From 1915 Kerry was central to plans for the Rising. In autumn of that year Austin Stack, the leader of the Volunteers in Kerry and a member of the IRB was informed by Patrick Pearse of the plans for the Rising. Arrangements were being made for an arms shipment from Germany to arrive in Tralee Bay on Easter Sunday 23 April 1916. Stack and the Kerry Volunteers were to receive and distribute the arms among the Volunteers of Kerry, Clare, Cork, Limerick and Galway.
The Aud, with its cargo of arms and ammunition, arrived in Tralee Bay on 20 April, Holy Thursday, instead of Easter Sunday and nobody was there to meet it. The ship waited until early Good Friday morning by which time it attracted the attention of HMS Bluebell. A chase took place culminating in the scuttling of the ship in Cork harbour. The guns and munitions destined for the rebels are now at the bottom of Cork harbour.
Sir Roger Casement had been in Germany since 1914 organising this shipment of arms, amongst other supports. He arrived in Tralee Bay on board a German U-boat around midnight on Holy Thursday. Shortly after landing he was arrested by the RIC and brought to Ardfert barracks. Later that day, Good Friday, he was brought to Tralee barracks and on the morning of Holy Saturday he was transferred from Tralee, via Dublin, to London. The failure to land the arms and Casement’s arrest had a significant impact nationally, leading to Eoin MacNeill’s countermanding order calling off the Rising.
By this stage, however, the first casualties of the Rising had already taken place in Kerry. On Good Friday evening three men drowned at Ballykissane pier near Killorglin: Con Keating from Reenard, Co. Kerry; Charles Monahan from Belfast; and Domhnall Sheehan from Limerick. The men were on active service, engaged on a special mission direct from G.H.Q. in Dublin, to retrieve wireless equipment from the Atlantic Wireless College in Caherciveen.
Austin Stack was arrested on the afternoon of Good Friday in Tralee RIC Barracks. He was transported on Holy Saturday to Cork leaving Tralee and Kerry without a leader for the rebellion. On Easter Sunday, despite the setbacks of the previous days, the Kerry Volunteers mobilised in Tralee. Contingents arrived from throughout the county over the course of the day. Dingle, Boolteens, Churchill, Cahirciveen, Ballymacelligott and Tralee were all represented with a total of 316 men. Before any action could take place, news arrived in Tralee of the order countermanding the rebellion, and the men dispersed later that day.
The countermanding order had the effect of confining the Rising largely to the Dublin region when it started the next day. But even so, Kerry still had a role to play in national events. The responsibility for informing the outside world of the events in Dublin fell, in part, to two brothers at Valentia Island cable station, Tim and Eugene Ring. On Easter Monday they sent a coded message to John Devoy, the Clan na nGael leader in New York: ‘Mother operated on successfully today’ signed ’Kathleen’. Both men were subsequently arrested. The cable had come via Rosalie Rice in Kenmare, and she too was jailed.
Kerry people played their part in the Rising outside of the county as well. Thomas Ashe, a native of Kinard, was arguably the most successful commandant of the rebellion. He achieved his objective and was the last one to surrender. The role of Ashe and his men was to ‘disrupt and destroy enemy communications in north Co. Dublin’.* He adopted guerrilla tactics with his men winning a major victory at Ashbourne, Co. Meath. Ashe was sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to penal servitude.
Four Kerrymen died during the course of the Rising in Dublin. They were Patrick O’Connor from Rathmore, Patrick Shortis from Ballybunion, Michael Mulvihill from Ballyduff and The O’Rahilly.
The most famous of these, Michael Joseph O’Rahilly of Ballylongford, was a founding member of the Irish Volunteers. It was he, as Director of Arms, who organised the landing of arms at Howth in 1914. He was not, however, a member of the IRB and like Casement and MacNeill had strong reservations about the timing of the Easter Rising. Indeed he spent much of Easter weekend driving throughout Munster attempting, with some success, to prevent the mobilisation of men. Nonetheless he did play an active part in the Rising in Dublin. He fought in the rebel headquarters in the GPO and was shot dead in the Moore Street area shortly after evacuating. Yeats’ poem remembering The O’Rahilly famously attributes to him the words, ‘Because I helped to wind the clock / I come to hear it strike’.**
KERRY’S COMMEMORATIVE PROGRAMME
Kerry’s 2016 commemorations programme will showcase the aforementioned. The commemorations programme offers people the opportunity to learn more about the Rising in Kerry and those involved in Ireland’s fight for freedom.
Community consultation in Kerry showed a strong desire to ensure the commemorations are an honest reflection of life in Kerry at the time. People who attended the meetings want future generations to understand the context which brought about the Rising, to value the Irish Flag and the peace it represents, to look at the values endowed to all Irish citizens in the Proclamation, for arts and creativity to be central to the programme.
Kerry County Council’s main programme focuses on the historical events and figures that played a key role in the Rising. There will be a ceremonial event at Banna Strand at 12pm on April 21st to commemorate Sir Roger Casement. We will also have a smaller ceremonial event at Ballykissane pier at 8am to commemorate the first casualties of the Rising.
An exhibition on the life of Sir Roger Casement at Kerry’s County Museum, will be officially opened on April 21st, Sir Roger Casement; a Revolutionary Journey. Casement’s international contribution as a humanitarian is still relatively unfamiliar to many outside of the academic world. His experiences in the Congo and the Amazon are recorded in the exhibition which will touch upon the big themes of the period – imperialism, the scramble for Africa, global capitalism and its effect on indigenous people, geo-politics and the build-up to the outbreak of war in 1914. This is a global story that will resonate not only with Irish people but with all of our international visitors.
Kerry County Council and the Ring family are organising a commemorative plaque to the Ring Brothers on Valentia Island. Dingle Library intends to place on permanent display a collection of memorabilia of Tomas Ashe, which was donated by his family to the library.
There will also be a series of lectures in libraries across Kerry on Kerry figures involved in the Rising, and the role of women in the Rising.
Towns and villages across the county are arranging lectures, recitals, readings, performances, exhibitions and walks to reflect on the Rising, the past hundred years and to look to the values of the Proclamation and the future for the next generations in Kerry. The programme will be open to everyone; valuing the true meaning of Republicanism as: of the people, by the people and for the people.
*Guerrilla Warfare in the Irish War of Independence, 1919-1921, Joseph McKenna
**From ‘The O’Rahilly’, WB Yeats, published 1938