The first branch of the Irish Volunteers, in County Galway, was formed at a public meeting in the Town Hall, Galway, on 12th December 1913 and according to the local Connacht Tribune 13th December 1913 “Mr (Patrick) Pierce stated … that Ireland armed would be able to make a better bargain with the British Empire for Home Rule than Ireland unarmed….” It also tells us that “Eoin McNeill, Rodger Casement, Patrick Pearse and George Nicholls, a solicitor from Galway, attended”. 246 people were enrolled and as a result of this meeting by the following May there were 3,037 members in 30 branches of the Volunteers in County Galway and by August 1914, with the official support of the Irish Party and the Irish Catholic Church, there were 9,969 men in 110 companies in County Galway with 184,000 nationwide.
The people of County Galway were ready for this! It was not the first time Eoin McNeill, Rodger Casement and Patrick Pearse were in Galway! They were there a few months earlier at one of the most significant events in the west of Ireland before the 1916 Rising. This event was was the Conradh na Gaeilge Oireachtas in Galway – 26 July 1913
Conradh na Gaeilge – The Gaelic League established 1893 was a social and cultural organisation established to promote the Irish language in Ireland and worldwide. It played a big part in the rise of nationalism in Ireland and the Oireachtas in Galway was a recruiting event for this!
On 8 February 1914, an inaugural meeting was held for the Athenry Volunteers in the Town Hall, Athenry. An Irish Volunteer Company was established and officers were elected. The elected officers were Larry Lardner, Company Captain, Frank Hynes, Vice-Company Captain and Seán Broderick was Lieutenant. James (Jim) Barrett and Stephan Jordan were also members of this Company.
They drilled at the rear of Athenry Town Hall which was belonging to Dick Murphy who was the Centre (Leader) of Irish Republican Brotherhood IRB man in the Athenry area.
It was the policy of the IRB to infiltrate the volunteers and consequently all officers of the Volunteers were members of the IRB.
Other local officers who had an IRB background included Eamonn Corbett, Patrick Callanan (the Hare) and Patrick Jordan in Clarinbridge, Gilbert Morrissey in Rockfield and Peter Howley in Ardrahan. Brian Molloy was in charge of the Castlegar company and Nicholas Kyne in Claregalway. Tom Kenny, an agrarian agitator and leader of the “Galway Secret Society”, had a big influence on the volunteers with the power to make and unmake its officers even though he, himself, was not an officer. (Morgan Healy was elected as Company Captain in Rockfield but Tom Kenny was influential in replacing him with Gilbert Morrissey) Many of the volunteers were farmers’ sons with an expectation of eventually getting land when it was divided and most of them took part in the agrarian violence in the county before and
In Athenry the Volunteers held their meetings in Dick Murphy’s Town Hall and were normally drilled, in the yard behind the hall, by retired NCOs of the British Army. The RIC were delighted to see them drilling as they saw them as future British Army recruits. World War I caused many of the ex-NCOs to be called up but by this time the officers of the various companies knew how to train the men.
At a review of the volunteers, staged in “The Back Lawn”, Athenry on the 29th of June 1914, Colonel Maurice Moore, commander of the Volunteers, took the salute of over two thousand Galway members. In July 1914 after the Howth and Kilcoole gun runnings – twelve rifles were dispatched to Athenry. The local Royal Irish Constabulary reported that prior to the insurrection, the volunteers held in their possession a total of 58 rifles, 324 shotguns and 75 revolvers. Ex-NCOs started training the Volunteers for combat.
However the 1914 – 1918 war had a big effect on the Volunteers as John Redmond urged them to support the war effort and McNeill was against recruiting. There was a split and the Redmonites circa 147,000 were called the “National Volunteers” and those who sided with Mc Neill were called the “Irish Volunteers”. Many Redmonites joined the British forces in the war but by 1915 many of those who remained in Ireland joined the “Irish Volunteers” while the rest became inactive. In County Galway, where the majority were farmers’ sons who were interested in getting land sided with McNeill.
