Peter O’Regan, Sergeant, R. I. C. Athenry

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Peter O’Regan, Sergeant, R. I. C. was the most senior officer in charge of Athenry and the surrounding district during the Easter Rising 1916.

Peter O’Regan was born in Knockaneady, Ballineen, Enniskeane, County Cork in 1866 to Timothy O’Regan (Timmy) and Ellen O’Driscoll who were married in Enniskeane Church on the 14th February 1857. Peter rarely talked much about life in Ballineen except to tell us that, when he was young, his father was attacked and robbed on his way home after selling cattle in Dunmanway Fair and died soon afterwards. As a result the family had to leave the farm to their uncle and move to Cork city to a very different life. He never forgot the farm and always advised his grandchildren to buy land!
Peter, having been recommended by RIC District Inspector James Cotter, joined the Royal Irish Constabulary on the 14.11.1888 at the age of 22 years and 5 months. He was recorded as a “servant” under “Trade or Calling” on  the RIC register .

After six months of training at the depot in Phoenix Park, where they were trained like soldiers, the constables were transferred to their respective barracks and given carbine rifles, bayonets, police truncheons and revolvers. However, these weapons were old and out of date. Life was tough in the barracks and discipline was rigorous. They were responsible for upholding the law in their district and keeping the peace. Because of their fastidious recording of lawlessness and crime in Ireland the RIC were regarded as a world class police force.

From the 1850s the RIC – Royal Irish Constabulary – performed a range of civil and local government duties together with their policing and integrating the constables with their local communities. In rural areas their attention was largely on minor problems such as distilling, cock fighting, drunk and disorderly behavior, and unlicensed dogs or firearms, with only occasional attendance at evictions or on riot duty; and arrests tended to be relatively rare events.

Despite their armed status, constables seldom carried guns, only waist belt, handcuffs and baton. In any case RIC were badly equipped, had poor rifles and very little ammunition. Often, along with the local priest, they would have an informal leadership role in the community, and being literate would be appealed to by people needing help with forms and letters.

In the big towns and cities, the RIC lived in “barracks” resembling those of the British Army, the small country police stations consisting of a couple of ordinary houses with a day-room and a few bedrooms were also called “barracks”.

Their pay was low, it being assumed by the authorities that they would get milk, eggs, butter and potatoes as gifts from local people. By 1901 there were around 1,600 barracks and some 11,000 constables in Ireland. (Extract – J D Brewer, 1990, The RIC: An Oral History, Belfast)

IN 1889 Peter O’Regan took up his first position in the Black Valley, near the Gap of Dunloe, Killorglan in Co. Kerry, where he met his wife Bridget O’Connor (1868 – 1948) of Beaufort, Killarney at the foot of Carrantuohill Mountain. She had been a governess with the McGillycuddy family in Beaufort and had travelled to Europe on two occasions with Mrs McGillycuddy and the children. Bridget was very proud of the fact that her aunts “the O’Connor girls” were invited to sing and dance for Queen Victoria when she visited Muckross House in Killarney in August 1849.

Compliments Kerry Climbing – Old RIC barracks, Gap of Dunloe. | Facebook

RIC Barracks in New Inn

Peter was transferred to New Inn, Co. Galway in 1896 and after a year came to Athenry where he was promoted to Acting Sergeant in 01.08.1907. He became Station Sergeant in 1909.  He lived in Old Church Street. His neighbour was Maggie Hynes who had a sweet shop. These two houses were later replaced by a more modern townhouse which is situated two doors up from the Athenry Credit Union Office.

Peter was a nationalist and always took pride in the fact that “his father was a Fenian” and he sympathised with the nationalists. However he did his job without fear or favour and was always proud of his life in the RIC. His wife Bridget was also a nationalist and was friendly with the wives of many of the volunteers especially Mrs. Frank Hynes who lived in the little stone house at the end of  Cross street near the gate of Athenry Town house now called Leonards.

