John (Seán) Boylan was born on 31st July 1880. The family lived at Castlefarm, Dunboyne. Edward Boylan received 17 acres at Castlefarm from the estate of John Wilson about 1901 under the Land Commission. Edward died 12 March 1910.
Seán Boylan was from a nationalistic family with his ancestors taking part in 1798 and the Fenian rebellions. His mother’s brother was sent to Van Diemen’s Land on the convict ship “Success” never to be heard of again. His parents infused a patriotic spirit into him from a very early age. Boylan captained the Dunboyne hurling team to five county championships in 1908, 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1914. . Boylan left school at the age of nine to help out on the family farm. He took horse drawn bogies of hay to the Dublin markets and return with loads of coal.
When the Irish Volunteers were established in Dunboyne Boylan and others did not trust the organisation and so he and about thirty others formed an independent Volunteer outfit. Members included Christopher Lynam, James Maguire, John Kelly, Michael Kelly, Peter Byrne, Aidan Crean, Owen King, Peter and Ned Boylan, and Peter, James and Christopher Keating. The group drilled with dummy rifles. Larry Murtagh from Chapelizod was the instructor and he was also a conduit for information from Dublin organisers.
At the time of the split most of Dunboyne’s Volunteers took the side of Redmond while the rest joined the independent group. This group then became the Irish Volunteers, Dunboyne Company. Boylan was appointed Captain by Padraig Pearse. Boylan was a member of the General Council from 1915 and attended meetings regularly at Headquarters at 2 Dawson Street, Dublin. The council consisted of Eoin McNeill, Pearse, Plunkett, McDonagh, Ceannt, Seán McDermott, Bulmer Hobson and a representative from each county.
In August 1915 Boylan and a group of hurlers from Dunboyne carried draped hurleys at O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral to Glasnevin. The Dunboyne Volunteers had their headquarters at Courthill House. Courthill House was erected near the Church of Ireland church at Dunboyne about 1835. The house came into the hands of John Justin McCarthy in 1908. McCarthy was from Kerry and had managed to acquire a fortune through railways shares in companies in Africa. Later Michael Collins used Courthill, Dunboyne as a safe retreat from time to time as did other General Headquarters officers. A supporter of Kerry GAA, Kerry footballers stayed at Courthill the night before the All-Irelands, including the 1913 final. Boylan joined the IRB and started a circle in Dunboyne. His brother, Ned, was appointed head of the Dunboyne Circle but Seán took over after 1916.
Three weeks before the Rising Boylan reported to Pearse at St. Enda’s and here he was introduced to Donal O’Hannigan who was officer commanding the north east including Meath and Louth. Pearse said that a German ship would land arms and then the Volunteers would be mobilised. Boylan was to make contact with O’Hannigan when the mobilisation commenced.
A meeting was held in Dunboyne Castle, home of the Murrogh-Ryan family to discuss how to stamp out the disloyalty of sections of Irish population. It was suggested that all the leaders of the Irish Volunteers, both local and national, be arrested and interned under the Defence of the Realm Regulations. John Moore, a valet in the castle, was a spy for Boylan and informed him of the meeting. Boylan took the information to Pearse at St. Enda’s. Boylan asked Pearse for permission to bring his force into Dublin when the rising happened. Pearse told him that preserving communications routes to and from the city was his role and he was not to bring his men past Mulhuddart.
On Good Friday Boylan was given written instructions from Pearse that the rising would start at 6.00 p.m. on Easter Sunday. Preparations were made and mobilisation orders issued to all men. On Easter Saturday night Boylan received two service rifles from IRB headquarters. He planned to seize Clonsilla Station and destroy the railway there.
At about 4.00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon Boylan received a message that the rising was off and messages were sent out to local men. As North Meath was part of his responsibility Boylan set off to Kells to stop the men there mobilising on Tara. A man called Battersby met Boylan and said he was too late so they both set off for Tara in Battersby’s car. Boylan met Garry Byrne on Tara and instructed him to send his men home. Boylan and a number of the men started off on foot for Navan. Boylan stayed at Clarke’s in Navan overnight and the following morning made his way back to Dunboyne.
