The Conradh na Gaeilge Oireachtas in Galway – 26 July 1913 and its influence on the 1916 Athenry People in the years before the Rising?
In the rise of Irish Nationalism the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) 1858, dedicated to the establishment of an “independent democratic republic”, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) 1884, an organisation established to foster and preserve Ireland’s games and athletic pastimes and Conradh na Gaeilge – The Gaelic League 1893, a social and cultural organisation established to promote the Irish language in Ireland and worldwide, all played their part.
The IRB quickly infiltrated both the GAA and the Gaelic League and also the emerging Sinn Féin political party.
Most of the officers of the Volunteers, if not all, were IRB and were often very active in both the GAA and the Gaelic League and used their gatherings and meetings to promote their revolutionary activities and the Athenry Volunteers were no exception.
Larry Lardner, Commandment Athenry Volunteers, one of the pioneers of the GAA in the West of Ireland was county secretary and was also secretary of the local Athenry branch of the Gaelic League.
Using the Gaelic League a cover the organisers of the Rising the IRB and Volunteers would meet at the local Feis.
As members of the Gaelic League it is very plausible that Larry and many of the Athenry nationalists attended the first week long Oireachtas held outside Dublin in Galway in July 1913 and met with some of the delegates who attended. For those who couldn’t afford the train, Galway was within easy reach of Athenry by bicycle or side car!
An article in the Galway Advertiser in December 05 2013 states – “The mass influx of moneyed Gaels to the city via a fleet of special trains provided a welcome boost to local business, which, in order to maximise the dividends of these visitors, scheduled the Galway Races and the Citizen’s Bazaar to take place immediately after the Oireachtas. The city was festooned with Gaelic streamers”.
Colm Ó Gaora wrote: “That Oireachtas was a rallying point for many of the Nationalists who later led the rebellion of Easter Week, 1916”.
Seán Mac Diarmada swore Ó Gaora and others into the IRB at the Oireachtas in Galway.
Many of the men dressed like ancient Irish chieftains in saffron kilts and cloaks – made especially for them in Ó’Máille’s of Dominic St.
Coming from other parts of the country especially Dublin these delegates would be interested in speaking to the locals “as Gaeilge” with a view to improving their “blas” of the language but also to discuss and spread their nationalistic ideals. This for many of the delegated was not their first visit to Galway and it was not going to be their last – a few short months later some of them would be back in Galway to attend the inaugural meeting of the Galway Volunteers.
The following are some of the people who attended the Conradh na Gaeilge Oireachtas in Galway.
Patrick Henry Pearse
Patrick Henry Pearse – An Piarsach; was an Irish teacher, barrister, poet, writer, nationalist and political activist who was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916.
Pádraig, his brother Willie and their sister Margaret were born at 27 Great Brunswick, Dublin – now Pearse Street. His father was a stone mason.
Pearse became involved in the Gaelic revival. In 1896, at the age of 16, he joined the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) and in 1903, at the age of 23, he became editor of its newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis (“The Sword of Light”)
He started his own bilingual school, Scoil Éanna in Cullenswood House in Ranelagh, and later moved it to Rathfarnham.
Pearse was at the inaugural meeting of the Volunteers—formed in reaction to the creation of the Ulster Volunteers—whose aim was “to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland”.
In December 1913 Bulmer Hobson swore Pearse into the secret IRB and later he was co-opted onto the IRB’s Supreme Council by Tom Clarke
Many Galway volunteers were present when Pearse gave the famous graveside oration at the funeral of the Fenian O’Donovan Rossa on the 1st August 1915 (… the fools, the fools, the fools! – They have left us our Fenian dead …)
Even though Eoin Mc Neill countermanded to order the Easter Rising eventually began on Monday, 24 April 1916 and Pearse who read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic from outside the GPO, the headquarters of the rising. After they surrendered Pearse and fourteen other leaders, including his brother Willie, were court-martialled and executed by firing squad.
Patrick Pearse often visited the west of Ireland and had a cottage in Rosmuc in Connemara and he came there very often to brush up on his Gaeilge and to write lots of poetry and stories in Irish – “Bhí Sean Mhaitíos ina shuí le hais a dhorais, an té a gabhadh …”
In his writings Pearse often competition referred to the ultimate sacrifice – the story of the old lady who died after winning the “sean nós amhrán” competition in the Oireachtas in Dublin after walking all the way from Connemara. Liam Mellows had the same thinking and did not want to surrender on any account even when at Limepark it was inevitable that there was no point in continuing with the rebellion.
