Martin A. Walton

Martin A. Walton (1901-1981) - Biography

(*The “A.” in above is for “Anthony” and is used to distinguish my grandfather from his eldest grandson, Martin Walton, of the same name.)

A brief Introduction on sources

Most of the personal information and detail I know about my grandfather, Martin A. Walton, has been gleaned from conversations within the Walton family and in particular with my father Patrick Walton (98), and much of what I remember about him personally is from very early childhood memories when visiting my grandparents’ home and farm on our regular  family visits. They lived in Ashtown Lodge, a small 30-acre farm across the road from the Tolka River and nestled in the beautiful countryside of North County Dublin, between Blanchardstown and the Phoenix Park.

The other frequent times I met him was when I attended the annual Collins and Griffith Memorial service every August. I always enjoyed these events with my father  who would explain the history and tell me about Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith but I was a little too young to appreciate fully the significance and historical importance of these iconic men. This was at a time in the mid-1970’s when only a few hundred people (if even that) would turn up to march slowly from the Sunday service at St Peter’s Church in Phibsboro to Glasnevin Cemetery, to commemorate the anniversary of the deaths of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffth’s who, at that time, were not politically in vogue. The Army always turned up without fail  to play the last call and fire a volley over Collins grave but there was no representation from the Fianna Fáil Government of the day.

At 98 years of age my father, Patrick Walton, is Martin Walton’s only son, and the only surviving sibling from his three sisters; Mary, who died tragically in 1936,  Isobel, ‘Bel’, who died in 2008 , and Nora McGeady, who died in 2020.  Patrick, more widely known as ‘Paddy’ , who was very close to his father, still talks fondly of him in great detail to this day.  As my interest in ‘Grandad’s’ life became ever more curious, my father has been an invaluable source and I am incredibly lucky to be able listen to his own accounts of his father’s remarkable life.

I also got to know Auntie ‘Bel’ quite well and she passed on to me some correspondence to Martin, from his own father, Patrick Walton, written  to him while he was interned in Ballykinlar Prison. My older siblings would have had more interactions and known Grandad better than I so, over the years, I have also picked up some of their recollections and stories, in addition to stories from the many staff and my older cousins, like Aidan and Tommy McRory, and Alan Leonard, that I got to know during my 13 years working with them in the family business – Walton’s Music.  

I have also had the pleasure of browsing through my grandfather’s (and father’s) Irish History  book collection where I regularly find his many hundreds of  page markers beside passages or in pages of the books in which he was particularly interested in. The page markers could be made from anything including  envelopes, letters, invitations, or the outer paper from  ‘Major’ cigarette packages  which my grandfather smoked. (He was also a fan of ‘Sweet Afton’ cigarettes because Carroll’s had sent in packets to the internees during his time in Ballykinlar). Though by far, his most common page marker was the silver or gold foil which lined those cigarette packets. Nothing was wasted. These fine appropriately coloured page markers, invisible until you open the page, sometimes come with comments in pencil on the pages and have become  delightful pointers as to the events and the people in Irish history which captured his imagination.

I plan to share some of these pointers at a later date but for the immediate purposes of this introductory biography I will keep it to the essentials.

Martin A. Walton’s childhood

Martin Walton was born in 1901 on a date and location unknown. We now know he was adopted as an infant by Patrick Walton , who was a native of Kilkenny City, and his adoptive mother Mary, (nee Bolger), who was from Castlecomer. He was an only child. His adoptive father was a linotype operator, and the family moved to Dublin when he became manager for (the remarkable) William O'Brien's paper, The Irish People, and  they set up house at No. 8 (now No. 10) Shanganagh Road, Drumcondra. His father, Patrick Walton, whose own father John Walton was a Fenian, was an ardent nationalist and according to Martin Walton “kept in touch with the Fenians and 'the Invincibles' for most of his life” albeit “too young for the earlier [1867] rebellion and too elderly to be involved with the later 1916 Rising”.     

Following infighting in the Irish Parliamentary Party, between O’Brien and John Dillon over the priority of the Land Act (which O’Brien supported)  versus Home Rule and non-cooperation with the landlords (which Dillon, Davitt and other nationalists supported), O’Brien resigned from his seat in Parliament and the Irish Parliamentary Party, and closed down The Irish People newspaper in 1903 because he was making no headway with his policies. His actions were intended to attempt to bring the IPP to its senses.  Although, according to my father, O’Brien did give £5000 from his personal wealth ( an enormous sum of money at the time) to his manager, Patrick Walton, which he distributed equally among the many employees who had lost their jobs, it was not an easy time for a Catholic compositor, particularly one whose father had been a Fenian, to gain employment. Additionally, because O’Brien was an MP with very strong socialist and nationalist leanings and all of his staff were blacklisted by the other newspapers. As Jimmy de Burca states in his 1981 obituary of my grandfather “Most of the newspapers in Dublin, except the Irish Independent, were Protestant owned. The other papers then were The Irish Times, The Daily Express and The Freeman's Journal.” My grandfather also alludes to this fact in the Strauss Interview.

De Burca continues “Mr. Walton was friendly with Alderman Nannetti, a very important and influential Catholic connected with the Freeman's Journal, an M.P. and twice Lord Mayor of Dublin (he appears in James Joyce's famous novel Ulysses). Through Alderman Nannetti Mr. Walton joined the staff of the Freeman’s Journal in 1909.”

My grandfather makes it clear in the Strauss Interview ( for which a shared link has been provided at the end of this article if you wish to listen to the interview in full)  that between 1903 and 1909 times were very difficult for his family, as it was for many families at the time, he maintained that while they did not have much, they always had food on the table, with every family in the neighbourhood helping each other out . His “mother kept 30 or 40 chickens and the neighbours threw in their scraps and waste food, and they got by”.  

He attended the National School of St. Patrick in Drumcondra where he excelled, passing the "eighth standard exams”, normally completed at eighteen years of age, at the age of thirteen. He left school at fourteen years of age which was the normal age for finishing national schooling at that time, although he did continue his education at night classes where he learnt Irish and acquired the skill of 150 words-a-minute Pittmann shorthand. In his interview with Strauss he mentioned he “still had the certificate somewhere” and he goes on to state that a fee (presumably paid by his father) of “200 Guineas was paid for him to complete a ‘Wine and Tea tasting’ course at Martin Fitzgeralds wine and spirits business” which, in his own voice, he joked that “he obviously never completed”. However, he did continue in the employment of Martin Fitzgerald with his first salary being ten shillings a month from which he bought his father a bottle of liqueur Whiskey which “cost him half a crown”, half his salary. My father informs me that two years later his salary had risen to 25 shillings a week and a competitor sought to recruit him, for twice that salary. He initially accepted the new job but when it came to telling Martin Fitzgerald that he was leaving he did not have the heart to tell him and decided to stay working with him. This was to be a very influential decision in his life.

