Meath An Mhí

Meath County Council published a new edition of Oliver Coogan’s ground-breaking Politics and War in County Meath 1913-23 as a cornerstone of its celebration of the Decade of Commemoration 2012-2022.

D’fhoilsigh Comhairle Chontae na Mí eagrán nua de leabhar ceannródaíoch Oliver Coogan Politics and War in County Meath 1913-23 mar chuid lárnach dá comóradh ar Dheich mbliana na gCuimhneachán’ 2012-2022.

When it first appeared in 1983 it evoked from Con Houlihan in his Tributaries column in the Irish Press, the praise that “the peaks of history may be seen in parliaments and in battle fields, but much happens quietly that only the patient chronicler can unearth.”

Local political activity was strong in Meath in 1913-16. In February 1914 the first Meath Corps of Irish Volunteers was founded in Kells, and Navan soon followed suit. Interest in the Volunteers spread rapidly and by August 1914 fifty-eight corps had formed. Active in Meath and supportive of John Redmond’s Home Rule aims were the United Irish League, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Irish National Foresters, the Back to the Land movement and the Meath Labour Union. Following local government elections in 1914, more than 430 members served on various elected bodies, from County Council to Urban and Rural Distinct Councils and Poor Law Unions. Dissatisfaction with the slow progress of Home Rule and anger with Redmond’s call to join the British Army caused a split in the Volunteers. The majority of Meath Volunteers, as National Volunteers, stayed loyal to Redmond while the smaller number, the Irish Volunteers, moved towards a position where it was felt by November 1915, “the rights of Ireland could be defended not by paper resolutions or by mob oratory but by cold steel”. The Easter Rising was imminent and the Meath was a scene of significant action.

The Battle of Ashbourne

Coogan in addressing the Battle of Ashbourne on 28 April 1916, left his readers in no doubt as to the centrality of this event in the history of the Rising in county Meath: It could be argued that the gun battle between police and Volunteers just north of Ashbourne has no place in an account of county Meath. The insurgents in question were not Meath men but rather the Fingal Volunteers drawn from the Swords-Lusk-Skerries areas. But this would ignore two fundamental facts: firstly, the scene of the fighting around Rath Cross is actually within the boundaries of Meath, and secondly, the police forces on duty that day were almost without exception drawn from barracks in Meath.

Thomas Ashe commanded the battalion which included Richard Mulcahy, Frank Lawless and Richard Hayes. En route to cut the railway line carrying troops from Athlone to Dublin, the battalion saw an opportunity to take the Ashbourne RIC barracks and secure additional arms. When this was almost achieved RIC reinforcements arrived and the battle was prolonged to over five hours' duration.

Two Volunteers, Thomas Rafferty and John Crenigan, were killed and five were wounded. On the RIC side, County Inspector Gray and District Inspector Smyth were killed in the action. Sergeant John Shangher (Navan), Sergeant John Young (Killyon) and Constables James Hickey (Kells), Richard McHale (Crossakiel), James Gormley (Longwood) and James Clery (Moynalty) were also killed. A chauffeur, Albert George Keep, employed by the Marquis of Conyngham, whose car was commandeered to drive police to the scene, was also shot and later died of his injuries. About twenty constables were wounded.

Coogan notes that while the Ashbourne conflict represented the heaviest fighting to have taken place anywhere in Ireland outside of Dublin, only about a dozen participants and sympathisers were arrested with most being released again after a short time.