RIC Barracks, Cross Street, Athenry

Peter arrived in the Galway West Riding in the middle of a local land war. While land was being divided among many Irish tenants through the various Land Acts many became impatient and took the law into their own hands. In 1908 after agitation by the Athenry Town Tenants League a number of the local estates were sold and most of the tenants in Athenry town were given houses and land. However, the other tenants on land that was not yet distributed continued to agitate for their share and the “land war” continued in County Galway for many years. Because of this agrarian aggression there were more R.I.C. constables, per capita, in County Galway than in any other county in Ireland. There was on average one constable per every 400 of the population. Peter, who was also a tenant, applied for ownership of his house and a share of the land but was not successful. While he got the house he got no land because “of him being in a pensionable occupation”. The local land courts were in his opinion biased in their dealings! Many of his friends who lived in Old Church St got land outside the town. The Finns got land in Ballydavid and later moved to St John’s on the Galway road near Rathmorrissey. The Quinns who were carpenters also got land in Ballydavid and the O’Gradys and Duffys got land in Moanbaun.

The Easter Rising of 1916

When the Irish Volunteers started training prior to the 1916 Rising it was the job of the local constables to “keep an eye on them” and to record their names and activities. At first, they were welcomed as future soldiers for Britain in the 1914 – 1918 Great War and in fact they were trained, in the beginning, by a retired (British) Army Sergeant.

“The police, instead of preventing us from using rifles, stood at the barracks door cheering us on” – Frank Hynes – Witness Statement (WS)

The IRB controlled the Sinn Féin volunteer groups and with fears of British Army conscription for WW1 the ranks of the volunteers were augmented. (Conscription posters in the south urged the young men to “Come and fight for Catholic Belgium” whereas in the north the posters read “Fight against the Austrian Catholics”).

Larry Lardner, Sean Broderick and Frank Hynes were the local IRA officers. Frank Hynes’ house in Cross Street was a great meeting house for the volunteers. It was easy for them to come into town through Leonard’s Lawn (Athenry Town House), across the river and into Hynes’ house without having to come through the streets of the town. It was also easier when the sympathetic RIC sergeant stayed on patrol at the other end of the town.

Cross Street, Athenry
Because of their excellent record keeping Peter and his constables knew the names of all the volunteers and of their various activities when things became serious and when guns, bombs and rebellion was the order of the day. In his witness statement Patrick “the Hare” Callinan says “RIC knew everything that was going on in the community! They were excellent at gathering information. Once we joined the IRB they started questioning us”. Gilbert Morrissey on being interrogated in London said “I did not deny anything as they (London Prison officers) had their information from the RIC – they knew everything”. Sean Broderick speaking of the Galway St. Patrick’s Day Parade tells us that RIC were noting everything – bicycle patrols everywhere – noting who went to meetings and who had guns. Bridget Morrissey speaking about the Back Lawn gathering of Volunteers, on 15th November 1915, states “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. was outside the gate on the day of that first public Volunteer march and thought to stop them, but later decided to let them pass”. They reported that prior to the insurrection, the volunteers held in their possession a total of 58 rifles, 324 shotguns and 75 revolvers.

A close watch was kept on Lardner’s Public house which was a regular meeting place. The railway station was a hive of activity and all strangers arriving or leaving were noted.

Extract from Margaret Browne – BMH.WS0322 – “I found Lardner’s – a public house – at the corner of a street. It was full of people drinking. I walked through into the room at the back of the shop. Laurence was not there but his brother and mother were. They told me he was in Dublin. They also mentioned that Mellows was in the neighbourhood, I think in Oranmore. The brother (Jimmy) assured me that I would be safe in giving the message to himself. Athenry was full of police and the sergeant came in to inquire “who was the young lady that had come in”? Mrs. Lardner told him I was her cousin who was working in Pim’s. The sergeant did not believe her!

Liam Mellows was arrested in Morrissey’s house in Old Church Street and placed under house arrest with relatives in England. When he got back to Ireland, he kept well away from Athenry where he would be arrested promptly. The names of those who met and drilled in the Town Hall were also known to the constables. Those names of those who attended the Conradh na Gaeilge Oireachtas in Galway in 1913 were circulated to the various RIC barracks in the county. Peter always maintained that the plans for the 1916 Rising were made at this gathering. The intention was that the Rising would start on Easter Sunday evening circa 7.00 pm. The plan was to take control of the RIC barracks and use the captured weapons in any ensuing military action. This would be easy because at that time on Sunday night most RIC went to Benediction in the local church leaving just one policeman in the barracks and many of them went for a stroll afterwards.