Pearse normally travelled by train to Connemara and would have stopped in Athenry to meet some of his officers. Patrick, the Hare, Callanan in his Witness Statement – BMH.WS0347 – tells of a meeting of Pearse, Lardner and Dick Murphy in Athenry in which Lardner was asked if he could “hold a line on the River Suck near Ballinasloe … Lardner said he could. Murphy then said they could not hold a position on the Suck for any length of time owing to the poor equipment and armament they had …”
We know that Larry Lardner visited him on more than one occasion in his home in Rathfarnham.
Seán Mac Diarmada
A journalist, born in Kiltyclougherr, County Leitrim, he was a member of many associations which promoted the cause of the Irish language, Gaelic revival and Irish nationalism in general, including the Gaelic League and the Irish Catholic fraternity – the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He was national organiser for Sinn Féin and was friendly with Edward Martyn its president. He was a close colleague and friend of veteran republican Tom Clarke.
Seán was one of the seven leaders of 1916, which he helped to organise as a member of the Military Committee of the IRB and was a signatory of the Proclamation. He was executed for his part in the Rising at the age of thirty-three.
Pádraic Ó Conaire
Pádraic Ó Conaire was appointed co-ordinator for the various drama productions during the Oireachtas. There were outdoor public meetings in Eyre Square and Salthill with speakers like Pádraic Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, Thomas Ashe, Prof Tomás Ó Máille, and Úna Ni Fhaircheallaigh (Una Farelly). Cathal Brugha organised an exhibition of arts, crafts, and other manufactured goods in the Temperance Hall which was off Lombard Street.
Many will remember Sean Phádraig Ó Conaire from his statue in Eyre Square in Galway or from learning about “M’Asal Beag Dubh” in school – a journey man Gaelic writer – fond of a pint he frequently visited Athenry before and after the Rising and was often seen “holding up the counter” in Lardners Pub.
Eamonn Ceannt, from Ballymoe in north county Galway, after whom the railway station in Galway is named, was a great musician and used his music sessions to further his under-cover work in the county. In February 1900 Ceannt, along with Edward Martyn (Tulira Castle – President of Sinn Féin) founded Cumann na bPíobairí – The Pipers Club.
Another attendee at the Oireachtas was Una Farelly – Professor of Irish UCD, Founding member of Cumann na mBan presiding at the inaugural meeting. She spent summers in the Aran Islands and founded a branch of the Gaelic League there and was a close friend of Maurice Moore and Rodger Casement.
Even though he does not appear to have been at the Oireachtas Athenry Volunteers would meet Col. Maurice Moore Commander of the Volunteers, when at a review of the Volunteers, staged in “The Back Lawn”, Athenry on the 29th of June 1914, he took the salute of over two thousand Galway members.
Eoin McNeill – the man who countermanded the order to rise out on Easter Sunday attended the Oireachtas. McNeill, Rodger Casement, and Patrick Pearse again travelled to Galway to the inaugural meeting of the Galway Volunteers on the 12th December 1913. Larry Lardner, Dick Murphy and other Athenry activists were most probably at that meeting as they formed the Athenry Company a few weeks later in February 1914 and went on the form many more in south County Galway.
At the Oireachtas, George Nicholls, a solicitor living on University Road, was also a founder member of the Galway Volunteers. He was a musician who formed a pipe band – most of whom were members of the IRB. They played throughout the county at concerts and matches and did a lot of propaganda work.
In Galway George Nicholls and Micheál ÓDroighneáin received the news to rise out on Easter Monday but decided to wait for more information and before they could do anything” were arrested and interned in the “Laburnum” in Galway Bay along with Johnny Faller, Professor Steinberger and Dr Tom Walsh. James Carter, Dr Valentine Steinberger who were also at the Oireachtas in July 1913.
While the Athenry lads may not have known much about him before the Oireachtas they would have met him on the on 12th December 1913 at the inaugural meeting of the Volunteers in the Town Hall in Galway. His name would be well known worldwide when he was hanged at Pentonville Prison in London on 3 August 1916 for his part in the importations of guns from Germany for the Rising.
