Photo Album: The Fight for Irish Freedom and the 2nd IRA Tipperary Brigade

The officers of the 2nd Tipperary Brigade IRA. Back row: Michael Dwan (Q.M.), Michael Cleary (Vol.), Michael Kennedy (Lt.), James “Big Jim” Stapleton (Lt.), and James Lea (Brig.). Front row: Patrick Kinnane (Capt.), Jerry Ryan (Col.), John McCormack (Asst. Q.M.), and Egan Killahara. Photo: Ed McGrath, Killea (Vice Comdt.) / courtesy Sean Gaffey

Submitted by Sean Gaffey, Rockville Centre, NY
December / January 2017

This photograph, of the officers of the 2nd Tipperary Brigade, was taken in May 1920 by Ed McGrath, the brigade’s vice commandant. My maternal grandfather, Michael “Mike” Dwan, is pictured (back row, far left). All four of my grandparents were born and raised in Ireland, with the paternal side coming from Ballymoe, County Galway, and my mother’s parents coming from Drangan and Thurles, County Tipperary.

Mike Dwan proudly fought for the cause of Irish freedom during the War of Independence as the quartermaster of the brigade. In March 1921, he was ambushed, captured, and sentenced to die. He was interned in Spike Island Prison, County Cork, where he witnessed atrocities like the execution of his dear friend, James Casey, who was buried in a shallow grave outside Mike’s prison cell wall, as a reminder of what was to happen to him. Luckily, the truce was agreed upon before the execution order was carried out, and Mike was released.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

When the Irish Civil War broke out, Mike left Ireland. He didn’t want to fight his own countrymen and women. He found peace and refuge in America, and a home in Throgs Neck – a section of the Bronx that was home to many Irish immigrants. On a boat ride back to Ireland, he met Nellie Strappe from Drangon. She was impressed with his clean fingernails. They struck up a romance and married shortly upon their return to America. They had four daughters, Estelle, Violet, Frances, and Patricia, and 16 grandchildren, of which I’m the last.

It was said that when people arrived from Ireland, their first stop was Nellie and Mike’s. My grandfather’s example of volunteerism and willingness to sacrifice his life for a cause greater than himself serves as my motivation to help others. I try to carry on his legacy by making a difference in America, the country that he loved, and with organizations such as Co-operation Ireland, the Children’s Medical Research Foundation, and the Irish International Business Network. I’m honored to be recognized on this year’s Business 100 list as a result of this work, but without his example, I don’t know that any of it would have been possible. As such, I dedicate this year’s award to him. I only wish he was alive to see it. ♦


Please send photographs along with your name, address, phone number, and a brief description, to Patricia Harty at Irish America, 875 Sixth Avenue, Suite 201, New York, NY 10001. If photos are irreplaceable, then please send a good quality reproduction or e-mail the picture at 300 dpi resolution to We will pay $65 for each submission that we select.

2 Responses to “Photo Album: The Fight for Irish Freedom and the 2nd IRA Tipperary Brigade”

  1. Brian Stapleton says:

    Hi Sean,

    Nice to see the photograph of your grandfather Michael “Mike” Dwan. My grandfather Jim Stapleton is second on the right in the back row. Like your grandfather he did not take part in the Civil War but lost many of his friends in it.

    Brian Stapleton

  2. Brian Stapleton says:

    Hi Sean,

    Great to see the photograph of your grandfather Michael “Mike” Dwan. My grandfather Jim Stapleton is second from the right. Like your grandfather he did not want civil war and they lost many friends in it. I live near Dublin but still have contact with my fathers relatives in Tipperary.

    Best regards
    Brian Stapleton

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