In August 1922, Emmet Dalton held Michael Collins in his arms as he died on that infamous stretch of road at Béal na Bláth. In May, 1958, he was part of the team behind the opening of Ireland’s first film studio, at Ardmore, in County Wicklow. Sinéad Brennan takes a look at his extraordinary life


In May 1958, history was made when Ireland’s first film studio was launched at Ardmore, near Bray, Co. Wicklow. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Minister for Industry and Commerce Seán Lemass described the new venture as an “important development of national significance”. The future Taoiseach praised the innovation of the co-founders of the ambitious undertaking, namely Louis Elliman and Emmet Dalton.

A well-established theatre and cinema manager, Elliman had long been associated with the Irish entertainment scene. For his business partner, Dalton, it was a remarkable career change that few could have foreseen.
Three decades previously, Dalton’s name had been synonymous with the Irish War Independence and subsequent Civil War.

Most notably, he was the trusted right-hand man of General Michael Collins, and it was in Dalton’s arms that the ‘Big Fellow’ died from a fatal gunshot wound at Béal na Bláth, Co. Cork in August, 1922.

Born on 4th March 1898 in Falls River, Massachusetts, USA, Emmet Dalton was the eldest of five children born to James and Katherine Dalton. James was a third-generation Irish-American and in 1900 he took the decision to move his family back to Ireland.

The Daltons took up residence in Drumcondra, a leafy suburb of Dublin’s north-side. James Dalton was a committed nationalist, and an active member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Irish United League.
The Dalton home was frequented by the leading nationalist figures of the day. In 1913, Emmet and his younger brother, Charlie, joined the newly-formed Dublin Volunteers.

The following year, James Dalton arranged for Emmet to smuggle a parcel of rifles wrapped in sack- cloth by railway train from Dublin’s Knightsbridge station to Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo. It was a risky mission for sixteen-year-old Emmet; somewhat of a prelude to the perilous nature of the next chapter of his fascinating life.
With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Emmet was determined to play his part, ‘not for England but for small nations’.

Unbeknownst to his parents, and armed with a letter of introduction from an influential friend of his fathers, he presented himself at the Grafton Street recruitment offices.
Like scores of other young men, he falsely gave his age as eighteen. He was appointed second Lieutenant in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

On seeing Emmet in uniform for the first time, James was enraged. With the help of Emmet’s mother, his temper was eventually subdued.

His eldest son was off to war.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own