Éamonn Duggan is often said to have been born in Longwood but this is incorrect. Part of his early years were certainly spent there and he had strong local connections particularly to the Giles family. Edmond John, know later as Éamonn, Duggan was born on 2nd March 1878 at Richill, Co. Armagh and baptised two days later. His father, William, a policeman was a native of Wicklow and stationed at Longwood, Co. Meath. His mother was Margaret Dunne who married William at Longwood on 19th October 1874. In 1875 William was despatched to Armagh as he could not serve in a county from which his wife came. Margaret’s father was John Dunne, a shopkeeper and William’s father was Edward Duggan, a policeman. The couple’s second son, Éamonn’s brother, William, was born in Longwood in 1879. Éamonn’s father, William, took his pension in 1893 after 30 years and 3 months service.
Eamonn became involved in Conradh na Gaeilge.
In 1911 Edmond John Duggan was living with his parents on St. Brigid’s Road Upper in Drumcondra. His siblings, William, Margaret and James, were also living there. There were six children born but only four survived and they were all living at the family home in 1911.
Duggan was educated locally before beginning work as a law clerk. He qualified as a solicitor in 1914 and began to practise at 66 Dame Street, Dublin. In 1915 he took a case for tenants of the Swifte estate near Longwood, in order to get their rights to their lands recognised.
In 1914 Duggan joined the First Dublin battalion of the Irish Volunteers as a private. In 1915 he was appointed Adjutant of the 1st Battalion and received his first commission as an officer in the Volunteers. He became a close personal friend of Edward Daly, the commandant of the Battalion. His work as Adjutant brought him into contact with Eamon de Valera and Thomas McDonagh.
Joe Giles of Longwood was Duggan’s godson. Duggan visited the Giles home on Easter Sunday 1916, the night before the Rising, and as he departed handed his godson a £1 note, a huge sum at the time.
Duggan was attached to Commandant Daly and so was serving in the North Dublin Union in the initial days of the Rising and then in Father Matthew Hall. Duggan supervised the prisoners including seven British officers. One of the officers, Colonel Brereton, later said that Duggan and the other volunteer officers were “high-minded educated gentlemen, incapable of acts of brutality.” One of the prisoners taken there was Lord Dunsany who as he was wounded was transferred to a Dublin hospital for treatment. Duggan said the Volunteers were treated like princes by the nuns in the neighbouring convent.
Duggan was at the Four Courts when fellow Longwood native, Thomas Allen, was shot. Duggan attempted to get medical assistance from the Richmond hospital but a British officer in charge of the telephone exchange refused to allow the message to go through. Medical assistance was obtained but it was too late for Allen.
In Duggan’s area the Volunteers held their own and suffered few causalities with the heaviest fighting occurring on Friday night and Saturday morning. From 9.00 am Saturday there was a lull in the fighting and in the afternoon Daly received news that a British officer wished to see him. Accompanied by Duggan Daly was informed of the surrender of the GPO. The men under Daly were reluctant to surrender but obeyed orders. The men formed up with their officers at their head and marched to O’Connell Street and then to the front of the Rotunda Hospital. On Sunday morning they were marched to Richmond Barracks.
Duggan’s fiancée, May Kavanagh, was active in Cumann na mBan in the Colmcille Branch and served during 1916 from 23rd April to Saturday 29th April in the Fr. Mathew Hall, Church Street area undertaking first aid and kitchen duties under the command of Edward Daly. Born in 1892 May was a great support to her fiancée and later husband in his activities.
The trials began on Monday evening; Duggan together with Joe McGuinness and Pierce Beasley was sentenced to three years penal servitude. After trial the three prisoners were sent to Kilmainham Jail where they spent two days. They heard the shots from the yards of the execution of the leaders of the Rising. The prisoners were then sent to Mountjoy for a week before being dispatched to Portland Prison where they began their punishment in silence. In December 1916 Duggan was transferred to Lewes where the prison regime was relaxed and here Duggan discovered that de Valera had not been executed. With de Valera, Duggan began an organised attempt to break down the prison regime and fight the authorities.
