In this exclusive extract from Kerry 1916: Histories and Legacies of the Easter Rising – A Centenary Record, the story of how the Killarney gathering of Oireachtas na nGael reacted to the shooting of civilians in Dublin following the Howth Gun-Running of 1914.
Since its foundation in 1893, the Gaelic League had established branches nationally and internationally, as seen in the case of Piaras Béaslaí in Liverpool. Their flagship festival in promotion of Irish and our traditional culture was their annual Oireachtas na nGael. Departing from tradition, the Conradh decided to bring the Oireachtas out of Dublin for the first time in 1913. They chose Galway with its very strong surrounding Gaeltacht heartland. Their seventeenth festival of July 1913 fell far short of their hopes and expectations but Killarney was successful in its bid and, in July 1914, 10,000 enthusiasts attended the most successful Oireachtas to date.
Among the visitors were Conradh na Gaeilge founders Dr Dúglas de hÍde (later President ofIreland from 1938-1945) and Eoin MacNeill. It turned out to be a week of major importance in the national story. On Sunday 26 July, as the Oireachtas was in full swing in Killarney, Erskine Childers steered the Asgard into Howth with a cargo of arms purchased in Germany. The volunteers and Fianna Éireann were present in large numbers to unload and carry the arms from Howth into Dublin under the noses of the authorities. As Na Fianna and the Volunteers, aided by Cumann na mBan, brought the weapons back to Dublin, supportive civilians, who were haranguing the British soldiers, were attacked by them on Dublin’s Bachelors’ Walk. The soldiers opened fire and three people were killed with at least 38 injured.
On Monday 27 July 1914, the speakers in Killarney’s East Avenue Hall roundly condemned the Dublin atrocities. Dr Dúglas de hÍde addressed his Oireachtas audience: ‘To most
emphatically protest against the murders committed in the streets of Dublin yesterday—they were here to speak, not for the Gaelic League, but for Irishmen gathered from all over Ireland, here to demand and insist on common justice and fair play for all Irishmen and they would see they got it.’
His speech was followed by that of Valentia Island’s J.J. Ó Ceallaigh (Sceilg) who pronounced they were ‘not to desist until every Volunteer is armed and Ireland’s freedom is achieved’. On the afternoon of Wednesday 29 July 1914, companies from Dublin, Limerick, Castleisland, Tralee and other towns marched into Lord Kenmare’s Estate. There were about: ‘Sixteen bands, brass, fife and drum and pipers supplied music for thousands of Volunteers marching through the decorated streets of Killarney’s Western Demesne. The proceedings concluded with a grand march past, each of the companies saluting Lord Ashbourne and Dr Douglas Hyde as they passed. Some of the companies were armed with rifles and bayonets.
Photographs of some of the 2,500 Volunteers on Killarney’s New Street that day show them sporting bandoliers only. An image of the marching bands testifies to the pageantry of the occasion. Thomas Ashe’s Black Raven Pipe Band also featured on the day. There was consternation when the local Volunteers marched down High Street. The thousands that lined the streets simply went mad when the Killarney Company IV marched out of An Dún (their High St HQ) fully armed with rifles, bayonets and ammunition, led by Captain Michael Spillane, the son of an old Fenian. The twelve RIC men at the Market Cross got dumbfounded and could not move.
Copyright: Extract from ‘Kerry 1916: Histories and Legacies of the Easter Rising – A Centenary Record’ edited by Bridget McAuliffe, Dr Mary McAuliffe and Owen O’Shea which will be launched on Friday, 22 April at 8pm at the Fels Point Hotel, Tralee. Dr Mary McAuliffe will chair a round-table discussion on the events and the key figures in Kerry in 1916 with a panel of experts and historians. Enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @Kerry1916Book