Dr John A. Madden, Belderrig Mor, Ballycastle Co. Mayo

Sean Cadden

In the Kilmeena ambush Dr. Madden was in a very dangerous position along a fence within range of the rifle grenades. He had to retreat across an open field while his attackers were covered by Michael Kilroy, Madden escaped without injury.  John applied for a pension in 1934 he was awarded 5 1/2 years but he was most unhappy and made several submissions to have it increased. These submissions give a lot of detail on his career in the IRA. It is probably the most detailed of any pension application

He joined the volunteers in Ballina in the summer of 1914 and transferred to University College Galway  coy and he also became a member of the IRB in 1915 in the College. John was not impressed by the IRB and felt they contributed nothing to the War of Independence.   He mentions in his interview with Ernie O Malley, that the IRB looked for a landing place for arms from a German boat along the North Mayo coast from Belderrig to Portacloy he even surmises they may have been offloaded arms on to a fishing boat, but were dumped at sea when the captain of the fishing boat lost his nerve. Dr Madden was born on the 4th of August 1896[1] in the townland of Belderrig Mor, the son of Anthony Madden and Mary O Donohue. He was often referred to as John A. Madden but there is only John on his birth record. He was their only child. His father died on 9th January 1898. His grandfather also Anthony Madden aged 90 lived with John’s mother at the 1901 census, John’s mother Mary died on 6th July 1901 from TB, his paternal grandfather also Anthony Madden died ten days later on 16th July.   John was not yet five years old; he went to live with his mother’s people the O Donohue’s of Gortlatilla Glenamoy [DED of Barooskey] John was living with the O Donohue’s at the 1911 census. He went to St. Muredach’s College in Ballina and later studied Medicine at University College Galway.

He was at home on his Easter holidays in Gortlatilla, when he got word there was fighting around Galway and cycled 35 miles to Ballina and met Phelim Calleary in Ballina.  He made his way to Galway but the fighting was over when he got there. He was avoiding arrest for a month afterwards. He was Adjt. of the college coy of the Volunteers and helped to keep the coy together after the Easter Rising and was active in 1917 in organising the Volunteers in the Galway area. He moved to Dublin about March 1918 where he qualified as a doctor in September 1919. He was active in the volunteers when he was in Dublin. He then got an appointment as Dispensary doctor in Glenamoy. While in Glenamoy he organised three volunteer coys, Glenamoy, Pullathomas, and Rossport and he was O/C of Glenamoy coy. He took a job as assistant surgeon to Dr. Anthony Mc Bride in Castlebar Infirmary late in 1920 and joined up with the Castlebar IRA coy and became a member of the Castlebar Battalion ASU. He joined the West Mayo Brigade on its formation about St. Patricks Day 1921 and went on the run to join the West Mayo Brigade Active Service Unit commanded by Michael Kilroy. Michael Kilroy says in his Witness statement that it was on 22nd March 1921 he joined the ASU when it was billeted at Arderry in Aghagower, John had arranged earlier in the year he would join the ASU when it started operations.[2] He was an ordinary member of the unit and was never appointed Medical Officer. He now left his post as assistant surgeon in the Co. Infirmary.

The War of Independence

Dr Madden was very close to Michael Kilroy during the War of Independence and they were often billeted together, Kilroy consulted him when actions were contemplated.  Dr. Madden was a very important part of the Active Service Unit. After taking part in the fighting in Kilmeena, where he was in a very exposed position he attended the wounded at Fahy; Jimmy Swifte had a bullet wound in his foot, Michael Hughes had an arm wound. He amputated some of Jimmy Swifts toes in Skerdagh.  They both recovered without further amputation.  Two of the wounded left behind at Kilmeena treated by the Crown had legs amputated. In Skerdagh he was a member of the party of seven including Kilroy who held back Crown forces, while the main body of the Active Service Unit escaped. Early in the Truce period he did courses on explosives and on the Thompson and Lewis guns. He was involved in the IRA training courses during the Truce period in Sheaun Ballycroy and at Ross House in Kilmeena.

He said he was Private  in West Mayo Brigade in the War of Independence until July 1921, but he became O/C of the North Mayo Brigade based in Ballina[3], about Nov 1921. It was remarkable jump to go from the lowest grade in the Active Service Unit bypass all the officer grades in the ASU all the officer grades in the Battalion, all officer grades at Brigade level to become, O/C of the neighbouring North Mayo Brigade. He held that post until April 1922 when he came back from the job of Chief Surgeon in the Civic Guards.   In February 1922 he took control of the Ballina barracks in from the RIC.   About the 1st of March he was seconded to the Civic guards as Chief Surgeon at the Depot in Dublin, on a salary of £1000 per annum a very generous salary in 1922.  He examined the first 500 recruits but was recalled by Michael Kilroy and returned to Castlebar about mid-April. He was then appointed Chief Operations Officer of the 4th Western Division in Castlebar and he resigned as O/C of the North Mayo Brigade.

