O'Malley, Ernie  

The Singing Flame


‘The Singing Flame’ by Ernie O’Malley is a gripping firsthand account of his experiences during the Irish Civil War, fighting against the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the Irish Free State. As a high-ranking IRA commander and direct report to Michael Collins, O’Malley led crucial battles and was eventually imprisoned until 1924. Written in exile in the USA, this memoir offers invaluable insights into the divided Republican movement and the tragic aftermath of Ireland’s independence. First published in 1936, it remains an essential historical record from a key protagonist of Ireland’s revolutionary period.

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The Singing Flame is Ernie O'Malley's gripping firsthand account of his experiences fighting against the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the newly formed Irish Free State during the bitter Irish Civil War. As a diehard Republican who had reported directly to Michael Collins during the War of Independence, O'Malley refused to accept the Treaty's partition of Ireland. He served as a high-ranking IRA commander, leading the Republican forces in the pivotal Four Courts battle and later in Ulster and Leinster. Eventually captured and imprisoned until 1924, O'Malley was one of the last Republican prisoners released after the Free State's victory. Feeling exiled from the new Ireland, he penned these memoirs while living in the USA, providing invaluable insights into the divided Republican movement and the tragic Civil War that followed independence. First published in 1936 as a companion to his acclaimed War of Independence memoir On Another Man's Wound, The Singing Flame stands as an essential historical record from a key protagonist in Ireland's revolutionary period.    


We thought the Truce on 11 July would last for about two or three weeks, and we issued a series of orders and instructions to cover the change of situation and worked as hard as we could to make the most of the breathing space. Hostilities would soon restart, and we wished to meet our officers and plan operations now that we could move about freely. There was a tendency to relax discipline, especially as the period of the Truce became prolonged. Suppressed feeling became articulate, the tension was eased, and men who had been for a long time names only returned to visit their families and friends.

The Irish Republican Army was in danger of becoming popular; recruits came in large numbers. Soon men appeared in uniform who had never shown much anxiety to run special risks when courage was needed. We had to give the officers sufficient work to keep them busy and do our best to prevent them from entering towns and cities where they would become known to enemy intelligence agents.

After three weeks of truce we decided to change divisional headquarters. We had remained at Mrs Quirkes in Donohil for nearly three months. She never complained. The numerous dispatch riders and visiting officers had been fed there, though occasionally we supplied the food ourselves. I told her that we intended to leave.

Sure what do you want to do that for/ she said/ Youre always welcome. I’m rough and ready but the house is yours. You’re not a bit of bother in the world. I like to see the boys around.
We will come back when the war begins, I said, and she hastened to prepare an egg-flip.

We moved to a small cottage where there was one occupant, a man named Dinny Kelly. It was a red-bricked cottage with a slate roof. There were two rooms on the ground floor, the kitchen and a small bedroom. A steep wooden stairs led to the second storey, which contained a room with a low ceiling where Dinny slept. The house was not high and the sloping roof restricted space. We worked in the kitchen at two tables which were piled high with books and papers. Empty wooden boxes, which had once contained explosives, held our files. Maps, fastened by drawing pins, hung on the walls. A large map of Ireland was on the back of the door, with the divisional area outlined in red ink, and underneath it a 1-inch map of the surrounding district. Above the table where I worked was a inch map of the division. It had been pieced together from four sheets. Brigade and battalion areas were marked in red and green, companies with a red circle, enemy posts in blue. Our belts, with guns in holsters, hung on pegs on the wall, my uniform tunic near them. We cooked in turns at the kitchen fire. The assistant quartermaster was the most successful; we thankfully handed over the culinary arrangements to him. The bedroom consisted of mattresses laid on the floor, which were rolled up in the daytime. We slept in blankets, three or four of us in the room.

Eoin O’Duffy, Deputy Chief of Staff, advised me to change to a hotel in Tipperary. ‘The place is too small, too uncomfortable, and you will not have proper food. I have advised officers in other areas to go into the towns and cities. You should have a proper headquarters,’ he said.

‘We have little money,’ I said, ‘and need it for office expenses.’ When I inquired how the bills would be met, he said that I could have credit. ‘You can run a bill in the town.’ But we remained in the little hut.

The spirit of the people was good in my divisional area. They understood there would be further fighting and were undaunted. We found less difficulty in getting the loan of horses and carts or traps to carry supplies, or for our dispatch riders. People who were once indifferent had become friendly, even gracious. ÏYou’re quite welcome,’ they said to our demands. The Truce had given us additional status in their eyes and somehow they felt sorry that they had remained aloof. The tradition of those who had helped had spread. Some were anxious to join a movement that had now become popular, others began to realise that they had not contributed or had given grudgingly.

-Ernie O’Malley.

Mercier Press.


O’Malley’s beautiful prose is as thoughtful and stirring as ever. -Books Ireland.

A brutal and lyrical story -Eileen Battersby. -The Irish Times.

About the Author

Ernie O’Malley was born in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, in 1897 and was prominent in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. He was for a time editor of The Bell, and was a close friend and supporter of Jack B. Yeats. Ernie O’Malley was given a State funeral with full military honors when he died in Dublin in March 1957.

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