This week I am setting out in chronological order, details of some incidents which occurred in Athy during the last six months of the War of Independence. Some of those persons named are still remembered but it is likely that many more of the men involved in the events of the first half of 1921 are long forgotten. I would like to hear from anyone who can give me any information on any of the events or persons named.
In January 1921 John B. Maher (better known in later years as Bapty Maher) was imprisoned in the Curragh awaiting trial on a charge of possessing ammunition. He had already been charged for the same offence on two previous occasions. The first time the jury disagreed and he was acquitted following a second trial. However, he was arrested immediately afterwards and held in custody pending another trial. Liam McGrath who had been arrested in Ballitore was held with John Maher in the detention centre in the Curragh.
The Royal Irish Constabulary raided James Byrne’s premises at the Bleeding Horse in January 1921. All those in the pub were lined up against the wall and searched. One man, Luke Nugent, was arrested but he was later released without charge. During the same month there was a series of raids on local houses by armed men who were believed to be members of the I.R.A. On those occasions food was sought as well as money, while guns, if found on the premises, were also taken. Amongst those whose homes were raided were Thomas Hickey of Milltown House, Cullen’s of Duke Lodge, Maher’s of the Slip, Dr. Kilbride’s of Church Road, Hannon’s of Ardreigh House, O’Mara’s of Ardreigh, Mulhall’s of Farmhill and Miley’s of Mount Offaly.
Towards the end of the same month two local men, John Hayden and Thomas O’Rourke, were arrested near Carlow. They were taken to the local Military Barracks where they were detained. Two weeks into their detention both Hayden and O’Rourke were tied to the front of an Army lorry as it was driven through Athy, to deter would be attackers.
Early in February James Bradley, a tailor from Woodstock Street, was arrested in his home at 1.30 in the morning. He had returned from Scotland a few days earlier. He was detained in the local R.I.C. Barracks. In February the Military posted the following notice around the town of Athy.
“ROAD CUTTING AND DESTRUCTION OF BRIDGES
The competent Military Authority has decided that in any area in which road cutting is indulged in, the usual markets and fairs held in the town to which the damaged road leads will be stopped until roads are mended.”
The house of John Delaney, brickmaker of Woodstock Street, Athy was raided by the Military in February 1921. Pictures of Irish heroes hanging on the walls were destroyed by the soldiers. Another local man, Joseph Mullery of William Street, was arrested in Cavan and sent to Ballykinler Camp. Hannon’s Lorry used in connection with the flour milling business at Ardreigh was commandeered by the R.I.C., Athy as their own Crossley truck was out of order.
In March 1921 Patrick Tierney’s house at Woodstock Street was raided by the R.I.C. A few days later Daniel Maher of Barrowhouse was arrested. He was an old man and his arrest coincided with the trenching of roads by the I.R.A. at Barrowhouse and Kilcrow. Maher was released after two days.
The Tuesday market in Athy was cleared by the Military in March 1921. The following day soldiers posted up notices around the town giving notice of a curfew in Athy and rural areas, including Castledermot, from 9.00 p.m. to 5.00 a.m. each day. The curfew was imposed because of the I.R.A. campaign of trenching roads and blowing up bridges which invariably took place under cover of darkness. Subsequent reports indicated that the curfew was enforced by armed men believed to be Black and Tans who, dressed as civilians and armed, toured the town in a motor car.
The night time trenching of roads continued and in April roads were reported dug up at Nicholastown, Barrowhouse, Turnerstown, Fontstown and Booleigh. Bridges were damaged at Skerries and Kilmoroney. Towards the end of March 1921 several young men standing at O’Dowds Corner in Athy were arrested by the R.I.C. and brought by lorry to Burtown where they were forced to fill in a trench which the I.R.A. had dug across the road the previous night.
The Military carried out a number of house searches at William Street and Canal Side and an R.I.C. man was shot at while he was passing the Gas Works. A member of the Athy Bord of Guardians, Patrick Dunne of Stradbally, was arrested when he came into Athy on business. He was detained at Athy Barracks for a few weeks and then transferred to the Curragh Camp detention centre. The Hibernian Hall in Duke Street which was used by the local National Volunteers was raided by the R.I.C. No arrests were made but the three bugles were removed from the premises. The I.R.A. continued to raid local houses for arms and money but in April 1921 when they raided C.W. Taylors at Forest and H. Henderson’s at Ardmore, they contrived only to put the owners’ motor cars out of commission.
Patrick Murphy of Nelson Street was arrested while standing at the corner of Barrack Street. He had recently returned from Scotland. Also arrested in late April was a Mr. J. Hutton who was picked up in Castledermot. He was detained in the R.I.C. Barracks in Athy for a number of weeks before being released.
April was also the month the R.I.C. raided the home of the Town Clerk, Mr. Lawler in the People’s Park. He was brought to the Town Hall by the Police who demanded to inspect the Council’s Minute Books and all correspondence received by the local Council from Dáil Eireann. Another focus of police attention was the file relating to the Vigilante Committee set up by the Council to enforce the Belfast Boycott. The Boycott had been ordered by Dáil Eireann the previous August to stop the sale of Northern Ireland goods. This Dáil initiative was in response to the Belfast pogroms in the course of which many innocent Catholics were murdered.
In May five local men were press ganged and brought in a police lorry to Barrowhouse where they were ordered to fill in a trench. When the job was finished they were required to make their own way home. On Monday, 15th May 1921, at about 4.15 p.m. William Connor and James Lacey were shot dead during an I.R.A. ambush on R.I.C. men travelling on bicycles between Ballylinan and Grangemellon. Late that same night a group of about ten men dressed in overcoats and caps and with their faces concealed raided a number of farms in and around Barrowhouse. Eamon Lynch’s house was set ablaze and the raiding party then attacked Mrs. Malone’s house at Ivy Bush which they proceeded to demolish. Hay and straw in Martin Lyon’s haggard was set then on fire by the raiders who were never identified, but were believed to be members of the Black and Tans.
The R.I.C. raided the homes of Peter Brennan of Boley and John Kelly of Gracefield. Brennan’s son was by then a prisoner in Ballykinler Camp. On Sunday, 27th May 1921, the R.I.C. Barracks in Athy was attacked by armed men who were driven off after a gun battle which lasted about 20 minutes. This was the local I.R.A.’s response to the killing of Connor and Lacey at Barrowhouse but apart from some superficial damage to the R.I.C. Barracks, no injuries or loss of life were reported on either side. Just before the truce came into operation on 11th July 1921, H. Maher of Ballyadams was arrested, a month later he was still in Maryborough Jail.
The Truce brought an end to the hostilities between the I.R.A. and the Crown forces. Peace prevailed until the following year when the armed struggle would recommence, but this time between former comrades who had taken opposite sides to the treaty terms agreed between the Irish Provisional Government and the British authorities.