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May 28, 2009



Sunday 31st May
          The fourth County Kildare Book Fair will take place on Sunday afternoon, the 31st May in Kildare Town. This will be an opportunity for those interested in history and heritage as well as the general population who are interested in books and reading in general to visit a Rare Books Fair outside of Dublin. It is being organised by the Kildare Collections and Research Services, Kildare County Library and Arts Service in conjunction with Kildare Town Heritage Centre, Kildare Parish Centre, Kildare County Council, the Kildare Classic Car Association and Lyonshill Books. According to Local Studies Librarian, Mario Corrigan, "there is an enormous interest in Dublin and other areas in this sort of event and after the success of the first three County Kildare Book Fairs 2006 - 2008 we in County Kildare are looking forward to the event. It is an ideal opportunity also for anyone who has not yet visited the Kildare Retail Outlet Village to come to the town and see what is on offer."
           The main event is free and open to all and will allow people to browse the books on offer in The Kildare Parish Centre. "The idea is to encourage people to walk through Kildare Town, visit Kildare Cathedral and thoroughly enjoy the day," said Mario Corrigan who has published a Sli na Slainte and Heritage Trail of Kildare Town and is anxious that people enjoy the experience that Kildare, the Heritage Town has to offer. This year there will also be the added attraction of a free Walking Tour of Kildare Town at 1 p.m.
          Eddie Murphy of Lyonshill Books is delighted to be able to add County Kildare to a growing list of Book Fairs that he and his colleagues have orchestrated. "It is an immensely pleasurable experience, whereby people can browse the stalls and hopefully with this new initiative in Kildare Town take in some of the rich heritage of such an historic setting - maybe pause in the local shops or the local cafes and pubs for a coffee and even visit the Outlet Village for a unique shopping experience. We do hope this year proves to be as successful as last year when we had a great turn out," said Mr. Murphy.
           So why not take an afternoon break on Sunday 31st May and come to Kildare Town to the County's Rare Books Fair - maybe in search of a unique gift or just to amble through the historic streets and enjoy the experience. Why not enjoy the unique shopping experience that is ‘Kildare Retail Outlet Village,’ and Kildare Town Heritage Centre has a host of collectibles and gift ideas to wet your appetite.
          The Kildare Classic and Vintage Car Association will be on-hand as Sunday 31st May is the date for their annual Gordon Bennett Commemorative Rally and the cars will be parked on the Market Square during the afternoon – most of the cars arriving around 3 pm. All in all it is an ideal day out.


