Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mark Wilson and Francis Lawler's participation in 1916 rebellion

On Tuesday 29th March the second lecture in the 1916 series will be given by Dr. Des Marnane in the Community Arts Centre at 8.00 p.m.  The subject ‘Saving the Honour of Tipp – Tipperary 1916’ promises to be an interesting insight into a provincial county’s reaction to the events of Easter 1916.  Admission to the lecture is free.

Last week I gave the background to the development of the Irish Nationalist movement in Athy in the years following the Easter Rising.  While the first branch of the Irish Volunteers in County Kildare was formed in Athy on 9th May 1914 the Volunteers were divided when later in the year John Redmond sought to encourage the Volunteers to enlist in the British Army. The vast majority of the Volunteers here in Athy and elsewhere throughout the country followed Redmond who named the new group which split from the Irish Volunteers as the National Volunteers.  It would be some time before the now smaller group which retained the name Irish Volunteers could reassert itself. 

A military council comprising Tom Clarke, Padraic Pearse and others, all members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, while at the same time leaders of the Irish Volunteers, planned the Easter Rising.  This was done without the knowledge and consent of many of those with whom they shared leadership of the Irish Volunteers and in the ensuing confusion over countermanding orders, fewer Volunteers than expected turned out on Easter Monday 1916.

Two men who did turn out were Mark Wilson and Francis Lawler.  Mark Wilson was born in Russelstown, Athy in 1891 to Robert Wilson, a native of County Wicklow and Julianna Heffernan, formerly of Leinster Street, Athy.  By 1901 the Wilson family had moved to Dublin.  Mark, the eldest of five children, married Annie Stanley of Summerhill, Dublin on 3rd August 1913.  She was a sister of Joe Stanley, the man who in 1916 printed the Proclamation, original copies of which are now selling for extraordinary sums of money.

Mark joined the 1st Battalion Dublin Brigade Irish Volunteers and during the Easter Rebellion he was part of the Four Courts garrison under the command of Edward Daly.  Following the surrender of Edward Daly and his men Daly was tried and executed, while Wilson and his colleagues were detained in Richmond Barracks.  In a statement made in 1953 for the Bureau of Military History Patrick Cogan of Maynooth, referring to the Athy man while they were in custody, said ‘in the ranks in front of me was a volunteer in uniform.  When people shouted at us to keep our heads up he answered that they were never down.  He was a source of great encouragement ..... that volunteer was Mark Wilson, a native of Athy.’

The Athy man was later transferred to Stafford Detention Barracks in England where he was detained until December 1916.  On his release Wilson rejoined the Irish Volunteers and following the Treaty enlisted in the National Army.  He attained the rank of Captain before resigning from the Defence Forces in February 1929.  Mark Wilson died in December 1971 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

The other man with connections in South Kildare who fought in the 1916 Rising was Francis Lawler who lived in Castleroe, Maganey between 1918 and 1925.  Like Mark Wilson, Lawler joined the Irish Volunteers and was attached to the 1st Battalion Dublin Brigade.  He was also a member of the Four Courts Garrison and was also imprisoned following the surrender of the Volunteers.  I have been unable to confirm if Lawler had connections with Castleroe, Maganey prior to 1916.  Following his release from prison in December 1916 Francis Lawler rejoined the Irish Volunteers and played a very active part while living in Castleroe in the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War. 

He served as an instructor/training officer at the I.R.A. camp in Ducketts Grove in 1921.  He joined the National Army in February 1922 and reached the rank of Captain.  It was while he was a Captain that he was involved in an unfortunate incident in Castledermot on 16th June 1922.  That Friday morning four irregular troops took over the Sinn Fein hall in Castledermot which was the polling station for the general election agreed between Collins and De Valera in an attempt to ward off civil war.  Three Free State officers, Vice Comdt. Cosgrove, Adj. J. Lillis and Captain F. Lawler entered the building to find it occupied by John Dempsey, Thomas Dunne, Peter Brien and William Kinsella.  Captain Lawler in his evidence at the Coroner’s inquest claimed ‘I was the first to enter.  I had my revolver in my hand and was about to cock it when my thumb slipped off the cocking piece and the revolver went off.’

Thomas Dunne was mortally wounded.  Dr. Francis Brannan of Castledermot described the deceased whom he knew well as ‘a hard working respectable young fellow.’  The Coroner in summing up found that the shot which killed Thomas Dunne was not fired maliciously, despite evidence that Captain Lawler had fired three shots.

When we remember the men of 1916 we should not forget that tragedy often marked their activities not only during the Easter Rebellion but long afterwards.

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