Every County has its Story
Recently RTE commissioned a short series entitled ‘Every County has its Story’, the purpose of this series was to highlight often forgotten regional connections to the Easter Rising. Undoubtedly the epicentre of the rebellion was Dublin but few who watched the series would have realised that over 500 volunteers were “Out” in County Galway during Easter Week.
The series also focused on the Battle of Ashbourne in Co Meath. The engagement at Ashbourne was one of the few successful battles of the Rebellion with 50 volunteers defeating a force of armed police nearly twice its number. The volunteers at Ashbourne were led by Thomas Ashe with Richard Mulcahy the second in command.
Ashe had strong Waterford connections and had trained in De La Salle College as a teacher between 1905 and 1907. On the 15th of March this year the college held a commemorative ceremony in his honour and many past pupils of the school will remember walking past the bronze bust of Ashe which was presented to the school by his family in 1957.
Ashe’s second in command Richard Mulcahy was born on Manor Street in 1886. Mulcahy was one of the main orchestrators of the campaign against Britain during the War of Independence and would eventually rise to the rank of general. However his highly controversial decision during the Civil War (he ordered that IRA men caught carrying arms could be executed) has seen discussion of Mulcahy’s role in the struggle for Irish independence largely avoided.
In addition to individual combatants like Mulcahy , Ashe and the two volunteers from Ring Seán Ó Gríofáin and Liam Ó Réagáin the Irish Nationalist movement in Waterford helped provide a profound but subtle contribution to the Rising when the Irish Tricolour flag first flown in Waterford would start to gain prominence as the Irish national flag and symbol of the Irish Republic. The historical narrative until recently has been that the Tricolour wasn’t seen again after 1848 until it was one of three flags that flew over the GPO garrison during 1916.
Examining the Irish Military Archives however provides a tantalizing connection between Waterford and the Tricolour dating from 1915 a full year before the Rising. Volunteer Patrick Hearne from the city would recollect in later life,
A convention of some kind had been organised in Dublin by, I think, the National Volunteers around Easter 1915, and we availed of the train to send a unit of about thirty members from our branch to Dublin. Some of the National Volunteer officers did not like the idea of having our unit travelling on the same train simply because our flag was the Tricolour.
A pipers’ band of the Dublin branch of Fianna met us at Kingsbridge; and, with the Tricolour leading, we marched to Surrey House, Leinster Road, Rathmines, which was where “Madam” (Countess Markievicz) lived, where we were entertained and were enabled to discuss all matters relevant to our organisation and visit Camden Street branch to see how matters were being controlled from there. I believe this was the first time the Tricolour was carried as a standard at the head of any unit in Dublin’s streets. In fact, I have a recollection that the Countess herself (she was at Kingsbridge with the pipers’ band) insisted on carrying it herself for part of the march.
Volunteer Hearne’s statement proves that the Tricolour still held a special place in the hearts of the Waterford based volunteers. During Easter week 1916 three flags would be flown over the GPO garrison. The flag of the Irish Republic, the socialist banner the Starry Plough and the Tricolour. After the rebellion the Tricolour quickly rose to prominence as the principal flag of the Irish Republic.
It’s difficult to say how a Tricolour came to be flown over the GPO but perhaps the actions of the Waterford Volunteers during 1915 contributed in some small way to the Tricolour’s eventual acceptance by the Irish people as its national flag.
Written for Waterford In Your Pocket by James Doherty (Historian and member of the 1848 Tricolour Celebration Committee).