Meath Casualties of the Rising in Dublin

On Easter Sunday 1916 a large number of Volunteers mobilised on the Hill of Tara. They dispersed and returned home on hearing of MacNeills’s countermanding order. Later in the week a group from Dunboyne tried to make its way to the city centre although this did not prove possible. Those from Meath who lost their lives in the Rising are listed in The Last Post, Republican Dead 1913-1975: Thomas Allen, Hill of Down, County Meath: mortally wounded at the Four Courts 29-4-16: buried near the Hill of Down, Kilglass, County Meath. James McCormack, Julianstown, County Meath: killed in action near Liberty Hall, Dublin, 28-4- 16: buried 1916 Plot, St. Paul’s, Glasnevin. Philip Clarke, Slane, County Meath: killed in action at St. Stephen’s Green, 25-4-16: buried in St. Brigid’s, Glasnevin. Seamus Fox, aged sixteen, was also killed. Fox was a native of Drumree where his father had owned the Spencer Arms Hotel until he sold it in 1915. Brian O’Higgins (Ó hUigínn), Kilskyre, author and publisher, was among the most prominent of those Meath men who fought in and survived the 1916 Rising. Ó hUigínn’s self-sacrifice in his early career as a travelling teacher of Irish and organiser for the Gaelic League in Meath and Cavan is noteworthy. He saw active service in the GPO in 1916 and was later interned in Stafford gaol and in Frongoch. He was elected Sinn Féin TD for West Clare in 1918 and held his seat until 1927. He opposed the Treaty and in 1923-24 was interned in Mountjoy and the Curragh. His political life was, perhaps, later overshadowed by the blend of traditionalist Catholicism and inflexible republicanism he came to represent.

Francis Ledwidge

Francis Ledwidge, the Slane poet, chose a different path. He was a founder member of the Slane branch of the Meath Labour Union in 1906 and of the local Volunteer corps in 1914. However, he strongly opposed Redmond’s policies and leadership. As an elected member of Navan Rural District Council he was the only one to vote against a pro-Redmond motion in October 1914, declaring that Ireland was “just as far from Home Rule as ever”. At a meeting of the Navan Board of Guardians, of which he was also a member, he was accused, in late October 1914, of being pro-German in his outlook and sympathies. Following this charge he enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and fought at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. He saw Germany as the common enemy and was convinced that the war would be of short duration and that his military training would later benefit the Volunteer movement. Neither conviction was realised as Ledwidge was killed in July 1917 while road laying in preparation for a third battle at Ypres. In May 1916 while on convalescent leave in Slane, Ledwidge’s friend Thomas MacDonagh was sentenced to death in Richmond barracks for his part in the Easter Rising. Ledwidge had enlisted at that barracks and British soldiers, in the uniform he had chosen to wear for patriotic reasons, carried out the execution. Seamus Heaney captures the “literary, sweet-talking, countrified” and undoubtedly deeply conflicted Ledwidge: In you, our dead enigma, all the strains Criss-cross in useless equilibrium The poem In Memoriam Francis Ledwidge concludes: You were not keyed or pitched like those true blue ones, Though all of you consort now underground.

The Aftermath

In the aftermath of the Rising Coogan concludes: To many it was (and still is) the high point of Irish history. But at the time it was a far different story. Politicians, clergy, journalists and so on, were certainly very vocal and outspoken in Meath: vocal, that is, in suppression of the Rising and outspoken in their condemnation of the rebels and their cause. The Meath public seemed to have been in agreement. In the immediate aftermath of the Rising there was no gesture or statement to indicate sympathy with the event. Quite the opposite, in fact, as both local newspapers remarked on the large attendances at the funerals of the dead policemen. And at the Navan Petty Sessions in May, the magistrates congratulated the people of the town on “their admirable demeanour on the night of 28 April... we never doubted that their respectability and common sense were such that their conduct could not have been excelled by any community in the Empire”. what might have been As new information from the Military Archives reveals, a very different series of events could have unfolded at Oldcastle in north Meath on Easter Sunday night 1916, had MacNeill not issued his countermanding order: The following account comes from Donal O’Hannigan: I left Dundalk on 6th April 1916 and went on to Oldcastle where I met Sean Nolan who was employed by Maguire & Gatchells. He was working at the internment Camp then there, where about 300 German prisoners were interned. I had a letter in German for one of the internees who was well known to our people in Dublin and who obtained for me a plan of the prison inside and the number of German prisoners who would be prepared to fight with us provided we released them. Having procured the plan and information that 50 German prisoners were ready to throw in their lot with us, I reported to Sean McDermott and informed him that I could capture the place with 30 men. This I had intended to do on Easter Sunday night and fixed the hour 10.30 pm I discussed this with Eamon Kent O/C 4th Batt. who gave me Garry Byrne Lieut. of C. Company. The Easter Rising happened locally. That it happened when, as Thomas Kettle wrote, “we fools / [were dying] not for a flag, nor King, nor Emperor, / but for a dream” is remarkable and unremarkable. As a new world was forming, Oldcastle found itself home to Irish insurgents, British troops and German civilian internees. As the decade of commemoration unfolds, the history of the meeting of these forces will continue to challenge and exercise the minds of patient chroniclers.

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Nuair a tháinig sé amach an chéad lá riamh i 1983 fuair sé moladh ó Con Houlihan ina cholún Tributaries san Irish Press, inar dúradh gur "féidir buaicphointí na staire a fheiceáil i bparlaimintí agus ar na láithreacha catha, ach is minic go dtarlaíonn rudaí i ngan fhios don saol agus is é an scéalaí foighneach an t-aon duine atá in ann iad a nochtadh."

Bhí gníomhaíocht pholaitiúil láidir sa Mhí idir 1913-16. I mí Feabhra 1914 bunaíodh an chéad Chór sa Mhí d’Óglaigh na hÉireann i gCeanannas, agus rinneadh an rud céanna san Uaimh go gairid ina dhiaidh sin. Thosaigh daoine ag cur spéis mhór sna hÓglaigh agus faoi mhí Lúnasa 1914 bhí 58 cór bunaithe. Bhí Léig na nÉireannach Aontaithe, Ord Ársa na nIbeirneach, Foraoiseoirí Náisiúnta na hÉireann, an ghluaiseacht Filleadh ar an Talamh agus Ceardchumann na Mí gníomhach sa Mhí agus iad ag tacú le haidhmeanna John Redmond maidir le Rialtas Dúchais. Tar éis na dtoghchán rialtais áitiúil i 1914, bhí níos mó ná 430 ball ar fónamh ar chomhlachtaí tofa éagsúla, idir Chomhairlí Contae agus Chomhairlí Ceantair Uirbigh agus Tuaithe agus Aontais Dhlí na mBocht. Mar gheall ar mhíshástacht leis an dul chun cinn mall a bhí á dhéanamh i dtaca le Rialtas Dúchais agus fearg faoi ghairm Redmond dul isteach in Arm na Breataine, fágadh scoilt in Óglaigh na hÉireann. D’fhan formhór d’Óglaigh na Mí, ach an oiread leis na hÓglaigh Náisiúnta, dílis do Redmond agus ghlac an líon níos lú, Óglaigh na hÉireann, seasamh a d’fhág daoine ag mothú faoi Shamhain 1915, nach bhféadfaí cearta na hÉireann a chosaint le rúin ar pháipéir ná le hóráidíocht ón slua ach le harm faobhair. Bhí Éirí Amach na Cásca ar tí tarlú agus bhí go leor ag tarlú sa Mhí.

Cath Chill Dhéagláin

Nuair a bhí Coogan ag labhairt faoi Chath Chill Dhéagláin an 28 Aibreán 1916, ní raibh aon amhras ar a chuid léitheoirí maidir le tábhacht na heachtra sin i stair an Éirí Amach i gcontae na Mí: D’fhéadfaí an argóint a dhéanamh nach bhfuil aon áit ag an tréanbhabhta lámhaigh idir na póilíní agus Óglaigh na hÉireann díreach ó thuaidh de Chill Dhéagláin ... i gcuntas ar chontae na Mí. Ní fir as an Mí a bhí sna ceannaircigh a bhí i gceist ach Óglaigh Fhine Gall a bhí tugtha isteach as limistéir Shoird-Lusca-na Sceirí. Ach dhéanfadh sé sin neamhaird de dhá fhíric bhunúsacha: ar an gcéad dul síos, tá láthair na trodaíochta timpeall ar Rath Cross taobh istigh de theorainneacha na Mí i ndáiríre, agus freisin, bhí na fórsaí póilíneachta a bhí ar dualgas an lá sin beagnach ar fad tugtha as beairicí sa Mhí.

