Categories
1916 Rising

Bicycle Pump, The Battle of Ashbourne, 1916

On the 28th April, the Friday of the week of the Easter Rising, a group of Irish Volunteers on their way to Batterstown, Co. Meath, came upon a Royal Irish Constabulary barricade. The battle that ensued came to be known as the Battle of Ashbourne. This bicycle pump was picked up by a woman on the site of the battle later that day and kept as a souvenir, and was donated to the National Museum in 1945.

The Battle of Ashbourne was a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and about 37 Irish Volunteers. It was one of the few engagements outside of the city centre and was, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one.  It was also an example of the guerilla warfare that became a normal method of operation during the War of Independence.

James O’Connor, an Irish Volunteer with St Margaret’s Company, Dublin, took part in the battle and recounted the events to the Bureau of Military History in 1948. After his battalion, which was headed by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy, was mobilized on Easter Sunday they were split into smaller groups, or flying columns, and sent north of Dublin city towards Ashbourne. Their mission was to destroy the railway line near Batterstown and disrupt the movement of British troops into the city. They set out by bicycle, armed mostly with shotguns, and after raiding a number of barracks in the area, cutting communications and collecting rifles, they reached the Cross of the Rath at Ashbourne. There they were met with a barricade that had been hastily erected by the RIC from the barracks situated there. The constables quickly surrendered and were sent to the barracks to order a full surrender. They did not return, and the Volunteers took positions across the road while O’Connor and Ashe tried to break in the door. The constables began firing from the upper windows of the building, and a gun battle broke out. The fighting intensified as RIC reinforcements arrived from Navan, Dunboyne and Slane, and O’Connor saw many falling as they were hit. Two Volunteers, John Crennigan and Thomas Rafferty were also fatally wounded. When District Inspector Gray was killed, the constables surrendered and were taken prisoner. The Volunteers gathered their arms and ammunition while Ashe warned the constables that they would be shot if they took arms against the Irish people again. Their victory was short lived, as at 2pm the next day Ashe received word of the surrender in Dublin and demobilised the battalion, sending the men home. Many, including O’Connor, were arrested within days and interned in Wakefield and Frongoch.

John Austen, a postal worker and native of Ashbourne, was an eye-witness to the event. His account of the start of the battle differs a little from O’Connor’s in that he states that the constable at the barricade did not surrender, but ran and was captured (finally being dragged out from underneath a bed), and that Ashe went to the barracks to order the surrender. Austen watched the battle from the nearby Lime-kiln Hill, and returned to the road when the shooting had stopped.

In total, fourteen people were killed in the battle, two Volunteers, eight RIC members, two civilians driving the RIC cars, and two civilians who were passing through the area. Many more were injured. Austen was asked to take the dead men off the road, and loaded the bodies of eight men into a cart with the help of two constables. The two Inspectors had already been removed, and the bodies of Crennigan and Rafferty had been taken away by the Volunteers. Austen described seeing Sergeant Shanagher – ‘He was shot right between the eyes as he left the car and slumped into a small depression on the side of the road. The road that evening was a terrible sight with blood and bandages strewn on it’.

 

The bicycle pump itself is a very ordinary object, and not one that is normally or easily connected to a battle scene. The clearest connection is probably that, as many of the accounts mention, the Volunteers arrived at the scene by bicycle. However, that doesn’t guarantee that this pump came from a Volunteer’s bicycle. Cycling was more common than travelling by car at this time, and it’s reasonable to think that the pump could have come from any bicycle, at any time, and simply could have happened to be there at that point in time. When the donor picked it up there was no indication of its ownership, but she believed it to have belonged to a person engaged in the battle and took it as a souvenir. In doing this she connected the object to the event and gave it an association and significance it wouldn’t otherwise have had. Like many museum objects, the meaning given to it by the person who witnessed or experienced an event is what gives it a place in our history, and allows it to continue telling a story long after the person has gone.

Royal Irish Constabulary Casualties

  • RIC County Inspector Alexander Gray, injured at the Battle of Ashbourne and later died of his wounds on 10th May. Shot by Volunteer Frank Lawless. Aged 57, he had served for 33 years and 5 months
  • RIC District Inspector Harry Smyth. An ex-army Englishman, aged 41, he had served for 16 years and 9 months, and had been based in Navan since 1912.
  • RIC Constable John Shanagher, No. 54677. Aged 48, he had served for 25 years and 3 months.
  • RIC Constable John Young, No. 58036. Aged 42, he had served for 19 years and 5 months.
  • RIC Constable James Hickey, No. 54582. Aged 49, he had served for 25 years and 7 months.
  • RIC Constable James Gormley, No. 66800. Aged 25, he had served for 3 years and 7 months.
  • RIC Constable Richard McHale, No. 67072. Aged 22, he had served for 3 years and 2 months.
  • RIC Constable James Cleary, No. 64900. Aged 28, he had served for 6 years and 9 months.

