He was the football-loving north Dubliner who fought in the 1916 Rising and later became Minister of Defence. In this extract from the Royal Irish Academy's Dictionary of Irish Biography, Marie Coleman tells the story of Oscar Traynor

Oscar Traynor (1886–1963), revolutionary, politician, and sports administrator, was born 21 March 1886 in 32 Upper Abbey St., Dublin, son of Patrick Traynor, bookseller and Fenian, and Maria Traynor (née Clarke). Educated at St Mary's Place CBS, he was forced to leave school in 1899 after his father's death, and became apprenticed to a wood-carver, John Long, later qualifying as a compositor.

A member of the Irish Volunteers and the IRB (although he drifted out of the Brotherhood by 1918), he took part in the Easter Rising, during which he was in charge of the Metropole Hotel garrison, and was interned in Knutsford and Frongoch until his release in December 1916.

The ruined site of the Metropole Hotel in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising.

Vice-OC of the reorganised Dublin brigade IRA, he worked on the printing of the army's journal, An tÓglach, and after the killing of Dick McKee in November 1920 became OC Dublin Brigade, in which capacity he commanded the attack on the custom house in May 1921, an action that resulted in serious losses for the brigade.

Against the Treaty

Some of the responsibility for this was attributed to him. An opponent of the Anglo–Irish treaty, in January 1922 he signed a resolution calling for an army convention to be held at which the IRA would reaffirm its allegiance to the republic.

Involved in efforts to resolve a stand-off between pro- and anti-treaty forces in Limerick in March 1922, when civil war broke out in June he was the most senior officer not in the Four Courts. Establishing headquarters at Barry's hotel, he wished to avoid a repeat of the Easter rising in Dublin and sought unsuccessfully to hold parts of the city until relief should come from units in the country.

Retreating to Blessington, he later returned to Dublin, where he was arrested on 27 July 1922 and imprisoned in Gormanston camp until 1924.

Traynor, T.D.

Elected as a republican candidate in a by-election in Dublin North in 1925, he was returned as a Sinn Féin TD for the same constituency in the June 1927 by-election, but did not take his seat, and did not contest the September 1927 general election. Initially opposed to the decision of Éamon de Valera to leave Sinn Féin and enter the Dáil, he did not join Fianna Fáil immediately on its formation.

Alfie Byrne, the Dublin politician whose resignation gave Traynor the opportunity to run for Fianna Fáil for the first time

He was a member by 1929, when he was the party's candidate in the Dublin North by-election, occasioned by the resignation of Alfie Byrne, and lost by a mere 151 votes to Cumann na nGaedheal's T. F. O'Higgins. Eventually elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1932 general election, he was returned at every election until his retirement, representing Dublin North (1932–7) and Dublin North-East (1937–61).

His popularity is attested to by continued electoral success in a competitive constituency in which he had formidable opponents such as Jim Larkin, Sen. Richard Mulcahy, and Alfie Byrne.

He was a respected figure among republicans in spite of his entry to constitutional politics, but the security agencies of the state still considered him a subversive; in 1931 the commissioner of the Garda Síochána, Eoin O'Duffy, described him as 'the embodiment of subterranean crime'.

Eoin O'Duffy, the commissioner of the Garda Síochána and founder of the Blueshirts, described Traynor as 'the embodiment of subterranean crime'. 

Appointed parliamentary secretary to the minister for defence in July 1936, he attained full cabinet rank in November 1936 when he was made minister for posts and telegraphs, a position he held until September 1939, when he became minister for defence at the outbreak of the second world war.

The 'Emergency'

Holding that post during the ‘emergency’, he was responsible for organising local defence forces and for increasing army recruitment and improving equipment and training. He was also a member of the all-party national defence conference.

Traynor, then Minister of Defence, and  Lieutenant General Daniel McKenna, Irish Army Chief of Staff, in 1953

He held the defence portfolio until the defeat of the government in February 1948, and again from June 1951 to June 1954. His last government position was as Minister for Justice from October 1957 until his resignation in 1961, during which he reluctantly had to introduce stringent measures against the resurgent IRA.

By 1960 his ability to pilot legislation through the Oireachtas was hampered by increasing deafness, about which he was extremely sensitive, and in 1960 his constituency colleague Charles Haughey was appointed parliamentary secretary to assist him.

Controversy surrounds Haughey's appointment, with Haughey and his allies claiming it was Traynor’s idea, a view flatly contradicted by the then secretary of the department of Justice, Peter Berry, who alleged that Traynor disliked Haughey and that his resignation as minister in October 1961 owed much to Haughey’s increasing control of the department. Haughey replaced him as minister.

Charles Haughey in 1968. His appointment as Traynor's parliamentary secretary a few years earlier caused controversy

Football crazy

Traynor's interest in soccer set him apart from most of his party colleagues, who traditionally supported Gaelic games. He was unable to see the conflict between nationalism and so-called ‘foreign games’. As a youth he played goalkeeper for Frankfort and Strandville in Dublin, and for Belfast Celtic (1910–12), with whom he toured Austria-Hungary and Germany.

From 1948 until his death he was president of the Football Association of Ireland, in which capacity he publicly resisted the efforts of the archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, to ban an international match between the Republic of Ireland and Yugoslavia in October 1955. He also retained his interest in printing as a director of the Irish Press and the Fodhla printing company.

He married (16 September 1918) a national schoolteacher, Annie, daughter of Thomas Coyne, a waiter. They had one son and two daughters and lived at 14 Dollymount Avenue, Dublin, where he died 14 December 1963 from cancer, leaving an estate of £4,994.

He was buried in the republican plot in Glasnevin cemetery. The Oscar Traynor trophy is awarded annually by the FAI to the winners of a countrywide junior league competition.

The Dictionary of Irish Biography is Ireland's national biographical dictionary. Devised, researched, written and edited under the auspices of the Royal Irish Academy, its online edition covers nearly 11,000 lives. Read more about Dictionary of Irish Biography

Sources: UCD archives, Ernie O'Malley notebooks, P17b 96, 98, 101; Liam Skinner, Politicans by accident (1946); Ir. Press, Ir. Times, 16 Dec. 1963; ‘The Peter Berry papers’, Magill, June 1980, 39–75; Robert Fisk, In time of war (1983); Michael Hopkinson, Green against green (1988); John Horgan, Seán Lemass (1997); ODNB