Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Enthralling Kilcullen 1916 evening

A fascinating insight into life in Kilcullen a hundred years ago, and into the military aspects of the 1916 Easter Rising, enthralled an almost full house in Kilcullen Town Hall last night, writes Brian Byrne.

The event was organised by librarian Mary Orford (left above) and military expert John Martin, and it was unanimously adjudged to be a great success.

Opening the evening, Mary provided an intriguing and effective description of Kilcullen life and people in 1916, using census and school attendance forms and contemporaneous photographs.

Quite apart from the events at home, seven of the much larger numbers of Kilcullen men killed in WW1 died during 1916, and she read out their names and family backgrounds. John Martin marked the segment with a reading from the poem ‘For the Fallen’ by Robert Lawrence Binyon.

A section on reports and advertisements from ‘The Kildare Observer’ of the year gave an interesting snapshot of property, people, local sporting highlights, and ‘crime’ of the time — that last illustrated by convictions of local people for ‘not having lights on their horse and carts’.

Looking at the Rising, Mary gave a timeline of events leading up to it, starting with the ‘Lockout’ in Dublin in 1913. From the conflict week itself she detailed consequences for people in Dublin, such as food shortages because the shops and bakeries were closed, and no deliveries of food taking place.

The attendance included members of the family of the late Paddy Rankin of Nicholastown, who had cycled from Newry to take part in the Rising, serving in the GPO. They were grandchildren Carol Rankin, Mary Mangan (nee Rankin), Cora McHale (nee Rankin ), Margaret Lyne, Emer Creaton, Enda Watters and Elaine Whyte; as well as great grandchildren Cian Creaton, Cormac Watters, and Ciaran Lyne.

Other Kilcullen connections with the Rising were also represented by family members, including James Pender who had been in the Boland’s Mill garrison; Cumann na mBan activist Mary Ellen ‘Daisy’ Patterson who later married James Collins; and current Kilcullen resident Kieran Forde whose father Sean (above) is commemorated on the Roll of Honour of the Four Courts garrison (there's also an extended profile of him in the current Bridge Magazine). Mary also noted a Cross & Passion Sisters connection, where Sligo-born Republican Linda Kearns and a friend were hidden in the Convent while on the run from prison and heading for a Republican training camp in Co Carlow.

Through the narrative, John Martin read excerpts from the various witness statements and pension applications to illustrate their activities.

In his own section, John gave a concise but very complete assessment of the military aspects around the Rising itself, including the composition and the relative strengths of the opposing forces. He also detailed the people in the Irish Republican Brotherhood, including Padraic Pearse and Tom Clarke, who were actually the organisers of the Rising, and their reasons for wanting it.

His conclusion was that it was destined to fail for a variety of military reasons, not least the loss of promised armaments from Germany when the ship carrying them was scuttled in Cork Harbour. Communications issues beginning with the publication of the Countermanding Order too late to stop what ended as a partial mobilisation of the rebels were also problematic, as also was the erroneous belief that British Forces would not use heavy artillery in the city that was then considered second only to London in the Empire.

All in all, those of us at last evening’s event went home with a much greater understanding not just of the Rising, but of many ordinary aspects of life at the time, especially viewed in the microcosm of Kilcullen as an example of the country at large.

A quite wonderful evening, and thanks are very much due to Mary and John for it. The full album of 43 pictures can be viewed here.