Irish Volunteer Casualties

  • John Crennigan, aged 21, of Swords, Co. Dublin. A member of the Irish Volunteers (Fingal Brigade). He was killed in action when shot by RIC District Inspector Smyth, at the Battle of Ashbourne.
  • Thomas Rafferty, aged 22, of Lusk, Co. Dublin.  A member of the Irish Volunteers (Fingal Brigade). He received a gunshot wound at the Battle of Ashbourne, and died later of his injuries.

Civilian Casualties

  • Gerald John Hogan, aged 26, of 9 Summerhill Road, Kingstown. A civilian, listed as being a commercial traveller.  He died in the cross fire in the Battle of Ashbourne as he tried to pass through. He is buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery.
  • James Joseph Carroll, aged 24, of 1 Municipal Buildings, Kingstown. A civilian, listed as being a commercial traveller.  He was killed in the cross fire in the Battle of Ashbourne as he tried to pass through. He is buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery.

© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

https://libguides.ucd.ie/academicintegrity/referencingandcitation

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.

Categories
1916 Rising Commemoration

Republican Easter Card, Fergus O’Connor, 1918

Recently I posted about a Cumann na mBan St. Patrick’s Day card, which was published in 1918 by Fergus O’Connor. O’Connor was one of the main publishers of republican material, and the National Museum has many examples of his work. There is also a large collection of material published by O’Connor in the National Library of Ireland. This postcard was published for Easter 1918, and was given to the National Museum as part of a collection of similar items by Sean Prendergast, Commanding Officer of ‘C’ Company, 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, who served in the Four Courts in the 1916 Rising, and later of the Irish Republican Army.

Fergus O’Connor was born in Cork City, the son of Thomas and Ellen O’Connor. Thomas was a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary originally from Co. Offaly, and Ellen was a native of Cork.  In 1901 the family are listed as living in Number 2 Dyke Parade in Cork City, and Fergus, aged 25, was working as a clerk in a bakery. Sometime after this he started publishing picture postcards, mostly featuring Cork and its environs. He also published the typical early 20th century images of Ireland and the Irish, including thatched cottages and their interiors.

 

Having spent the first years of his professional life in Cork, the family moved to Dublin. By 1911 they are recorded as living in 44 Eccles Street, where Fergus established his publishing business. Though he does not appear to have taken any major part in the 1916 Rising, O’Connor was interned, first in Dartmoor in 1916, and later transferred to Lewes Prison in 1917, most likely for publishing pamphlets such as the ‘Oration of P.H. Pearse over O’Donovan Rossa’s Grave’ in 1915, which would have been seen by the British government as seditious material.

He was one of the 120 Irish Prisoners in Lewes Gaol who signed a list, giving his prisoner number as 194, and his sentence as 3 years. He is mentioned in the Bureau of Military History witness statement of Robert Brennan of the Wexford I.V. Brigade, who was also interned in Lewes, as always planning some trick or another, and describes one he played on a particular prisoner officer. Fergus clearly not only had a sense of humour, but a bit of daring about him too!

 

O’Connor was released from Lewes sometime in 1917, and started publishing republican material again, largely due to his business relationship with Sean O’Casey (for whom he published ‘Songs of the Wren’).  O’Casey was a friend of Thomas Ashe, who was imprisoned in Lewes Gaol (it is possible that O’Connor had also known him there) and later Mountjoy in Dublin in 1917. Ashe died on 25 September in Mountjoy of force-feeding whilst on hunger strike. In the autumn of 1917 O’Casey instructed O’Connor to publish the ‘Inquest on Thomas Ashe, The Verdict of the Jury’, and also ‘Let Me Carry Your Cross For Ireland, Lord’, the last poem of Thomas Ashe, in time for Ashe’s funeral, which was attended by tens of thousands of people. ‘The Story of Thomas Ashe’ by Sean O’Casey was also published by O’Connor in November 1917. In the following years O’Connor published numerous republican pamphlets, including ‘A Call to the Women of Ireland’ by Constance Markievicz in 1918, and ‘The Declaration of Irish Independence’ at the First Dáil in 1919, which was suppressed by the British government.

This Easter greeting card was sent by Countess Constance Markievicz to Sean Prendergast on 31 March 1918, signing herself as ‘The Little Countess’ on the reverse. Sean had been a member of the Dublin Branch of Fianna Eireann, which was co-founded by Markievicz in 1909, so was probably acquainted with her from this time onwards.

The imagery on the card is typically republican; it features an image of an Irish Volunteer in full uniform, Celtic designs to side, and the Irish tricolor flag planted in a nest of three eggs, also in green, white and gold. The card is primarily a memorial to Thomas Ashe, who died just six months previously, with his photograph in the top centre and a verse of his poem ‘Let Me Carry Your Cross For Ireland, Lord’ to the side.  The celebration of Easter was, for nationalists, now firmly linked to the commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

https://libguides.ucd.ie/academicintegrity/referencingandcitation

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.