IT WAS a proud occasion for the men, women and children of Mullinavat in particular as locals remembered the courage and passion of those who had played their part in the The War of Independence.
A superbly hard working Árd Comhairle of the Mullinavat Commemoration, led by Seán Maher did a brilliant job of organising the event.
Seán Maher welcomed locals and guests, Eoin Swithin Walsh was guest speaker and a commemorative plaque was unveiled by Fr Liam Barron PP, Mullinavat.
Songs were by Sadhbh McDonnell and Frank Madigan. Piper Tony Wallace led proceedings and also brought a poignant event to a closure.
Wreaths were played for local Cumann na mBan members E Company members and VI Battalion, Kilkenny.
Local historian and writer Eoin Swithin Walsh reminded that members of local families and the greater South Kilkenny community were gathered in Mullinavat Churchyard to unveil a plaque in memory of the local brave men and women of the 6th Battalion, E Company, Mullinavat.
He said the Cumann na mBan Company Mullinavat, and all from the area who may not have been part of any organisation, but in their own way, helped play a part in Ireland’s struggle for Independence were also in their hearts and minds.
“Some might think; what could a group of people in rural Kilkenny possibly do of significance to help in the fight for independence?
“It’s true of course, that history focuses more on the Michael Collins’s and De Valeras’ of this world.
“But having studied this period, I can honestly say, I am in awe of the 1921 generation of County Kilkenny. That generation – the generation of our grandparents or great-grandparents perhaps – had very, very little in terms of material possessions or money.
“It nonetheless constantly surprised me, just how much they were willing to sacrifice, or put themselves in harm’s way, just for this belief that the independence struggle was the right and just thing to do.
“I’ve also learned from examining this period, that it was sum total of all the small events that occurred around Ireland, that really added up to the measure of independence that was eventually achieved 100 years ago this year.
What surprised me most looking at the Mullinavat area is how their independence activities were all consuming. Most of their tasks and activities don’t make the history books.
“For example, the likes of dispatch carrying was so important 100 years ago. Countless men and women of this parish were on constant call to physically deliver dispatches or messages between IRA members within the parish or in surrounding parishes.
“Walking miles on foot was common, and they were in trouble if they were caught with any compromising material.
Safe houses were also located in nearly every town land this parish. These families were on call day and night to allow people stay, often having to get up during the night to make food for their visitors.
“Not alone was their hospitality and often scarce food offered without a moment’s thought; but if they were subjected to a Crown Forces raid when they had ‘visitors’, they would have their house destroyed for ‘harbouring rebels’”
MOST OF IRA WENT TO MASS
“One thing that jumps out at me from looking at this period is the tremendous faith or spirituality those of the 1921 generation,” Eoin continued.
“Even when the turmoil was at its highest, most of the local IRA would go to Mass every Sunday. They’d walk through these very gates and doors; this rebuilt church was 20 years only old at the time.
“It was extremely dangerous for them to go to Mass, as it was known by the RIC; that the one place you could be guaranteed to capture a wanted IRA man was at one of the Sunday Masses.
“The RIC would surround the church when Mass was on and search people on the way out. Luckily, women wore shawls in those days. A multitude of incriminating materials could be hidden in them if needs be.
“Despite all the risks, it was obviously important for those fighting for the cause to seek some Divine help.
Highest ranking member from the parish was Richard Kenneally, Ballynorney who was on the 6th Battalion brigade staff which roughly took in Tullogher, Mullinavat and Glenmore.
“For this area specifically, the Captain of E Company, also known as Mullinavat Company, was John Durney, Buckstown.
“Highest ranking members of Cumann na mBan in the area were a Miss Cassin, Ballynooney and Miss Alyward, Red Acres.
“Now, I better not mention every family or every event that took place or we’d be here for week,” Eoin joked.
“The names of many of the signed up participants are in the lovely leaflet that was especially created for today, but as I said, it doesn’t half cover the effort that people put in.
“But I think the best way to emphasise that is to tell a few stories from the War of Independence from the Mullinavat parish area.
“I start with Mullinavat RIC Barracks located on the main street, not far from where we stand today.
“It was the focal point of tensions in the area throughout the period. During the height of the War of Independence in 1921, the heavily fortified barracks contained regular RIC and Black and Tans.
“Mullinavat Barracks was extremely important to the Crown Forces. There was a key reason for this; most of the barracks in South Kilkenny had been closed and/or burned down by the IRA.
“This included Mooncoin Barracks, Hugginstown, The Rower, Bennettsbridge, Inistioge, Glenmore, Slieverue and Rosbercon Barracks; all destroyed by 1921, usually burned down.
“Mullinavat Barracks being the last one standing so to speak, and its position on the main road from Waterford to Kilkenny/Dublin, along with its proximity to a vital railway line, meant its continued occupation by Crown Forces was of the utmost importance.
COUNTLESS SNIPING ATTACKS
“There were at least two major attacks on the barracks – in January and April, 1921 – attempting to capture it, while there were countless harassment-type sniping attacks.
