Joseph Patrick Dowling, A member of Casement's Irish Brigade

Joseph Patrick Dowling

Joseph Patrick Dowling was born 1886 in Maryborough, the son of John Dowling and Catherine Reddin.  He was one of thirteen children.  He became a carpenter by trade and then joined with the Leinster Regiment on 18th July, 1904, at Maryborough, transferred to the Connaught Rangers on the 16th of August 1904 and was put on the Reserve on the 17th July, 1907. On the outbreak of the First World War he was called up and posted as Lance Corporal to the 2nd Battalion of the Connaught Rangers on the 5th August, 1914. 

He was immediately sent to France and landed there on 14th of August 1914 and was marched to the front at Mons, reaching there on the 23rd of August.  On the 27th of August after some heavy fighting he became separated from his unit, so attached himself to the 306 French Regiment and remained with them until the 3rd of September when he was captured by the Germans. As a prisoner of war, he was firsr transferred to Sennelager Camp in Germany where he stayed until the 22nd of December 1914. At that point all Irish prisoners at Sennelager were taken to Limburg Camp

On the 27th of March 1915 he joined the Irish Brigade there, and in July 1915 all 56 men in the Brigade were moved to another camp, Zossen.  They were there until November 1915, at which point they were moved again to Weinburg Camp, where there was a large number of Russian POWs. They stayed at Weinburg until July 1916, when they were again moved, this time to Wanzig Froyl, where there was 40,000 Russian prisoners of war. There he remained until April 1st 1918, when the Germans took him Wilhelm's Haven where he got on the submarine bound for Ireland.

So it came to pass that Joseph Dowling land in a small rubber dingy off a German U-Boat in the early hours of Friday, April 12th, 1918, off the coast of Co. Clare and landed on the beach at Crab Island, half a mile off the mainland. Realising that he was not in the right place, he managed to hail a passing fishing boat and get a ride to Doolin Point. However he had been spotted by a Coast Guard , one James O'Brien, on Crab Island, and when he arrived at Doolin Point he was taken to the local Coastguard Station where the Petty Officer in charge was not impressed by Dowling's tale that he had been shipwrecked, and the PO decided to send Dowling on to Galway to be interviewed by a senior Naval Officer. Quite bizzarely he was told to make his own way to Galway and buy his own ticket at Ennistymon railway station. It is almost inevitable he British Intelligence knew he was coming, as German codes had been broken, but for fairly obvious reasons this was not mentioned at his trial.

It was a long walk to Ennistymon , but he got a lift from a passing horse and cart.  He reached the town but was spotted by a Police Sergeant, who took him to the barracks for questioning.  Joe stuck to his story that he had been shipwrecked and said he had a note from the coastguard at Doolin Point to proceed to Galway and see the Senior Naval Officer. The police decided to escort him to Galway, and Dowling was interviewed in Galway by Commander Francis Hanan.  Commander Hanan had aparently already been informed about Joe Dowling's suspicioous arrival in Ireland. A trawler had been sent to the area off Crab Island and had found neither wreckage nor other survivors. They did find the German dingy that Dowling had used to get ashore

Commander Hanan was not convinced, and aranged for Joe to be taken to London and detained at Cromwall Gardens Detention Centre, where he remained until the evening of 16th April when he was handed on to the Metropolitan Police.

Interrogation was conducted at New Scotland Yard up to the 22nd April, 1918, with Basil Thomson, the Director of Naval Intelligence, Colonel Hall and Curtis Bennett.   It was at this stage that he admitted to his real name of Joseph Dowling and that he had landed in Ireland by German submarine. At one of these meetings, the Director of Naval Intelligence told Joe that if he cooperated and told the truth his life would be spared. This promise later turned out to be the thing that saved him from execution.

