Geography

THE IRISH REBELLION IN THE WEST (1916)

0

Report in the Barrier Miner Newspaper, Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia (1888 – 1954)

Times London correspondent of the “Argus” wrote on May 18, 1916

The bulk of the rank and file of the Irish rebels had no adequate conception of the madness of the enterprise in which they engaged. So much is understood from the statements made by many of the young rebels who surrendered in Dublin after the failure to seize the city. These young men took up arms because they had been told that by doing so they would free Ireland. They were affected to some extent by the fanatical enthusiasm of their leaders, and with the recklessness of youth they placed themselves in the hands, of these men, believing that in following them blindly they were serving the best interests of Ireland and the Irish people.

But it is to the west of Ireland rather than to Dublin that one must turn to realise to the full the vagueness of the motives which impelled young Irishmen to join in the rebellion. In the west of Ireland the rebellion, which was the result of seeds of sedition industriously sown in that quarter for many years, was a fiasco, and almost a bloodless one. An atmosphere of comic opera pervades it. But the main cause of the collapse was the fact that the rebellion was entered into in a thoughtless, light-hearted way. “When the young rebels of the west of Ireland realised that soldiers were being sent against them to put down the rebellion, they melted away, and hid in the mountains. Then they will remain hidden until the troops and the police hunt them out, or until the trouble blows over.

The rebellion in the west was in charge of a Sinn Fein leader named Mellows,, a small, dark man of about 40 years, who wore glasses. Mellows, who had organised the Irish volunteer movement in County Galway, and had industriously preached sedition, was deported to England in March, but on the eve of the rebellion he escaped and made his way back to Galway disguised as a priest. In Dublin the revolution fixed at noon on Easter Monday but in Galway the local rebels did not assemble until Tuesday-night. The meeting place was the little town of Athenry, ‘which is about 12 miles south-east of the town of Galway. Athenry was the headquarters of the men entrusted with the rebellion in the west of Ireland, and it is said that it was the headquarters of the “Irish Invincibles” when the Phoenix Park murders were planned.

On Tuesday, April 25, the rebels assembled outside the town hall of Athenry and Captain Mellows, who had spent the day inside the town hall making bombs, took command. There were about 700 rebels, most of then being young men. About 100 had rifles. 160 had shot guns, and the rest were armed with pitchforks and other farming implements. The local police, being few in number, were powerless to interfere. But they barricaded the police barracks, and successfully resisted the half-hearted attempt of the rebels to capture it. The main bulk of the rebels marched at night to a model farm conducted by the Irish Board of Agriculture. On the way to the farm, which is less than a mile from the town hall, the numbers of the rebels were swelled to 1000. A score of young women also joined them.

The farm staff and the 25 student were overpowered, and the rebels tool possession. They spent the night in’ the farmhouse and the outbuildings. In the morning they loaded up the farm wagons with butter, cheese, flour, oats and hay, and set off about noon, followed by a train of wagons, and also the cows and sheep, which had been on the farm. By 4 p.m. the rebels reached Moyode Castle, six miles from Athenry and took possession of it. No resistance was offered, as the castle, which had not been tenanted for 30 years,  was in the hands of a caretaker, his wife and daughter and a girl of 18 years The castle is built near the site of an ancient ruin, and it is a comparative modern building, but in architecture it imitates the Tudor period, and has battlements, mullioned windows, loopholes turrets, and watch towers.

The rebels made the castle their stronghold. Sentries were posted in the watch towers, and also on the boundaries of the estate. Straw was brought in from the outbuildings for the rebels to sleep on. The cooking was done by the young women who joined the rebels. Father Feeney, who apparently had been in more command over the men than Captain Mellows, saw to it that strict propriety prevailed. He placed the young women in charge of the wife of the caretaker and at night they slept in a part of the castle which was separated from the men’s quarters. Father Feeney also heard confessions and held services, At night parties of girls came from Athenry and other places in the vicinity to take part in the dances held by the rebels.

The rebels raided the countryside in search of food. They brought in cows and sheep from the surrounding farms, and they held up all the market carts they encountered. They held up three motorcars and took possession of them. The cars were extremely useful in enabling them to extend the radius of their search for food. The only bellicose incident of the rebellion was an encounter between a party of rebels and half a dozen police. The police rode out from Athenry towards Moyode Castle on bicycles, and when near the castle grounds they hid their machines and went stealthily forward on foot. They had not gone far before they were seen by the rebel sentries, and after a few shots had been fired the police made their way back to their bicycles. But no sooner had they mounted than they heard the sound of motorcars in the rear. The rebels had taken up the pursuit in the cars they had commandeered. Then followed a race along a rough country road between the police on their bicycles and the rebels in the cars. The police had a start of about 400 yards, and they were all good cyclists. The bullets that came from the rifles of the rebels in the cars gave the police an impetus and they covered the six miles into Athenry in fast time. They found .safety in the barricaded barracks at Athenry, and the disappointed rebels motored back to the castle.

On Friday, the third day of the occupation of the castle, a priest brought news that a large force of troops and Royal Irish Constabulary had arrived at Loughrea, six miles away. It was said by the priest that there was a battery of artillery with the troops and that it was intended to shell the castle. His advice was that the rebels should disperse. A large number of them acted on his advice and went home, but Captain Mellows succeeded in rallying a couple of hundred on the understanding that the castle should be evacuated. At the head of his diminished force Mellows marched on Friday night to Lime Hall, another big country home, seven miles from Moyode Castle. They took possession of Lime Hall, but there further news of the arrival of soldiers reached them. Mellows and those who shared his fanaticism found it impossible to keep the men from deserting. By Saturday the rebel army of the west had melted away, and Mellows and his lieutenant went into hiding in the Gort Mountains.

No comments