IRA officers, from left: Captain Pádraig Dunleavy, O/C Claremorris Company and later O/C Tuam Battalion; Tom Mannion; Dr Mangan; Tom Nohilly; and Tom Kilgarrif seated.?Pic courtesy of Dominick and Mary Dunleavy.
The plight of ordinary lives
After attending a book launch in 2008 in Mayo, Dublin author Dominic Price wanted to learn more about Mayo men and women’s bravery and sacrifice during the War of Independence and the Civil War. The book launched was ‘The Battle of Tourmakeady – Fact or Fiction’, from the pen of Captain Donal Buckley. Now, almost four years later, Price has published his own intimate and poignant book on the history of Mayo.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Dominic Price, author of ‘The Flame and the Candle – War in Mayo 1919-1924’, explained, “I read Captain Buckley’s book [‘The Battle of Tourmakeady – Fact or Fiction’] and it really inspired me. The level of heroism at the time was unbelievable … it was unlike anything I had ever heard about before.”
Instead of heading straight back to Dublin, where he works as a teacher, Price decided to stay in Mayo for a few extra days ‘to dig a little further’. “Over the years I had seen lots of maps and newspaper cuttings, but I had never seen a lot of it documented together,” he said. “The difficulty with Mayo was that this information and memorabilia had never been collated before. I wanted to document the sequence of events and uncover the key personalities from those events and see where it took me.”
The book delves in to the lives of Mayo men and women whose stories had been largely untold or forgotten. Price believes that until recently, a lot of authors and researchers were discouraged from writing about the Civil War and the War of Independence by the sensitivities surrounding The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Price consulted Ivor Hamrock, the Head of the Local Studies Section at Castlebar Library, and he acknowledges that their initial conversation was the start of a fascinating and often touching journey into the the past.
Speaking emotively about the stories that he subsequently uncovered, Price said, “I didn’t want the book to be about the RIC, The Irish Volunteers, the IRA or the Black and Tans. I wanted to investigate the details of the people, the lives and the stories of the ordinary Mayo men and women who lived in the cottages through this time.”
One event had a profound impact on Price during his research: A visit by Pádraig Dunleavy, a commanding IRA officer, to his colleague Tom Kilgarrif’s son Kevin many years later. Dunleavy served with Kilgarrif in the IRA Claremorris Company and later became his adversary during the Civil War. Dunleavy sought out the family to apologise and ask for forgiveness for betraying Tom Kilgarrif by revealing his secret hiding place to the National Army in 1922. Tom Kilgarrif was imprisoned and died prematurely shortly after his release. In the intervening years, Dunleavy and Kevin Kilgarrif managed to put their differences aside and became close friends.
Price saw pictures of young Mayo men who had been involved in the War of Independence as middle-aged men, and their decline was notable. “I saw pictures of these men in the 1940s and 1950s, and they looked wrecked. They had been in their late teens and early-20s during the War of Independence and the strain of living on the run obviously caught up with them. Can you imagine spending 24 hours a day running up and down hills and then sleeping in barns? You might have managed it for one night, but these men were doing it for a few years.”
Price believes that the cruelty of the Black and Tans had terrible consequences for men, women and children in Mayo. “I think it was traumatic. William Sears, TD for Mayo South, referred chillingly to the treatment that people endured when he said, ‘You don’t want to see any more lorries in the night’. He was talking about the Black and Tans. That struck real fear into communities because of what they did to people. Some of the accounts which are described in the book are truly horrendous.
“I had people telling me prior to writing the book that nothing happened in Mayo. Nothing could be further from the truth I assure you.”
Price says another thing that struck him was the way in which the first Local Government in Mayo dealt with young women. In July 1921, after the Truce was declared Mayo County Council began operating without any interference from the RIC and the British military. One of their first decisions was to abolish the workhouses, which still carried horrific connotations to Mayo people, whose stories of them dated back to the Great Famine in the 1840s. All of the workhouse occupants were subsequently transferred to the County Home in Castlebar, while those residing in the attached hospitals in Castlebar, Swinford and Ballina were transferred to a Central Hospital in Castlebar.
The Council decided that it would represent a ‘stigma’ on the Central Home if young women who happened to become pregnant outside marriage were transferred there. In a report entitled ‘Unmarried Expectant Mothers and Unmarried Mothers’, the council proposed utilising the Magdalene Asylums for such ‘undesirables’, who would have “their maintenance paid for as long as possible by their own labour, e.g. laundry work, basket-making, sewing, knitting etc.”
In ‘The Flame and the Candle’, Price describes the incarceration of hundreds of these women in Mayo, who were often denounced by their own families, as tragic and as a systemic failure of the State at the time: “The language used by the County Council indicated the dark future that awaited such women. It is a tragedy that one of the first actions of the ‘new’ Ireland was to initiate a system of enslavement for girls and young women who happened to become pregnant outside marriage … and to subject them and their children to a long period of further abuse and rejection, hidden away from society.”
‘The Flame and the Candle – War in Mayo 1919-1924’, by Dominic Price (€12.99), is on sale in bookshops nationwide.
Key to Claremorris camp
While researching ‘The Flame and the Candle – War in Mayo 1919-1924’, Price discovered a fragment of pottery with the monogram of King George V (pictured) in a freshly ploughed field on the top of the old Ballyhaunis Road on the way out of Claremorris. He subsequently found other items, such as a thin plate glass, metal bolts and partial horse shoes, at the same site.
The material was analysed, it emerged that a specific battalion was stationed there. The Claremorris Camp was garrisoned by nearly 400 British Troops and consisted of 24 Barrack Huts, a magazine and armoury, an officers’ mess (with tennis court), a firing range, a hospital and stables.
It was protected by a ditch topped with a barbed-wire fence and blockhouses on each corner. The camp was the most heavily garrisoned town in the west of Ireland outside of Galway city.