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EMMET DALTON: Soldier, Volunteer & Movie Producer

Updated: Feb 17

Figure 1: Emmet Dalton and Michael Collins.

Emmet Dalton, soldier, volunteer and film producer was at Kilworth Camp, Cork, when news broke of an uprising in Dublin. Dalton and many of his army comrades ‘were surprised, annoyed’ and believed the Easter Rising, 1916 ‘was madness’. He was at war in defence of Ireland and believed that the actions of the rebels ‘threw everything back’. Yet, Dalton harboured no bitterness as the men of the rising ‘were not a direct enemy’.[1] During an interview with Cathal O' Shannon in 1978, Dalton was asked if he would have opposed the rebels militarily. He responded: ‘oh that would have thrown up a different situation ... they weren't a direct enemy’.[2]


James Emmet Dalton was born in Massachusetts, America on Friday, 4 March 1898 to James and Katherine née Riley. Dalton earned his middle name as he shared a birthday with patriot Robert Emmet, born on 4 March 1778. Two years later, his family returned to Ireland. The passenger list for the White Star ship Teutonic records the young Emmet, his older stepbrother, Martin and his father James arriving in Queenstown, Cork on 4 April 1900.[3] The Dalton family settled at 8 Upper St Columbanus Road, Drumcondra and by 1911, three more children had been born, Charles (Charlie), Eileen and Brendan.[4] Deirdre, Nuala and Dermot were born between 1913 and 1919.

Figure 2: Birth register of James Emmet Dalton, 1898.

Emmet Dalton was educated initially by the Holy Faith nuns in Glasnevin and subsequently, he attended the O’Connell School on North Richmond Street. The school produced many graduates who would participate in Ireland’s revolutionary period, including, Sean Heuston, Eamonn Ceannt and Con Colbert, who were executed for their part in the Easter Rising. Other notable alumni were Seán T. O’Kelly (President of Ireland), Noel Lemass and Ernie O’Malley.[5] Emmet Dalton attended secondary school in Roscrea. He boarded at the Cistercian College in the Tipperary town and later became President of the Past Pupils’ Union.[6] Dalton’s formative years must surely have been heavily influenced by the rising tensions in Ireland.


The dawn of the twentieth century saw tensions mounting and on 9 April 1912, two days before the introduction of the third Home Rule bill, Ulster Unionists gathered at the Balmoral Show Grounds. Sir Edward Carson took to the stage welcoming his supporters, including ‘fellow-citizens from Dublin … from Wicklow … from Clare … from Cork, Rebel Cork, holding hand in hand with loyal Ulster’. He continued with a rallying speech, sending the crowd into a fervour, one voice shouting ‘“we’ll shoot the Pope before we are finished.”’[7] These murmurings of violence gathered momentum, reaching a crescendo five months later.

Ulster Day, Saturday 28 September 1912, ‘dawned fine and clear, with the hills around Belfast blue in the sunshine.’[8] Later, the churchgoers flocked to Orange Lodges and Unionist Clubs to set out their opposition to Home Rule, by signing the Ulster Covenant. Over half a million men and women pledged to defend ‘for ourselves and our children our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom’.[9] One of these signatories, Frederick Johnston McGovern had travelled from ‘Rebel Cork’ vowing to use ‘all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland.’[10] McGovern, a Chartered Accountant, was born in County Down; he later became managing director of Bandon distillery, Allman & Co, and in 1918 he was appointed as a Justice of the Peace.[11]


Emmet Dalton’s father, James, was a third-generation Irish-America republican and a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the United Irish League. Dalton Senior’s political beliefs may have prompted Emmet to join the Dublin Volunteers at their inaugural meeting at the Rotunda Rink in 1913. One of Dalton’s first jobs was to transport six Mauser rifles to Patrick Moylett in Ballyhaunis.[12] Shortly after the public meeting at the Rotunda, Dublin, J. J. Walsh, Liam de Róiste, Maurice O’Connor and Diarmuid Fawsitt met at the Cork Industrial Development Association offices, 28 Marlboro Street, to discuss the establishment of a Cork City Corps.[13] They agreed to hold a public meeting on Sunday 14 December 1913 and despite a chaotic meeting, the Corps was established. Although the third Home Rule bill eventually succeeded, it was never implemented. The outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914, ensured the postponement of the legislation.[14]


Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond, spoke at Woodenbridge in September 1914, and urged nationalists to fight ‘in defence of the highest principles of religion and morality and right’.[15] Emmet Dalton decided to join the Irish Brigade, principally to defend Ireland but also to seek adventure. He contacted a family friend, Joseph Devlin, who wrote a letter of introduction for him in 1915. Dalton, aged just seventeen, made his way to the British Army recruitment offices on Grafton Street, Dublin and handed the correspondence to Recruitment Sergeant Arthur McCartney Filgate, and, of course, lied about his age.[16] He received a commission as a temporary 2nd lieutenant, in the 7th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF). Dalton's father was appalled when the recruit returned home in his new uniform and insisted that "no bloody redcoats would enter’ his house.[17] Eventually, Dalton's mother managed to persuade her husband to change his mind.


In the aftermath of the Easter Rising, 1916, ninety rebels were court-martialled and sentenced to death. On 3 May 1916, the first execution occurred, and within nine days, fifteen men were killed. The British government’s response transformed public opinion from hostility to sympathy for the rebels.[18] During the summer of 1916, requiem masses were held for the executed men. These events were a vehicle for the public outpouring of sympathy for the martyrs. The ceremonies also served to awaken republican sentiments. Emmet Dalton’s thirteen-year-old, Charlie (Charlie), was one of many young teenagers drawn to the patriotic masses. Walking through the ruins of the rising, a stark reminder of the violence, ‘was a day of great happiness for me. I had a wonderful, proud feeling, walking in the procession.’[19] Three years later, Charlie Dalton became the youngest assassin in Michael Collins’ squad. The group, an elite killing squad, decimated ‘G’ Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.


By September 1916, Emmet Dalton was in France attached to the 9th Battalion, RDF. On 8 September, the division was making final preparations to attack the village of Ginchy. Dalton recalled moving along the trenches, the soft terrain frequently changing to stony ground. When Dalton mentioned this, his commanding officer told him that these ‘stones’ were the bodies of fallen comrades. According to Dalton, the remains were in ‘states of corruption that was impossible to even describe.’[20]

At 4.45 pm on 9 September 1916, Dalton and his comrades of the 9th Battalion went over the top and suffered substantial casualties amongst the officer class. Included were Captain William Joseph Murphy and Temporary Lieutenant Thomas Michael Kettle. Emmet Dalton recalled that he saw Kettle who had been ‘shot over the chest near the heart.’ Dalton instructed 2nd Lieutenant William Boyd to gather Kettle’s papers but Boyd was ‘blown up in the next minutes.’ The 9th Battalion proceeded to Carnoy under the remaining officers, 2nd Lieutenants Hurst and Emmet Dalton. Dalton won a Military Cross ‘for conspicuous gallantry in action’ when ‘he ‘led forward to their final objective companies which had lost their officers. Later, whilst consolidating his position, he found himself with one sergeant, confronted by 21 of the enemy, including an officer, who surrendered when he attacked them’.[21] In 1917, Dalton re-joined his old battalion, the 7th, RDF, in Palestine. By 1918 he had been promoted to Acting Major and at the end of the war was demobbed returning to Dublin.


Oscar Traynor, OC Dublin Brigade, noted that he ‘had been hearing from Charlie Dalton … of the outstanding ability of his brother who had fought through the Great War’ and ‘was sympathetically disposed to the Volunteer movement.’[22] Emmet Dalton was recruited and eventually was appointed Director of Training. He played a prominent role in the Irish War of Independence and, later, commanded the artillery that attacked the Four Courts, signalling the beginning of the Irish Civil War. Two months later, on 8 August 1922, he led the amphibious attack on Cork retaking the city from anti-Treaty forces. However, within two weeks, the thrill of victory gave way to despair when General Michael Collins died in his arms during the ambush in Béal na Bláth, West Cork on 22 August.

Figure 3: Emmet Dalton on his wedding day (courtesy of NAI)


Emmet Dalton married Alice Shannon at Clarence Hall in the Imperial Hotel, Cork in October 1922 and at this point Dalton’s appetite to rid the country of those who opposed the treaty waned. He objected to the execution of anti-Treaty fighters and he eventually retreated from his military role. Later, he became clerk of the Senate and flitted between various jobs. Eventually, he found his niche when he began working for Paramount files in London in the 1940s. He returned to Ireland and purchased Ardmore House and turned it into a film studio, producing movies such as Shake Hands With The Devil and This Other Eden, which starred his daughter Audrey.

Figure 4: Audrey Dalton (courtesy Liam Bluett).

Dalton’s company however went into liquidation in 1963, but Ardmore Studios remains still producing movies such as Braveheart, My Left Foot and Veronica Guerin. Emmet Dalton died in Dublin, on his eightieth birthday, 4 March 1978, and was barely commemorated by the State he helped to create. Although he was given a military funeral, no Fianna Fáil minister or TD attended, reflecting the protracted bitter legacy of the Irish Civil War and Dalton’s consensus that former Taoiseach and President of Ireland, Éamon de Valera was a ‘“sanctimonious hypocritical megalomaniac”’.[23]

Figure 5: Final resting place of Emmet Dalton, Glasnevin, Dublin.


[1] Interview with Cathal Shannon 1978 (hereafter Interview CS). [2] Ibid. [3] UK and Ireland, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960 - Martin Dalton was born in America on 13 March 1891. Martin’s mother, Bridget Heffernan died from pneumonia on 5 May 1893. She was pregnant and her child also succumbed. The cause of death for ‘Child Dalton’ was ‘premature’. Massachusetts, U.S., Birth Records, 1840-1915; Massachusetts, U.S., Death Records, 1841-1915 – [4] James Dalton, 1911 census return, National Archives of Ireland (hereafter NAI)

[5] Sean Boyne, Emmet Dalton: Somme Soldier, Irish General, Film Pioneer (Sallins, 2015), p. 9. [6] Information from Gerard O’Meara, who was also President of the Past Pupils’ Union, Cistercian College, Roscrea. [7] Sir Edward Carson was born in Dublin in 1854. Educated at Portarlington School, Trinity College, Dublin and King’s Inns, he practised at the Irish bar and in 1910 he was selected as chairman of the Irish Unionist Parliamentary Party. Belfast Telegraph, 10 April 1912; Irish Independent, 10 April 1912. [8] The city was quiet, the only sounds to be heard were the melodious tones emanating from where ‘in a hundred churches the congregations sang, as in a time of national crisis, “O God our help in ages past”’ A. T. Q. Stewart, The Ulster crisis: resistance to Home Rule, 1912-1914 (Belfast, 1997), p. 64. [9] Ulster’s Solemn Covenant, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

[10] Ibid. [11] County Down born Frederick McGovern is recorded on the Irish census of 1911 living at Clancoole [Clancool] Road, Bandon, County Cork. McGovern, 1911 census return, NAI,; Guy’s Cork Almanac and County and City Directory, 1921 (Cork, 1921). [12] Bureau of Military History Witness Statement (hereafter BMH WS) 767: Patrick Moylett. [13] This building is currently occupied by Ronnie Moore Limited. [14] The third Home Rule bill had been defeated once again. On this occasion, the Liberal Government used the provision of the new Parliament Act to supersede the House of Lords and send it for Royal Assent. [15] F.X. Martin et al, eds, The Irish Volunteers, 1913-1915: Recollections and Documents (Dublin, 2013), p, 159. [16] A M Filgate, 1911 census return, NAI [17] Interview with CS, 1978. [18] The executions ceased and those sentenced to death had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment and along with other detainees were deported to British jails. [19] Charles Dalton. With the Dublin Brigade: Espionage and Assassination with Michael Collins’ Intelligence Unit (Mercier Press, 2014), 419-65, Kindle, p. 53. [20] Interview with CS. [21] London Gazette, 20 October 1916. [22] BMH WS 340: Oscar Traynor. [23] Diarmuid Ferriter, Review of Emmet Dalton: Somme Soldier, Irish General, Film Pioneer, 14 February 2015.


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