Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Irish White Cross Committee Athy

The New Year brings us further into the decade of commemoration. The first day of 1921 saw the destruction of seven houses in Middleton, Co. Cork as an act of reprisal by crown forces. It followed the St. Stephen’s Day killing by R.I.C. officers of five young men attending a dance in Bruff, Co. Limerick. I.R.A. members in County Kildare were engaged in road trenching, the destruction of bridges and the toppling of telegraph poles so as to impede the movement of the R.I.C. and crown forces. The local I.R.A. activity in and around Athy resulted in the imposition of a curfew from 9.00p.m. to 5.00a.m. in the town in March 1921 and prompted a military order prohibiting the holding of the Tuesday market. One of the most significant developments of 1921 was the founding of the Irish White Cross by Sinn Fein in February of that year. Its purpose was to help those affected by the ongoing War of Independence, in particular the almost 1,000 Irish families made homeless by the destructive actions of crown forces. Also to be helped were the 10,000 or so Catholic workers driven from their jobs in Belfast. The Irish White Cross was headed up by Cardinal Logue and its trustees included Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. The organisation was tasked initially with distributing the funds collected by the New York based Committee For The Relief Of Irish Distress founded in December 1920. The first report of the Irish White Cross for the period to 31 August 1922 reported that ‘at least 2,000 houses – dwellinghouses, farmsteads, shops – were utterly destroyed, while about 1,500 were partially destroyed’ by crown forces during the War of Independence. The wholesale destruction by crown forces included 40 cooperative creameries totally destroyed, while another 35 creameries were partially wrecked. The report continued: ‘in the course of the struggle some 7,000 persons were arrested and frequently without a charge even being made against them, were confined in prison or internment camps.’ Amongst the many examples of crown forces’ acts of terrorism were the burning of 25 houses and a hosiery factory in Balbriggan on 20 September 1920 and the burning of approximately 45 shops in Cork three months later. Citing examples of the distress caused to Catholic families in Belfast, the report noted that 10,000 workers were forcibly expelled from their places of work, while in July 1921 more than 160 houses belonging to Catholic families were attacked and rendered uninhabitable. A local White Cross committee was founded in Athy on 28 June 1921. It was chaired by the parish priest, Canon Edward Mackey with the local Rector Archdeacon Johnston as the Vice Chairman. The Town Clerk, Joseph A. Lawler, acted as the committee’s secretary. The committee’s first act was to pass on a cheque for £35 to Patrick Lynch of Barrowhouse to buy carpentry tools. His house and workshop had been burned down by crown forces in the immediate aftermath of the Barrowhouse ambush. A later payment was made to his sister Ellen Lynch, while financial assistance was also extended to Mrs. Margaret Connor and James Lacey following written representations from the Barrowhouse teacher, P.J. Walker. The two beneficiaries were the parents of the I.R.A. Volunteers killed at Barrowhouse on 16 May 1921. The late William Connor was described as the second son of Mrs. Margaret Connor and had been a farm labourer who supported his mother and his sister. His colleague, James Lacey, who was also killed, was described as the eldest son of a family of eight whose father was a small farmer and ‘a most respectable man’. Another victim of the crown forces reprisals following the Barrowhouse ambush was Patrick Keating of Barrowhouse whose application for White Cross assistance was deferred as he had taken up a collection in Athy to cover his losses. Another beneficiary of White Cross Committee funding was Mrs. Jane Bradley of Woodstock Street who was in receipt of 25/= per week from the Dependents Fund. She had three young children and no income as her husband James was detained in Rath Camp on the Curragh. He had been arrested in February 1921 and was detained until released on parole on 28th November. The local White Cross Committee held church gate collections in Athy which netted £187 and an additional £25 was collected and forwarded to the Dublin based national organisation by the organisers of a sports day held in Kilberry in September 1921. Athy’s committee distributed £125.15.0 in the Athy area, considerably less than the £736.15.0 distributed in Newbridge, while in Kildare county a total of £2,765.9.0 was distributed. The comparable figures for Kerry were £661,347.77 and Cork £548,862.19.3 The centenary of the Barrowhouse ambush in which William Connor and James Lacey were killed will occur on the 16th May. This will be the most important centenary commemorative event for Athy and district in 2021. The local history group based in Athy’s Town Hall Shackleton Museum would wish to make contact with members of the Connor and Lacey families, as well as the Lynch and other families whose properties were targeted by crown forces in the aftermath of the Barrowhouse ambush. Any information in that regard might be passed to me by email to frank@taaffe.ie.

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