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Impressive '98 Commemoration Ceremonies

The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Naas on the night of the 23/24th May, 1798, was commemorated at Naas on Sunday, when a huge gathering assembled in the town to pay tribute to brave Michael Reynolds and his comrades, who intrepidly attacked the entrenched Yeomen in Naas and put them to flight on that memorable date afterwards retiring from the town.
Glorious sunshine favoured the event and thousands of people lined the thoroughfare in the flag-bedecked Main Street as the parade, led by the Ballyshannon Pipers Band, marched from the assemblage point on the Fair Green to the Town Hall, where a memorial plaque to Michael Reynolds and his fellow Insurgents was unveiled. Mr. Jack Delaney was Chief Marshal of the Parade, which included contingences of the Old I.R.A. from Kilcullen, Naas, Droichead Nua, Athgarvan, Suncroft, Ballyshannon, Kildare, Straffan, Mainham, Kill, Ardclough and other centres. Mr. P. Carroll, Naas, was in command. A large contingent of the F.C.A. drawn from Naas and outlying districts under the charge of Lieut. J. Walsh also made an impressive contribution to the parade. The F.C.A. colour party consisted of Lieut. Wm Byrne, Lieut. G. Robinson and Lieut. E. Kinsella, with Parade Sergeant-Major P. Brennan. The Ex-L.D.F. and Ex-L.S.F. from Naas and district were commanded by former officers D.L. Jos. King, Adjutant T. Harvey and Intelligence Officer, T. Hayden.
Other organisations taking part in the parade were former members of the Cumann na mBan, the Naas Hurling Team, captained by Mr. P. Murphy; the Naas Boy Scouts,    Naas Unit of the Order of Malta, men and women, schoolboys and outside bodies, and the general public. There was a deeply impressive scene, as with the full parade assembled in front of the Town Hall. Very Rev. P. J. Doyle, P.P., Naas, unveiled the memorial plaque to the '98 patriots.
Three volleys rang out, breaking the stillness which had descended over the town, and F.C.A. Bugler Noel Murphy sounded the Last Post. As the Reveille followed the National Flag, which was half-masted was raised and dipped by Mr. P. Carroll, Vice-Chairman of the County Kildare Committee of the Old I.R.A. The Firing Party, which was favourable commented upon for its discipline and precision, was drawn from the Kilcullen Branch of the Old I.R.A. under Mr. Paddy Quinn.
Prior to the unveiling ceremony, Mr. M. J. O'Donoghue, Vice-Chairman of the Naas Urban Council, in introducing Father Doyle, said that their beloved parish priest was well-known for his kindly acts, not only by the people of Kildare, but by numerous people all over Leinster.
The entire parade then proceeded to the top of the town and re-assembled on their return, around a platform in Market Square, where an oration was delivered by Very Rev. Thomas Burbage, P.P., V. F., Mountmellick.

Very Reverend Father Burbage said:
Michael Reynolds, whose memory we honour to-day was one of that valiant band who 150 years ago dedicated themselves to the cause of Ireland's freedom and to the promotion of goodwill and understanding among all Irishmen. He was one of those who believed that when all other means of rescuing the nation from slavery and degradation had been used in vain, that recourse to armed force was justifiable. Those men were confirmed in this belief by the fact that the invaders had driven the mass of their victims to such a state of desperation that revolt had every prospect of success.
For generations before 1798, England pursued a deliberate unwavering policy of fomenting disunion among all classes of Ireland. They encouraged religious strife between Catholics, Protestants and Presbyterians and ill-feeling between landlords and tenants. Even children were set against their parents. There was method in this criminal procedure. English rulers realised that internal dissention in Ireland facilitated their alien rule. England was warmly seconded in this policy by the possessors of the confiscated estates and their hangers-on who feared that if by any chance the people came together and used their strength, they (the planters) would lose their ill-gotten goods.
