On the 6th of September, 1984 the Irish Independent reported the death of Sean Kavanagh, former Governor of Mountjoy Jail. Born in Tralee in 1897 Kavanagh spent the early part of his life as a member of the Gaelic League, on whose behalf he worked as an Irish teacher in County Kildare. It was in that capacity he stayed in Athy on numerous occasions prior to and during the War of Independence. Unknown to those who met him he was also employed as an agent for Michael Collins’ Intelligence Services as Chief Intelligence Officer for County Kildare. He was a frequent visitor to No. 41 Duke Street, then the home of Michael Dooley who was very active in Republican circles during the War of Independence. Dooley’s Terrace is named after him.
Kavanagh was eventually captured and imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail in November 1920 where he was to remain for 12 months. During his long term in prison he got many of his Republican colleagues to sign an autograph book which was recently for sale at a rare book auction. The first signature in the book is that of Michael Staines, one of James Connolly’s stretcher bearers during his evacuation from the G.P.O. in Easter week. Staines was later to be appointed the first Commissioner of the Garda Siochana. Arthur Griffith and E.J. Duggan, two signatories of the Anglo Irish Treaty appended their signatures in Kavanagh’s book on the 21st of April, 1921.
Perhaps the most interesting signature for an Athy reader is that of Thomas Flood who on the 23rd of September, 1921 dedicated an inscription to his late brother Frank Flood who was hanged in Mountjoy Jail. Given Kavanagh’s links with Athy it is a strange coincidence that Thomas Flood, a Dublin man, was soon thereafter to come to live in the same South Kildare town where he set up business in Leinster Street.
Frank Flood and his brother Thomas were members of the Republican movement during the War of Independence and Frank was captured following an attack on Crown Forces in Drumcondra. Court marshalled and convicted of treason he was hanged at Mountjoy Jail on the 14th of March, 1921.
Thomas Flood took part in the attack on the Custom House, Dublin by Republican Forces on the 25th of May, 1921. After being wounded he was captured and lodged in Mountjoy Jail to await trial. He escaped a probable conviction for treason and the inevitable sentence of hanging when an acute appendicitis on the eve of his trial led to its postponement. He remained in Mountjoy Jail until November 1921 and the Declaration of the Truce on the eve of his re-scheduled trial allowed him to escape the death penalty.
Following the end of hostilities Thomas Flood married Peg Mullane from Carlow and came to Athy where he purchased the Railway Dining Rooms owned by Margaret Byrne. He was later to become a member of Athy Urban District Council and he died in 1950 on the eve of an election to Kildare County Council for which he was a candidate. His son, Tom, lives in Church Road, while another son Danny was a member of the last Kildare team to win a Leinster Championship medal in 1956.
Sean Kavanagh, the original owner of the autograph book, was to return to Mountjoy Jail as Deputy Governor after the Treaty and he was later promoted as Governor, a position he held for 34 years.
Looking through the autographs and inscriptions, now 72 years old, it is difficult to imagine the personal sacrifices made by these men and their women folk at such a crucial time in Ireland’s history. Now that we have arrived at another cross-roads in our country’s story it is important for us to acknowledge our debt to these men and women while realising that it does no disservice to what we believe in if we seek a peaceful solution to the problems facing our country today.