Tuesday, June 30, 2020

An Garda Siochana

The shocking murder of Garda Horkan while he was on patrol in the County Roscommon town of Castlerea is a grim reminder of the dangers that face all members of the Garda Siochana as they go about their duty as ‘guardians of the peace’. In two years’ time the Irish nation will celebrate the centenary of the establishment of the Garda Siochana. The Treaty which marked the end of the War of Independence provided for the disbandment of the R.I.C. on 20th February 1922. However, it was not until the 9th of February that Michael Collins arranged for a police organisation committee to meet under the chairmanship of I.R.A. veteran Michael Staines. Even before the committee reported on 27th February recruits were received into the new Irish police force to be known as Civil Guards at their temporary base in the R.D.S. Dublin. The R.I.C. originally intended to be disbanded on 20th February were still in charge of Dublin Castle until the 17th of August when the new Irish police force, the majority of whom were without uniforms, took control of what had been the centre of English policing administration in Ireland. The Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries had earlier been disbanded and returned to England on 18th February. The Minister for Home Affairs was reported in the Irish Independent of 8th March 1922 as saying of the Civic Guards: ‘it will be the duty of the new force to protect the lives and the property of all Irish citizens irrespective of their political views.’ The anti-treaty followers led by De Valera through their spokesman Austin Stack, claimed ‘the setting up of this new force is not calculated to promote order, but rather suspicion, discontent and disorder.’ Stack’s intervention did not auger well for the acceptance of the new policing force by the substantial minority on the losing side of the Civil War. The Civic Guards to be renamed ‘Garda Siochana’ following a Temporary Provisions Act of 1923 were an armed force replicating in many ways the R.I.C. which they replaced. The strength of the R.I.C. prior to disbandment was approximately 14,000 men, while the new policing force comprised approximately 4,000 men including some former R.I.C. officers whose presence led to the infamous Kildare barracks mutiny of May 1922. It was following that mutiny led by former I.R.A. men who objected to former R.I.C. officers being promoted within the ranks of the Civic Guards that a Kevin Sheils chaired enquiry recommended that the Civil Guards be unarmed and that a politician should not head up the force. The resulting resignation of the first Commissioner Michael Staines led to the appointment of Eoin O’Duffy who would serve as Garda Commissioner for the next 11 years. The Kildare mutiny of May 1922 was followed a month later by the start of the Civil War. In the meantime armed Civic Guards have been dispatched to towns and villages throughout the 26 counties occupying where possible former R.I.C. barracks. However, up to 75% of the country’s R.I.C. barracks had been destroyed during the War of Independence so that in many towns, private houses were occupied by the Civic Guards. The new police force had no duties relating to the Civil War which were the responsibility of the 50,000 strong Irish army. Despite this the first fatal casualty of the new police force was a young County Laois man, Henry Phelan who was shot and killed in Mullinahone on 14th November 1922. He was the first of nine policemen killed in the first four years of the new force. The lawlessness which marked the Civil War years was again evident when two Gardai were killed on the night of 14th November 1926 by the I.R.A. That night the I.R.A. attacked 12 Garda barracks throughout the country. Attacks on members of the Garda Siochana continued throughout the 1930s and 1940s, resulting in the death of 21 Garda members between 1922 and 1949. Garda Horkan is the 89th member of the force to die in the line of duty since its foundation in 1922. As the son of a Garda sergeant whose first station was Cloonfad, Co. Roscommon, where the alleged killer of Garda Horkan last resided, I was particularly moved by the brutal killing of a lone Garda going about his duty. The Garda Siochana police by consent and have done so for almost 100 years, having replaced the R.I.C. whose members during the War of Independence were at first ostracised and later subjected to constant attack. It took a number of years for the Gardai to overcome the colonial legacy of the R.I.C. years and to gain acceptance within the communities they served. The 1950s and the 1960s were in terms of community integration the decades which confirmed that the Garda Siochana were respected and committed to serving the public. The members of today’s Garda Siochana have a very difficult crime detection and prevention role to play amongst the communities they serve. Garda Horkan’s death highlights the dangerous job every Garda undertakes every day. They are brave men and women and they deserve our gratitude, our respect and our cooperation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Some books from my shelves

