settled in London with his Scottish born wife, who passed away recently.

“I ran away from home when I was about 20. For no particular reason other than the grass is always greener on the other side. I intended to go to family in the States, I had relations in Wisconsin and Maryland, but I didn’t end up there.

“I was the middle child of 11, and sadly many of my siblings have passed on now too. I sort of lost touch with them while I travelled with work, and I wasn’t the most popular person when I had to change my nationality to British in order to be able to transport secret documents, as that was not an option available to so-called ‘foreigners’. You could only have restricted access.”

John is still very much in touch with his Irish-ness, and is well known in the East End of London for singing Irish ballads in local pubs.

“They know I’m coming as I bring a big bag of songs with me. I am completely retired now,” he says.

“But keep going with charity work, it keeps me out of mischief. I work started charity work in 1952, but founded CYANA seven years ago. “

It stands for Cancer You’ll Never Walk Alone and is a service for those who need support and help with hospital appointments, so that they feel like they aren’t isolated while receiving treatment.”

Share your family stories and photos

1916 may traditionally have meant more to your parents or grandparents but the centenary retrospective offers all of us an opportunity to reflect on what Ireland is today and what it means to many of us.

Virtually every Irish family has some 1916 tale that’s often been handed down by parents and grandparents and we would like Irish World readers to send in theirs.

It doesn’t have to be just about The Rising or The Battle of the Somme and if there is someone in your family who has passed but would have been a hundred this year please send in a photograph and some details.

Similarly, if you have a family member who has become, or will be, a hundred years old (a centenarian) we want to hear from you as part of our own Irish World readers’ contribution to commemorating 1916.


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