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Clare Champion

Saturday 3 June 1916 - Part 1





The Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the rebellion in Ireland resumed its sitting at 11 o’clock on Saturday morning in the Shelbourne Hotel. Lord Hardinge, Chairman of the Commission, presided and the other members are Mr. Justice Shearman and Mr. Makenzie Chalmers. The demand for accommodation on the part of the public again exceeded the limited space available for the purpose.
County Inspector Ruttledge said the first branch of the Irish Volunteers was formed in Galway town on December 12th 1913, at a meeting addressed by Sir Rodger [Roger] Casement, P H Pearse, Professor John MacNeill, and a man named George Nicholls. Sir Rodger Casement said their object was to win Home Rule and to protect themselves against the threats of the Ulster Volunteers. At the end of July 1914, there were forty two branches, with a membership of 8,704: and in August 1914 there were 54 branches, with a membership of 5,191. Drilling practically ceased for two reasons - first, many of the drill instructors joined the army; and secondly, because the rank and file of the Sinn Feiners were afraid that Mr. Redmond’s declaration was the stepping-stone to their being asked to join the army.
Continuing, witness stated that the number of branches now became less. The only activity displayed was by branches identified with the Sinn Fein movements. In March 1915 Wm. Mellows, Irish Volunteer Organiser, Dublin, took up his headquarters in Athenry, and he became an active organiser in a locality which had always been affected on account of agrarian agitation. He gathered together all the young men advocating disloyal feelings. Three branches of the Sinn Fein Volunteers, with a membership of 244, were formed at that time – that was in May 1915. In the same month a meeting for the purpose of organising Sinn Fein volunteers, was held at Tuam. The meeting was in public, and was addressed by Wm Mellowes [Mellows] and John McDermott. The latter was most seditious and he was prosecuted and sentenced to four months imprisonment with hard labour. In November 1915, a large Sinn Fein meeting was held in Athenry, and was attended by all the extremists in the West Riding of Galway, and seditious speeches were delivered. Owing to the influence of the organiser, the members of the three branches of Mr. Redmond’s Volunteers turned over and joined the Sinn Fein section of the Volunteers. These three branches had been in localities always disturbed and honeycombed with secret society influences. At the time of the rebellion there were nine Sinn Fein branches in the riding with a membership of 806. In addition there were 265 other Sinn Feiners who were members of Mr. Redmond’s Volunteers. There was a total of 1,070 active Sinn Feiners in the riding.


The rebellion, witness continued, commenced in Galway at 7.20 a.m. on Tuesday 25th April, by an attack on Clarenbridge Barrack, nine and a half miles from Galway. This attack continued until 10.20 a.m. The barrack was fired upon, and the windows were smashed. The rebels numbered about one hundred at first but their numbers increased as time went on. Stone barricades were built across the road at each end of the village. The barrack was held and defended by five police, who were twice called upon to surrender by a spokesman of the rebels, who threatened to blow up the barracks.
Mr Justice Shearman asked what was his name.
Witness said he would like to give it in private. The rebels, he continued then withdrew from Clarenbridge, and reinforced others who were attacking Oranmore Barrack. The attack on Oranmore commenced between 12 and one p.m. There the railway had been cut and a large hole was made in Oranmore Bridge. This barrack was also fired upon and the windows smashed. It was defended and held by four police until relieved at 7.30 by a party of police and military from Galway. The rebels took to flight and … towards Athenry in motor cars. In the meantime 10 leading Sinn Feiners had been placed under xxxx arrest in Galway City and they were handed over to naval authorities and placed on board ship. Thirty special constables were sworn in, and three neighbouring police stations were closed … the police were concentrated in Galway. A wireless message was sent to the Admiral in Queenstown asking for 200 …. On Wednesday 26th April a … party went out to ascertain the state of affairs. The party was ambushed by a considerable … of rebels at … and a Constable was shot dead and one slightly wounded. The rebels were … to flight. Later on in the same day it was reported …[illegible section]. … was shelled by a sloop of war and the rebels dislodged. On Thursday 27th a ship of war landed 100 troops in Galway, and on Friday 28th the military sent out a reconnaissance party and went to Athenry, where they learned that the rebels were four miles from Athenry. On that occasion the rebels went to a district in the East Riding of Galway and were much scattered over the country. They were advised on the occasion he referred to by the priest to go home.
Chairman: You mentioned that seditious speeches were made on different occasions and in various places?
Were these speeches reported to the Government? Yes, they were reported to the Inspector-General.
Was any action taken as a result?
No action.
Was any action taken in the case of the man or men who acted as spokesman to the rebels? None.
Is the spokesman a free man now?
You have stated that the rebels were advised by the priest to go home? Yes
Were the priests acting in co-operation with the rebels? Yes, some of them - some of the younger ones were.
Did they participate actively – were there cases in which they participated actively: Yes, as I say some of the younger.
And no notice taken of them? None.
Mr. Justice Shearman – No arrest made
Witness – No.

