The R I C Report on the 1916 Rising in Athenry (Extract Sinn Féin Rebellion Handbook)

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RUTTLEDGE, County Inspector G. B., Royal Irish Constabulary in the West Riding of Galway, gave important evidence before the Hardinge Commission. He was awarded the King’s Medal for the conspicuous courage and ability he showed during the rebellion when no troops were available.


At the sitting of the Commission on Saturday, 27th May, County Inspector George Bedell Ruttledge, Royal Irish Constabulary stated that he had been 27 years in the police force, and was now stationed in the West Riding of County Galway. Describing the origin of the Irish Volunteer movement, he said that the first branch of the Irish Volunteers was formed in Galway town on December 12, 1913, at a meeting which was addressed by Sir Roger Casement. Mr. P. H. Pearse, Professor John MacNeill, and a man named George Nicholls.

At that meeting 248 members were enrolled, and George Nicholls, of Galway, became an active organiser. At the end of May, 1914, there were ten branches, with a membership of 964; on June 24 there were 24 branches with a membership of 1.938; in July 42 branches with 3,704 members; in August 54 branches and 5,179 members.

Up to this time drilling was actively carried on by the various branches. After the outbreak of the war and Mr. Redmond’s declaration in Parliament offering the services of the Volunteers for home defence a marked change took place. No drilling practically took place, as many of the drill instructors, being military reservists, rejoined the Army and there was also a fear that, they might also be called on to serve in the Army. The Volunteer movement then fluctuated, and the branches became less and less. Then in March, 1915, William Mellowes took up his headquarters in Athenry, and became an active organiser in the locality, which had always been disaffected on account of agrarian agitation.

He gathered together all the young men who were members of a secret society, and who had pronounced disloyal views. Three branches were formed with a membership of 144 in May, and in the same month a meeting was held in Tuam, which was addressed by William Mellowes and Sean McDermott.

The latter’s speech was most seditious, and he was prosecuted and sentenced to four months’ imprisonment. In November a large public meeting was held in Athenry and was attended by all the extremists in the district, vowing to the influence of the leaders the members of three branches of Mr. Redmond’s Volunteers turned over and joined the Sinn Fein section. These three branches had been in localities which were always disturbed and honeycombed with secret society influence.

In February an organiser called Alfred Monahan arrived in Galway, and displayed great activity. He was ordered to leave Ireland before the 8th April. He left Galway and evaded arrest. On St. Patrick’s Day a large Sinn Fein demonstration took place in Galway. It was attended by 562 Sinn Feiners from Galway East and West Riding; 200 of them had rifles and shot guns, and 20 carried pikes. There were 1,070 Sinn Feiners in the Riding.

The Chairman – “Now tell us about the outbreak”.

The Witness -The rebellion commenced in the County Galway at 7.20 a.m. on Tuesday, 25th April, by an attack on the police barrack at Gort, (Editor’s Note – it was actually Clarinbridge) 9 miles from Galway. That attack continued till 10.50. The barrack was fired upon, and the windows were smashed.

The rebels numbered 100 at first, but the number increased as time went on. Stone barricades were built across the road at each end of the village. The barrack was defended and held by five policemen, who were first called upon to surrender by a leader of the rebels, who threatened to blow up the barrack.

The Chairman—What is his name?

The witness gave the name privately, and continued—The rebels withdrew to Clarenbridge, where they were reinforced by others.

An attack was made on Oranmore Barrack. The attack there commenced between 12 noon and 1 p.m. The railway line and the telegraph poles were cut, and a large hole was made in the bridge. The barrack at Oranmore was defended by four policemen until relief came at 7.30 through the arrival of a party of police and military from Galway. The rebels took to flight towards Athenry in motor cars. Ten Sinn Feiners were arrested and placed on board ship in Galway Bay. Special constables were sworn in and three neighbouring police stations were closed and the police concentrated in Galway. Two hundred troops arrived on Wednesday, and next morning at 4 o’clock the party went out, and were met by a considerable party of rebels at Cahermore (Carnmore) crossroads.

A sharp encounter took place, in which one constable was shot dead and others were slightly wounded. The rebels were put to flight. On April 26th it was reported that the rebels were marching on Galway. A party of police went out to meet them. The rebels did not come on, but took cover on a hill, which was fired on by a sloop of war in the bay.

On Friday, April 28 the military went out to Athenry, where it was learned that the rebels were concentrated at Moyvore (Moyode). The rebels broke up and abandoned five police prisoners and much loot. The rebels surrendered, having been advised by a priest to go home. Since then 211 men had been arrested in the West Riding of Galway and were conveyed to Dublin.

The Chairman – You mentioned in the course of your statement that a number of seditious speeches were made on a number of occasions at various places—now were all these speeches reported to the Government?

They were reported to the Inspector-General.

Was any action so far as you know taken in Galway over those speeches? No action!

The Spokesman Still at Large

The person who acted as the spokesman for the rebels and who threatened to blow up the barracks at Clarenbridge was any action taken against him? None!

Is he a free man now? Yes.

He is still there? Still there!

At the close of your statement you say that the party broke up on being advised by the priests to go home. Were the priests acting in co-operation with these rebels? Some of the younger ones were.

Did they participate actively? Yes.

Has any notice been taken of it? No notice was taken.

Mr. Justice Shearman – There was no action or arrest of any priest? No.

To Sir Mackenzie Chalmers – The priest who appealed to the rebels was acting as a peace maker, and he told them that they were acting very foolishly, that there was a large force of military there, and that their camp could be reached by them and that it would be far better for them to go home.