This policy was disastrous for the country as a whole. It was aimed primarily at Catholics, but discerning Protestants came to realise that it would eventually cause the ruin of themselves as well as of their Catholic fellow-countrymen. It made the rectification of almost any public grievance practically impossible and left the country seething with injustices and discontent. In 1791, twenty distinguished Protestants came together and planned to meet the situation by inaugurating a body that would include Irishmen of all creeds and classes, united for the promotion of their common interests, and specifically for the reform of a very corrupt Parliament and for the emancipation of Catholics. This body was known as the United Irish Society. It spread rapidly. It reached a membership of 500,000 in a very short time. This was the last thing on earth that England wanted. Though the Society was legal and constitutional, steps were taken at once to stamp it out. As early as 1792, less than a year after its inception, by means of packed juries, heavy fines and long terms of imprisonment were being inflicted on leading members for the crime of criticising the corrupt constitution of Parliament. Later a savage campaign of terrorism was let loose on the general, defenceless population. A lustful, alien soldiery was quartered and billeted among the homes of the people, with permission and encouragement to flog, pitch-cap, and press-gang and drive the people by every means into an insurrection that it was expected could easily suppressed. Re-acting to the Government's measures the society changed its character and began arming its members. Arms of one kind or another were supplied to as many as 300,000 men of whom 110,000 were resident in the northern counties, showing clearly that there was nothing sectarian about the movement.
It is interesting to note that this county (Kildare) was so highly organised, that it had over 60,000 enrolled. This was largely due to the residence here of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. The British nearly overshot their mark, for if the other counties had risen and fought with the same determination and tenacity as did Kildare and Wexford, there would have been an end to British rule in Ireland. Failure was not due to want of numbers on the part of the insurgents, neither was it due to the inferior quality of their arms, primitive as they were. It was due to want of thorough preparation, and above all a system of spying and informing organised by the British Secret Service and operating in the highest ranks of the insurgents and in other unsuspecting quarters.
This enabled the British to effect unexpected arrests of leaders, and to anticipate military actions, as they were kept informed well beforehand of important military moves that were decided upon. Thus the plans of the insurgents were thrown into utter confusion, and they were rendered incapable of using their strength. The men of the 1916-21 were much more successful in their handling of the British Secret Service. It is never too late to learn.
The Insurrection was fixed for the 23rd May, 1798. The signal was to be the simultaneous stopping of the mail coaches that left Dublin Post Office daily for Belfast, Cork, Athlone and Limerick. That stoppage was duly carried out. On the 23rd May the mail coaches and burnt at Santry, Naas, Lucan and the Curragh and the rising began. At the commemoration meetings held during the past couple of months at different parts of the country you have heard the story of the fighting at Prosperous, Clane, Kilcock, Maynooth, Rathangan, Timahoe, Monasterevan, and so on. The attack on Naas was made on the 24th May by a body of insurgents led by Michael Reynolds, whose memory you honour to-day. He was a young farmer from the neighbourhood of Johnstown. He was previously active in organising the county and held the rank of Colonel. The town was garrisoned by the Armagh militia, part of a regiment of Dragoons, the Ancient Britons (a Welsh regiment), and Yeomanry, and was warned beforehand of the impending insurgent attack.
Michael Reynolds led three attacks which were pressed with great courage and determination. But finally discipline and superior armament prevailed and the insurgents were forced to retire with a loss of 140 men. On the withdrawal of the insurgents the British took revenge on the town by what is described by Father O'Hanlon, the historian, as disgraceful executions and excesses. In other words, by the butchery of those in the town who sympathised or were suspected of sympathising with the United Irishmen. Michael Reynolds and his men fell back to Wicklow. He himself fell during the attack on Hacketstown. Fighting in Kildare ceased with the surrender made at Sallins on the 21st July.