Because of the misinformation surrounding the actual date and time of the rebellion those in the barracks in Athenry had more accurate information than the volunteers. Station Sergeant Peter O’Regan, the most senior RIC person on duty in Athenry for the week during the Rising, was able to gather in his constables from the surrounding substations and position them in houses near the barracks. Contrary to popular belief the rebels did not take over the town. The leader Larry Lardner was not willing to risk an encounter with the RIC who he perceived were heavily armed. They gathered at the Town Hall but made no attempt to take over the RIC Barracks and instead marched west to meet up with Liam Mellows who was on his way with a contingent of volunteers from Oranmore. They met at the Agriculture College known locally as the Farmyard. They numbered approximately 400 in all.

County Inspector Clayton, Galway East related at a hearing afterwards – “Nothing occurred until 5. 30 on that day, when a message was received that the Sinn Feiners were very busy at Athenry. It was believed that they were going to take the barracks, and it was necessary to reinforce the police there. The attack, however, did not take place. The Sinn Feiners seized the town hall, established their headquarters there, and made bombs during the night. The next morning they moved out about two miles to a farm belonging to the Department of Agriculture, where they were joined by the Sinn Feiners of the West Riding”. (The R I C Report on the 1916 Rising in Athenry – Extract Sinn Féin Rebellion Handbook)

During the 1916 Rising the Athenry RIC were ordered to keep an eye on the “insurgents” so they sent out patrols to observe and record which they did. One patrol with bicycles went out by the old Bóthar Árd in Prospect, crossed over the railway to Newford and approached the Agricultural College / the Farmyard across the “forty acres” field. Their orders were to observe only and not to engage. While some shots were fired in their direction they did not retaliate.

When the Volunteers left the Agricultural College and headed over the Mulpit Road on their way to Moyode Castle, the Cumann na mBan women came into Athenry to gather food for the men. Many of the town’s women baked cakes and gathered at the gate of Leonard’s Lawn to march out to Moyode with the food. Bridget O’Regan, the sergeant’s wife, had four cakes in her basket but as she told the story “her best friend Mrs Hynes grabbed the basket from her” and told her to go home as “she was a peeler’s wife and not one of us any more”. Bridget knew better than the others the immense danger the volunteers were putting themselves in should the British Soldiers catch up with them. (Moyode).

How right she was – troops from Galway, Loughrea and Limerick were ready to mobilise to corner them. The volunteers were lucky that they kept moving south west towards Limepark House. However, that was not the last Peter saw of them during the rising. An Athenry RIC patrol encountered Liam Mellows at Sice’s Cross Roads on the Loughrea / Athenry Road as he travelled from Moyode with a car load of volunteers on a food gathering mission. Shots were fired and Mellows retreated back to Moyode Castle.

Athenry RIC was in touch with the British forces in Galway and soldiers who came from Dublin during the week. According to  Patrick Coy Loughrea WS “These soldiers, that arrived in Loughrea by train from Dublin on Wednesday or Thursday, belonged to an infantry division, the Notts and the Derbys and their strength was roughly two hundred. Some soldiers from these regiments killed innocent civilians in North King’s St in Dublin during the rising. They had horse drawn artillery, about three guns I think. They were billeted in the Old Brewery in Barrack Street. They stayed one night and moved off the next morning in the direction of Moyode Castle”.

By then the “Rebels” were very nearly caught in a pincer hold, between Galway and Moyode, and had they stayed in Moyode Castle they would have certainly been shown no mercy by troops who thought they would have been better deployed on the “Western Front” than putting down a rebellion in Ireland. Due to the surveillance of the RIC it was easy for them to identify those who took part in the rising, round them up and send them to the various holding places to wait for their imprisonment. Newford Barracks, occupied by the Sherwood Foresters, was used as an internment camp.