To the Chairman – Witness did not know the name of this priest, nor whether he was one of the younger or the older clergy.

To Mr. Justice Shearman – In Galway some of the younger clergy were disaffected, but a good many of them were very loyal.

Secret Societies at Work

Have you formed’ any estimate as to the number of people who were engaged in your district in active rebellion? I think about 100 went out.

The Chairman – Have you got any direct proof of the influence of secret societies in Galway? There has been a secret society in Galway since 1882. Has it always been in touch with the Clan na Gael? Always, and it is connected with the Gaelic Association. It has led to all the crime in Galway, and is at the back of this Sinn Fein movement now.

When you say “crime” do you mean political crime or agrarian crime? Agrarian, crime before this last stage!

Do you think the fear of conscription had much effect in increasing the ranks of the Sinn Feiners”! 1 think so, amongst the ordinary village boys.

Shirkers! Shirkers! They won’t fight for England!

Do you consider that the prevention of emigration has had some effect? I do. In November 1915, upwards of 5O left Galway to emigrate, and then that scene occurred in Liverpool when they were jeered at. Those men came back, and ever since then there had been a very hostile feeling.

Were they also Sinn Feiners? Yes!

German Money

Have you any information of German money coming over to Galway? Not directly, but we noticed that people who were not well off had a good deal of money to spend, wherever they got it.

Sir Mackenzie Chalmers – The main organiser was a man named Nicholls? Yes, in Galway.

What has happened to him? He is under arrest.

Are the people doing pretty well on their farms in Galway? They are, I do not think the farmers were ever better off. They were afraid of being disturbed. The men who took part in Sinn Fein marches were farmers’ sons and labourers. The town of Galway was very loyal, and recruited very well, indeed, for the Army. The town of Galway had no sympathy with the rebellion at all.

Mr. Justice Shearman – What is the origin of the agitation in Athenry? It is the headquarters of a secret society-

Has the Clan-na-Gael got any organisation in Ireland? I think that secret society is connected with it!

County Inspector Clayton, Galway East

County Inspector E. M. Clayton, R.I.C, next gave evidence regarding Sinn Fein activities in Galway, East Riding. “The Sinn Fein organisation was first established in Craughwell in February, 1907. That branch was really a secret society. Branches were subsequently established at Loughrea, Athenry, and Kilrea, and though their numbers were small it was necessary to watch them closely, as the worst-disposed individuals joined them.

Further branches were established in November, 1915, as the result of a meeting held in Athenry. Six hundred and seventy members attended, and 161 were armed with rides and shot guns. The police were excluded from the meeting. Inflammatory speeches were made. Five branches were immediately formed around Loughrea and Athenry. The total number of branches was eleven at the time of the outbreak, and the membership amounted to 371. There were in addition 350 Sinn Feiners who did not belong to any branch. The black spots of the districts included portions of Athenry and Loughrea, and secret societies existed in these places for years past. Sinn Fein organisers had very little trouble there. The Craughwell members linked themselves up with the Sinn Feiners under the leadership of a famous criminal.

The Chairman – Who is this famous criminal?

Thomas Kenny. He took a leading part in the rebellion, and is now on the run. Mellowes came to Athenry in April, 1915, and succeeded in enrolling practically all the young men of the countryside. He was paid a salary of £3 a week.

Sinn Feiners Busy at Athenry

The first intimation the police had of the outbreak was on Tuesday, April 25th, when word came in that a constable at Moyvore (Moyode) had been shot and seriously wounded.

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. They remained there for the night. They cut the telegraph wires, tore up the railway Line, and commandeered foodstuffs. Next morning they marched to Moyvore (Moyode) Castle. There were about 1,000 of them altogether. The police concentrated at Loughrea and 200 extra men were expected from Belfast. As soon as the latter arrived a message was sent out to the rebels, and efforts were made to induce them to disperse. The priest, whose name witness heard, was not a disloyal man, and there was a contest between him and Mellowes as to who would have the upper hand. Desertions had been going on.

The Chairman – What happened to Mellowes?

He is on the run, too. Proceeding, witness stated that 270 arrests were made. Most of them were deported to England. Twelve were convicted and sentenced by court-martial. The military and police seized seven rifles, 86 shot guns, and 7 revolvers; 35 rifles were unaccounted for. The majority of the rifles were foreign ones, and of modern pattern.

Influence of Seditious Newspapers

The Chairman – In your district had the Press much influence? Yes, the seditious papers, which went into the district weekly. The trouble was chiefly confined to the districts of Loughrea and Athenry. The population of the two districts was about 3,000, and they had always been the centre of secret societies.

The Sinn Feiners were pretty well known to you, I suppose? They were.

Were there any people of superior class or education among them? None!

What class did they come from? One of the leaders was a blacksmith, and the Colonel of the Irish Volunteers was a publican. They were all small shopkeepers and farmers’ sons.

There were none of them of the literary type? None!

Mr. Justice Shearman – Were the priests assisting this movement in your district? Yes, the younger ones.

It has been said by another witness that the priests in considerable numbers assisted! Yes, a considerable number, some of them were more active than others.

Sir Mackenzie Chalmers – As a man gets older he gets more sensible? Yes, he gets more careful.

(Source – “Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook, Easter 1916” published by the Irish Times May 1917.)

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About this record

Written by Finbarr O'Regan

Published here 04 Feb 2021

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