We also know that at fourteen years of age he was a very accomplished violinist, having won a Gold Medal at the Feis Ceoil that same year. This is another glimpse of his ability to excel and his musical ability would be utilised in his many later jobs and roles including; playing in the “Picture House” at dances and to accompany the silent movies (by 1920 he had built up a business providing violinists to accompany the silent movies in  four cinemas ran by a gentleman with the surname of Hurley);  as a music teacher in the Dublin Municipal of College Music;  in his subsequent career  as a music publisher and businessman in the music industry;  and indeed even as a revolutionary  when he ran the Ballykinlar Prison orchestra  during his internment there. It is very evident from his musical talent that at a very young age he was advanced beyond his years and his interest in Irish music, history and culture was already keenly developed.

He also stated in the Strauss Interview that he continued his schooling  and music studies at night, and attended Saint Patrick’s Teacher Training College in Drumcondra which he said, “proved an invaluable aid to imparting knowledge” when he later went on to teach music in the Dublin School College of Music, where he was first mentioned in the school records as a teacher in 1924 and  was generally known as an outstanding violin teacher. 

Martin A. Walton 

It is also very evident from the Strauss Interview that he picked up a love of Irish revolutionary history from both his parents whom he said were “wonderful people” whom he “adored”. (He also gave great credit to the Christian brothers for keeping the spirit of Irish Nationalism alive in the school system with many teachers staying back on their own time, after school hours, to teach Irish to the pupils).  As a young boy, he said that he revelled in the stories of the Irish revolutionary struggle from his mother and of how various members of her family were arrested and jailed, and when released afterwards died as a result of their treatment.

He also clearly felt a very strong connection with his father’s family history. He described his father as “very well read” and “a great nationalist”,  and, as I stated earlier, a man strongly “in touch with the Fenians and ‘Invincibles’ during his lifetime”.  In the same interview he vividly recall’s visiting Thomas Clarke (the architect of 1916 and the effective leader of the IRB) in his newsagents shop in Parnell Street at about thirteen years of age, presumably with his father, and goes into great detail to  describe the stories Clarke (who, in his opinion, was one the greatest, "supreme", Irish revolutionaries of the 20th Century - he also mentions Sean MacDiarmaid, and Bulmer Hobson in this vein), told in his presence about his appalling fourteen years in  prison  in England where he received “special” treatment, including the fascinating story, which he relates in great detail, of what Clarke’s role was to be, and how the ‘Fenian Dynamite Plot’  was uncovered by ridiculous chance in 1883.

In explaining these many influences, he states unambiguously in the same interview that his childhood dream growing up was always to join the movement and play his part in the age-old struggle for Irish freedom.

The revolutionary years 1916-22

There are relatively few detailed and written articles about Martin A. Walton’s extraordinary revolutionary life apart from a number of obituaries, including some excellent articles in the Irish Times, and a good number of references in several books on the 1916 Rising which he joined as a 15-year-old boy. The best of these all is by Eileen Mary O’Brien , who signed off as “Candida”,  in 'An Irishwoman’s Diary' published in the Irish Times in 1978 (share link to pdf provided at the end of this document),   detailing many of his activities during the Rising of 1916 and some early events, leading up to and shortly after his arrest in late 1920, following the events of 'Bloody Sunday'.

He was also interviewed several times for radio and TV documentaries in the 1970’s around Irish revolutionary history, and of course on the famous Walton’s Music business which ran a sponsored program called “The Waltons Programme” on RTE , the  national TV station for nearly thirty years from 1951.

His personal interviews on for radio and television documentaries, and particularly the Strauss Interview, tend to be more revealing although, in all but a few of these, he generally refused to discuss  specific instances or details around his activities. More generally, outside of his activity during the 1916 Rising and shortly after it, there is an almost total absence of any published or official material on his activities during the War of Independence and the Civil War. This is despite the fact it was common knowledge in Army and republican veteran circles, for the best part of sixty years after those events, that he was a very senior operative and officer within Michael Collins' intelligence team.

Most of the online material available now, of which there is little, while largely accurate around the headlines of his life have some startling inaccuracies. For example, The Dictionary of Irish Biography states that “He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty but, suffering from a collapsed lung, did not play an active part in the Civil War”. This is incorrect. While he  did suffer seriously from his lungs and some serious ill-health following his internment in Ballykinlar, I believe the collapsed lung story in relation to not participating in the Civil War to have been a story of convenience.  By his own account, he was initially against the Treaty but my father explained to me that he changed to support Collins after the dire position of the Volunteers was revealed to him, and in his own words when he “saw the split coming”  and heard De Valera’s speech inciting “Irishmen to wade through the blood of Irishmen”. As we hear from him in the Strauss interview, he was definitely active during the Civil War  although he deliberately never mentioned that he took Collins' vacant seat on the IRB Supreme Council, following Collins' death at Béal Na Bláth. As far as I am aware he only ever told this detail to my father and possibly to a very few  close friends. When I say "he took Collins vacant seat" I wish to be absolutey clear that he did not take Collins' role but rather, he was elected at twenty-one years of age  to the Supreme Council by the other members of the council who were much more senior and older than him. 

Another more emotive but good introduction to my grandfather, albeit with quite a few inaccuracies pointed out by my father and relatively short at four pages, is a warm obituary by his good friend Séamus (Jimmy) de Búrca  entitled: “Martin A. Walton – The Artist as a Boy and as a Young Man” published in the Dublin Historical Record Vol XXXIV No.4 by the Old Dublin Society in September 1981 (pdf share link provided below).  