“I think it’s always better to hear accounts of this era in the words of people who took part. The first account is a description of the January, 1921, as told by Michael Connolly, Glenmore Company and vice commandant of the 6th Battalion.
Here are his words:
‘There was only one enemy post in our battalion area. That was the barracks at Mullinavat, which was garrisoned by about 20 men, composed of two RIC sergeants, eight or nine RIC constables and the remainder, Black and Tans.
‘My recollection of the incident is that I took 20 men from the Glenmore Company to Ballyquin Cross, about one mile from Mullinavat, on the night of January 17, 1921.
‘There we met about 20 others from the Tullogher Company and the members of the battalion staff. With the exception of the commandant who had a rifle, all the men were armed with shotguns.
‘In addition, there were two mines. The commandant of our battalion, Martin McGrath and a party of shotgun men would occupy a position at the rear of the barracks, while Denis McDonald and his party would occupy houses at the front of the barracks.
‘Myself, Dick Duggan arid Dick Murphy were given the task of carrying one of the mines. Our job, when we got to Mullinavat, was to prop the mine against the front wall of the barracks, at a point about three feet from the ground and between the door and a window, light the fuse, and then get back to cover.
‘We carried short stout sticks or poles with which to prop the mines. It was hoped the mines would demolish the wall of the barracks.
‘It was about 11p when we got to Mullinavat. The night was wet and as we moved to our positions, every dog in the village started barking. This may have helped to alert the police.
‘Duggan, Murphy and me took the mine to the barrack’s wall. As I passed the dayroom window, I noticed that the steel shutter had not been closed, and I saw a policeman looking out at us in the dim light.
He immediately slapped down the steel shutter, and fired six revolver shots at us through the port-hole. We dropped the mine, and lay flat on the ground.
DROPPING GRENADES FROM WINDOWS
Almost immediately, police on the top floor started to drop grenades from the upper windows. We got cover for a time in a ball alley at the end of the barracks.
‘McGrath eased the situation for us by opening fire on the rear of the barracks, and we were able to reach good cover between some houses on the opposite side.
RIC lights illuminated the sky. We went to the railway bridge which had been pre-arranged, as the point of re-assembly. There, McGrath dismissed the men after telling them to get to their homes as quickly as possible and to remove from their clothes and boots all traces of having been out that night.
‘The British military did move out from Waterford that night. Having to cut their way through the road-blocks in Kilmacow made their progress very slow.
‘On reaching Kilmacow, they stopped and barricaded the sides of their lorries with sacks of flour and meal, which they took from a store there. By the time they reached Mullinavat, I would say that we were all home and in bed.
The second attack on the barracks in April 1921, was basically a Mullinavat-only job. I found this account in the archives.
Around 16 local men took part in the assault, while there may have been double that number doing scouting duty. It must have been nerve-wracking for all involved; the local IRA men, who by day were mostly farmers or shop assistants; and nerve-wracking for the Crown Forces stuck inside the building as it was attacked.
Here’s an IRA report of that attack which occurred on April 11, 1921:
‘The attackers numbering about 16 were all from E Coy, 6th Battalion, Kilkenny Brigade, Mullinavat, They were armed with shotguns, bombs and mines.
‘Attackers took up positions about 15 yards from the barracks. Men were told to cut the barbed wire in front of the barracks and lay mines against the front wall.
‘When the mines exploded the attackers immediately opened fire and kept it up continuously for about an hour, after calling several times to the RIC to surrender.
‘Scouts on outpost duty reported the arrival of troops from Waterford and the attackers had to withdraw.
‘In the days after the attack, five of the men that took part in it were arrested and interned in Spike Island. The following are the men of the attacking party:
Richard Kenneally, Ballynooney (Brigade staff), John Durney (Captain E Company), Peter Durney, Richard Walsh, Maurouse Murphy, William McAvoy, William Raftice, all from Buckstown.
From Acres came John Aylward, William Aylward, Patrick Holden, Patrick ‘Coady’ Holden.
From Garrandara came Patrick Raftice, John Cashin of Ballynooney and Patrick McDonald of Ballyinlea.
Now those names which were written by Richard Kenneally, were just those men in the main attacking party.
There were likely multiples of that number doing other activities on the night. For example, men trenched or blocked all the roads leading to Mullinavat, no easy task with just a pick and a shovel.
Even cutting a large tree down to block a road took some time and effort with a cross saw, this being an era long before chainsaws existed.
Small bridges on the New Ross and Waterford Road were destroyed and telephone lines were cut, but the RIC in Mullinavat sent up flares to request assistance.
Other men and teenagers would have done scouting duty on the night. They could have been miles away, and as we heard from the account, signalled the approach of the Waterford Crown Forces well in advance.
Finally, the Cumann na mBan women in the parish would have been on duty. They would have had all their first aid material in a specific location close by.
All wounded were to be brought to them for treatment if needed. In addition, after retreating from the attack, a range of safe houses in the area would have been provided to the attackers.