During the Covid 19 lockdown I had the opportunity of re-acquainting myself with some of the books I acquired over the years. Many of those books, long unnoticed, had interesting provenances indicated by inscribed names. One of the most interesting books was O’Donovan Rossa’s ‘Recollections 1838-1898’ in which O’Donovan Rossa signed his name in New York on 6th January 1905. That same book was later signed by Michael Collins. It sits on my bookshelves, not far from Katherine O’Shea’s ‘Biography of Charles Stewart Parnell’ which she signed and presented to her daughter Norah. A sorrowful period in more recent Irish history is captured in Carlton Younger’s book ‘Ireland’s Civil War’ which bears the signature of Richard Mulcahy who was Commander in Chief of the Free State army during the 1922-23 conflict. Not too far away on an adjoining bookshelf is another book with a note signed by John O’Connell of the Mental Hospital Mullingar dated 11th September 1945 and addressed to Dan Breen Esq. T.D. which reads ‘I feel sure you will enjoy reading the enclosed. William was the noblest Roman of them all.’ The book was written by Michael McDonagh and published 17 years previously on the life of William O’Brien, the Irish Nationalist. O’Brien who died in 1928 was an unusual combination of politician, journalist and land agitator who on the invitation of Charles Stewart Parnell edited the United Ireland newspaper in the 1890s. He was the author of the No Rent Manifesto and was imprisoned with Parnell in October 1881. Following the Kitty O’Shea divorce controversy O’Brien supported the Anti-Parnellites and later went on to establish the United Irish League. Dan Breen was a republican soldier and politician, famous for his exploits with the third Tipperary Brigade of the I.R.A. during the War of Independence. His book ‘My fight for Irish Freedom’ published in 1924 is a colourful account of his activities during that period. The book which Dan Breen received from John O’Connell was annotated by him, or at least that part of it which he read, with notes in the margins which he signed ‘Dan Breen’ occasionally inserting the date, ‘28th August 1946’. At page 60 McDonagh wrote of Parnell’s offer to Gladstone to retire from politics following the Phoenix Park murders on 6th May 1882. Breen wrote on the side of the page ‘How did Kitty O’Shea fit into Parnell’s release. Did Parnell give way to human weakness. Which is the crime? Dan Breen.’ On the same page McDonagh described O’Brien’s abhorrence of the killing of Cavendish and Burke in the Phoenix Park to which Breen added this note: ‘Yes, the publicans who were in the pay of the enemy would have got men to lynch the Fenians. Why not give Joe Brady credit, I did the same in 1919.’ Breen’s reference to 1919 was to his involvement in the Solohead ambush which resulted in the killing of two RIC constables on 19th January of that year. On the next page of McDonagh’s book Breen wrote: ‘I was taught to kill the enemy by any and every means, I got a medal for trying the same act in 1919.’ Later on in dealing the Invincible conspiracy McDonagh described the Phoenix Park murders as ‘an inexplicable deed’ and questioned as to who could be the perpetrators. ‘Surely not Irishmen’, he suggested, to which Breen added at the side of the page the word ‘yes’. McDonagh referred to the Invincibles as the type of men ‘who must invariably emerge from the lowest deeps of revolutionary movements’, to which Breen added the note ‘it was Mick Collins, Sean Treacy etc.’ and again signed his name as he had done with all previous notes. Dan Breen may have put the book aside at this stage as no further Breen notes were found. He apparently finished his perusal of McDonagh’s book with the following note written on a small white envelope which he gummed to the top of a page: ‘Why did Parnell want to get out of jail? I suggest it was to see Kitty O’Shea. Well why should Ireland sit back became of any man’s desires. He wanted Kitty O’Shea, brave men wanted Ireland free and rid of the castle gang – so the Park execution. Dan Breen 28-8-’46.’ An unusual item amongst my history books is a novel by Maxwell Gray ‘The Last Sentence’. A 1912 printing in the Heinemann’s Seven Penny novel series, it was once owned by the Irish patriot Roger Casement who signed his name on the flyleaf. I also have a two volume biography of Lord Randolph Churchill, authored by Winston Churchill which bears the signature of Erskine Childers and the note ‘read with M.A.C. April 1906’. The M.A.C. referred to was Mary Alder Childers, or Molly as she was known, who was Erskine Childer’s wife. History books are the voices of the past and especially so where they are personalised by the hand of the author or by a famous figure from the past.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Kilkea Castle Auction Catalogue 7th December 1947

