As the year 1916 dawned local training in Kilkenny was dominated by the training instructions given by the volunteers who had received the benefit of the collective organised by Captain O’ Connell earlier in 1915.
By February Lt Edward O’ Kelly, an organiser from General Headquarters was in location in Kilkenny and he advanced training throughout the City and county. Lee Endfields were openly carried on route marches and weekly manoeuvres. Typical routes recorded started in the City, marching to Ballyfoyle, then to Muckalee and onto Johnswell where some tactical training was carried out. This may have taken the form of drill, weapons training or practicing small unit attacks.
On these manoeuvres volunteers always carried their own rations with the exception on fresh milk which would be purchased from a local farmer. No alcohol was ever consumed on exercise. It is recorded that a small number of volunteers were discharged from the unit for having intemperate habits.
On Patricks Day 1916 a company of Irish Volunteers paraded to mass in St Johns Church in uniform armed with their weapons and marching behind the Republican flag. It is most probable that the starting point for the march was James Park and then the route would have been up High St and John St. No doubt the local RIC kept a close eye on the event counting the rifles and recording the names of the volunteers on parade. It is also very probable that this is the first time that the Tri-colour was paraded through the City under an armed escort of Irish Volunteers.
It needs to be clarified here that the leadership structure of the Kilkenny City Company of the Irish Volunteers was quite low key. The City Company was run by a committee comprised mostly of members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The main leader, Mr Thomas Treacy from Dean St was seen as the key person and was the Company Commander. He was not however a member of the IRB. Given the level of secrecy maintained by the IRB it is highly unlikely that he would have known that so many of his subordinates were members.
In early April, about 2 weeks before Easter, Tom Treacy was called out of Volunteer Hall (Kytlers Inn) and brought up along King St (now Kieran St), where he was introduced to Cathal Brugha who was sent from GHQ, Dublin to relay orders for a Rising that would be happening at Easter. Here we see the Captain of the Kilkenny City Volunteers being made aware of very secret information. The orders relayed included the following-
- General manoeuvres were to be planned for Easter Sunday
- To proceed with all available men and weapons and proceed via Borris to Scallop Gap on the Wexford border and link with the Wexford Volunteers
- No independent active service operations were to be engaged in until the link up with Wexford had been made
- Captain Ginger O’ Connell from GHQ was to be in command of all units in the county and all orders were to be taken from him
- This unity of command was to be maintained after the link up was made
These orders were very clear and unambiguous. Ginger O’ Connell was to command all activities in the Kilkenny-Wexford area. His orders were to be obeyed at all times. This order would have far reaching effects as Easter Week went on.
At this stage, two weeks before the Rising the Kilkenny City Company had around 60 members. Treacy knew exactly what weapons were in possession of the City Company. There was a shortfall of 30 firearms. He informed Bruagha of this. Bruagha then informed Treacy that there would be a supply of weapons and ammunition available for collection from Dr Dundon in Borris. At this stage Treacy was informed that a shipment was expected and further weapons and ammunition would be available (this is most likely from the weapons expected from the AUD which would be scuttled off the Kerry coast).
It is also indicated by Treacy that Bruagha also gave these instructions to Peter Deloughrey and Patrick Corcoran, the Kilkenny contacts with Dublin and both members of the IRB. Treacy commenced issuing instructions to all members of the Kilkenny City Company regarding the upcoming manoeuvres for Easter Sunday while maintaining operational security. Everyone was informed to parade on Sunday with full equipment, rations and bicycles.
Around this week a number of important movements of explosives occurred which were to directly support the Rising. Firstly, on Spy Wednesday a shipment of explosives was moved from Wolfhill Coalmine by Peter Deloughrey, James Lawlor and Eamon Fleming from the Swan, Laois. The explosives were delivered to a man called Patrick Ramsbottom in Portlaoise. They were then sent to Dublin. On Good Friday the second shipment was moved from Skeeter Park Cleariestown Wexford by Peter Deloughrey and Thomas Murphy and sent to Dublin for use in the Rising,
Over the years these shipments of explosives have been undervalued in the events of the Easter rising. Here we have men willing to put themselves in harm’s way, transporting explosives throughout the South East without fear of the consequences of capture. No doubt they were armed during these operations and aware of the repercusions if they were to be stopped by Crown Forces.