Liam Mellows arrived in Galway in the early spring of 1915, having gained notoriety for his work with the nationalist youth organisation Fianna Éireann and his recruiting work for the Irish Volunteers. He was appointed chief organizer for the Irish Volunteers in County Galway. Immediately after his arrival the Volunteers in were put on a stricter military basis and re-organised as a brigade. Brigade Headquarters was Athenry and was known as the “Athenry Brigade”. Larry Lardner was appointed Brigade Commandant. Eamonn Corbett was Vice Commandant. Following Lardner’s promotion Frank Hynes was elected Captain of Athenry Company. While he was in Athenry Mellows lived in Sean Broderick’s house in Old Church St. and later in Frank Hynes’ house in Cross St.
In July 1915 Liam Mellows was arrested and sentenced to three months in Mountjoy and returned to Athenry on his release.
During a Volunteer rally in Athenry on 23 November 1915 Liam Mellows was presented with a motor cycle which he used thereafter in his extended area of command. The O’Rahilly was present at this rally. There were 12 Catholic priests also on the review platform.
In January 1916 Alf Monaghan was sent to assist Mellows with drilling, lecturing and forming new companies in the Gaeltacht. However he lived in Higgins’ house in the Blackmountain near Castlelambert, Athenry for some time before the rebellion.
On St. Patrick’s Day 1916, over 600 Volunteers including those from Athenry attended the Galway City parade carrying guns and pikes, while marching through the city. John Broderick, Quarter Master of the Athenry Battalion mentions in his witness statement that the volunteers ‘received a rough reception from the wives and dependents of British Soldiers’ during the parade.
Shortly afterwards Liam Mellows was again arrested and deported to England where he was put under house arrest in Leek, Staffordshire with relations of his father but escaped with the help of his brother Barney and Nora O’Brien, daughter of James Connolly and returned to Galway on the Saturday before the rising but as Athenry was not a safe place for him he made Killeeneen his headquarters.
He stayed in Walsh’s house. Mrs Walsh was the school teacher in Killeeneen School and her daughter, Bridget, was involved in the Rising.
County Galway gets the command!
Margaret Browne (later Mrs Sean McEntee) came from Dublin to Athenry on Holy Thursday with the message that the insurrection was to begin on Easter Sunday!
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.
However, on Easter Sunday morning, the Volunteers received a message from Eoin MacNeill, via the national newspaper, stating that ‘all parades of Volunteers arranged for the weekend were cancelled’. McNeill had word of the capture of the Aud – a ship with arms, for the insurrection, from Germany. Without these arms the Volunteers did not have sufficient guns or ammunition for a proper insurrection.
It had been arranged that 3,000 rifles from the Aud were to reach Galway and according to Alf Monaghan “there was a man in Galway ready for each rifle”. However Rodger Casement failed to get sufficient guns from the Germans, who were toying with him and when three days before Easter he was arrested at Banna Strand in Kerry Eoin Mac Neill decided to cancel the rising.
Little did Alf Monaghan know, as he prepared for the Rising, that his own brother was one of three volunteers drowned at Banna Strand in an unsuccessful attempt to land the small supply of arms.
However on the following day, Easter Monday, a Miss Farrelly came on the one o’clock train with a dispatch from Padraig Mac Piarais to Commandant Lardner saying “We are out from 12 o’clock today. Issue your orders immediately P.H.P” (Patrick H Pearse) and orders were sent to all companies to mobilise immediately. Each battalion of Volunteers was to attack the police barracks in its locality, capture and make available arms, and await further orders.
The instructions were to mobilise for manoeuvres. Only the officers knew the real plan, the rank and file did not know that they were heading for an insurrection of any kind!
Frank Hynes, who was at home for his lunch in Cross Street got the message to call to the Town Hall where the Athenry Company was to meet. Jim Barrett was sent to Killeeneen to pass on the news to Liam Mellows. Mellows immediately instructed to all volunteer Captains to mobilise their companies.