Kildare and the Spanish Civil War
 James Durney
The Spanish Civil war was one of the most controversial conflicts of the last century and also one of the bloodiest. When the war broke out in July 1936 The Times judged it an anachronistic struggle irrelevant to modern Europe. Spain was seen as a fading power, stifled by a regressive society and subject to the sort of social and political extremism which modern Europe had outgrown. However, far from being irrelevant to Europe, the devastation of Spain by the forces of fascism, communism and nationalism foreshadowed the Second World War. It has even been argued that Spain marked the beginning of the war against fascism – an interpretation implicitly critical of the democratic states for standing aside while a fascist rebellion overthrew a legally elected government.
On 20 July 1936 reports of a rebellion by army officers in Spain appeared in Irish newspapers. The Irish Independent, which would become the loudest cheerleader of the pro-Franco lobby, warned that a victory for the Spanish government would lead to a ‘Soviet State’ and urged its readers to support the Nationalists ‘who stand for the ancient faith and traditions of Spain’. The somewhat less gung-ho Irish Press also approved of Franco. His rebellion ‘must have a large measure of public support’ because of the republican government’s anti-clericalism – ‘churches have been burned, schools secularised, Communistic schemes carried out’. Clergy, politicians and the provincial and Catholic press echoed these concerns more forcefully. The Leinster Leader was decidedly pro-Franco and Our Rome Letter column regularly dealt with events in Spain from the Nationalist side. In August Naas UDC passed a resolution expressing horror and condemnation at the shocking crimes which were being perpetrated in Spain. The mover of the resolution, Mr Lacy, said that Irish public bodies unfortunately could do very little to bring succour to those who were being murdered for their Faith by the so-called Spanish government today, but that could not prevent them from giving expression to their horror of the crimes against God and civilised society that were daily committed in that country.
Why were the Irish people so interested in the war? Essentially because Spain was seen as a religious rather than a political conflict. Most people knew little about Spain or its complicated politics when Franco’s rebellion broke out. But Spain was regarded, like Ireland, as a historically Catholic nation. For a number of years the Irish bishops and Catholic press had portrayed Spain as a Catholic state besieged by communism and atheism. When the civil war began the complexities of the conflict were largely ignored. That the Republic comprised not just communists, but socialists, liberals, middle-class progressives, landless labourers, workers, Catalonians and Catholic Basques, was little reported. Similarly, that Franco’s Nationalists comprised not just much of the clergy but a reactionary coalition of fascists, army officers, landowners and industrialists was not much remarked on. Instead public debate was dominated by the anti-clerical violence that swept Republican Spain after Franco’s rebellion when twelve bishops, about 4,000 priests, 2,000 monks and 300 nuns were murdered. The sensational press reports of these atrocities, often embellished in highly emotive accounts, had an enormous impact on Catholic Ireland.
Within weeks the Irish hierarchy was calling for Franco’s victory. In the face of this strong pro-Franco consensus, a tiny campaign of support for the Spanish Republic, organised by a small number of left-wing republicans and communists struggled to be heard. By the autumn of 1936 pro-Franco meetings were sweeping the country and two military brigades were preparing to fight each other in Spain. General Eoin O’Duffy vowed to raise an Irish Brigade, complete with the field hospital ambulance units, supported by aeroplanes, and the recognised quota of soldiers to accompany such units and there would be no objection to this country supplying such units. ‘I will lead the brigade myself,’ he said. ‘If two men go to Spain I will be one of them.’
October’s Leinster Leader had an account under the heading Irish nun’s heroism. Link with Naas. As the last British subjects left the town of Zalla, near Bilbao, as Republican forces advanced, an Irish nun stayed on saying a captain does not forsake his ship in the hour of danger.’ Mother O’Mahoney was Mother Superior of the Convent School run by the Sisters of Loreto. She was the daughter of former editor of the Leinster Leader, William Weldon O’Mahoney, and niece of Mrs J. Gibbons, Woodstock St, Athy, who was also an ex-Leader staff member. Educated in Loreta House, Dublin, Mother O’Mahoney had lived in Naas as a child for some years
The reaction of Irish Protestants to events in Spain, in contrast to Irish Catholics, was more muted. The Irish Times, to some extent still the organ of Protestant imperial opinion, adopted a mild pro-Republican stance and reported the atrocities of both sides. In Northern Ireland, unionists generally looked unfavourably on both Franco and the Republic but many unionist leaders attributed Spain’s difficulties to the malign influences of both Catholicism and republicanism. The Spanish Civil War was to be ‘a war between Christ and anti-Christ’. A branch of the Irish Christian Front was organised firstly at Naas, and then Newbridge and Athy. Meetings were well attended and in May 1937 Reverend Fr Henry Gabana, a refugee priest from Barcelona, addressed a large gathering in Naas under the heading Red Lies about Spain. Mass collections around the county were also conducted for the Spanish refugees. A collection at Naas in October 1936 yielded £50, including £12 from Sallins parish.
In August 1936 General Eoin O’Duffy, the former Garda Commissioner and Blueshirt leader, announced the formation of an Irish Brigade to fight for Franco. O’Duffy claimed he was motivated by the historic links between Ireland and Spain, anti-communism and the need to defend the Catholic Church. But O’Duffy, a failed politician, was also motivated by his fascist beliefs and a desire to resuscitate his own political career. His proposal was very popular. By late August he claimed to have received 7,000 applications although due to numerous complications, only 700 of those made it to Nationalist Spain. Most of the Brigade’s officers, former Blueshirts and member’s of O’Duffy’s National Corporate Party, were motivated by fascism or loyalty to their leader. Some of the volunteers sought adventure or, as one priest put it, a change from ‘standing around staring at the pump’. However, the great majority were genuinely motivated by the belief that the Spanish civil war was a religious crusade against communism. There were predominantly young men from rural Ireland and few of them would have been exposed to any other analysis of the conflict. As one teenager wrote to his mother:
‘I didn’t want to tell you I was coming here that day because I was afraid you wouldn’t like it… I have a feeling you hate me for it, but after all, what I have done is for Our Lord, and if I die it will only be for the best.’
Newspaper accounts convey the atmosphere of militant Catholicism as the volunteers left Ireland. Large crowds gathered to sing ‘Faith of Our Fathers’ as the volunteers were blessed by priests and handed out Sacred Heart badges, miraculous medals and prayer books. The Brigade’s organisers told the volunteers they ‘were part of a crusade prepared to fight under the banner of the Cross to help deliver Spain’. Most were to find the war a very different kind of crusade from what they imagined.
Irish Brigade recruits came mainly from small-town, rural Ireland. Though Leinster contributed nearly a third of the overall total, this was largely derived from urban Dublin as the other eastern counties showed a poor response. Several volunteers from Kildare served in O’Duffy’s Irish Brigade - known as the XV Bandera (battalion) - among them Lieut. Peter Lawler, Naas, Sgt. B. Brogan, Sgt. Pat Dunny, Newbridge, Sgt J. Byrne, Rathasker Road, Naas, Patrick Daly, St Michael’s Terrace, Naas, (St Michael’s was known locally as Blueshirt Alley), Joe Curran, Abbey Terrace, Naas, William O’Neill and W. Mooney, Naas, and Bill Doran, Curragh. A Nurse MacGoirsk, originally from Co. Monaghan, but living at Garrisker Heights, Moyvalley, also left Kildare for Spain. She sailed to Spain in mid-February 1937 and was one of those who stayed behind in June 1937 to nurse the Irish wounded. Dozens of the volunteers were men who had left the National Army after the demobilisation and mutiny in 1924 and one in five of the volunteers had previous military experience. Patrick Daly, was formerly secretary of the Co. Kildare League of Youth, and served in the National Army; Joe Curran, also served in the National Army, and William O’Neill was a member of the local Volunteers. The persecution of fellow Catholics and the destruction of churches and religious objects by the Spanish Republicans was the reason most gave as to why they joined O’Duffy’s Irish Brigade.
Peter Lawler from Halverstown, Naas, had immigrated to New Zealand in 1910 as an electrical engineer and joined the Australian marines in 1914 after the outbreak of the Great War. He served in New Guinea and the South Pacific fighting against German troops and native conscripts. Lawler later fought in the Dardanelles, where he survived twenty-four hours in the water, after his ship was sunk. He was captured by the Turks, but later escaped. After the war he returned to Ireland and fought against the British in the Tan War. He was commissioned by Michael Collins and was first OC Plunkett Barracks, the Curragh. He left the National Army during the Mutiny of 1924 and travelled to America, before returning to Ireland. He was one of the only officers to accompany the Irish Brigade from Galway, where around 500 men had embarked on their German transport, its swastika flying, during a severe storm. The storm that raged that weekend was one of the worst in living memory and for the majority of the Irish Brigade it would represent the worst ordeal that most of them would face on their Spanish crusade.
Meanwhile O’Duffy was on a sight-seeing tour rather than preparing his troops for front-line duty. On 13 December he attended a bull-fight in Seville. He wrote in his diary ‘he was not impressed’. The following day he explored the vineyards and sherry factory of a local duke - ‘most interesting’ he wrote. On 15 December he inspected the Falange headquarters in Seville and the city’s famous cathedral – a ‘wonderful structure’ O’Duffy wrote. The arrival of the main contingent of volunteers, on 20 December, precipitated a day of parades, receptions and over-boisterous celebration. He wrote addressed ‘full parade… following complaints.’
Despite his men’s arrival O’Duffy’s leisurely pace of life continued. On 22 december he motored out to the country. The following day was devoted to lectures, presentations, and getting measured for his uniform. Christmas Day was celebrated by a ‘parade to St Domingo Church, 3 masses and Benediction.’ The afternoon was spent ‘meeting and greeting local officials’ and addressing his men after dinner – a ‘remarkable reception’ he wrote ‘remained for 2 hours’. The entry for 29 December merely records: ‘Fit on uniform.’ On New Year’s Eve, O’Duffy hosted a party attended by the austere commander of the Foreign Legion, Col. Yague. New Year’s Day proved equally agreeable: ‘First parade of Irish Bde in uniform and carrying arms… Looked very smart. My own first public appearance in uniform.’ On 3 January he set out on what he described as an official tour of the province in search of a well-known Irish monastery:
‘Reception and ovation at every village en route… tricolour everywhere in evidence – parades of thousands of schoolchildren… received by Rector Franciscans’ outside church by cheering crowds… spent 4 hours viewing… church and cloisters – with £50,000 vestments, chalice, speeches by Rector, judges, military, Governor and a reply by me. Return journey – most edifying. Road lined with troops al the way from Guadalupe to Cararcas.’ The next two days were spent recovering: ‘In bed, sore throat,’ he wrote. On and on it went – parades, reviews, drives in the country.
Meanwhile, the Spanish were not impressed by the behaviour of some of the Irish Brigade. They were shocked by the sight of these idealists, and frequent church-goers, drinking and having ‘one too many’. Public drunkenness, common enough in Ireland, was taboo in Spanish society. The Irishmen had smashed up the local café on more than one occasion and the local police had to be called out several times to escort them off the premises. The war correspondent Francis McCullagh accompanied one officer to Lisbon to meet a contingent of Irishmen in late December. Moved by the sight of row after row of ruddy Irish faces at the bulwark, singing ‘Faith of Our Fathers’ as the ship entered the harbour, he recalled ‘the many ship loads of my countrymen who had come this way to France, Spain and Portugal, during the last 400 years, all of them swordsmen destined to fight under foreign leaders, in wars not theirs, and to die for causes of which they knew nothing.’ This romantic reverie was ruined, however, when some of the volunteers ‘jumped ashore, got drunk, fought the police, and caused an awful scandal along the whole waterfront.