Dr. Madden had done a course in munitions in August 1922 and was the technical expert in Castlebar where 200 men were employed making hand grenades.  That stopped in Castlebar when they left the military barracks but was continued in Newport.[4]
He says a Western Command was formed in Sept 1922, he was Adjt. Michael Kilroy was O/C. He was appointed Acting O/C following the capture on Michael Kilroy and later Director of Operations.  When the Command disbanded in 1923 he returned to the 4th Western Division, Bartley Hegarty of Lahardane was then O/C. There is very little reference to a Western Command in other records.

He married Ellen Kelly a farmer’s daughter from Dublin on 22nd Feb 1922. The civil marriage record is confusing in the Name and Surname column she is listed as Mary Kelly but below says This marriage was solemnised between us: John Madden and Ellen Kelly in the presence of Patrick J Ruttledge and Anne Kelly.[5] To find the marriage record you must search under Mary Kelly. P.J. Ruttledge was his best man. Ellen was the daughter of Michael, a native of Belderrig. Her sister Mary married Mr. Michael Gilvarry clerk of Ballina District Council.  Marys father on her marriage cert is Thomas Kelly.  He had a very busy month of February in 1922, He took over from the RIC, he got married and moved from Ballina to Dublin to become Chief surgeon to the civic guards

It is said he was back working in the Co. Infirmary in Castlebar in June 1922 but left when the Free State Army took Castlebar in July 1922.  He led an Active Service Unit in North Mayo and was in charge of the 4th Western Division columns in Collooney[6]. The Connaught Telegraph 6th Jan 1923 reported that Dr. Madden was in charge of an ambush in the Bangor Erris area.  He claimed in his pension application page 89 that the Free state had the names of three men who were not to be taken alive; Liam Lynch was first on the list and that he Dr. Madden was second. He was never captured or wounded during the War of Independence or during the Civil War.

He did spend some time in the Newport area during the Civil War, Brian Corrigan[7] reported that Dr. Madden was billeted with Gills of Islandmore in the spring of 1923, when a despatch had to be delivered to him personally. He also was billeted on Inishtubrid with the two McHale families during the Civil War.  The Connaught Telegraph 5th July 1924 said: He was elected a member of Mayo Co. Co. at the last elections but resigned after a short time and was appointed assistant surgeon of the Co. Infirmary, but he preferred a military career and was very active during the Irregular regime. Sometime after he was appointed Surgeon at the County Home but never took up duty. Overlooking the past, the Dail appointed him Surgeon at Portobello, but he preferred to remain true to his old allegiance and went on the run after National forces, came west. He was never captured in the War of Independence or in the Civil War.In his claim for compensation in 1934, he was described as a Garda surgeon.


John was first elected for Sinn Fein in a by-election in 1924 he defeated Dr. Michael Tierney the pro -treaty candidate who later became President of University College Dublin. On the 18th Nov 1926 he and Michael Kilroy both TD’s for Mayo were arrested without charge or trial under the Public Safety Act, as a precautionary measure.  The Irish Independent of 22nd Nov announced the arrests it said Dr. Madden was a supporter of Miss Mary MacSwiney (Sinn Fein) and Michael Kilroy a follower of Mr. Dev Valera. They were released with the other prisoners on 14th of December. Sinn Fein views were not popular with the government in power in 1926

When Fianna Fail was founded in 1926, P.J. Ruttledge joined Fianna Fail, while Dr. Madden stayed with Sinn Fein they opposed one another in the General Election on 25th June 1927 for the North Mayo constituency, both were elected.  John was one of only five Sinn Fein TD’s elected.   In 1927 the pro treaty party now called themselves Cumann na Gaedhael[8].  John Madden never took his seat in the Dail, that was Sinn Fein policy at the time.   Another election was held on the 15th September 1927 and Dr. Madden did not contest that election, the Free state government had passed a regulation saying TD’s would be disqualified if they did not take their seats[9]. He was at this time a member of May Co. Co. He was selected to represent Castlebar Urban District on the first Mayo Vocational Committee of Education in 1932.

He took up practice as doctor in Westport in 1924. Two children were born Maureen, and Sean (John Joseph). His only son,  died at five years from septicaemia on the 9th of October 1931[10].  The child died in 62 Eccles St. Dublin and was buried in the family grave in Doonfeeny, Ballycastle. His daughter Maureen qualified as a doctor and was a Pathologist in Temple St. children’s hospital. She married Paul Hayes in 1959 and continued to work in Temple St. hospital. She gave evidence to inquests on children who died in Temple St. Hospital.

