The following is excerpted from "They Put the Flag a-Flyin’ The Roscommon Volunteers" by Kathleen Hegarty Thorne. The book is a fascinating account of the names and activities of the Roscommon volunteers between 1916-1923 in the fight for Irish independence.
Many of the national leaders of the Irish War of Independence are well known and well documented. But they didn’t win the fight against the British Army all by themselves. It took the grit and daring of the common man to challenge the powers-that-be in the fields and on the byways of rural Ireland. The following listing is a snapshot of a few men, little known outside the confines of their own families, who helped to mount a massive rebellion against 700 years of British rule.
Joe Kelly (O’Kelly) (Ballaghaderreen) Adjutant of 4th Battalion East Mayo Brigade (which incorporated several companies in west Roscommon), a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. O'Kelly and Alec McCabe stole a car out of a garage in Ballaghaderreen Easter Monday night and headed toward Tubbercurry in Sligo in order to muster men and gather them together for show of force. The attempt proved futile as they had gotten only a few miles out of town when the car broke down. Seeing headlights on the road and assuming it was British transport, the two parted company, each making his way to his own home turf. O'Kelly was arrested after the Rising for his Sinn Féin sympathies and sent to Her Majesty's prison at Lewes on the 20th of May. He was later sent to "The Irish University", Frongoch. As part of Lloyd George's appeal to American sympathies (he needed their support in World War I), Kelly was released seven months after arrest.
It was a decision the Crown was soon to regret. In 1917 O'Kelly was again arrested after his return from County Longford, where he had helped with the Joe McGuinness election. While walking down the street in Ballaghaderreen, two Constables grabbed him and announced they were taking him to the barracks. He drew his pistol and in the ensuing scuffle, the two policemen were shot---although not seriously. Joe was sent to Dublin for trial and from thence to Dundalk where, at the time, hunger strikes were taking place. After three weeks on hunger strike, Joe was released and returned "back to his old post as secretary of the Sinn Féin Club and Volunteer organiser."*
Joe sailed across the Irish Sea and became active as a gun runner in Liverpool---purchasing, storing and shipping arms to Ireland. He also participated in the burning of the Liverpool docks on 28 November 1920. Kelly took the Anti-Treaty side during the Civil War and was arrested near Ballaghaderreen by troops under Alec McCabe on 25 August 1922. He was taken to Sligo gaol from which he escaped in mid-October. In late October he was named O/C of the Flying Column because Seamus Mulrennan had been killed. His leadership was short-lived. He was recaptured at Markree Castle on 14 November 1922. Four decades later he was elected chairman of the Commemorative Committee that erected the monumental Elphin IRA statue. Kelly died in 1966
*The Western People, "Service in Ballaghaderreen" by John McPhillips, 19 September 1964.
Anthony McCormack (Tonlagee, Tang, Co Westmeath) Captain of Tang Coy. in the Athlone Brigade. Joined the IRA in Athlone in 1914. He, along with about 60 other Volunteers, headed to Shannonbridge on Easter Sunday 1916. Their orders were to hold Shannonbridge until Roger Casement's rifles and men sent by Liam Mellows arrived. Halfway there, however, they received Eoin MacNeill's countermanding order. They halted their progress and returned to the Coosan area to await further orders (which never came.) McCormack was arrested on Tuesday but released shortly thereafter.
In 1919 he returned to Tang where he was made Captain of the Company numbering thirty-two. He participated in the burning of Littletown Barracks Easter weekend 1920. He was captured on 5 January 1921 and sent to Athlone and in February to Ballykinlar Camp in County Down, where he remained until the general release in December 1921. During the Civil War, he took the Anti-Treaty side and fought with the Flying Column, and was present at the Ambush at Glasson in August 1922. McCormack was arrested on 5 December of 1922---found in Hoares public house in Ballymore, County Westmeath. After firing on a patrol of eight National soldiers, he had taken refuge in the chimney, where he was discovered with a serious wound right above his ankle. His revolver and Lee Enfield rifle were confiscated as well as his ammo. McCormack was sent to the Curragh Hospital. After the War, he went into the wholesale egg exporting business but because of his former Republican stand, he entered the business under an assumed name. Ironically, he used to supply eggs to the National Army Barracks throughout the country. Later he inherited the Gap House pub and grocery business in Moate and entered the pub business. Anthony had the use of only one leg because of the actions of one man in December 1922---that man was Vincent McKeon, brother of the famous Sean McKeon (Mac Eoin), the Blacksmith of Ballinalee. After thirty years had passed, Anthony was reconciled with his shooter through the efforts of Anthony's brother---and what better place to mend fences than in the Three Jolly Pigeons Pub? Anthony died in January 1998 and is buried in Tubberclair Cemetery.
Henry "Harry" O'Brien (Strand St., Athlone) Captain of the Coosan Company in the Athlone Battalion. O'Brien joined the IRA Company in Ballykeeran in 1913 and accompanied other Volunteers towards Shannonbridge on Easter Sunday 1916 ready to take part in the uprising. In 1920 O'Brien and James Tormey were having tea at the Royal Hotel in Athlone when they were spotted by the Auxiliaries who had just entered the premises "generally the worse for drink." Both men exited through the back door and starting walking through the town northeasterly and parallel to the Main Street. As they neared Maguire's pub, one of the Auxies tapped Tormey on the shoulder saying, "We want you, big fellow."* Tormey dived in the door of the pub, O'Brien shot the Tan who threatened to capture Tormey and by running down around the south side of town and crossing the Shannon made good his own escape.