Lt Peter Lawler, Naas, witnessed equally embarrassing scenes when the main contingent broke their journey in Salamanca, later described to Peter Kemp who wrote Mine Were of Trouble. Lawler’s men were overcome by their reception hosted by Nationalist officials in Salamanca and the readily availability of wine: ‘I knew it was going to be sheer bloody murder with the boys drinking all that wine on empty stomachs… I tried to see if I couldn’t get them some food, but it was no use. Sure enough, when the time came to get back into the train the boys were so drunk it was all we could do to push them into it. And even that wasn’t the end of our troubles… all the time the band was playing, there was one of our lads – as drunk as a coot he was – leaning out of the carriage window being sick all down the neck of an old General. And the old boy – I was watching him – stood there like a rock at the salute through it all.’
O’Duffy’s men admired but failed to emulate the Spanish custom of spending hours over a glass of beer. ‘Whatever the drink our lads consumed it without delay and left the café,’ one volunteer wrote, ‘a custom the inhabitants could not understand at all.’ Unfortunately, water was always in short supply and had to be boiled first, not always easy. Wine, unfortunately, was more plentiful and more excessible.
After a period of training and acculturation the Irish Brigade – now officially mustered at 663 men - went into the line in February 1937 at the small town of Ciempozuelos where they would spend the next five weeks. The small town, 40 miles south of Madrid, had been the scene of vicious fighting on 5 February when a battalion of Moroccan troops overwhelmed a larger Republican force. As was customary the Moors had taken no prisoners: 1,300 Republicans were killed, many by the knife, and the town had been looted. Any relief the Irishmen felt on reaching their destination must have been countered by their first sight of this town of the dead. One of the brigade’s first unsettling duties was to bury the hundreds of decomposing corpses scattered throughout the town. It was a stark introduction to the Spanish Civil War, whose savagery appalled the idealistic Irish crusaders.
The Irish Brigade’s section of the front, running just below the crest of a range of low hills overlooking the Jarama valley, was not excessively exposed, but it was shelled daily and sniped at by international brigade soldiers from the opposing lines. Some of the later claimed to have communicated with their fellow Irishmen across the trenches. One recalled that ‘Frank Ryan used to speak on the speaker, he says ‘Irishmen go home! Your fathers would turn in their graves if they knew you had come to fight for imperialism!’ Aside from such taunts, the brigade endured freezing nights and inadequate uniforms, which soon led to an epidemic of rheumatism, pleurisy and colds. At one point over 150 men were hospitalised. The shallow, poorly constructed trenches provided little protection from the torrential rain and the men also suffered from the normal privations of the front: lice, filth, bad food and shortages of water. O’Duffy did not expose himself to these conditions; during the five weeks his men were stationed in Ciempozuelos, he made only six brief visits to the front.
Joe Curran, on his return to Naas and in an interview with a Leinster Leader reporter, said that the Volunteers had to suffer severe hardships going over to Spain, but when they reached the headquarters of the forces they got a rousing reception, and all along the way they were greeted by cheering crowds. They then went into training at Caceres for two months and subsequently took over the trenches from the Moors. At Ciempozuelos an incident occurred which reflected the highest credit on all the volunteers concerned. One evening the volunteers were having a hasty meal in the ruins of a church when one of the volunteers on going to a window was greeted by fusillade of shots. Willy O’Neill, a Naas man, immediately took up his rifle and accompanied by Joe Curran, and a few more of the Bandera, went out in search of the sniper. After a thorough search Pte O’Neill discovered him hiding behind a wall, and advancing held him up with his rifle and forced him to give up the revolver, which he held in his hand. He then marched him down through the streets of the town to the camp. The next morning the man was shot dead.
            The general complaint, however, was the scarcity of food, and even water was scarce, and when found was often found to be undrinkable, some of the wells been found to be full of corpses. It was around Lamoracos that the Vvolunteers went into the heaviest fighting and lost most. Advancing to the enemy lines they came under heavy fire from Russian artillery, and when came close to the trenches were met by machine gun fire. They took the trenches and captured a number of guns. It was here that Volunteer Horan, of Tralee was killed, a shell having landed practically beside him and narrowly missing some of the Naas volunteers who had just passed the place.
            Legionnaire O’Neill’s story was somewhat corroborative of the others. He had found evidence of convents being ransacked and their inmates brutally murdered, while ruined churches and broken statues decorated with communistic emblems were to be found on all sides. The legionnaire showed the Leinster Leader reporter portion of the vestment of a murdered priest, which he had picked up on his way.
The complaints about the extremely bad food supplied to the volunteers was general. Not only that but they seldom got even any kind of food, while some of the men manning the front line trenches were in rags. This was in contrast to the treatment meted out to the Spanish Volunteers who were well clothed and fed. The hardship entailed induced many volunteers to express a wish to leave the country, and besides there was continual wrangling going on between the officers of the Bandera as to the rank they held. This disunity disheartened and discouraged the general body of the volunteers. Liam O’Neill stated that General O’Duffy seldom went near the front line trenches, and that the story published in the daily newspapers about the narrow escape of the General when a shell landed near a dugout which he had occupied was totally untrue.
            The volunteers received pay amounting in English money to about 2 shillings 6 pence a week. They discovered that many of their letters had never been posted, but nevertheless their postage money which they had handed in with their letters had never been refunded by the responsible authorities. A bonus had been promised the volunteers when leaving the country, but it never materialised, and most of the volunteers returned much poorer than when they went. Referring to the fighting qualities of the foreign troops with General Franco, the Volunteer said that the Germans were outstanding soldiers, well-disciplined and fearless in the face of danger, while the Italians also fought well.
