Easter Week 1916

As told by James Cleary, Athenry,

to Etienne Rynne,

Autumn 1977.

Following on the formation of the Midland Volunteer Force, in Athlone, in Autumn 1913, the rest of the country soon formed Volunteer groups, known collect­ively as the Irish Volunteers. In June 1914 a Volunteer unit was started in Athenry, the first to be formed west of the Shannon (beating Clarenbridge for the honour by a few hours).   The founding group consisted of J. Broderick (Sen.), Thomas B. Cleary, P. Hynes, Frank Hynes, J. Broderick (Jnr.), Stephen Jordan, D. Murphy, James Barrett, J. Rooney and Larry Lardner.

Mellows in Command

Liam Mellows, a Wexford man, was sent from Headquarters to organise the Volunteers in Co. Galway, using Athenry as his centre of operations. He arrives in Athenry on the 19th of April, 1915, on a push-bike.   Later, in August of the same year, Albie O’Monaghan, a Belfast man, arrived to work as Mellows’ assistant. Towards the end of 1915 the Galway County Board of the Irish Volunteers issued a call for subscriptions to purchase a motor-bicycle for Mellows, in order to facilitate his work at organising the various Volunteer units throughout the county.   (This motor-bicycle is now preserved for the Nation in the National Museum of Ireland.)   Mellows organised the local Cumann na raBan and the Fianna Eireann as well as the Volunteers, all being trained together on the evenings of Tuesdays and Thursdays and all day on Sundays, in the Athenry area.

Order to Disband

Approaching Easter 1916 an order to assemble on Easter Sunday morning, the 23rd of April had gone out. The order was that all Volunteers should go to Mass, receive Holy Communion, and bring three days rations with them. In Athenry they went to Mass fully armed, leaving the arms in the church porch, under guard, during the Mass.   The now famous countermanding order issued by Eoin MacNeill, Chief of  Staff of the Irish Volunteers, cancelling the arrangements for an Easter Sunday rising, had been published in the Sunday Independent .that morning, and this led to much discussion after Mass, as a result of which the Volunteers disbanded, being sent home by Commd. Larry Lardner.   They went home reluctantly, and only on the understanding that they were to await further orders to reassemble.

Rising going ahead in Athenry

Later that night Lardner sent John Cleary, James Barrett and John Walshe to Loughrea, Woodford etc., and home via Ballinasloe, to round up the Volunteers, telling them that insofar as Athenry was concerned the Rising was going ahead.   Apart from encountering some R.I.C. on their route (three men on bicycles, each with a rifle, were obviously a cause for some suspicion) their journey was uneventful.

On the following day, Easter Monday Joe Cleary was sent out in the Turloughmore direction with an order for remobilisation on the Tuesday.

The Farmyard

The Volunteers kept coming into Athenry all day Tuesday assembling in the Town Hall. Later that day the Athenry, Carnaun, Newcastle, Kiltullagh, and other local Companies (about 200-300 men in all) moved out to ‘The Farmyard’, the Agricultural College (now known au Mellows Collegs), and after a minor skirmish succeeded in occupying it.   Liam Mellows joined them there on the Tuesday evening with the Killeeneen and Clarenbridge Companies, and took over command.

On Easter Monday Albie O’Monaghan had escaped from Galway Barracks where he had been kept under guard for a few days – he escaped dressed as a priest. He arrived at ‘The Farmyard’ on the Tuesday evening, shortly after Mellows.

The Castlegar, Claregalway and Carnmore Companies arrived even later, having to fight a skirmish at Carnmore Cross on their way – one member of the R.I.C, Constable Patrick Whelan, was killed there.

To Moyade

On Wednesday morning everybody (over 500 men, two armed only with sticks, including a man called Hansberry) moved to Moyode Castle.   The reason for the Southward march was that the intention was to meet up with the German arms which. it was known were to be landed in the South from  ‘The And’.   Moyode Castle is only about four miles from Athenry.   Major Shackleton was in Moyode at the time. but the family were not unduly disturbed; apparently the most serious disturbance the Volunteers created being the killing of one of his bullocks for food. Food was also obtained by the capture of some of Lydon’s bread-vans on the nearby road.

Meanwhile, word had reached Athenry that English forces had been sent to put down the Volunteers and that they had branched off the main Athlone-Galway railway line at Attymon, heading towards Loughrea to surround the Moyode group … in event they actually did nothing!   This information was brought to Mellows at Moyode by James Cleary, then a member of Fianna Eireann, who walked the distance from Athenry, dodging R.I.C. men as he went.   He had, in fact, gone to Moyode without informing his father, a Committee Member of the Volunteers, and he still remembers his relief when he later heard that his father had been arrested and would therefore not be at home to scold him.   Young Jimmy Cleary was later sent home from Moyode by his elder brother, John, who was a Captain in the Volunteer.

As a result of receiving the information concerning the movement of British forces, Liam Mellows called out the assembled Volunteers and broke the news to, them.   He also told them that those who wished to leave should do so, and about eighty men did so – including one who left “because his socks were wet”.

To Limepark

On Friday morning the Volunteers moved from Moyode to Limepark, near Gort, marching there for the most part, though some travelled in carts and on bicycles. Next evening Fr. Thomas Fahy arrived with the news that the Rising in Dublin was over, and he advised them to disband.   Mellows refused to give the order to disband but Fr. Fahy persuaded them all to do so and to go home.

On the Run and internment in Frongoch

Mellows, O’Monaghan and Frank Hynes, a Captain in the Athenry Company, headed for the Clare Hills – the Scarriff/Feakle area.   All three eventually reached Cork.  Mellows went from there to the U.S.A. (taking a year to do so), O’Monaghan  changed his name to Joe McSweeney (and under that name he later organised 200 Cork Volunteers – and was interned under that same during the Civil War), while Frank Hynes got a job in Cork.

The majority of the Volunteers who were at Moyode went ‘on the run1, but. most were quickly captured and sent to Richmond Barracks, Dublin, later to be tried and sent to Stafford, Glasgow, Perth, Woking, Wakefield, Knutsford, and other British detention barracks before being interned in Frongoch, in North Wales.  

The Twelve Apostles

Twelve of those captured were, however, identified as having actually been at Moyode by Maisie Shackleton, daughter of the Major, and those twelve were sentenced separately on the 15th of May to one year’s hard labour. They were sent to Wormwood Scrubbs, in England to serve their sentences. The twelve, known afterwards in Athenry as ‘The Twelve Apostles’, were Miuhael Gra__, Charles White, John Haniffy, Martin Hansberry, Michael Hlggins, John Grady, James Murray, Thomas Barrett, Patrick Kennedy, Thomas Kennedy, Murtagh Fahy, and Michael Donohue;   John Kennedy was also tried that day but was acquitted.