Fortunately, as I have already mentioned, he was also interviewed at length in the recently discovered and fascinating Harlan Strauss tape interviews of 33 well-known senior veterans of the period, which Strauss undertook in Ireland as part of his PhD post graduate research on “Conflict”  over the two years 1972-73.  Some of the remarkable interviewees included Frank Aiken, Dan Breen, Robert Barton, Christopher Brady (the printer of the Easter Rising Proclamation), Peadar O’Donnell, Máire Comerford, John A. Costello, Ernest Blythe , Seán Dowling , in addition to my grandfather, among many others. These interviews have now been digitised and are available individually on request from the UCD Folklore Archives and I have provided a share link at the end of this document if you wish to listen to the Martin Walton  interview with Strauss in full . 

Links to other excellent interviews  are also  provided at the end of this biography including Robert Kee’s widely acclaimed Television History of Ireland, filmed in the late 1970’s, and on which he featured a number of times. This 13-episode documentary is an excellent and very balanced historical work with many compelling eyewitness interviews from the 1916-1924 period.

He did appear on an Irish Language dedicated tribute program  of Liam Ó’ Murchú’s “Trom Agus Éadrom” with many friends and family present (including myself) in the late 1970’s however that program does not appear to be digitally available in the RTE archives either.

Many of his very wide circle of friends during his lifetime ( I recall Joe Lynch saying during the “Trom Agus Éadrom”  tribute that "Martin Walton had more friends than you could shake a stick at!")  had tried to encourage him to write a biography of his life however he was particularly reticent to do so and never put pen to paper despite, as we can see from his only published work on the life of Samuel Lover R.H.A. (1797-1868) in the  March 1979 Edition of the Dublin Historical Record, that he wrote evocatively and beautifully (link to pdf is available below). The reasons for his reluctance to write about his life is something which I hope to explore in more detail another time. 

A brief synopsis of his revolutionary activity

As a six-foot teenager [he eventually grew to six foot two inches], he was involved as a 15-year-old volunteer in the 1916 Rising, having joined 2nd Battalion C Division just a few weeks before the Rising. Being considered too young for manning the barricades he was put to duty running messages from Jacobs to the GPO and “all the other posts” around the city . He also smuggled a rifle in his trouser leg through the military cordon on three occasions , as well as guiding over 20 volunteers from Maynooth who had arrived in Drumcondra and were lost, through the cordon around the city and into the GPO . He was on his way to join  Thomas Ashe's rebels in  their battle for Ashbourne (well detailed in several of our Newspaper pages)  when he saw the British army trucks transporting the victorious but recently surrendered rebels, passing them on the road on their way back to the city as prisoners.

There were a number of incidents which he recalled and were well documented in various newspapers, interviews and books. Some of which, specific to 1916, and widely published is well captured below in Kenneth Griffith’s book Curious Journeys: An Oral History of Ireland’s Unfinished Revolution, by Kenneth Griffith and Timothy O’Grady (Mercier Press, 1998).

“I joined the Volunteers just three weeks before the Rising. I was only fifteen years of age at the time, though I had grown to six feet and so was taken in as a man. I think I attended two meetings, had instructions on how to handle a rifle, and we had one bit of field drill. I remember Thomas MacDonagh taking our names in case we were shot, so that the relatives would be looked after. We all knew there was something big on for Sunday, though we didn’t know what. I found out afterwards that our job was to have been the taking of Ship Street barracks – that’s the barracks behind the Castle – but of course owing to historic events known to everybody now it was cancelled. We were then mobilized for the following morning, but I missed that as I was only a latecomer to the Volunteers. I believe that Captain [Con] Colbert called to the house that morning with a message that I was to go to such and such a place, but I never got it. I had a desperate toothache that day and I went down to Drumcondra Road to get my tooth out, but because it was a bank holiday the dentist wasn’t open, and I remember coming back home and my father putting whiskey on it. About four o’clock in the evening then we heard a terrible burst of machine-gun fire and my cousin, an orphan girl [DW: Maud Bolger who later married Liam Moore who became a life-long friend of my grandfather] who lived with us, she became terribly worried. She was very attached to Tom Cotter, who was one of the three sons in that family who were out in the Rising, and he to her, and she said, ‘O my God,’ she said, ‘he’s out in that.’

My plan then was to get into town by pretending to go to work on Tuesday, but I found out my parents had taken the valves from my bicycle because they didn’t want me to get involved. But I insisted I’d be sacked if I didn’t go to work, and I managed then to get into O’Connell Street. I could see looters emptying the shops out, and there were some dead horses that had been shot under the Lancers, who had tried to take the GPO on the Monday. Hamilton Norway had just renovated the GPO from top to bottom and had done a terrific job on it, but all the windows were knocked out and the place was barricaded. There was an upturned tramcar too. A general scene of desolation. So I called into the GPO and asked where C Company, Second Battalion was, and I saw all the lads in there and all the hustle and bustle, and I was told it was in Jacob’s Factory, the biscuit factory in Wexford Street. It’s very hard for people today to believe that a man living on the north side of Dublin had hardly ever been across to the south side, but I had no idea where Wexford Street was and so I had to inquire my way across. Trinity College at this time was held by the Officers Training Corps and the GRs. (A reserve training force comprised primarily of middle class, over-age Irishmen). They had an armband with GR on it in honour of the King, but we used to call them the 'Gorgeous Wrecks' or the 'God’s Rejected'. The whole of Dame Street was completely held under fire by them. Now I had no uniform or rifle, no arms of any description, but as bad luck would have it I had a green suit which looked damned like a uniform and I was nearly shot at the Lower Castle Gate.

When I arrived then at Jacob’s the place was surrounded by a howling mob roaring at the Volunteers inside, ‘Come out to France and fight, you lot of so-and-so slackers.’ And then I started shouting up to the balustrade, ‘Let me in, let me in.’ And then I remember the first blood I ever saw shed. There was a big, very, very big, tall woman with something very heavy in her hand and she came across and lifted up her hand to make a bang at me. One of the Volunteers upstairs saw this and fired and I just remember seeing her face and head disappear as she went down like a sack. That was my baptism of fire, and I remember my knees nearly going out from under me. I would have sold my mother and father and the Pope just to get out of that bloody place. But you recover after a few minutes.”

Having avoided several close calls on his life and capture in the Rising, he became very active in rebuilding the Volunteers in its aftermath, well before public sentiment became more favourable to the rebels. Those of his Battalion who had not been arrested or imprisoned  met within weeks in a hall in Drumcondra. During the War of Independence he was very active in Collins' intelligence squad where he rose quickly in the ranks and saw close action on a number of occasions. Eileen Mary O’Brien, in her "Candida" column, mentioned above, tells us:

“Mr Walton became a formidable soldier. Much of what he told me, about spies and others, is unsuited to a newspaper because of the pain that could be caused to their families; more of it is too libellous….