In early 1917 a campaign to be recognised as prisoners of war began. Duggan was removed to Maidstone Gaol where he was put to work with the ordinary criminals. Duggan refused. He went on hunger strike and on the third day the authorities surrendered. In June 1917 the British released the prisoners and Duggan returned to Dublin. He resumed his work as a solicitor and one of his first cases he acted at the inquest for the next of kin of his friend and comrade, Thomas Ashe.
In the Autumn of 1917 Duggan was appointed as Director of Intelligence for the IRA and when the role became full-time in January 1919 Michael Collins took over the position. Duggan remained a senior officer in that section.
Duggan campaigned for the Sinn Féin candidate Eamon de Valera in the Clare by election. He wrote at the time “The enthusiasm on our side is terrific and the result is a foregone conclusion”. Duggan addressed an aeriocht at Newcastle, Mullagh in September 1917 and gave an address on Sinn Féin policy. In February 1918 a branch of Sinn Féin was established in Longwood by Duggan and others.
Eamon de Valera nominated Duggan as his substitute on the executive of the Irish Volunteers while de Valera was in prison from May 1918 to February 1919 and from June 1919 to November 1920 while de Valera was in America.
In September 1918 Edmund J. Duggan was selected to stand for Sinn Féin in the South Meath constituency.
It was the first general election to be held after enactment of the Representation of the People Act 1918. It was thus the first election in which women over the age of 30, and all men over the age of 21, could vote. Previously, all women and many poor men had been excluded from voting. The new electorate, at, was nearly triple what it had been in the previous election of December 1910. Two women candidates in Ireland Countess Markievicz and another in Belfast.
The result was a crushing victory for a coalition comprised of Liberals supporting Prime Minister Lloyd George, and the Conservatives.
The Labour Party greatly increased its vote share, surpassing the total votes of either Liberal party, and became the Official Opposition for the first time. Labour won the most seats in Wales (which had previously been dominated by the Liberals) for the first time, a feat it has continued to the present day. While the Liberals managed to tread water in 1922 and managed a modest recovery in 1923, the weak foundations established in 1918 collapsed almost entirely in 1924, where the Liberals were reduced to forty seats, and doomed forever to be the third party of British politics.
In late 1920 during the night of the “roundups” where the British authorities arrested nationalist leaders and sent them to English prisons, Duggan and Michael Collins were in Vaughan’s Hotel in Parnell Square. They were detained by a Belgian priest singing a number of songs and so were saved from arrest. Collins left the hotel on his bicycle. As Duggan walked home to Drumcondra, Collins came after him and informed him of the raids taking place that night. Collins said that the house where he had been staying was surrounded and suggested that they both go to watch proceedings. Duggan questioned the wisdom of such an action as Collins might be recognised by the authorities. Duggan took all of Collin’s papers in case he was caught and Collins spent the night in the house of Seán McGarry, who had already been arrested that night. Collins said he would be safe there as the Black and Tans were unlikely to raid the same house twice in the one night.
May Kavanagh married Eamonn Duggan on 20th October 1920. Collins wrote the couple a note “with every good wish for your happiness and contentment.”
In November 1920 Duggan was arrested and taken to the Castle and interrogated for three hours and Captain Hardy, head of the “Murder gang” threatened to murder him. His office was cleared by the military and his solicitor’s practice destroyed. He was then lodged in Mountjoy where he remained until the Truce. During this period Duggan’s wife, May, was given special daily visits to carry out his legal business but she was able to take secret messages in and out daily under cover of taking shorthand notes. She also carried notes for Arthur Griffith who was also in Mountjoy at the time. While imprisoned Alfred Cope, a British civil servant, visited them and discussed the possibility of a truce.
For the May 1921 election Duggan remained in jail. Duggan was moved to Brixton jail which enabled him to instruct T.M. Healy in an appeal case before the House of Lords. While at Brixton Duggan occasionally dined at the House of Commons and encouraged peace talks. Duggan was released along with Arthur Griffith and Eoin McNeill at the end of June. Together with Robert Barton he was involved in making the final arrangement for the truce. He and Barton met General Macready at Parkgate and succeeded in getting his approval to the nationalist terms. The following day Barton and Duggan laid down to General Tudor, head of the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans how his forces were to behave during the Truce. Duggan accompanied de Valera to London for talks with the British Prime Minister, Llyod George, in July.
