Early in 1916, Pádraic Pearse visited Athenry to discuss plans for the Rising. He wanted the Volunteers to hold the county at the River Suck at Ballinasloe, to capture Galway city, and then, if possible, to march on Dublin. The success of this strategy depended entirely on the Volunteers receiving modern weaponry as they were very poorly equipped. According to Pearse’s plan, rifles and machine guns would arrive in Gort where they would be distributed.
County Galway was one of the few places outside Dublin to have taken an active part in the 1916 Easter Week Rising. Over six hundred men and women of the Irish Volunteers participated in the rising in Galway under the command of Liam Mellows and Ailbhe Ó Monacháin. On Monday evening of that week news of the insurrection reached the Galway countryside and local volunteers from Claregalway and Castlegar began to mobilise. The failure to secure arms for Galway after the Aud episode, aligned with the confusion over Eoin MacNeil’s countermand, resulted in a smaller than expected turnout. They had only about 20 .303 rifles and 300 shotguns. On Easter Tuesday Mellows led about 100 volunteers against the RIC station in Clarinbridge in a desperate effort to secure arms. Failing to capture the building, the group marched to Oranmore, taking with them three RIC men who had been caught unawares while on patrol. As they approached Oranmore, they were joined by the Oranmore and Maree companies. A contingent of Connaught Rangers had arrived by train in Galway to relieve the RIC. A firefight involving police, military and volunteers ensued and faced with overwhelming odds, Mellows moved his force east to the Athenry agricultural college, cutting telegraph wires, tearing up railway tracks and commandeering food on the way. After spending Tuesday night in Athenry, 650 or so volunteers marched to Moyode Castle located between Athenry and Craughwell.
Meanwhile the Castlegar and and Claregalway companies billited for the night in Carnmore. A force of RIC and special constables drove to confront them and Thomas Whelan of the RIC was killed during the encounter.
By Friday, however, the rebels dispersed as news arrived that rebel strongholds in Dublin were collapsing and a British warship, the HMS Gloucester, had arrived in Galway Bay.
A detailed account of 1916 and its afternath is to be found on the Claregalway.info website.Tom Ruane who lived in Moycullen and had a £1,000 reward on his head often travelled onto an island in Lough Corrib whenever he was in danger. He was eventually captured as a result of two RIC men in Galway snatching his wife’s handbag which contained a letter that included his Moycullen address.
After the ceasefore, Liam Mellows took the anti-treaty side and made an impassioned speech against it in the Dail on 28 April 1922 as follows:
"There would no question of civil war here now were it not for the undermining of the Republic. The Republic has been deserted by those who state they still intend to work for a Republic. The Volunteers can have very little faith at this moment in the Government that assembles here, because all they can see in it is a chameleon Government. One moment, when they look at it, it is the green, white and orange of the Republic, and at another moment, when they look at it, it is the red, white and blue of the British Empire. We in the Army, who have taken this step, have been termed “mutineers,” “irregulars,” and so forth. We are not mutineers, because we have remained loyal to our trust. We are not mutineers except against the British Government in this country. We may be “irregular” in the sense that funds are not forthcoming to maintain us, but we were always like that and it is no disgrace to be called “irregulars” in that sense. We are not wild people."
In June 1922, he and fellow republicans Rory O'Connor, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett, (among others) entered the Four Courts, which had been occupied by anti-Treaty forces since April. However, they were bombarded by pro-Treaty Free State forces and surrendered after two days. Mellows had a chance to escape along with Ernie O'Malley, but did not take it.
Imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol, Mellows, O'Connor, McKelvey and Barrett (one from each province) were summarily executed by firing squad on 8 December 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of TD Seán Hales, the only TD to be killed during the Civil War. These executions were badly botched and three of the victims required one or more shots from the attending officers to kill them. Liam Mellows is commemorated by statues in Eyre Square and Oranmore and the army barracks in Renmore, Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa, is named after him. Two GAA clubs are also named after him - Liam Mellows GAA Club in Galway and Castletown Liam Mellows GAA Club in Weford). We also have Mellows Bridge in Dublin, Liam Mellow Avenue in Arklow and Liam Mellows Street in Tuam.
The Civil War in Galway came to an end because there was little appetite for further bloodshed in the face of ruthless determination by the Free State, or the pro-treatyites, to stamp out the anti-treaty forces. The Free State government warned that anyone carrying weapons other than the National Army, would be shot. Eleven Galway anti-treatyites were shot by firing squad. On January 20 1923 Martin Bourke, Stephen Joyce, Herbert Collins, Michael Walsh, and Thomas Hughes, all attached to the North Galway IRA Brigade, were arrested and executed in Athlone. On February 19 eighteen volunteers were arrested in Annaghdown, and brought to Galway gaol. It was given out that all were ‘well armed’. Even though it was expected that all, or a number of them, would be shot, nothing happened.
In March a meeting of the commanding officers of the local anti-Treaty Forces was held in Roscommon. They were told to each select one target for attack. There wasn’t much enthusiasm to prolong the war. The leader of the 2nd Western Brigade of the IRA, Comdt Thomas Maguire, commented that that during the War of Independence “The British were the enemy, the old enemy; there was a certain pride in having the ability to attack them. That feeling was totally absent in the Civil War.”
The barracks in Headford was one of the targets selected. The attack resulted in the deaths of four men, Volunteers John Higgins and Daniel McCormack (subsequently) and two Free State soldiers. Arising from this attack, Francis Cunnane (Headford ), Michael Monaghan (Headford ), Martin Moylan (Annaghdown ), John Maguire (Galway), James or John Newell (Galway ), and James O’Malley (Oughterard ) were arrested and executed on April 24 in Tuam. All these men were part of Tom Maguire’s Division. This was the final act in Galway and the war came to an end on 23 May with the anti-treaty forces badly beaten.
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