Historical Happenings for February 2017

 THE BOB AND MOLLIE MONTEITH STORY (Part II)

For Part I of this story, go to AOH.COM and link to Historical Happenings

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

On the run in the hills of Kerry since the ill-fated AUD debacle, Volunteer Captain Robert ‘Bob’ Monteith reflected on the failure of the arms shipment. He blamed Devoy for the coolness of the German Staff to Casement since Devoy told the German ambassador in New York that Clan na Gael was to be the only contact. The militants in Dublin also kept Casement uninformed since they felt that he was opposed to an insurrection without significant German assistance and the German Admiralty’s plans differed from theirs. The Admiralty planned that AUD would arrive on one of four nights from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, allowing for storm, flood or  English patrols. They requested a pilot boat to be in position each of those nights and that two green lights be shone periodically to guide AUD into Fenit. The plan was sent to Dublin, but the militants insisted that the ship should come on schedule on Sunday night. Casement felt that was foolish and when AUD arrived off the Kerry coast on the night of Holy Thursday, 1916, there were no lights and no pilot boat!  Kerry Volunteer leader Austin Stack had also been ordered that there was to be no shooting before Easter Sunday night.

Stack knew nothing of the ship’s winches and unloading gear nor how to operate them. This was the information Casement wanted to bring in advance. Every stevedore needs such data before he starts to work cargo; men unused to ships cannot be turned into dock workers at a moment’s notice. Stack would need 300 men for the job: a 150-man working party and a 150-man armed covering party since the police would arrive in short order. On AUD were 4,000 cases of rifles, 2,000 cases of ammunition and other material. Stack would need every Volunteer in Kerry and a supervisory staff capable of directing them. Casement’s request to come ahead was denied. The Military Council knew that the landing of arms would have touched off the Rising and they insisted that the Proclamation of the Republic must be read first in Dublin to make the landing of arms a legitimate act of a nation at war rather than a rebel act.  Monteith felt that the Military Council’s ignorance of the logistics of dock work led to their decision that the Proclamation be read first. Although it wouldn’t have frightened the British as much as 20,000 rifles in Irish hands, it made ‘great theater’ and most of the rebel leaders were poets and playwrights!

After eight months in the hills, Monteith was given a false name and fireman’s papers to work on the ship, ADRIATIC, bound for New York.  However, he was so weak that he was unable to endure the work of stoking boilers and carrying coal; he suffered a burst blood vessel in his stomach and severely blistered hands; carrying false papers, he was unable to seek a doctor and so suffered until they docked in New York in mid-December, 1916. The freezing cold after the heat of the boiler room brought on chills and fever. He jumped ship as it docked at 14th Street, walked across town to catch the Third Avenue elevated train to the 116th Street address he learned from Clan members. He barely made it to the third floor.  The children opened the door and Mollie ran to catch him as he fell forward. The wandering patriot was home!  She put him to bed and contacted John Devoy who sent a Clan na Gael doctor to attend the returned patriot. That night, Devoy came to see him and they talked for hours to reconcile their differences.

When Bob was well enough to travel, Mollie rented a house on 120th Street off Lexington Ave with no stairs to climb.  When the word got out that Monteith was in New York, a mass of newsmen wanted the story of the survivors of the submarine landing. One man called it Three men in a boat, the smallest invasion in history. Monteith gave no interviews as it might endanger men in Ireland. They rented a three-storey house with tenants at 157 East 119th Street to provide an income but the block was condemned by the city for garages and they relocated again, this time to 117th Street.

Meanwhile Republican Sinn Fein won a majority of seats in the December 1918 election and established their own dissident parliament called Dáil Eireann and set up a Bond Drive to support the new government. Eamon deValera, as President of the Dail, asked Bob to campaign for the Drive in America.  Bob agreed and took off on a nation-wide fund drive. When Bob was out west raising funds, the children suffered several  bouts with whooping cough and had their tonsils removed.  The doctor told Mollie that if young Patricia were to survive, she needed fresh air. Mollie relocated once more, this time to Schooleys Mountain, New Jersey where she rented a 5-room house on a 3-acre farm. Bob returned on weekends whenever he could but by 1922, his health was failing and he spent a month recuperating in the mountains with the family. Anxious to get some work, Bob moved to Detroit – a boom town at the time.  He found a nearly finished bungalow and sent for the family. They joined the Gaelic League and were popular among the many Irish in Detroit.  Bob worked at the Ford Motor Company. The financial crisis of 1929 hit and the WPA assigned him to a road gang.  Mollie worked at a cleaning plant and then as a teacher.  When the economy recovered, Bob was rehired by Ford and joined the Gaelic League’s Irish Rifle Association as an instructor. With retirement on their mind, Mollie found a small 2-1/2 room house in Goodells, Michigan and sold the house in Detroit. Bob retired in 1943 and in May 1947, they returned to Ireland settling in a house in, Donneycarney, Dublin.

Mollie attended the opening of Roger Casement Stadium in Belfast in June 1953 as Bob was too ill to attend.  He published a book, Casement’s Last Adventure in 1953 and they both agreed to return to Detroit in December 1953 to be with their children. As Bob and Millie grew older, they became progressively ill. One night in February 1956, as Bob tended to Mollie, he tripped on a rug beside their bed. Mollie jumped out of bed but couldn’t lift him. He asked to be left there and Mollie covered him with blanket and pillowed his head. The following day daughter Patricia helped lift him into bed. He refused to let them call a doctor saying he’d be fine after a rest. On February 18 he turned his head and asked, Where are you, Mollie?  She replied, I’m right here, by your side.  He muttered, You would be, and turned his head back toward the wall and fell into eternal sleep. General MacArthur said that Old soldiers never die, they just fade away and Captain Monteith did just that after a life spent in service to the Ireland he was converted to love. He was buried in Holy Sepulchre cemetery in Southfield Michigan after a massive procession of Gaelic League and other Irish societies.

Later in Nov 15, 1956, the Long Island Advance newspaper carried the notice that Mrs. Mollie Florence Burke Monteith, the widow of Captain Robert Monteith, flew here recently from Detroit and is spending several weeks visiting her daughter, Mrs. Florence Lynch of Blue Point Avenue in Blue Point, New York. She returned to Detroit and joined Captain Bob on May 7, 1966, three weeks before her 95th birthday.

No mention was made of Captain Bob and Mollie during the official ceremonies commemorating the recent Easter Rising, except by the Gaelic League and AOH in Detroit, Michigan, but they belong right up there in Republican memory with Tom and Kathleen Daly Clarke for few couples gave more to Ireland than they!