Patrick (Hare) Callanan was dispatched to mobilise the volunteers of Maree, Oranmore, Castlegar and Claregalway. A message was sent to Gilbert Morrissey to warn the Rockfield Company. Pádraig ÓFathaigh was sent to Kinvara to mobilise the volunteers there and to bring Fr O’Meehen to Killeeneen but he was arrested before he could do so.
On Wednesday morning, Thomas NcInerney, the Brigade scout visited the companies at Gort, Kiltartan, Ballycahalan, Kinvara and Ballinderreen and found them all “mobilised and standing to arms in their respective areas”.
However due to the countermanding and the poor communications at the time many companies did not receive word of the rising. Mountbellew, Loughrea, Mullagh. West Galway were cut off from the rest of the county and got no instructions.
At Moycullen Pádraig Thornton did not mobilise his company because “they had no guns”.
In Galway George Nicholls and Micheál ÓDroighneáin received the news but decided to wait for more information and before they could do anything” were arrested and interned in the “Laburnum” in Galway Bay.
Clarinbridge and Oranmore
On Monday Liam Mellows and the Killeeneen and Clarinbridge Companies attacked the RIC Barracks in Clarinbridge and when they did not succeed Fr Tully, the Parish Priest, told them “that God’s curse would be on them if they used any violence” and told them to call off the attack. Shortly afterwards when the RIC refused to surrender Mellows called off the attack.
In Oranmore, on Tuesday morning Joe Howley assembled 106 men from the Oranmore and Maree companies. The officers had revolvers, many of the men had shotguns, there were no rifles and the rest had pikes and hayforks. After failing to capture the barracks they withdrew to join Mellows at Clarenbridge. The two groups under Mellows and Howley decided to attack Oranmore Barracks again but on their way they came under fire from a party of police just outside the village.
In the meantime Mellows got word that a large number of police were on the train from Galway to Oranmore and more by road so he decided to retreat back along the Oranmore Athenry road with some captive RIC men.
About a mile from Athenry they met the Athenry Company, under Larry Lardner, marching towards Oranmore to meet up with Mellows.
There was a large force of RIC in Athenry Barracks and another in Newford outside the town. So far they had not suspected anything and if the original plan had been carried out it is probable that all the police barracks in the country could have been taken without a fight. In Athenry that night most of the police, except one in the barracks, were at Benediction so it would have been a relatively easy target. By Monday morning the local RIC had heard of the insurrection in Dublin and also that “the local volunteers had been making bombs all night in the town Hall”.
When the news of the rising came the Athenry Company assembled in the Town Hall but by this time the RIC had the news also and the constables from Newford and surrounding areas were rushed into Athenry. All small outlying barracks and police huts were abandoned.
Lardner had decided that an attack on the RIC barracks in Athenry would be disastrous as the barracks was surrounded by houses all occupied with by the RIC, who had a distinct advantage over a poorly armed attacking party. He decided to retreat towards Oranmore and meet with Mellows and his contingent and let Mellows decide what to do! They met with Mellows at the “Farmyard”.
The two groups of Volunteers met at the Agricultural College and Model Farm (locally known as the “The Farmyard”) and Mellows decided to take possession of that for the time being.
Later that evening they were joined by Volunteers from Rockfield, Newcastle, Derrydonnell, Cussaun and Kilconieron. Fr. Feeney and a group of Cumann na mBan were also there. The women were given the beds normally used by the agricultural students while the rank and file slept in the stables and outhouses on beds of straw.
Officers in command at the Agricultural College were: Liam Mellows GHQ organiser in supreme command, Larry Lardner Brigade Commandant, Alf Monaghan, Eamonn Corbett Vice Commandant, Mattie Niland Adjutant and Seán Broderick Quartermaster.
In the morning they were drilled, for some time, by an officer and later “told to fill a cart with potatoes”. From the beginning on Easter Monday volunteers were busy barricading roads, bringing in means of transport and food. Several bread carts, a tea van and some loads of flour were commandeered. Scouts were sent out to “get information on the movements of the British”.
