James joined the IRB in Athenry about 1913. He was sworn in by Dick Murphy who was the Centre at the time. Meetings were held every month and the principal matters discussed were the spreading of the orgaBMHnisation and the suitability of persons proposed for membership.
He joined the Athenry Company of Volunteers at the inaugural meeting which was held very early in 1914. Larry Lardner was Captain. Training parades were held twice weekly. At first they were trained by reserve N. C. Os of the British Army but at the outbreak of the First World War they were called up and from then on the volunteers in Athenry were trained by their own officers. The training included drill, Musketry, Pike Drill, Scouting and First Aid.
At the split in the Volunteers caused by John Redmond’s speech at Woodenbridge a special meeting of the Volunteers was held to decide which side the Volunteers would take. The position was explained by Captain Larry Lardner who said that anyone who did not stand behind McNeill was free to leave; no one left.
Early in 1915 Liam Mellows was appointed chief organiser for the County Galway. Immediately after his arrival the Volunteers were put on a stricter military basis and re-organised as a brigade. Larry Lardner was appointed Brigade Commandant. Following Lardner’s promotion Frank Hynes was elected Captain of Athenry Company. Training was intensified and Liam Mellows gave a series of lectures on tactics. They had field exercises and at weekends had inter-company manoeuvres. He also concentrated in bayonet training; they also had a good deal of rifle practice and fired both .22 and service rifles in the woods near Athenry.
Shortly before the rising the volunteers were warned that the R. I. C. might attempt to disarm them and if so they “were to resist by force of arms if necessary”. At a company parade during Holy Week orders were issued for the Company to parade at either 3 or 4 o’clock on Easter Sunday evening and to bring all arms, equipment and rations. They were also advised to receive the Sacraments which the vast majority of the Company did.
Shortly after Mass on Easter Sunday McNeill’s countermanding order for the afternoon was received in Athenry and as a result the mobilisation for the afternoon was cancelled but they were told to hold themselves ready for a further mobilisation.
At 12 noon on Easter Monday James met Commandant Larry Lardner who told him that the Volunteers “were out in Dublin”. He gave James a dispatch to deliver to Liam Mellows who was at Killeeneen. James thinks that the despatch was that the rising had started in Dublin. He went to Fleming’s house in Clarinbridge and gave the dispatch to one of the Flemings who was also a volunteer, to deliver to Mellows. James waited in Fleming’s house until he came back and when he came back gave James a dispatch for Larry Lardner.
Mellows dispatch to Lardner was to “mobilise all companies immediately and to form a line of communication between Athlone and Galway”. On delivering the dispatch to Lardner James was ordered to go to Ballinasloe with dispatches for Fr. Connolly; the College, Ballinasloe and Professor Gaffney; Ballinasloe and to bring two men with him. James brought John Walsh and John Cleary.
It was late on Monday night when they cycled to Ballinasloe and they arrived there early on Tuesday morning. He gave the dispatches to both Fr Connolly and Professor Gaffney. The dispatches were instructions to form a line of communication between Athlone and Galway. Fr Connolly said he would endeavour to get in touch with the Athlone volunteers but he understood that they had left Athlone and had gone in the direction of Shannonbridge.
James Barrett arrived back in Athenry about 1pm on Wednesday and went out to the Agricultural Farm and reported to Commandant Larry Lardner. While at the farm a reconnaissance of R. I. C. approached the farm. The volunteers opened fire on them; they replied to the volunteers fire and then retreated.
On Wednesday evening James Barrett marched with the volunteers in military formation by road to Moyode Castle arriving there at about 7 or 8 on Thursday morning. While in Moyode James went out with a couple of foraging parties. On one occasion he was sent out to get some cattle for slaughtering. He brought back “twenty of the finest bullocks to be got anywhere”. They were the property of Dalys of Dunsandle; however none of them was slaughtered. He went on another occasion to Mr Ward, publican and grocer of Kiltulla for tea, sugar and tobacco. James gave him a receipt for the goods and told him “that if we won we would pay for them but if we lost he would lose very little”. When commandeering provisions etc they only went to wealthy shopkeepers and big farmers.
Late on Friday night the volunteers left Moyode and went to Lime Park. On the march James was acting rearguard scout. He was overtaken by Rev Tom Fahy. He advised him to go home and said that there were 1,200 marines ready in Galway to come out and attack them. James said “I will not go home without an order from my superior officer!”
On arriving in Lime Park James went into the kitchen with Charlie White to prepare some food. Some hours later John Walsh came in and told them that that the Volunteers had been disbanded and had already left Lime Park. James told the five or six RIC prisoners who were in a room off the kitchen that they could have the food that was prepared.
At the entrance gate to Lime Park James overtook Liam Mellows, Alf Monaghan and Frank Hynes. He offered to go with them (“on the run”) but Mellows would not agree. He told him to “knock around for a while and soon it will be all over but it would be different for them”. James noticed that Mellows was still in uniform but had no great coat. He offered to give him his; at first he declined but on James assuring him that he could get another one he reluctantly agreed to take it. James said that some years later when he met Mellows he recalled the incident.
James went “on the run” but some weeks later he was captured and brought to Galway Jail. After a few days he was transferred to Richmond Barracks in Dublin. From there he was sent to Knutsford Jail. After a short time he was sent to Frongoch. He was released in August 1916.
(Extract from BMH.WS 0343)
Written by Finbarr O'Regan
Published here 04 Feb 2021
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