Bhí Thomas Ashe i gceannas ar an gcathlán ina raibh Richard Mulcahy, Frank Lawless agus Richard Hayes. Ar an mbealach chun an líne traenach a bhí ag iompar trúpaí ó Bhaile Átha Luain go Baile Átha Cliath a ghearradh, chonaic an cathlán deis beairic RIC Chill Dhéagláin a ghabháil agus breis arm a fháil dóibh féin. Nuair a bhí sé sin ar fad beagnach déanta tháinig breis arm ó RIC agus mhair an cath os cionn cúig huaire an chloig.

Maraíodh beirt de na hÓglaigh, Thomas Rafferty agus John Crenigan, agus gortaíodh cúigear. Ar thaobh RIC, maraíodh an Cigire Contae Gray agus an Cigire Ceantair Smyth. Maraíodh freisin an Sáirsint John Shangher (an Uaimh), an Sáirsint John Young (Cill Liatháin) agus na Constáblaí James Hickey (Ceanannas), Richard McHale (Crosa Caoil), James Gormley (Maigh Dearmhaí) agus James Clery (Maigh nEalta). Scaoileadh freisin an tiománaí, Albert George Keep, a bhí fostaithe ag Marcas Conyngham, ar tógadh a charr chun póilíní a thiomáint chuig an láthair, agus fuair sé bás de bharr a ghortuithe ina dhiaidh sin. Gortaíodh thart ar scór constáblaí.

Tugann Coogan faoi deara cé go raibh coimhlint Chill Dhéagláin ar an trodaíocht ba mhó a bhí in aon áit in Éirinn taobh amuigh de Bhaile Átha Cliath, nár gabhadh ach thart ar dhosaen rannpháirtithe agus daoine a raibh anbhá acu leo agus scaoileadh saor a bhformhór arís go gairid ina dhiaidh sin.

Taismigh na Mí mar gheall ar an Éirí Amach i mBaile Átha Cliath

Ar Domhnach Cásca 1916 chruinnigh líon mór de na hÓglaigh ar Theamhair. Scaip siad agus d’fhill siad abhaile nuair a chuala siad freasordú Mhic Néill. Níos déanaí an tseachtain sin rinne buíon as Dún Búinne iarracht a mbealach a dhéanamh go dtí lár na cathrach cé nár éirigh leo ina gcuid iarrachtaí. Tá muintir na Mí a cailleadh san Éirí Amach liostaithe in The Last Post, Republican Dead 1913-1975: Thomas Allen, Cnoc an Dúin, Co. na Mí: a bhásaigh de bharr a ghortaithe ag na Ceithre Chúirteanna 29-4-16: curtha in aice le Cnoc an Dúin, an Choill Ghlas, Co. na Mí. James McCormack, Baile Iúiliáin, Co. na Mí: maraíodh é i gcoimhlint gar do Halla na Saoirse, Baile Átha Cliath, 28-4-16: curtha i gCeapach 1916, St. Paul’s, Glas Naíon. Clarke, Philip, Baile Shláine, Co. na Mí: maraíodh é i gcoimhlint ag Faiche Stiabhna, 25-4-16: curtha in St. Brigid’s, Glas Naíon. Maraíodh Seamus Fox, sé bliana déag, freisin. Ba as Droim Rí ó dhúchas do Fox áit a raibh an Spencer Arms Hotel ag a athair go dtí gur dhíol sé é i 1915. Bhí Brian Ó hUigínn, Kilskyre, údar agus foilsitheoir, i measc na bhfear ab iomráití as Contae na Mí a throid agus a tháinig slán ó Éirí Amach 1916. Is suntasach an íobairt a rinne Ó hUigínn ina shlí bheatha agus é óg tráth a raibh sé ina mhúinteoir taistil Gaeilge agus ina eagraí do Chonradh na Gaeilge sa Mhí agus sa Chabhán. Bhí sé ar fiannas in Ard-Oifig an Phoist i 1916 agus rinneadh imtheorannú air i bpríosún Stafford agus in Frongoch ina dhiaidh sin. Toghadh é mar TD le Sinn Féin in Iarthar an Chláir i 1918 agus choinnigh sé a shuíochán ansin go dtí 1927. Bhí sé i gcoinne an Chonartha agus i 1923-24 rinneadh imtheorannú air i Muinseo agus ar an gCurrach. Is dóigh gur bhain an meascán de Chaitliceachas traidisiúnta agus den phoblachtachas dolúbtha ar chreid sé iontu an barr dá shaol polaitiúil ina dhiaidh sin.