Mr. Mellowes and the Priest

In the case you have mentioned the priest was acting as a peacemaker?
Yes, he said they were acting foolishly, that there was a large force of military in the country and that their camps could be reached from ships of war. The speaker, Mellowes, the organiser, asked them to stick to him, but the priest asked would they take his advice, or Mellowes, and they said they would take the priest’s.
Chairman - Do you know, who that priest was? I do not know his name
Is he one of the younger or older priests? I do not know.
Questioned as to the number of people who were engaged in active rebellion in his district, witness said he counted about 400.
Chairman - Have you direct proof of the influence of secret societies in Galway? There has been a secret society in Galway since 1882, and it has been in touch with the Clan-na-Gael and the young men connected with the Gaelic Athletic Association, and has led to all the agrarian crime in Galway, and has been at the back of the movement in Dublin.
Further interrogated by the Chairman with regard to the Gaelic Athletic Association, witness said he thought they used their sports for political meetings too.
Do you think that the fear of conscription had much effect in increasing the ranks of Sinn Feiners? I think not the rank and file. Witness added that some of those were …kers and would not fight for England.
Do you think that the prevention of emigration had also some effect? I do.
Have you any indication of German money coming to Galway? Not directly, but we noticed that people who were not well off had a good deal of money.
You don’t know where it came from? No.
Asked by Sir R Chalmers, what happened to the Organiser Nicholls, he said the man was now under arrest. He would not consider the original meeting to establish the Volunteers a seditious meeting. The people who took part in the Sinn Fein Marches were mostly farmers’ sons and labourers.
What is the attitude in Galway? The people of Galway are very loyal.
In answer to a further question, the witness attributed the feeling of unrest in Galway to the distribution of seditious literature.


County Inspector Clayton stated that he was in charge of the R.I.C. in East Galway for the past four and a half years. He told of the formation of the Volunteer movement in the county, and said that at the time of the outbreak of the rebellion there were eleven branches in the East Riding with a membership of 371. In addition to that there were about 300 Sinn Feiners throughout the East Riding who did [not?] belong the any branch. The black spots in Galway for a number of years were Athenry and Loughrea districts. There were secret societies in these districts at all times for years past. The above districts were the centre of much of the land agitation and many cold-blooded murders were committed there. The extreme societies became last year linked up with the Volunteer movement: and a famous criminal named Kenny also joined the movement. This man took a leading part in the rebellion, and was now on the run. Mellowes came to Athenry in April 1915, and started to organise the Volunteers. He understood he was paid £8 a week.
Proceeding , the Inspector stated that the first … the police in Galway had of the outbreak was when a messenger came with the word that a constable had been shot and seriously wounded. Nothing occurred that day until about 5.30 pm when a message was received that the Sinn Feiners were … in Athenry. At first it was believed that they were going to attack the police barracks and reinforcements were asked for. The attack did not however, come off. That evening the rebels were very busy at their Athenry headquarters, the Town Hall, making bombs. On the following morning they marched to a place called Ballygarron about two and half miles from Athenry. There they were joined by all the Sinn Feiners of the West Riding of Galway and remained there that night. During the night they busied themselves by … [illegible section].