Luckily, for all involved, there was no serious physical injury to any side in that attack. It must, no doubt, have affected these young people psychologically down the line.
BOMBS, BULLETS AND GRENADES
Most of them were in their 20s. After the noise and anxiety of mines exploding, bullets flying through the air and grenades being thrown, it must have been difficult to just go back to, say, milking cows the next day.
We here today can only imagine what went through their minds before and after events like the Mullinavat Barracks attacks.
The final story is that of James Hoban. I think it’s important to remember all those who died during the revolutionary era. Those who got caught in the crossfire, so to speak, who may not have been directly involved in the movements of the time, but did not have choice in laying down their life for Ireland; these deserve to be remembered just as much as anyone.
A week after the Mullinavat Barracks attack, on April 19, 1921, General Strickland, the highest ranking British commander in the south of Ireland, visited Mullinavat RIC Barracks.
No doubt he was there to boost morale and commend the RIC and Black and Tans in Mullinavat for the fight they put against the attackers the previous week; and probably congratulating them for not surrendering the barracks.
For 23-year-old James Hoban, from Glendonnell, Mullinavat, it was a case of being in the wrong place, at the exact wrong time that same morning.
He was in the village of Mullinavat welling pigs with his uncle, James Walsh.
Strickland’s large military convoy was positioned outside Mullinavat RIC Barracks. At around 11.30am, completely out of nowhere, a burst of bullets were fired up the main street from the turret of a Rolls Royce armoured car.
Hoban, who was 100 yards down the street standing next to his uncle, collapsed wounded. They had been standing near McDonald’s public house, a place where the farmers would often meet to conduct their business.
Hoban had been hit a number of times in both legs, around the thigh area, and was bleeding profusely. Some of the soldiers came down the street and attempted to administer first aid by bandaging James’s wounds.
His uncle who had been standing beside him, had miraculously escaped injury. He later said the following:
‘I had been standing about four yards from…James. My nephew and me were standing about 120 yards from the Police Barracks.
‘I had my back towards my nephew. I heard a shot and on turning around saw James lying on the ground. From where I was standing I could see three lorries outside the police barracks with military in and around them.
SHOCK OF NEPHEW LYING WOUNDED
‘When the military came up to help I went away. I am over 70 years of age and was overcome by the shock of seeing my nephew lying wounded on the ground.’
The soldiers then lifted James Hoban, with the help of his cousin Michael Hoban, to nearby Costello’s grocery shop on the main street.
James’s sister Anastasia arrived 20 minutes later or so. She gave the following account afterwards:
‘I went to Costello’s shop in Mullinavat and saw my brother James lying on a mattress. He had been bandaged up. He was conscious and knew us all. He said to me; “I’m all right”’
But James’s condition deteriorated and he was transferred by military ambulance to Waterford Infirmary. James passed away there later that evening at 7pm, likely due to the amount of blood he had lost.
Just two days after he had set out for the pig fair in Mullinavat, James’s funeral Mass was said in the local church.
He was interred in the graveyard in the plot of his mother’s family. Some of the congregation that met his remains coming into the village were stopped and searched by the military.
The soldier who discharged the weapon which led to Hoban’s death, Private McCulla, was subsequently court-martialled. McCulla refused to give evidence or co-operate with the inquiry. Nevertheless, he was found not guilty of Hoban’s death as the machine gun’s ‘fuse spring was considered ‘too light’ and the smallest amount of pressure would discharge a few rounds.
It was therefore considered an accidental killing. The Hoban family really suffered two injustices; firstly, their son, who was not involved in any of the fighting, and was fatally wounded when minding his own business on a Tuesday morning when herding pigs; secondly, the other injustice was that because of who fired the shots, no one would be punished or held responsible, and they would have to get on with their lives.
Once again, we can only imagine how hard it was for all involved to move on from that.
Most likely the forces in the barracks were not treated too kindly by the locals after these events.
As a result, in May 1921, just a few weeks after these events, the military forced the closure of the creameries in Mullinavat, Glenmore and Glenpipe for a period of one month, as punishment to the locals.
““I hope you got some understanding from just these few stories about your ancestors 1921 generation and what they did in Mullinavat parish a century ago,” said Eoin Swithin Walsh.
“The independence movement was all consuming, but people still had to get on with regular lives. The people who participated had absolutely nothing to gain in the short term for their activities, or even the long term for that matter. A
“They weren’t getting a penny for putting up with the hardship they were putting themselves through. but they did have a lot to lose in a way.
THREAT TO LIVES
“These losses could have included their farms, their homes, their jobs, their family’s safety, their freedom; or even their own lives.
“I always say the easiest thing to do would have been to do nothing, keep the head down. But that is not what they decided to do.
Indeed, you could literally fill a book on each parish’s activities during the war of independence in Kilkenny, not alone just the county.
“Finally, I hope as we all travel home today and pass Mullinavat Barracks, we will think about all those who have gone before us, and maybe say a little prayer, in memory, and in thanksgiving, of all those men and women who lived 100 years ago, and all they did and all they suffered, so we that we could live in the country we have today.