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Three Offaly 1916 Men Remembered In Clonmacnoise

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Three Offaly 1916 Men Remembered In Clonmacnoise thumbnailThe Kenny families at the grave of James and Kieran Kenny in Clonmacnoise on Sunday afternoon.

AN emotional and proud 1916 Centenary Event was held at Clonmacnoise monastic site on a beautiful afternoon last Sunday.

 A gathering of perhaps a hundred people were present to remember James Kenny, Kieran Kenny and Paddy McDonnell, three men from Offaly who were involved in the 1916 Rising and are buried in Clonmacnoise.

In 1966, the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising, many events were organised around the country. As part of their contribution, Offaly GAA, with the assistance of the OPW, erected a Commemorative Plaque near the entrance to Clonmacnoise honouring the three veterans buried there. Two of the men were members of the GAA. After Mass, in 1966, wreaths were laid on the graves and following the unveiling of the Plaque Mr Alf Murray, President of the GAA gave an oration.

 Amanda Pedlow, Heritage Officer for Offaly, told Sunday's gathering that the plaque was recently moved to a more suitable place in the monastic site, as part of the Centenary Year Commemorations which are being co-ordinated by Offaly County Council. She said Offaly County Council has worked with the Office of Public Works over recent months and the plaque had been re-erected in a very prominent place and will honour the memory of the men for many years to come. 

The event opened with the telling of the story of the three men in the Visitor Centre by Padraig Heavin. The Plaque was then unveiled by Cllr Eamon Dooley, Chairperson of Birr Municipal District and Padraig Boland, Chairperson of Offaly GAA County Board. Wreaths were laid on the graves of each veteran by members of their families. 

'To begin with,' said Padraig, 'I wish to send greetings to Ellen McDonnell, daughter-in-law of Paddy McDonnell who lives in Manchester. She is 89 years young today. Happy birthday. A special hello to KK Kenny who drove the President of the GAA to Clonmacnoise fifty years ago.'

 Padraig said to stand on the sacred soil of Clonmacnoise is always a privilege. 'Today it is extra special because of why we are here. We are commemorating the bravery of three local men whose mortal remains lie among the warriors of Eirinn who also slumber here.'

 He said the OPW and the caretakers of the site and visitor centre moved the Plaque to its new spot which now faces the rising sun. 'Its rays will illuminate the Plaque and the memory of James Kenny, Kieran Kenny and Paddy McDonnell for generations to come.'

 He thanked Offaly County Council and the Offaly GAA County Board for organising the event, 'and especially Mr Tom Moore and the OPW.'

'I was asked to make a small presentation about the three 1916 Veterans that we honour today. To begin, a small geography lesson may be required. The name High Street will pop up, so let me explain. Belmont Village is ten kilometres southeast of Clonmacnoise with two pubs, a supermarket and Post Office. High Street is a kilometre to the west with a church, school, Hall and Cemetery. A kilometre further west lies Moystown with its GAA field.

  'Some time ago I was asked a question. Why was the Belmont area so prominent in the struggle for freedom, and I had no answer. Then with a bit of research I discovered that the drapery trade was the common thread. Also that the Kenny and McDonnell families attended mass in High Street Church and right beside the church stood the drapery shop of James Kenny.

It prospered and his brother Michael decided to open a drapery shop in Banagher which was also successful. It was called "The Irish House". As was the custom with many businesses in the early 1900s, James Kenny found employment for his son James with Todd, Burns Ltd Drapers, Mary Street, and Michael's son Kieran followed the same path to Dublin.

  'Back in High Street, within five hundred yards of the church, the McDonnell family had four sons and one of them, Paddy, seeing how his neighbour was doing, also decided to head for Dublin where he got a job with Pim Brothers, Drapers in George's Street.'

In Dublin the men became involved in the GAA and other cultural activities. Paddy won a Dublin Senior Football medal with Kickhams in 1912. 

 The three men also joined the Irish Volunteers, the two Kennys serving under Eamonn Ceannt and Paddy McDonnell under Thomas McDonagh.

 After the Rising, Kieran Kenny and Paddy McDonnell were incarcerated in Knutsford Prison and Frongoch. The prison conditions were bad, as revealed in Kieran Kenny's Pension Application File: 'He had to sleep on a damp floor,' it says in the File, 'with his boots for a pillow, and no ventilation, no water to drink. The small allowance of food he got was kicked in under his door; usually accompanied by the words Take that you bloody Irish pig - it is too good for you.'

In a letter home from Knutsford, Kieran wrote: 'Dear Mary, I am here for the last fourteen days. Saw Jim Carroll. He looks alright, but we are not allowed to speak. Makes it a bit lonesome. Please let my father know at once. I am sure he is very anxious and vexed with me. If you could let the boss know he might hold on the job.'

 On being released from prison they received a hero's welcome back home. However, their jobs were gone and they were compelled to seek the support of their families in order to keep going.

 Kieran Kenny contracted tuberculosis 'and the strapping man of 1916 had wasted away when he died on the 28th of October 1922, aged 35 years. His sister Roseanna nursed him through his illness. As a result, she also contracted TB and died in 1934 aged 39. They both lie side by side in this hallowed place.'