Alf Monaghan, who was sent to Athenry in January 1916 to assist Mellows with drilling, lecturing and forming new companies in the Gaeltacht, would later have cause to hear about Casement as his brother was one of those drowned in Banna Strand trying to come ashore from the ill-fated Aud.
Douglas Hyde was born in Frenchpark in County Roscommon in 1860. His father was a local Church of Ireland Rector. He became fascinated with the Irish language and entered Trinity College where he studied other languages including French, German, Greek, Latin and Hebrew. He was a leading figure in the Gaelic revival and first president of the Gaelic League, one of the most influential cultural organisations in Ireland at the time. He was instrumental in the conservation many of Antoine Raiftearaí’s poetry. (One from Athenry – Cnochán Iomhair – “Taréis na Nollaig le cúnamh Chríosta “) He later served as the first President of Ireland from 1938 to 1945.
About this time (earlier in 1913), in an important speech, Pádraic Pearse said: “The work of the Gaelic League is finished, it was the prophet, but not the Messiah. The Messiah is yet to come.” In early July Hyde resigned the presidency, and this left the organisation in a state of consternation. After much coaxing he agreed to attend the convention, and throughout the week his presence was met with rapturous applause. At the inauguration of the Ard Fheis in the rooms of the Mercy Convent on July 29 the delegates passed a resolution to invite Hyde to retake his position, which he did and thus defused much of the tension – Galway Advertiser 05.12.2013
Thomas Ashe was born in Lispole, County Kerry. Educated in De La Salle Training College, Waterford in 1905 he taught in the National School in Lusk County Dublin where he founded the award-winning Lusk Black Raven Pipe Band as well as Round Towers Lusk GAA club in 1906. He took part in the Rising in Ashbourne with Dick Mulcahy and was interned in Lewes Prison in England until the 18 June 1917.
Count Noble Plunkett
Count Noble Plunkett – George Noble Plunkett – a wealthy Dublin nationalist. He was created a Papal Count by Pope Leo XIII in 1884. His son Joseph Mary Plunkett joined the IRB in 1915 and soon after was sent to Germany to meet with Rodger Casement, who was negotiating with the German government on behalf of Ireland. Casement’s role as emissary was self-appointed and as he was not a member of the IRB that organisation’s leadership wished to have one of their own contact Germany to negotiate German aid for an uprising the following year. He was seeking, but not limiting himself to, a shipment of arms.
Plunkett was one of the original members of the IRB Military Committee that was responsible for planning the Easter Rising, and it was largely his plan that was followed. Shortly before the rising was to begin, Plunkett was hospitalised following a turn for the worse in his health but in spite of this he joined his comrades in the GPO.
Seven hours before his execution he was married in the prison chapel to his sweetheart Grace Gifford, whose sister, Muriel, had years before married his best friend Thomas MacDonagh, who was also executed for his role in the Rising – Francis Ledwidge wrote about Thomas MacDonagh who was killed in the Somme “He shall not hear the bittern cry in the wild sky where he is lain, nor voices of the sweeter birds, above the wailing of the rain…..”
Athenry was an important railway junction where the Galway – Dublin line crossed the Sligo – Limerick one. It was an ideal place to organise the Volunteers as much of their comings and goings were not that obvious to the authorities in the beginning!
Many Athenry passengers to Dublin would leave their bags and heavy top coats in Tom Clarke’s tobacconist shop, near the Amiens St Station, while they did their business in Dublin. It was a great meeting place and would be the first port of call for Larry Lardner, a special visitor, would be invited into the back room to meet with fellow IRB members.
While Tom is not mentioned as being in Galway during the week of the Oireachtas Kathleen his wife was there. Kathleen, from the republican Daly family from Limerick was a founder of Cumann na mBan established to advance the cause of Irish liberty and to organise Irish women in the furtherance of that objective.
She often contended that her husband, Tom, was the real leader of the Rising but that Patrick Pearse, being more eloquent, took over in the eyes of the volunteers after the epitaph at Jeremiah O’Donnovan Rossa’s funeral. Tom and Kathleen had met Jeremiah while they were in New York. Kathleen did not like Jeremiah at all and once said that the best thing he did for his country is that he died and became a martyr for Ireland. It is very evident in the witness statements of the County Galway volunteers that their attendance at his funeral and listening to Pearse’s oration was a huge occasion and probably a deciding factor for them. Her husband, Tom, and her brother, Ned, were executed after the rising.
