Remembering James Crowley, first among Kerry TDs


Donal Nolan

He ran the Republican intelligence network in North Kerry and West Limerick under the cover of his veterinary work; he publicly read the Sinn Féin manifesto in 1918 knowing it would result in his immediate arrest; and he was jailed for years in Belfast as a result - four months of which were spent in solitary - and very nearly died as a result of the brutal conditions of the prison.

But he was also one of the first four Kerry TDs elected in the politically transformative general election of 1918, winning a seat in the first ever Dáil.

Listowel proudly remembered its native son on the centenary of his election, with the unveiling of a plaque last week at James Crowley's very birthplace at what is now Price Savers, on the family home that comprised both that building and the Horseshoe Bar.

It was an emotional occasion for his relatives, not least grand-daughter Clementine O'Keeffe, the culmination of their efforts to ensure James's significant contribution to the Independence struggle would never be forgotten.

"I was very worried he was going to be forgotten, especially as he had sacrificed everything. He sacrified his health, his family life as he and my grandmother, Clementine Boursin, had three young children," Clementine - a daughter of the couple's youngest son, Edward Clement Crowley - said.

"I'm glad that's not going to happen now and it was a very emotional day for all of us at the unveiling, as it was at the recent exhibition in Kerry County Library, where we met with the families of the other TDs," she added.

James's sacrifice was recalled in detail at the ceremony, where former minister Jimmy Deenihan led tributes, among many other contributors.

The soft-spoken Trinity College graduate was a member of the Republican intelligensia in Dublin, a close friend of Thomas Clarke and, later, Michael Collins (Collins even stayed in his Listowel home shortly before Béal na mBláth).

James joined the Volunteers in Listowel in 1914 and was among the cohort on standby for orders to move to Tralee at the time of the Aud in 1916, later writing of the experience in his ultimately unsuccessful application for the pension.

By the time of his release from Belfast, he was all but a broken man, but he threw himself straight back into the struggle - fomenting the famous Listowel Mutiny, risking his life to meet and direct the RIC men in their rebellion against the British. He fled for the UK following a tip-off about his imminent arrest, but when he returned to Dublin to meet his beloved Clementine some time later, he was immediately picked up on Grafton Street by the notorious Igoe Murder Gang. "My grandmother followed them all the way to Dublin Castle, fearing he would be killed but, thankfully, he ended up in the Curragh, jailed there until the Truce."