On the morning of Good Friday, April 21st, 1916, a very young and excited Colm Ó Lochlainn, a captain in the Irish Volunteers, set out in Dublin on his bike, knowing that he would be leading a group of men to complete a mission that was thought would have had far reaching repercussions for Ireland.
Above, Ballykissane Pier, outside Killorglin, where, nearby, three Irish Volunteers perished en route to on a secret mission. Photo by David Medcalf, licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Ó Lochlain served on the special staff of Joseph Mary Plunkett, director of military operations of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Having gained the trust of his commanding officer on other special assignments, Ó Lochlainn realized that his mission was of vital importance.
To get the details, he was to meet up with an officer of the Irish Republican Brotherhood on O’Connell Bridge (then named Sackville Street / Carlisle Bridge ) very early that Good Friday morning. As he cycled toward the bridge, he was approached by Michael Collins -- in his witness statement Ó Lochlainn said there were few words spoken between them – “Mick said, 'Here I will take the bike, here are your tickets, you know what you have to do. There’s the tram.' The orders were clear enough, I was in charge and we had to get to Killarney by train and meet up with two motor cars that would be waiting for us.”
So off went Ó Lochlainn, a Kilkenny native and typographer by trade, to meet with the other men who would be traveling with him to Killarney. The team, chosen for their particular expertise, comprised Limerick man Thomas McInerney, who could drive a motor car; Charlie Monahan, a mechanic and a wireless (radio) installation expert; Donal Sheehan, from West Limerick, who had worked at the War Office and knew the British admiralty codes; Kerry native Dennis Daly, from Caherciveen, who knew the Caherciveen area; and fellow Caherciveen native Con Keating, a wireless-radio operator on a number of ships.
They set off by train to Killarney, where they were to pick up two cars that would be parked outside the train station, and then drive to Caherciveen. Their orders were clear: They were to take control of the wireless station at the nearby College .When they arrived at Killarney, they were met by a Limerick man, Sam Windham, who had experience with explosives -- he drove the first care with Dennis Daly navigating as he knew the way, with Colm Ó Lochlainn as another passenger. The second car was driven by Thomas McInerney [who owned that car], with passengers Charlie Monahan, Donal Sheehan and Con Keating. McInerney was to follow the first car's tail lights.
The plan was to seize control of the wireless station at the nearby College in Caherciveen, by whatever means, so that they would be able to distract British ships that were surveilling the Kerry coastline. They would accomplish this by transmitting false information and then demolishing the wireless transmitter. The plan was to signal the British navy that a German naval attack was imminent off the Scottish coast.
Once British naval forces had taken the bait, and moved from the waters off the Kerry coast, this would then facilitate the landing of the German freighter ‘The Aud’ at Banna Strand, with its cargo of 20,000 German rifles and 10 machine guns. The armaments were, of course, to be distributed around the country, in coordination with Austin Stack at Tralee, to better ensure sufficient weaponry was in place for the Easter Rising.
Pictured, three RIC constables at a checkpoint.
Then the fateful mission began to unravel. The lead car, bearing Ó Lochlainn and Daly, broke down near a checkpoint, and a curious Royal Irish Constabulary officer went to its aid. When this plan had been hatched in Dublin, the assumption was that there would be no security surrounding Caherciveen or the wireless station at the College. Unknown to them, of course, was that the Royal Irish Constabulary had received intelligence of their own -- they were out in force, with the British army as backup, surrounding the Caherciveen area and the wireless station in the College, in particular.
Having managed to convince the officer that they were medical students and tourists, they then realized that the area was securely fortified by the Royal Irish Constabulary and British army. Ó Lochlainn and Daly then set off, checking constantly to ensure that the second car was following them. Then, about three miles further on, they did not see any lights behind them. They waited for some length of time that would have allowed the other car to catch up with them, thinking either that the second car had broken down, or had been caught at the checkpoint. When the second car failed to materialize, they made the decision to abort the mission, and headed back over the hills to Killarney. They slept in the car through the night, and went back to Dublin the next morning to report the mission aborted, not knowing the fate of their four colleagues.
As so often happens in all walks of life, the best laid plans went awry; the second car lost sight of the lead car and had stopped a young girl to ask the way to Cahirciveen, which lay 25 miles to the southwest. The instructions she gave them were “to take the first turn on the right.” On that dark road, passing through Killorglin,with only the headlights of the car to outline the surface of the road, bearing in mind that this was very early days for motor cars and infrastructure, McInerney missed the first turn, which led to the quay, and headed straight for Ballykissane Pier, and beyond, the River Laune.
