In his work as a producer and director with RTÉ’s Investigations Unit and Prime Time, Frank Shouldice is well used to researching stories.
But when he began his exploring his grandfather’s part in the 1916 Rising and War of Independence, this investigative reporter had no idea of what to expect.
As it happened, he found much more than he could have bargained for and the outcome is a fascinating new book, Grandpa the Sniper: The Remarkable Story of a 1916 Volunteer.
Frank’s grandfather, also Frank, and grand-uncle Jack were what the journalist and playwright describes as ‘reluctant heroes’ during that era and played a central role in Ireland’s fight for freedom.
But they rarely talked about it, and it wasn’t until Frank Jnr’s extensive research, trawling through archives in Ireland and the UK, that he realised just how involved they had been. Along the way he also discovered the role played by their sister, Ena, and how her life was changed unbeknownst to her, as a result of the Rebellion and of being spied upon by police and British agents.
“It started off as a labour of love and it grew into something that involved much more than I’d allowed for,” the author says of the project.
Frank Shouldice and his brother Jack – older by 10 years – were born in Ballaghaderreen when that town was still in Mayo, the sons of an RIC officer who was originally from Co Clare and who had joined the force in 1848.
The brothers moved to Dublin where they were hugely involved in the nascent GAA – Jack Shouldice became the first Mayoman ever to win an All-Ireland, albeit with Dublin. They were also involved in the Irish Volunteer movement which had decided that a rebellion against England was the only way to achieve independence. Later they were joined in Dublin by their younger sister Ena, who worked in the GPO, and the three siblings were very close.
Frank Jnr didn’t have a plan when he began researching his grandfather’s role in Ireland’s battle for independence – initially he thought it might make a documentary, “but as the story evolved, it started growing in ways I didn’t expect”, he says of the decision to publish it in book form.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.