Twenty nine years ago I interviewed Paddy Keogh at his home in Churchtown. He was then 85 years of age and he talked to me of his involvement in, and his memories of, the Irish War of Independence. Paddy had been a member of the A company 5th Battalion Carlow Kildare Brigade which was centered in Athy. Much of the detail he gave me confirmed information previously given to me by Mrs. Hester May whom I had interviewed a year previously. Now old I.R.A. pension records have just been released and those records add further names to those previously known to me. The pension records give two lists of names for A company, one of I.R.A. membership on 11th July 1921, the day of the truce and the other for the 28th of June 1922 after the Civil War had started.
Unfortunately there can never be total confidence in compiling a comprehensive list of old I.R.A. members in this area of South Kildare. All those involved are now dead and understandably record keeping during the War of Independence was minimal. I have previously identified the men from this area who were imprisoned for republican activities. Joe May and Bapty Maher spent almost a year in Ballykinlar Prisoner of War camp. Others incarcerated included John Hayden of Offaly Street and J.J. O’Byrne, a secondary school teacher in the local Christian Brothers School, both of whom were imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison.
Republican activity in this area during the War of Independence was quite limited. Felling trees, trenching roads and cutting telegraph wires were a substantial part of that activity, although the burning of vacant R.I.C. barracks in this area was also recorded. The company, according to Paddy Keogh, had only one rifle and about twenty revolvers, yet it was involved in an attack on the R.I.C. barracks in Athy, six days after Connor and Lacey were killed in the Barrowhouse ambush on 22nd May 1921.
The chairman of the local Sinn Fein Club which emerged following the Easter Rising of 1916 was local shopkeeper and farmer Michael Dooley of 41 Duke Street. Michael Dooley was married to Julia Bradley and the two families, Dooleys and Bradleys, were prominent members of the local republican movement. Two other families whose involvement was noted on the I.R.A. membership list and confirmed in my interviews with Paddy Keogh and Hester May were the O’Rourkes of the Packing Stables and the Lambes of Upper William Street. Peter and Frank Lambe I am told operated a petrol shop in Upper William Street. Frank was one of several I.R.A. men who had to emigrate to America and was helped to do so by Michael Dooley’s wife Julia. Julia Dooley came to the financial assistance of several I.R.A. men who had to leave Ireland for the U.S.A., including Dick Candy of Leinster Street and John Hayden of Offaly Street. Her involvement with the local I.R.A. company during the War of Independence and its immediate aftermath merited well earned praise in later years.
The O’Rourke brothers from the Packing Stables on the Grand Canal gave perhaps more family members to the I.R.A. than any other local family. Brothers Michael, Thomas, James and Frank were in the I.R.A. company with the company captaincy held by Michael who was a Grand Canal company employee with an address at the Fifth Lock, Grand Canal, Dublin.
Brothers John and Paddy Hayden of No. 7 Offaly Street were I.R.A. members and Paddy, a baker in Paddy Dooley’s bakery in Leinster Street, was an officer in A company. There were a number of members from the Kilcrow area including James O’Brien, Daniel Murphy and Joseph Donnelly, while their near neighbour Mick Curtis of Rockfield was, I believe, the longest surviving member of A company. Mick’s three brothers who had enlisted at the start of the 1914-18 war were killed in that war.
Michael Dooley and John Dooley, sons of Michael and Julia Dooley of Duke Street were also members, as were the Brown brothers William and Jimmy of Ardreigh. Another Brown from Ardreigh, Tom, the brother of Miss Brown the teacher and no relation of the Brown brothers, was an I.R.A. member who later emigrated to Canada.
Barrack Street, despite the often held belief that it was a fruitful source of recruits for the British Army, had four men in the A company, Thomas Germaine, William and John Hoare and Patrick Day. Bapty Maher was another member and it was his bicycle shop in Duke Street which was trashed by ex British soldiers during riots in the town.
There are many other names given to me during interviews with Paddy Keogh and Hester May so many years ago. It is not always possible to verify the accuracy of that information and I am particularly conscious of this having heard some of those described by one informant as ‘truce men’, meaning that they joined the I.R.A. only after the ending of hostilities.
I am delighted to read last week that Athy Town Council intends to erect a memorial plaque to honour the local men and women who played their part in the War of Independence. It is a tribute which is long overdue and hopefully the opportunity will be taken to honour those men who were killed in and around the south Kildare area during the Civil War.