Monday 23 October 2017

Smoke and gunfire bring history to life as the Battle of Ashbourne in 1916 is recreated

The battle of Ashbourne, Co Meath was recreated Photo: Gerry Mooney
The battle of Ashbourne, Co Meath was recreated Photo: Gerry Mooney
Tánaiste Joan Burton lays a wreath at the monument in Ashbourne, Co Meath Photo: Gerry Mooney
Mary McKay and Iris Douglas, Trim, at the reading of the Proclamation at the Hill of Tara in Meath Photo: Arthur Carron
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

It can be hard to envision the history, confusion and drama of the 1916 Rising when you're standing in the middle of Ashbourne Industrial Estate in County Meath.

It may lack the grandeur of the GPO in the heart of Dublin - but it was the most successful Volunteers' operation during Easter Week, 1916 outside of the capital.

The fifth (Fingal) battalion, led by Thomas Ashe, marched into Ashbourne and attacked the RIC barracks.

The barracks surrendered after 30 minutes, but Ashe and his men were forced to continue fighting for the next five hours after a detachment of RIC arrived by car.

To recreate the drama of that momentous day, a crew of historical re-enactment enthusiasts gathered outside Tadg Riordan Motors ahead of the official state ceremony.

"I flew over from Glasgow for this," history buff David Hughes said as he checked his reflection in the rear window of a Toyota.

He was dressed in the dark-green uniform of an RIC constable.

"I've been doing enactments for over 20 years. But this, this is a big one."

Families had gathered along the stretch of road early on in the morning, eager to get a good view.

As the RIC entered, they were met with boos and hisses.

"They may be the baddies, but they were also Irishmen," the MC reminded us.

"Anyone got a lighter?" one RIC man asked the crowd. "Yes, but it'll cost you a euro," someone shouted.

"Don't you mean pence? It is 1916, after all," he retorted. And everyone chuckled, safe in the knowledge that this man would soon be shot.

Some of the crowd arrived in full 1916 rig out. Brid O'Kane from Skryne had dusted down her Cumann Na mBan finest, complete with rifle holster and smart green felt hat.

"I've been dressed like this since Friday," she said proudly. "I wanted to get into the spirit of it."

The real battle had raged on for five hours, but thankfully everything was condensed down.

There was gunfire, tumbling around trenches and lots of confusion before the RIC men surrender finally surrendered to much applause.

The gallant efforts of the re-enactment team had impressed the crowd.

"They threw themselves into it. I saw one man die a glorious death," Mary White from Ashbourne noted.

"I liked all the fighting," Ava Carroll (10) said. "I think it brought the history books to life for them," her father Kevin added.

After all the excitement and gunfire, the official state ceremonial event began in earnest.

"I want to thank the relatives of those who fought and died in 1916," acting Tánaiste Joan Burton told the crowd.

"While the Easter Rising was mostly confined to Dublin, some of the most significant activity took place here in Rath Cross under the leadership of Thomas Ashe, Richard Mulcahy and Frank Lawless.

'FOR many of you here today this is a personal journey - not only an intimate family memory but a national memory.

"Your ancestors were part of a movement which changed the fault lines of history," she added.

The mood became more solemn as the wreaths were laid at Rath Cross monument, the 'Last Post' rang out and the national flag was hoisted into the air.

The ceremony had particular resonance for the Seaver family, whose father had fought in that fateful battle a century ago.

"It was very moving," Tom Seaver said. "Not only to hear the Proclamation, but to watch that battle and know my father had been there in the thick of it. There has been a lot of celebrating and I am filled with pride."

Eimear Maguire felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up when the Defence Forces staged a helicopter fly-over.

"My grandfather fought right here 100 years ago. It really makes you think."

The ceremony concluded with Eurovision king Johnny Logan's rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann.

"He knocked it out of the park," Senator Catherine Noone said.

There is a fine monument to the two Volunteers who died that day in Ashbourne. But the eight RIC men who also died that day go unmarked.

Irish Independent

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