After an accidental brief skirmish with a unit from their own side, in which they lost two killed and several wounded, morale had plummeted and the Irish Brigade was divided on what course of action they should be taking. Most wanted to return to Ireland and two other prominent leaders had emerged to make a bid for O’Duffy’s mantle. The Spanish were also not pleased with the results of the Irish Brigade, blaming them for the mistake at Jarama when it was probably the fault of their own side. They wanted the Irish Brigade broken up and the men divided among the Foreign Legion. Spanish commanders made it clear that they preferred if most of the officers were returned to Ireland. On April 24 the XV Bandera were taken out of the line and billeted in Talavera, for their return home. On June 20 their transport tied up at Dublin’s North Wall. The reception on the quayside was muted. Customs officials and Gardai awaited them and searched their belongings for arms, seizing several handguns brought home by officers as souvenirs. The XV Bandera formed up to march into the city, not in their customary four companies, but in two rival columns, one headed by O’Duffy and the other by his disaffected officers. Outside the dock gates a large reception committee of relatives, friends and party officials awaited them. They were applauded all the way to the Mansion House where an official reception laid on by Dublin Corporation and Diocese awaited them.
Ireland’s Catholic crusade was over. Six men of the Irish Brigade had died in action, while around a dozen had also died of illness. Peter Lawler and several other officers and men stayed on after the repatriation of the Brigade. Lieut. Lawler was redeployed into another Bandera unit. He was wounded in the leg in fighting around Madrid. After contracting an illness in Caceres he was apparently released from his obligation and after a period in hospital he returned to Naas. Peter Lawler had spent eleven years in uniform, serving Britain - in the Australian armed forces - Ireland and Spain. Joe later served for many years as an ambulance driver in Naas Hospital. I asked his son Liam had he any photos of his father and he said the only one he had of Joe was in his ambulance uniform and in that he was – ironically enough – wearing a blue shirt.
            Following the formation of O’Duffy’s Irish Brigade, and partly in response, a smaller contingent of men left Ireland to fight for the Spanish Republic. Around 200 Irishmen fought with the XV International Brigade, a predominantly English-speaking Brigade, which included a British battalion and an American battalion. The Irish group were led by Frank Ryan, an IRA veteran and editor of An Phoblacht. They arrived in Spain mostly in groups crossing the border with France. Frank Ryan left Ireland from Dun Laoghaire on November 11 with a group of Republicans. (O’Duffy’s men set off two days later.) The Irish left’s contribution was made up of IRA veterans, socialists, communists and members of the Republican Congress. The majority were urban working class men, veterans of the street struggles between the left and the Blueshirts. Over a quarter hailed from Dublin, while the other cities of Ireland had a big representation. Frank Conroy, from Fair Green, Kildare town, working in Dublin at the time joined the Internationals, as did Frederick Patrick Gibb, who lived for some time in Dublin and then London. He served in the British battalion from July 1937, was captured and was repatriated in December 1938, but no real record has emerged of what he did during the war. Albert Taylor, born in 1901, was originally from Kildare and then lived in Liverpool. He arrived in Spain on February 11 1937 and also served with the British Battalion.
            The men of the ‘Connolly Column,’ as they became known, fought for a variety of motives – anti-fascism, the defence of Spanish democracy, revolutionary idealism, loyalty to the Communist Party and adventure. As with the Irish Brigade there was some discrepancy between the propaganda of its organisers and their real motives. Both sides, although based close to one another on either side of the Jarama front, met with very different experiences.
Frank Conroy, Kildare, was in action with No. 1 Company, of the emerging British battalion, sent to plug a gap in the front at Andalusia. On December 26, after a hasty Christmas dinner the previous day, the British company of which about 40 men were Irish, advanced towards the village of Lopera, a few kilometres west of Andujar. Fighting here was fierce and casualties were heavy. The Irish alone lost eight killed and several wounded. Among those killed was Kildareman Frank Conroy. Frank Ryan wrote that: “Frank Conroy fought like a hero that day.”A vivid account of the fighting, written by one of the participants, Donal O’Reilly, was published in the Republican Congress newspaper the Irish Democrat. He wrote, taking up the account on the day before the Irishmen went to the front, “Conroy, Fox and May can’t be stopped taking down and cleaning their “Betsy” (machine-gun). A comradeship of heroes.” (O’Reilly was writing about Frank Conroy, and Dubliners Tony Fox and Michael May, all fellow workers who had left Dublin together.)
“The company forms and moves to the attack. A V-shaped movement with the Irish advancing on the left flank. Kit Conway is fair bursting to get to grips, but first must lend two of our best gunners – May and Conroy – to the French battalion. We move through the olive groves with the zing-zung of the bullets playing a tune. Occasionally a snick as a bullet clips off a cluster of leaves. Out from the friendly trees, down a short valley crossing a stream, then up, up, among the hills … We move to the crest. The fire is terrific. The language is terrific. Joe Monks is hit. Prendergast’s and Dinny Coady’s guns are shot to pieces. Bits of guns fly and we think we’re all hit.”
However, a major crisis developed when the Irishmen found that the British officer who led them at the Lopera action was an ex-Black and Tan, who had been involved in the killing of two Sinn Fein officials in Limerick. The Irish volunteers refused to serve under this man or any other British officers. After much dissension, splits in the ranks and some violence, they were switched to the American Lincoln Battalion, which also had a strong Irish representation. Other Irishmen fought with the British battalion or in other units of the Internationals until November 1937 when the International Brigades, after suffering severe casualties, were demobilised. By then only 150 members of the English-speaking battalions were present at the farewell parade in Barcelona on November 15. Of the Irish contingent only fifteen were present at the historic occasion. Fifty-nine Irishmen would not be going home. They had died in Spain fighting for their beliefs. Another 114 were wounded while 12 were captured, including Frank Ryan, who was captured at the battle of Aragon and died in captivity in Germany in 1944. Christy Moore paid tribute to the Irishmen of the International Brigades with his poignant song Vive la quinta brigada. In the final verse he names Frank Conroy, his fellow countyman, “who fought and died in Spain”.