The War of Independence:

After the Rising of 1916 when the leaders were sentenced to death the sympathy of the ordinary people of Ireland went to the nationalist movement. In 1918 Sinn Féin won a spectacular victory in the Westminster general election. In 1919 the Sinn Féin MPs refused to sit in Westminster and sat in the first Dáil in Dublin.

The RIC were acknowledged as front line of the British Crown in Ireland. Their barracks were an easy target, many were shot at and killed, and others were boycotted by the local people. The vast majority of the RIC were Irish and Catholic. Many, like Peter held nationalist aspirations and were caught between two stools. During the War of Independence most of the Athenry area including the town of Athenry was relatively quiet. The townspeople and many tenants of local landlords now had ownership of their land and were “minding their own business”.

Some very minor incidents happened!

According to Stephen Jordan’s witness statement “The Athenry Branch of the IRB decided on certain actions to be taken which would make the RIC the laughing stock of the countryside. The police transport horse was taken from its stable and hidden for three weeks, while the police searched the countryside without success. After three weeks, on a fair day, the horse was returned with a straw man on its back. On another occasion the tricolour was flown from the chimney of the RIC Barracks and the ladder taken away….”

Jordan continues –“practically all the credit for these and similar incidents was due to that energetic worker, the late T. V. Cleary who was responsible for the planning and execution of all these incidents”.

Liam (Mellows) played tricks on the peelers – leaving his bicycle at the front door of one house while having a meeting in another house and the RIC sign was taken from the barrack’s door.

While Tom V. Cleary got the credit for the pranks our family folklore has it that the raising of the tricolour on the chimney was done by none other than his friend Pete, the RIC Sergeant’s teenage son, whose job it was to sweep the barracks and clean the chimney and who, we also were told, opened the stable yard gate for Tom to let the horse off through the countryside.

While the town was relatively quiet, during the War of Independence, it was a different story out in the countryside where a small local land war continued. In Castle Lambert and Lisheenkyle and in some other townlands the struggle for land continued. Some of the estates in the north west of the town were still in the hands of the landlords and there was some agrarian agitation in this area. Their battle was more about land than the cause of Irish freedom. With the murders of Shawe Taylor, Moorpark and John Joyce, Birchgrove the areas of Castle Lambert, Coshla and Lisheenkyle were under martial law with a regiment of horse soldiers camped in Moorpark. The IRA was getting more violent and the whole county was in a state of anarchy. See Castle Lambert Tapes

“As the violence escalated throughout 1919 and into 1920 a guerrilla war soon developed across the land. Policemen were regularly threatened and attacked by groups of volunteers who now had begun to refer to themselves as the IRA. Soon the RIC were resigning in their droves. This shortage of policemen, and the IRA arson campaign directed against rural police barracks, led to withdrawal of police from most parts of rural Ireland. The overall shortage of police led to the introduction of the “infamous “Black and Tans” and a separate “auxiliary” police force in early 1920. These ……were notoriously ill-disciplined……their behaviour only served to turn the Irish people further against the British Administration, whilst shocking the general public in Britain and farther afield”. Cal McCarthy WS – “Cumann na mBan”. Atrocities were committed on both sides!

In 1919 the RIC began consolidating its forces and many of the rural substations were abandoned. They were immediately set on fire by the local IRA. Life for the RIC was getting exceedingly difficult. Many of the outlying barracks / stations were abandoned and the force concentrated in the bigger town barracks. Windows were shuttered and sandbags were piled in front of the doors. They had no notice of attacks and patrolling on bicycles in the countryside was dangerous as every bush could hide a sniper. In many places the local shops would not serve them and the journey for provisions was a hazardous experience.

There was mass desertion/retiring from the force as they did not want to be in conflict with their fellow countrymen.

