Forthcoming history of Clogrennane Lime Works casts light on a forgotten casualty of the 1916 Rising

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2016), News, Volume 24

By Shay Kinsella

James Connor (1879–1916) and his wife, Eleonore, with their daughter Bertha, c. 1910. (Alan Winter))

James Connor (1879–1916) and his wife, Eleonore, with their daughter Bertha, c. 1910. (Alan Winter))

On Easter Monday night 1916, Mrs Eleonore Connor walked the floors of her home on Montgomery Street, Carlow, anxiously awaiting the return of her husband. Prevailed upon that morning by some neighbours to drive them back to their jobs in Dublin following Easter visits to Carlow, James Connor had been warned against the journey by his wife, owing to some niggling feeling. As she slept restlessly that night, she was haunted by

‘… a vision of people being carried in and out wounded, but then it changed to an operating room with instruments mounted on wheels—all things I had never seen in my life—and in the centre of the room, a doctor was standing with his sleeves rolled up holding his hands as if dripping while he watched a figure on a cot. After I awoke, I had waited all night long.’

Unknown to her, James was lying delirious in the Meath Hospital under the care of eminent surgeon Dr Richard Lane Joynt, suffering the effects of several gunshot wounds inflicted by rebels while he was driving through St Stephen’s Green earlier that afternoon.

This story emerged during research for a history of Clogrennane Lime Works in north-western County Carlow, the oldest lime-burning manufactory in continuous operation in the country, which is now owned by CRH and produces the ‘White Rhino’ brand. While the company celebrates its bicentenary this year, serendipity has linked it with this year’s more auspicious anniversary in the wounding (and subsequent death) during the Rising of the lessee and manager of the works, which resulted in the closure of the site for two years and the loss of 28 permanent jobs.

Memorial to James and William Connor, erected by their father in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, with its reference to the ‘Sinn Feiners [sic] Irish Rebels’.

Memorial to James and William Connor, erected by their father in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, with its reference to the ‘Sinn Feiners [sic] Irish Rebels’.

A member of Carlow’s small Methodist congregation, Connor (born in 1879) signed a lease on the lime works in 1909 and took over a company with a prestigious name and a nationally renowned product. Young and assertive, with an admired reputation in Carlow’s business community, Connor’s ascendant fortunes in 1916 were symbolised by his new Ford motor car, which was to play a contributory role in his death. On Easter Monday, with his wife’s premonition ringing in his ears, Connor and his three passengers left Carlow with the intention of travelling only to the outskirts of the city, but this plan changed and they continued right into College Green. According to the later testimony of Ellie Connor (recorded on tape in Detroit, on her 100th birthday in 1983), James was challenged by what he called ‘trigger-nervous gunslingers’ on St Stephen’s Green as he made for home. He refused to disembark and spotted a weakness in the rebel barricade at the Harcourt Street gate, which, according to Vol. Liam Ó Briain, was ‘not packed closely enough and cars returning from the Fairyhouse races filtered through from time to time during the afternoon, although fired on spasmodically by the men at the gate where the Countess [Markievicz] was in command’. When Connor sped towards it, he was fired on from the College of Surgeons and was wounded several times in the face, shoulder and hip. A record of surgery performed on a gunshot wound to his right buttock two days later (in the Operations Register of the nearby Meath Hospital, now in the National Archives) makes it clear that he was shot from behind. He then left his car and collapsed on the steps of a dentist’s house on Harcourt Street; the dentist called for an ambulance. When his wife reached Dublin towards the end of Easter Week, she found him being comforted in his delirium by two wounded British soldiers. In one remarkable claim, she recalled that ‘more than once, I saw a lorry piled with bodies of “Sinn Féin”, mostly young people, almost all dressed in the bright green uniform’.

Connor survived in great pain for another seven weeks until his eventual death on 15 June. All works at Clogrennane stopped immediately when news of his shooting reached Carlow. Despite pleas for intervention to the Irish chief secretary and the home secretary in Westminster, and Connor’s widow’s best efforts to retain the lease, the site was sold off in 1918. James Connor left five young children behind, and his widow gave birth to another son six months after his death. She emigrated to Canada in 1923, with her husband’s blood-stained chequebook among her belongings. The tragedy for the Connor family was compounded just three weeks later by the death of James’s younger brother, Lt. William Connor of the Canadian Artillery, on the Ypres salient on 5 July.

Buried in Clody cemetery in Clogrennane, within sight and earshot of the lime works that he had managed, James Connor’s grave lies unmarked (a situation that will be remedied in Carlow’s 2016 programme of commemorations). Owing to the fact that he was shot by the rebel side, and given his family’s loyalism (his father and brother were members of Toronto’s most renowned Orange lodge), James Connor’s politics were deemed to be of the wrong sort and his death unworthy of remembrance by the triumphant nationalism of the following decade; one has to travel to another continent to see his father’s proud memorial to his two fallen sons. In this year of commemoration, this story challenges us to reject the notion that the exposition of these tragedies within the larger narrative of 1916 can in any way constitute historiological treachery to rebel aspirations, and to acknowledge—as citizens of a maturing republic—the human tragedy of losses on all sides.

Shay Kinsella’s The limeburners: a short history of Clogrennane Lime Works will be published shortly.

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