Notes from a talk given by James Durney on the subject of Kildare and the Spanish Civil War.


Kildare People Aboard the Titanic
James Durney
Titanic 27 April1912 Kildare Observersmall.jpg
Kildare Observer 27 April 1912
On the night of 14 April 1912 the newly-launched passenger liner Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank with the loss of 1,523 passengers and crew. The Titanic was built at Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast and sailed on its maiden voyage from Southampton calling at the ports of Cherbourg and Queenstown (Cobh). The Kildare Carpet Company, based at Millbrook, Naas, supplied some of the carpets for the Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic. The Kildare Observer of 27 April reported on the Titanic disaster:
The figures given by the president of the Board of Trade confirm the returns already published about the awful loss of life caused by the sinking of the Titanic. Altogether 815 passengers and 688 members of the crew lost their lives. Out of a total of 416 female passengers, 315, or 76 per cent., were saved. The crew included 23 women, and of these 21, or 91 per cent., were saved. Altogether 493 passengers, or 38 per cent. of the total, and 210 members of the crew, or 23 per cent., were saved. Judging by the sensational incident at Southampton on Wednesday when a number of firemen left the Olympic, alleging that the collapsible boats were not seaworthy, the Titanic disaster has created a feeling of nervousness among seasoned seamen.
James Kelly
On 23 April the Mackay-Bennett search vessel picked up the body of Leixlip man James Kelly. The Mackay-Bennetts crew was so overwhelmed by the scope of its recovery that it was decided to bury some bodies at sea. Some 116 bodies were buried at sea and 190 brought back to Halifax, Nova Scotia. James Kelly’s body went back into the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean the following day when he was buried at sea in canvas sacking. His death was recorded as: ‘Body No. 70 Male estimated age 34. Hair and moustache light. Clothing – Dark suit, vest and trousers; white socks; black boots. Effects – Beads, left on body; comb; knife. No marks. Name – James Kelly.’
James Kelly was actually older than thirty-four. He was forty-five and his death plunged the family at home in Co. Kildare, into financial crisis as well as the deepest grief. Mrs Kate Kelly was struggling to feed the rest of the family. There was some money sent home from the eldest son, Tom, who was a sergeant in the Connaught Rangers, and mill-workers Catherine (18) and Mary (16) also handed up money, but this was not enough. There were three other children – Bridget (13) William (12) and James (7). James Kelly senior was emigrating to America to join his eldest daughter, Margaret (20), and planned to then send for the rest of the family when he gained employment.
James Kelly was born in Co. Kildare in 1867 and in the 1901 Census his employment was entered as a road labourer. He married Kate Goff on 31 January 1887 in Leixlip. Kate was born in Leixlip in 1863. In the 1911 Census James Kelly was recorded as a general labourer, who could not read, which was not uncommon at the time. The Kelly’s lived in a two-roomed house in the town. Kate Kelly applied for money from the Distress Fund and at a meeting of the Celbridge Board of Guardians in May was awarded 4s per week as relief. The sum of £12 had been subscribed towards the fund from the local church collection the previous Sunday.
The entire Kelly family later emigrated to America to join Margaret and other relatives. Margaret had been employed at the Strouse-Adler garment company in New Haven, New England, for two years and had sent the fare home (Ticket number 330911 – £7 12s 4d, plus 4s extra) for her father to join her in the United States. He planned to send for his wife and children in a few months when he was employed and had lodgings for them. The family had sold all their possessions in readiness for their move to America and with the death of James decided to go ahead with the original plan. Margaret’s company volunteered to be responsible to the immigration authorities that the family should not become public charges and they were admitted to the United States in June 1912. A huge crowd greeted the family at Union Station, New Haven, with banners saying ‘Welcome – Titanic Kellys.’
A specially-formed committee advanced $625 to pay for the passage and to meet the expenses of establishing a new home for the Kelly’s. Two of Margaret’s younger sisters, Catherine and Mary, were employed by the garment company, while the three remaining children were enrolled in a local Catholic school.
Further grief was visited on the family four years later when Sgt Tom Kelly died of wounds received in battle on 23 January 1916 in Mesopotamia. A military memorial in Basra, Iraq, bears his name. His sisters Margaret, Catherine, and Bridget all lost their husbands at an early age. James Kelly’s widow, Kate, died in 1955, aged ninety.
Patrick Gill
On Saturday 6 April 1912 the recruitment of the general crew for all departments on board the SS Titanic began in the union hiring halls in Southampton. Following a prolonged coal strike that had idled most ships, positions aboard the Titanic were highly sought after. Patrick Gill (38) was hired as a ship’s cook. Originally from Co. Kildare, Patrick Gill (possibly born in Enfield) lived at Waverly Road, Southampton, with his English wife. Patrick Gill was lost at sea during the disaster, but there are no records of his death. Of the fifty-one men listed as ‘Attendants, Barbers, Waiters, Ship’s Cooks, etc,’ only two survived. Nearly forty of these were Italian nationals employed as waiters from Gatti’s of London to work in the á la carte restaurant. None of these waiters survived. Patrick Gill is on this list as a ship’s cook. Only two of the dozen or so of his workmates survived.
Kildare Connections!
Norah Murphy
Norah Murphy (34), from Sallins, was travelling with Michael McEvoy, a nineteen-year-old Co. Laois born workman with whom she had recently taken up. Norah had been working as a “nurse domestic servant” in the household of Sallins publican John and Mary Healy and their six children. She and Michael McEvoy were travelling on the same ticket, which cost £15 10s and was purchased in Dublin by Michael, but were accommodated at opposite ends of the Titanic. Norah had signed aboard as a spinster, but local folklore in Sallins suggests she had a chequered past. She was born in Dublin City and it was rumoured she was married, though her entry in the 1911 Census was as a single woman.
In the chaos of the early morning of 15 April Norah was bundled into a lifeboat while Michael’s fate at the other end of the ship is unknown. His body was never found. Norah’s destination was originally a boarding house on East 50th Street, but following her rescue by the Carpathia indicated to customs and immigration officers that she intended to seek refuge at the Irish Immigrant Girls Home at 7 State Street, New York. Here Norah received some monetary assistance from the religious administrators of the home and also was given relief of $100 from the American Red Cross.
Norah Murphy later went to work for the father of American tennis star Karl Behr as a domestic. The position apparently had been arranged by Karl, a fellow Titanic survivor. He was saved in lifeboat 5, in which it is possible Norah was also an occupant, as the classes remained segregated on the Carpathia. Of the 709 third-class passengers only 175 were saved, compared to 198 of the 317 first class passengers and 112 of the 258 second class passengers saved.
Edward Pomeroy Colley
Dr William F. N. O’Loughlin
Ernest Waldron King
Edward Pomeroy Colley was born in Dublin in 1875 into a distinguished family with ties to Co. Kildare – Viscount Harberton (Ernest Arthur George Pomeroy), and Baron Harberton, of Carbury. Edward’s father, Henry Fitzgeorge Colley, was a magistrate and landlord, married to Elizabeth Isabella Wingfield. Edward was an engineer and land surveyor. During the Klondike Gold Rush he opened a mining brokerage firm in Vancouver and successfully speculated in mining stocks. Edward had business interests on both sides of the Atlantic and frequently travelled between Dublin and a home on Vancouver Island in Victoria’s affluent English Bay neighbourhood. He had been in Ireland for Christmas 1911 and was returning to Canada aboard the Titanic.
On the night of the sinking he attended a concert in the first class reception area on D Deck and retired to his cabin just after 11 p.m. He died on the morning of his thirty-seventh birthday. In the weeks thereafter, several women wrote to his family in Ireland claiming to have been his girlfriend or even fiancée. Reportedly he was one of the heroes who sacrificed his life for others in the disaster.
Dr William F. N. O’Loughlin, senior surgeon on board the Titanic was also lost at sea. Born in Tralee, Co. Kerry, in 1850, O’Loughlin gained his medical licence in 1869, but as he attended the Catholic University he could not obtain a medical degree, as his university had neither public endowment, nor a charter from the monarch enabling her to confer degrees. With his license to practise O’Loughlin began work in a dispensary medical service in Clane, Co. Kildare. He stayed in Kildare for eighteen months and then left to join the White Star Line when he was just twenty-one. William O’Loughlin was last seen at his post near the first-class entrance. Reports said he was resigned to his fate and had refused to put on a life jacket.
Standing with Dr O’Loughlin were a number of Irishman, including assistant purser Ernest Waldron King (28) from Clones, Co. Monaghan. His father was Rev. Thomas Waldron King, the Church of Ireland rector at Currin, Clones, Co. Monaghan, who with Mrs King, was in charge of the Straffan Estate Schools for many years. Ernest had received his early education at Straffan. He had been unemployed for a year before he secured work aboard the Titanic and signed on to the liner on 9 April. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Nova Scotia , where 121 victims of the Titanic are interred. There is an inscription on Waldron King’s headstone which reads: ‘Erected by Mr J. Bruce Ismay to commemorate a long and faithful service.’
Titanic 27 April 1912 Kildare Observersmall.jpg
 Kildare Observer 27 April 1912
Private John T. Young (33), based on the Curragh with the Connaught Rangers, was so overcome with grief at the loss of his younger brother Francis (30), on board the Titanic, that he shot himself. John Young had been a corporal and had recently been reduced to private. As a store man he slept alone in the store where he had access to a carbine which he used to inflict the mortal wound. The Young’s were natives of Castlebar, Co. Mayo.
The Rescuers
The brother of Newbridge-born crystallographer Kathleen Yardley Lonsdale, Fred Yardley, was one of the earliest wireless operators and apparently was the person who received the last signals from the Titanic.
William Fitzpatrick, the son of Thomas and Deborah Fitzpatrick, Lullymore, was a sailor on board the Cunard liner Carpathia which rescued 705 Titanic survivors. The Carpathia, sailing from New York, was the first ship to learn of the Titanic’s plight. She was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in July 1918, with a loss of five crew members.
One of those whose expert opinion was asked by the Inquiry was the Artic explorer, Kildare-born Ernest Shackleton. He, of course, would have had great knowledge of travelling through ice-packed seas. In January 1913 it was revealed that over $8 million in compensation claims had been filed by Titanic survivors and families against the White Star Line. 
Kildare Local Studies and Genealogy Department, Newbridge.
Census of 1901 & 1911.
Kildare Observer
The Irish Aboard the Titanic. Senan Molony. Dublin 2000.
The Riddle of the Titanic. Robin Gardiner & Dan Van Der Vat. London 1995.
Titanic. A Journey Through Time. John P. Eaton & Charles A. Haas. Somerset 1999.

