I was born in the Year 1898 on the 17th March, at Cahercrin, Craughwell, Co. Galway. I was educated at Craughwell, N.S. until I attained the age of 14 years.
I had six brothers, and two sisters, all older, except one brother, all of whom God has called from this world, R.I.P. I trust.
After I left school, I stayed at home, helping my mother as both my sisters, were married. Then my father bought me a bicycle to do the shopping, etc, being 3 miles from Athenry town.
1916 – 1921
In 1914, I was asked by Miss Julia Morrissey if I would join the girls movement in Athenry. I asked her what it meant, she said – just take first aid lessons and help at sports and hurling to sell badges and attend sewing classes. She said “We have already got ten girls”. I said I would but as I had a lot or work to do at home, it would have to be in the evenings, and she said “of course”, so I started at first aid classes two evenings a week given by Dr. Kit O’Farrell, of Ballymana, Craughwell. And later, I helped in making tricolour badges, small flags, kit-bags etc. I already knew that there were formed companies of Men’s Volunteers in many areas, small numbers at first but later many joined. We had a Company in our area called the Rockfield Company. My brother Gilbert was the head of that Company, as every company had to have a Commander. There were only about 21 men at first but later I could name at the present moment 37.
Parade Meeting in the Back Lawn 1915
Then in 1915 I was told there was to be a parade meeting in the Back Lawn in Athenry (now Kenny Park). All Volunteer Companies now formed a battalion, and Larry Lardner, Athenry, was batt-officer.
I remember all Companies marched into the lawn and most of them carried single barrel shot guns. Any man could have a single barrel gun at that time as there was no law or licence for that, but no one could have a double barrel or rifle. The R.I.C. were outside the gate on the day of that first public Volunteer march and thought to stop them, but later decided to let them pass. We, girls, wearing the Tricolour, marched in afterwards and took up our place at one end of the field. Two men in uniform from Dublin came in to inspect the volunteers who were lined up in two lines. I would say there were about three or four hundred in all, as companies came from Athenry, Derrydonnell, Oranmore, Carnaun, Newcastle, Craughwell (who had by then changed its name from Rockfield), Cregmore, Kilconiron, Kiltulla, Monivea, Killimordaly, Clarenbridge, Maree, Castlegar, Claregalway, I don’t remember any more. The company captain of each company, stood in front of his men. I remember that those two men came up between those two lines, addressing them and then came to speak to us girls. I remember him saying that the volunteer girls of Dublin were now called ‘Cumann na mBan’, and that we were to be known by that name in future. Our duty was to attend the volunteers, cater for them and help in every way possible; by collecting funds, helping at sports, helping at dances, etc. Later we did all this by giving teas and sandwiches at sports, at hurling matches and selling little tricolour badges.
People were very poor at that time. We could give a cup of tea and a jam sandwich for one shilling (having profit at the same time). The badges only cost one penny, and the dances two shillings to get in. There were plenty of boys and girls who played music with melodians, yet all monies taken were handed over to the brigade to buy arms, ammunition and steel to make pikes. I knew blacksmiths who made hundreds of pikes ‘on the quiet’.
Liam Mellows and Joe Mullen and the Easter Rising of 1916
Then in late summer of 1915 I think, there were two young men students from Pearse College in Dublin to organise all west Galway. Their names were Liam Mellows and Joe Mullen. They worked with great zeal in training the young volunteers in the use of arms, drilling etc. They stayed in different houses pointed out to them by the company captains in the different areas and were catered for by leading members of Cumann na mBan (who also had lessons given to them by Liam Mellows). This continued on until the Rising of 1916, on Easter Tuesday morning, when all companies were told that the men of Dublin were out fighting in Dublin since Monday and the dispatch to the other counties was in some way delayed. Some counties did not turn out but Galway did, when the word got to them. Mellows, and all of the Companies that I have mentioned, turned out and mobilised at the ‘Farmyard’, now Mellows College, Athenry.
