Clonmel County Tipperary 1916
In the lead up to the Rising the Irish Volunteers in Clonmel took part in a full scale mobilisation making the strength of the Clonmel unit clear, fifty men could be relied on to muster. The command of the Clonmel unit was in the hands of the IRB and all fifty men held some form of arms which included miniature B.S.A. .22 rifles, lee-Enfield rifles and a few Smith and Wesson automatics.
Preparations for the Rising began early in Holy-Week. The commanding officer of the Clonmel unit, Frank Drohan, received the orders to prepair and Drohan’s coach building yard became a munitions factory making ready explosives, filling cartridges and readying field kits. Willie Myles, a reported on the staff of the Clonmel Nationalist newspaper was the main sources of intelligence reports on movement of British Troops at various local barracks.
The first inclination the Clonmel men had of the impending Rising was on Good Friday night when Willie Myles delivered the news of the capture of Roger Casement and the death of Donal Sheehan at Killorglin.
On Saturday morning a telegram from Eamonn O’Duibhir to Seamus O’Neill was followed by the arrival of Con Deer of Gold’s Cross informing the Clonmel Volunteers that the Rising was to begin in Dublin at 4pm on Sunday. Pierce McCann had gone to Dublin to get confirmation of the order and orders were conveyed to all Clonmel Volunteers to parade at 7pm that night.
Con Deere then left, and O’Neill, on Dorhan’s orders, proceeded via Fethard, to Goldcross, to wait the arrival of McCann, thus informing Paddy Henehan in Fethard to stand ready. In the house at Ardmoyle that day were gathered Sean Tracy, Eamonn O’Duibhir, Michael Sheehan of Dundrum and others, all awaiting the final instructions from Dublin. It was decided, in the interests of security, that only Dwyer would go to the station and late that night he returned with McCann’s message
‘The Rising is on, starting in Dublin at 4pm tomorrow (Sunday). The Pope has sent his blessing through Count Plunkett. The Germans are to launch a big air-raid on England, to cover the landing of German officers, arms and ammunition in Ireland.’
There was great jubilation over this message, and the feelings of all were echoed in Tracy’s words “Our next meeting will be in an Irish Republic.” O’Neill returned to Clonmel and brought the message to Drohan’s house, where John Mackey, Mick Hanrahan and Sean O’Neill were waiting. The order to mobilise at 10am on Sunday morning was issued and conveyed to most of the local Volunteers.
It was decided that the British had too many forces at Clonmel, Cahir and Fethard so the Volunteers would march to Lisronagh, join up with the Fethard Volunteers and mount an attack on the RIC Barracks at Lisronagh and move on too Clerihan and Cashel barracks. It was hoped that the attacks on the RIC barracks would disrupt British administration in the area and force the British to send small military units to aid the barracks, these smaller units could be ambushed on route.
In the early hours of Sunday morning the countermanding orders were delivered to Drohan. McCann, as Chairman of the Volunteers in South Tipperary, had received the countermanding orders from The O’Rahilly and Brian McNeill, the son of Eoin McNeill. When John Mackey arrived in Fethard he found that Paddy Henehan had already been informed by McCann of the change of plan. Mackey returned to Clonmel accompanied by Henehan. McCann had been sent to carry the countermanding order to Limerick and then instructed to carry on to inform Killarney.
As the message of the countermanding order was conveyed around Tipperary the Volunteers were bitterly disappointed that they would not have the opportunity to strike for Ireland’s freedom. Hopes were raised late on Easter Monday afternoon when news reached Tipperary that fighting had begun in Dublin. Myles arrived with the news ‘there is fighting in Dublin – believed to be the Citizen Army’ but there was little detail. Drohan ordered the Volunteers to hold themselves ready for a call-out. Lines of communication were organized and for fear of reprisals by the British, IRB men including Drohan and O’Neill went into hiding. Headquarters were established at the sawmills on the Dungarvan Road.
Tuesday was a day of confusion, messages were received and sent and details of the fighting in Dublin were somewhat clarified. Drohan sent a message to McCann to say that the Clonmel Volunteers were ready to fight. McCann in turn sent a message to Cork and Limerick to say that South Tipperary would rise immediately if Cork and Limerick rose.
Wednesday brought a determination to go out and fight. Reports from Dublin indicated that the fighting in Dublin was severe and the British were using heavy artillery. Still under orders to mobilise at minimum notice the Clonmel Volunteers awaited news from Cork and Limerick.
Thursday morning the message arrived from McCann to say that ‘Cork and Kerry are out, Limerick is coming out.’ Orders were issued for an immediate mobilisation at Rathronan Cross at 1pm and bring all weapons, ammunition and equipment. Headquarters were re-established in Drohan’s Yard, Frank Drohan would lead the group, John Mackey was appointed head of intelligence and his brother Dominick was responsible for equipment. The message was sent on to Fethard the plan decided earlier in the week was to be implemented. The Rathronan Cross group would march towards Market Hill and join the Fethard group.
About 12 armed Volunteers assembled at Rathronan Cross at 1pm, others acted as Scouts in the nearby fields. All were armed, some with rifles collected by Tommy Barrett. As the assembled men were about to proceed in accordance with the plan Dominick Mackey arrived with the devastating news that all was cancelled. After some heated conversation Dominick Mackey was sent back with instructions to get written confirmation of the cancellation. Within half an hour Bob Drohan arrived with the written confirmation of the cancellation and the men were dismissed with orders to return home by devious routes. Frank Drohan had not mustered at the assembly point and it later transpired that Eamonn O’Duibhir had gone to Limerick and found no Rising had taken place there, Pierce McCann had sent this message to Frank Drohan who, with John Mackey, went through Fethard where the facts were confirmed.
Friday saw renewed hopes that Clonmel may yet Rise, Tommy Donovan, a motor mechanic, was sent by motorcycle to Cork with orders to contact Terence McSwiney or Thomas McCurtain to obtain the facts as to what was happening in Cork. Again disappointment and hopes dashed when Donovan returned from Cork having met with McCurtain he was told Cork would not Rise. McCurtain informed Donovan that should the situation change a messenger would be sent by train to inform Clonmel. And as if the news from Cork was not devastating enough later on Friday night Willie Myles arrived with the news that British Forces were closing in on Rebels positions in Dublin and the centre of the city was ablaze.
Saturday brought further rumour but it was not until the arrival of the uncensored papers on Sunday was it confirmed that the surrender had taken place. Frank Drohan issued orders that all arms, ammunition and equipment was to be hidden, nothing would be surrendered to the authorities. The Volunteers returned to their normal routine conscious that reprisals would take place.