He was then transferred to the Tower of London pending a Court Martial.   Witness statements were taken from fellow prisoners of war as to his activities in Germany. Dowling's defence was that he wanted to get home, but refused to make any statement to the court. He was found guilty as charged by the Court Martial, and sentenced to be shot, but because of the promise made by the Director of Naval Intelligence. The sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. The New York Times reported the trial thus:-

Report of Dowling Trial

Three charges were made against Dowling. One was that he enlisted into that Irish Brigade; the second was for having induced others to enlist in it; and the third was having embarked on board a certain ship with German civilians or sailors. The first charge is hardly denied; the second one, that he enlisted others, is denied and it is a doubtful questionthat it was proven. The third charge is down to his havng admitted it.

In jail Joe Dowling petitioned politicians for clemency and a transfer to an Irish prison so that his parents could visit him more easily. Petitions he made on 8th May, 1919, and 7th June, 1920, were rejected.

However wheels were in motion, and on 6th of May, 1922, a secret letter was sent to Sir Herbert Creedy at the War Office by Lionel Curtis, secretary to the Provisional Government of Ireland Committee of the Cabinet, stating that “... Mr. Churchill attaches great importance to his release, and will indeed be in a very difficult position if it is refused ... the Government having released everyone else whose crime was political ... it is almost impossible to frame intelligible reasons why this man should not be amnestied." 

However The War Office refused to release him on the grounds that his crime was military and not political.  Later that year the Secretary of State for the Colonies asked the War Office for a précis of Joe Dowling's case and this was duly forwarded.

In January 1923 President Cosgrove became involved in discussoins to free the Connaught Ranger mutineers and Joe Dowling. London intimated that they were prepared to release the mutineers but not to release Joe Dowling.  and the Irish government reluctantly agreed to the British position on the release of the Connaught Rangers but not Joe Dowling.

On the 24th May, 1923, Joe Dowling requested a copy of his Court Martial proceedings for which he had to pay £5.17s. 8d to the British Government, the wheels of bureaucracy grind remorselessly. The Irsih government continued to press for his release. The matter was debated in the Irish Senate on 4 July 1923. On the 7th July, the War Office once more refused. General Mulcahy, the Minister of Defence for the Irish Free State, wrote to the Earl of Derby at the War Office on 13th November urging his release, but in vain.

In a Secret Cabinet Paper of the 15th December, 1923, the Secretary of State for War again refused to countenance any talk of releasing Joe Dowling, but within a month the War Office had a dramatic change of mind. It seems that the War Office realised that they need ed Irish co-operation in time of war over the control of Wireless Stations

A secret paper incleded the words "Secretary of State for the Colonies thinks the moment has come for the release of Dowling, no difficulties will be raised on military grounds.  You were good enough to say that you would try to arrange for the release to be effected with as little publicity as possible, at any rate on this side of the Irish Channel."

A speedy legal document was drawn up and on the 2nd February, 1924, King George V signed a paper annuling the sentence of penal servitude for life passed on Joe Dowling. He was released from Liverpool Prison and escorted home by an official of the Irish Free State. 

He married Henrietta Hovenden, his second cousin, on the 23rd October, 1926 at the Church of Our Lady of the Hals in St. Pancras, London.  He was 40, she 61. They lived in Hampstead, North London, until his death on the 1st August 1932, at the Fulham Cancer Hospital.

His remains were taken back to Ireland in the Holyhead boat . At Dun Laoghaire they were met by Fianna Fail representatives and members of the Dublin Brigade, I.R.A., and of the Cumann na mBan organisation. The coffin, draped in the tricolour and Dowling's Irish Brigade hat on top, was transferred to Westland Row Church for a Requiem Mass.

Among those who attended the Requiem Mass were: The deceased's widow and mother, Sergt.-Major Michael Patrick Keogh, Sergt.  Michael O'Toole, Sergt. Sean Casement; Mr. and Mrs. John Nicholson, Mr. John Greer, Irish Brigade Volunteers; and a number of the Connaught Rangers Mutineers. Close on a thousand people attended. His last wish was to be laid to rest with the men of 1916, with whom he had hoped to fight and strike a blow for the freedom of Ireland.

Dowling family history web site

Casement's Irish Brigade