Captain Peter Howley and the Ardrahan Company of the Volunteers held the road south at Tulira Castle between Ardrahan and Gort, with orders to delay any British troops coming from the south. They held this position until later in the week when the main body of volunteers decided to move to Limepark House near where Howley lived.
Castlegar and Claregalway
In the meantime on Easter Tuesday the Castlegar and Claregalway companies were mobilised and marched towards Oranmore to join up with Mellows. However they had to change route when word got to them that Mellows was on his way to Athenry. Tom (Sweeney) Newell was sent to Mellows for further instruction and the two companies spent the night in barns in Kiltullagh and Carnmore. In the morning at Carnmore, as the prepared to march towards Athenry, they were attacked by a party of RIC, who came from Galway in a convoy of cars, and even though the fire was intense they managed to beat them back, killing one constable and wounding another. They then continued on their way to the “farmyard” across the mountain and joined Mellows there later in the morning!
There were between 500 and 600 hundred men with circa 50 rifles with 30 rounds for each rifle and the rest were old shotguns and about a dozen pikes. (Many of these pikes were made by the Newells in Claregalway).
The local RIC sent out bicycle patrols to check where the volunteers were and to ascertain how many were mobilised and how many guns they had. Their first engagement was at the Agricultural Farm on Wednesday morning, with a cycle patrol of RIC from Athenry who came out by “Bóthar Árd” to Newford and across the fields towards the main farmyard gates.
Patrick (the Hare) Callanan tells us in his witness statement that “On Wednesday of Easter Week a small contingent of the Royal Irish Constabulary from Athenry attempted to attack the rebel position at the Agricultural College. They came from the Newfort direction but Captain Eamonn Corbett and a few men opened fire on them from the Mulpit road. The RIC then retreated back towards the town.
After this engagement with the RIC Mellows decided to bring his Volunteers to Moyode Castle.
On Wednesday evening the volunteers, on realising that their position in the Farmyard was vulnerable, decided to retreat to Moyode Castle which, in their opinion, was much easier to defend. That evening they marched the five miles by the Mulpit and Bottom Road to Moyode Castle, a Persse Mansion, which was unoccupied at the time with only a caretaker in charge and was easily captured!
Members of Cumann na mBan went through Athenry and asked the housewives to made cakes of bread to feed the volunteers in Moyode. They gathered at Frank Hynes’ house in Cross St. from where they brought the food out to Moyode Castle.
Stephan Jordan tells us in his witness statement that “Shortly after returning to Moyode Mellows sent me in charge of a party to get potatoes. They went to a big farmer named Joe King and took two cartloads from the pit. While loading the potatoes a strong force of police, from Athenry, on bicycles came along the Loughrea road in the direction of Moyode. We opened fire on them and they replied. A pitched battle raged for some time. The firing was heard in Moyode. Mellows immediately mobilised two or three car-loads of men and came to our assistance. By the time Mellows arrived the police had retreated a considerable distance”.
On Thursday Tom Kenny arrived in Moyode and at a meeting with Mellows he told Mellows that a battalion of soldiers 900 strong had arrived in Ballinasloe and were ready to march towards Galway. In his witness statement Frank Hynes suggested that Kenny only was trying to frighten Mellows to “give up and go home and have sense”. This caused panic among the officers. During the argument that ensued Mellows handed the leadership to Lardner, who said he had no intension of disbanding but after a while Mellows resumed command! Mellows then, with some of his officers, travelled by car circa 12 miles towards Ballinasloe but apart from the deserted RIC Barracks in New Inn saw no evidence of British soldier activity. On his return Mellows told his officers that Kenny was trying to mislead them. Frank Hynes and Fr Feeney urged the officers to “stick together and put let the men be informed of the situation and be given the option of going or staying”.
Many of the rank and file had been mobilised on Easter Tuesday believing simply that they were to take part in a route march but now found themselves engaged in open rebellion. Consequently about 200 went home but the following morning many came back to Moyode again.
