This week, our lucky winner is Stephen Jordan, a member of the Irish Volunteers and the IRB, who served in Athenry during the Easter Rising, before later going on to be a Fianna Fail TD for the area. Jordan’s account offers a close glimpse at an aspect of the Rising, such a Dublin-centric event, which is little studied today.
Jordan jumps straight into things with his account. He joined the IRB in 1906, when the Galway branch was mostly concerned with expansion and organisation. In 1908, despite IRB guidelines prohibiting, it, Jordan and others also joined the “Town’s Tenants Organisations”, a land and property reform agitator group which fought for tenants rights to buy the property they rented and for fair division of associated land. The group had some success, and were subsequently targeted for reprisal by the local RIC, who would concoct false charges to have its members imprisoned. Annoyed at these tactics, Jordan and other members of the IRB retaliated in their own way, stealing RIC horses or hanging tricolours from RIC barracks buildings. Meant to humiliate the RIC and shore up support for the IRB, these actions were successful, and Jordan reports the IRB being “numerically very strong” all the way up to 1913.
When a branch of the Irish Volunteers was founded locally in 1914, Jordan was one of the first to sign up. He speaks of the extensive drilling that he undertook, and the strength of the Volunteer movement in Galway, claiming a parade of the Athenry Volunteers in June of 1914 involved at least 2’000 men. Curiously, he claims that the Volunteer split had little effect on the Athenry branch, “as practically all of the Company stood behind McNeill”.
In 1915, Liam Mellows was appointed chief organiser for the Volunteers in Galway, reorganising them on a brigade and battalion basis. At this point, Jordan casually mentions that he was imprisoned for six months in the middle of 1915 under DORA legislation, and then says nothing more about it.
His narrative resumes at the beginning of Easter wWek, 1916. On Easter Sunday Jordan and other members of the Volunteers were advised to receive communion and go to confession, before a parade later that day. However, this order was later cancelled. The following day, while at the home of Volunteer Commandant Larry Lardiner, Jordan witnessed the arrival of the news regarding the uprising in Dublin, and was ordered to help mobilise local Volunteer units with an aim of eventually moving to Galway City.
Jordan travelled to Galway City to inform the Volunteer leadership there, before being back in Athenry by midnight, where he joined up with his own unit that was readying for action. On Tuesday morning, after joining with other units under the command of Mellows, Jordan was part of a group that took control of Athenry’s agricultural college, fortifying it.
It remained quiet until Wednesday, when a group of RIC men approached the college. Jordan records a brief exchange of fire, with no casualties noted. Apparently not liking the college as a spot to stay in, the Volunteers moved to the nearby Moyode Castle, a country house, which was easily wrested from its sole caretaker.
On Thursday morning Mellows, Jordan and a few others engaged on a reconnaissance of the local area, inquiring of civilians as to the whereabouts and movements of the RIC. Mellows apparently formed the idea of going to the nearest RIC barracks, New Inn, and taking a shot at the RIC there. When they got to the barracks, they found it in a state of desertion, save for two women. After a brief attempt to stop them by these women, Mellows was able to search the place, finding an ill RIC sergeant upstairs, a husband of one of the anonymous women. The sergeant informed Mellows that the RIC contingent of the barracks had received orders to withdraw to Loughrea that morning. The reconnaissance party then returned to Moyode.
Later that day, while part of a group assigned to gathering potatoes from a local farmer, Jordan encountered a “strong force” of RIC men advancing on Athenry down the Loughrea road, apparently heading to Moyode. The Volunteers opened fire, and a “pitched battle” began. Mellows, back at Moyode, heard the gunfire and mobilised a few lorry-loads of Volunteers to provide assistance. By the time they arrived the RIC were withdrawing anyway, and Mellows led an effort that forced the RIC back into Athenry itself. No casualties are recorded.
On Friday, between numerous confessions and rumours of an imminent assault on Moyode, it was decided to evacuate the house as it was considered too hard to defend: why it was then taken in the first place is not elaborated upon. The Volunteers moved to Lime Park. At this point, short on ammunition, a plan of action and with rumours of immense “Crown Forces” slowly surrounding them, the decision was taken for this group of Volunteers, around 700 strong, to disband. Jordan went “on the run” for several months, but was eventually found and arrested, ending up in Frongach, before his release at the end of 1916. He says nothing about other aspects of the Athenry operation, such as claims that a large proportion of the Volunteers simply went home during the week.
As is the general case, Jordan stops his account there. He was on the anti-Treaty side during the Civil War, this I know, and later served as a TD for Fianna Fail in opposition and government, where he was well known in the Dail for his abrasive style and constant insults aimed at the pro-Treaty TD’s on the other side.
Jordan’s account here offers that interesting look at the Easter Rising outside Dublin, where combat operations were limited to a bare handful of places. The Volunteers really weren’t up to much in Athenry either though. Two brief firefights, no casualties reported. The local Crown Forces seem to have been happy to withdraw until they had greater strength, and the Volunteers’ chronic lack of support or direction meant that they were in no position to really achieve all that much. The grand ideas of a nationwide Rising was stillborn, but episodes like this illustrate just why it would have been no sure-fire way to success.