The Thomas Behan Society Kildare, as part of their initiative to honour the county’s fallen ‘Defenders of the Republic’ in the run-up to the Centenary of the 1916 Rising, held a commemoration and wreathlaying ceremony on Sunday 20th December in Grey Abbey Cemetery and then Market Square in Kildare Town, for the Rathbride Column who were executed by Free State counter-revolutionaries on 19th December 1922.
At the Cemetary, Richard introduced Sinon Cahill, who read the 1916 Proclamation, with Philip O’Riordan reading the Kildare IRA Roll of Honour then after. Paul Scannell laid a wreath on behalf of the 1916 Societies and there then was a minute’s silence with a lowering of the National Flag. Richard Whyte then gave a brief history of the Rathbride Column, telling the story of their actions against the Free State to their capture and subsequent execution.
Richard then called upon Paul Scannell, National Organiser 1916 Societies, to say a few words on behalf of the Societies before inviting those present to join the Society at the monument for the executed Volunteers on the Market Square in Kildare Town. To conclude the events at Grey Abbey, he then asked everyone to join and sing Amhrán na bhFiann.
Proceedings then moved to the Market Square for the second part of the days ceremonies. Flanked by a Colour Party, Richard asked Karen Hester of the Seán Heuston Society Dublin to read the Proclamation. A wreath was then laid on the monument on behalf of the 1916 Societies by Richard.
The Thomas Behan Society wish to thank all who attended. A special thanks to the Colour Party, Paul Scannell from the Officer Board of the 1916 Societies and Karen Hester from the Seán Heuston Society. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
History of the Rathbride Column
The seven were executed by firing squad on 19th December 1922 in the Glasshouse of the Military Detention Barracks in the Curragh – the biggest single execution carried out during the Civil War. The Curragh Camp was for decades the chief British military base in Ireland. Handed over to the Free State army in May 1922, it soon became the scene of imprisonment and execution for some of those same republicans who had fought the British.
On the 13th December, a detachment of Free State troops set out from the Curragh to raid for arms at Moore’s Bridge and discovered the woman-owner of a farmhouse in possession of a loaded revolver. A thorough search of the house uncovered a large dugout hidden under the floor. A Column of eight IRA Volunteers were in the dugout, comprising a section of the 6th Battalion IRA, under the command of Comdt. Bryan Moore, a veteran IRA Officer.
With the odds stacked against them having been fully surrounded and outnumbered, the men were ordered to surrender by their Commanding Officer. After they did so a Free State soldier struck one of them, Thomas Behan of Rathangan, with a rifle butt and broke his arm. The republicans were ordered to board a truck but when Behan was unable to do so, because of his broken arm, he was beaten savagely around the head and fell dead.
Behan was a veteran IRA man and at the time of his death was Intelligence Officer, 1st Eastern Division. The murder was covered up by the authorities with the usual excuse, ‘shot while trying to escape’. It was only years later that the truth came out.
The seven surviving republicans were taken to the Glasshouse, the military prison in the Curragh. Under powers given them by the Free State government, military tribunals could impose the death sentence for possession of arms. The seven men were charged before a Military Committee of being in possession, without proper authority, of 10 rifles, 200 rounds of ammunition, 4 bomb detonators, and 1 exploder.
With 12 republicans already executed under this regime since the end of November, the fate of the seven Kildare Volunteers was sealed. They were found guilty and sentenced to death.
All were IRA veterans and belonged to a Column of ten, which operated against railways, goods trains and some shops in the vicinity of Kildare. Five of them were on the derailment of engines at Cherryville on December 11th 1922 when they made a serious attempt to dislocate the whole railway service on the Great Southern and Western Railway Line.
Two engines were taken out of a shed at Kildare and sent down the line by Cherryville. One engine ran out of steam and did no harm, while the other overturned and blocked the line for a considerable time. The column was also responsible for an ambush on Free State troops at the Curragh Siding on November 23rd. In the confusion of the ambush a policeman was accidentally shot by a Free State soldier.
The seven men were shot one by one, five minutes apart. Before being shot, the Volunteers shook the hands of each of their executioners. Each man sung Ámhran na bhFiann before they died in a hail of bullets. They were buried in the grounds of the Detention Barracks.
After the Civil War their remains were later exhumed and lay in state in the Courthouse in Kildare Town before being re-buried in Grey Abbey Cemetery in 1924. A gravestone was subsequently erected over their grave and a monument erected in the Market Square, Kildare. The seven men executed and finally laid to rest in the Republican Plot of Grey Abbey are:
Comdt. Brian Moore (37 and Leader of the Column)
Volunteer Patrick Nolan (34)
Volunteer Patrick Mangan (22)
Volunteer Patrick Bagnall (19)
Volunteer Joseph Jackie Johnston (18)
Volunteer Stephen White (18)
Volunteer James O’Connor (24), executed with his comrades by the Free State, was returned to his native Bansha in Co. Tipperary to be re-interned.
Fuair síad bhás ar son saoirse na hÉireann – Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam