ARKLOW’S 1914-1923 EXPERIENCE Part 7: 1922-3
This is the seventh and final instalment in a series of articles looking at how the immensely important decade spanning 1914 to 1923 played out in Arklow.
Arklow in 1922
The Treaty bringing an end to the war with Britain was ratified by the Dáil on 6 January, 1922. Ireland was divided into two separate entities, a twenty-six county Irish Free State, which would have several legal and political ties with Britain but would be essentially an independent state, while the remaining six counties in the north east would be recognised as Northern Ireland which would remain as much part of Britain as Wales and Scotland. A provisional government was established to run the Free State until elections could be held.
The voting to accept or reject the proposed Treaty was narrow, sixty-four votes for and fifty-seven against. It was soon apparent that men who had fought side-by-side in the cause of an independent all-Ireland republic were forming into two factions. The pro-Treaty party under Michael Collins saw the Free State as a stepping stone to full independence, while the anti-Treaty party under Éamon de Valera considered it a sell-out.
Wicklow and the Treaty
The majority of County Wicklow farmers and other groups, such as the Rathdrum Board of Guardians, supported the Treaty. The Guardians’ chairman made the rather rash statement that
‘the names of the five great Irishmen [i.e. the signatories] will be forever written in letters of gold by the Irish nation throughout the world.’[i]
He went on to say that the Dáil should close ranks, stop discussion, and ratify the agreement without delay. There were, however, a few dissenting voices on the board. The Wicklow People was strongly behind the Treaty and claimed that there was ‘unmistakeable evidence’ that the ratification met with ‘unqualified approval’, although it did add that in Arklow ‘there was no public rejoicing’.
Cheshire Regiment casualty
One unfortunate casualty at this time was Private J. Smith of the Cheshire Regiment, who was stationed in the temporary military barracks at the Ticknock Brick & Tile Works near the coastguard station. On Tuesday, 17 January, Thomas Weadick received instructions from his employer, David Frame, to remove the metal bands which girthed three of the circular kilns. Frame had also acquired the now defunct Kynoch complex and was asset-stripping both former factories. Michael Strahan was there to assist Weadick. Two of the kilns were empty and the bands had been removed without incident. The third building, however, was in use as a cook house and sleeping accommodation by some of the soldiers. It measured twenty-five feet in diameter and had a domed roof of bricks. The bands had originally been placed around the kilns to prevent the walls from expanding and collapsing during the firing of the bricks and it was now felt that, since the kilns hadn’t been fired for some years, they served no purpose. Before he started removing the bands, Weadick called to the four or five soldiers inside, warning them what he was about to do and to be careful if some isolated bricks came dislodged and fell either inside or around the entrance or in case they were struck with the metal bands as they were loosened. One of the soldiers replied: ‘That’s alright, Paddy, carry on.’
The first two bands were removed successfully, but when the third was taken away, the kiln collapsed, the weight of the dome having pushed the supporting walls outward. Weadick was thrown to one side, but his leg and hip were injured in the fall. Strahan, who had remained on the ground to keep the work area clear, was unharmed.
At the coroner’s inquest which was held in the courthouse the following day, Weadick was asked if he hadn’t considered that this particular kiln was in a dangerous state because of the heat generated in it as a cooking house for the troops. He replied that he didn’t, in fact he believed that it would be more stable than the other two kilns which had lain idle and were therefore prone to dampness since the factory ceased production several years previously. He had not the slightest doubt that the building would remain sound even after the removal of the bands and had warned the soldiers only of the chance of single bricks being dislodged from the roof and that he had instructed Strahan to warn others away for the same reason. Perhaps the most important question was asked by the District Inspector of the R.I.C.: ‘Why did you not leave these iron bands on these kilns until the military had vacated the place?’ Strahan replied, ‘I don’t know, sir.’ The reason was probably that now the Treaty was signed and the British troops were getting ready to leave Ireland, David Frame wanted to scrap the old factory as quickly as possible.[ii]
The benefits of the brief period of peace were soon evident. Among the prisoners who were released as part of the agreement was John Kavanagh of Gregg’s Hill. He had spent over a year in Mountjoy without any charges being brought against him and on his arrival home he was accorded ‘one of the most remarkable, striking demonstrations ever witnessed in the town.’ This man, a native of Enniscorthy, had taken part in the 1916 Rising while still only sixteen years of age, since which he had served nine months for drilling volunteers at Mount St Benedict in Gorey, and after his release he went to sea. He was then arrested on board an Arklow vessel in the English fishing port of Lowestoft and charged with murdering an R.I.C. officer in Wexford. For some reason, he was transferred to Mountjoy where he spent the following year awaiting a trial that was never proceeded with.