He was a member of the Flying Column, frequently travelling back and forth across the Shannon attempting ambushes in both County Westmeath and County Roscommon. During the time that he was on the run, he often stayed in the Clonown area. Not wishing to keep bothering the local people for food, he often went into the barns and ate the pig swill. This did lasting damage to his stomach.** Even in his last years when he went to visit Ned Dowling in Dublin, he would often request a glass of water in which to dissolve the baking soda that he perpetually carried with him.*** Such was his sacrifice for a free Ireland.
*Volunteer Statement of Henry (Harry) O'Brien, p. 13.
** Donal O'Brien, son of Harry, interview by author, Athlone, 5 August 2004.
***Peggy Dowling Naughton, daughter of Ned, interview by author, Dublin, 23 August 2004.
Thomas "Toby" Scally (Driney, Loughglynn) a member of the South Roscommon Flying Column. He, along with Ned Shannon and Patrick McCarthy, burned the RIC Barracks at Loughglynn. He participated in the attack on the Frenchpark Barracks 2 October 1920. He was part of the ambush party at Lisacul in May---an action taken in conjunction with the East Mayo Brigade men. Toby was wounded in the battle of The Woodlands of Loughglynn after which he limped to Crean's house in Moyne and was then taken to Reilly Gallagher's cottage. Dr. Clarke attended to his wounds.
Toby was also a member of the Republican Police force in the Loughglynn area. When the split in the IRA came, he fought with the Anti-Treaty forces in county Mayo during the Civil War where he served with Seamus Mulrennan's Flying Column. Toby took part in the attack at Ballinagare in July 1922 and the burning of the train at Clooncundra and attack at Castlerea in November 1922. He was arrested in 1923 by the Free State troops and interned in Castlebar where he went on hunger strike for eighteen days. Later sent to Mountjoy. He was released on 18/12/23.
His gun, which was the symbol of resistance to British rule, was smuggled to America by Pat Vaughan of Cloonsuck after the War, but later returned to Ireland where it hung for many years on the wall of Hell's Kitchen in Castlerea. After the War, Toby became a postman. He died 20 February 1971 and is buried in Cuiltyboe cemetery near Loughglynn
Oration for Toby Scally
Given by Commandant Gerald O'Connor
Before we leave here, my comrades of the Old IRA have asked me to speak on their behalf about the man we have buried and the character he was. I have known Toby all my life and can speak intimately of some of the aspects of his character which made him liked and respected by all.
Toby joined the National Volunteer Army in 1913. When these divided at the outbreak of the First World War, he followed the Irish Volunteers led by Padraig Pearse. In 1919 the members of this body took an oath of allegiance to the Republic proclaimed by the first Dáil Éireann and from then on they were known as the IRA. Toby served in this army until he was taken prisoner in 1923. He was held a prisoner until the end of the Civil War and after taking part in a long hunger strike he was released in 1924 and returned home. Soon after he was offered a job as postman in Loughglynn which he accepted and held until he retired a few years ago.
Toby was not the wild gunman type that some may have imagined. He was an honest, kindly soul with a very good sense of humour which always made him good company. He never spoke harshly of anybody and I never heard an ugly word from his lips.
He was by nature the soldier type---he thought like a soldier, he acted like a soldier, and, quite unconsciously, he had the carriage and measured step of a well-trained army man. When the Civil War broke out, some of us resigned from the IRA rather than become involved, but for Toby there was no crisis of conscience. His simple reasoning was that he had sworn an oath to defend the Republic against all enemies---foreign and domestic, and this he did while he was able.
We must leave his body now to moulder in the grave, but surely "his soul will go marching on" to join the gallant Company of comrades who have gone before him. To his sisters and relatives we tender our sympathy, and pray that his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed may rest in peace.
Go ndéanaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam.
James Monds (Knockmurry, Castlerea) Although not a Volunteer, he was a sympathiser who belonged to the Church of Ireland. According to Paddy Concannon, resident of Knockmurry, Castlerea, Monds was targeted as a result of a dispute with the Tans over local fowl.* He had also been active in land agitation including the cattle drive on Cotton's farm. His political allegiance was questioned when, on one Sunday morning, when "God Save the Queen" was sung robustly in the local church, he had walked out in disgust.** Monds was taken from his home 6 April 1921 and shot for refusing to give information about the Volunteers. He was the father of six children. He is buried in the Church of Ireland Cemetery in Castlerea. His name is inscribed on the Shankill Monument near Elphin
* Interview Paddy Concannon, resident of Knockmurry, Castlerea. Interview by author. 14 August 2004.
**Interview Sean Raftery, nephew of Luke, Valeview Castlerea, 16 April 2004.
This article was submitted to the IrishCentral contributors network by a member of the global Irish community. To become an IrishCentral contributor click here.