An Irishwoman’s Diary: 1916 fighters from Ring

Honouring two Waterford men who fought in the Rising

Seán Ó Gríofáin, who with his fellow county-man Liam Ó Réagáin, fought in 1916.

Seán Ó Gríofáin, who with his fellow county-man Liam Ó Réagáin, fought in 1916.

 

Two men from the Ring Gaeltacht in Co Waterford took part in the Rising and as the countdown to the 1916 Easter Week centenary celebrations gathers momentum, plans to mark their heroism and patriotism are fast taking shape.

Seán Ó Gríofáin (Graves) and Liam Ó Réagáin (Regan) were engaged in some of the fiercest fighting in Dublin during the Rising. They were part of the struggle that continued until the city was in flames and the revolutionaries had to surrender.

With a growing sense of pride in the community of this blowy Gaeltacht peninsula, several events will take place in 2016 to mark the men’s participation. A monument to the two men will be erected in Helvick by the local historic and heritage society, Cumann Staire agus Oidhreacht na nDéise; an exhibition at the Waterford County Museum in Dungarvan will show their medals, archival photographs and memorabilia; there will be a concert and a commemorative lecture on the role played by Waterford men in the Rising from author and historian Pat McCarthy, organised by the Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society.

The men’s startling journey to the epicentre of the revolution happened because they were both working in the large grocery and hardware shop on the main street of Maynooth. This was owned by Domhnall Ó Buachalla, a passionate patriot and devotee of the Irish language, who wanted to foster an Irish speaking enclave in Maynooth. In due course the three men became members of the Maynooth Volunteers and when the call to arms came, they gathered with the other members and waited for their orders.

After some confusion about whether the Rising was happening or not, they set out on Easter Monday at about 7pm carrying an assortment of weapons including 16 revolvers, 20 American single-barrel shot guns, one Lee Enfield rifle and three pikes. They also took sandwiches with them for the 25km trek.

Recognition

En route they went through Maynooth College, stopping to ask the president, the Rev Monsignor Hogan, for his blessing. “He did not approve of what we were doing. He gave us his blessing, however,” recalls Ó Buachalla in his witness testimony to the Bureau of Military History. But he continues: “We came out of the college on to the canal bank and proceeded towards Dublin. For some portion of the way we travelled on the railway, and at other times through fields, until we arrived at Glasnevin Cemetery. We walked across the Tolka River which is about two feet deep and entered the cemetery.”

When they reached the GPO, the witness statement of another member of the group, Maj Patrick Colgan, recalls their arrival: “Comdt General Connolly was at the door. As we entered he shook each of us by the hand and smiled his welcome to us. Connolly was one of my heroes. I had never before met him. I felt all excited that he would show such an interest in us.”

Quickly after tea and buns they were sent to take up positions in Parliament Street to help rescue a group of Volunteers who were cut off at Dublin City Hall and the Evening Mail offices. They remained there until they were ordered to evacuate the building.

Prison

Then it was “back to the GPO for the remainder of time doing dangerous dispatch work, guarding windows, barricading, reconnoitring enemy positions, assisting in conveying (James Connolly included) wounded to Moore Street after the evacuation of the GPO, breaking through walls in Moore Street for the reception of garrison, six nights and five days without sleep”, as described by Ó Réagáin in a statement, which is quoted by local journalist Eddie Cantwell in a two-page spread in the Dungarvan Leader about the men’s involvement in the Rising.

Regan gave up his arms on Sunday morning in O’Connell Street and was interned in Frongoch in Wales for five months. Graves managed to get out of Dublin with a fellow volunteer and walk back to Maynooth where he was arrested and sent to Kilmainham.

Both men lived into their 70s but recognition for their involvement was delayed and took many frustrating years of campaigning and although both were ultimately recognised and honoured, as Cantwell states: “Despite the action and hardships endured by both, their pension applications [to the Military Service Pensions Board] were turned down time after time!”