I understand that Athy Town Council at its last meeting agreed to erect a plaque in the town to Johan Anders Jagerhorn. Who is he I hear you cry? Well it appears he met Lord Edward Fitzgerald in Hamburg in 1796 after they had been introduced to each other at the house of Jagerhorn’s neighbour. The 39 year old, a native of what was then Sweden but later Finland, never stood on Irish soil.
A man who did was J.J. O’Byrne, a member of Athy’s Sinn Fein Club who, according to the late Hester May whom I interviewed many years ago, stood outside her father’s shop in Duke Street to read the Sinn Fein manifesto in August 1918. The Nationalist and Leinster Times reporting on the event in its issue of Saturday 24th August 1918 claimed that O’Byrne had addressed a gathering in the town square. He was one of many others who on the same day throughout Ireland proclaimed the Sinn Fein manifesto in clear defiance of British Rule in Ireland. J.J. O’Byrne was arrested and tried in Maryborough (now Portlaoise) and sentenced to several months in prison which he served in Maryborough jail.
Jagerhorn was also incarcerated, in his case for almost two years in the Tower of London following his capture in 1799. He travelled from Hamburg intending to pass on to Ireland and there to liase with Lord Edward Fitzgerald and the United Irishmen on behalf of the French revolutionaries. Included in Volume 2 at page 260 of the ‘Memories and Correspondence of Viscount Castlereagh’ is a detailed examination of Jagerhorn in which he disclosed information regarding Lord Edward Fitzgerald and the insurgent United Irishmen.
A man who did not breach confidence was John Hayden of 7 Offaly Street, Athy. Captain of the local I.R.A. Brigade during the War of Independence and a teacher in the local Christian Brothers School, he was arrested and imprisoned during the War of Independence. He was also incarcerated twice during the subsequent Civil War. John Hayden kept faith with his colleagues and suffered hugely for his involvement in the fight for independence. At the end of the Civil War he emigrated, as did many of his comrades, to America and remained there for many years before returning to Ireland in the 1930s.
Jagerhorn did play an important part in the establishment of the Finnish homeland and is rightly honoured in that country as a deserving son of Finland. Many men and women, some local to Athy, others originally not from this part of the country, played their part in furthering the cause of Irish political freedom. Some lost their lives in what was an unequal struggle. Others fell to bullets fired by fellow Irishmen in the post treaty civil war years.
Sylvester Sheppard died at Rosetown on 5th July 1922. The simple memorial which once marked the place where he lost his life has long disappeared. The Barrowhouse Ambush memorial to Conor and Lacey is regrettably a poor tribute to two young Irish men who were comrades in arms. At least their memory is not forgotten and will not be so long as the roadside memorial, poor as it is, remains in place. Sylvester Sheppard has been forgotten and perhaps the time has come for the Fianna Fáil fraternity in Monasterevin, whose Cumann is named the Sylvester Sheppard Cumann, to replace the missing roadside memorial at Rosetown.
But what of the many local men and women whose involvement in the War of Independence has all but been forgotten? What about Athy man Mark Wilson who was a volunteer fighting in Dublin during the Rebellion of Easter 1916? Perhaps it would be more relevant for the Town Council to commemorate these people than to erect a plaque to a Finnish revolutionary.
Joe May was a republican prisoner at Ballykinler Camp, as were Bapty Maher and Richard Murphy. I have previously written of their involvement in our shared history, as I have of Hester May, formerly Hester Dooley, whose father Michael Dooley is remembered today in the 1930s local housing estate, Dooley’s Terrace. There are so many more local men and women who deserve to be remembered for their involvement, active or otherwise, in the War of Independence.
Athy in the past has honoured the men of World War I and more recently those who sought political religious freedom as part of the United Irishmen’s rebellion of 1798. We need to bring the town’s historical commemoration full circle with a suitable expression of gratitude to the men and women of Athy and South Kildare who were part of that final successful push for political freedom which culminated in the Treaty of 1921.
How about it Athy Town Council? I cannot understand why you deemed it appropriate or necessary at your last meeting to honour Johan Anders Jagerhorn by erecting a plaque to him in Athy. It beggars belief, and I believe your decision is a shameful rebuff to the many courageous local men and women who sacrificed so much so that future generations could enjoy the freedom of a self governing nation.