The Insurrection of 1798, and other such movements that followed in its track are not to be judged in retrospect as isolated and unconnected events, and pronounced on according to the immediate military victories of defeats. The end of the first and second world wars atoned and compensated for colossal initial defeats by an ultimate victory on the part of one of the belligerents, known as the Allies. So, too, in the case of Ireland. The movements of 1798, 1848 and 1916-21 are to be viewed as part of a whole not yet completed, where the inspiration and knowledge of what is needed for success is drawn from the valour, self-sacrifice and methods of those who first faced the foe. In other words the great campaign for freedom there are lessons to be learned and applied. Things that are found worthy of imitation and also things carefully to be avoided. So we find justification in our day for the scorn and contempt, deservedly poured on the Knaves and Slaves, unworthy of the name of Irishmen who hang their head in shame at the mention of those brave men who kindled that blaze that does not die, but lives on in the hearts of the people, and will eventually destroy alien rule in our land. Without the Tones and Fitzgeralds, McCrackens and Russels and men like Michael Reynolds in 1798 who faced the foe despite the odds, there would have been no 1916-21, and without '21 no onward march which the people of Ireland will take good care will not cease, till every trace of slavery and subjection to alien rule and influence has been blotted out.
The merit of men like Michael Reynolds lives in the fact that they had vision and faith in their countrymen and foresaw the effect of their actions. They proved that it is possible to raise up this dominant race, no matter how trampled under foot in mud and blood ― possible to bind them together for their mutual protection, to inspire them with self-reliance and a striking power of which even powerful enemies must take account. They showed too, that in this land, those who strive for freedom have never cause to despair, for Ireland, given the opportunity, can always raise up men who will take the glorious risk of leading the way to victory, in spite of difficulty and danger.
I would strongly urge the young men of Kildare to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the lives of the young leaders of '98, '48 and 1916-21. The object to which these men dedicated themselves, and for which so many of them gave their lives, has been through the inspiration of their example, carried far on the way to success. This object should be as dear to the men of to-day as it was to them. Don't forget that there is still grave and urgent work to be done. Work requiring foresight, determination and self-reliance ― needing, too, the energy, enthusiasm and leadership of the young generation. Nowhere is the inspiration for this work more surely to be found than in the patriotic cycle which starts with 1798, with its splendid vision of a national union of hearts and hands ― with the sun of freedom shining brightly on a peaceful, prosperous, happy and united people.
Irishmen reading the lives of those young leaders will be astounded at their intellectual and moral stature. They will wonder at the meanness, depravity and malice of enemies who have striven to discredit them, and to brand them as brainless, crazy fools. These young men stood head and shoulders over their compeers in the professions to which they belonged, and which they, in many cases sacrificed, together with liberty and life for the sake of the country they loved. Study the lives of Tone, Emmet, Fitzgerald, of McCracken, Russel and Orr, of Davis, Duffy, Mitchel and Meagher, of Pearce and half a hundred of others. In no nation on earth will you find such thrilling examples of devotion to truth and justice, nowhere such hatred of oppression, unqualified spirit of sacrifice, unconquerable love of country.
If you seek an antidote to the poisons of this era, to self-seeking selfishness, hypocrisy, sham and shoneenism, you will find it in the story of their aspirations and achievements. If there is any body of men more than another to whom I recommend this study, it is to those who have taken on themselves the profession of arms, whether in the National Army or the Local Defence, and have sworn to defend their country's flag even at the sacrifice of their lives. Ireland will be glad to know, and to feel that these men are in spirit and conviction, and not merely in outward form, descendents of the heroes of '98. Ireland's real defence in every hour of danger. See that your county and branch libraries, as well as libraries at the Curragh and other garrisons in the county are fully stocked with these works, and that the thoughtful study of them is encouraged. But if the study of the leaders of '98 is of importance, no less worthy of consideration are certain serious events that provided a setting for the revolt, at that time. England's difficulties at the end of the 18th century forced the concession of a native government. Just as England's international difficulties contributed to the victory of 1921.