….. older men “played for safety,’ (waited for their pensions) hundreds of younger police were quitting their jobs: on average, 52 constables applied to resign each week during the summer of 1920. RIC constables quit the force for various reasons. Some were demoralized and frustrated. Some were afraid for their lives, or for their families. Some of them objected to their new, more military duties. Galvin told the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland that he resigned ‘simply because I did not like the system they have at the present time’. “I was simply only a soldier when I left the police force,’ he said. ‘I had to carry arms and bombs and the like. I had to have my rifle beside me at nights in bed. The police, he said, ‘haven’t very much of their old jobs left to them. The only thing that you had to do as a policeman since 1918 was to lead the military around and point out the men they wanted to get’. Others were dismayed by the brutal behaviour of their comrades. (M. Leeson – the Black and Tans)

Those who remained on were vehemently against the guerrillas and often lead the retaliation parties of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. In some areas those who wished to retire from the RIC were marked men and were sometimes killed by their own comrades. During an IRA ambush on an RIC patrol in south Galway a constable who had admitted that he was about to leave the force was shot by his own comrades.

Peter O’Regan was the Station Sergeant in Athenry Barracks which meant that he was in charge of Athenry Barracks and all the sub stations / constables huts in the Athenry Area.

He did not like to be involved with the British soldiers who had a camp in Newford. This was a convalescent and rehabilitation camp for soldiers wounded and on leave from the Great War. It was also used as an internment camp after 1916 and during the war of independence the soldiers patrolled the countryside wreaking havoc on the people – The Black and Tans

In Athenry during the “troubles” a group of drunken soldiers took over the nun’s convent for the night and the nuns sent a young servant girl to Peter’s house looking for help.  Peter O’Regan the RIC Sergeant, with the help of his constables and some of the townspeople, including a number of the local IRA, arrested the soldiers and brought them to the barracks. During the cold night two soldiers nearly suffocated in one of the cells when they stuffed the ventilator with straw from the cell mattress. In the morning the officer in command called to Peter’s house and demanded the release of the soldiers immediately” saying “they were only having a bit of fun” he said and “should not have been arrested”. On his way out of the house he took a lovely silver mounted walking stick, a treasured present, from the hallstand. On being asked to return the walking stick he said that “it was a stick more fitting for an army officer than a police constable”. However, the RIC and the townspeople (including a number of hardline nationalists) stood their ground and the soldiers were not released until the walking stick was returned.

The soldiers were mostly Irish and were normally well behaved, but the real trouble started when the Sherwood Foresters came to County Galway after the 1916 Rising. While the native Irish soldiers in the British Army normally fired warning shots over the heads of the insurgents the Foresters usually shot to kill.  They were merciless in their dealings with the rebels and had committed many atrocities in Dublin during the Rising,

“ … during the Irish War of Independence, and especially in the late summer and autumn of 1920, lynch law prevailed in many parts of Ireland. Frustrated by their inability to defeat their enemies in battle, and embittered by their inability to convict them in court; terrorised by the guerrillas, and shunned by the people; enraged by the deaths of their comrades, and inflamed by drink; incited by their officers, and encouraged by faint official censure—the police took to reprisals as a form of rough justice. Police mobs destroyed the homes and shops of republicans, and police death squads executed known and suspected insurgents. These crimes have been widely blamed on the R.I.C.’s British recruits, but evidence indicates that Irish police were just as likely to take reprisals as Black and Tans. When British police and Auxiliaries took reprisals, they were following the bad example set by their Irish comrades”. M. Leeson – the Black and Tans

As the War of Independence was increasingly becoming more vicious in other parts it eventually reached the Athenry district through an unrelated action – the murder of a local landowner Frank Shawe Taylor of Moorpark in March 1920 by locals who were more interested in agitating for land than in the fight for Irish freedom.

Peter O’Regan knew that it was time to retire from a force that had lost its power to keep peace in the land. He was not prepared to wage war, against his friends and fellow countrymen, as one of a violent and embittered remnant of the RIC with their new allies the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries. At 54 years of age with 22 years of service in the R.I.C., after a minor accident and just a few weeks before the official date, he retired from the force on 23.07.1920 with a full pension having had a favourable service record throughout his career. He did not want to be on a force whose main job from now on would be to travel with Black and Tans on open trucks showing where the “Fenians” lived and so that they could arrest and abuse his countrymen. After he retired he spent the next nine months in his house with two loaded pistols beside his bed every night in fear of being attacked not by the IRA but by diehards in the RIC / Black and Tans, who were frightened of the “invisible enemy” and embittered and out for vengeance for their comrades who were killed in the conflict.