I, and some of the Cumann na mBan arrived in the early afternoon with our kits which contained bandages, iodine, gauze, ointment etc. My company members asked me if I would cycle into Athenry for cigarettes, tobacco, matches, socks and other things. I went in and Miss Morrissey, Miss Kennedy, (afterwards Mrs. Larry Lardner), Dolly Broderick and Kathleen Cleary (who were the leading members) supplied me. I must say all the girls of Athenry were wonderful in sending out food, and helping in every way. I cannot mention the names of all the members so I hope it will be overlooked, as my memory is not as good now. I know I cycled in from the farmyard to Athenry at least four times with messages from the Company leaders, as I was the only member having a bicycle at the time. I met Father Feeney (later tortured and drowned by the Black and Tans in 1920). I remember Mattie Niland of Clarinbridge telling me who he was, and he just called to find out if any man or boy needed confession, if they had not already done their Easter Duty. Fr. Feeney only stayed an hour.
At about 5 o’clock the men were lined up for another march, not before there was some exchange of shots with the R.I.C. who had a police hut near there. Our men took whatever guns and ammunition they had, then they ran them into the Athenry barracks and there they locked themselves up and no R.I.C. were seen again until some days later.
Our men marched then to Moyode Castle and the Cumann na mBan girls followed afterwards. I think I saw about six girls at Moyode that night before I left for home to get ready some grub. Two young boys had already collected food and an ass and cart to be told where to take it. The neighbours were very good in giving our girls what they needed, so I told the young lads to go up to Fahy’s in Templemartin and that they would be told there where to go. But they went no further, as there was word sent out to Fahy’s that the fight was over in Dublin and that Captain Mellows, who had a dispatch from there, told his men that there was no use in he having those men’s lives in his hands, and that they were to go home quietly by the fields, as he had word from Galway that the British army stationed in Renmore were on their way to Moyode. He also said that if any men or officers wanted to go with him, they could. About 150 men went with him and they went to Limepark where they demobbed later and went on the run. It was during the fight in Dublin (where there were many lives lost on both sides) that our men in Dublin got word that the shipload of arms coming in to them was sunk outside Cork. Rodger Casement was taking them in from Germany.
So, early on Thursday the R.I.C. were out of Barracks and arresting all they could lay hands on. Some avoided arrest by going on the run for awhile anyway. All were rounded up by the end of May and put to Galway jail, Limerick’s Mount Joy, Kilmainham, and later after a sham trial were sent in cattle boats over to England and Wales and kept there, and some were sent home as their health was breaking down. Anyway by Christmas the last of them were released. My brother Gilbert was among the last batch to be released. Again, our Cumann na mBan girls showed their loyalty by sending out parcels of food such as cakes, cheese and cigarettes to their companies. They were allowed letters and parcels – but they were censored. I remember one of my brothers was in Wormwood Scrubs and another in Frongoch jails but they were released with many more before the end of September. My brother, Gilbert was changed with many others to different jails. So ended the Rising!
It started again, a few years later with the Cumann na mBan girls, or most of them, still helping. I must say that the girls were very good and will, I trust, be remembered with respect.
Bridget Morrissey (Mrs. B. Ruane) for “The Athenry Journal”, December 1999
Note: This article first appeared in ‘Beginnings’-a journal produced by students at Presentation College, Athenry in May 1982. It is reproduced here by kind permission of Mary B. Keane, daughter of Bridget Morrissey (R.I.P.)and wife of Jim Keane, Boyhill, Athenry
Feature image: ‘Veterans of the War of Independence who attended the opening of an Exhibition entitled ‘Athenry the Way of Independence’ in Athenry Library were: Mrs Bridget Ruane, Mr James Cleary, Mrs Stephen Jordan and Mrs Richard Murphy.’
Written by Bridget Morrissey
Published here 09 Feb 2021 and originally published December 1999
Cuimhní m’Óige le Tomás Ó Cobhthaigh
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