But England in 1782 took the precaution of placing more than tree-fourths of the power of government in the hands of the hereditary enemies of the people. These were a group of a hundred families, closely related by blood and marriage and social position, an infamous, traitorous group that disbanded and disarmed the National Army at the first opportunity and garrisoned the country with foreign troops. Then when the way was clear and safe they sold the country for bribes into a more soul-destroying slavery than it had been delivered from only two decades before. This narration has an unpleasant resemblance to things that claim our attention in our land to-day. Our National Army has not been disbanded, but the foreign troops are on our soil. Our native government is intact, but a foreign satellite state has been established in the invaded part of our country. This hired British garrison, disguised as Irishmen, for the discrediting of our people, displays the same antiquated policy of disunion that was practiced by their paymaster in the penal times. Sectarian strife is fomented, mutual distrust generated among citizens, civil and religious rights are denied to those who call themselves Irishmen and act as such. This whole situation is not merely irritating to the country, it is a danger as we know from the past ― a danger not merely to be noted and commented on, but to be actively resisted and dealt with without delay.
No other nation in the world would be asked to tolerate such a disturbing condition of things in their midst. France, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg; even Russia, whose territories are no longer invaded, demand additional security against the possible revival of German power.
Is it unreasonable that Ireland should at last be freed from the invasion of a power that has treated our people, not merely in ages past, but up to our own day, with a savage brutality that has no parallel in the history of civilised States. This position created and maintained in six of our counties is a pestilence that is contaminating and poisoning the economic, industrial, social and political life of the whole country. It is an act so hostile, that it constitutes England the only serious, real and active enemy we have in the world. There should be no mincing of words about that. Attempts of English spokesmen to evade full and unqualified responsibility in this matter are an exhibition of fraud and make-believe that is beneath contempt, and should be a warning to all those who have any dealings with them. There are many conceivable ways in which approach may be made to the righting of this infamous injustice imposed on our people. If we have the spirit, vision and determination of the men of '98 ― the men we honour in this commemoration, with the opportunities we have, a successful way will soon be found of ending this gross outrage against the dignity and safety of the nation.
At this conclusion, Mr. O'Donoghue, who presided, thanked the various bodies and individuals, who had co-operated so whole-heartedly in making the Commemoration the success that it was. He conveyed his particular thanks to Father Burbage for coming there at great inconvenience to himself, to deliver the oration. They were all aware of Father Burbage's great National record, and his work for Ireland, which had endeared him to the hearts of young and old in every county in Ireland.
Mr. O'Donoghue also complimented the energetic committee, headed by Mr. Padraigh Crowley, for their splendid work in the organisation of the Commemoration and the townspeople for their co-operation in adorning the town. The people of Kildare should feel proud of their record in 1798. They were the first county to throw aloft the banner of rebellion and they were the last county to surrender, and then only on honourable terms. They had fought valiantly and courageously throughout the struggle and even in other counties they had lent a willing hand to banish the oppressors from their land. He hoped that the lessons of '98 would not be forgotten, and that the deeds and exploits of those heroes would be enshrined in their hearts, and that the ideals for which they fought would ever be a beacon light for generations to come.
Also on the platform were Very Rev. P. J. Doyle, P.P.; Very Rev. E. Campion, P.P., Kill; Rev. C. Phelan, C.C.; Rev. G. Brophy, C.C., Naas; An Tanaiste, Mr. William Norton, T.D.; Messrs. T. Harris, T.D., and G. Sweetman, T.D.; Colonel Collins Powell, Commandant Weddick, Senator Michael Smyth, Mr. James Dunne, Kill; Mrs. Higgins, U.D.C.; Messrs. L. McGarr, U.D.C.; J. Taylor, P.C.; John Monohan, J.P. Whyte, Town Clerk, Naas.
A letter of apology, regretting inability to attend was read from Rev. Dr. Irwin, Lucan, one of the patrons of the Commemoration.


A report from the Leinster Leader of 9 October 1948 on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Naas in 1798. Re-typed by Chris Holzgräwe

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