In September 1921 an aeriocht was held at Athboy at which Michael Collins and Eamonn Duggan were due to deliver addresses but as the Dáil was discussing Anglo-Irish arrangements they both had to cancel.
In October 1921 Duggan was appointed as a member of the delegation, despatched by de Valera to London to negotiate a treaty between Ireland and Britain. After months of negotiation Griffith was first to agree to sign then Collins and Duggan. Duggan’s appeal to another delegate, Robert Barton, resulted in him signing the treaty. Duggan signed the Treaty at the delegation’s lodgings at 22 Hans Place in the early hours of 6 December 1921. Duggan took the boat to Dun Laoighre with a copy of the treaty. The British wanted a second copy of the signed treaty and Duggan had gone to Dublin so Dan McCarthy had a copy of a concert programme signed by Duggan and the signature was removed from the card and added to the copy of the treaty. This led to claims in later years that Duggan had not signed the treaty and therefore it was not binding on the Irish people. Duggan rushed to Dublin city centre where he handed the copy to Eamon de Valera who was attending a function at the Mansion House. De Valera showed no interest in the document and Duggan asked him to read it as it was about to be published. Meath County Council held a special meeting to call on the Dáil to ratify the Treaty. Vice–Chairman, Martin O’Dwyer, praised Duggan for his role and the way he acted through trying and difficult negotiations.
Speaking of the Treaty in Trim in 1923 Duggan said “Mr. de Valera told us the day we were appointed that we had a duty to perform that with an army and a navy behind us we would find almost impossible to perform. After an anxious two months in London, with the fate of this country in our hands, the fate of every man, woman and child in this country now and for generations in our hands the fateful night of December 6th came and we had to say yes or no. .. We had to consider that the force available in this country had brought us to a certain point and was not able to carry further. We knew that – General Collins knew it – I don’t know if the British Government knew it. We considered where we were going. Were we to throw away all that we had secured? What prospect was there of getting more? What was the alternative? I think you all know what the alternative was. I know what the Irish people would have said to us, and what you would have said to me if we said “no” that night. There would not be much interruption at a meeting in Trim today if the Black and Tans were back. The Treaty was signed and ratified by the elected representatives of the people.” In March 1922 Duggan and Griffith met Sir James Craig, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to discuss employment relief for Catholics, re-organisation of police and the cessation of IRA activity in Northern Ireland.
Duggan accompanied Collins and Kevin O’Higgins to the handover of Dublin Castle in January 1922. Duggan served as Minister of Home Affairs in the Provisional government from January to September 1922. In the June 1922 election Eamonn Duggan, 15 Upper Leeson Street, Dublin, was selected as a candidate in the Louth-Meath constituency. He was elected on the first count as was the Labour candidate, Cathal O’Shannon. Duggan was made minister without portfolio.
In the 1923 election Duggan headed the poll in Meath with a large majority. In October 1923 Duggan entertained his election workers at a function in the Central Hotel, Trim. At the 1923 monster meeting in Trim Square Duggan said “We must look forward to the future and not back to the past.” His speech was interrupted by hecklers on a regular basis.
Many of his queries in his work as a TD related to the breaking up of estates and re-distribution of lands under the Land Commission and sorting out pensions for men who had served in the National Army.
In May 1926 Duggan was appointed as secretary to the Minister for Finance. Following the 1927 election Duggan was appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Executive Council and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence. He also carried out the duties of Chief Whip. He again topped the poll in Meath.
In 1933 he felt he could not fight another election and was not a candidate. Captain Patrick Giles of Longwood became his successor as T.D. for Meath. Shortly afterwards Duggan became a member of the Senate, a post he held until 1936 when it was dissolved. He described his 1916 experiences on a radio programme broadcast in April 1936.
Duggan was involved in local politics in Dun Laoighre and he was elected the first chairman of the borough council in 1936, a few weeks before his death. In June 1936 he was addressing a meeting of Fine Gael local election candidates when he collapsed and he died shortly afterwards. His wife and son survived him. May died 25th October 1970.
He was interred in Glasnevin cemetery and a wooden cross was recently erected over his grave. A modern industrial estate in Trim was named the Eamonn Duggan Industrial Estate in his honour.