I have been attempting for some time past to put together a detailed account of the activities of the Irish Volunteers in south Kildare during the War of Independence. It is proving a very difficult task, largely because everyone involved in that period of Irish history has passed away, leaving little or no record of their involvement in the armed struggle which started with the Easter Rising of 1916.
Athy and South Kildare with parts of counties Wicklow and Laois formed part of the Carlow/Kildare Brigade area and as such was separated from the North Kildare 1st and 2nd Battalions IRA which were based in Maynooth and Naas. The A Company of the 5th Battalion Carlow/Kildare Brigade was centred in Athy, while the B Company was in Kilrush and Castledermot formed the C Company of the same battalion. The Volunteers in Athy were under the command of Captain John Hayden of Offaly Street and his two lieutenants were his brother Paddy Hayden and Michael Dunne of Barrow Quay. John Hayden was a teacher in the local Christian Brothers school who emigrated to America in the early 1920’s. His son Fergus was subsequently reared by John’s brother Paddy who later lived in St. Patrick’s Avenue and worked as a baker in Bradburys. Paddy Dunne was a barman in Dillon’s of Barrow Quay and he subsequently lived in Duke Street and worked in Batchelor’s Pea Factory in Rathstewart. The company quartermaster was Mick Carroll of Shrewleen Lane.
The volunteers forming the A Company of the 5th Battalion Carlow Brigade included Bill Nolan, St. Michael’s Terrace; Jim Bradley, Barrack Street; Peter Lambe, Blackparks; Billy Browne, Ardreigh; Jack Delahunt, Chapel Hill; Mick Curtis, Castlemitchell; Joe Walsh, Barrack Street; Paddy Keeffe, Ardreigh; Joe May and Jack Bradley, both of Woodstock Street. Another Volunteer was an employee of McHugh’s Chemist of Duke Street whose surname was either Hogan or Teehan. The list of Volunteers in the A Company is incomplete and I would welcome hearing from anyone who can add to that list.
The Athy based volunteers were principally engaged in frustrating the movement of British troops and the Royal Irish Constabulary and destroying Constabulary Barracks which had been vacated as constabulary withdrew from outlying areas. The mail trains on the Waterford/Dublin line were raided on a few occasions and letters intended for Dublin Castle were taken. During the course of the boycott of goods from Belfast members of the A Company torched the abattoir at the Fairgreen in Athy. The abattoir was leased by a London-based company and that company subsequently lodged a compensation claim for malicious damage with Athy Urban District Council. Around the same time the Courthouse in Emily Square was completely destroyed by fire but while the arsonist was an IRA Member his action did not meet with the approval of his superiors. He was subsequently court marshalled and “drummed out” of the local company of the IRA for a short period. The Courthouse was to remain a derelict ruin for several years before it was rebuilt by Kildare County Council.
During most of this period the Carlow Brigade had as its officer in charge Commdt. Eamon Malone of Barrowhouse, Athy. I have previously written of Eamon Malone who was imprisoned for a period in Mountjoy following his arrest in 1919. While in jail he was one of the leaders of the hunger strike in which many of the IRA Prisoners then in Mountjoy were involved. He is remembered today in the name Malone Place which is a small local authority housing scheme at the end of Woodstock Street opened a few years ago.
The B Company based in Kilrush was under the immediate control of Captain Sean Flanagan who was later promoted to Battalion Commandant. I have not been able to identify the members of his company, many of whom were involved in destroying a number of bridges in their area. They succeeded in blowing up Kilboggan Bridge, as well as two other bridges in the Tippeenan area which is in the parish of Fontstown. The most serious incident involving the Kilrush area was the arrest, court martialling and subsequent execution of a local man suspected of passing information to the British authorities.
The C Company of the Carlow Brigade was centred in Castledermot. Paddy Cosgrove was the company captain and it is generally believed that the Castledermot Company was one of the more active units in South Kildare during the War of Independence. They burned down the local RIC Barracks during the course of which Captain Cosgrave suffered serious burns as he re-entered the burning building to rescue a young volunteer who had been injured in a premature explosion. Cosgrave was later brought in secret to the hospital in Athy where he was detained and treated by the hospital staff without word of his whereabouts ever being leaked to the Constabulary in the nearby RIC Barracks. Some members of the Castledermot Company may have also been involved in the burning down of the RIC Barracks in Ballitore although I understand this was an action for which the Dunlavin Volunteers were largely responsible.
The Athy Company made an unsuccessful attack on the RIC Barracks in Athy during the War of Independence. This Barracks had been relocated from White’s Castle to the former Army Barracks in Barrack Lane some years previously. Shots were exchanged between the IRA attackers and the RIC men but so far as I am aware no-one was injured.
Not so fortunate were William Connor and Jim Lacey members of the Ballylinan Company which with Killeshin and Bilboa were also part of the Carlow/Kildare Brigade area. Connor and Lacey were part of an IRA ambush which lay in wait near Barrowhouse for RIC men travelling on bikes between Ballylinan and Maganey. The date was 16th May 1921 and on the previous day guns and ammunition had been brought from Castledermot and delivered to Joe Maher of Cullinagh, leader of the Barrowhouse unit. The ambush proved a disaster for the local IRA men. The two young volunteers, William Connor and Jim Lacey, were shot dead by the RIC men and their bodies were left at the scene of the ambush when their companions withdrew. They were the only IRA volunteers to die in this area during the War of Independence and today the place where they fell in is marked by a simple metal cross. Their bodies lie side by side in the graveyard attached to St. Mary’s Church in Barrowhouse.
Eamon Malone, Commandant of the Carlow/Kildare Brigade married an Athy girl Kathleen Dooley following the treaty and he later lived and worked in England. He died a relatively young man and was subsequently buried in Barrow House graveyard, not far from where his colleagues William Connor and Jim Lacey are buried.
The story of the War of Independence in the South Kildare area needs to be fleshed out more than I have been able to do so in this article. I would like to hear from anyone who can give me any information on the topic and particularly anyone who can help me identify those men who were involved in any of the IRA Companies in Athy, Kilrush, Castledermot or Ballylinan.
Margaret O’Riordan of the Heritage Centre tells me that the trip to Annascaul in County Kerry, the birth place of the Antarctic explorer Tom Crean was postponed due to Kildare’s participation in the Leinster Football Final. The trip will now take place over the weekend of 10th August and anyone interested in travelling should contact Margaret at (0507) 33075.