The blacksmith from Craughwell

Week III

Tom Kenny: Wanted to redistribute the sixteen acre farm, rented by widow Mary Ryan, among the small farmers around Craughwell.

Tom Kenny: Wanted to redistribute the sixteen acre farm, rented by widow Mary Ryan, among the small farmers around Craughwell.

The participants in the Galway Rising of April 1916 anticipated their arrest and humiliation. During Easter Week, while the rebels were attacking police stations in parts of east Galway, and threatening an invasion of the town, the RIC was quick to round up all the usual suspects. They were easily recognised. Their public training, and their interruptions of recruitment meetings made them well known to the police. They were loaded into open-top vehicles and paraded ‘for the entertainment of the townsfolk’. Volunteer Frank Hardiman remembered being set upon and beaten by rowdies at a number of places, and pelted with mud by the town’s inhabitants.

The leaders of the Galway Rising, including Liam Mellows and Tom Kenny, escaped to America; but for most of their men there was little option but to await the inevitable knock on the door by the RIC and British army. Local newspapers were together in their condemnation of the Galway Rising; The Tuam Herald described it as a ‘melancholy exhibition of midsummer madness’ and the rebels as ‘degenerate sons’.

In the course of the following week more than 400 men were arrested. They were interned in Galway gaol before being taken to Richmond Barracks in Dublin. Later 328 Galway prisoners were deported to Frongoch. The majority, however, were released by Christmas. Even then, when opinion in favour of the rebels was changing in other parts of the country, Galway was still generally anti the rebels. While the prisoners returned to a hero’s welcome elsewhere, one local volunteer recalled that ‘no bonfires awaited them, the Galway men returned almost unnoticed and made their way quietly to their homes.’

In Athenry feelings were so strong that the men’s families were subjected to a boycott enforced by shop keepers and strong farmers.

‘Extraordinary influence’

Of course public opinion was to change. But in Galway this time 95 years ago, it appeared that the local Rising ended in ignominy. The 600 men, following news that rebellion had erupted in Dublin, had answered the call of Mellows and ‘came out’. They were abandoned to their fate when Mellows was forced to accept that all was lost during the debate at Moyode House on that Friday of Easter week. He was in favour of fighting on, but Tom Kenny, who arrived at Moyode on a white horse, accompanied by two priests, persuaded Mellows to allow them address the men, who were urged to disband.

Tom Kenny of Craughwell exerted an extraordinary influence on many young men of east Galway. His strength of character and standing in the community gave him the status to over rule Mellows. Before Mellows came to train the local volunteers, Kenny was the most prominent leader of Sinn Féin in the county.

Secret society

Born in 1878 in Ardrahan, Kenny was the Craughwell blacksmith. He was a member of the Galway county GAA board, and captain of the local hurling team. He was a prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, into which he was sworn at Loughrea by John McBride and members of the supreme council. He organised and controlled Sinn Féin in both Craughwell and Athrnry. The RIC regarded him as a dominant figure, and ‘too dictatorial to be personally popular.’ Yet, according Martin Newell, one of his supporters, Kenny inspired admiration among his young followers.

What really gave Kenny the edge over all others committed to rebellion was his revision of the old Land War tactic of the secret society. Some Galway farmers had benefited from land purchase legislation introduced by the British (especially after the Wyndham Land Act 1903 which effectively enabled all Irish tenants to purchase their farms ), but many farmers lived on holdings far too small to provide them with a reasonable standard of living whether they owned them or not. Kenny’s secret society was dedicated to the cause of implementing land redistribution, and forcing landlords and big farmers of the county to break up their grazing farms and to distribute their land among their less well off neighbours. Needless to say the ‘big farmers’ regarded such an attempt as outrageous Socialistic effrontery; but, perhaps understandably, small farmers, tradesmen, and landless labourers flocked to join Kenny’s secret society.

Kenny’s ambitions came to a climax when he coveted a small 16-acre farm at Templemartin. The property belonged to Lord Clanricarde, and we have seen in the past that to take on Clanricarde involved time consuming and expensive court battles. Clanricarde, however, let the property to a returned migrant, Mary Ryan. She was at first nervous taking on the property. But some of the big shopkeepers and publicans in the village, such as Martin Hallinan, Michael Clasby, and Bart Cawley, who were prominent members of the Home Rule Party, the United Irish League (UIL ), encouraged her to go ahead.

Mary Ryan was a brave woman. A native of Craughwell, a widow with a young family whose husband had died in the United States, now faced the might of Tom Kenny and his secret society. Shots were fired into the field next to her house as she was walking home. Her hay was burned. The postman would not speak to her, and the walls that surrounded her farm were knocked down letting her animals roam free. Two local men, Coady and Malone, set about rebuilding her walls. A young RIC man, Martin McGoldrick, while keeping an eye on things, was giving them a hand when shots rang out, and he was killed.

‘Pack of lies’

There was fury at this senseless killing. In May 1910 two members of Kenny’s secret society, Michael Dermody and Thomas Hynes were tried for the murder. Bartley Naughton from Rosmuc, claimed in court that he saw the men shoot McGoldrick from a bridge. But it was widely believed that Naughton had been bribed by the police, and was not believed. With a little help from Kenny, who raised a substantial amount of money for their legal defence, and also visited some of the jurors, the judged dismissed Naughton’s evidence as a ‘pack of lies.’ Dermody and Hynes were released to a hero’s welcome.

‘Bartly Naughton he swore with vengeance galore

They would swing on the high gallows tree

Three hundred pounds and his keep all found

Against Hynes and the bold Dermody’.*

NOTES: * I am taking the interesting story of Craughwell at the beginning of the last century from an article in History Ireland Vol 18 (January /February 2010 ), by Fergus Campbell of Newcastle University, who is currently writing a history of that east Galway village.

What happened to the main personalities in the McGoldrick murder? Michael Dermody, who came from a particularly poor family, contacted tuberculosis and died in the Gort workhouse in 1916. Thomas Hynes lived into his eighties. Bartley Naughton emigrated to California and ended his days there. Poor Martin McGoldrick was only 24 years old. The man who shot McGoldrick, and escaped arrest, became well known. He was comparatively well off and owned his own farm. He’d confess the murder every year, and rued the day he was given the shotgun, the cause of his misfortune, and regret.

Next week: ‘Civil war’ breaks out in Craughwell when the Home Rulers ( the United Irish League ), the church, and the police all united against Tom Kenny and his secret society......

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