....By 1920 [DW he was arrested in November 1920 shortly after Bloody Sunday] Mr Walton was in Arbour Hill. He and Sean Lemass almost escaped in a scavenger's cart but the guard came along too soon. An old sergeant-major pointed out the graves of the men executed after Easter Week; he had kept a note of each. “ They were brutal times in Arbour Hill” Mr Walton recalled. “Broy, the G-man was there and prisoners spat on him, not knowing that he was Collins principal agent in the Castle and hourly expecting to be executed; that helped to save Broy’s life because the British were not sure whether Broy or a colleague named Kavanagh was giving Collins the information. Collins gave Kavanagh the choice of leaving the country with a substantial sum of money [DW my father informs me the amount was £500] or being shot before morning; Kavanagh departed hurriedly and that too, helped to confuse them.”    

The article continues detailing another previous occasion when “ ...Mr Walton was on an arms raid involving a shooting which was witnessed by two prostitutes. The raiders had treated them most chivalrously. They were brought into Arbour hill to identify them and proved that they were better women than many swathed in respectability. “They knew us full well” Mr Walton told me, “ but they never identified us”.

My father informs me that before he was arrested he regularly acted as a courier of information and messages for Collins between Belfast and Kilkenny. “He would cycle to Belfast during the day” and presumably return later or the following day.

While all of this was going on Martin Walton also tells us in the Strauss Interview that by the time he was eighteen (1919) he was earning around £17-£18  a week between his full-time job with Martin Fitgerald and his 'silent movie' work  which had now become a second full-time job in the evenings and on weekends. This was a big weekly wage in those days. 

 On the 21st of November 1920 , he was on one of the first of Volunteer teams dispatched to execute the recently arrived secret service men (who had been deployed by London to act outside the law in Dublin as part of the escalating intelligence war in Dublin against Collins operatives), sometimes also known as the ‘Cairo Gang’ (although only one of them had ever been in Egypt). These men were all experienced British intelligence operatives and some of the best and highest-ranking  intelligence operatives from across the empire. Collins operation had been planned for several months against those men who had been increasingly successful in making arrests of key operatives within Collins team and matters were coming to a head under the British squeeze on Dublin. An initial list of 32 targets had been carefully whittled down by Collins and his men, for lack of clear evidence of their activities, to a final list of 15.  However when my grandfather's team arrived at the hotel their target was not there. Following the events of that day, which became known as 'Bloody Sunday' , in which 11 British agents (and 2 Auxilliaries were killed), and 4 officers wounded, and in the reprisals later that day when 14 men, women and children, attending a challenge football match between Dublin and Tipperary, were slaughtered in Croke Park, and over 60 injured (many seriously) by the Auxilliary machine gun fire from an armoured car  that entered the pitch during the game,  Martin Walton was subsequently pulled in for an another identification parade in front of a waitress from the hotel who had seen them, but the waitress did not identify them.

My grandfather certainly rode his luck on a number of occasions. On another occasion my father tells me that Grandad was driving  from the Mary Street markets along Capel Street with Michael W. O'Reilly (a senior 1916 veteran and IRB man who went on to found New Ireland Assurance Company), with a load of weapons in the boot of the car covered in cabbages when they saw a 'Black and Tan' roadblock just ahead of them with nowhere to turn off before they reached it. My grandfather instinctively reached for his revolver when O'Reilly said to him  "Easy Martin, take it easy...". O'Reilly slowed up at the checkpoint "all smiles and laughter and was winding down the window"... when they were waved through. They kept looking straight ahead and never turned to check the rear-view mirror, pushing on to their delivery destination, no doubt in a cold sweat. 

Despite not being identified in the identity parade he was rounded up in the aftermath of 'Bloody Sunday'. My father tells me his father had been practicing on his violin up to 2am when, shortly after, he heard the screech of brakes and the ‘Tans’ pull up outside  to raid their house on Shanganagh Road and  arrest him. He was taken into Arbour Hill as mentioned already and was subsequently moved by sea to Belfast, where they were met on the docks by an angry loyalist crowd who showered them with abuse and missiles. They were terrified and felt they were going to be murdered on the docks there and then, and only the threat to shoot at the crowd from the British Officer in charge, to protect his prisoners,  ensured they got to Ballykinlar in their bedraggled state.

He does talk in some detail to  Strauss about his experiences in Ballykinlar where he spent over a year until he was released at the end of 1921. He described it as “very bad”, a brutal place where, during his imprisonment , “out of 800 prisoners, 3 men were wantonly shot dead for no reason, between 40 and 50 men went insane and were taken off to the asylum, and between 60 and 70 men died from malnutrition and illness ”. He mentions that some of the originally very young and completely healthy men were “so badly beaten when they arrived they were completely senseless and had to led by the hand to their food and helped to be fed".

 

A short letter and  one of several longer letters to Martin in Ballykinlar from his father Patrick including the welcome news that his salary from Fitzgerald's would still be delivered to his parents. 

On a more positive note, when the 'White Cross' (the equivalent then of the modern day 'Red Cross') sent in a shipment of violins for the prisoners he took on the responsibility of teaching the prisoners the instruments and running the 'Ballykinlar Prison Orchestra' ( see photo below). It was also where he was to start his lifelong friendship with Peadar Kearney who composed the Irish National Anthem  Amhrán na bhFiann or, in English, The Soldier’s Song . Jimmy de Burca also authored a book of the same title in 1957 called The Soldier’s Song – The Story of Peadar Kearney in which my grandfather is mentioned several times in his recollections of Ballykinlar.

The Ballykinlar Prison  Orchestra with Martin Walton Standing on right and Peadar Kearney 3rd person sitting in from him in 3rd row - the other prisoners in the picture are all named in de Burca's book The Soldier's Song  

 Following the Truce and his release he returned to work for Martin Fitzgerald, albeit on reduced  and flexible hours to allow him recover from his ill-health. He had been on hunger strike in Ballykinlar for about ten days which had added greatly to his poor health. My father informed me recently that on his release from Ballykinlar my grandfather  was actually so unwell and malnourished that on visiting his doctor he was given only a year to live.