On Monday evening Boylan heard that the rising had started in the city. He collected what men he could, about fifteen. Armed with two rifles, a few shotguns and some gelignite they started to demolish the railway bridge beside Boylan’s house. A signalman stopped their work when he told them that there was only a local row or riot in the city. A messenger was dispatched who returned to say the Rising had started and there was fighting going on in the city. Boylan decided to destroy the railway bridge at Clonsilla and he despatched Christopher Lynam, Francis Lownes and Peter Keating on their bicycles with the gelignite to destroy the bridge. The remainder of the men under Boylan made their way towards Clonsilla. They met a girl, Anne Rodgers, who said a messenger had arrived at Dunboyne with instructions for Boylan to bring his men to Leixlip to join up with the Maynooth Volunteers. They made the six mile trip on foot but could not make contact with the Maynooth men. The Volunteers returned to Dunboyne where Boylan tried to make contact with the Louth group. He sent out scouts and on Tuesday evening managed to make contact with Donal O’Hannigan at the Red House on the Dunshaughlin Road. The two groups merged and were joined by Seán McGurl from Athboy.
The combined forces moved to Tyrrellstown House, near Mulhuddart. The Dunboyne men received some arms from the Louth Volunteers. O’Hannigan despatched scouts to the city and also to Thomas Ashe in North Dublin. Garry and William Byrne from Kells also joined the Volunteers at Tyrrellstown. A number of sheep were killed for food and Boylan’s mother supplied eggs, butter and other necessities. No orders were received. On Saturday morning O’Hannigan set out to try to make contact with Ashe. Boylan was left in charge at Tyrrellstown. O’Hannigan returned with news that the surrender had taken place. The officers discussed the best course of action. Arms were to be dumped and some Louth men were to go home while the remainder returned to Dunboyne with the local men.
Boylan returned home and about 3.00 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon his house was surrounded by Lancers. Boylan, his three brothers and Christy Lynam were arrested and taken to Richmond Barracks. Seán was the last man to shake the hand of Éamonn Ceannt as he went to his execution. The men were there for a few days when they got news of the executions. They were marched to the North Wall and despatched to England on a cattleboat. They were taken to Wandsworth Prison. Boylan and the prisoners were treated poorly. Food was of poor quality. The Irish Parliamentary Party organised additional food but Boylan refused it as he felt it would be used as propaganda. The prisoners were transferred to Woking Prison and after a month they were sent to Frongoch where conditions were good. There were education and language classes and the prisoners had their own canteen. It was here that Boylan met Michael Collins. He was later to be described as “Mick Collins right-hand man.” After three months Boylan was released and made his way back to Dunboyne. The police were ordered to keep tabs on prisoners but the local sergeant kept Boylan informed of events.
Boylan organised fund raising for the Volunteers that were still imprisoned. He also gathered as many of the Dunboyne Volunteers together as possible. About twelve men were active, nine of which were members of the IRB. In September 1917 Boylan organised an aeriocht in one of the fields on his farm as a means of recruiting new members. Michael Collins and William T. Cosgrave attended and addressed the attendance. Several members of the Dunboyne Volunteers marched in the procession for Thomas Ashe’s funeral in September 1917.
Boylan toured the county actively trying to organise new companies of Volunteers. Almost every town and parish had a company including Trim, Navan, Kells, Oldcastle, Stonefield and Summerhill. In the spring of 1918 came the threat of conscription and throughout the county anti-conscription committees were formed. Several new recruits joined the Volunteers as a result of the campaign. The number of Volunteer rose to forty in Dunboyne but when the threat was over numbers dropped back to twenty four.
Boylan was active in organising the county’s companies into battalions. He formed one brigade, the Meath Brigade, with its headquarters at Dunboyne and Boylan as officer commanding. In July 1918 a by-election was held in Cavan and Boylan ordered the Volunteers from North Meath into East Cavan to canvass for Arthur Griffith, the Sinn Féin candidate. In some cases the Volunteers had to physically protect Sinn Féin meetings. In the General Election of 1918 the Volunteers took an active part in the campaign.
