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Kerry 1916: Histories and Legacies of the Easter Rising

A Centenary Record
Owen O'Shea, Dr Mary McAuliffe and Bridget McAuliffe (eds)
Irish Historical Publications


From the Introduction

Late into the night of Saturday 22 April 1916, dozens of men, all members of the Irish Volunteers, began to assemble and mobilise in parishes in and around Dingle in the western-most part of County Kerry. With their comrades from further west in Ballyferriter and Dunquin, the Dingle Volunteers began to march eastwards towards Tralee, a journey of some 30 miles over demanding terrain. In torrential rain, having crossed the treacherous Conor Pass, the men rested briefly in Castlegregory and met with Volunteer companies from Lispole and Annascaul near Camp before marching onwards. Now over 100 strong, they faced wild and wet conditions into the early hours of Easter Sunday. Tired, wet, and footsore but determined to make it to Tralee, they arrived at about 10am. In the Rink—the headquarters of the Volunteers in Kerry—they joined with the Tralee companies and other groups, while, in Killarney, the Volunteers from the town and outlying districts also gathered and stood ready. These assemblies of hundreds men and dozens of women—armed, trained and willing to act—would, within 24 hours, be told to stand down, return to their homes and await further orders.

What motivated the men to march through the night from west Kerry in dreadful conditions—and the hundreds of others who assembled in Tralee, Killarney and other parts of the county—was the belief that they were about to strike a blow for Irish freedom. In Kerry 1916: Histories and Legacies of the Easter Rising — A Centenary Record, the histories and motivation of these men and women, and many more like them in Kerry and elsewhere, are uncovered, explained, analysed and put in their social and political context.

Kerry had been integral to the planning of the Rising and was to be a major centre of action had the Rising, as it was conceived and planned by the IRB, gone ahead. The weapons to arrive in the Aud were to be distributed by the Kerry Volunteers to their counterparts in Cork, Limerick, Clare and Galway. The sight of well-armed Volunteers along the west coast would, it was presumed, encourage people to flock to their support, while a British government and army, engaged in war, might be reluctant to take on a popular, well-organised and well-armed force. The British might also not be in a hurry to use excessive force on Irish civilians at the expense of alienating America and its large Irish-American population. America, of course, would have been informed of this mass uprising by communications from the cable station on Valentia Island, off the south Kerry coast. In spite all these plans, the Easter Rising of 1916 did not happen in Kerry. Instead, it was confined to Dublin and a few other places in north county Dublin, Meath, Wexford and Galway, while the men and women in Kerry waited, standing ready under arms for orders that never came. Despite this, it is vital to our understanding of the complex histories of the 1916 Rising that we look at what happened in Kerry and the contribution of Kerry men and women to the revolutionary story.

From the formation of the first Irish Volunteer branches in Kerry, in 1913, and Cumann na mBan branches in the county in 1914, Kerry men and women were part of the plans for an uprising. But what motivated these men and women to join armed militias, to participate in the planning of a violent uprising and, indeed, for some in Dublin and elsewhere, to actually participate in that violence when it broke out? From a social and political context Kerry was responding to the forces at work in late 19th and early 20th century Ireland, in much the same way as the rest of the country. In his essay, Patrick Mannix sets the scene in Kerry in the first decades of the 20th century. The county, although no longer suffering the extreme violence, alienation and division occasioned by the land wars of the 19th century, was still a place where political activism was dominated by the campaign for self-government, driven in the early years of the 20th century by constitutional nationalists who favoured Home Rule. An economy still largely dependent on small farming, with little industrial­isation, meant that life remained hard for most people. While recruitment to the British Army, prior to 1914, remained high due to economic circumstances, in Kerry—as elsewhere—the powerful ideology of nationalism was growing stronger among a younger generation of men and women.

In his essay, Thomas Earls FitzGerald looks at the centrality of Kerry, and the receipt of the promised German arms, to the planning of the Rising. The plans to distribute these arms once they arrived were extremely complex, and known to only a few within the very secretive IRB. This very secrecy was a disaster, leaving the Kerry Volunteers in the dark and unable to respond to rapidly changing events such as the premature arrival of the Aud and Sir Roger Casement at Banna. In his chapter, Richard McElligott looks at one of the most important organisations which formed in Kerry in these years—the GAA. GAA men were prominent in the establishment of the Irish Volunteers in Kerry and provided its leadership, with men like Austin Stack, Pat O'Shea and Dick Fitzgerald.

