Wicklow man Robert Monteith or “Bob”, as he was known, was born on the 1st March 1879 on the Woodstockdemesne (now Druids Glen on the Kilcoole to Newtownmountkennedy road) where his father was a land steward. Members of the Church of Ireland, he attended church and school in Delgany. He was a keen horseman and though only 16, he lied about his age and joined the Royal Horse Artillery through the recruitment officer in Delgany, following in the footstep of his brother, Dick. He was posted to India to patrol the borders of India and Afghanistan before transferring to fight in the Boer War. Most notably he was on the lead horse pulling the gun-carriage at the Relief of the Ladysmith in Natal in 1900; the second man through the blockade. Coincidentally the Prime Minister of Natal at that time was Albert Hime, a man born in Kilcoole.
Monteith returned to Ireland into the reserves of the British Army and worked in the Ordnance Depot first in Dundalk and then in the Phoenix after he married widow Mollie McEvoy. They moved into 6 Palmerston Place, Broadstone in Dublin with Mollie’s three children and he had two children with her. He was involved in the Union movement in support of government workers and printed newsletters and bills advocating worker rights small printing press he possessed. This and strong Socialist views brought him into contact with people like Jim Larkin and James Connolly. Monteith had experienced living with people across India and Africa and of Dublin he commented ‘it is an undeniable fact that the conditions under which the Dublin working man and his wife and family are housed and fed are the worse in the world’. Two events led him to engage with the Nationalist Movement; the brutal beating to death of Byrne and Nolan by police during the lockout in 1913, one of which he witnessed and secondly, his step-daughter Florence was also beaten by a police man while she as returning home from work. Monteith concluded that ’the great lesson to the worker was that, in order to retain what little liberty remained to him, and to protect his own person, he must organise a military force and serve therein voluntarily for the benefit of his own class’.
Enquiring about joining the Citizen Army, he was directed to Bulmer Hobson though his acquaintance with Tom Clarke and became involved with the formation of the Irish Volunteers at the Rotunda Rink in November 1913 and became an IRB member as well. On foot of his military experience and abilities he was elected at Captain to ‘A’ Company, First Battalion of the Dublin Brigade drilling many Volunteers including Eamon DeValera. On the outbreak of the Great War Monteith as twice offered commissions by the British Army, both of which he refused. ‘I have thrown in my lot with these boys to fight for Irish freedom, and I am not going back on my word, ever’. The day after his second refusal he was dismissed from his post. Twelve hours later while at home and explaining events to Captain Edward Daly, two policemen arrived delivering orders for Monteith’ deportation from the area around Dublin for ‘the defence of the realm. He would not be allowed reside with within distance of any port. When he informed James Connelly of this he stopped the press to reissue the paper calling for a halt to such actions. With no other choice Monteith left Dublin for Limerick where he again trained Irish Volunteers.
With the success of his mission to supply guns to the Irish Volunteers through the Howth and the Kilcoole landings in 1914 Casement found himself in the US where he welcomed as a hero. He sought out a new venture that led him to travel to Germany with the objective of securing German support for Ireland. There were several strands to the mission but most importance was German government declaration in favour of the Home Rule movement in Ireland. In that sense Casement became the first Diplomat of an emerging sovereign nation of foreign recognition. Secondly, Casement was to raise a force of men and secure a shipment of arms. The men would an ‘Irish Brigade’ raised from Irish Prisoners’ of War. Casement and Plunkett set about recruiting produced small numbers, amounting to fewer than 60 recruits. The reasons for this are complex; the Germans selected prisoners who often were not Irish and Casement himself had prohibited married men from joining as this would jeopardise the financial support for family at home. Regardless, Casement required an officer to command this small force. While Clarke was visiting Limerick Monteith volunteered to travel to German to work with Roger Casement in the recruiting of an Irish Brigade. He got the job with the coded message that Clarke ‘was sending on the books’.
Pretending he had his lot with Ireland, Monteith and his family were given permission by the British Authorities to travel to New York. Almost immediately he was smuggled from there to German via Norway and Denmark. By now Casement was very ill and although Monteith was not of a rank high enough for German officers to fraternise with, Monteith was able to draw upon the agreement that Casement had drawn up with the German High Command; Monteith proved to be astute both militarily and diplomatically. Like Casement, Monteith did not see the wisdom of a stand-up war against the British in Ireland without sufficient arms and did Monteith did his best alongside Casement to acquire weapons and troops from the German High Command. Frustrated by events in German, and with difficulties communicating through New York with Ireland Casement was now aware of plans for the Rising; he was eager to get to Ireland. Instead of the 100,00 guns hoped for, they secured a shipment of 20,000 old Russian arms and ammunition but Monteith as unhappy as it would leave the Volunteers using different weapon, with incompatible ammunition between the different types and unable to use captured British ammunition; it was the best they could get. The weapons were to be shipped on the ‘Aud’ but no German troops would be sent. It was decided that sending the Brigade was not in the interest of its members given the small numbers.