Easter Sunday arrived and at the appointed time of 12 noon at Volunteer Hall, all volunteers arrived. Thomas Treacy was already aware of the attraction of the plan because he had read the Sunday Independent that morning. Treacy held an orders group with his company officers and it was decided that if no official message was received that he would dismiss the assembled volunteers by 2pm. All volunteers were ordered to parade again at 8pm. Except for a few key people, the main body of volunteers were still unaware of what was planned. The key players stayed behind and discussed the situation in some detail at this stage. Officers from the countryside company were in attendance.
Pat Corcoran had been in Dublin all Easter Sunday. He arrived back in the City and in the company of Captain O’ Connell, he informed those present that everything was off. All men were dismissed, told to go home and be prepared to form up again on Easter Monday morning.
It was also decided that Pat Corcoran and Peter Deloughrey would carry out a resupply mission on Monday morning when they would drive to Dr Dundon’s house in Borris and take control of the assorted weapons being stored for their use.
At around 2pm Lt Pierce Brett brought word to Tom Treacy that hostilities had broken out in Dublin. This word most likely came from a train passenger. The information however was confused and at 7pm all the company were mustered in the area of Stallards Gardens near Asylum Lane. This was the location chosen for the delivery of the weapons brought by car from Carlow. This consisted of around 30 single barrelled shotguns and assorted ammunition. It must be again mentioned here that this movement of weapons was taking place at great risk of capture by Deloughrey and Corcoran. The safe delivery of the weapons and their issuing to Company volunteers insured that The Company volunteers were armed. It is also an incident of Kilkenny men being on active service on Easter Monday in the broad sense, even if they fired no shots they definitely put themselves in harm’s way.
Tom Treacy estimates the strength of the Crown Forces in the City as being around 440 men. 400 soldiers in the military barracks and 40 RIC Constables deployed between the Johns Street HQ and Parliament St station. He also states that they were fairly quiet during the week remaining in or close to the barracks. By this stage it was obvious that the original orders given by Cathal Bruagha a few weeks earlier were not going to be carried out. Captain O’ Connells arrival in the city on Sunday evening should have been the catalyst to send the Kilkenny Company on active service. It becomes obvious here that O’Connell is aligned with MacNeil and Bulner-Hobson. He had it seems confirmed to Wexford Volunteers in Enniscorthy prior to arriving in Kilkenny that he was not going to undermine McNeills orders to cancel the Rising. It would seem that the sinking of the AUD confirmed their reluctance to enter an unwinnable fight.
On Wednesday morning O’ Connell dispatched Jimmy Lawlor on a motorbike journey to confirm the activities in Limerick. Lawlor had an eventful journey being stopped a few times at RIC checkpoints. Lawlor confirmed that Limerick was not out. The volunteers paraded that evening and some lapsed members returned to the company. O’ Connell would preside over the orders session and it was really his control which had effect in Kilkenny during the Thursday and Friday meetings.
News of the surrender of the Irish Volunteers arrived in Kilkenny at about 3pm on the Saturday afternoon. All the weapons held by the members were stowed away safely and the volunteers were sent home.
As with the rest of the country, arrests of the key people commenced soon after the surrender in Dublin. Ginger O’ Connell was the first man arrested on May 3rd. On May 4th, Peter Deloughrey and Alderman James Nowlan were arrested and placed in Kilkenny Gaol.
So ended any hope of the rising happening in Kilkenny . Arrests would go on for a number of days with over 30 Volunteers being deported to different locations in England and Wales.