There were strong echoes of heroic deeds and sacrifices during Kerry historian Dr. Tim Horgan’s powerful oration at the Republican Graves during the Ballyseedy Centenary Commemorations at Kilbanivane Graveyard in Castleisland on Tuesday evening of last week.
Up to 100 people gathered within the ancient cut stone walled burial ground and amongst some of the finest standing examples of the stone-cutters’ trade.
That Dr. Horgan’s words were fitting was, perhaps, best left to nature as they reverberated through the stone furnishings of the grounds itself and were heard again in an echo off the gable wall of Eddie Pembroke’s house an acre or so away on the town side of the cemetery.
The MC for the evening was Séamus Fleming, Fr. Mossie Brick blessed the graves and Fr. Seán Horgan led the gathering in the rosary.
The sound system was supplied by Cllr. Charlie Farrelly.
Michael O’Connell Centenary Commemoration Kilbannivane, 7th March, 2023
By Dr. Tim Horgan
The old Roman orator, Marcus Cicero, once declared that ‘Poor is the nation that has no heroes but poorer still is the nation that having those heroes fails to remember and honour them.’
And so, we gather here this evening at Kilbannivane Republican Plot to remember, to honour, to commemorate three fallen heroes whose remains lie in this sacred ground.
We gather not because we were summoned, not to be photographed or to garner votes, we gather because we should, we gather because it is our duty to remember, to honour Michael O’Connell and his comrades Patrick Buckley and John Daly.
There should be no need for men such as Michael O’Connell, John Jack Daly and Patrick Buckley to enter our history books. Ordinary men leading ordinary lives. But they were born into a land that had never known freedom.
For centuries, their people had been dispossessed, massacred, starved, hunted and hung so that they might be bestowed the privilege of being subjects of the British Empire. To be deprived of your land, your culture, your language and your liberty was deemed a fair tariff to pay in order to live in the United Kingdom.
There have always been many deluded Irishmen who have blindly agreed that this was a price worth paying. Even today, there are still those of the colonised mind who hanker for those days of serfdom, still aspiring for a handshake with royalty, still doffing the cap and bending the knee.
But here in Kerry, there have always been those who dream, men and women who dream that the liberty, that the justice and that the respect that God has bestowed on all should be the entitlement of each and not the preserve of few; men who dream that each person should be the master of his own destiny and that no nation should be subservient to another.
Such men are judged dangerous for it is well known that they will act on their dreams. Such men know that which is right and that which is wrong, that which is just and that which is corrupt.
Such men care not for what is easy and pragmatic, for what is profitable and self-serving. Such men
will travel the harder road to reach the higher place, such men will take what their people’s masters will not give. Such men we remember here today.
Such men were Michael O’Connell, John Jack Daly and Patrick Buckley.
‘Freedom is never for free, somebody has paid the price’, an American general once said.
For the freedom of Ireland, for your freedom, these men would pay that price, the ultimate price. But how could they have been otherwise.
For they lived in a place where the Great Earl of Desmond was betrayed and killed, where the men of 1798 made a stand, where Whiteboys and Moonlighters sought to break the chains of landlords, where the Fenian flame was lit by Bob
Finn and his comrades, where Dan O’Mahony had vainly led his 1916 rebels.
They were of a people who could not be conquered, who could not be bullied or bribed, flattered or fooled.
Too many ghosts whispered in the ears of these young men for them to be anything but soldiers fighting for Ireland’s cause. But in 1923, fidelity to that Cause was deemed a capital crime and Michael O’Connell, John Daly and Patrick Buckley were condemned to walk that well-trodden path to a patriot’s death.
These three men were members of 7th Battalion of Humphrey Murphy’s Kerry No.1 Brigade. Out-gunned and out-numbered but not out-fought, they had done what the heroic generations before them had failed to do.
They drove the forces of the Crown from our county but, alas, not our land. Others would bargain and sell, others would exchange an oath to the Republic for an oath to the King, others would allow our land and its people to be divided but not the men we honour here this evening.
The 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic had read: ‘We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible’.
These three men that we remember here today had declared for that Republic of Pearse and Clarke. For them, Ireland could only to be an independent 32-county nation and not a 26-county state within the empire. They could not be fooled by Michael Collins’ promised stepping stones, stepping stones that quickly turned to headstones for those who remained true to the Republic declared in 1916.
For their loyalty to Ireland’s cause, Michael O’Connell, John Jack Daly and Patrick Buckley lie in this grave today, for their loyalty that noble ideal, we remember them a hundred years on.
It is those that suffered the most we remember, not those that inflicted the most. History has judged who was right and who was wrong.
Michael O’Connell, John Jack Daly and Patrick Buckley were killed by the state while fighting for the freedom of their country. It is not surprising that this state would push the memory of these patriots into the margins of history so that they, and their cause, might be forgotten.
To those who became comfortable and profited from a divided Ireland, these three men and their comrades have become an embarrassment, an inconvenience, better forgotten.
Celebrity historians, pop-up experts, lazy journalists and many politicians have revised our history to serve current political requirements.
But it is you, the people, who are the real custodians of Ireland’s history. It is you who have received this history at fireside and bedside, it was given to us by those that came before us, to guard and to cherish, to record and to augment, and to pass on to future generations so that they will know that great men and women suffered for their freedom and that they kept this nation alive in the darkest of times.
This is our heritage, our story to tell, and we remain proud of it. Those that are never remembered in the history books are those that suffered the most and the longest, those left behind to mourn.
Their loss was lifelong and unappreciated. They were quickly forgotten as the state became embarrassed by its past and a suitable narrative was agreed.
Patrick Buckley left a widow and five young children, all three men had mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends.
For each, the pain would be life long, the loss never healing. For James (Bob) O’Connell his reward for fighting for your country would be exile in Canada and America. Those left behind to mourn, they too paid the tariff for our freedom. Tonight we also remember those left behind to grieve.
Finally to the O’Connell family thank you for the privilege of recording your uncle’s story, thank you for affording me the honour of speaking here this evening, thank you for allowing us to share in the pride that your family has in brave Michael O’Connell of Fahadubh who died for Ireland’s freedom at Ballyseedy Cross one hundred years ago today.