That the people of Arklow are not unmindful or ungrateful for the suffering he has endured was proved on the occasion of his homecoming. On his arrival he was met by a large detachment of the I.R.A. and a very large assembly of the townspeople and the Irish National Foresters brass band. On making his appearance he was received with resounding cheers from the assembly and a torch procession having been formed as he was escorted to his home by further cheers and the strains of national music played by the band. The tricolour was carried by members of those taking part in the procession while similar flags were displayed from homes along the route. Despite his incarceration, Mr Kavanagh is in good health and spirits and much touched by the warmth of the reception afforded him.[iii]
Kavanagh was home just in time to hear about a goods train robbery at the Kish, two miles south of the town. It left Arklow around midnight, driven by a man named Hayes, who brought the engine to a halt in response to a red light at the Kish bridge. Immediately a man with a revolver confronted him and three others, all wearing masks and two carrying revolvers and one armed with a shotgun, entered the guard’s van. They ejected the guard Tierney, and proceeded to make a minute examination of the mail bags, which were particularly heavy on this occasion owing to the railway strike. It was soon obvious that they were more interested in the registered letters than the regular post and they spent about forty minutes on these before taking with them anything they considered of value. When they had gone, the driver brought the train back into Arklow and reported the robbery to the station master, Kelly. Kelly then reported the incident, not to the R.I.C., but to the local I.R.A. who were now commanded by Mickey Greene. Greene ordered a search party to pursue the thieves but no trace of them was found. For the next few nights this night train was guarded by various units of the I.R.A. along the route.
A month later, a raid by armed men on Woodenbridge station master netted the robbers the grand total of £6. Again, the Arklow and Avoca companies of the I.R.A. stood watch on subsequent nights.
I.R.A. take possession
Wicklow gaol, so long the manifestation of British retribution in the county, was taken over by the I.R.A. in February and the Arklow barracks was likewise handed over soon after. The Wicklow People recorded the Arklow changeover in the following words:
The first indication of the impending historic change in the administration of the government of the people was the arrival in the town of six large motor lorries which were accompanied by an armoured car which arrived from Dublin and passed into the barracks yard.[iv]
The local I.R.A. men, led by Mickey Greene, Lt John Kavanagh and Brigade Adjutant Andrew Kavanagh, took formal possession of the barracks a short time later. At three o’clock that afternoon the lorries containing the departing R.I.C. moved out of the barracks yard. Two I.R.A. officers representing G.H.Q. staff had come down from Dublin for the official handing over and when one of them learned that the evacuation caused moving difficulties for Inspector Daly’s family, he placed his motor car at their disposal. The Tricolour was hoisted on the flagstaff, replacing the Union Jack, a task in which some R.I.C. men assisted. When all was ready, twelve I.R.A. men were drawn up outside the gates and as the lorries filed passed they presented arms in salute to their former adversaries, a salute which the police ‘respectfully and generously’ returned. A large crowd, which had been gathering all day, witnessed the occasion….
….in respectful silence. There was no cheering on their part, neither was there any incident to mar the harmony which characterised the entire proceedings connected with this historic event.[v]
For the next several months the new occupiers of the barracks, under the command of twenty year old Mickey Greene, carried out policing duties in the town, making arrests where necessary and taking suspects before the newly constituted I.R.A. court. Most of the charges were run-of-the-mill, such as those against three young men who stole half a barrel of stout from Charles Kinsella’s pub. The culprits had hidden the small barrel under one of the flat table stones in the Abbey graveyard. Two of the accused were sentenced to a month’s hard labour in Mountjoy; the third was illiterate and was excused because his confession had not been read back to him. He was warned to change the company he kept.