Mary McAuliffe and Tom Looney look at the formation and development of the Irish Volunteer branches in Kerry. Ballylongford-born The O'Rahilly was to the forefront of the Irish Volunteers, becoming its treasurer and director of arms after the organisation was formed in November 1913. Shortly after the inaugural meeting in Dublin, Volunteer branches were set up in Killarney and Tralee and then throughout the county. These essays chart the development of the Volunteers in Kerry; their splits, the influence of the IRB centres who were pivotal in the planning of the Rising, and the strategic role that Kerry was to play. In the essay on Kerry Cumann na mBan, Mary McAuliffe outlines the contribution that Kerry women made in 1916.

One of the main connections between Kerry and the IRB planners in Dublin was Tralee man Austin Stack. J. Anthony Gaughan, biographer of Stack, outlines his involvement in the planning of the Rising. In contact with Pearse, Mac Diarmada and Plunkett, Stack took steps to ensure that the expected arms from the Aud were secured, and he made arrangements for the dispersal of those arms and the gathering of the Kerry Volunteers for the expected fight. The unravelling of the complex plans for the Rising in Kerry is dealt with in essays by T. Ryle Dwyer and Tom Doyle. Dwyer looks at Roger Casement's attempt to secure German aid for the Irish rebellion. It was Casement, with help from Robert Monteith, who planned and organised the arms shipment on the Aud. Back in Ireland, the IRB requested that radio equipment be seized in Cahirciveen to aid communications once the Rising began; five men, including Con Keating, Daniel Sheehan and Charles Monahan, were dispatched to do this.

Over the course of two days—Holy Thursday and Good Friday—all these plans came apart. The Aud arrived in Tralee Bay on Thursday 20 April when it had been expected on Sunday 23 and, consequently, there was nobody to guide it in and offload the arms. Casement was put ashore from a submarine at Banna Stand on Good Friday morning and was soon discovered and arrested, while Austin Stack was arrested later that day. In the evening, Keating, Sheehan and Monahan drowned when their driver took a wrong turn and their car went into the river at Ballykissane pier.

Not only do these events in Kerry affect what happened in the county, they had a transformative effect on the plans for the Rising elsewhere. On hearing of the events in Kerry, Eoin MacNeill, commander of the Irish Volunteers, called off all Volunteer plans for Easter Sunday. Agreeing with him, The O'Rahilfy travelled south to deliver the countermanding order to Limerick and Kerry. He arrived back in Dublin on Easter Monday to find the Rising was about to begin. This is the point when he made his famous statement that he had helped wind the clock and might as well hear it strike. When the Rising broke out in Dublin on Easter Monday, in Kenmare and Valentia—as outlined in an essay by Owen O'Shea—Rosalie Rice and her cousin, cable company employee Timothy Rice, communicated the news to Clan na Gael in New York.

After the plans for the arms shipment failed and the tragedy of Ballykissane, the Kerry Volunteers and Cumann na mBan members were ordered to stand down and await further orders. However, in Dublin and other places, Kerry men and women were at the centre of action. Stationed in the GPO, The O'Rahilly had been joined by Patrick Shortis (Ballybunion), Michael Mulvihill (Ballyduff) and Patrick O' Connor (Rathmore). In the Four Courts area, Irish Volunteer Fionan Lynch, originally from Waterville, commanded the F Company, 1st Battalion of the Dublin Volunteers. Lispole native, Thomas Ashe, was in command of a detachment of Volunteers in Ashbourne, Co Meath.

Essays from Padraig O Conchubhair (on The O'Rahilly), the Lynch family (on Fionan Lynch) and Micheal O Morain (on Thomas Ashe) detail the lives and contributions of these men, while Gordon Revington outlines the tragic deaths of four Kerrymen—The O'Rahilly, Shortis, Mulvihill—and O'Connor in that fateful final charge up Moore Street as the GPO was being evacuated. In her biographical essay, Susan Schreibman outlines the effect the Rising had on the politics and life of Tarbert-born Thomas MacGreevy. Although working for the British administration in London, MacGreevy was among those whose opinion was changed utterly by the events of Easter Week, and especially by the trial and execution of Roger Casement in August 1916. These essays contex-tualise and provide analysis of events in Kerry between 1913 and 1918. Combined with essays from Gordon Revington on the response of the local newspapers, and a chapter in which participants tell their stories in their own words, what emerges is a compre­hensive picture of the extent to which Kerry is integral to the history of the 1916 Rising. Without understanding what happened in Kerry, we cannot fully understand why the Rising played out as it did.