The Rev. James Dawson-Byrne – Hero and Priest
Father James Dawson-Byrne was born at number 9 Railway Terrace, Mullingar in 1878. The family already had connections to the Brayton family who had been active in the 1798 rebellion. During his eventful life he was also to come into contact with such luminaries as Eamon De Valera and Michael Collins. He is rumoured to have been a priest of the IRA during the civil war in 1922. Indeed, newspaper reports at the time show that he played his part in war time espionage and saved many lives in the process.
James Dawson Byrne was the youngest child of James Byrne and Rose Dawson. According to the US census records, he moved to the United States in 1913. The World War I records place him in South Dakota in 1917.
By the late 1920’s he was living in New York City. He had become a Jesuit Priest and was earning a comfortable living editing English and Drama text books. Indeed, he is famous for having written “The Story of Ireland’s National Theatre: The Abbey Theatre Dublin” which was published in 1929 under his nom de plume, Dawson Byrne.
James became a US citizen in 1930 and as he was living in New York at the time, it is likely that he was part of the Teresa Brayton set. Indeed, his Nationalist leanings were hinted at in a report from one of his visits to Ireland where he is credited with having witnessed the bleeding statues of Templemore in September 1920, where hundreds of miracle cures were being effected, “Father Byrne is the first traveller to reach America and vouch for the truth of the phenomena at Templemore”, (The New Age Magazine, 1920).
The statues had started bleeding after an ambush at Templemore by the IRA resulting in the Killing of RIC District inspector Wilson. Rather than being genuine, the IRA viewed the apparitions as part of a ploy to prevent the military from sacking the town and making the Catholics “pay for it”.
Although thousands of pilgrims had travelled to the site during the three weeks of the apparitions, even the Roman Catholic Church had expressed “extreme reserve” about the cures and miracles attributed to them. Michael Collins himself had given instructions for James Walsh, the initial visionary of the bleeding statues, to be interviewed. The Templemore miracles finally ended when the IRA ambushed and killed two RIC members at Kiloskeahan near Burnane on the 29th of September 1920. (Garda Gazette, Winter 2008).
In 1936 Father James was teaching at the Catholic University in Washington DC and then moved on to the University of San Francisco, which is a Jesuit School. He died in Los Angeles, California in 1940.