Boycott of Northern goods
A pogrom against Catholics in the North, in retaliation for the establishment of the Free State, prompted the boycott of northern goods this side of the border, and the local I.R.A. policed the railway station to make sure than no northern products were brought into the town. There were also more serious railway-related matters to contend with, such as several armed robberies from stations and from the mail cars of trains at Woodenbridge and the Kish.[vi] Obviously, there were some individuals who had found the exercise habit-forming and turned their ‘political activity’ of the pre-Treaty days into a commercial enterprise in the new regime.
A much sadder case dealt with the body of a female infant which had been discovered at Ballinacor. Lt John Kavanagh and a squad of men, acting on a statement made by a young girl who was being held in custody, accompanied her to a house in Ballinacor where they dug up the floor and found the dead child wrapped in sacking. Kavanagh had the corpse conveyed to Arklow barracks where it was examined by two local doctors, Hamilton and Byrne. They reported that the infant had been a full term child, probably about five days old. Examination of the lungs showed that she had breathed for some time and therefore ‘had a separate existence’. The doctors believed that the death was due to want of skilled attention at birth. The unfortunate young mother was taken to Mountjoy to be returned for trial.
This situation of the I.R.A. being in charge of law and order seems to have worked surprisingly well, especially given the extreme youth of the leading figures. But it was a stop-gap that would soon reflect the deteriorating situation between the pro- and anti-Treaty factions.
Anti-treaty republicans take Four Courts
On 9 April, the anti-Treaty Republicans appointed an executive (effectively its own Dáil and army council), thereby breaking away from the pro-Treaty Free Staters. Four days later, under Liam Mellowes and Rory O’Connor, (after whom Liam Mellowes Avenue and Rory O’Connor Place would be named years later), took possession of the Four Courts in Dublin in defiance of the majority pro-Treaty faction. A growing division within the Arklow company reflected what was happening nationally. Some of the men approved of the Treaty as the best deal they could hope for in the interim, others felt that even if they personally did not like what the Treaty offered, it had been ratified by the Dáil and, as soldiers, it was their duty to uphold it. Others believed that they had fought too long for a thirty-two county republic to accept anything less: to them it was a betrayal of those who had died for the cause, a sell-out that they would defy. These tensions soon spilled over into the ad hoc court system.
On 14 April, the Wicklow People reported that half way through a case concerning the theft of trees from the Glenart estate, the I.R.A. East Wicklow Brigade Adjutant Andrew Kavanagh asked the political leanings of the court chairman. It was, he said, supposed to be a Republican court with a Republican judge, but the chairman had expressed himself a Free Stater. When the chairman said that his political view had nothing to do with the court, Kavanagh ordered his men outside. With this absence of the police, the case was dismissed. Worse was to come as harsh exchanges of words became exchanges of gunfire on the streets of Arklow.
Beginnings of Civil War divisions in Arklow
The anti-Treaty Arklow I.R.A. men took exclusive possession of the barracks, leaving the pro-Treaty men little option but to vacate it and move into the coastguard station at Tiknock. John Kavanagh, who had been hailed as a hero by all just three months earlier, sided with the coastguard station group and within a week of the split he was shot in the leg by an erstwhile comrade from the barracks group. Commandant Matt Kavanagh had also sided with the pro-Treaty faction, now called the Free State Army or the National Army, and was also based in the coastguard station. On Friday, 14 April, these two men were walking near their base when they met Captain Mickey Greene of the anti-Treaty faction, now termed the Irregulars. Greene produced his revolver and ordered them to put up their hands. What he intended to do with them was not stated. When they refused, Greene shot John Kavanagh in the leg.[vii] This was a disastrous state of affairs. These three men had endured a great deal and had taken part together in many operations as comrades. Now they were enemies. Captain Greene made his way back to the barracks on Parade Ground.
