James Durney’s latest book ‘The War of Independence in Kildare’ is a welcome addition to the growing list of publications dealing with that part of our history. No doubt as we enter a decade of centenary commemorations (mind you not celebrations) further books will be added to the growing Irish history library of that era.
The book published by Mercier Press sets down the principal military events which occurred in County Kildare during the 1919-1921 period, the details of which have been extracted in the main from local newspapers. In doing so and by referencing the sources the author has provided a worthwhile background against which further research can be undertaken. He makes the valid point that the strength of the British Army presence in the County of Kildare made it extremely difficult for local Republicans to mount an effective campaign on the lines of the guerrilla tactics which proved so successful in the South West of the country. Nevertheless he concludes that Kildare County did play an effective role in the War of Independence, an opinion with which any person familiar with that period could hardly disagree.
On reading the book I was of course particularly anxious to see the many references to Athy and was pleased to find that Mercier Press and the author have done an excellent job in producing the index. This is a book which anyone interested in our shared history should read.
Another book recently published is Dr. Jack Carter’s ‘Land Crime and Politics in Queens County 1882-1916’. Jack Carter has previously published ‘The Land War and Its Leaders in Queens County 1879-1882’ and ‘Murders in the Midlands 1862-1915’, as well as ‘The Built Curiosities of Laois – 15 Tours’. His latest book is a very detailed and well researched account of the happenings in County Laois centred around the Luggacurran evictions in which Athy people and the town itself played a not insignificant part. It’s a book which should be in every local household.
Going back to James Durney’s book I have recently come across a report in the Cork Examiner of the 6th of March 1923 of an event in Athy which had not previously been referred to in any publication concerning the Civil War. How much more relevant material is still out there unnoticed it is difficult to say but it would be wrong to assume that our knowledge and understanding of the events of 1919-1923 cannot be improved by further research. The report under the headline ‘Scenes in Athy’ and the sub headings ‘Stores Set Ablaze’ and ‘Goods taken from Shops’ reads:-
‘The town of Athy was invaded by a large party of armed men – about sixty – On Saturday morning. They arrived in motors. At the railway station they burst in the door of the station-house, entered the stationmaster’s office, burst open drawers, destroyed all books, correspondence, etc. and tore down the station clock and lamps. The same process was gone through in the parcel office. The goods store which contained a large quantity of stuff, some, it is said, consigned to local traders, was next visited and set on fire, also the signal cabin, both of which were smouldering at 10 p.m. The instruments of the signal cabin were just a heap of scrap iron. Mr. O’Neill, stationmaster, went out and was taken away by the raiders, who told his son that they were bringing his father to the doctor as he had taken ill. Mr. O’Neill was brought to Dr. Kilbride’s residence, and from there to a hospital. Fearing the station house would be fired, Mrs. O’Neill pleaded with the raiders not to fire the office as her children were asleep in the room overhead. They did not set fire to the office. They left at 4.15 a.m.
One party of raiders broke the window of the Post Office and gained entrance. They smashed the telephone and telegraph instruments, tore up all official papers and burned on the street all the old age pension books and a small quantity of stamps. Fortunately they could not gain entrance to the sorting office, so the mails were safe. Entrance to the temporary quarters of the Civic Guard was obtained by one part of the invaders, after repeated demands for admission, about 12.30 p.m. The uniforms, batons and bedding were taken and burned in the square. The bicycles of the guard were also taken, and they were cautioned not to leave the place for two hours.
Another detachment entered Mr. Shaw’s drapery establishment, and demanded and obtained half a dozen waterproofs, skirts, socks, sports coats, riding breeches, leggings and boots. They were courteous, stated their wants and touched nothing. Mr. Miley’s halfdoor was forced, and Mr. Miley was given an order for groceries, which he made up and handed over. The value of the groceries was about £10. A motor was taken from Mr. Maxwell’s garage and another from the foundry. The raiders finally called at Mr. Donegan’s shop and took cigarettes.’
Irish history, or at least that part of it which encompasses the post 1916 period and ends with the Civil War, will be rigorously examined and re-examined over the next decade. Dr. Jack Carter’s and James Durney’s books have surely whetted our appetite for the many books and publications on various aspects of that history which will be available over the next few years.