On Sunday 4th December, the Spirit of Irish Freedom Society Westmeath concluded their programme of events for 2016 with a Commemoration and Wreath-laying Ceremony to IRA Volunteer Seamus McGuinness in Kilbeggan, with a further Wreath-laying afterwards at the grave of Connaught Rangers mutineer James Daly in nearby Tyrellspass.
A crowd upwards of thirty braved the cold weather conditions to gather at the Market Square in the town of Kilbeggan, where a flag-bearing Colour Party led the parade down through the town to the local cemetery. There, proceedings were Chaired by Peter Rogers, who welcomed the gathering to the graveside of Volunteer McGuinness.
James Linnane read The 1916 Proclamation before Stephen Clarke, in turn, read the Westmeath IRA Roll of Honour. James was then called upon again to read a poem he wrote about the plight of Seamus McGuinness: ‘You Must Not Forget’. The Wreath-laying Ceremony then followed, with a wreath laid on behalf of the Spirit of Irish Freedom Society by Richie Groom and another laid by veteran republican, Pat McCabe, on behalf of the Leadership of the 1916 Societies.
The Chair then called for a minute’s silence and a lowering of Flags as a mark of respect to Volunteer Seamus McGuinness – with two other Volunteers buried in the cemetery: Sean McGuinness (brother of Seamus) and Sean Maher. Exiled Fenian from Kilbeggan, Edward Daly, whose name appears on the family headstone in the cemetery, was remembered also.
Peter Rogers then gave a brief history of Seamus McGuinness’ involvement in the IRA and later as an Anti-Treaty spy inside the Free State Army. He told of his courage during the War for Independence, of his involvement in many operations against British military forces in Westmeath and also in Dublin, where he worked with the General Headquarters Staff under the direct control of Michael Collins.
He explained how in 1923 he was uncovered as an agent of the Anti-Treaty Executive inside the Free State forces and arrested in Dublin, following the arrest of a senior Anti-Treaty Officer with seditious documents alleged to have been passed to him by McGuinness. While held in Portobello military barracks, awaiting trial, he received a severe beating, suffering terrible injuries in the assault. He was tried and received the death sentence but, following the intervention of a senior Free State Officer, it was commuted to penal servitude. Released after the civil war, he died on 8th December 1937.
In his closing address, Peter praised the courage of men like Volunteer Seamus McGuinness and the other Volunteers prepared to put themselves in great danger for the cause of freedom in Ireland. He stated:
People of our day must recognise the patriotism and bravery of men like Seamus McGuinness, who put their lives on the line to defeat not only the British presence in Ireland but also the counter revolutionary forces of the Free State, who subverted the true All-Ireland Republic.
He continued, telling of the Westmeath Society’s pride at the work done over the past year, erecting three headstones ‘to men forgotten by a state too concerned with its own preservation to remember their sacrifice’. He thanked those present for their attendance and for their support over the year, especially those who supported the Society financially – which made all their great work possible. In conclusion he invited everyone to join Alan McCabe in the singing of Amhrán na bhFiann.
Many of those present then travelled on to nearby Tyrellspass, to visit the grave of Connaught Rangers Mutineer James Joseph Daly. There, Peter Rogers gave a brief account of the mutiny in Jullinder and Solon British Army Barracks in India during 1920.
James Joseph Daly, a native of Tyrellspass, was executed in Dagshai Prison on 2nd November 1920, aged 22 years old. His remains were brought back to Ireland for re-interment in 1970, his coffin draped with the Tricolour that once had draped Terence McSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, who died on Hungerstrike in October 1920. To conclude the day’s proceedings, a wreath was laid on his grave on behalf of the Society by John Joe Kiernan of Longford.