A book that is guaranteed to rouse a lot of interest in Kildare will be launched this coming Thursday, June 23 in Barker and Jones, Naas at 6.30pm.
Written by historical tour guide and historian James Durney, ‘The Civil War in Kildare’ is the result of mining a rich seam of information that is available, if you know where to look!
Ten years ago, James wrote a book called ‘On the one road, Political Unrest in Kildare’, which had two chapters devoted to the civil war.
“People came up to me afterwards with more information and photos and things and so it’s been accumulating in the meantime, and I just decided to put it all together,” he told the Leinster Leader.
James, who works in the Local Studies department of Kildare library, also consulted the Leinster Leader (then a nationalist newspaper) and the Kildare Observer (a loyalist/unionist newspaper).
“The Observer went out of business in 1934,” James explained, adding, “It has nice print. It looks far better than the Leader – it was easier to read.”
He also went through the archives of Irish military history at Cathal Brugha Barracks. “Here in the Kildare local history department, we have lots of material and photographs. We’re constantly buying material in, so there’s lots of stuff coming on line. I also checked the prison lists of the time and Kildare’s most wanted men.”
The Civil War left a more violent mark on Kildare than the War of Independence had. As a garrisson county with military barracks it had a low level of republican activity during the War of Independence. However, the civil war saw a much greater level of activity in the county. While only 15 people were killed from 1916 until 1921, 43 were killed during the civil war. Kildare also had one of the highest number of IRA volunteers, eight, who were executed by the new Irish government. The largest single execution of the war was when seven men from what was known as the Rathbridge column were executed in December 1922. There were also several internment camps which were the scene of mass hunger strikes and jailbreaks as the Republican prisoners protested about the conditions they had to endure.
“The whole country semeed to get that bit more violent,” James explained. “As Frank Aitken said, ‘civil war brings out the worst in people’.
And so it appears to have been the case with Irish people – in a shorter period of time there were twice as many executions.
This feature of the civil war, James believed, was because unlike the British who had to collect intelligence, the native Irish already knew it.
Given the sensitivity of an event which is still in living memory for some, it’s hardly surprising that James did encounter a small bit of resistance from some people and he explained that a number of names had to be left out. “The killing of Wogan Brown remains controversial, and the execution of the seven men in Kildare is still very bitter for some. “It’s within living memory and it’s still raw enough,” he noted.
James said he expected a lot of interest in the book from Kildare people interested in seeing their family names and their home places mentioned in it. The launch of the book, on Thursday, is expected to an enjoyable event.
“We’ll have re-enactors of people from the two sides and myself and Liam (Kenny, historian and Leinster Leader contributor) are allegedly dressing up. “Of course as historians we will be treading down the middle, so we won’t be dressing as either one side or the other.
“We’re asking people to come in 1920s dress and have a bit of fun.”
At the moment James is working on a fascinating new book about a Donegal man who joined the New York Police Department, was involved in a massive drugs haul, but kept some of it for himself. This landed him in jail where he got to meet the mafia characters who ended up being the subject of Martin Scorcese’s movie ‘Goodfellas’.
The man, Peter Daly, was nicknamed ‘The Quiet Man’ by his fellow jail birds. When he left prison he retured to Donegal where he lives the quiet life and is, James assured the Leinster Leader, “the nicest fella you could meet”.