Full story of Kerry's pivotal role in 1916 Rising explored in new book

Writers Owen O'Shea, Dr Mary McAuliffe and Bridget McAuliffe prepare for launch of book judged 'significant' by Prof. Joe Lee


Friday, April 22 next will see the launch of what's expected will prove a landmark work on the history of the Kerry experience of the 1916 Rising.

Encompassing all aspects of the Kerry Rising, from Ballykissane to the Aud to the extraordinary roles played by natives of this county elsewhere in the country, it is the result of painstaking research by editors Owen O'Shea, Dr Mary McAuliffe of UCD and Bridget McAuliffe.

Kerry 1916: Histories and Legacies of the Easter Rising - A Centenary Record presents the full account of the Kerry Rising between the covers of a single volume for the first time.

That's why interest is intense ahead of its launch in The Rose Hotel (Fels Point) on Friday next, April 22 (8pm).

Drawing on the personal testimonies of combatants, a plethora of pictorial and documentary material gleaned from relatives of those involved and much, much more, Kerry 1916 makes for a gripping read.

Take the word of one of the nation's most respected historians, Professor Joe Lee:

"[Its contents] are not only of intense interest in themselves, but often base important original research on indispensable local knowledge. Editorially augmented by often elusive biographical information on important personalities, they further enhance this significant volume for students not only of Kerry history but of those numerous aspects of the history of Ireland which have been enriched by Kerry's contribution."

Among the highlights of the work are its lucid overview of how key incidents in Kerry impacted on events in Dublin and beyond as well as the stories of the 150 Kerry men and women arrested over their involvement in the conflict - printed in a single account in Kerry 1916 for the first time.

"From an early stage, Kerry was singled out for involvement in the Rising given its republican traditions, its peripherality and the loyalty and organisational strengths of figures like Austin Stack and Paddy Cahill, from Tralee, Killarney's Michael Spillane and Michael O'Sullivan, An Seabhac from Dingle, future minister Ernest Blythe who lived in Kerry at the time, GAA stars Dick Fitzgerald and Pat 'Aeroplane' O'Shea and many others, all of whom were destined to become key contributors to events," co-editor Dr Mary McAuliffe said.

"It is no accident that Patrick Pearse and other leaders like James Connolly and trade union organiser William Partridge were regular visitors to Kerry in the weeks and months prior to the Rising.

"Kerry was chosen as the destination for the landing of the guns and ammunition aboard the Aud - those guns were to be distributed across the southwest and west by Kerry Volunteers. The failed attempt to land those arms; the arrival of Roger Casement, Robert Monteith and Daniel Bailey at Banna Strand on Good Friday; the arrest of Casement and Austin Stack later that day; and the drowning later that night near Killorglin of three men - Con Keating, Daniel Sheehan and Charles Monahan - who had been tasked with seizing radio transmitters from Caherciveen, all combined to force Eoin MacNeill's hand in calling off the Volunteer manoeuvres which had been planned for Easter Sunday," she said.

Dr Mary will chair a special panel discussion on the whole subject at the launch of the work in what's sure to make for a compelling night for anyone with any interest in the history of 1916 here.

Extract reveals how Jim Riordan fired the only shots of Rising here

"In stark contrast to the bloodshed and mayhem on the streets of Dublin, Kerry was almost entirely spared the horrors and the fatalities which beset the capital city in the week following the declaration of the Republic.

This may be partly due to the explicit instructions-regularly and rigorously reinforced to the rank and file of the Volunteers on the ground in Kerry by Austin Stack and other local leaders-that nothing to arouse the suspicion of the authorities in advance of the rebellion was to take place.

There was to be no engagement with the RIC or the military until explicit instructions were received from Dublin. When no such orders came, even after the insurrection got under way in Dublin, and following the botched attempt to land guns at Fenit and the drownings at Ballykissane, the rank and file returned to their homes but remained in a state of military readiness, under arms and awaiting orders.

The confused situation and the absence of instruction from headquarters did nothing, however, to quell the 'state of siege' which-according to two of the participants in events in Kerry-existed, and all those who had been lying low were 'keyed up' amid an 'air of war' in the county. It was in this context that Volunteer Jim Riordan went into Firies village near Farranfore to buy a newspaper on the morning on Saturday 29 April, less than a week after the Rising had erupted in Dublin and at the same time as its besieged leaders were contemplating surrender in a house on Moore Street.

Jim Riordan was born at Longfield, Firies, in 1898 to a strongly republican family and in a parish where, one report suggests, 'the tradition of disloyalty in the district was too strong and deep-rooted'. Aged sixteen, Riordan joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and soon rose to the rank of lieutenant of the Firies Company. His brother, Patrick (Paddy) was also a member. By the beginning of 1916, the Firies Company was actively drilling and arming itself and boasted a membership of 75 men.

Soon after midnight on Easter Monday 24 April, the company assembled at the church in the village and marched to nearby Currans to join the company there. They marched on to Castleisland as the designated meeting point for companies in the Castleisland battalion where battalion officer, Dan O'Mahony, was in command.

Amid confusion and the lack of receipt of any further instructions, the local companies decided: 'To disband temporarily, to meet every night during the week in their respective areas, all Volunteers to hold themselves in readiness for immediate mobilisation, one Volunteer to be appointed on full-time duty by each company to receive and deliver urgent communications when required, and, lastly, each Company Captain had to pledge himself that no untoward incident as regards attacks on armed enemy forces would be permitted.' The final element of that decision was to be sorely tested in Firies a few days later.

Jim Riordan volunteered to act as the member on duty during the remainder of Easter Week. He oversaw the assemblies each night and waited as the train arrived each morning at Molahiffe railway station, in anticipation of a dispatch or orders from Dublin.

An account published many years later claims that Riordan, in full Volunteer uniform, visited the railway station on the morning of Saturday 29 April where local RIC members taunted him, saying, 'We'll strip that uniform off you before the night, Riordan' to which he replied, 'I would like to see you try it'.

According to his brother Paddy, Riordan walked from his home at Longfield at 11 o'clock that morning to purchase a newspaper to see if there was any information about what was taking place in Dublin. He met two local men named Costelloe and Donoghue. The three saw two RIC officers-Michael Cleary and Thomas McLoughlin, who were based at Farranfore-dismount from bicycles before putting up a notice in the window of the post office announcing the introduction of martial law. Paddy Riordan noted that Costelloe or Donoghue made a remark within earshot of the RIC men about Jim Riordan giving up his arms, to which the officers replied, 'These damned Shinners should give up their arms'.

One account says that Jim Riordan went over to read the notice and ripped it down in full view of the constables. As Riordan tried to pass Cleary and McLoughlin, one of the constables made to open his holster and the other started to unsling his carbine. Riordan produced his Webley gun and fired at the policemen, wounding them both.

The Irish Independent records that Cleary was shot in the left thigh and McLoughlin in the left arm."