Thursday evening brought a sense of impending doom to Moyode, there were rumours and counter rumours and the leaving of the 200 volunteers had a disturbing effect on those who remained. On the Friday, the Volunteers received information “that the British were preparing a full scale attack on Moyode involving the mobilisation of British Military and that circa 900 troops were advancing from Attymon and that the soldiers in Galway were aware of their position in Moyode and were advancing towards them. Also 200 Marines had been sent from Queenstown (Cobh) from Galway City and the HMS Gloucester, a gun boat, was now in Galway Bay”.
There was a deserted mansion near Peterswell called Limepark and the Volunteers “decided to hold council there”. The route taken to Limepark was to the east of Craughwell, by Ballymana church through Monksfield On the way by Craughwell they met with some local clergy, Fr Tom Fahy and Fr. O’Farrell “who told them they were marching to certain death – they had definite information that Dublin had surrendered and that the soldiers in Galway were aware of their movements and were marching to meet them”.
Mellows refused to order the men to stand down but Fr. Tom Fahy asked him could he talk to the men.
Against the better judgment of Liam Mellows Fr. Tom Fahy, addressed the remaining 350 volunteers. “Fr. Fahy convinced the Volunteers that Limepark would be too difficult to defend, telling them that if they did not disband they would be killed by the advancing British Soldiers – they had made their gesture and now they must disband and preserve their lives for the next fight”. Later that evening, after a lot of argument and discussion, the Volunteers reluctantly decided to disband and on Saturday, 29th April 1916, five days after the rising in Galway had begun the 350 rebels were advised to returned to their homes, “through short cuts protecting themselves as best they could” while Liam Mellows and the officers went “on the run”.
“On the Run”
Liam Mellows and Patrick Callanan escaped to New York, Eamonn Corbett to California and Larry Lardner escaped to Belfast. Tom Kenny got to Boston and Fr. Feeney was “banished”, by the bishop, to the United States for 5 years. Seán Broderick and Frank Hynes were hidden in Maynooth College for some time and eventually Frank Hynes got as far as Cork where he played a big part in “the Irish War of Independence” later. Both Alf Monaghan and Frank Hynes in their witness statements give an interesting account of being “on the run” with Liam Mellows.
Larry Lardner went ‘on the run’ and in 1918 he was arrested and served three months in a Belfast Prison. On his release he was rearrested at the Prison Gates and deported to England where he served a further 12 months in Lincoln Prison. While there he became closely acquainted with Eamon de Valera, a fellow prisoner at the time, and assisted in his escape
After the rising many of the Galway Volunteers were imprisoned in various jails in England and Scotland – Glasgow, Knutsford, Lewes, Perth, Stafford, Wakefield, Wandsworth and Woking – before being interned in Frongoch Internment Camp in North Wales where most of the rank and file were retained until the following July and the some more prominent members were detained until Christmas 1916. Twelve Athenry volunteers were imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs Prison there they remained until 1917. They were known locally as the twelve apostles and were identified as Thomas Barrett and Charlie Whyte, Caheroyan; the O’Grady brothers, Church Street; Martin Hansberry, Rahard; Peter Murray, Derrydonnell; Michael Higgins, Castlelambert; Patch and Thomas Kennedy, Sliabh Rua; Jack Hanniffy, Tallyhoe; Murty Fahy, Sliabh Rua and Michael Donoghue.
Finbarr O’Regan January 2014
Connacht Tribune, Galway
Land and Revolution – Campbell 2005
Witness Statements – James Barrett, Stephan Jordan, John Broderick, Michael Kelly, Frank Hynes, Gilbert Morrissey, Michael Newell, Peter Howley, Martin Newell, Mrs Anna (Frank) Fahy, Margaret Browne McEntee, Nora Connolly O’Brien, Bridget Walsh Malone, Alf Monaghan, Pat Killeen, Fr Tom Fahy, Patrick (Hare) Callanan
Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook – Weekly Irish Times, Dublin 1917
Weekly RIC reports
Carnaun National School, Athenry 1891 – 1991 – O’Regan 1991
Written by Finbarr O'Regan
Published here 04 Feb 2021
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1916 Easter Rising
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