[11]John Madden did a course in London and qualified as an MD in 1932.   He moved to Dublin in 1935 and set up practice at 20 Lr. Baggot St. He was made a presentation by his West Mayo Brigade comrades January 1935 on leaving Westport.[12]  He remained in Baggot St until he died suddenly in 1954.

He was a very popular speaker at Republican commemorations and was a fluent Irish speaker. His interest was more than just republicanism, when he spoke at James Duffy’s Commemoration in Aghavale on 23rd April 1933, he talked of the people who had been in the Active Service Unit with him. He said “initially there were 46 members in the column eleven of those had been killed on active service. [He did not name them but James Duffy over whose grave he was speaking was the first one to die.] Twelve had emigrated, who had been denied a living at home. Twenty-three were at home, of these twelve were unemployed. If a member of the Black and Tan police force had told a citizen of Westport during the Truce period, that any members of their Flying Columns would be on the “bread line” in New York or without the necessary employment to live on their own resources at home, how indignant that citizen would feel. Still it was an undisputed fact that men like Tom Kitterick, Paddy Duffy, Michael Staunton, Dan Gavin and John Joe Philbin were eking out a very precarious living abroad”.

We cannot be sure if Dr. Madden joined Fianna Fail but there is strong circumstantial evidence.  The Western People 22nd Sept 1934 reported that Dr. John Madden was going to nominated to the Seanad by Fianna Fail. When Fianna Fail came to power in 1932 he was appointed a member of the first Hospitals Commission in 1933 an appointment that was in the gift of Fianna Fail, he served until Fianna Fail lost power in 1948. There was drift from Sinn Fein to Fianna Fail in the late 1920’s and the 1930’s it appears Dr. Madden made his move in 1932 or 1933.  When he became a member of the Hospitals Commission in 1933 the Irish Press 29th Sept 1933 p. 1, gave the following description:

Dr John A. Madden, Westport, is a native of Ballycastle, County Mayo. He had a very successful career as a student in Galway and after spending some time in Liverpool he returned to Mayo and joined the IRA in 1920. He went on active service with Michael Kilroy, now one of the TDs for the constituency. He remained on active service to the end of the Anglo Irish war, and at the time of the Treaty was appointed medical officer to the Gardai. He declined to accept the position and participated with the IRA in the campaign to the West. He was reported as killed on a couple of occasions. After the ceasefire order he settled down as a medical practitioner in Westport where he has a large practice. In 1925 he was elected for North Mayo as a Republican at a by-election in which the Cumann na Gaedheal candidate was Prof Tierney. Dr Madden did not take a seat, and at the dissolution, in June 1927, he did not go forward for re-election. He adhered to the Sinn Fein policy. He qualified as a doctor at the National University in 1919.

 He died in Baggot St in Sept. 1954 he was only 58 years His funeral which was attended by many local Fianna Fail supporters. Tom Derrig TD gave the oration rather than Tom Maguire of Cross, who had remained loyal to Sinn Fein. His wife Ellen died in 1956 and her address was given as Greenwood Cloghran Co. Dublin.   Her occupation was dairy farming. Ellen may have taken over the farm from her father.

[1] https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/ births [accessed 12.2.2018]

[2] Mayo Co Library Statement by Michael Kilroy to the Bureau of Military History,  Part ll.   P. 7

[3]Military Archives, Military Service Pensions Collection, MA-MSPC-RO- 332 p.17

[4]http://mspcsearch.militaryarchives.ie/docs/files//PDF_Pensions/R5/MSP34REF16540%20John%20A%20Madden/MSP34REF16540%20John%20A%20Madden.pdf Military Archives, Military Service Pensions Collection,  p. 45 [19.1.2018]

[5] https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/ marriages, [accessed 12.2.2018]

[6]http://mspcsearch.militaryarchives.ie/docs/files//PDF_Pensions/R5/MSP34REF16540%20John%20A%20Madden/MSP34REF16540%20John%20A%20Madden.pdf Military Archives, Military Service Pensions Collection,  p. 46 [17.1.2018]

[7] Brian Corrigan, Memoir to Family, unpublished

[8] Mayo News !8th June 1927 p.3

[9] Brian Hanley, The IRA 1926-1936 (Dublin,2002) p.93

[10] https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/.ie Deaths [accessed 12.2.2018]

[11] Ballina Herald 6th June 1932 p. 3

[12] Ballina Herald 26th Jan 1935.