St Patrick’s Day parade in Galway, 1916

This parade started from the Square in the following order: Eyre Square North – Industrial School Band; Galway Urban District Council; Galway Board of Guardians; Students of UCG; AOH. Eyre Square East – The Monastery School Fife and Drum Band; UIL; Town Tenant’s League; Galway Woollen Manufacturing Co; and the Irish National Foresters.

Eyre Square South – St Patrick’s Brass and Reed Band; National Volunteers; Educational Section; The Galway Worker’s Union. Eyre Square West – The pipers band known as Cumann Píobairí na Gaillimhe; The Irish Volunteers; St John’s Ambulance.

The procession proceeded around the Square, down Williamsgate Street, Mainguard Street, Dominick Street, William Street West, along by the Crescent and New Line (St Mary’s Road ), then Francis Street, returning to the Square where its constituent parts dispersed. Rev T Fitzgerald OFM of the Abbey Church was the Grand Marshall.

According to a contemporary report, “It was a little bit of spring wedged in between solid blocks of icy winter, cold before and cold and wet after. In colour, organisation and general spectacular effect, the annual procession would hardly bear comparison with some of its predecessors, but at a time when Europe has been turned into a hecatomb it would scarcely be seemly to have it otherwise. There were some vivid splashes of green which is not the national colour but which is now so deeply rooted in popular sentiment as to be a legitimate usurpation. The Galway Workers carried a very fine banner with finely painted figures and some inspiring legends, but the ornamentation, taken on the whole was inferior to what a religious or Nationalist procession would be in any part of Ulster. The four bands were placed at appropriate intervals and disbursed a number of spirited national marches.

“As each unit marched to the place allotted on the four sides of the Square, it was easy for the peripatetic spectator to anticipate the conclusion which the subsequent procession enforced. It was small and somewhat perfunctory. The Urban Council was very sparsely represented and the representation of University College was like wire-thin. The same observation applies to all societies though not quite to the same degree.

“Over against all this has to be set a circumstance, though not quite new, that has not lost its novelty – the presence of large bodies of civilians, half attired and wholly armed as soldiers. These were the Irish National Volunteers (almost solely drawn from the city ) and the Irish Volunteers (entirely recruited from the county ). The headgear of either of them, which in design follows that of the English ‘Tommy’, corresponds in shape and shows little sartorial imagination. In colour, however, there is a shade of difference, that of the INV being inclined to grey with a shy suggestion of khaki, while that of the schismatic body is of a dark nondescript green. Mr Redmond’s men – the orthodox Volunteers (INV ) – carried modern rifles with bayonets attached. The others were also provided with rifles and bayonets but quite a number were accoutred with fowling pieces, and two sections from the Castlegar district attracted not a little attention with their span new pikes, weapons that appeared to have left the forge only last week (we understand such in fact is the case ), and thoroughly formidable in appearance. There can be no doubt that in a bayonet charge they would be more destructive than a bayonet – what are rifle and bayonet anyhow but an improvised pike?”

In fact there were 617 Volunteers in all present. Michael Kelly of Clarinbridge listed the companies as follows: Clarinbridge, Oranmore, Maree, Athenry, Ardrahan, Craughwell, Kilconieron, Newcastle, Carnaun, Claregalway, Castlegar, Spiddal, Kinvara, Ballindereen, Gort, Killimordaly, and Ballycahalan. There also a number of Cumann na mBan marchers. The Republican contingent dominated the parade.

Martin Newell of Loughrea, in his witness statement, describes what was probably a typical experience for the out of town groups, that of the Clarinbridge Company who “Under Captain Eamonn Corbett, marched from Clarinbridge to Oranmore Railway Station and went by rail to Galway. All the members carried shotguns. On arrival at Galway we marched to the rere of the County Club which was the assembly point. Practically every man on the parade was armed with some kind of weapon, the vast majority had shotguns, a few had rifles; others had long handled pikes. En route, we were subjected to cat calls and jeers from the ‘Separation Women’, the wives of British soldiers who were serving in France, etc. RIC men from every barrack in the County were present and placed themselves at different points along the route and in their notebooks, wrote the names of the men they knew who carried arms. It was from the lists so compiled that the Volunteers were arrested after the Rising. Later when the Galway prisoners were being questioned by the Sankey Commission, the chairman of the Commission told them the type of weapon they carried on the parade. We returned to Oranmore by train and marched from there to Clarinbridge, where we dispersed.” The organisers of the parade were Liam Mellows, Alfie Monaghan, Larry Lardner, and George Nicholls. They used the exercise to see how quickly they could come together, to check the arms they had, to see who they could rely on and to remove some of the concern of the authorities about assemblies when they were so public. “No speeches were made but the attitude of the marchers was proud, defiant and hostile.”

Most of the Volunteers of both persuasions returned home by early special trains. They were very polite and well mannered while they were in Galway, but it was said that some of the Gort contingent and also the East Galway Volunteers fired a number of shots from the train when leaving the city.

As a result of the parade and seditious speeches he made in Athenry, Mellows was arrested in late March and deported to England, compelled by deportation order to live in the Birmingham city area and not move outside it. His brother Barney went to his lodgings dressed in priest’s clothes. They switched clothing and Nora Connolly (daughter of James Connolly ) brought Liam to Glasgow and from there by cattle boat to Belfast. He returned to Galway to lead the Rising here with many of the men who took part in this parade.

Our photograph today of a group of Volunteers was taken in front of the County Club in Eyre Square, probably on that day. The Volunteers had obviously targeted St Patrick’s Day as they put on similar shows of strength in a number of parades in cities and towns throughout the country.

Finally, we can highly recommend a visit to an exhibition from the Galway County Council Archives which is on show at the County Council Buildings on Prospect Hill. It is titled From Colonial State to Free State ... what they said and it charts the change in political attitudes in the county during the revolutionary period at the beginning of the 20th century. It illustrates the stance and policies of the county council and its associated local authorities, focusing primarily on the pivotal period after the Rising, and using a wealth of illustrations and quotations to enliven this fascinating display which will run in County Buildings until the end of April, and then travel throughout the county.

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