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Galway's Heritage: The 1916 Rising in Galway

by Marie Boran, Hardman Library, NUI Galway.

Liam Mellows was born in Lancashire, but spent much of his childhood near Castletown, County Wexford. He later moved to Dublin, where he became a member of the IRB. He was sent to Galway in 1915 to organise the Volunteers there, basing himself mostly in Athenry. Companies of Irish Volunteers had been training in Galway for some time before 1916. It is estimated that there were some 1,800 volunteers in County Galway on the eve of the Rising. Almost all areas of the County and City had companies. There are descriptions in the witness statements in the Bureau of Military history by those who participated in training during that time.

Some personalities had come to prominence in the movement in Galway and regularly travelled to Dublin for meetings with other Volunteers. One of these was Larry Lardner. Another emerging leader, Tom Kenny of Craughwell, had been involved in agrarian campaigns in the early years of the 20th century. On the eve of the rising, P.H. Pearse sent orders to Lardner in Athenry who conveyed the word to Mellows that the Rising was to take place and to call out the Galway Volunteers. The Volunteers, led by Mellows and the local leaders, gathered at Killeeneen. From there they set out to attack Clarenbridge RIC barracks. An attempt was made by the Volunteers to attack the RIC barracks at Clarenbridge on the morning of Easter Tuesday. They succeeded in entering the barracks, but were driven back by the police who succeeded in bolting the door.

The Irish forces mounted an attack on Oranmore barracks, but the RIC barricaded themselves inside and the Volunteers were unable to capture the building. The leader of the attack on the Oranmore barracks was Joseph Howley, who, after failing to capture the barracks, led his men to join those of Liam Mellows. When the companies of Volunteers met, it was decided to continue the attack on Oranmore barracks. Police and military reinforcements arrived by train from Galway and it was decided to move out of Oranmore due to the superior fire power of the British. Various Volunteer companies gathered at the Agricultural College close to Athenry.

There was also confrontation at Carnmore. Volunteers from Castlegar and Claregalway met in the Carnmore area. They were confronted by a group of RIC men from Galway City, who fired on the Volunteer positions. Capt. Brian Molloy ordered the Volunteers to return the fire. One of the RIC men, Constable Patrick Whelan, was urged by his commanding officer to call on the Volunteers to surrender, as he was known to many of them. The shooting continued and Whelan was hit and fatally wounded. The police eventually moved back along the road towards Galway and the Volunteers moved in the direction of Oranmore, where they eventually linked up with Mellows and his companies at the Agricultural College. The Agricultural College close to Athenry became the Volunteer headquarters from the evening of Tuesday, 25 April. Volunteers from other parts of south and east Galway assembled there.

Following a short exchange of fire with police, who were attempting to attack the college on Wednesday morning, it became apparent to the rebel leadership that the Agricultural College was a vulnerable location, surrounded by flat farmland with little cover. It was decided that the Volunteers should move south to see if there were others with whom they could link up. The Volunteers marched across country to the deserted mansion at Moyode, once the home of the Persse family, arriving there on the morning of Thursday, 27 April. Reports were received on the Thursday that forces of up to 900 British soldiers were on their way to attack the Irish group.

A sense of panic was generated among some of the Volunteers by this report and a number left, although some of these returned the following morning. Moyode was seen as an indefensible position where such a military force to attack with their superior fire power. Mellows still believed that it might be possible to link up with groups in Clare and Limerick. On Friday 28 April, the Volunteers left Moyode. On their march south, they stopped at the deserted mansion at Limepark, where they received word of the surrender in Dublin. Fr. Tom Fay and the other priests with the group addressed the men and urged them to return home as they had made their gesture and must now be ready for the next fight. On Saturday 29 April, most of the men returned to their homes.

The leaders went on the run. Many of the Volunteers were arrested and taken to prisons in England in the following weeks. Later they were moved to the internment camp at Frongoch in North Wales. They were released later in 1916. Liam Mellows and some of the other leaders made their escape to America'.