In the Strauss Interview he talks briefly about his time working in Martin Fitzgerald’s. Initially, following the Rising (Fitzgeralds premises had been completely destroyed in the 1916 Rising - see photos below), he was not well favoured as some weapons had been found in his desk but, following  his introduction of Arthur Griffith to Martin Fitzgerald who was interested in purchasing the Freemans Journal, which he subsequently did purchase,  he was much in favour in the business and given a free hand to take a “day or a morning off” for “whatever had to be done” whenever he needed it. He also mentioned that Fitzgerald was arrested and imprisoned shortly after he was.

Fitzgeralds premises before 1916

Fitzgeralds premises after 1916 

 Fitzgerald's new premises in Thomas Street

It appears that Martin Walton was not aware of just how senior he was in Collins' Intelligence team until immediately after Collins' death when he was elected to the IRB’s Supreme Council to sit on Collins', now tragically vacant, seat. As I have stressed previously he did not take Collins' role , just the vacancy on the Supreme Council following Collins' death.

Collins had made a point of keeping the names of all his operatives secret (which on occasion cost them their lives) but it was an essential part of his march towards an intelligence victory to protect his sources and the secrecy of his operatives .  I am aware that my grandfather knew Collins, whom he adored, quite well, but  he was always modest about his own role and his relationship to him. For example,  my father tells me my grandfather also introduced Michael Collins to Martin Fitzgerald. Collins was seeking financial advice from Fitzgerald in relation to the funding and finances of the revolutionary cause and provisional government , and Fitzgerald, with his international financial experience, and who was known to be sympathetic to Irish independence, did meet with Collins in a meeting which my grandfather arranged. This must have been well before my grandfather and Fitzgerald were later arrested. It strikes me that, as Collins already knew my grandfather as a highly capable intelligence operative, in addition to his organisational capabilities which he would have gleaned from Fitzgerald (he was now Fitzgerald's private secretary), it was possibly around this time that my grandfather was earmarked by Collins, and/or others, for a potential future role in the highly secretive IRB.   

Given his later position on the IRB Supreme Council it should also not take much imagination to believe that he was also very active during the Civil War  and following Collins' death although, as the Harlan Struss interview confirms, while he categorically states “he was active, but not in uniform” [my father states he did have a Volunteer uniform which he rarely wore], he also stated he was “not prepared to discuss his activities during the Civil War”, even in 1972.

 Apart from telling my father that he took Collins' vacant seat on the IRB Supreme Council , he steadfastly chose to honour his oath of secrecy to which he was sworn, and he never divulged the names of any other members of the council . He did however discuss many aspects of the War of Independence and the Civil War with my father, and some trusted confidents, and no doubt much of the historic detail he could bring to bear on the period was learned, not just from his observations and phenomenal historical reading, but from his time on the Supreme Council and in discussion with the other members of it.

 These insights include how the Supreme Council’s 12 members had initially voted on the Treaty in the absence of two members of the Council who were delayed reaching the meeting to vote on the Treaty on their journey from London. The IRB Supreme Council was constituted of 12 members, 2 members each from Dublin, Leinster, Ulster,  Munster, Connaught, and London.  The initial vote of the 10 present was 6 to 4 in favour of the Treaty, however Collins was unhappy with the majority because of the two delayed and absent members coming from London. He felt, that without knowing how they would vote, this could not be deemed as a true majority, so he demanded  those present to further debate the issue and another vote be taken. During the course of this further debate, one member, who had voted against the Treaty, said that he was very uncertain of his mixed views on the Treaty and  decided to change his vote and to support Collins. A second member, who was similarly uncertain, immediately followed this lead  for the same reasons, and a second vote was taken which resulted in 8 to 2 majority in favour of the Treaty. Only then, when the numbers would have meant that the two London votes, if they had voted against the treaty, would not have made a difference,  was Collins satisfied , and the Treaty was approved by the IRB Supreme Council. I do not believe this instance has ever been documented but it is  not only a remarkable testament to Collins ability to persuade and inspire those who he was in close contact with, but also of his integrity and respect for the democratic vote and processes of the IRB Supreme Council.

Other than guesswork and surmising, and from my initial very early research to this day, there appears to be very little information, on who the other members of the IRB Supreme Council were in 1922, apart from Collins until his death.  One person my father mentioned as a possibility, purely because of the number of times my grandfather mentioned him, was Joe McGrath, but he is not 100% certain of this. McGrath was the senior Commandant in Ballykinlar during my grandfather’s time there so he knew him well. McGrath was also Minister for Trade in the first   'Free State' Government. It may well be that McGrath, if he was on the IRB Supreme Council, also spotted my grandfather’s talent in Ballykinlar and sponsored his  elevation on to the IRB Supreme Council at just 21 years of age on Collins' death. There is so much secrecy and lack of detail around the IRB Supreme Council that any new information is useful and welcome. 

There are several other details which my father has detailed and which most likely emanated from Martin Walton’s time on the Supreme Council which are fascinating. This includes detail he had gleaned of the strategic thinking behind the assault on the Custom House which was very much a last desparate throw of the dice for the Volunteers.  They opted for the Customs House instead of attacking Beggar's Bush Barracks (a highly sacrificial and risky option in terms of the likely high level of casualties and the consequences of failure) which was much favoured by De Valera but which  Collins which was dead against. Collins won the argument and the eventual attack on the Customs House, with a very high number of Volunteers captured but relatively low casualty list , was another one of Collins’ great masterstrokes to shock the British Government and, against all the odds, to deceive them of the true and dire military situation of the Volunteers in May 1921 where, due to their lack of arms and ammunition on the ground the Volunteers (often shipping a single gun and bullets around the country for different actions on the same day) they  were on their knees militarily. The attack on the Customs House more or less led to the entire fighting bridgades of the Dublin Volunteers being captured but the timing, target, and scale of the Custom House attack directly led to the agreement with the British Government to have a truce and the London negotiations. Collins knowledge of the dire military position of the Volunteers was ultimately one of the main reasons he had felt the need, after months of bruising negotiations, to reluctantly accept the final terms on offer for the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

 While my grandfather states he had no interest in politics after the Civil War, he was  actually Secretary to the Cumann Na Gael Party on their National Executive for a period of several months. This fact is not generally known or reported on but such a senior and central position at the heart of the main party in the  Free State Government is unlikely to have occurred by accident and furthermore, would have been an ideal viewing point for a member of the IRB’s Supreme Council.  He  resigned from his National Executive role after about 6 months , ostensibly due to the pressures of starting up his new business in the music world, however my  father has stated several times that my grandfather was, in reality, very disillusioned with the politics that he encountered in those early days. Apparently he was often quoted about this brief foray into politics at that time “that some of the politicians were worse than the crowd we’d just gotten rid of”.  This is certainly very evident in his interview with Strauss where Grandad states the behaviour of certain politicians, during the Treaty Debates in particular, whom he had previously admired as heroes, left him totally disillusioned with politics.

