Galway City and the Easter Rising 1916

[Léigh as Gaeilge]

Circumstances conspired to ensure that a lot less military action occurred than planned. But Galway City and County still played a pivotal role in the events of Easter Week 1916.

The plans for the Rising in Galway City envisaged the takeover of Colonial Buildings and Moon's shop on the junction of William Street, Williamsgate Street and Eglinton Street, combined with attacks on RIC Barracks at Eglinton Street, Dominick Street and Salthill. This was to be co-ordinated with an attempt to block or control rail traffic in and out of the city. An attack on Renmore Military Barracks was envisaged in some historical accounts and the proposed takeover of the University is recorded in other sources. The taking of control of all post offices was vital to the plans and a plan to cut the railway line between Oranmore and Galway to prevent British Army reinforcements from reaching Galway City was also envisaged.

The possibility of blowing up the Galway-Clifden railway line was considered, according to some sources, and contradictory sources suggest an attack on Royal Air Corps personnel was also planned.

Certain local business owners, notably Martin McDonagh (Máirtín Mór) and Joseph Young, were to be detained to prevent or thwart the mobilisation of the Redmondite National Volunteers. Several businessmen had also worked for years to establish the Galway Munitions Factory which only made its first shells in 1918, however.

As it happened, National Volunteers did patrol with the British Army and RIC, and were present too at the ambush at Carnmore Cross when a RIC Constable, Patrick Whelan, was shot dead. He was to be the only fatality of the Rising in the Galway area. Whelan was based in the RIC Station at Eglinton Street in Galway City and is buried at the New Cemetery, Bohermore.

Although Sinn Féin was founded in Dublin in 1905, it was not until 1907 that the Galway Cumann became active. It was refounded later as a result of the Rising and renamed, like many other Sinn Féin Cumainn, after Thomas Ashe who died on hunger strike in 1917.

The founding of the Irish Volunteers in Dublin in 1913 was followed by their establishment in Galway after a meeting in the Town Hall in 1914. They were soon infiltrated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood just as Na Fianna Éireann (Bulmer Hobson and Constance Markievicz's Irish Boy Scouts) had been a few years earlier. They had been refounded in 1909 in Dublin having been initially established in Antrim in 1901. Cumann na mBan had been established in Galway soon after their Dublin founding in 1914.

Among the organisations invited to attend the formation of the Irish Volunteers were the United Irish League, Gaelic League, Cumann na mBan, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Irish National Foresters, the Trades Council and others. Not all of these were to agree later on various policies. However, a split in the Galway Volunteers was brought about in 1914. John Redmond's speech pledging the Volunteers to the British war effort, the conscription threat and other issues including the Irish Parliamentary Party demand for control of the Volunteers, led to the split nationally. Liam Mellows was sent to Galway in 1914 to formally recognise the Irish Volunteers after the split, and landed a cargo of weapons as Galway's share of the rifles which could have been as many as 3,000 weapons. The plans envisaged aligning Galway City and County Volunteers and parts of County Clare with the objective of holding a defensive line at the Shannon. Accounts found in published and sources and interviews vary, however, on this interpretation.

Many veterans of the Rising, of the War Of Independence and of the Civil War - along with British Army personnel - are buried in the Bohermore and Rahoon Cemeteries. Much of the population of the City was initially hostile in the immediate aftermath of the Rising. Galway was a heavily fortified Garrison town, with a large military barracks at Renmore and several RIC Barracks. There was a dependency on servicemen and remittances from the Royal Navy in places like Claddagh and in the dock areas. There was an old Fenian and Land War tradition in areas such as Rahoon, Barna and Castlegar, which was supportive of the IRB and later formed the nucleus of the Advanced Republican groups. The Gaelic League and GAA clubs, such as the City of the Tribes club, had a large IRB membership.

During the course of rising, Colm O'Gaora records the beating he got from local Galway women when he came from Mayo to Galway on the basis that Galway had risen. Some of the loyalist population of the town put out large Union Jacks and cheered the shelling of the area by Royal Navy ships in Galway Bay. The owners of Wellpark House flew a large Union Flag and supported the suppression of the Rising. The damage to the Republicans from the Royal Navy shelling was negligible at Ballindooley Cross, Ballindooley village and Oranmore old cemetery.

In the aftermath of the Rising, those temporarily imprisoned in Galway and in various RIC Barracks and emergency detention centres were soon sent to imprisonment and internment via Galway Docks. Hundreds were interned without trial in prisons in England, Scotland and Wales where some became convicted prisoners. Many of those who were interned received a broad education in the prison camps and became equipped for the work of setting up an alternative government and civil society. Volunteers from all over Ireland often met for the first time, links were made, and revolutionary policies, tactics and bonds were developed. These, as much as the military events, were important legacies of 1916.