Mac Thomáis, Éamonn (1927–2002), author, local historian, and republican, was born Edward Patrick Thomas on 13 January 1927 in an apartment above Rathmines fire station, Dublin, son of James Heather Thomas, a chief fire brigade officer, and Alice Thomas (née Kavanagh). The family's politics were republican and Larkinite. After his father's death when he was five, the family moved to Goldenbridge, Inchicore. He was educated at the Basin Lane convent school of the Sisters of Charity, and St Michael's school, Keogh Square, obtaining the primary certificate. Beginning work at age thirteen as a laundry van boy, running deliveries in a horse-drawn car, he later worked for three years as a bicycle messenger boy with Switzer's department store, Grafton St.; through both jobs he harvested an intimate and exhaustive knowledge of Dublin topography. Employed for thirteen years by a docklands coal merchant, he rose through a series of clerical positions to become depot manager. Highly adept at mathematics, he became credit controller in an engineering company.
Mac Thomáis joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the early 1950s, one of several enthusiastic young recruits who reinvigorated the organisation in the Dublin area. He took part in an abortive arms raid on the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers barracks at Omagh, Co. Tyrone (16 October 1954). He was CO of the IRA Dublin unit (1955–6) during the initial preparations for the border campaign, but was removed by general headquarters for his reluctance to dismiss maverick volunteer Joe Christle (qv). His prescient caution was vindicated when the popular Christle, expelled by Mac Thomáis's successor, led half the Dublin unit into a splinter group. The major IRA figure to evade arrest in the government crackdown (January 1957) following the Brookeborough raid (in which Seán South (qv) and Feargal O'Hanlon were killed), Mac Thomáis organised and served on a temporary army council that functioned for several months. Arrested in the more extensive roundup of republicans of July 1957, he was interned for two years in the Curragh camp (1957–9).
Throughout the 1960s he was a member of both the IRA Dublin brigade staff, and of the Sinn Féin ard-comhairle (central council). Despite having supported the leftist initiatives of the IRA chief of staff, Cathal Goulding (qv), on the major split in the republican movement of 1969–70 he sat on the pro-abstentionist Sinn Féin caretaker executive, which supported the Provisional IRA. As editor (1972–4) of An Phoblacht, the organ of Provisional Sinn Féin, he revamped the newspaper as a weekly publication. Under provisions of the offences against the state act, he was convicted by the special criminal court, on the unsubstantiated opinion of a garda superintendent, of IRA membership (3 August 1973); refusing to recognise the court, he delivered a lengthy, impassioned address from the dock before sentencing. Imprisoned in Mountjoy and Portlaoise jails, within weeks of his release he was rearrested in a garda raid of the offices of An Phoblacht (13 September 1974). His subsequent convictions (8 October) for IRA membership and possession of an incriminating document (namely, the weekly news bulletin of the Irish Republican Information Service, comprising press releases by IRA units, and information concerning army operations) became a cause célèbre for republicans, and for journalists and civil libertarians alarmed by the implications for freedom of the press; Mac Thomáis's assertion before the special criminal court, that all newspaper editors in the country had better clear out their offices because all were sitting on similar documents, was ratified by the Irish Times. Despite vigorous calls for his release, he was returned to Portlaoise prison till August 1975. He was deeply involved in the hunger strike support campaigns of 1980–81. Distressed by the various splits in the movement, he retained sincere friendships among all shades of republican opinion.
Steeped in Irish nationalist and republican history, Mac Thomáis wrote his first book, Down Dublin streets 1916 (1965), dealing with people and places associated with the Easter rising. The lady at the gate (1971) was an elaboration of articles, poems, and lectures largely written and delivered in republican circles. He became best known for several popular books treating Dublin local history and folk culture. The first, Me jewel and darlin’ Dublin (1974), was written and launched during his imprisonment; there followed Gur cakes and coal blocks (1976), The Labour and the Royal (1979), a memoir of his early working life, and Janey Mack me shirt is black (1982). Reaching a wide audience – all remained in print for some twenty years – the books combine historical guides to various areas of Dublin city, with vignettes of working-class life of the 1930s–40s: children's street games and rhymes, the pantomime, the four-penny cinema rush, pawnshops, street characters, herbal and other cures, the gas lamps, the glimmer man, merchants and markets. Impressionistic and unsystematic, Mac Thomáis's writing has been dismissed by literary critics and academic historians for a cloying sentimentality: concentrating in both tone and selection of material on the colourful, communal, and convivial aspects of inner-city poverty, it evades the associated squalor, suffering, and desperation. Nonetheless, in a culture in which both academic study and popular celebration of local history and folklore concentrated almost exclusively on the rural, he helped pioneer an interest in urban folkways, customs, and traditions.
Mac Thomáis broadcast frequently on RTÉ radio, and made two six-part series for RTÉ television, ‘Dublin: a personal view’ (1979, 1983), covering material similar to that of his books, delivered in the same genial, avuncular tone. A council member and honorary secretary of the Old Dublin Society (ODS), he lectured widely on local history and led walking tours of the city. He was awarded the silver medal of the ODS (1968), and a Bank of Ireland special award associated with the Dublin millennium (1989). In his last years he conducted tours of the former house of lords chamber in the Bank of Ireland, College Green. He and his wife Rosaleen had two sons and two daughters. He died in Dublin on 16 August 2002, and was interred in the republican plot, Glasnevin cemetery.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).