History teaches us, that the most successful intelligence operatives  are those whom nobody knows anything about or, at the very least, about whom very little detail is known. Martin A. Walton, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the informer failures of the many Irish uprisings through the generations, and in line with Collin’s thinking on informers,  was acutely aware of the need for secrecy, and he never sought the public limelight in relation to his intelligence role in the War of Independence, nor indeed in the Civil War.  Perhaps, with hindsight, this came from a combination of strong modesty and his veneration of Collins, not wishing to put himself into the same discussion as Collins whom he idolised, and his oath of secrecy,  but it is also abundantly clear from the Strauss interview that he saw the need to let the dust settle from a very difficult and fraught period in Irish history, when very tough decisions were taken and many lives were lost and taken, some will say rightly or wrongly.

As I have mentioned, his relative seniority in the IRB and army intelligence during the period was widely known in republican and military history circles during his lifetime, and he was widely treated with a very high degree of deference by those in the know,  but it was never documented or recorded by any historian that I am aware of. For example, he never provided a witness statement to the Irish Army military archivists nor sought a IRA pension. Notwithstanding that in later years he had built up a very successful business from scratch so he was financially independent, these two absences on their own, where he could have provided historians and military historians with some fine detail around many events of the period, are further testimony of his thinking and philosophy around what he wished people to know about his role. There is a remarkable consistency to the lack of him providing any detailed information during his lifetime which suggests a very deliberate approach, perhaps with some very good reasons in the background, on his behalf.   

He did speak at several private events including one lecture in 1961 of the Association of the Old Dublin Brigade (The “AODB” of which he was a founding member)  on ‘ “Secret” Service in Dublin Castle’. He was also a founding member of the 1916-21 Club and a member of the Military History Society. He was also active in the Collins-Griffith Memorial Group and The Wolfe Tone Commemorative Committee, as well as being an active member of the Old Dublin Society, where he gave a number of historical talks.

Martin Walton presenting an Irish Wolfhound mascot to the Irish Army (circa 1970's) 

His dedication, in particular to Michael Collin’s, and indeed to Arthur Griffiths, memory, was also very well-known. I can recall as a young boy in the 1970’s the many visits every August with my father to the Collins-Griffith Memorial commemoration (behind which my grandfather was a driving force) and seeing him issue the commands (in Irish) to the many surviving “Squad” members standing to attention in a line. Later, on one occasion, I recall being introduced to a  very lively 'Squad' member, the late Vinnie Byrne, who had nothing but good things to say about my grandfather in his role as their “Commander-in Chief” (of course this as meant in the context of their 'surviving' Commaner-in-Chief in the 1970's and never intending to suggest anyone other than Collins was their chief during the War of Independence) .    My grandfather’s modesty, and the need for secrecy and discretion around his role, and the roles of others, remained with him throughout his entire life. He divulged very little sensitive information, preferring, when he did discuss anything to do with his role,  to talk in historical generalities, usually without naming names or specifics details unless they were already well known.

In the very revealing 1972 Strauss Interview with him, at one point he asks Harlan Strauss, the young American post-graduate interviewer, if he had heard or knew anything about the “Invincibles” ( a secret Irish revolutionary organisation in the late 1800’s which was a radical offshoot of the IRB, and associated with the Phoenix Park Murders of the then Permanent Under Secretary Thomas Henry Burke and  new Chief Secretary of Ireland Lord Cavendish in 1882  ) to which Strauss replied he knew very little. My grandfather told him that 'the Invincibles' were “an extraordinary crowd… they say they were  the only secret society in Europe, that I am aware of, which had left no trace of their existence”. Was this Martin A. Walton’s true philosophy around his role, and could it explain why we know so relatively little about  a man who was evidently so senior in the IRB’s military and intelligence circles?       

He went on to cite the “ late Librarian Paddy Stevenson.. [who carried out] enormous research looking  for papers on the Invincibles movement… [and came up with] nothing….a bit of a mystery there [ said in an almost tongue-in-cheek tone]…. But  they went , far, far deeper than anyone realised …than [what] we were pretty well told….my father told me some stories about some tradesmen that went further than they should… but I don’t really believe that’s true…[I think] they went far deeper…”  

I do hope to revisit and explore this line of thought further as I work through his library (where, curiously, there are many original newspaper cuttings on the ‘Invincibles’ from the 1880’s) and any new information, from any sources, will always be welcome, no matter how small they may appear.

 

Picture of Martin Walton in deep conversation with General Richard Mulcahy.

The Music Business and his later life

He left his role in Clann na Gael in 1922 to start his business while also teaching music. While Richard Mulcahy is on record as stating the IRB Supreme Council ceased  to operate in the weeks immediately after Collins' death however my father believes it was more that the IRB ceased to openly intervene in the Free State and Army’s affairs. Furthermore, with the Army in  Mulcahy’s safe hands, and  with the end of the Civil War, the IRB Supreme Council would not have had too much reason to be overly active or intervene. My father does not belive that Mulcahy was on the IRB Supreme Council from a number of comments his father made to him over the years. My grandfather revered Mulcahy and retained a close friendship with him for the remainder of his life. 

More generally, it is hard to believe that the IRB Supreme Council which had, in effect, been the real Intelligence and controlling arm of the military struggle under Collins' influence, would not have continued in some form of operation, as you would expect of a secret intelligence organisation in the evolution of any fledgling state.  Certainly, from my grandfather’s perspective, I do not believe he lost any interest in the intelligence affairs of the state at this level for some considerable years. He maintained a strong connection with his many military friends and former comrades, including Richard Mulcahy, Joe McGrath, Peadar Kearney, and Piaras Béaslaí, to mention just a few, and would have had much contact with them through the many veteran and commemorative associations he was involved in.