Francis Ledwidge

Roghnaigh Francis Ledwidge, an file as an tSláine, bealach eile. Bhí sé mar bhunaitheoir bhrainse na Sláine de Cheardchumann na Mí i 1906 agus de chór áitiúil na nÓglach i 1914. Mar sin féin, níor aontaigh sé in aon chor le polasaithe ná le ceannaireacht Redmond. Mar chomhalta tofa ar Chomhairle Ceantair Tuaithe na hUaimhe ba é an t-aon duine é a chaith vóta in aghaidh rúin ar son Redmond i mí Dheireadh Fómhair 1914, ag rá go raibh Éire “chomh fada ó Rialtas Dúchais is a bhí sé riamh”. Ag cruinniú de Bhord Caomhnóirí na hUaimhe, a raibh sé mar bhall de freisin, cuireadh ina leith, ag deireadh mhí Dheireadh Fómhair 1914, go raibh sé ar son na nGearmánach ina dhearcadh agus ina chásmhaireacht. I ndiaidh an méid sin a chur ina leith liostáil sé i bhFiúsailéirí Ríoga Inis Ceithleann agus throid sé ag Gallipoli agus ar an bhFronta Thiar. D’fhéach sé ar an nGearmáin mar namhaid agus bhí sé cinnte nach mairfeadh an cogadh i bhfad agus go rachadh an traenáil mhíleata a fuair sé chun tairbhe ghluaiseacht na nÓglach ina dhiaidh sin. Níor tharla ceachtar de na rudaí sin toisc gur maraíodh Ledwidge i mí Iúil 1917 agus é ag socrú bóthair roimh an tríú cath ag Ypres. I mí na Bealtaine 1916 agus é ar shaoire téarnaimh sa tSláine, daoradh cara Ledwidge, Tomás Mac. Donnchadha, chun báis i mbeairic Richmond mar gheall ar an ról a bhí aige in Éirí Amach na Cásca. Bhí Ledwidge liostaithe ag an mbeairic sin agus ba shaighdiúirí Briotanacha, sa chulaith a roghnaigh sé a chaitheamh ar chúiseanna tírghrácha, a chuir chun báis é. Bhí tuiscint ag Séamus Heaney ar Ledwidge a bhí “liteartha, dea-labhartha, ar nós mhuintir na tuaithe” agus ar ndóigh bhí sé faoi choimhlint ghéar: In you, our dead enigma, all the strains Criss-cross in useless equilibrium Críochnaíonn an dán In Memoriam Francis Ledwidge mar seo: You were not keyed or pitched like those true blue ones Though all of you consort now underground.