Peter was lucky to retire when he did. In October 1920, as a reprisal for the murder of Frank Shawe Taylor, an RIC led force of Black and Tans murdered Tom Egan of Coshla in front of his wife and children.  Peter knew of their plans and sent a colleague, Constable Burke, down to “warn Tom Egan that the Tans were planning revenge for the murder of Frank Shawe Taylor of Moorpark” but Egan did not heed the warning and was murdered that evening.

In June 1921 the local Athenry Tennis and Cricket Pavilion was destroyed by the IRA and a local man, Bill Freaney, well known to Peter, was killed in the incident.

There were still reports of unrest in Athenry in 1922 where RIC houses were attacked –

‘Many attacks on ex-policemen and civilians and raids on houses are reported, principally from the West of Ireland, the most serious incident occurring at Athenry, were the raiders used rifles and a machine gun, and at Ballinasloe were a number of ex-policemen were beaten.
A number of ex-policemen in Athenry got notice to leave the town last week but some declined to do so. About midnight a number of men with rifles, and it is said, a machine gun opened fire on the house of Constable Beatty, who has since left. Sgt. McGovern lived in the same house. The windows in the house of Constable Lyons were broke by rifle bullets, and he and his family have also left. Shots were fired into the houses of ex-Constable Hansberry and Reynolds, Sgt. McGlade, Sgt. Lynch (with his wife and children) and Constable Spratt have also moved.’ Irish Independent – 12 June 1922.

Later Tim Hanberry ex RIC and the owner of Hanberry’s Hotel in Swangate wrote to the Independent to say that his house was not attacked. Sgt. McGovern did not leave Athenry! Peter O’Regan’s house, not 100 yards from the hotel, was not attacked!

This was not for Peter who was happy that he was not involved in this mayhem and was very relieved, as everyone was, when the fighting was over! The past few years were not easy on Peter, because of his job he was regarded as “the enemy” by some in Athenry and one shopkeeper even refused to serve “the RIC man”. These people were in the minority though, Peter had an unwavering sense of justice and honesty, his job as he saw it was to uphold the law and look after all the people of Athenry and surrounding area. Most people viewed him as an ‘Athenry man and a law man’ more than an RIC man. When the shopkeeper refused him service his old friends from Old Church Street kept him in fresh food from their own farms. When there was trouble, at the nun’s convent, he was able to call on many people including many of the local IRA. This was also the reason he got his walking stick back. His house was never attacked, his former colleagues never bore him any ill will and he lived out his days in relative peace in Athenry.

The very vicious and bloody Irish Civil War which followed did not interfere with his retirement apart from the fact that his son Pete and his friends Tom Cleary and Chris Daly spent some time in Galway jail during an investigation over the shooting of Corporal Stephan Diviney in Old Church Street. They were bystanders at the scene of the shooting and were arrested and taken to Galway. When Pete’s brother, Tim, visited them in jail “all they wanted were tin whistles and anything that would make a racket”. They were enjoying themselves!

Looking back on his life in Athenry Peter had no regrets. He worked to the best of his ability in the RIC, and was very proud of the award “presented in recognition for his services to the state during the “Sinn Féin Rebellion of 1916: by the Executive of the Irish Police and Constabulary Recognition Fund”. Along with the award he was given “£5.00.00 in scrip of the War Loan”.  While the conflict of 1916 – 1923 was a major event in his life, gathering information, record keeping, faction fights, dog licences, drunk and disorderly people, bicycles without lights, accidental deaths and much more occupied most of his time in the service of the RIC. The records show many of his court appearances and they show that he applied the law without fear or favour – rich or poor the law was applied no matter what.

Talking of his life in the police force, where he saw killings, accidents on road and rail and the riots in Belfast, Peter said his worst day was when a little boy fell into the river when it was in flood and was carried away. A sheaf of oats was put into the water where the child fell in and it led them to the swallow-hole near Newford. The body was never recovered.