Paddy McDonnell returned to High Street. 'I had lost my job,' he wrote. 'I had lost everything. I had to go home, down to Belmont. That was the hardest part. I had to suffer the humiliation of everyone down there, including my own family.'

Paddy became the driving force in organising the Volunteers in the Belmont/Moystown area starting in 1917 with Jimmy Kelly of Geashill, another former inmate of Frongoch. Jimmy had a job at DE Williams Ltd Belmont. He and Paddy expanded the Volunteers into the adjoining towns of Cloghan, Ferbane and Banagher. As a result of this activity Paddy was imprisoned for three months in Mountjoy.

 When peace returned, Paddy worked in a variety of jobs in Dublin. In 1947 he moved to a small farm he had purchased at Garrycastle near Athlone. He died in a freak accident. When attending a funeral at Clonmacnoise cemetery on the 7th of February 1949 one of the headstones fell on him and killed him.

 During the Rising, as Battalion Quarter Master, James Kenny received orders from Eamonn Ceannt to move weapons into four different outposts on Good Friday. James participated in the heavy fighting around the Marrowbone Lane Distillery. He managed to evade the clutches of the British and therefore didn't end up in Frongoch or Knutsford. His Assistant Quartermaster, Philip Cosgrave, wasn't so fortunate and was sentenced to death. This was commuted to five years penal servitude.

James returned to his parents' house and shop in High Street after the Rising. He still had the rifle he used during the Rising. His job in Dublin was gone, therefore he was reliant on his parents for support. He had to remain hidden because the RIC were aware of his involvement in the Volunteers. The RIC also kept Kieran and Paddy under surveillance.

On the 4th of October 1920, eighteen volunteers from F Company Offaly No 2 Brigade, the Company formed by Paddy McDonnell and Jimmy Kelly three years earlier, ambushed a patrol from the Shropshire Regiment at Belmont. They captured nine rifles and nine hundred rounds of ammunition. They had seventeen shotguns and one rifle, the one which James brought from Dublin.

James returned to Dublin in 1923 and found a job. He lived in Inchicore until his health failed. He returned to High Street where he was cared for by his nephew Seamus Kenny and his wife until James died on the 8th of October 1953.

'The records show,' commented Padraig, 'that a total of eleven Offaly men participated in the Rising. They were, Michael Foley, Edenderry; Peadar Bracken and Seamus O'Brennan, Tullamore; Jimmy Kelly, Geashill; Joe Doolan, Killoughey; Eamon Bulfin, Derrinlough; Kieran Kenny, Banagher; James Carroll, Shannon Harbour; Paddy McDonnell and James Kenny, High Street; Patrick Doyle, Ferbane.

'Fifty years ago the Plaque was erected outside this national monument. Today it is in a better location. 170,000 people visited Clonmacnoise this year. Of the visitors who have come here over the years some no doubt had ancestors who fought in major battles; perhaps their ancestors fought at Gettysburg, Pearl Harbour, Iwo Jima, Hastings, Culloden, the Somme, Dunkirk, Normandy, at Arnhem, Stalingrad; perhaps their ancestors stormed the Bastille, or participated in the Boyne, Athlone, Aughrim, and Vinegar Hill. All of those visitors no doubt shared one thing in common - they were proud of their ancestors, they were proud that they stood up and fought. In the same way, we are proud of the three men buried here who fought for our freedom during the Rising.

'We now pass on the torch to the people and the generations to come, asking them to keep alive the memory of James Kenny, Kieran Kenny and Paddy McDonnell.'

Cllr Eamon Dooley told the gathering that the people who participated in the Rising were fighting for freedom against an unjust system, and were democrats at heart. Their spirit, their ethos, he remarked, can be directly linked to all that is best about Irish democracy, whether at a local or national level. 'These men and women dreamed of creating an Ireland where your social standing didn't dictate your rights. We are very proud of their heroism, their idealism, and their dislike of injustice. As I am from the West Offaly area this is also a special day for me.'

Padraig Boland praised Padraig Heevan for his drive and determination, and Amanda Pedlow for her industriousness and enthusiasm. He pointed out that the GAA is a non-sectarian, non-political organisation, which is often a haven from those things. However, it was proud to be linked with any events commemorating 1916. He said Clonmacnoise was a very beautiful place, especially when the weather was benign, and it's a lovely burial ground for the three men to be buried in. He pointed out that the rebels of 1916 weren't 'heathens or barbarians. They were Christian men who wanted a better world. They wanted to overthrow oppression. Therefore we stand here today in an exaltation of spirit, proud of these Gaels and proud of our beautiful Gaelic heritage.'

 Mr Boland finished by reading part of James Stephens' impressive poem 'The Spring In Ireland: 1916' which contains the lines: 'Be green upon their graves, O happy Spring, / For they were young and eager who are dead; / Now are we resurrected, now are we, / Who lay so long beneath an icy hand, / New-risen into life and liberty, / Because the Spring is come into our land.'

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