A confusing incident
The following day, a very curious – and confusing – incident took place at the railway line at Ballyraine near the bridge spanning the lane linking Vale Road with the River Walk. Both the Wicklow People and the Wicklow News-Letter carried reports, but both failed to clarify the confusion. The gist of it was, a train left Dublin carrying hundreds of people to hear Michael Collins speak in Wexford. To prevent the train completing its journey, two sections of the rail had been removed during the night. When this was discovered at around eight o’clock in the morning, the alarm was raised and a repair crew despatched. The Arklow station master telegraphed the Woodenbridge station to halt the train there until the line was made safe. A Mr Murphy, who was on board the train, telegraphed the station master at Arklow requesting him to ask the officer commanding the Arklow I.R.A. to allow the repairs to be carried out. This mysterious Mr Murphy seems to have been confident that his request would be acceded to, for without awaiting confirmation the train proceeded slowly from Woodenbridge towards Arklow. When the repair crew arrived at the scene, however, they were confronted by several armed men who confiscated the tools and threw them into the river. The question is, just who were these ‘armed men’?
Logic suggests that they were members of the anti-Treaty Arklow company of the I.R.A. based in the barracks on Parade Ground under Mickey Greene’s command. In fact, the Wicklow News-Letter would later report how Greene had been seen leading a squad of his republican I.R.A. to Ballyraine, ‘equipped with new bandoliers and armed with the latest pattern rifles’.[viii] The problem is, the report doesn’t say if this squad had marched to the spot before the alarm was raised or after it. Were they responsible for lifting the sections of rail? Were they the ‘armed men’ who prevented the repair crew from working? Had Murphy’s request to the officer commanding the Arklow I.R.A. been addressed to Mickey Greene and his Irregulars at Parade Ground and therefore the reference in the News-Letter to Greene and his men heading towards Ballyraine had been their going to the rescue of the train and its passengers? It is interesting that no mention is made of Matt Kavanagh and the Free State troops in the coastguard station, so the rescuers must have been the Irregulars. If this is the case, we have the strange situation of anti-Treaty I.R.A. helping people on their way to hear Michael Collins extol the virtues of the Treaty.
The slowly moving train reached the vandalised section at about the same time as the Arklow I.R.A. squad and their officer ordered the work to recommence. At this stage it was noticed that a number of other men armed with rifles had taken up a position close to the line. Despite this, the work was completed and just as the train was about to continue on its way, some of the armed men approached one of the carriages and took one of the male passengers off. They made him kneel and forced him to retract a remark he was accused of having made.
It was a very strange affair, the confusion evident in the reports and even more confused now almost one hundred years after the event. But it was apparently more entertaining than frightening – except for the man taken from the train – because ‘During the morning a large crowd of Arklow folk visited the scene’.
Poverty and unemployment
It was this, and similar events, which prompted neutrals to take a stand. On Monday, 24 April, the secretary of the local trade union and Arklow UDC Labour Party member, Charlie Gaule, addressed a large meeting on Parade Ground asking for the factions to stop and think:
It is deplorable to read daily accounts of young men who had fought gallantly against the common enemy during the reign of terror, now faced each other as deadly enemies. Even in our town we have seen young Irishmen shooting at one another … The I.R.A. had done magnificent work in ridding the country of the Tans, but now that work is accomplished and it is up to the politicians. They, as usual, have failed and are now producing an atmosphere of further bloodshed … Thousands upon thousands of workers are unemployed. Business is at a standstill and things will not get better until the political crisis is over. Many Arklow families are living within bare walls without furniture that has long seen its way to the pawnshop.[ix]
Gaule, it may be remembered was the man behind the work stoppage in Arklow that had been part of a national campaign to help release the Mountjoy hunger-strikers. ‘All shops were closed and there was a suspension of every kind of business’ and large groups of workers came into the town from a ten mile radius. As if to support Gaule’s words, the same paper also told of how a grant of £2,000 from government for unemployment relief works would supply seventy men with two months work. Within a short time, there were 350 applicants for the jobs and that number was expected to climb much higher. Such practical matters, however, seemed to matter little to the political ideologues.
