Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Athy and the 1916 Rebellion

On Tuesday, 22nd March, Athy’s contribution to the 1916 Centenary commemorations will commence with an opening lecture in the Arts Centre to be given by Kildare author and historian James Durney.  His talk on the involvement of Kildare men and women in the Easter Rising in 1916 will be given under the title “Foremost and Ready – Kildare in 1916”.

This will be the first of a series of Lectures all of which will be delivered in the Arts Centre in Woodstock Street on each Tuesday between the 22nd March and 12th April.

 The lectures start at 8.00 p.m and there is no admission charge.

On Tuesday, 28th March, the lecture “Saving the honour of Tipp - Tipperary in 1916” will be given by the well known author and broadcaster Dr. Des Marnane.  The following Tuesday, 5th April, Padraig Yeates will deliver his talk on “Looters, Deserters and Crime in Dublin in 1916”.  Padraig is the author of several books on Dublin, the most recent of which “A City in Civil War – Dublin 1921-24” was published last year.  Padraig’s lecture will be preceded by a short recital on the uilleann pipes once owned and played by the 1916 leader Eamon Ceannt. The final lecture in the series will take place on Tuesday, 12th April, when  Francis Devine, Trade Unionist and Author will speak on the topic “From Lockout to Rising, the I.T.G.W.U., I.C.A., Liberty Hall and 1916”.

Many other events are planned as part of the 1916 commemoration and details are included in the posters which are displayed throughout the town.

When we think of the Easter Rising, we usually associate it with Dublin and the G.P.O.  While the General Post Office was the centre of rebel activity,  elsewhere throughout the capital city that Easter Week there were areas of conflict which tragically resulted in the loss of lives.  Jacob’s factory was commandeered by Irish Volunteers under the command of Thomas McDonagh, while Eamon DeValera commanded the Volunteers who occupied Boland’s Mill on Grand Canal Street.  Other buildings occupied by the rebels included the South Dublin Union which is now St. James’s Hospital, the College of Surgeons, City Hall and buildings in the Church Street area.

The initial plans for the Rising provided for the Volunteers to hold Cork in the South, the Kerry Volunteers to join with their colleagues in Limerick while Volunteers in Clare and Galway were to hold the line of the Shannon to Athlone.  The failure to land arms from the Aud and the capture of Roger Casement led to Eoin MacNeill’s order cancelling the planned manoeuvres.  This resulted in confusion and the subsequent failure of many country based Volunteers to come out as originally planned.

That there was any rebel activity outside of Dublin during Easter Week 1916 was proof of the determination and courage of those involved.  In the area of Athy and South Kildare, the Irish Volunteers having broken away from Redmond’s National Volunteers were not particularly strong or active.  It was only after the execution of the 1916 leaders that the separatist movement gained strength in Athy.  Before then, however,  the Irish Republican Brotherhood had gained a foothold in neighbouring County Laois due to the active involvement of Patrick Ramsbottom. He was elected Captain of the Portlaoise Company of the Irish Volunteers in October 1914 after he returned to his native County following a period in Dublin.  While in Dublin he had contact with Tom Clarke.  Ramsbottom formed an I.R.B. circle in Portlaoise whose members effectively controlled the Irish Volunteers in that town.

Eamon Fleming from the Swan was an I.R.B. member based in Dublin and  he acted as a link person with the I.R.B. circle in Portlaoise.  He brought instructions from Padraig Pease to start the Rising in County Laois on Easter Sunday. The Laois Volunteers were instructed to destroy railway lines to prevent British troops coming from Waterford and Rosslare. The Waterford Dublin Railway line near Athy was to be destroyed as well as the Abbeyleix Portlaoise line at Colt Wood.

Eamon Fleming, Michael Gray and Michael Walsh, the last two from Portlaoise met near Athy at 7 p.m. on Easter Sunday.  They proceeded to cut down a telegraph pole and placed it across the railway line.  In the meantime, Volunteers led by Patrick Ramsbottom uprooted the railway line at Colt Wood and while doing so Ramsbottom fired three shots at a railway employee who happened to come across the saboteurs.  These may have been the first shots fired in the Easter rising of 1916.  The small group who came to Athy slept in a schoolhouse on Easter Sunday night and on the following morning made their way to Brady’s farm at Lalor’s Mills where they joined Patrick Ramsbottom’s group.

The Nationalist and Leinster Times carried the following Report on 29th April 1916.

“On Easter Sunday night a farmer named Nolan who lived at Ardreigh, Athy when walking along the railway line there discovered that a telegraph pole had been cut down and placed across the rails.  He removed the obstruction and proceeded to a signal house where he reported the matter.  The outage must have been perpetrated between 8.00 and 9.30 as about the former hour the line was clear a train having passed.  At the time of the discovery a train was almost due.”

Patrick Ramsbottom, who was the main organiser of the Volunteers in Portlaoise prior to the Rising, was subsequently imprisoned in Ballykinlar Internment  Camp.  He later joined the Gardai and on retiring in 1953 joined Department of Education. He died in April 1965.  He was one of the many unsung heroes of the 1916 Rising. 

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