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Processions to Bodenstown remember Wolfe Tone

‘In Bodenstown churchyard there lies a green grave, And wildly around it the winter winds rave, Small shelter is weaned from the cruel walls there, When the storm clouds blow down on the plains of Kildare’ … the opening lines of a ballad eulogising Wolfe Tone, the 1798 patriot, whose remains are believed to lie in the ancient graveyard of Bodenstown, just off the Sallins-Clane road.  The month of June each year sees a series of ‘Bodenstown Sundays’ when followers of the republican cause in its various hues assemble at Sallins to march to the Wolfe Tone memorial at Bodenstown. The numbers at the Bodenstown event have advanced and retreated in line with the strength of the republican sentiment on the island. That said, it is safe to say that over the decades there has hardly been a leading nationalist politician, north or south, who has not marched from Sallins to Bodenstown on the annual republican pilgrimage. At one stage there was just one Bodenstown Sunday when republicans from all four provinces, but particularly from Ulster, converged on Sallins. However the succession of splits in the nationalist movement has resulted in there being now at least three Bodenstown Sundays – two in June and another in September. In modern times they pass off without incident and make little impact on the locality – although Bodenstown is a platform for the leaders of the parties involved to make significant policy statements often picked up by the national press. The significance of Bodenstown in the early years of the Irish Free State is evident from a report in this newspaper from June 1926 which portrays the pomp and ceremony of an official Government occasion at Bodenstown with the full participation of the Army of the new State.  Many of the leading figures of the 1920s Irish Free State attended headed by President W.T. Cosgrave; Mr. Ernest Blythe, Minister for Finance; Professor O’Sullivan, Minister for Education; Mr. Desmond Fitzgerald, Minister for Foreign Affairs; Mr. J. J. Walsh, Minister for Posts & Telegraphs; Senator Dr. St. John Gogarty; and, interestingly, Mr. George Wolfe, TD, whose ancestors accounted for the ‘Wolfe’ in Wolfe Tone. An exotic distinguished visitor who joined the platform party was Herr Summerlott, Director of the Bank of Germany in Stuggart, who was on holiday in Ireland. The VIPs reviewed one of the largest military parades seen in the Free State with some 1,400 troops from the Curragh including personnel from the Infantry and Army Transport Corps. Flying overhead Bodenstown was a squadron of Bristol Fighters from the Air Corps at Baldonnel.   In the march past the Military Police were noted for their smartness but no doubt the most spectacular contribution came from the Air Corps pilots who it was reported ‘ flew in line not far above the heads of the spectators, and on reaching the front of the stand each pilot shot his plane forward. This manoeuvre, carried out with admirable precision, called forth applause.’ At the Tone memorial, ceremonial honours were rendered by a firing party of sixteen rifles while the ‘last post’ was sounded by six Army buglers. Mr. Peter Hughes, Minister for Defence, placed a floral cross from the Free State National Army; Mr. Batt O’Connor, TD, laid a wreath for the Cumann na nGaedheal organisation and Mr. George Lyons placed another for the old Dublin Brigade IRA.   However the divisions in the republican movement were evident on the day. In the afternoon after the Government parade had departed another procession converged on Bodenstown. This second instalment was organised by the Wolfe Tone Commemoration Committee headed by the Eamonn Ceannt Piper’s Band. Clearly representing more radical elements of nationalist opinion the procession featured the banners of Fianna Eireann, the Irish Republican Soldiers’ Federation, the Women’s Prisoners Defence League and the International Class War Prisoners’ Aid. Some memorable names in the pantheon of Irish republicanism were represented in the procession which included Mr. A. O’Connor, President, Sinn Fein; Mr. Austin Stack, TD; Madame Constance Markievicz, TD; Mrs. Pearse, TD (mothers of Padraig and Willie Pearse executed in 1916); Dr. Kathleen Lynn, TD; and Miss Ffrench Mullen. That there were separate processions on the day is not surprising given the division in Irish politics over the signing of the Treaty in 1921 and the resulting civil war. However it is equally noticeable that the speeches on either occasion as reported at length in this paper seemed to studiously avoid any militancy or strident criticism of the other side – perhaps suggesting that the nationalists of 1920s Ireland were weary of war and preferred to honour Wolfe Tone’s memory in a spirit of conciliation rather than confrontation. Series no: 181.



Liam Kenny in his column 'Nothing New Under the Sun' from the Leinster Leader of 17th June 2010 reflects on the many processions to Bodenstown to remember Wolfe Tone. Our thanks to Liam.  

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