The sale of the entire contents of Kilkea Castle took place over four days starting on Wednesday, 5th December 1945. Advertised as an executor’s sale the auctioneers were Greene Bros. and Duthie Large Ltd. of Athy. I have before me the supplementary catalogue of the books from Kilkea library totalling approximately 2,500 volumes which were sold on Friday, 7th December. Kilkea Castle was not sold until 15 years later after the Marquess of Kildare, Gerald Fitzgerald, had concluded a deal with the family of Harry Mallaby-Deeley. Mallaby-Deeley, a wealthy businessman, had in 1919 paid the debts of Gerald’s father, Edward Fitzgerald, on condition that if Edward ever became Duke of Leinster the income from the family’s estate would be paid to him, less £1,000 a year which the Duke could retain. Edward Fitzgerald’s two older brothers died before their father and the title passed in 1922 to the improvident gambler, Edward. He would live until 1976 to be succeeded as Duke of Leinster by his only son Gerald who had earlier agreed to the sale of Carton House, Maynooth for the benefit of the Malaby-Deeley family in return for Kilkea Castle remaining in the ownership of the Fitzgerald family. Gerald Fitzgerald lived in Kilkea Castle for a number of years following his second marriage in 1946. A considerable amount of the land which formed part of the Kilkea estate was compulsory acquired by the Irish Land Commission and the remaining land was farmed by Gerald. He also established an aviation business based in Dublin called ‘Vigors Aviation’ which proved to be much more profitable than farming in the 1950s. The aviation business moved to Oxfordshire and this precipitated the sale of Kilkea Castle in 1965 to the American businessman William Cade. The catalogue for the Kilkea Castle library auction is a bibliophiles wish list with several special editions of famous Irish history works described as ‘Printed for the Marquis of Kildare and presented to him by the editor’. Also for sale were many books by the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens and local Ballitore author Mary Leadbeater, all of which I recognise as first editions even though none were so described. What a wonderful opportunity that December auction offered to anybody interested in Irish history or English literature. In the spring of 1946 the student magazine of St. Patrick’s College Maynooth ‘The Silhouette’ included an article which the author using the nom de plume ‘Knight’ claimed was based ‘on actual facts’. Outlining the story of the fairy Earl of Kildare who dabbled in black magic, he explained how the Earl was able to transform himself into a blackbird. However, following an incident with a cat the Earl, now a blackbird, was unable to revert back and tradition related that the blackbird lives on as a captive of ‘the good people’. The article then related how the auctioneers at Kilkea ‘last December’ sold a portrait of the fairy Earl and a cut glass bowl of which the Earl was especially fond. At the end of the auction the Castle was locked with the sold items stored inside. The next day when the buyers returned to Kilkea Castle to collect their purchases the auctioneers found that the Earl’s portrait had fallen from the wall and was lying face down on a table. The canvas was slashed right down the centre as if with a sword. All the glass items on the table were intact, except for the fairy Earl’s bowl. It was smashed to pieces. The story of the slashed painting and the shattered glass bowl is just one of the many stories which have gathered currency over the years in relation to the Fitzgerald family and Kilkea Castle. The clerical student who penned the article in 1946 insisted that the story he related was based on actual facts. However, the fairy Earl he referred to has been generally known as the wizard Earl. The auction of 74 years ago no doubt saw the contents of Kilkea Castle dispersed far and wide. I would expect that some of the items sold during the auction are to be found today in many households in south Kildare. The books from the Kilkea library had been collected over many years by several of the different generations of the Fitzgeralds including Lord Walter Fitzgerald. Lord Walter was a true Irish patriot whose love for Ireland, its history and its antiquities inspired him to research and write on subjects which showed his remarkable scholarship. His writings are to be found in the pages of the early volumes of the Kildare Archaeological journals and the Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland. But where now, I ask, are the books sold at the Kilkea auction on 7th December 1945?