An Irarmhairt

Tar éis an Éirí Amach deir Coogan mar fhocal scoir: Mheas cuid mhaith go raibh sé (agus go bhfuil sé fós) ar an mbuaicphointe i stair na hÉireann. Ach ag an am níorbh amhlaidh an scéal ar ndóigh. Bhí polaiteoirí, an chléir, iriseoirí agus mar sin de, an-ghlórach agus neart le rá acu sa Mhí: glórach, chomh fada is a bhain sé, leis an Éirí Amach a chur faoi chois agus neart le rá acu ina gcáineadh ar na ceannaircigh agus a gcúis. (...) Is cosúil go raibh pobal na Mí ar aon intinn leo. Díreach tar éis an Éirí Amach ní raibh aon ghníomh ná aon ráiteas a thabharfadh le fios go raibh comhbhá leis an eachtra. Tharla a mhalairt ar fad, go deimhin, toisc gur luadh i nuachtáin áitiúla an tinreamh mór a bhí ar shochraidí na bpóilíní. Agus ag Cúirt Ghearr na hUaimhe i mí na Bealtaine, thréaslaigh na giúistísí le muintir an bhaile as “a n-iompar inmholta ar oíche an 28 Aibreán... ní raibh aon amhras orainn riamh faoin meas agus faoin gciall a bhí acu agus nach bhféadfadh aon phobal san Impireacht a gcuid iompair a shárú”. mar a d’fhéadfadh cúrsaí titim amach Mar a thugtar le fios i bhfaisnéis nua ó na Cartlanna Míleata, d’fhéadfadh sraith eachtraí an-difriúil titim amach sa Seanchaisleán i dtuaisceart na Mí oíche Domhnach Cásca 1916, dá dtarlódh sé nár eisigh Mac Néill an freasordú Faighimid an cuntas seo a leanas ó Donal O’Hannigan: D’fhág mé Dún Dealgan an 6 Aibreán 1916 agus chuaigh mé ar aghaidh go dtí an Seanchaisleán áit ar bhuail mé le Seán Nolan a bhí fostaithe ag Maguire & Gatchells. Bhí sé ag obair ag an gCampa imtheorannaithe ansin, áit a raibh thart ar 300 imtheorannaí as an nGearmáin. Bhí litir Ghearmáinis agam do dhuine de na himtheorannaithe a raibh aithne mhaith ag ár ndaoine i mBaile Átha Cliath air agus a fuair plean den phríosún taobh istigh dom agus líon na bpríosúnach Gearmánach a bheadh sásta dul chun troda in éineacht linn i gcás go scaoilfimis saor iad. I ndiaidh dom an plean a fháil agus fios agam go raibh 50 príosúnach as an nGearmáin sásta troid in éineacht linn, thug mé tuairisc do Sheán Mac Diarmada agus dúirt mé leis go mbeinn in ann an áit a ghabháil le 30 fear. Bhí sé ar intinn agam é sin a dhéanamh oíche Dhomhnach Cásca agus shocraigh mé gurb ag 10.30pm a tharlódh sé. Phléigh mé é sin le hÉamonn Ceannt, Ceannfort ar an 4ú Cathlán a thug Garry Byrne dom, Leifteanant C. Company. Tharla Éirí Amach na Cásca ar bhonn áitiúil. Is rud suntasach agus neamhshuntasach gur tharla sé, mar a scríobh Thomas Kettle, nuair a bhí “we fools / [dying] not for a flag, nor King, nor Emperor, / but for a dream”. De réir mar a bhí saol nua ag forbairt, bhí ceannaircigh Éireannacha, trúpaí as Sasana agus imtheorannaithe sibhialtacha as an nGearmáin ag cur fúthu sa Seanchaisleán. Agus na deich mbliana comórtha ar bun, leanfaidh an stair a bhaineann le teacht le chéile na bhfórsaí sin ag tabhairt dúshláin agus ag déanamh tinnis don scéalaí foighneach.

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