In 1919 a number of Volunteers were arrested as suspects of “The German Plot” and members of the Meath Unionist Party petitioned the British government to keep these men in jail. As the Unionists were also the main supporters of the hunt Boylan consulted with Éamonn Duggan T.D. and a notice was inserted in newspapers by Sinn Féin that all members of the hunt were to cease hunting until the prisoners were released.
A number of hunts were cancelled as a result of this notice. The hunt then held a meeting and there was no Sinn Féin members there to prevent it. Another hunt meeting was to be held at the Workhouse, Dunshaughlin. Boylan arrived with twelve Volunteers and told the Master that they were there to enforce the ban on hunting. The Master relied “I cannot take notice of political parties.” After further discussion with the Master it was agreed that the Hunt be called off. However the Master had arranged for the hunt officers to ride down the Volunteers. An attempt was made to release the stag. A shot was fired by the Volunteers wounding a horse. The Volunteers managed to gain control of the stag in the box cart and refused to hand it back to the Hunt. The hunt party rode home and the stag was later returned to the kennels at Ashbourne. The Hunt organised a hunt in County Dublin and as it was outside his area Boylan let it happen but the following week Boylan issued a statement stating that the landowners in the Ward Hunt area refused permission for the Hunt until the prisoners were released. Another hunt was arranged and Boylan called to see the Master but he refused to back down. As Boylan returned to Dunboyne he received information that a force of sixty policemen and eighty military were going to surround Batterstown village to protect the hunt. Boylan managed to get through the cordon and spoke to the acting Master, Lord Fingall, and informed him of the ban on hunting. Fingall said that when the landowners did not want the hunt to cross their lands then they would respect that decision and abandon the meeting but they were not taking dictation from any political party. In the centre of the village Boylan was approached by reporters from thirteen papers and the following day Boylan’s photo appeared in all the papers. At a Sinn Féin meeting in the Mansion House there was a great welcome for Boylan and he was called to address the meeting. Michael Collins said to Boylan “Anyone but yourself would be doing three years in jail.”
Boylan as head of the Meath County Board of the IRB began to organise circles of the organisation in every parish and town in Meath. About 1918 the British authorities began to impose an oath of allegiance on serving civil servants. The vast majority complied with the order, those who did not lost their jobs. The GAA decided to expel any civil servant who took the oath. The IRB had infiltrated the GAA and the vast majority of the Meath County GAA Board were members of the IRB. Boylan also reorganised the IRB in Counties Kildare, Westmeath, Louth, South Cavan and North County Dublin.
In September and October 1919 special meetings of the Meath Brigade staff were held to formulate plans for attacks on the RIC Barracks in the area. A successful attack was made on Ballivor Barracks and arms were seized. The attack on Dillon’s Bridge Barracks failed. Attacks on Summerhill and Bohermeen barracks did not take place due to misunderstandings. In late 1919 and early 1920 police from twenty outlying barracks were pulled back into the major towns. Orders were issued to burn down the abandoned barracks.
In early autumn 1920 Boylan had all arms in civilian hands collected. In August 1920 Boylan told a meeting at General Headquarters that he planned to attack Trim RIC Barracks. Mick Collins remarked “It’s a very big job” to which Boylan replied “We will take it.” A number of meetings were held in O’Hagans in Trim to plan the attack which would involve about 150 men. On 26th September Boylan was in charge of a group of men who took Trim Barracks and set it on fire. Boylan managed to capture the RIC men as they returned from Mass. The Black and Tans came to Trim that night and burned a number of premises.
Threats were made that Boylan’s house would be burned as a reprisal for the burning of Trim Barracks. Boylan said that if his or any of the Volunteer’s homes were burned he would burn every British loyalist house in County Meath as a reprisal.
