Galway 1916

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2(March/April 2011), Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 19

Sir,—I found the article on Galway in 1916 by Conor McNamara (HI 19.1, Jan./Feb. 2011) very interesting and very enlightening on the attitude of the majority of the Irish population to the events of Easter week. Another view of the events in Galway is presented in a book called Danger zone by E. Keble Chatterton. While the author’s prejudiced attitude towards the Irish is irritating, he still gives an interesting account. The book is not an academic work and he does not quote his sources, but he was in the British navy on the Irish coast during the First World War and wrote extensively on the war. While some of his work is obviously anecdotal, he would have interviewed many naval people and been able to access some documents. I have quoted largely from Chatterton in my book The Seahound (Collins Press, 2001), the story of the Helga/Muirchu, for the account of the navy’s involvement in the Galway part of the Easter Rising.

 

According to Chatterton, when the Easter Rising broke out, the defences of the city were taken in hand by the senior naval officer, a Commander Francis W. Hanan RN, an Irishman, who had come out of retirement to command the naval patrol base at Galway. When it was found that telegraphic communications with Dublin were cut, communications were established with London by the Marconi station at Clifden sending messages via America. Hanan apparently also cooperated with the local RIC in rounding up the known dissidents in the city, and had them taken aboard an armed trawler initially and later to the cruiser Gloucester when she arrived with troops. On Tuesday Hanan led a force of RIC and naval ratings in a train to Athenry and successfully rescued the RIC constables who were besieged there.

The only account which he has of naval bombardment was from the sloop Laburnum (a vessel of a large class built for minesweeping and patrol work), which was anchored in Galway Roadstead, where she could cover the eastern approaches to the city. On Wednesday morning, when the police reported some motor cars approaching, Hanan and company had taken up defensive positions in the graveyard in the approaches to the city. From there a naval signalman signalled the sloop, which fired nine or ten rounds from her 12-pounder gun in the direction of the approaching cars. This is a more plausible account than the navy firing indiscriminately for the purpose of intimidating the populace. It would be interesting to find out what these cars were, who was in them and whether any attempt was made by the insurgents to approach the city. Any account I have read makes no mention of such an attempt; possibly it was a reconnaissance to test the defences.

Chatterton makes no comment on the attitude of the local population. He does mention the ‘special’ constables, without saying or hinting from where they were drawn, but generally he dismisses most of the population as ‘Sinn Feiners’. According to Chatterton’s account, the rebel leader in the Galway area was a ‘half-German’; he quotes no name. Had Liam Mellows any German family connection? I understand that there were and are some families of German descent in Galway, such as Faller and Lardner. I believe that a Lardner was involved with the insurgents and possibly this is the person Chatterton refers to.— Yours etc.,

DAIRE BRUNICARDI

Fermoy

Co. Cork
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