Wednesday 17 July 2019

Wexford town man fought in Dublin's Rising

Joe Vize's sons Joe and John. BELOW: Joe Vize in uniform. BELOW LEFT: Joe's gravestone in Rathnew Cemetery.
Joe Vize's sons Joe and John. BELOW: Joe Vize in uniform. BELOW LEFT: Joe's gravestone in Rathnew Cemetery.
Joe Vize's sons Joe and John. BELOW: Joe Vize in uniform. BELOW LEFT: Joe's gravestone in Rathnew Cemetery.
Joe Vize's sons Joe and John. BELOW: Joe Vize in uniform. BELOW LEFT: Joe's gravestone in Rathnew Cemetery.

Joseph (Joe) Vize of Wexford town, later to settle down in Wicklow town, fought in Dublin during Easter Week. Yet despite his prominent role in the Rising, it was a matter he rarely, if ever, discussed afterwards.

He became a good friend of Michael Collins when the pair were both interned after 1916.

Joe also became Comdt-General and Director of Purchases for the Irish Volunteers.

His sons, Joe and John, both remain living in Wicklow town and recall a man who took great pride in his Irish identity.

'He never talked abut 1916. My mother once bought him a jotter so he could note down all the different events but he wouldn't. He was man of few words,' says Joe.

'He was such a lovely man, a very gentle person. I also think he was very humble. He always remained very modest, which is probably one of the reasons he never really spoke about things,' adds John.

Born on June 25, 1882, in Wexford Town, Joe lived in Rowe Street. He was the son of the manager of the national bank in the town.

Joe was educated in St Peter's College and in 1905 he captained the college Gaelic football team.

He served as an engineering apprenticeship with Wexford Engineering Ltd. In 1906 He joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was sworn in by Sean McDermott who was visiting the town.

He remained with the Wexford Engineering Ltd before moving to Scotland around 1912 where he served with the Clan shipping Line as a marine engineer.

In December 1915, his ship was torpedoed near Malta en route from Australia to England.

According to Joe's obituary published in the Wicklow People in 1959, Joe showed remarkable courage while most of those around him were in a complete state of panic.

'As the ship was sinking beneath feet and the crew clambered aboard the small lifeboats, one man was remarked upon - Joe Vize - who stood calmly awaiting his turn and smoking his inevitable pipe.

'Later, when an account of the sinking was published, an officer of the ship specially mentioned his courage and calm behaviour in the face of such danger. They were six hours in the small boats, and having reached the Algerian shore safely, they were all brought back to England and thence to home.'

Soon afterwards in 1916 Joe answered a call to arms and headed to Dublin.

Returning home he was posted to D Company 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade. He fought in Jacob's Factory in Easter Week and later in the week he reinforced St Stephen's Green with troops under the Countess Markievicz. He was captured by the British Military and sent to Stafford Jail and was later interned in Frongoch in north Wales until the general amnesty on Christmas Eve 1916.

It was here where his friendship and association with General Michael Collins first began. A document unearthed from Arbour Hall Barracks and believed to date from 1918 describes Joe as 'a Divisional Centre of the IRB for Scotland. A active and dangerous man, and concerned in the purchase of arms'.

It says: 'A case for prosecution lies against him, but owing to the difficulty of obtaining proof of handwriting, the Chief Secretary does not advise prosecution. I recommend internment.'

In 1920 he was appointed Director of Purchases by Michael Collins and OC Scotland and Britain with the rank of Commandant General responsible for the acquisition and importation of arms. Joe became known as 'Admiral' because of his seafaring background.

In August 1919, he organised a raid on the HQ of the Scottish Rifles Military Barracks in Hamilton.

The raid was successful and ammunition was acquired. Wanted posters for him were posted by the British Authorities.

Historian Gerard Noonan's published journal 'Supplying an Army: IRA Gunrunning in Britain during the War of Independence' includes a number of references to Joe Vize, including an account of the raid on the Hamilton barracks.

The book says: 'In July 1920 he issued orders to all IRB centres in Scotland to "report without delay, any rifle ranges, drill halls or army stores in their district". By then he had already mounted a number of thefts. His first raid, on Hamilton Army Barracks, saw Vize make contact with a quartermaster sergeant in the barracks. On an appointed night, a small group of volunteers travelled to the barracks. At a location arranged by the quartermaster, two of the party climbed over the wall. They soon returned with the rifles and handed them to their colleagues, who hid them under their coats. In all, 10 rifles were seized, along with a quantity of ammunition.'

In June 1920, Joe organised a second raid, accounting for 40 German rifles and bayonets.

In 1921 an Army order, signed by General French, was issued to have Joe interned in Ballykingar or Curragh Internment Camp. On May 2 he was interned at the Curragh. On September 9 he and some others escaped through a tunnel.

'I think he had a bit of difficulty getting through the tunnel because he was such a tall man,' recounts his son John.

On February 1, 1923, Joe was commissioned with the rank of Colonel in the professional defence forces.

On June 19, 1923, he was appointed General Officer Commanding the Coastal and Marine Services with the rank of Major General.

This service was welcome to the Irish Naval Service. He designed, planned and implemented a coastal defence scheme for the new Republic which covered coastal defence artillery and a limited maritime fleet.

Joe continued to pack plenty into his life, including serving on the Reserve of Offices of the Defence Forces, joining Wicklow RNLI as a mechanic and later returning to sea as a Chief Engineer with Irish Shipping Ltd. However, he remained loyal to Michael Collins long after the Cork man's death.

John says: 'He asked me when I was young what I wanted to do and I said "go to sea". He said: "No, your three brothers were at sea and now they are all back at shore and have to start from scratch again." I said I could join the army. He was having none of that. There was a Fianna Fáil Government in at the time and he was still a Collins man through and through.'

John actually went on to have a long and distinguished career in the army, retiring as Major General after 41 years of service.

Joe passed away in 1959 and was afforded full military honours at his burial in Rathnew Cemetery. During his lifetime he received numerous medals, including a 1916 combat medal and a 1921 War of Independence medal.

Wexford People

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