Intertwined relationships:

During Peter’s time in Athenry he witnessed the 1916 Rising, the Land War, the riots in Belfast, the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. There were different factions – landowners, shopkeepers, tenants, nationalists and volunteers, police and army, Catholics, Protestants and their clergy – apart from the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries – there was no clear cut “them and us”. The lives of the people involved were intertwined. Many of those in the RIC and the British Army in Ireland were working for the British but were nationalists and Irishmen at heart. They were all friends and neighbours for most of the time.

The “Easter Rising falling out” between Peter’s wife Bridget and Mrs Hynes’ was not long lived. After 1916 Frank Hynes went on the run and eventually spent the War of Independence in Cork where he was a local hero amongst the nationalists. Peter and Bridget helped the Hynes family survive until he came home and were there for him when he was in poor health in the coming years. Many of the local youths of the town visited the Newford army camp where they learned to drive the army trucks. A girl from the nationalist Cleary family married a soldier from the Newford barracks and “went off with him to England”. One of his old “enemies”, Sean Broderick, a TD in the first Dáil, built Peter his new house in Swangate where he lived in retirement. He helped another nationalist Stephen Jordan TD set up a business in the town.
Peter’s son Tim was friendly with Tomas Clarke who was executed for his part in the Easter Rising. In 1915 Tim spent a year in Dublin and stayed with Mrs. Kenny who had a hotel in West Rutland Square. The Kenny family, who had RIC connections, had moved from Old Church St in Athenry to Dublin. During that time in Dublin, Tim used to go to Clarke’s tobacco shop for cigarettes and was in Dublin during the Rising of 1916 and on the eve of the Rising Tom Clarke said “goodbye”. Tim, on his way to and from college in Waterford, would often leave his bag and coat in Clarke’s shop near Westland Row train station in Dublin as did many Athenry people when there were in the city for the day. He was once asked by one of Tom Clarke’s friends to bring a “suitcase” to a republican sympathiser in Athenry knowing that the sergeant’s son would not be searched on his arrival in the station in Athenry. It was only “after the deed” that he realised the enormity of his actions.

Later he and his sister Babs often met Thomas Clarkes’ wife, Kathleen, at the Gaelic League meetings. Kathleen was not very fond of Padraig Pearse and had her own view of the Rising and the early years of the new Free State. – see Gaelic League Galway 1913. For many years to come, Tim and his sister Babs, while teaching in Carnaun School taught the sons and daughters of “rebels” and gave them a great start in life and made many wonderful friends. It was to Tim O’Regan that many of the local 1916 Volunteers came to fill their forms when they were applying for the 1916 pension.

When people write or talk about this period, they rarely mention the names of the Athenry RIC who had a reasonably good relationship with the volunteers in the area and were caught “between two stools” in 1916. In the face of an uprising, as trained policemen, they remained calm and collected and did not engage with the Volunteers and in fact may have saved many lives on both sides. They had families in Athenry and many stayed in the area when the conflict was over and contributed to the community in many ways in the following years. Some of their descendants still live in the area.

Constable Taheny who lived in Abbey Row, Athenry, spent many days in the “Police Hut” in Coshla was highly regarded by the people there. However, because shopkeepers refused to serve him in Athenry the family moved to Woodquay in Galway. His son Donal, renowned teacher and historian, taught in the “Bish” for many years and was a good friend of our family. Peter enjoyed his retirement in Swangate. He tended his garden, grew lots of vegetables and kept a flock of chickens. He was always there for his grandchildren who have very happy memories of helping him at his chores and listening to stories of his youth in County Cork and in the Black Valley.

He was born after the Fenian Rising and lived through extremely hard times in the aftermath of the Great Famine. The loss of his father at a young age, leaving their fine farm in Ballineen, life in the tenements of Cork City and the loss of his siblings to emigration affected him and in later life he would often talk of these events with sadness. These early struggles probably shaped his morals and ideals of justice. He rarely mentioned The 1916 Rising or the Land War. His wife Bridget died in 1949. Peter died in 1954 and they are both buried in St Mary’s Churchyard in the Square, Athenry.

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About this record

Written by Finbarr O'Regan

Published here 13 Mar 2021 and originally published 2016

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