The Thomas Behan Society Kildare, as part of their initiative to honour the county’s fallen ‘Defenders of the Republic’ in the run-up to the Centenary of the 1916 Rising, held a commemoration and wreathlaying ceremony on Sunday the 13th December in Rathangan, to mark the 93rd anniversary of Comdt. Thomas Behan, Óglaigh na hÉireann.
The event was held on a murky and damp day but despite the weather conditions a considerable number of supporters attended. A Lone Piper and Colour Party led the parade from the Parish Church in Rathangan to the final resting place of Thomas Behan in the Church of Ireland grounds at the top of the town. The day’s proceedings were Chaired by Richard Whyte from the Thomas Behan Society, who welcomed everyone to the commemoration. The event was held in both Irish and English.
Firstly, Richard introduced Conor Whyte, who read the 1916 Proclamation, with Philip O’ Riordan reading the Kildare IRA Roll of Honour. Richard then called on Karen Hester from the Seán Heuston Society in Dublin to read a poem written by Thomas Behan, The Lasses of Kildare, which acknowledges the work done by Cumann na mBan in Kildare.
Cailn Whyte then laid a wreath on behalf of the family of Comdt. Behan, with Sinan Cahill laying a wreath on behalf of the local Kildare Society. Paul Scannell laid a wreath on behalf of the 1916 Societies and there then was a minutes silence with a lowering of the National Flag and a lament played by the piper.
Paddy Horan then gave a brief history of Thomas Behan, telling the story of his internment in Wakefield Jail after the 1916 Easter Rising, going on to tell of his reward of £1 for saving the lives of two boys from imminent drowning in the canal. It explained his role in the War of Independence to his death at the hands of Free State troops during the Civil War.
Richard then called upon Paul Scannell to say a few words on behalf of the1916 Societies. His words were very inspiring, bringing the past into line with modern thinking. He then called upon Amy Loughney to play Amhrán na bhFiann for all present.
In conclusion, Richard Whyte thanked all who attended despite the bad weather. He sent solidarity and seasons greetings from the 1916 Societies to all Republican Prisoners held in Irish and British Gaols. He finished up by quoting a piece from Padraig Pearse’s address over the Grave of O’ Donovan Rossa in 1915: ‘The fools, the fools, the fools; they have left us our Fenian Dead, and while Ireland hold these graves Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.’
After the event in Rathangan, proceedings moved to the grave of Cumann na mBan Volunteer Peig Daly for a poignant wreathlaying ceremony in the Cathedral in Kildare Town. It was a simple but important event, where the wreath was laid by Karen Hester of the Seán Heuston Society with a few words from Sinan Cahill of the Kildare Society. Thanks to all who helped make the event happen.
The Thomas Behan Society would like to thank Peter Rogers, Sinan Cahill, Paul Scannell, Peter Gibbons of Top Nolans Bar in Kildare Town and John O’ Byrne for the photography on the day. Without the help of these individuals the events would not have been the successes they were. Go raibh mile maith agaibh.
History of Commandant Thomas Behan
On 13 December 1922, a detachment of Free State troops set out from the Curragh Camp to raid for arms at Moore’s Bridge, about a mile and a half from the camp. They discovered the woman owner of a farmhouse in possession of a loaded revolver. A thorough search of the house uncovered a large dugout hidden under the floor. There were eight IRA Volunteers in the dugout. The Column was under the command of Comdt. Bryan Moore, a veteran IRA officer, and comprised of a section of the 6th Battalion IRA.
With the odds stacked against them by been fully surrounded and overwhelmingly outnumbered, the men were ordered to surrender by their Commanding Officer. After they did so a Free State soldier struck one of them, Thomas Behan of Rathangan, with a rifle butt and broke his arm. The republicans were ordered to board a truck. When Behan was unable to do so because of his broken arm, he was beaten savagely around the head and fell dead. The murder was covered up by the authorities with the usual excuse, ‘shot while trying to escape’. It was years later that the truth came out.
Thomas Behan was from Rathangan and joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913, like so many others from his native Co. Kildare. In the wake of the 1916 Rising, Thomas was arrested with 16 other Volunteers from Kildare and on May 4th of that year, he along with his comrades were deported and interned in Wakefield Jail. Only days after his release from detention in August, Tom was involved in saving the lives of two boys from imminent drowning in the canal. For his bravery he was awarded a certificate from The Royal Humane Society and a cheque for £1. Steadfast forever he continued to fight the British and was promoted to Commandant. He took the Republican side during the civil war. Behan was a veteran IRA man and at the time of his death was an Intelligence Officer, 1st Eastern Division.
The seven surviving republicans captured with Tom Behan on the 13th of December were taken to the Glasshouse, which was the military prison in the Curragh Camp. Under powers given to them by the Free State government, military tribunals could impose the death sentence for possession of arms. The seven men were charged before a Military Committee of being in possession, without proper authority, of 10 rifles, 200 rounds of ammunition, 4 bomb detonators, and 1 exploder. With 12 republicans already executed under this regime since the end of November, the fate of the seven Kildare Volunteers was sealed. They were found guilty and sentenced to death.
These men were all IRA veterans and belonged to a column of ten which operated against railways, goods trains and some shops in the vicinity of Kildare. Five of them were on the derailment of engines at Cherryville on December 11th 1922, when they made a serious attempt to dislocate the whole railway service on the Great Southern and Western Railway Line. Two engines were taken out of a shed at Kildare and sent down the line by Cherryville. One engine ran out of steam and did no harm, while the other overturned and blocked the line for a considerable time. The column was also responsible for an ambush on Free State troops at the Curragh Siding on November 23rd. In the confusion of the ambush a policeman was accidentally shot by a Free State soldier.
The seven men were shot one by one and were then buried in the grounds of the Detention Barracks. Several years after the Civil War their remains were exhumed and lay in state in the Courthouse in Kildare town before being re-buried in Grey Abbey Cemetery in 1924. A gravestone was subsequently erected over their grave and a monument erected in the Market Square, Kildare.
The men executed and finally laid to rest are:
Comdt. Brian Moore (37 and Leader of the Column) – Rathbride, Kildare
Vol. Patrick Nolan (34) – Rathbride, Kildare
Vol. Patrick Mangan (22) – Fair Green, Kildare
Vol. Patrick Bagnall (19) – Fair Green, Kildare
Vol. Jackie Johnston (18) – Station Rd., Kildare
Vol. Stephen White (18) – Abbey St., Kildare
James O’Connor (24), who was also executed with his comrades by the Free State, was returned to his native Bansha in Co. Tipperary to be re-interned. Fuair síad bhás ar son saoirse na hÉireann – Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.