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Railway comes to Athy [2]

John Lord Solicitor in his letter to the Railway Company on 30th May 1846 wrote:- ‘The Town Commissioners hereby require you to make or construct the high road which runs over the railroad in Athy through Leinster Street ..... in a straight line on or over the high road ..... without any diversion or curve from the original line of the said high road ..... and take notice that if you refuse to comply with the terms of this notice or persist in or attempt to raise, sink, embank, obstruct or stop up or divert so much of the high road as leads through the said town and borough of Athy or alter the levels of the same otherwise than as the said plans and specifications allows such proceedings will be taken against the directors and others concerned in the said railway or branches as counsel may advise.’ The Minute books of the Town Commissioners do not indicate how the matter was resolved but the present twin level approach roads separated by a wall at the top of Leinster Street apparently satisfied the Commissioners who wrote to the Railway Company on 5th March 1849 expressing satisfaction with ‘the permanent useful and ornamental wall’. Several local land owners were handsomely compensated by the Railway Company, including Edward Dillon who received £460 and a Mr. Bradley who was paid £600. Bothair Bui, the area through which the railway line passed, had cottages on both sides of the road and these cottages had to be demolished. Local lore claims that the families whose cottages were removed to accommodate the railway line and the bridge emigrated to America where they named the area they settled as Bothair Bui. The Athy resident, Michael Carey, noted on 18th July 1846: ‘Row between railway people and the townspeople at the Convent’. The reference to ‘the Convent’ was to the Dominican Convent then located at one end of Bothair Bui and would appear to confirm difficulties between the Railway company and the Bothar Bui householders whose cottages would eventually be demolished in May 1849 almost three years after the first train travelled through Athy. Railway stations were built at Clondalkin, Lucan, Hazelhatch, Straffan, Sallins, Newbridge, Kildare, Athy, Maganey and Carlow to plans submitted to the Railway Company Board by MacNeill. The Athy station like all the other stations on the Dublin Carlow line was designed in the Elizabethan style. Denis Cogan, former Kildare County Architect, described Athy’s railway station ‘as a good example of the Elizabethan building style and marks the civic spirit of the Railway Company in giving to Athy a well designed building of quality and presence meeting the Vitruvian commandments for good architecture – firmness, commodity and delight.’ Praise for the Elizabethan style railway stations was not universal as evidenced by the Carlow Sentinel which described them as ‘gloomy looking edifices’ in which ‘the taste partook of barbarity’. The first train journey on the new railway line took place on Monday 3rd August 1846 when the Railway Company directors and guests took two first class carriages on the 56½ mile trip to Carlow. There is no indication that the train party which included amongst others the engineer John MacNeill, William Dargan the contractor and Alfred Haughton of Carlow stopped at Athy. Three years later Alfred Haughton was to begin work on building Ardreigh House, Athy from where I am writing this article. Later that month John MacNeill, who had previously worked with the renowned English engineer, William Telford, was knighted by Queen Victoria. The Dublin Carlow railway line was opened for public traffic on the following day, Tuesday 4th August 1846 to facilitate race goers travelling to the first day of the Carlow races at Ballybar. There were two trains a day each way. From Dublin at 9.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. and from Carlow at 9.30 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. The first train to stop at Athy Railway Station was the 9.30 a.m. train from Carlow which was scheduled to arrive in Athy at 10.08 a.m. The train fares from Dublin in 1846 were six shillings and six pence for first class, five shillings for second class and two shillings ten pence for third class. Early third class carriages on the Dublin Carlow line were roofed unlike similar class carriages on other railway lines where the passengers had no protection from the elements. Third class carriages were finally removed from service in 1956, while first class travel on the current Waterford Dublin line was abolished in more recent years. The original railway line to Carlow was double tracked but in September 1918 was single tracked from Cherryville junction to Athy to provide rails for the railway line between Castlecomer and Kilkenny. The double line from Carlow to Athy had earlier been reduced to a single line and the lifted rail used in the construction of a new branch line which opened on 24th September 1918 to serve Wolfhill colliery. Today rail travel is more popular than ever before with rail users at Athy Station served by a station staff of one where sixty years ago upwards of 44 men were employed.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Railway comes to Athy [1]