James Durney uncovers some remarkable Kildare connections with the Titanic disaster. 

May 07, 2009


Leinster Leader July 21 1973
Down comes building and 300 years of history
A link with Kilcullen for over 300 years was ground into rubble in the past couple of weeks when the old Garda Barracks succumbed to the onslaughts of a demolition squad.
Generally regarded as about 300 years old, the building, owned by Messrs Brennan, had become dangerous and was demolished in the interest of public safety. It had a very chequered history and one of the oldest residents in the town gave a ‘Leader’ reporter quite a bit of it. Apparently, it was one of the original buildings to be raised near the Liffeyside at Kilcullen and served mainly as a residence (one of the “big houses” in the then village) until about 75 years ago when it was taken over by a Miss Clementine Egan as a Post Office.
It remained a Post Office until Miss Egan died, about 1914, when it was taken over by the R.I.C. as a barracks. With the coming of the War of Independence – and the Black and Tans – a squad of these most unwelcome visitors took it over as a barrack strongpoint, heavily fortified and in its own way, for various reasons, one of the most dreaded buildings in Kilcullen. Sandbagged and steel shuttered, it was attacked by the I.R.A. on at least one occasion but no serious damage was done to the structure which was vacated by the British Forces on the signing of the Treaty.
Next occupants were the members of the newly formed Garda Siochana. They moved in early in 1923 when a Sergt. Griffin was the first station sergeant; it was still used as a Garda station until about 1933 when the men in blue moved to their new Station on the Athy road.
After that it became the property of the Brennan family and was used as a hardware store until it became dangerous and the demolition squad was called in. The bulldozers revealed little in the way of souvenirs or mementos. An empty ·303 rifle bullet case and some used revolver shells as well as a shankless but other wise perfectly preserved clay pipe were the only items of interest uncovered by the bulldozer blade and shovels of the workers; the years had done their work well and for all its hectic history this old KIlcullen building had little to show of the very significant role it had played in the history of the town for 300 years.   

The Leinster Leader of July 21st 1973 reports on the demolition of a building which had a 300 year link with Kilcullen.


Leinster Leader August 25, 1973
Gardai beat Army to Kildare take-over
A little known fact of the period of 1922 is that the newly formed Garda Siochana took over Kildare Barracks from the British Crown Forces – not the Free State army. This fact of history was recalled last week when Mr. John McFaul, a retired Garda who lives at Castleknock, Dublin, visited our office.
Mr. McFaul, a retired sergeant served in Naas for many years and he has in his possession a photograph of the Garda retinue in Naas taken outside the barracks in 1923. According to Mr. McFaul the Gardai beat the Army by 5 weeks in the take-over of British military installations in Kildare. Although technically the fledgling police force did not take over the Curragh itself (they took over the Royal Horse Artillery Barracks in Kildare town), their part in the historic events, which were commemorated last year, is not generally acknowledged.
Mr. McFaul, on whom the years rest lightly, is a founder member of the Gardai. He says that on April 9th 1922, an advance party of Gardai (including himself) left the R.D.S. showgrounds at Ballsbridge. The group of nearly 300 men travelled by train to Kildare. Later they were joined by 600 new recruits. The party marched from the railway station to the Artillery barracks where they took over from the British troops.
There was a deep contrast between the attire of the new custodians of the law and retiring Crown Forces. All the new Gardai, including Commissioner Mel Staines, Patrick Greenan, Assistant Commissioner and Joseph Ring, Camp Commandant, were in “civvies” as new uniforms had not been tailored. They carried Lee Enfield rifles with bayonets fixed. The British were in full khaki uniforms until a few months later.
On May 15th, the advance party of the Free State forces arrived by train from Dublin and were accommodated in Harepark Camp. Later that night, the party was joined by the Assistant Chief of Staff, Lt. General O’Connell and other officers. As the British moved out, the Camp was formally handed over by Lt. Col. Sir F. Dalrymple to Lt. Gen. O’Connell who later hoisted the Tri-colour over the water tower to complete the proceedings.
The Garda recruits received their training in Kildare before being sent to their respective barracks.

A retired member of the gardi recalls how, in 1922,  it was the Garda Siochana and not the Free State Army who took over Kildare barracks from the British Crown Forces.

May 06, 2009


Leinster Leader March 13 1982
Top Artist’s Naas Connections
Although born in the North, noted painter Lydia de Burgh, has many connections with Kildare. She is related to Major John de Burgh of Oldtown, Naas, and her father Capt. Charles de Burgh once lived there. She is a frequent visitor to the county on journeys to the south. Lydia is one of the best known portrait painters in Ireland, and lives at Seaforde, Downpatrick, Co. Down. Her most notable commissions have been portraits of royalty, and her post-coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II hangs in Stormont Castle.
Felt Urge
Her father was fourth son of the late Col. T.J. de Burgh, of Oldtown. She told the “Leinster Leader” that as a child she loved to stay at Oldtown. “In fact, it was there that I first felt the urge to paint at the age of six as I was enraptured with one of the family portraits”, she recalls.
She adds: “I had the honour to be one of the youngest artists and first woman to be commissioned to paint Queen Elizabeth II shortly after her coronation from personal sittings at Buckingham Palace”. She also painted the Queen in 1959, and other members of the royal family have sat for her. She is the only resident Northern Ireland artist to have received such sittings. She has exhibited her work throughout Britain and the North. She has painted portraits of such notables in the North as the Supreme Grand Masonic King of Ireland and religious, artistic, ascendancy, and business figures, north and south.
Her work has enabled her to travel throughout the world from Thailand to Jamaica. She has met several heads of state and such notable people as Paul Newman, and Sir Oswald Moseley, the British fascist.
Naas Visits
Lydia has been an enthusiastic member of the Irish Georgian Society for over 25 years. She usually stays on her forays down south with Major P.N.N. Synnott of Furness, Naas.
She studied painting and music in London just after the war. It was a hard struggle for her living in an attic and surviving on Spartan wartime rations. “But we had great fun”, she recalls. “Many of the great writers of those days came to the house, like Patrick Kinross and Evelyn Waugh”. She had been invalided from the women’s navy during the war. Her first ambition was to be an opera singer but that was not be.
She has also painted many landscapes of scenes in the north, and also throughout the world – from Slieve Donard to Kilimanjaro. One of her latest works is a portrait of the Princess of Wales. Her painting style is traditionalist, based on the old masters.
As is to be expected, she is extremely well known and respected in the arts world. She is an academician of the Royal Ulster Academy, diploma member of the Ulster branch of the Society of Women Artists, and member of the Ulster Water Colour Society. In 1977 she won an outstanding painting of the year award. Her own first exhibition in the North (although she had numerous showings in London and abroad) last December drew much praise from the art critics.
Who’s Who
Lydia is listed in several versions of “Who’s Who”, but is also proud of her ancestors, and present day relations. The de Burghs were Norman conquerors. The family have long connections with Naas. She is a descendant of the de Burgh Earls of Ulster. She is a cousin of Chris de Burgh, the rock singer, and she points with pride to his achievements and those of other members of the family – one of whom is treasurer to the Queen mother. Two others are master farriers in Kildare, one being the first girl to achieve that distinction.
She has lived in Co. Down since her father (one of the first submarine commanders in 1904) retired. Her mother came from Co. Tyrone, and her sister, Lady Kinahan, lives near Antrim.


