A 1916 Societies report of a commemorative event which took place last month in Athlone.
On Sunday 6th November, the Spirit of Irish Freedom Society Westmeath, continuing their initiative to commemorate those on the county’s IRA Roll of Honour, erected a headstone to IRA Volunteer Bernard McCormack in Old Drumraney Cemetery, Athlone. This was the second headstone the Society have erected within the month, following an unveiling for Volunteer Patrick Thompson at Finea in October.
A crowd upwards on fifty braved the cold and gathered at Drumraney Church Carpark, where they formed up behind a Flagbearing Colour Party, led by a Volunteer in period-dress, and marched the quarter-mile to the old cemetery. When they arrived at the headstone, the Volunteer stood alongside as a mark of respect to Volunteer Bernard McCormack.
Proceedings were Chaired by Alan McCabe, who welcomed everyone to the ceremony before Peter McCormack read The 1916 Proclamation. The unveiling of the headstone then followed and was carried out by the Volunteer’s grandnephew, Paul McCormack from Athlone. The occasion continued with a reading of the Wesmeath IRA Roll of Honour by Stephen Clarke.
There then was a Wreathlaying Ceremony, with wreaths laid on behalf of the McCormack family, the Sloane/Tormey Cumann South Westmeath, the Dermody/Leavy Cumann North Westmeath and the 1916 Societies. A rendition of ‘The Foggy Dew’ followed, sung by Peter Burt from Cavan 1916 Societies.
There then was a minute’s silence with a lowering of the National Flag, as a mark of respect to the memory of Bernard McCormack and two other IRA Volunteers buried in the cemetery, Patrick Sloane and Richard Birtles. Following, a brief history of Bernard McCormack’s involvement in the IRA and IRB was given by Peter Rogers, Chair of the Westmeath Society.
Rogers told the crowd how Bernard joined the IRB in 1907 before moving to work in Dublin later that year, where he continued his involvement. In 1913, he was instrumental in setting up the Drumraney Company on his frequent trips home. He joined the local Company for a time until it was strong enough to carry on without him, joining then the Dublin Brigade of the Volunteers, being still resident in the capital.
He was also involved in unloading the 900 Mauser Rifles at Howth Pier in July 1914, during the Howth gun-running affair. During the 1916 Rising itself he was wounded in the foot close to Graften Street, while moving a quantity of weapons from the GPO to arm the Rathfarnham Company on Easter Monday. He fought on in the College of Surgeons for the rest of the week until the surrender. Bernard was then arrested and sent to the infamous Frongoch Internment Camp in Wales.
In Frongoch, he joined a hunger strike for better conditions but suffered greatly during the fast. Following his release, he returned home to Drumraney where his health deteriorated. He died in Ballymahon Hospital on Easter Sunday 1918, his funeral attended by many members of Cumann na mBán and Volunteers from the Dublin Brigade in full military attire. Provided a full military funeral by his comrades, it was described at the time ‘as one of the largest funerals ever seen in County Westmeath.’
The Chair then welcomed back Peter Burt to sing ‘The Galtee Mountin Boy’ before, in his closing address, thanking everyone present for their attendance and for their continuing support for the Society and its Centenary Commemorations throughout the year. He paid particular tribute to those who supported the function in Moate, which provided the finance to erect the headstone. ‘Without their support’, he remarked, ‘we could never have carried out this very important work.’
He went on to thank Gerry Farrell, Peter McCormack, Stephen Clarke and Peter Rogers for their hard work in erecting the headstone before inviting everyone back to Cunningham’s Bar in Ballymore, where refreshments where served. In conclusion the crowd sang Amhrán na bhFiann, accompanied by Peter Burt on the guitar.