AE, George Russell
AE, George Russell was an Irish writer, editor, critic, poet, artistic painter and nationalist from Lurgan in County Armagh, who wrote with the pseudonym Æ. He was a friend of Lady Gregory and the poet William Butler Yeats (who wrote the poem about the Rising – “Easter, 1916” often called “A terrible Beauty is born”) and visited Coole Park often. Over time Coole Park became a focal point for writers who were part of the Gaelic Literary Revival. Synge, Yeats and his painter brother Jack, George Bernard Shaw, Sean O’Casey, Edward Martyn and many more visited Coole. They carved their initials into a tree on the grounds of the house. They can still be seen there to this day. Yeats, Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn (lived in Tulira Castle near Ardrahan was the first President of Sinn Féin) published a Manifesto for Irish Literary Theatre in 1897, in which they proclaimed their intention of establishing a national theatre for Ireland. The Irish Literary Theatre and later the Abbey Theatre was founded by Yeats, Lady Gregory and Martyn in 1899, with assistance from George Moore.
Bulmer Hobson, dubbed “the most dangerous man in Ireland” was a leading member of the Irish volunteers and the IRB before the Rising in 1916. He was sworn into the IRB in 1904 by Denis Mc Cullagh, their head in Belfast. He in turn swore Patrick Pearse into the IRB. Though he was a member of the IRB which had planned the Rising, he opposed its being carried out, and attempted to prevent it. He put together the plan to bring sufficient Volunteers and their supporters, discreetly to Howth on Sunday, 26 July 1914, to unload and distribute the arms being landed from the Asgard at Howth. (12 guns from Howth came to the Athenry Battalion)
As secretary and a member of the Volunteers provisional council, Hobson was instrumental in allowing Parliamentary leader John Redmond to gain control of the Volunteers organisation. He reluctantly gave in to Home Rule supporters’ demands for control, believing that defying Redmond, who was popular with most rank-and-file Volunteers, would cause a split and would lead to the demise of the Volunteers.
Tom Clarke, who was against this action, never forgave him or spoke to him informally again. Hobson resigned as a member of the Supreme Council of the IRB, and was fired from his job in the newspaper the Gaelic American.
Hobson remained a member of the IRB, but, like the Volunteers’ chief-of-staff Eoin Mac Neill, he was kept unaware of the plans for the Rising and in fact he was kidnapped before the rising in case he would release the plan.
Bulmer later retired to a cottage in Roundstone in Connemara. He died in 1969 and is buried in Dogs Bay.
Eamon de Valera
Eamon de Valera (1882-1975) attended the Oireachtas in Galway in 1913.
Born in Manhattan, New York of a Spanish father and an Irish mother, he was sent to live with his grandmother in Limerick at the age of two after his father died. At the age of sixteen he won a scholarship worth £20 per annum to Blackrock College, Co Dublin. He was a maths teacher at Rockwell College, Co Tipperary and later at Belvedere College.
A fluent Irish speaker, de Valera joined the Gaelic League in 1908 and the Irish Volunteers in 1913, having being sworn into the IRB by Thomas MacDonagh.
In 1916 he commanded the garrison at Boland’s Mills. Sentenced to death for his role, this was later commuted to life but he was released in June 1917. He later became leader of Fianna Fáil and was President of Ireland – Grandfather of Eamonn ÓCuiv TD
Michael Joseph O’Rahilly was born in Ballylongford, Co. Kerry in 1875. He was a republican and a language enthusiast, a member of An Coiste Gnótha, the Gaelic League’s governing body. He was well off having £900 per annum much of which he donated to the nationalist cause. He organised the landing of the guns at Howth with Alice Green and Mary Spring Rice (niece to the British Ambassador to Washington) and Erskine and Mollie Childers (who owned the Asgard – the yacht involved).
While was not in the IRB he joined them in the GPO and was mortally wounded trying to escape! A British officer would not let the ambulance man attend to him and he died of his wounds.
Peadar Kearney – Peadar Ó Cearnaígh – born in Dorset St. Dublin, was an Irish Republican and composer of numerous rebel songs. In 1907 he wrote the lyrics to “the Soldiers Song” now “Amhrán na bhFiann” our national anthem.
Kearney was a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. He was part of the Abbey Theatre and took part in the Howth gun running in 1914 and in the Easter of 1916 he fought at Jacob’s biscuit factory under Thomas MacDonagh, even though he was supposed to go on tour with the Abbey Theatre to England. He escaped before the garrison was taken into custody. He was the uncle of Brendan and Dominic Behan.
Cathal Brugha was born Charles William St. John Burgess but after joining the Gaelic League he changed his name to Cathal Brugha. He was an Irish revolutionary and politician, active in the Easter Rising, War of Independence, and the Civil war and was the first Ceann Comhairle (chairman) of Dáil Éireann.
He led a group of twenty Volunteers to receive the arms smuggled into Ireland at Howth. He was second-in-command at the South Dublin Union under Commandant Eamonn Ceannt in Dublin the Rising and was badly wounded. It took him over a year to recover but he had a bad limp for the rest of his life!
Richard (Dick) Mulcahy
Richard (Dick) Mulcahy was born in Waterford in 1886. Lived in Thurles where his father was the postmaster. He joined the engineering department of the Post Office in 1902 and worked in Thurles, Bantry, Wexford and Dublin. A member of the Gaelic League he joined the Volunteers in 1913 and was also a member of the IRB.
He took part in the Rising in Ashbourne in County Meath with Thomas Ashe and after being arrested after the Rising, Mulcahy was interned at Knutsford and later Frongoch in Wales until his release on 24 December 1916.
Countess Markievicz, also at the Oireachtas in Galway was born Constance Georgine Gore Booth, into great wealth and privilege in Lissadell, Sligo. She was not only a politician and revolutionary but also a tireless worker with the poor and dispossessed. Constance, and her sister Eva, were childhood friends of the poet W. B. Yeats, who frequently visited the family home.
She trained as a landscape painter in London and married Casimir Dunin-Markievicz in Paris in 1893. They came to live in Dublin in 1903 and were very friendly with George Russell (AE), Douglas Hyde, Maude Gone and the revolutionary patriots Michael Davitt and John O’Leary
She founded Fianna Éireann in 1909 a paramilitary nationalist scouts’ organisation that instructed teenage boys and girls.
She was jailed for the first time in 1911 for speaking at an IRB demonstration attended by 30,000 people, organised to protest against King George V’s visit to Ireland
When Erskine Childers’ yacht, the Asgard, unloaded arms in Howth on 26 July 1914, Markievicz and members of the Citizen’s Army were there with hand carts and wheelbarrows as were her friends Thomas MacDonagh, Bulmer Hobson and Douglas Hyde
During the Rising, Lieutenant Markievicz was in Stephen’s Green. The English officer, Captain Wheeler (later Major de Courcy Wheeler), who accepted their surrender was married to Markievicz’s first cousin.
Claude Chavasse 1886 – 1971
Claude Albert Chavasse was born in Oxford on the 2nd April 1885. His father was Albert Sydney Chavasse a Professor of Classics and a Fellow of University College Oxford. Claude seemed to have been interested in Irish culture from an early age. He appears to have been a perennial student having entered Oxford in 1903 but didn’t collect his degree until 1909. He was still on the university register in 1916. His sister Marguerite Chavasse came to Achill to set up a Lace School in Keel. Claude decided to visit Achill and he became involved in the Irish school – Scoil Acla.
In 1917 he met and married Máirín Fox, a writer who later wrote the biography of Terence McSwiney, Mayor of Cork. They had one daughter called Aebhgréine.
In 1925 Chavasse was the secretary of the Knocknacarra branch of Conradh na Gaeilge in Galway, he had became a well known figure around the city because of his way of dress. He dressed like an ancient Irish chieftain in a saffron kilt and cloak. He was an avid Irish speaker and refused to speak English. At one time while in Cork, he was fined £5 by a Macroom court for speaking Irish to a police constable. Rather than paying the fine he instead spent two nights in jail. He was elected as the Galway representative for Sinn Fein at the Ard Feis in 1949 under the name Cluad de Ceabhasa. He is buried in Kilcummin Cemetery, Oughterard, Galway.
Claude was related to Violet Florence Martin of Ross, Rosscahill, who in the 1890s, wrote a series of successful novels with her cousin Edith Somerville, of Castletownsend, West Cork. (‘The Irish R M’ – Somerville and Ross)
Written by Finbarr O'Regan
Published here 04 Feb 2021 and originally published 2016
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