Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Fintan Brennan's record of local events during the War of Independence

On 8th October 1969 Fintan Brennan, retired District Court Clerk, interviewed Paddy Cosgrove at his home in Castledermot regarding the activities of the C Company 5th Battalion Carlow Kildare Brigade during the War of Independence. C Company was based in Castledermot, while the B Company was centred in Kilrush and the A Company in Athy. Fintan, a member of the G Company Monasterevin, was arrested and imprisoned during the War of Independence following a raid by British Army soldiers and R.I.C. men which resulted in the seizure of arms and equipment in Monasterevin. Fintan was sentenced to 5 years penal servitude and his colleague, Hugh McNally, received a 10 year sentence. Fintan’s notes of his interview with Paddy Cosgrove acknowledged that the Castledermot I.R.A. Company was the most active company in south Kildare. Under the leadership of Paddy Cosgrove, who was later Vice Officer Commanding Carlow Kildare Brigade, the Castledermot Company engaged in harassing British troops and the R.I.C. by trenching roads, felling trees across roads and cutting telephone and telegraph lines. Some bridges were destroyed, while the I.R.A. men were frequently involved in raiding farm houses for arms as well as raiding trains and post offices for mail. Early in 1920 many rural R.I.C. barracks were vacated as the local constabulary retreated to the larger towns. On Easter Sunday, 3rd April, the I.R.A. throughout Ireland attacked many of those vacant barracks. The barracks at Luggacurran, a small single storey building, was one of several vacant R.I.C. barracks attacked that night. I.R.A. volunteer John Byrne of Gracefield was killed during the attack, while Peter Hunt of the Kilcruise I.R.A. Company suffered injuries. It took a later I.R.A. attack in May 1920 to destroy the R.I.C. barracks in Luggacurran. On 16th April Grangemellon R.I.C. Barracks was attacked and burned by the I.R.A. Unfortunately I have not been able to find out if this was an action of the Castledermot I.R.A. Company or their colleagues of the Athy A Company. Fintan Brennan noted that the Castledermot Company set a standard for chivalry which was seldom reciprocated by British troops. Paddy Cosgrove received instructions to destroy the local R.I.C. barracks when it was vacated by the constabulary. However when the I.R.A. men arrived at the barracks on 20th July they discovered that the sergeant’s wife and children were still in residence. Arrangements were immediately made to have the family re-housed locally and the I.R.A. men removed the family’s furniture before setting the barracks alight. During that operation one of the local Volunteers was badly burned following a premature explosion but for the prompt action of Paddy Cosgrove would possibly have lost his life. The injured man, together with Paddy Cosgrove who was also injured when saving his colleague, were brought to the Workhouse in Athy [now St. Vincent’s Hospital]. Paddy remembered with gratitude that the official who received the injured man and detained him in hospital for some time assisted the I.R.A. cause by recording the patient’s admission two days earlier so as to defeat R.I.C. enquiries. It’s possible that Fintan Brennan’s sister, Mrs. K. Heffernan, was the workhouse official who helped the I.R.A. on the night of 20th July. She was elected Matron of the Workhouse in 1907 and later married Peter Heffernan who was the Workhouse master. He subsequently lost his job and moved to Glasgow where he was joined by his wife after about a year. He died soon afterwards following an accident and his widow returned to Ireland to be reappointed Matron of Athy Workhouse in June 1917. The Courthouse in Castledermot was also burned down by the local I.R.A. Company on 20th July. A similar fate befell the Courthouse in Athy four days earlier. However it was an individual member of Athy’s A Company who started the fire which destroyed the building. Strangely he was later court-martialled and punished for his actions by the officers of the local I.R.A. Company. The following officers of C Company Castledermot were recorded by Fintan Brennan following his interview:- Paddy Cosgrove, Vice O.C. Carlow Kildare Brigade; Ned Malone, Company Captain; Matt Pender, 1st Lt.; Michael Kavanagh, 2nd Lt.; Johnny Wall, Adj. and Paddy Kavanagh who was also Comdt. of the 5th Batallion Carlow Kildare Brigade. Unfortunately Fintan Brennan did not record the names of the men who under the leadership of Paddy Cosgrove played their part in the fight for independence. Can any of my readers identify the men who were members of the C Company in Castledermot?

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