Casement and Monteith secured passage by U-Boat and, together with Brigade member, Beverly, set off for Ireland. They arrived to Tralee bay early on the Saturday morning of the weekend of the Rising but no one was there to meet them. Concerned at being detected the U-Boat commander decided to withdraw. There was no question but that the intrepid three would but climb into the tiny motorless boat in Ireland’s smallest ever invasion. They rowed toward shore and were thrown out by the swell and but for their lifejackets would have drowned; Monteith later lamented saving Casement from the waves rather than leaving him to face the fate awaiting him ‘on the road to his Calvary’. They struggled back into the boat and managed to get to shore but as Monteith pulled the boat to shore it ran into his foot injuring him. Of the Aud, no green lights came to guide her in and she was intercepted by the British. Her captain, Karl Spindler, managed to scuttle it as they were guided into Queenstown in Cork. Now on the beach the three made their way to toward Tralee. Sick and exhausted from the effort, Casement opted to stay at McKenna’s Fort. Monteith made it to Tralee to raise the alarm to Oliver Stack but it was too late; Police had found Casement and arrested him and late Beverly. Returning from securing Casement Oliver Stack, along with Con Collins were also arrested. Without any clear leadership in Tralee, Monteith was made command of Kerry forces as Volunteers and na Fianna Eireann members arrived from the peninsula in the event that fighting for the Rising was ordered. Of four men that Monteith would obey most, two, MacNeill and Hobson were against the Rising, Clarke and Connolly were for it. In the confusion of orders and countermanding orders the units stood down.
Now a wanted man with a price on his head, Monteith went on the run for nearly nine months. While relying on friends and comrades for shelter he feared for their detection and spent much of the time being moved from place to place and spending much of the time in the open countryside. Finally he found sanctuary in Rochestown Capuchin College in Cork. Recovered somewhat but still very shocked, ill and weakened by events and injuries, passage was eventually secured. Travelling first to Liverpool he was signed on as a fire stoker on a White Star liner. Though not well enough for the task he survived undetected and successfully re-entered the US under cover of darkness to re-join his family; officially he had never left the US. As for Roger Casement, he was tried for treason and hanged at Pentonville Prison on the 3rd August 1916.
At the time Monteith volunteered to travel to Casement in German he could be seen as a Clarke man but the impression Casement had on Monteith is profound. He later concluded that the Military Council did not trust Casement and Monteith wonder why he was not given this insight before he was dispatched. There is no doubt that communications between Casement and the Military council were fraught with difficulties, not least because communication ran through New York. Why the signals were not in place to guide in the Aud is itself another mystery. There are suggestions that Pearse feared that the Aud arriving on Friday, as the Germans planned, might give the game away, but to who. No message could be got to the Aud to arrange a landing later in the weekend. Even still, how then would the arms have landed without a large logistical operation to offload them and distribute them where needed in time? Where Casement is portrayed as a visionary, though a dreamer, Monteith agrees that while these traits have their place they are of little value in the military field. But he also concluded that in the Dublin Brigade there were many dreamers too. Much of the confusion attributed to Casement arises before he set foot back in Ireland, evidenced by what Monteith called the ‘fiasco at Tralee’. Casement dreamed of a decisive military victory with weapons aplenty and German boots on the ground and yes, he wanted to stop a Rising doomed to military failure, and that was his vision. The Military Council hoped that a minority Volunteer army would gain the imperative for the support of the whole country through the actions of taking the GPO, the Four Courts, Boland’s Mill and Stephen’s Green and to hold against the might of the British Army. And all planned with absolutely no military expertise amongst the group of leaders! With the greatest sense of respect, Monteith notes they were ‘dreamers all’. Yet clearly Monteith laments the loss of Casement most of all.
Bob stayed in the US and remained committed to the cause. After independence he sold bonds across the US to raise funds for Ireland’s renewal. He worked for the Ford motor company, remained an organising union man, and experiencing economic hardship after the Wall Street crash. Though he did eventually return to Ireland for a five years in 1947 initially had been made to feel quite very unwelcome by DeValera who cited a myriad or reasons for him not to return; ‘it is hard to transplant the Oak at 70’. He lived in Kilcoole, then Sutton. He was in receipt of a small pension and somehow managed to get a British Army pension as well. He was plagued by ill-health, suffering bouts of Malaria. While he was home he pointed out the location of his landing with Casement at Banna Strand; a monument stands there today and bears his name alongside Casements. He became disillusioned with his experiences here and Mollie wanted to be close to family so they returned to the US. He remained steadfastly respectful of the efforts of all in the Rising but was committed to Casement telling his story through his book, ‘Casement’s Last Adventure’ (1932, 1953). A biography titled, ‘The Mystery Man of Banna Strand’ was written by Florence Monteith Lynch (1959). Captain ‘Bob’ Monteith died in Michigan on the 20th February, 1956. He is a truly inspirational man but remains an under examined contributor in events around 1916 and deserves our attention and respect during this year of Centenary, he is the equal of any.
Kilcoole Heritage Group