Bomb at Clarke’s shop
At the end of April, a bomb was placed on the window cill of Mrs Clarke’s shop in Avoca, causing considerable damage, but luckily not injuring any of the five occupants. No one could say who placed the bomb or the reason for it except that Mrs Clarke’s husband had recently retired from the R.I.C. On 6 May, anti-Treaty I.R.A. took over the old R.I.C. barracks at Avoca, dispossessing the owner Mr. Hood, who had been in possession since the departure of the police.[x]
Two weeks later, there was an apparent attempt to destroy the Masonic Lodge on Ferrybank. Matt Kavanagh, now OC of the Free State troops in the Arklow area, was returning to the coastguard station when he saw suspicious movements around the hall. Someone called on him to halt. Ignoring the command, he continued on to the Free State base where he mustered his men and returned to the Masonic Hall. When they got there they saw that a fire had been started in the upper portion of the building and a tin containing petrol was found. It was obvious that most of its contents had been splashed about the place. The troops set about quenching the blaze and the hall caretaker, Mr Marshall, was summoned. Despite their efforts, a press containing books and documents had been destroyed as well as a small portion of the wooden floor. Later a witness was to state that the fire had been set by three men who made their escape on bicycles just before the Free State troops arrived.[xi]
Bank officials held at gunpoint
Attacks on trains also continued and in May three officials of the Munster and Leinster Bank (now the AIB) were held up as they made their way back into Arklow from the one-day-a-week branch in Aughrim. About a mile and a half on the Aughrim side of Woodenbridge, they saw a car stopped in the middle of the road with three men apparently carrying out repairs on it. As the bank officials were about to pass it, the men drew revolvers and ordered them to stop. They then blindfolded their captives and robbed them of their personal money and possessions such as a pen knife, a wrist watch and a fountain pen before turning their attention to the contents of the car. It was all done without rush or hurry. They took books, vouchers, cheques, ledgers and a full can of oil. Then they calmly drove away by the Tinnakilly road. The victims then removed their blindfolds and continued on to Arklow where they reported the robbery to the Free State troops at the coastguard station. Soon, rumours were flying around the town concerning the amount taken. Some had it as £300; others said £500; and £700 was also mentioned. None of these estimates was either confirmed or denied by the bank manager, Mr Walsh. Neither would he comment on the rumour that a large amount of money that had been hidden in the car had not been discovered by the robbers.
Two police forces
Throughout May and June the town continued to have two policing agencies, one in the barracks at Parade Ground and one in the coastguard station at Seabank, each more concerned with the activities of the other than in protecting the populace at large. Pot shots were taken at each other, and gunfire on the streets had bystanders hurrying for cover. One example of this occurred on 12 May when some visitors from Dublin drew their car up outside Laurence O’Toole’s premises in Main Street, now The Old Ship, opposite the Munster and Leinster bank. They went in and shortly afterwards a number of armed men, presumably from the barracks on Parade Ground, came down the street towards the parked car. It was clear that they were going to commandeer the vehicle. Although the identity of the visitors was never disclosed, it soon became clear that they were no ordinary tourists, for the driver, who had remained in the car, pulled out a revolver and fired. The would-be commandeering party retreated and the car driver followed his companions into O’Tooles from where he fired another shot. His companions were, by this time, upstairs in the establishment. On hearing the gunfire, they had realised what was happening, drew their weapons and kept them trained on the car. The incident then fizzled out. What the purpose of both sides had been was never explained. All this took place at midday, neither side apparently interested in the welfare of passers-by who had made swift darts for cover as soon as the first shot was fired.[xii]
The Munster and Leinster bank was the focus of attention again three weeks later. On Saturday morning, 11 June, three well-dressed young men pulled up outside the bank in Main Street just before the commencement of business. As soon as the doors opened, they stepped inside, then closed the doors again, pulled out revolvers and told the staff of five to hold up their hands. One went behind the counter and took what cash he could find while the other two watched the captives. As this was going on, a number of men dressed in civilian clothes emerged from shops in the vicinity and surrounded the bank. These were members of the new Criminal Investigation Department in Oriel House, Dublin. The head detective called on the raiders to let him in. They refused and the door was forced open. As the robbers were outnumbered ten-to-one, there was no resistance. One of them, however, made a dash for the kitchen but he too was taken without trouble. With the would-be thieves now in custody, two detectives started the raiders’ car. Then they were joined by two of the robbers and all four motored away up the street. Even more curious was the fact that they returned to the town a short time later with a young man who was well-known in the town. The car stopped at the coastguard station and all five occupants went in. Then those arrested were taken to Mountjoy. It was immediately suspected that the two ‘robbers’ who accompanied the two detectives in the car had been plants. It was also believed that those arrested were involved in other bank robberies and also in the robbery of the bank money at Woodenbridge on 20 May when £800 was taken.[xiii]