In April 1920 news reached Boylan that the Duc de Stacpoole’s house at Tobertynan, Longwood, had been robbed and that six shots were fired though the ceiling. The housekeeper was so badly shaken that she was taken to Mullingar Mental Hospital. A number of similar incidents had taken place in the general area about this time. John Egan of the Boardsmill Volunteer Company was suspicious of two local men – Michael Higgins and Hubert Quinn, as he had seen them out early in the morning. Boylan met the Duc de Stacpoole in Trim and introduced himself and told him he would have the stolen property returned. The Duc said that the police were working on the case to which Boylan replied “They will do nothing; they are in collusion with the robbers.” Boylan rounded up Higgins and Quinn and then two more suspects. He interrogated the prisoners and they admitted their guilt. One prisoner was released and led Boylan to the missing items. Two more men were implicated, the six had been roaming the country with the knowledge of the police in an attempt to have the robberies blamed on the IRA. Boylan contacted William McLoughlin of Trim, who had a side car, to collect the stolen property. There was a large amount of stolen property and Boylan had to make a number of trips. On one occasion as Boylan returned the goods though the back door of Tobertynan the police were at the front door. McLoughlin grew exhausted with the work and the Duc was asked for a loan of his side car and driver. They went to the brother of one of the robbers and forced him at gun point to reveal where the Duc’s clothing had been hidden. It turned out to be within sight of the Longwood RIC Barracks. The local police sent news of Boylan’s activities to Trim and a lorry load of military were dispatched to intercept him but Boylan took a different route. When Boylan had returned all the Duc’s missing items with the exception of a silver horse shoe which could not be traced, the Duc offered Boylan £5 as a reward. Boylan refused saying “We are acting on behalf of the Irish Government and are Volunteers. You ought to join us” The Duc relied “I would be with you only for your burning of the police barracks.” Boylan said “You lost two brothers in the war; what benefit has it brought to Ireland” The Duc replied “My brothers fought for Ireland” but Boylan disagreed “They fought for England.” The Duc finished the conversation saying “I won’t discuss it further with you.” The Duc wrote a letter of appreciation to the Irish Times and the British Government are supposed to have cut his pension as a result. Michael Collins complimented Boylan on his work in the case and said it had brought great credit to the IRA. Two of the thieves were stripped and flogged and compelled to do three weeks unpaid farm work.
In May 1920 Mark Clinton was shot dead in Kilmainhamwood while working on the farm of his uncle. William Gordon, an ex-British soldier, had killed Clinton and another man named McGovern killed the two horses which Clinton was using for ploughing. A group of men organised the killing in order to seize the land and divide it amongst themselves. Boylan organised a lorry and proceeded to Moynalty and over the next two nights arrested thirteen men. The men were imprisoned first at Boltown, Kells and then at Dunboyne. Gordon was arrested by the British forces and brought to Navan for trial for possession of arms and ammunition without a permit. He was released by the Resident Magistrate and told to go to England as his comrades had been picked up by the Volunteers. Boylan was in Navan on the day on GAA business and issued orders to the local Volunteers that all the roads leading from the town were to be patrolled and all pubs were to be searched. Gordon was discovered in the Flathouse. Boylan entered the pub to see two RIC men drinking at one end of the shop. He drew a revolver and ordered them against the wall. Gordon was taken prisoner and he was bundled into a car which took him to Dunboyne. Boylan travelled to Dublin and asked Michael Collins to appoint members of a court to try Gordon. The three judges were officers from the Dublin Brigade. The trial lasted several hours. Gordon confessed to the crime and admitted attempted murder in two other cases and the burning of two houses. The court found him guilty and he was sentenced to death. Boylan brought news of the verdict to General Headquarters and the Dáil cabinet who ordered another trial. A fortnight later Gordon was re-tried with the judges again being officers from the Dublin Brigade. This trial lasted most of the night and resulted in a similar verdict and sentence. Boylan reported the verdict to General Headquarters. After a few days General Headquarters told Boylan that he could execute Gordon or release him as he felt fit. It was decided to execute Gordon. Austin Stack, Minister for Home Affairs, arranged for a Presbyterian minister from the north of Ireland to give Gordon spiritual consolation. Gordon told the minister that he was not sorry and would do the same again. The minister appealed to Boylan to allow him to get Gordon out of the country and away to America. Boylan would not agree as he feared that Gordon once free would return and have all those associated with his trial and imprisonment arrested by British authorities. Gordon was duly executed at Dunboyne and his body dumped in a quarry. The other prisoners were sentenced to be deported for three to fifteen years. The prisoners were deported in batches of three and four from Dublin, Dundalk and Drogheda.
