On Tuesday nights over the past three weeks Athy’s Community Arts Centre has been a mecca for anyone interested in local events surrounding the Easter Rebellion of 1916. The series of lectures organised as part of Athy’s commemoration of the Easter Rising has witnessed talks by James Durney, historian in residence to Kildare County Council, Des Marnane, author and broadcaster from Tipperary and Padraig Yeates, author of several books on Dublin’s history. The final lecture will be given this Tuesday, 12th April, at 8.00 p.m. by Francis Devine. His subject ‘From Lockout to Rising, the I.T.G.W.U., I.C.A., Liberty Hall in 1916’ promises to give a detailed account of Dublin’s working men’s involvement in the events of 1916. Admission to the lecture is free.
The final event in the local commemoration programme takes place in Emily Square on Sunday, 17th April at 3.00 p.m. This will be our last opportunity to participate in the centenary events marking the 1916 Rising and to pay our respects to those men and women who played a part in that Rising. The only Athy man whom it is confirmed participated as a Volunteer in the Easter Rising was Russellstown born Mark Wilson. His son, also named Mark, together with members of his extended family, will attend the Emily Square ceremonies.
Athy people can be justifiably proud of the part played by local townspeople in the post 1916 period as the history of emerging Irish nationhood developed. I have in previous Eyes on the Past mentioned by name those men and women who participated in the struggle for Irish freedom. Regrettably a comprehensive list of those involved is not available. How I wish that someone of that generation was recording and noting the events and people of that time and so help to preserve an important part of our local history. It is gratifying to note that great strides have been made in recent months to make available through the internet various records and documents relating to 1916 and the subsequent War of Independence. From some of those records I have extracted the names of Athy men and women who were involved in the national struggle.
Christine Malone, with an address in April 1939 at 79 Upper Leeson Street, Dublin was noted as holding the rank of captain in Athy’s Cumann na mBan. In the early 1980s I was privileged to meet Christine Malone who was then living in Convent View but unfortunately I knew nothing then of her War of Independence involvement. It was long after her death that I became so aware and so missed the opportunity of learning so much of what has now been lost concerning the activities of the Cumann na mBan in Athy. Other Cumann na mBan members recorded as attached to “A” Coy 5th Battalion, Carlow Brigade I.R.A. were Mrs. Julia Dooley, St. Michael’s Terrace, Mrs. May, Woodstock Street and Alice Lambe, Upper William St.
The names of J.J. Bergin of Maybrook and Frank of O’Brien of Emily Square appear prominently in reports of meetings of the National Volunteers following their breakaway from the original Irish Volunteers. The Athy Volunteers were perhaps the largest such group in County Kildare prior to the Volunteer split and were quite active as confirmed in the following press report of 19th September 1914.
‘On Sunday last Athy Volunteers held manoeuvres in the vicinity of the town. Companys A and B were the white army, Companys C and D the blue enemy. The latter were the attacking army and having crossed the Barrow towards the Queens County came in touch with the enemy at Bennettsbridge where a “battle” took place. The Army Medical Nursing Corps displayed great proficiency in dressing “the wounded”.’
The report further noted that the men of Athy were progressing in the art of war. Soon afterwards the Volunteers would split between the National Volunteers who followed John Redmond and the Irish Volunteers, a much smaller group, who resisted the call to fight in World War I.
A name not previously mentioned was that of Master Thomas Blanchfield who in June 1914 was recorded as the Commander of the Boys Corps of the Irish Volunteers. This Corps was composed principally of boys from the Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane. Other names which I have taken from Cumann na mBan branch records are that of Kathleen Whelan of Ballylinan who was captain of the Ballylinan branch and Mary T. McKenna of Raheen, Ballylinan who was the branch treasurer.
The commemoration events throughout Ireland marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising have been photographed and recorded for posterity. I wonder if photographs of the 50th anniversary events in Athy attended by many of the survivors of the War of Independence are to be found today. I recall seeing a photograph some years ago of some of those men [I can’t recall any women], parading in Emily Square to mark the 1916 Easter Rebellion. Does anyone have any photographs of the 1966 commemoration in Athy which they would be willing to share? If you have I would welcome the opportunity of scanning the photographs so that another piece of our local history can be recovered and retained.
Don’t forget the lecture this Tuesday in Athy’s Community Arts Centre and the closing event of this centenary year’s commemoration in Emily Square on Sunday 17th April at 3.00 p.m.