In June, a number of ex-R.I.C. men who had continued to reside in Arklow received anonymous letters bearing Dublin postmarks warning them that they had forty-eight hours to leave Arklow or be shot in default. Both the Republicans in the barracks and the Free State troops in the coastguard station denied all knowledge of these letters. The latter offered protection to the threatened men, but some had already made arrangements to leave.[xiv]
Tension between the two rival factions intensified, until it looked like open warfare was inevitable. It came to a head in June. Word from the provisional government in Dublin was sent to Free State troops throughout the country to take possession of all properties held by the Irregulars (the name now given to the anti-Treaty Republicans). This meant that the Free State troops in the coastguard station had to move against their former comrades at Parade Ground. A twenty-four hour warning to hand over the barracks was issued. This was done quietly, so that the Irregulars could leave the barracks without appearing to back down under the threat. The Irregulars did vacate the premises, but they did so with less than good grace:
On Friday the coastguard troops gave a twenty-four hour warning to surrender the barracks. This was not generally known around the town. At ten o’clock on Saturday the few people who were in the street saw the Irregulars exit the barracks from over the high wall. The fire spread so quickly that it was obvious that oil or petrol had been used and no attempt could be made to save it. There were two major explosions followed by a louder, more deadly one. A large and astounded throng of spectators assembled in view of the fierce conflagration, but it was generally agreed that any effort to cope with the devastating flames would be futile. This was the view of the national troops [i.e. Free State forces] who under the command of Captain Coghlan arrived subsequently on the scene. In a couple of hours all that remained to indicate the existence of the Arklow barracks was the gaunt smoke-begrimed walls to remind passers-by of the costly tragedy that had been responsible for the complete destruction of one of the finest buildings of its kind in Ireland. Indeed so advantageous was its position for the purposes of defence that a large force of attackers would have found it difficult to overcome a small number of defenders.[xv]
Soon after, Free State troops from Wicklow, Arklow and Rathdrum retook the barracks at Tinahely which had been in the hands of the Irregulars. Shillelagh and Coolgreaney were also retaken and several prisoners captured. Arklow and south County Wicklow were now firmly in the hands of the Free State with anti-Treaty I.R.A. personnel interned in the Free State camp on the Curragh. Among them were Mickey and Paddy Greene, while their brother John was incarcerated elsewhere. As was fairly common among republican prisoners in the Civil War, Mickey Greene had an autograph book which his fellow prisoners signed and many even wrote a verse or two which showed unrepentant allegiance to the ideal of a thirty-two county Irish Republic. Mickey’s brother, Paddy, a keen amateur artist, sketched on several of the pages, many drawings included the iconography of a romantic vision of Ireland.[xvi]
Tom O’Toole letters
Another Arklow volunteer who took an anti-Treaty stand was Tom O’Toole of St Brigid’s Terrace, just a few doors from where the Greenes lived. Tom wrote to his mother regularly from Mountjoy gaol from August 1922 until the spring of 1923, and his letters are now treasured family heirlooms. They show what prisoners asked for – usually cigarettes – and they highlight the one simple reality that is too easily forgotten when reading about those years. These were ordinary people living in extraordinary times, often feeling compelled to do extraordinary things.[xvii]
It is axiomatic that ‘Civil War Politics’ dominated Irish affairs for the rest of the twentieth century. What can be said without fear of contradiction is bitterness between the factions not only continued after the last shots had been fired, but in some cases was passed down through subsequent generations. Anti-Treaty families would long harbour memories of house raids by Free State troops who wrecked their homes with a vindictiveness unmatched by even the Black-and-Tans. There was a them-and-us entrenchment, a sharp line between the victor and the vanquished. When physical violence came to an end in 1923, each faction looked after its own. Anti-Treaty I.R.A. volunteer Jem Hunt-Tyrrell kept close ties with the Greenes. When Nannie Greene was dying in 1923 at the age of only fifty-seven, three of her sons – Mickey, Paddy and John – were still incarcerated. Two older brothers, Bill and George, were away at sea. On one of Bill’s trips home, Jem, who was a builder by trade, offered him work on a construction site that would allow Bill to help his sisters Harriet and Maggie look after their dying mother. The offer was gratefully accepted as the act of comradeship it was.