In July 1920 Battalion Commandant Seán Cogan was shot dead by military forces near Oldcastle. Cogan was in a car with a prisoner and other Volunteers when they were halted by the military. Cogan ordered the driver to drive on. The military opened fire which Cogan returned. Cogan was shot dead and number of his companions were wounded. The car crossed a fence and landed in a field. Cogan’s body was taken to a nearby house. The rest of the Volunteers made good their escape. The next day the military arrived and collected the body, bringing it to Kells for an inquest. Following the inquest the body was handed back to the family who took it to St. Colmcille’s church in Kells. Boylan ordered every available Volunteer mobilised for the funeral at Ballinlough. It was the biggest funeral cortege ever seen in County Meath, over four miles long. Boylan arranged to block the approach roads with cars so as to prevent the military approaching. Three volleys of shots were fired over the grave and the Volunteers dispersed. Séamus Cogan was a great loss to the brigade.
In October 1920 Boylan presided over a joint meeting of the 4th and 5th Battalions at Carnaross. Boylan said he wanted to have attacks on enemy outposts and patrols simultaneously in each area. The men of the 4th Battalion agreed but the officers of the 5th refused saying there were insufficient arms for such attacks and pointed out the danger of reprisals. Boylan was shocked by this and suspended each of the officers and informed them that they would be court-martialled within seven days. The court-martial took place and three men were found guilty of mutiny and sentenced to two lashes of a horse whip each. The sentence was carried out. Boylan remained in the area a number of weeks and re-organised the battalion and appointed new officers.
In December 1920 Major General O’Connell attended a meeting of all the officers in the brigade area at Delvin. O’Connell stressed the necessity for more attack on enemy patrols and barracks so as to relieve the pressure by enemy forces in Cork and elsewhere. Attacks were planned against Oldcastle RIC Barracks and a military patrol in Navan but neither attack came off.
Boylan was very suspicious of Thomas Duffy in the Navan Battalion. He tried to persuade the local officers to drop Duffy. Duffy’s father was an ex-RIC man and Boylan suspected that information was being passed to the police. These suspicions were later proven correct after a sympathetic policeman gave Boylan a list of those who were informing.
Boylan used Courthill House in Dunboyne as a safe house. Michael Collins, Austin Stack, Harry Boland and other General Headquarters staff used Courthill as a retreat from time to time. Dunboyne Castle overlooked Courthill and an English nurse in the Castle informed the local RIC of comings and goings at Courthill. J.J. McCarthy, the owner of Courthill, was informed by a police friend that his home was to be raided. Boylan arranged to have an ambush party in the old cemetery nearby. During an inspection of outposts by an IRA officer a young Volunteer, Bernard Reilly, was called on to halt. Reilly replied and he was shot dead. He may have had a stutter which prevented him from answering quickly enough. Boylan sent Trim man, Joseph Lalor, to get a priest for the young man. The priest later told an inquiry that he did not know the man who brought him to the body. The death of Bernard Reilly took place on 9 December 1920 and the raid on McCarthy’s never took place. Reilly’s remains were buried close to the foot of the old tower not far from where he was shot. The nurse at the Castle was later dismissed.
In the spring of 1921 Boylan received information from General Headquarters that Summerhill House was to be occupied by the Auxiliaries. Michael Graham, Captain of Summerhill Company was ordered to burn down the house which he did.
In March 1921 Boylan was appointed officer commanding of the 1st Eastern Division which consisted of Meath, Kildare, North Offaly, South Louth, East Cavan and part of Westmeath. Boylan immediately threw himself into re-organising the divisional area into nine brigades.
