The 1916 Rising is one of the most important turning points in modern Irish history. However, popular memory and historical research is guilty of relegating many aspects of the Rising’s history to near obscurity. Though the Rising is now remembered as a predominantly Dublin event, it was not planned as such. Leaders of the 1916 Rising envisaged a national uprising that would involve Volunteers from Cork, Kerry, Clare, Limerick and Galway. Volunteer units from these counties were to mobilise and establish a line along the river Shannon and advance on Dublin attacking British Military and RIC targets on the way. The main duty of the units from outside Dublin was to protect the landing of German arms in Kerry and allow the distribution of the weapons to the different units. The Cork Brigade was ordered to occupy positions running along a north-south line from Newmarket to the Boggeragh Mountains and then westward to the Cork-Kerry border. They would make contact with the Kerry Brigade who were holding territory eastwards from Tralee. To the north of the Cork Brigade’s position, the Limerick Brigade would occupy the territory to the River Shannon. The Clare and Galway Brigades would maintain the line of the Shannon to Athlone. Early in 1916, Easter Sunday was chosen as the day of the uprising. This day would symbolise the resurrection of the Irish nation.
Over 1000 men from Cork City and County mobilised and travelled to various locations throughout the county. Volunteers units were positioned at 8 different locations including Crookstown, Macroom, Bweeng and Inchigeelagh. These men were ordered to hold their positions and await further instructions. Tomás MacCurtain, Commandant of the Cork Brigade had received so many conflicting orders in the days before Easter Sunday from Volunteer HQ in Dublin that it remained unclear as to what actions he and his men were to take. On the evening of Easter Sunday, he decided that the best course of action was to stand down his men and to send them home. The Volunteers had been waiting all day in awful weather unsure as to when they were to move into action. The order to stand down only added to the confusion as to why they had actually been mobilised in the first place.
By the time MacCurtain returned to Cork City at 8 p.m. on Easter Monday, he received word that the Rising had been underway since noon. He now realised that the Cork Brigade would be unable to take any part in the Rising. MacCurtain’s main concern was the defence of the Volunteer Hall on Sheares Street. It was at Volunteer Hall that MacCurtain and his men would remain in a stand off with British authorities for another week. Negotiations were conducted between both parties by Lord Mayor Butterfield and Bishop Coholan. Eventually the crisis was ended on May 1st when the Volunteers agreed to hand over their weapons to the Lord Mayor on the understanding that they would be returned at a later date. As the leaders of the 1916 Rising were arrested and imprisoned, the Cork Volunteers returned to their homes disappointed that they were unable to help their comrades in Dublin but content that this crisis had reached a peaceful conclusion.
Though the Volunteers had not taken part in any of the actual fighting during Easter 1916 and had complied with the demands imposed on them by local British and civic authorities, many of their members were arrested and detained. The last major event of the Rising occurred on the morning of May 2nd at Bawnard House, in Castlelyons, County Cork. The RIC came to arrest the four Volunteer brothers Thomas, David, Richard and William Kent. They resisted arrest. A gun battle ensued that lasted for three hours until finally the brothers were forced to surrender because they had run out of ammunition. One RIC constable was killed and several others were wounded. David Kent was injured. Richard was shot while trying to escape and died two days later. The remaining brothers were arrested and imprisoned in Cork Military Detention Barracks. Thomas, David and William faced a court-martial. William was acquitted, while David and Thomas were sentenced to death. David’s sentence was commuted to five years penal servitude but Thomas was executed on the morning of May 9th. The railway station in Cork City was renamed Thomas Kent Station in his honour.
Over the next few weeks, many more Irish Volunteers were arrested and detained in the Cork Military Detention Barracks. MacCurtain, MacSwiney and the men under their command were transported to Dublin on May 21st to be imprisoned in Richmond Barracks. By this stage, the public outcry against the executions of the leaders of the Rising had forced the British authorities to rethink their actions towards the arrested Volunteers. The executions were stopped and the Volunteers were to be interned in British prisons instead. This began almost immediately. The Volunteers were sent to different prisons all across Britain only to be moved on later the same month to a former German POW camp in Frongoch, North Wales. Many of the prisoners were released during June and July as part of a general release. Many leaders like MacCurtain and MacSwiney were transferred to Reading Prison, as they were considered too dangerous to be released. Most of the remaining interned Volunteers were released on Christmas Eve and returned to a heroes’ welcome in Ireland.
Corcaigh 1916 is an exhibition that hopes to readdress the imbalance regarding the events of Easter 1916. Though the Cork Brigade of Irish Volunteers played no actual part in the fighting in Dublin, they still have a story to tell about their role in the events of that week. This exhibition will focus primarily on the formation and early history of the Cork Volunteers and illustrate their part in the confusion in the weeks and days ahead of the 1916 Rising. As well as the exhibition, there will be an audio-visual presentation that has been compiled and narrated by local historians, Gerry White and Dr. Brendan O’Shea. Corcaigh 1916 will also highlight the legacy of 1916 and the impact it had on the future of the Cork Brigade and the city of Cork as a whole.
Prof. John A. Murphy opening the 1916 Exhibition at Cork Public Museum.
Mrs. Cita Murphy, Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Deirdre Clune, Ms. Stella Cherry, Curator Cork Public Museum and Prof. John A. Murphy photographed at the 1916 Exhibition at Cork Public Museum.
Cllr. John Kelleher and Deputy Dan Boyle photographed at the 1916 Exhibition.
Mrs. Nora Dineen, Cork City Library, Mrs. Eileen Bowen, Ballygarvan, and Dr. Eileen O'Leary, Information Systems Department, Cork City Council, photographed at the 1916 Exhibition in Cork Public Museum.
Leo McMahon, Southern Star, Gerry White, Collins Barracks and Dr. Brendan O'Shea, Collins Barracks. Gerry White and Dr. Brendan O'Shea are authors of the recently published 'Baptised in Blood'.
Dr. Madeleine O'Connell photographed next to her father's uniform - J.J. Horgan a former Lord Mayor.