His business took off quite well. Having been given the job of returning the 'White Cross' violins from Ballykinlar he saw a gap in the market and by the mid 1920’s was importing violins and accessories from a German manufacturer (who decided to do business with him following an affirmatory sign in a seance!). This led to other instruments and a music publications business, in particular publishing collections of old Irish Ballads and instrument tutors like the Leo Rowesome Uillean Pipe Tutor first published in 1932 and the Bunting and O’Neill Collections . He had also continued teaching music in the  Municipal College of Music  but eventually he established his own school of music, The Dublin School of Music in the mid-1920’s in No.2 North Frederick Street.

Waltons 2-5 North Frederick Street c. 1960's

He married Patricia (nee Leonard) in 1925 and they lived with his parents for a while until their first child, Patrick, was born in 1926, when they moved into a small room over the music shop in North Frederick Street. My father’s infant cot was a drawer of a ‘chest o drawers’. Business took a rough turn following the Wall Street Crash of 1927 but by 1931 he had enough saved to purchase Ashtown Lodge and the small farm it sat on. Ironically, this was the house that General Sandbach had been resident in for a number of years before and during 1916. He and General Maxwell, as Commanders of the British troops in Dublin and Ireland respectively, would have had many discussions on how to deal with the Rising in the drawing room the same house. My grandfather had looked at another fine house known as ‘The Candle Factory’ just down the road  in 1931 and it came back on the market the following year for a third of the price being asked a year earlier, a remarkable indication of the state of the Irish economy  and the impact on property prices at the time.

During the 1930's there was a family tragedy involving the  death of my grandparent's eldest daughter, Mary,  at the age of 9 following an accident she had falling off a gate on the farm. Mary had a bad break in her arm and was taken to the Mater Hospital however my grandfather, having been so advised, sought the attention of the best bone surgeon in Dublin at the time, and Mary was moved to the Meath Hospital where she was treated for the break. However within days, from his war experience, my grandfather recognised the symptoms of blood poisoning and Mary tragically died a number of days later. It seems that, in an oversight, the Meath Hospital assumed Mary had been given a critical tetanus injection in the Mater Hospital which she had not and, in the confusion of the transfer, she  received no injection from either hospital. It was a terrible tragedy which affected my grandparents greatly. My father, who was ten at the time, tells me, he clearly remembers his father's great sadness and it took Grandad several years to come to terms with it if, indeed, he or my grandmother ever did.  

 Aunt Mary on her first communion who died tragically in 1936 

 

Ashtown Lodge 1930's

The country was barely recovering from the Civil War  and the crash ,when the difficulties of a de Valera inspired trade war with Britain, our largest trading partner, was added to the mix. Despite this, between the business where, among other developments, he had acquired an agency for His Masters Voice records in Ireland (HMV)  in the late 1920’s with the help of a loan from Liam Moore (who had married his cousin Maude Bolger), and the farm, they built up quite a successful business until World War 2 intervened and left them more or less dependent on the farm. My father tells me however that my grandfather was always proud of the fact that they kept the shop open without letting any staff go for the entire war. During this period, with a serious scarcity of imports, fuel and raw materials, they started manufacturing instruments such a bagpipes and drums in Camden Street, with the few materials available in Ireland. This philosophy and determination to be creative and manufacture alternatives was to prove invaluable to business in later years.

RDS Spring show 1930's

 

Walton's staff delivering a piano in 1939  

 

They also worked the farm, employing as many as 7 full time staff in one summer. Breeding prize chickens and selling chicks in bulk which my father  recalls putting on trains in boxes at Heuston Station to send them to farmers around the country. They also engaged in chicken breeding egg productivity research for the Department of Agriculture to help improve chicken productivity through selective breeding. My grandmother bred pedigree cockrells which won several prizes at the RDS Horse Show and my grandfather wrote a paper on the economics of chicken farming for the Department of Agriculture. Interestingly, my father tells me that this paper proved conclusively that if the time and labour of the farmers wives, who normally fed and cared for the chickens on the farms throughout Ireland, was costed properly and paid for, that chicken farming would be a loss-making business. 

  One of my garndmother's,Patricia Walton,  prize pedigree Cockrells at the RDS 

With the arrival of electricity in the area, my grandfather became  one of the first men in Ireland to electrically heat a greenhouse as part of a Department of Agriculture experiment and they were selling tomatoes during the war for the tidy sum of 6 shillings a pound. They also grew Lillies in the greenhouse for sale to the Easter and May alters, and Chrysanthemums for the Christmas market .

 In addition to keeping cows and horses, ducks, geese, and bees, they also bred dogs. My grandfather was a big fan of Kerry Blue terriers (as Collins had been) which they bred,  and they also did much to rejuvenate the Irish Wolfhound breed. My Aunt Bel was to become a champion breeder and leading member of the Irish Wolfhound Association for several decades. My grandfather also had two pet ‘Mona’ monkeys , the first of which he bought in the 1930's after a night out in London. A priest friend they met on the boat back, Fr Phil O’Reilly, carried  the monkey through customs for him without any questions being asked! The second he bought from a merchant sailor looking to find a home for his pet in Dublin during the war. My father says he never really liked the monkeys as they invariably got out of the house and climbed up to the top of the big Copper Beech tree at the front of the house and he was always given the job of climbing up the tree to recapture them and bring them back down!

 

Auntie Bel and some of her beautiful champion wolfhounds

By all contemporary accounts from family, friends, and people who visited the farm, it was a hive of activity and self-sufficiency which I will write more about in due course, including many memorable visits as a very young child with my parents and six siblings. At its peak, it was a remarkable place run by remarkable  and hard-working people.

The war pretty much killed the music business but it survived despite the many challenges and an acute shortage of cash in the economy. My father tells me that it was only really in the mid-1950’s  that things started to pick up again. My grandfather started The Glenside Record label in the 1950’s recording Irish songs by Irish artists such as Joe lynch, Mary McGonagle, and Noel Purcell, so starting the first Irish Record label. And of course, with the advent of Radio and RTE 1 the famous Walton’s Programme lifted the nations spirits to the dulcet tones of Leo Maguire stating at the end of the 15-minute sponsored programme every Saturday afternoon, to remember that “You are always welcome at Waltons, 2-5  North Frederick Street” and  “remember, If You feel like Singing, do Sing an Irish Song”, a catchphrase that is now part of our cultural lexicon.

