The Rajah of Frongoch

The Rajah of Frongoch

Jimmie Mulkerns, The Rajah of Frongoch

This was the nickname given to one Jimmie or J.J. Mulkerns.  Working on the Great Western railways when he was a young man, he also trained as an actor and was a fine singer, writing satirical political songs such as Come Along and Join The British Army – a great war anti- drafting song at a time when the British Army were sending young Irish men to slaughter in Europe.

He was for a time a strolling player, and in 1916, he joined up as a rebel and fought at the Four Courts.  When Jimmie was locked up in Frongoch prison camp following the Easter Rising, he formed, along with other actors and entertainers-turned-rebels, the camp’s “Entertainment Committee.”  The conditions in the camp were very tough, but prisoner morale was boosted by these music-hall style presentations, put on once a week – on Friday nights.

They entertained their fellow prisoners each Friday night for the duration of their internment performing plays and sketches written by themselves and the men, and presenting musicians, singers and storytellers from among the internees.

Here, J.J. earned the nickname “The Rajah of Frongoch” due to his flamboyant turn as comic Master of Ceremonies.  Seán O’Mahoney, in his book, Frongoch, University of Revolution, (FDR Teoranta, 1987) makes a half dozen references to him in that work, and family lore has it that after he returned from the camp, his hair a flock of white; he no longer had the stomach for war and conflict, and became instead a family man, working for the British Electrical Company.

The Rajah of Frongoch -
A satirical song by The Rajah

However, he still remained loyal to Michael Collins, with whom, for a time, along with other prisoners, he shared a Frongoch prison hut (No. 10).   During the War of Independence, he made a storehouse in the office where he worked on Trinity Street a secret downtown “safehouse” where Michael Collins, could drop in discreetly to pick up messages, pick up or drop off bicycles if fleeing from the authorities, or grab a change of clothes.  This was one of Collins’ favourite ways of evading capture.

Now at rest in a quiet graveyard in North Dublin, the Rajah’s legacy is remembered frequently at the Cáca Milis Cabaret, for without his genes, Cáca Milis Hostess Helena Mulkerns would never have had the wherewithal to start up the venture (which also usually runs on a Friday night) after the style of the  old music hall or “People’s Cabaret” as it was defined by Brecht.

As our grandparents made the best of adversity, so we address the current days of general doom and gloom with a challenge:  that of providing a Friday Night out of new and interesting Irish performers, artists and art without too much ado, and just a little theatrical magic.

Thanks to the Rajah of Frongoch and the artistic revolutionaries of the Frongoch Entertainment Committee for helping to provide us with a republic to live in, and some inspiration to deal with its darker days!