Mr. Justice Shearman – Do you know that priest’s name? I don’t but he was anxious to get them to disperse. It was a contest between the priest and Mellowes to get them to disband. Asked what had happened to Mellowes, witness said he was “on the run”.
Continuing, witness said that later on 270 of the rebels were arrested. Most of them were now in England and 12 had been convicted and sentenced by court martial. The police had since got hold of seven rifles, eighty six shot guns. One or two of the rifles obtained by the police were military service rifles : the others were foreign but not of German make.
Asked as to the composition of the Sinn Fein movement in Galway, the witness said one of the leaders was a blacksmith named Kenny; another was a publican, and others were shopkeepers and farmers’ sons. A considerable number of younger priests were connected with the movement.
Sir Mackenzie Chalmers – As a priest gets older do you mean he mellows down or that a new generation has sprung up?
The witness smiled in reply.


County Inspector Gelston, Clare, dealt with the growth of the Sinn Fein movement in that county, and stated that at the time of … of the split in 1914 about 340 seceded from Mr. Redmond’s party and became the Sinn Fein party. The split was caused he believed by Mr. Redmond’s policy regarding the war and recruiting and Home Rule. Witness then referred to the activities of leaders and organisers including a man named Thomas O’Loughlen, and Messers Blythe and O’Hurley, a Gaelic League Organiser. Blythe was served with a deportation order, and subsequently got a term of imprisonment for disobedience of that order. At the beginning of the present year they had ten branches of Sinn Feiners in the county with a membership of over 400.
Replying to the Chairman, witness said that in the whole county there were 35 rifles and some miniature rifles held by the organisation.
Witness, continuing said that complaints were conveyed to him that the movements of these bodies were dangerous. In one case he would like to mention that a leader named Michael Brennan, before a routine march, supplied his men with bad end ammunition. On another occasion when addressing his own men, or branch, he said: -
“I want to say a few words about the seizure of arms. My advice to you is if such attempt is made as to seize your arms, use them, and not the butts but the other ends and what is in them.
Chairman:- What is the date of that?
The 17th March last. His speech continued – “Some of you may not like to commit murder - that is not murder, but self-defence. If your arms are taken the next thing will be conscription.” That man was prosecuted and sentenced. The Sinn Feiners did not rise in the County Clare, but there was considerable activity amongst the people and the organisers were moving about and they were evidently anticipating something likely to happen.
Chairman:- What was the state of recruiting? Very good all around and amongst the labouring classes. At first the number of Sinn Feiners was very small but towards the end of last year they had a record of over 400, but there were a great many sympathisers. If there had been a rising there would be more than 400.
Mr. Justice Shearman – Were there no Sinn Feiners before the war? There were small branches. One man, Thos O’Loghlen used to get Sinn Fein newspapers and circulate them amongst the people.
Some questions were put by Mr. Justice Shearman as to the action of clergymen and witness in reply said that one clergyman told the people to arm, and if they could not get long distance rifles to use shot guns, as shot guns were very useful in the hands of Irishmen.
Was this reported to headquarters? No: it only subsequently came to light. That same clergyman told them if they could not get shotguns to get revolvers and if they could not get revolvers to get pikes, and if they could not get pikes that every man had either a hatchet or a slasher in his own house.
When was that? That was in last January.
Witness said that some among the younger priests had Sinn Fein tendencies but the older men as a rule had not and parish priests had spoken against the movement in a number of cases.
Chairman:- Have they given assistance to you-the older priests -
Except the statement denouncing the rising from the pulpit and in one case the parish priest made the Sinn Feiners deliver over their rifles to the police, and that was the only case in which rifles were surrendered under the proclamation.
Sir Mackenzie Chalmers - You say two paid organisers were deported from Clare? One
Was he told not to come back to Clare or was he deported from Ireland? An order was served on him to leave Ireland, and he did not do it and he got three months imprisonment.
To Sir M. Chalmers, the witness said there was no doubt money was being distributed in Co. Clare from some source. As to the seditious speeches to which he had referred most of them were delivered behind closed doors, the police not being ... As to the speech of Brennan, he reported him … to headquarters, and was directed to prosecute under the Defence of the Realm Act. He (witness) considered it was a very … thing to have armed men marching among the country roads of the County of Clare.
Mr. J.C. Percy was next examined and gave particulars as regards recruiting in the West of Ireland. [Illegible section]

The 1916 Rising in the Clare Newspapers