Some friendships did survive the split, however. The Greenes, for example, always maintained their friendship with Matt Kavanagh on the basis that when he decided to accept the Treaty, he never wavered from that decision, unlike many who swayed with the prevailing wind. When Harriet Greene died in 1950, Matt called to her sister Maggie (all the brothers had emigrated to America before 1929) and asked if he could organise a Guard of Honour for her. Maggie thanked him for the thought, but declined the offer saying: ‘Now, don’t you know what Harriet would have thought of that?’[xviii]
One important Arklow artefact that has survived from that period is now in the care of Arklow Municipal District of Wicklow County Council. This is the tricolour which flew over Arklow barracks when the premises were vacated by the R.I.C. in 1922. The flag was made by Nelly Hickey (who later became Nelly Cullen), an Arklow Cumann na mBan activist, and this was the first flag of the Irish Republic to fly in Arklow – even though the republic was not officially declared such until 1949. When the anti-Treaty republicans destroyed the barracks rather than surrender the buildings to Free State troops, the flag was removed and returned to Nelly Hickey for safe keeping. After many decades, it came into the possession of Pat Laffan, an Arklow native and long time resident of Meriden, Connecticut. In 1985, Pat Laffan donated this very important flag to the then Arklow Urban District Council. The hand-over was facilitated by Arklow historian Pat Power, Pat Laffan’s brother-in-law. The tricolour flown over the coastguard station by the Free State troops is also extant and is displayed in Arklow Maritime Museum.
Another artefact relating to the barracks was the cast-iron constabulary badge which was either removed and discarded or blown off during the destruction. Whatever the cause, it was discovered in bushes at the church across the road many years later. Local painter and decorator Tom Stokes had been contracted to remove the bushes in preparation for the installation of new railings. Mr Stokes’ son, also Tom, researched the colour scheme which had long since deteriorated and restored it to its original appearance. Pat Power had the foresight to ask Tom for a loan of the piece long enough to have a plaster cast made of it, which was then also painted in the original colours. Tom Stokes later donated the badge to the Arklow Vocational School museum (now Glenart College). Unfortunately, it was removed from there at some point and its whereabouts is now unknown. Thankfully, Pat Power still has the plaster replica.
[i] Wicklow People, 7 Jan, 1922.
[ii] Excerpts from the inquest in author’s possession.
[iii] Wicklow People, 28 Jan 1922.
[iv] Wicklow People 25 Mar, 1922.
[v] Ibid., 25 Mar, 1922
[vi] Ibid., 4 Feb, 4 Mar, 1922.
[vii] Ibid., 15 Apr, 1922.
[viii] Wicklow News-Letter, 15 Apr 1922.
[ix] Wicklow People, 29 Apr, 1922.
[x] Ibid., 29 Apr 1922, 6 May, 1922.
[xi] Ibid., 6 May 1922.
[xii] Ibid., 20 May 1922.
[xiii] Ibid., 17 June 1922
[xiv] Ibid., 24 June 1922
[xv] Ibid., 8 July, 1922
[xvi] My thanks to Anna Kane for giving me access to this document.
[xvii] My thanks to John O’Toole for giving me access to those letters.
[xviii] In conversation with Anna Kane, Maggie’s daughter, 28 July 2015.
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