At the time of the first Walton's programme in 1951 there were only 3 Glenside records published but by the late 1960’s and following a huge response from the early programs there were over 300 assorted records and artists. With hits like The Dublin Saunter sung by Noel Purcell, the Whistling Gypsy Rover (which was later recorded by Bing Crosby), The Wild Colonial Boy, sung by the tenor and later well-known actor, Joe Lynch,  and The Homes of Donegal sung by Charlie Magee, as well as several songs by Delia Murphy and other artists,  the business was firmly established and nationally recognised as a household name.

A fancier RDS Spring Show  stand in 1950's
(Standing behind the counter is my father, Patrick Walton, Betty Maguire, and my Auntie Nora from left to right) 

Walton's Harp Factory in Parnell Square (late 1950's)

 

Walton's Glenside Record Catalogue from the late 1960'sIn the 1960’s
 

Society in Ireland was changing with a more outward looking economy under Sean Lemass and T.K. Whitaker at the helm. The music scene also changed to the 'Big Band' dances  across halls and venue in Ireland which further drove the business on with the well-known shops (another shop had been opened in Camden Street) now supplying the many showbands with their more modern instruments. Many of the  big names in Irish music were regulars in the stores.

Around this time a thriving school of music was also developing where, amongst many well-known teachers, Sean Kearney taught accordion and Bill Brady taught guitar. When my brother, Niall, opened a major new retail branch in George's Street in 1991 , under his direction, Walton's New of Music was opened directly above it and, while the shop has since moved to Blanchardstown Shopping Centre, the Music School is still in operation to this day in George's Street with over 40 teachers employed and 1200 students. The New School has been managed and directed over the years my brother-in-law, John Mardirosian, and my sister Aideen Walton. My older brother, Martin, and sister, Eorna, also worked in the business for periods of time, and both knew my grandfather very well.

My father had been in the business through the 1950’s and now travelled to the big Music Trade show every year in Frankfurt, and the business  had  won many of the top global musical instrument brand agencies exclusively for Ireland including Gibson and Fender Guitars, Premier Drums, Paolo Soprani Accordions and Selmer Brass and Wind, to mention just a few. They had also built up a business importing and reconditioning second-hand pianos from England. A thriving music book publishing and sheet music  business had also been established in support of the Glenside record label for which my grandfather had been collecting the copyright for many Irish songs going back to his earliest days in the business. There was also an Irish Music record shop in Frederick Street where, by the 1970’s, you could buy  records and tapes by rising Irish artists like the Chieftains, Dubliners, Planxty or the  Clancy Brothers, and even buy your replacement record needle with a diamond or sapphire tip, depending on your  budget. The shop still actually sold Gramophone needles when I started working there in the late 1970’s. They  started manufacturing Irish Harps and had a long time interest in a musical instrument string manufacturing business (Harmonic Strings) which they sold in the shops and distributed nationally through the wholesale arm of the business where they built up lasting business relationships with many of Ireland's other music retailers and some of which they are still trading with to this day.

The retail, wholesale and manufacturing business are still in operation to this day under the management of my brother Niall and his family, where my grandfather’s oft repeatedly mantra that “You spend as much time with a customer buying a sixpenny set of fiddle strings as you do with a customer buying a grand piano” still exists.  

There is another long story here to be written on the family business and the legacy of Martin A. Walton which I will write and share  someday soon but suffice to say this is the bare bones of the story of his life.  

In addition to these monumental achievements Martin A. Walton lovingly collected many books, documents, maps, and artifacts of Irish History. When he passed away in May 1981, just six months after my grandmother died, he left a collection of over 12,000  books, mostly to do with Irish History. Many of these books were dispersed around the family and quite a few Irish Language books went to Maynooth University however my father, who himself regularly added to the collection over the years, kept a core selection  of the Irish Historical  books, which I have been lucky enough to start curating and eventually plan to catalogue. 

The Walton Collection website is the first small step in this process of bringing some of his collection to a wider audience. I hope you will like it and the stories and history I plan to share.

Martin A. Walton (1901-1981)

 

David Walton, May 2024
Copyright 2024 David Walton - All rights reserved

 

Pdf files and interview links to some of the referenced materials above are listed below, some of which you may have to cut and paste into your browser to access :

Candida (Eileen Mary O'Brien - Irishwomans Diary 1978

The Artist as a Boy and Young Man by Jimmy de Burca 1981

Samuel Lover by Martin A. Walton 1978

Walton's Glenside Record Catalogue (Page 1 - late 1960's) 

Walton's Glenside Record Catalogue (Page 2 - late 1960's) 

Irish Times front page article in 1981 on the ending of the Sponsored programmes by Kevin Myers

Harlan J. Strauss Recorded Interview with Martin Walton 1972 

Part 1

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1U_1vrVBQTZW6Tj4v4sqeSr2ZtOa-GYnZ/view?usp=sharing

Part 2

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1U_1vrVBQTZW6Tj4v4sqeSr2ZtOa-GYnZ/view?usp=sharing

TV Interviews

BBC - A Television History of Ireland by Robert Kee

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL-NlJbmY3woh0SDUIy2ION2-DWyoz8oxY&si=4gc6Cp9ZDyHKcEh8

RTE Archives

https://www.rte.ie/archives/exhibitions/1993-easter-1916/ireland-a-tv-history-interviews/799587-ireland-a-television-history-martin-walton/

Curious Journey -The Easter Rising

https://youtu.be/g6diBvajpmk?si=nC8cFsMkj69raIZG

Radio interviews and documentaries involving Martin Walton

Some recordings of his activities during the War of Independance

https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/the-history-show/programmes/2020/1227/1186258-the-history-show-sunday-27-december-2020/

A remarkable and detailed interview with RTE Broadcaster and friend Brendan O'Reilly

https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/bowman-sunday-830/programmes/2023/0312/1361737-bowman-sunday-830-sunday-12-march-2023/

A great documentary on the Walton's Programme with Leo Maguire in which my grandfather features prominently

https://www.rte.ie/radio/doconone/942376-leo-maguire-waltons-programme

Another fascinating RTE History Show on the background to the Harlan Strauss interviews. Anyone wishing to get a copy of the other interviews can contact  the UCD National Folklore archives directly at bealoideas@ucd.ie . 

https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/the-history-show/2023/1001/1408376-the-history-show-sunday-1-october-2023//