Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Athy men detained during the War of Independence

One hundred years ago the Irish countryside was in turmoil as a resurgent Sinn Fein organisation brought the armed struggle to the world’s most powerful colonial authority. The Irish War of Independence would be the Irish people’s final military rebellion against the might of its near neighbour. The nation’s struggle, which had its origins in the Anglo-Norman invasion of the 12th century, was entering its last phase and would end with the truce of 11th July 1921. Here in south Kildare the Carlow Kildare Brigade played its part in the armed struggle which countrywide caused so many difficulties for the English government that the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act was passed in August 1920. By then many of the rural RIC stations throughout the country had been evacuated and vacant barracks at Luggacurran, Grangemellon and Castledermot had been destroyed by the local IRA. On Bloody Sunday 21st November 1920 twelve English officers/civilians were shot and killed in Dublin in a planned attempt by IRA headquarters to destroy the intelligence wing of Dublin Castle’s administration. It led to a largescale roundup of Sinn Fein members and sympathisers. Indeed so many were arrested and detained that the authorities had to hastily provide temporary detention centres at Dollymount and Collinstown Dublin. The most infamous detention centre of all was Ballykinlar, Co. Down which opened in December 1920. It had served as a military training camp during World War I and until December 1921 was to be home to many Sinn Feiners. Amongst those detained in Ballykinlar was Joe May of Athy who was arrested on 22nd December 1920 and charged as an IRA officer. ‘Bapty’ Maher, another Athy local, was arrested around the same time and both were lodged in Gough Barracks before being transferred to Ballykinlar Detention Camp. Richard Murphy, originally from Kilcoo but in 1920 an Officer in Charge of the Ardee Battalion of the Louth Brigade, was also a prisoner in Ballykinlar where the sleeping accommodation and sanitary arrangements were described as causing ‘disease to rage in the camp’. As the War of Independence intensified more and more men were arrested. Some of those men were detained in Hare Park detention camp, Curragh, which was built during the First World War to house soldiers in training. Another detention camp was opened on the Curragh in March 1921. Rath Camp, so called as it was located close to the Gibbett Rath, the scene of the infamous 1798 massacre, was built to accommodate 1,000 prisoners. The camp consisted of 50 or so wooden huts arranged in four rows located on a 10-acre site. The exact figure for those detained is difficult to ascertain but it has been claimed that upwards of 1,500 men were incarcerated in Rath Camp. Amongst those was Athy man John Hayden of Offaly Street whose release from Mountjoy prison in July 1919 led to a riot on the streets of the town. Thomas O’Rourke of Grand Canal Harbour was another Athy man detained in Rath Camp. His story and that of the O’Rourke family members involvement in the War of Independence was told in the booklet ‘To Stem the Flowing Tide’ published two years ago. John Brophy, whose address was listed as Athy, was another Rath Camp detainee. I am uncertain as to John’s identity, but wonder was he the John Brophy born in Vicarstown whose uncle Willie McEvoy was involved in the Cooperative Store, Athy. Other locals detained included Charles Gorman of Grange, Maganey, Edward Cranny and Patrick J. Dunne of Ballyshannon, Richard Fitzgerald and John Flanagan of Fontstown, James Kelly Kilkea, Michael Murphy Nicholastown, Edward Lynch and Patrick McDonnell of Barrowhouse, Garrett Murphy of Luggacurran and Michael McGrath of Wolfhill. The last local man I came across was James Bradley of Barrack Street who I think was a brother of the late newspaper reporter John Bradley. Another local connection was provided by Dr. Tom O’Higgins of Stradbally who was a member of the Athy Board of Guardians. He was detained for a short period in Hare Park camp. Sadly he was shot and killed in his home during the Civil War which followed. The truce of 11th July 1921 did not bring about the early release of the Irish prisoners. The British Authorities waited for the Anglo-Irish Treaty to be signed on 6th December 1921. The 8th and 9th December 1921 saw the detainees released with all being provided with train vouchers to reach their homes. The trains bringing the former Ballykinlar detainees to Dublin were attacked by mobs in Portadown and Banbridge. The Shackleton Museum will open a War of Independence Exhibition shortly curated by Clem Roche. It will provide an insight to a period of our history which was largely overlooked by previous generations. If any reader has any information relating to the War of Independence, Clem or myself would be pleased to hear from you.

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