27 April 2006

Unique record of Carlow and Laois volunteers is unearthed

Laois Nationalist

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A LIST of Carlow and Laois people involved in the Irish National Volunteers in 1914 has been discovered by a local historian.

Brendan “Gala” Hutton has, for several years, been examining the thousands of documents that comprise the Pat Purcell Papers. From his research he has unearthed evidence of nearly 100 local men who joined the INV which was formed in early 1914 to combat the threat of the heavily armed Ulster Volunteer Force.

The list of local volunteers is a record of an attendance at a short rifle range in Ballickmoyler on August 4 1914, the day Britain declared what turned out to be World War 1 on Germany. Interestingly, the meeting was addressed by prominent local businessman, Michael Governey.

Soon afterwards, the volunteers were split when John Redmond (the main home-ruler of the day) advised INV members to join the British Army, to help them win this war that would be over by Christmas and secure the goodwill which would grant Ireland autonomy.

Seventy five per cent of the Irish National Volunteers backed Redmond, many of whom joined the British forces. It is not known how many of the Carlow and Laois volunteers fought in the “war to end all wars.” One that certainly did was Tom Mulhall who was killed in 1918.

Many of the names on the list went on to become active in the Irish Republican Army in the 1920s. Pat McDermott, Martin O’Neill and Tom Seeley are three Carlow examples of this.

“This is a major find. It’s the first contemporaneous list of Volunteer activity in Carlow/Laois in 1914, just after the move-ment was formed and just before it split,” said Carlow historian Michael Purcell, a nephew of the late Pat Purcell. Michael Purcell was left the papers in his uncle’s will and passed them over to Gala Hutton to examine.

Pat Purcell, of Killeshin and Quinagh, passed away in 1994 at 98 years of age. He was a member of the Irish National Volunteers and active at the time the letter you see printed was written.

The letter was sent by JW Feehan, who ran the Post Office in Ballickmoyler, to Pat Purcell who leased the land where the firing range was set up at Rossena quarry from Michael Quinn who was living in America.

The meeting on August 4 takes place soon after the Asgard, navigated by Erskine Childers, landed 1,500 guns for the Irish volunteers at Howth. Also present in Rossena were young members of Na Fianna scouts movement.

“Irishmen who joined the British forces for World War one are often portrayed as traitors,” said Michael Purcell. “This is not the case. Those that went to fight against Germany did so in the belief that it would secure Home Rule for Ireland in a matter of months. They weren’t to know how that war would turn out.”

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