I came across the following statement amongst the many hundreds of statements given to the Bureau of Military History by veterans of the Irish War of Independence. The Bureau was established in January 1947 by Oscar Traynor, Minister for Defence who was himself a former captain in the Irish Volunteers. Its purpose was to collect information from those men and women who played an active part in the War and included former members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Republican Army.
To my knowledge no Athy native made a statement to the Bureau and for that reason the short statement I uncovered during the week is an important record which adds to our knowledge of those difficult times. The statement was made by Henry O’Hagan who before coming to work in Athy lived in Trim, Co. Meath where he was a member of the Irish Republican Army.
‘In 1918 I went to work at my trade in Athy, Co. Kildare and as a former member of the Trim Volunteers I transferred to Athy Company through the I.R.B. I was elected company Adjutant and Bapty Maher was Captain. Athy at that time was a very hostile place as out of a population of 4,000 about 2,000 had British Army associations. About June 1918 we got orders from the Carlow Brigade staff to raid all houses where we knew arms were kept. I was told to meet Commandant Malone at the Showgrounds. He sent me from there to the 7th Lock to John Hayden who was in charge of the party there which consisted of six men. Being a stranger he sent a boy to show me the place. On arrival there we raided the house of ex British Captain by the name of Hosie who had two sons serving in France at the time. We knocked at the door of the house and when he opened it we hid in the shadows until he went back down the hall. We opened the door and followed him down and asked him for the guns that were in the house in the name of the republic. He stood with his back to the wall and fought us off with a clothes horse. I carried a club and struck him with same. As I struck him he flung a lighted oil lamp in his face. My shower proof coat was all blood. On my way back through the town with young McNamara, he was only a boy, two R.I.C. men came meeting us. I told the boy that if they stopped us I would have to shoot. He said “you shoot one and I will shoot the other”, but the two R.I.C. men went up a side street before we came to them. When I got home to my digs, Lawler’s public house in Barrack Street Mr. Lawler asked me where I was and what happened to me. I told him I was out at Seven Stars and fell off the bike as I was cut around the ear and mouth. This man Lawler was a Sinn Feiner, as was the boss I worked for, but they were against the physical force movement. The street I lived in was raided on that night by the R.I.C., but my digs were not. About five days later I was arrested in Gillespies where I worked and brought to the police barracks for interrogation. The R.I.C. had got the Sinn Fein members names but I had not joined the Sinn Fein Club. That I think saved me. After about four hours interrogation by police and head constable I was let out but told I would be arrested again. I cycled back to Trim that evening and I was in Trim at the time of the 1918 elections.’
Commandant Malone, referred to in the statement, was Eamon Malone of Barrowhouse who for a time was Commandant of the Carlow/Kildare Brigade I.R.A. John Hayden was from Offaly Street, and with his brother Paddy was actively involved in the I.R.A. Bapty Maher, who will be remembered by many, had a bicycle shop at that time in Duke Street which was subsequently attacked and thrashed by local ex British soldiers. Mr. Lawler of Barrack Street was the publican and carpenter Edward Lawler, whose descendants continued in the family pub business up to recent years. Gillespies were carriage makers with a premises in Duke Street. I have not been able to identify the young McNamara boy but the 1911 census has a family of that name living in Ardree with three boys, James, Patrick and Lawrence.
The distinction between the Sinn Fein organisation founded by Arthur Griffith and the Irish Republican Army is clearly confirmed by O’Hagan’s statement. There was undoubtedly some common membership between both organisations, as for instance Bapty Maher was a Sinn Fein member, as well as being an I.R.A. activist.
The full extent of the I.R.A. membership in Athy and South Kildare is regrettably difficult, if not impossible, to identify given the failure of those involved to make statements for the Bureau of Military History. It is a great pity as so much information regarding the 1916-1923 period of our local history is now lost to us.