After the re-organisation Boylan was called to a meeting in Dublin where Michael Collins ordered him to make arrangements for the landing and distribution of a cargo of Thompson machine-guns from America. As there were coastguard stations along the coast between Dublin and Drogheda Boylan decided to burn the lot of them down simultaneously. The operation was a difficult one but it was a complete success. Ten stations were burned in the one night and every one of Boylan’s men returned home unharmed. The American Government prevented the ship leaving the dock and seized the machine-guns.
Boylan met Michael Collins on many occasions. Collins on one occasions said to him “For what period will we be justified in carrying on the guerrilla warfare. What will the effect on the children unborn? There is a danger of going too far and giving the British an opportunity of committing her entire army to wholesale war on our people.”
Following the Local Government elections of June 1920 Collins told Boylan that “It is more important to get our people to refuse to recognise British Local Government than to attack their armed forces.” In 1920 Boylan was elected un-opposed to the Rural District Council of Dunboyne and also co-opted to Meath County Council but his activities prevented him from regular attendance.
In June 1921 Boylan was ordered to a meeting at Barry’s Hotel, Dublin, where Collins and others informed him that two special train of British troops were being sent from the Curragh to Belfast for the opening of the Belfast Parliament by the King of England. It was decided to attack the trains on their return journey. Collins asked Boylan to organise the attack but not to take part in it. Most of the preparations for the attack were organised in the Dunboyne area and on the night of 1 July 1921 the Fingal, Navan and Dunboyne brigades were mobilised at Dunboyne. The men proceed to the railway at Stackumney and explosives were laid on the line. The troop train was due at mid-day but before it came a military aircraft flew over the area. Shortly afterwards several lorry loads of military arrived and after a short fire fight the Meath and Dublin men withdrew.
In December 1921 came the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Boylan was unable to attend the special County Council meeting on December 30th but he did send a note urging acceptance of the Treaty. In 1922 Boylan took over Naas Barracks from the British forces.
In May 1922 Boylan was a member of a committee of army officers who were brought together to try to prevent a split in the army and thereby civil war. At the first meeting of this committee it was recommended that hostilities should immediately cease and steps were taken to effect this. After a conference at the Mansion House the following day between leading officers of both sections of the IRA it was announced that a truce had been declared as from four o’clock that afternoon with a view to giving both sections of the army an immediate opportunity of discovering a basis for army unification. Then, on May 10, it was announced that the conference had concluded without reaching an agreement.
Early in 1922 Boylan’s health failed until in 1925 he had a breakdown in health due to exposure, hardship, lack of sleep and what he had gone through. Also in 1920 Boylan was injured in the head when a Stokes gun exploded killing Matthew Furlong. A new launcher was being tested at Beggstown, Dunboyne. Furlong accidently caused the launcher to explode unexpectedly and this resulted in his death and the near fatal wounding of Boylan. Boylan was taken to the Mater Hospital but left that night to attend a meeting in Trim and another at Blessington, all by bicycle. In St. Bricin’s hospital he was given ether to drink to ease the pain. He continued to suffer the effects of his injury throughout this life. Boylan also sprained himself about this time when he escaped from British soldiers in Parnell Street. Boylan travelled by bicycle around his area, travelling in all weathers. The shock of the events he had lived through affected him.
Given a year to live Boylan turned to herbalism to cure some of his ills. The Boylan family had a long tradition of cures. His ancestors had traditional cures for osteoarthritis, asthma, dropsy and tuberculosis. People were treated for free when they came to Boylan’s home.
Boylan married Teresa Doherty in 1926 but she died 1937. In 1939 Boylan travelled to Leitrim to attend the funeral of a Fr. Confrey who had been sympathetic to the rebels and there he met Gertie Quinn. The attraction was instant and two weeks later Gertie returned from Dublin with an engagement ring. Shortly afterwards they were married and went to Rome and Lourdes on their honeymoon, just before the war was to break out. The couple had six children. Gertie died in 1989. Boylan developed viral pneumonia in 1958 and cleared it using herbs. He later developed Parkinson’s disease. Seán Boylan died in 1971 at the age of ninety one.In 2014 Boylan’s son, former Meath GAA manager, Seán Boylan, and his family presented the uniform and greatcoat of his father, General Seán Boylan, to the community museum at Columb Barracks, Mullingar