The first railway line in Ireland was opened on 17th December 1834 when a steam powered train travelled from Westland Row to Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire), carrying the railway company directors and their wives together with the railway contractor, William Dargan. The journey of 6½ miles lasted for 19½ minutes. It followed on nine years after the world’s first railway line was opened between Stockton and Darlington, England. Plans to build a railway line to serve Athy and further south were proposed by the Great Leinster and Munster Railway Company as early as 1836. The directors of the company promoted the passing of an Act of Parliament to allow the railway to be built. However, the Barrow Navigation and Grand Canal Company raised objections to the proposal and successfully petitioned the Standing Orders Committee of the House of Commons to stop the Members of Parliament considering the matter. In the meantime several Irish railway companies were formed and numerous surveys carried out with a view to building railway lines throughout Ireland. There were so many railway construction proposals a Royal Commission was established to recommend which lines should be built. The Great Leinster and Munster Railway Company succeeded in getting an Act of Parliament passed in 1837 to allow its railway line to be constructed but decided to await the Royal Commissions report. The report when published did not recommend the line proposed by the company and the plans were shelved. Another Parliamentary Act was passed in 1844 which authorised the building of a railway line by the Great Southern and Western Railway Company between Dublin and Cashel, with a branch line through Athy to Carlow. Michael Carey of Athy noted in his Journal on 1st April 1844 ‘Measuring for the railway’. The line of the proposed railway was surveyed by John MacNeill who was Professor of Engineering in Trinity College Dublin. On 26th October 1844 Carey noted ‘railway through Bottoms’ and the following year without specifying the exact date ‘railway bridge at Athy Station finished’. The work on the new railway line coincided with the early years of the Great Famine. The failure of the 1845 potato crop appears to have had less serious consequences for the south Kildare people than elsewhere in the country. Athy’s workhouse which opened the previous year with a capacity of 360 adults and 240 children housed 269 inmates in November 1845. Of those inmates only 2 were able bodied men, while 38 were female adults and the rest children. The low number of male inmates was no doubt due to the work available during the building of the Great Southern and Western rail line to Carlow. The work continued throughout 1845 and up to August 1846. The contractors William Dargan and William McCormack employed a huge local workforce, described as men ‘who never handled a pike or a shovel, never wheeled a barrow and never made a nearer approach to work than to turn over a potato field with a clumsy hoe.’ A letter written by William Taylor, Secretary of the Railway Company to Dublin Castle on 25th September 1846 hints at difficulties experienced by the company during the building work in the Athy area. ‘I beg to inform you that the object for which additional police force was required at Athy has been affected and the works of the company quietly completed in the town in consequence of their presence there.’ A permanent reminder of the difficulties facing the Railway Company in Athy remains to this day in the twin level approach roads from the town centre to the railway bridge. Athy Town Commissioners were somewhat at sea in relation to the construction of the approach road to the bridge and on 1st September 1845 they sought the Duke of Leinster’s opinion as to how they should act. The advice received is lost in time but on 7th May 1846 the Commissioners chairman, Patrick Commons, wrote to the Railway Company stating; ‘The Commissioners now see what is intended to be done and are of opinion that it is the worst plan that could be adopted in as much as it injures the property on the opposite side of the street and entirely disfigures the principal entrance to the town.’ The Railway Company appears to have ignored the Commissioner’s letter for on 30th May 1846 the Town Commissioners solicitor, John Lord, wrote to the Railway Company upbraiding them for attempting to construct a road from the railway bridge into the town, contrary to the plans and specifications which the Railway Company had previously lodged with the Clerk of the Peace for the county of Kildare.