".....I dreamt I was in Dublin with you in the
Golden Age...."
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Youth in Dublin
Civilian life in Singapore
Prisoner of War
A New Life
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Edward Dunne and Annie Hudson were married on a summer’s day in 1895. As the old century drew to a close their modest home was filled with new life. Like clockwork, a new addition joined the family every second year.

My grandfather, Joseph Benedict Dunne, was the sixth of nine children, arriving on April 16th, 1907 in the twelfth year of his parents’ marriage.

He was born into a city teeming with excitement. His birth year saw the introduction of a new rail car system, the Marconi transatlantic telegraph service between Ireland and Canada was launched successfully; the Irish Automobile Club held its first motor show at the Royal Dublin Society, the Irish International Exhibition, showing commercial and industrial goods, drew enormous numbers of visitors to the city that moved toward the future with great strides.

/Edward and Annie Dunne
He was born into a city teeming with excitement.

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But Dublin was fraught with underlying tensions ready to break at any given moment. The first performance of John Millington Synge’s play “The Playboy of the Western World” provoked a week of rioting and outrage at its satirical portrayal of Irish rural life.

Shortly after his 9th birthday, J.B. Dunne witnessed the terrifying events surrounding the 1916 Easter uprising. Led by Padraig Pearse, a school teacher with a burning vision of an Ireland free from British rule, the rebels occupied key buildings in Dublin, using the General Post Office as their headquarters. The British response was sharp and swift. click to enlarge image

In old age, my grandfather described vivid scenes of gunfire and crowds running, and the sensation of rubble from destroyed buildings shifting and crunching beneath his boots.

The rebellion was quelled within the week but Dublin would suffer further injury in the years to come as Ireland struggled for independence.

The Great War had been raging across Europe for nearly two years at the time of the Easter Rising.

While many Irish men fought side by side with their British counterparts against Germany, there were those who felt that Britain’s woes were not the problem of the Irish people.

In 1918, desperate for more troops, Britain attempted to impose conscription in Ireland, sparking off riots, demonstrations and strikes.

By 1919 the War for Independence was on. The Irish Republican Army pitted itself against the British Government in an all out effort for freedom. The Royal Irish Constabulary attempted to quell the increasingly violent acts of defiance against the ruling power and in 1920 a new enforcer was introduced into the equation - the “Black & Tans”. Named for their two toned uniforms, this paramilitary group brought a new level of brutality to the city. My twelve year old grandfather kept a wide berth of these thugs.

Toward the end of 1921 a Truce was called, followed on by intensive peace talks. The Anglo-Irish Treaty, the result of these talks, gave Northern Ireland the option of declining to be part of the Irish Free State, which would be a dominion of the British Empire, not a republic in its own right. The North exercised this option and new borders were drawn up. The country was officially divided on paper as well as in spirit.
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As Ireland teetered on the brink of Civil War, young Joseph Benedict was faced with his own challenges. Times were hard for the ordinary citizen, and the carefree days of childhood were short lived indeed.

At the age of 14 my grandfather applied for a position with Guinness, one of the greatest employers in Ireland at the time.

Located in the heart of Dublin, Guinness offered the opportunity for security and advancement in the turbulent times of the early Twenties. After a series of medical examinations and tests in writing, arithmetic, copying, composition, and geography, my grandfather joined the ranks of thousands who earned their daily bread within the gates of the largest brewery in the world.

As soon as he was registered on the “Boys” List (14-18 years of age) J.B. Dunne took up his duties as a Messenger Boy in the Cask Department, delivering messages and records between staff members and other departments, occasionally finding himself sent off on more personal errands to fetch cigarettes and sandwiches for his superiors.

These forays out into the streets were often punctuated by the cracking of crossfire between opposing factions, leaving the former schoolboy panting with adrenalin as he raced to complete his mission.

Within a few months he was advanced to the position of Attendant in the Brewer’s Laboratory. Here his duties involved the washing and preparation of the apparatus used in the complex and exacting science of analyzing the raw materials and liquid of all stages of the brewing process.

By the time he had graduated to the 18-21 List he was a Numbertaker in the Brewer’s Laboratory. Each cask that left the brewery had a unique six digit number – it was the numbertakers’ responsibility to monitor the movements of every cask from the time it left the Brewery, to which customer it was delivered, and to make note of when it was returned empty to the Brewery.

But it was not all work and no play for my grandfather during his years with Guinness. An Athletic Union had been established for the enjoyment of the employees, with a sports ground within easy reach of the Brewery. My grandfather joined the St. James Gate Boxing Club, part of the Guinness Athletic Union, winning a few medals over the years in the Featherweight category.

click to enlarge imageHe was also a member of the Dublin Rowing Club. This sport, more than any other, would impact his life both socially and physically, and in later years it was often considered to be a large contributor to his extraordinary triumphs in the face of death, having given him a strong heart and the capacity for endurance.

By 1927, battered and bruised by the years of conflict, Dublin looked forward to more peaceful times. With Civil War behind them, the country could focus on repairing the damaged infrastructure.

In this atmosphere of renewal J.B. Dunne felt a restlessness stirring within him. In spite of his large circle of friends, the security of work and the promise of a steady life ahead, something was lacking.

A friend from the Rowing Club worked for D. Gestetner, Ltd. Founded in London in1881 by David Gestetner, inventor of the stencil duplicator, the company had branches all over the world. The friend spoke of opportunity and adventure, of travel and of fortune. It was all my grandfather needed to hear. The ambitious 21 year old presented himself at the Dublin office, in that moment changing the course of his life. He resigned from Guinness and moved into the world of commercial business.
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And then he met Eilish Beglin.

Clever and pretty, with a madcap side to her personality that often broke through her serene, sophisticated exterior, the copper-haired teacher took his breath away. A whirlwind romance ensued.

The notes in my grandmother’s diary of the time show a roller coaster journey of highs and lows – with entries written in both their hands – of their early courtship. Both strong personalities, they were drawn to each other but clashed regularly – a pattern that would follow for the rest of their lives.

Eilish was one of seven siblings. As the first- born child of Nicholas and Anastasia Beglin, she helped her widowed mother with the care and guidance of the six younger boys. She enjoyed tennis, particularly the social side of the game, and like her beau, enjoyed mixing with a wide variety of people. The couple were gloriously happy in the first flush of love - and then the bombshell hit…..J.B. Dunne was off to the East.

Even though she knew it would be at least three years before they would meet again, Eilish accepted Joe’s proposal of marriage and settled in for the wait.

He sailed for Singapore at the end of 1928, with excitement in his heart and the promise of a future filled with infinite possibility.


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