Friday, February 16, 2024

'The Black and Tans 1920/'21' and 'The World War 1 Dead of Co. Kildare'

Two important books arrived on my desk in the last week, both of them with listings of men who served our neighbouring country at a time when Ireland was an unwilling part of the British empire. The first book was Jim Herlihy’s latest publication, ‘The Black and Tans 1920 – 1921’, which added to his impressive list of previously published works makes him the outstanding author of policing before and during Ireland’s War of Independence. Subtitled ‘A complete Alphabetical List, Short History and Genealogical Guide’, the book is a complete listing of the 7,684 men who enlisted in the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve, or as they were better known the Black and Tans. The Black and Tans were recruited to compensate for the shortfall in R.I.C. members, resulting from the IRA campaign against the police which forced so many policemen to resign. Between 6th January 1920 and 7th July the following year 7,684 men were recruited in Britain and brought to Ireland to join the R.I.C. Special Reserve. Amongst their numbers were 381 native Irishmen, including 9 from County Kildare, 6 from County Laois and 5 from County Carlow. The Black and Tans, so called because they dressed in black trousers and tan tunics, were initially trained in the R.I.C. Depot at Phoenix Park, but later in the Hare Park Camp on the Curragh before ending up in September of 1920 in Gormanstown Camp, Co. Meath. On completion of their one month training the R.I.C. Special Reserve were transferred to R.I.C. Barracks around the country. Athy, while not regarded as an active rebel town, had a small number of Black and Tans stationed in the old Cavalry Barracks at Woodstock Street. While recruiting for the Special Reserves stopped on 7th July 1921 the members of that force only began to leave Ireland in January of the following year. At least one member of the Black and Tans who was based in Athy remained in the town or later returned, which I do not know, for he married a local girl. The story of the Black and Tans is one which we Irish remember as one of killings and atrocities by men who were a law unto themselves. Jim Herlihy’s book is a comprehensive listing of the men who during the 18 months they were in Ireland suffered 143 casualties. During their time in Ireland they earned the outrage of Irish men and women who regarded them as terrorists. The second book published by the County Kildare Decade of Commemoration Committee is titled ‘Remembrance: The World War 1 Dead of Co. Kildare’. Compiled by Karel Kiely, James Durney and Mario Corrigan it lists the 753 men and 1 woman from the County of Kildare who served and died during World War I. The research for this book has uncovered 9 Athy men not previously identified who died during the war. Three of them were from Offaly Street, two brothers James and Thomas Connell and Joseph Breen. As a young lad growing up in Offaly Street I remember the brothers Mick and Johnny Connell lived in Crampton House opposite what is now the Credit Union in Offaly Street, while another brother Lar lived in Stanhope Street. They were the brothers of the two World War 1 soldiers, James who died on 17th April 1915 and Thomas who died on 9th September 1916. Further up Offaly Street during my youth lived Tom Breen and his family, whose daughter Nan died within the last year or two while she was still living in the family home. Tom’s brother Joseph, a soldier in the Royal Army Service Corps, died aged 32 years, less than two weeks before the end of the war. He was born in Janeville and his younger brother Tom at the time of his brother’s death was living with his grandmother Julia Bradley in Offaly Street. Two other soldiers of whom I was not previously aware are identified as William Dooley of Castlemitchell and his namesake whose brother James Dooley lived at Rathstewart Cottage, Athy. Other Athy soldiers who died in the war but whom I was unaware of until they were included in the new book were 22-year-old Christopher Doran of St. John’s Lane, 33-year-old Michael Davis of Kelly’s Lane and later Chapel Hill, Patrick O’Mara of Chapel Hill, and the Vigors brothers, Arthur and Charles, whose father Charles Vigors was a shopkeeper in Market Square in the 1890s and later. The book lists the deaths of 120 men born in Athy, by far the highest number of any town in the county, the next highest being the Curragh with 67 and Naas with 64. An additional 19 names must be added to Athy’s World War I casualty list, representing men not born in the town but who lived there either when they enlisted or sometime earlier. For many years it was believed that they were on the wrong side of history, that is until Kevin Myers, John MacKenna and later Clem Roche and others wrote of Athy’s men’s sacrifices with pride and gratitude. Here in Athy we arranged the first Armistice Day Sunday Service nearly 30 years ago as part of a weekend of remembrance which featured a seminar in the Town Hall, with lectures by Con Costello, Pat Casey, Kevin Myers, Josephine Cashman and Jane Leonard, followed by a performance of ‘The Fallen’, a voice play of the Great War by John MacKenna. This was the first awakening of an important part of our town’s story and one which now finds another retelling of part of that story in the new book ‘Remembrance: The World War I Dead of Co. Kildare’. Congratulations to Karel Kiely and her colleagues James Durney and Mario Corrigan for a magnificent new publication on Kildare’s World War I dead.

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