The Jackie Clarke Collection | Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10am - 5pm | Free Admission

onight, for National Heritage Week, we look at two local men of the War of Independence, who went on to have long political careers at a national level, Phelim Calleary and PJ Ruttledge. We extend huge thanks to JCC Education Coordinator Sinead Brennan for her in depth research and wonderfully written words. Thank you also to Deputy Dara Calleary TD who provided us with some images of his grandfather.
Pheilim Calleary was born to parents Ellen and James in Killala in 1895. He was educated at St. Muredach’s College, Ballina and studied engineering at University College Galway.
As a young student, he joined the Irish Volunteers in 1915. He returned to Ballina in the following year, setting up a civil engineering practice in the town and joining the Ballina branch of the Volunteers. Throughout 1918, he was active with the North Mayo Brigade and was engaged in numerous activities such as organising, weapons raids, anti-British Army recruiting campaigns and intelligence gathering.
He took part in flax-burning operations which deprived the newly formed British Air Force of much sought after aeroplane linen. In May of that year, along with his comrade Dominic Molloy, he made contact with a German submarine which was believed to have deposited weapons in a cave off the North Mayo coast near Kilgalligan. Michael Collins was informed off the unusual operation, and money was sourced for the purchase of the arms. For some time, it seemed the mission had failed. Two years later in May 1920, six cases marked “Twigs” were left outside Dominic Molloy’s premises in Ballina which were found to contain 20 rifles and 8 or 9 revolvers.
Calleary acted as Sinn Féin Director of Elections in the historic General Election of 1918- a prelude to his later political career. During the subsequent ‘Tan War’, alongside his brother Vincent, he was an active member of the First Battalion, Ballina Company, North Mayo Brigade. He was appointed Intelligence and Engineering Officer.
In 1920, he was Director of the ‘Belfast Boycott’, providing information and carrying out raids, and overseeing the destruction of seized goods. In July 1920, Calleary was among the unit of Ballina Company who carried out the daring ambush of the RIC patrol at Moy Lane, which resulted in the death of RIC Sergeant Armstrong.
The following month he took part in the attack and destruction of Enniscrone Coastguard Station- a dramatic engagement which involved. upwards of 150 members of the North Mayo Brigade. In late 1920, he was sent to Cavan, where he served as Battalion Intelligence Officer, providing information which led to capture of key enemy documents and communique.
As the Truce of July 1921 approached, he returned to Ballina.
In November that year he was called upon to formally identify the remains of Volunteer Michael Tolan, brutally murdered by Crown Forces earlier that same year.
Calleary took the Republican side in the subsequent Civil War, as did his brother Vincent. Stationed in North Mayo Brigade Headquarters, he was O/C of the Active Service Unit which successfully captured Ballina form Free State hands in September 1922.
He saw action in Mayo and Sligo in those turbulent days. As a prominent figure, he evaded certain capture and imprisonment by effectively staying ‘on the run’ until 1924.
He was Engineer to Ballina Town Council for almost four decades and instrumental in new housing schemes which changed not only the face of the town, but the lives of countless of its inhabitants for generations to come.
In 1926 he joined the newly - formed Fianna Fáil party, and acted as election agent for P.J, Ruttledge. Following Ruttledge’s untimely death in 1952, the local Fianna Fáil organisation turned to his most trusted friend and former comrade-in-arms to stand in the resulting by-election.
Thus began three consecutive generations of the Calleary family in Irish political life (his son Seán (RIP) was elected TD in 1973 and grandson Dara was elected in 2007.) Phelim Calleary served in Dáil Éireann until his retirement in 1969, topping the polls in his home county in five General Elections. He died in January 1974, his funeral in Killala drawing huge crowds. Among the mourners were leader of Fianna Fáil, Jack Lynch.
Calleary is remembered for his ‘courage, resourcefulness and… idealism’, ‘a kind neighbour and generous friend …who would not spare himself to help anyone in need of his assistance.’

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Specialist tours can be booked in advance by emailing or by phoning (096) 73508.


The Jackie Clarke Collection
Pearse Street, Ballina, Co. Mayo, Ireland

T: + 353 (0)96 73508

Opening Times

Tuesday to Saturday: 10am to 5pm
Entrance is located at the side of the building on Walsh Street.