Mícheál Ó Droighneáin was born in Spiddal. He left school when he was 14 and got a job in McCambridge’s for 6d a week. Lady Killanin convinced him to go back to school and he became a monitor, went on to training college in Dublin, and it was there he became a Nationalist. “I became a member of the IRB towards the end of 1910 when I was teaching in Dublin [from August 1910 to January 1913]. Then I came to my native place, teaching in Spiddal for one year and then coming to Furbo.”
In December 1913, a public meeting was held in the Town Hall, addressed by Eoin McNeill and Roger Casement, after which Mícheál, George Nicholl, and Dr Brian Cusack took down the names of those joining the Irish Volunteers, and the Galway City Company was formed. In the summer of 1914 he set up a company in Spiddal and the first piece of foot drill was given to them in Irish by Pádraic Pearse at the Irish College. A photograph of the occasion was taken by Mr Leaper from Galway, which would be historically important today.
Eamonn Ceannt and his family stayed in Mícheál’s house in the summer of 1915. He trained Mícheál in the use of a gun he had and told him of the forthcoming Rising. He would write a letter with a coded sentence which would give Mícheál the actual date of the Rising.
Coming to Holy Week 1916, Mícheál, his brother Máirtín, and Micheal Duignan cycled to Briarhill to collect a dozen pikes. They waited for darkness before returning, each with four pikeheads on his bike. They were ready for trouble but met no patrol. They fixed the pikeheads to handles they prepared. Tom Hynes of Galway sent out four single barrelled shotguns with ammunition and Mícheál had a .38 revolver and a miniature rifle. That was the sum total of their armoury.
On Good Friday, a Mrs Martin Conlon came from Dublin to see him, took a letter from her stocking and gave it to him. It contained the coded message. “My heart went into my mouth as I saw the hour was coming very close.” The following day a meeting of officers from different parts of the county met in the Town Hall as there were rumours of disagreement in Dublin, so Sean Hosty was sent to Dublin to establish the real situation.
On Sunday morning there was a fleet of British warships in the bay, a cause for concern. At 6am on Monday morning, Peter Fagan from Barna arrived with the news the Rising was off. At 4pm that afternoon, George Nicholl and Liam Langley arrived with the message that it was on. More confusion. The following morning Mícheál cycled into Galway to McDonnell’s cafe on Williamsgate Street, where he met a Castlegar Volunteer named Fahy who told him the Castlegar men were organising to go to Oranmore in a few hours. Mícheál decided to go home to organise his own men but at Dominick Street a Ford car driven by Heard, the County Inspector RIC, came sweeping past him, halted about 20 yards in front of him, and a number of RIC jumped out with their rifles levelled. They brought him into Dominick Street Barracks, stripped and searched him. He had a loaded revolver in his possession. They brought him to Eglinton Street Barracks where he was joined by George Nicholl, Frank Hardiman, and Seamus Carter. They were handcuffed and put on two sidecars and driven to the docks, being pelted with mud along the way by mothers of men in the British army.
They were put on a minesweeper called The Guillemot. The following day the ship’s gun fired 14 shells “at a meeting of rebels” in on the land in the direction of Castlegar. They were transferred to another ship The Laburnum, which contained 14 other Galway prisoners, and brought to Cove and eventually brought to Richmond Barracks in Dublin, to Wandsworth Jail in London, and finally to Frongoch Camp in Wales, where Micheal taught Irish classes. While he was in jail in the UK, Lady Killanin visited him and brought him cakes and jam. He was released on December 23 and reached home on Christmas Day. Our photograph shows him in uniform in 1922 with his two sons Seán and Pierce.
The Old Galway Society’s lecture takes place this evening at 6.30pm in the Victoria Hotel. Ronnie O’Gorman will speak on “The Battle of Waterloo, how Wellington got his army out of Brussels without causing alarm.” All are welcome. Please note the starting time.
On Monday next, The Galway Archaeological and Historical Society will host a lecture in the Harbour Hotel at 8pm. The subject is “Mayo Archeology” and the speaker will be Bernard O’Hara. Again, all are welcome.