Lydia de Burgh, a well known portrait painter with Kildare connections, is the subject of an article in the Leinster Leader of March 1982


Leinster Leader July 29 1911
Madame Digby
A remarkable Kildare Lady
Madame Digby, fifth Superior- General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, died at Ixelles, near Brussels, on the 21st of May. During sixteen trying years she had wisely governed more than six thousand religious in convents scattered over the whole world, her burden made more heavy by her own delicate health and the infirmities that accompany old age.
Sixteen eventful years they were. She had the consolation of seeing the saintly Mother Barat raised to the altars of the Church, and that ardent missionary, Mother Duchesne, declared Venerable; but these joys came after her heart had been broken by the French Government’s ruthless confiscation of forty-nine of her convents, many of them especially dear to her, and to her daughters, because they were closely associated with the memory of their foundress and with the early traditions of the Society. But with rare foresight and as the result of excellent management, Madame Dibgy was prepared to open wide the door of another house as each of the loved ones was closed behind her reluctant feet. The convent at Ixelles, chosen to be the new mother-house, quickly became, in customs and in spirit, an exact reproduction of its predecessor in Paris. Then, her life-work accomplished, she lingered not, but hastened home to heaven.
Marie Josephine Mabel Digby was born at Osberstown, Co. Kildare (being a member of the Landenstown family), in April 1835, and was therefore past seventy-six years of age at the time of her death. As a child she had an intense dislike for everything Catholic, to the sorrow of her mother and older sister, who were fervent converts. Her conversion, when she was eighteen years old, was most wonderful, and she loved to attribute it, and the grace of her vocation, to the intercession of a great uncle, a Jesuit, who was martyred for the Faith in England in the sixteenth century. Hearing one day that some celebrated soloists were to sing at Benediction, she accompanied her mother and sister for the sake of the music. She sat throughout the first part of the service, showing no reverence, much less devotion; but when the Blessed Sacrament was raised high over the heads of the kneeling congregation, she prostrated herself and remained on her knees long after everyone else had left the church. Her mother and sister were dumbfounded. As soon as they reached home she exclaimed, “After what has happened, I am going to be a Catholic!” At once she arranged to receive the necessary instruction, and not long after was baptised.
Soon Our Lord demanded a sacrifice in return for His signal grace. He asked her to leave home and friends, and to take up her Cross and follow Him. And so in 1857 she entered the novitiate of the Sacred Heart. The greater part of her religious life was spent at Roehampton as mistress of novices, superior, and finally as vicar. In August 1894, she was made assistant-general of the Society, and a year later was chosen to fill the first place left vacant by the death of Madame de Sortorius.
It was not without good reason that she was given one after another of its most responsible positions. Herself of a generosity of soul that hesitated at no sacrifice for God, she inspired those under her guidance with something of her own ardour. Despite the delicate health that crucified her during many years, her energy was phenomenal, a quiet energy that “worked tranquilly”. There was in her no trace of that “littleness that bustles and cries out and makes a great noise”. Disquietude was alien to her. Peace was the keynote of her soul, a peace won at the point of the sword, for as Francis Thompson quaintly says, “It is the crudest of fallacies to suppose that saints are fashioned customarily from tea and carpet slippers”. It was because she lived her real life far above the thousand petty annoyances that beset her, above the flagrant injustice that persecuted her, that she was always serene. Such things were not allowed to intrude on her close union with God in the depths of her soul.
Madame Digby was the first Superior-General of the Society of the Sacred Heart to visit America. She landed in New York in the summer of 1898, and returned to France in May of the following year, after having visited all the houses of the institute in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. She was greatly pleased to find the traditions of the Society so faithfully carried out by her “independent Americans”, whom she admired for their straightforwardness and their loyalty to those in authority. But she could not have realised what happiness and strength she brought to the religious and pupils of her American convents. Everyone loved her. She had indeed a “a face like a benediction.” She was all sweetness and simplicity and kindness. To the pupils at “Maryville” she gave two mottoes printed in gold letters on small cards. They were the keynote of her own life. “Take always the straight line, cost what it may, come what will” and “Ne pensez pas qu’en dirait le monde, mais qu’en dirait Dieu.” (Do not think of what the world would say of it, but of what God would say).
It was her simplicity and her humility that most impressed all who came in contact with her during her American trip. The general of a great institute, the feted guest of hundreds who loved her as a mother and revered her as a saint, she spoke and acted with the simple directness of a child, though with a wisdom that was the admiration of all who were in a position to see its workings. Truly, as Earnest Hello has it, “Humility stands amid the perils of dreadful heights, pride is too feeble”.
And now her long journey toward Eternity is ended, and at last she “lies within the light of God”. Where “the weary are at rest.” – Florence Gilmore in “America”.

Madame Digby who became fifth Superior-General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, and who was born in Kildare, is the subject of this article in the Leinster Leader of July 1911.

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