Some sources would suggest that with the moonlight shining on the surface of the river, the reflection on the water may have been thought to be a continuation of the road. The car was, in fact, heading straight for the river. The car with all its passengers inside went over the unprotected edge and straight into the river, where it was at its deepest and widest. At this point in time, some sources say, McInerney must have managed to get out of the car, but was, however, disoriented and started to swim the wrong way. A local man by the name of Thady O’Sullivan shouted to him, guiding him back to shore with a lamp light.
While McInerney was being cared for by O’Sullivan, other local people such as Patrick and Michael Begley, son and father, the son being an Irish teacher based in Limerick, made dangerous and strenuous efforts to rescue the other passengers, but this proved to be an impossible task. All three men, Sheehan, Monahan and Keating, were thought to be trapped in the car, and at this point the decision to abandon the rescue was made.
At this stage, it was clear that the three other occupants of the car had somehow become trapped in the vehicle and had, sadly, in all likelihood, quickly drowned. O’Sullivan took the one disheartened and cold survivor McInerney back to his house, where he was given towels to dry himself and a hot drink..
McInerney was then advised to go to the Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks and report the incident in the event that any of the other passengers had survived. While away, McInerney's wet overcoat was picked up to dry it, and a revolver was discovered in it. Patrick Begley soon realized that there was more to the night’s events than at first thought.
At that moment, the Royal Irish Constabulary arrived at the cottage to inquire if they had seen anything untoward in the area. Begley hurriedly hid the revolver under a cushion and then sat on the cushion. When McInerney later arrived to retrieve his revolver, Begley advised him that the police had started asking questions about the car driving into the River Luane, and if they returned, as he had no doubt they would, it would be better if they did not find the revolver on him.
Unknown to McInerney at this time, the Royal Irish Constabulary had arrested a man in Tralee, who was connected to the Fenian movement, and putting two and two together, had information that the Fenian could be related to the activity of the sunken car and its passengers. So not to be outwitted by the local people, lo and behold, back to the O’Sullivan and Begley cottages the Royal Irish Constabulary went. Unsurprisingly, they found McInerney sitting in the kitchen,drinking tea. Despite the fact that McInerney stuck to his accounts of the car being full of students on a tour, he was arrested and kept in custody until after the Rising was over. He was then transferred to Frongoch Prison in North Wales, which would house many of the Republicans who were captured after the Easter Rising surrender.
Local fishermen found the bodies of Keating and Sheehan the next day, on 22nd April 1916. They did not know who they were and an inquest was held. It was assumed that they were the bodies out of the car that had plunged into the river on the 21st.
Sheehan was buried as a stranger, in Dromavally Burial Ground, in Killorglin, amidst great sorrow, as the gathered crowd wept openly for a young man to have died, and none knew whom he was. Keating was buried in his native Caherciveen, as he had been identified.
Monahan was found on the banks of the Laune on the 30th October 1916 by a Mr. Sheehy, approximately a quarter of a mile from the quay. His head, one arm and two feet were missing. The trunk of his body, all that was left of him, was fitted with good quality clothes, waterproof trousers, a belt containing two gold sovereigns and a wad of soaked bank notes, more than an average amount of cash even for a man of gentrified background, as it was thought. Also found on his remains were nippers and a wrench, ready and able for the job he never got to carry out. His remains were identified as those of Charlie Monahan. The police did not think an inquest was necessary, so his remains were buried alongside those of Sheehan on Wednesday, the 1st November 1916, at Dromavally Graveyard.
Then, on the 3rd February 1917, the missing bones belonging to Monahan were found by Thady O'Sullivan -- small amounts of tweed material which had rotted, and alongside the material, a six-chamber revolver with an American pattern with 20 rounds of ammunition and a small screwdriver. The bones were interred with his remains by a local priest at Dromavally graveyard. To add insult to injury in these tragic events, Austin Stack [waiting for the illicit cargo in Tralee] was arrested the same night of the car accident, which would have made the distribution of arms shipment nigh impossible as Stack had been the liaison between ‘The Aud’ and the local Irish Republican Brotherhood. As well, Roger Casement, who orchestrated the arms shipment from the German Government, had been captured earlier that day at Banna Strand, about 18 miles north of the accident site.
This tragic story only serves to illustrate the way in which human error, in this case, making assumptions about people and places unknown to planners, often plays a significant role in determining outcomes. Hindsight is a wonderful thing [mmm, or is it?]. In hindsight, we would all, indeed, be perfect.
The 'what if's' began as soon as these tragic events started to unfold in the newspapers; 'What if ' they had managed to divert the Royal Navy as planned? 'What if ' they had not lost sight of the lead car? Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the Easter Rising, it is a very interesting and not-often-enough-told story, which should serve as a warning to those who plan operations without having full knowledge of the specific details of planned targets and surroundings.
Suffice it to say, Thomas McInerney, Colm Ó Lochlainn and Denis Daly lived to tell their tales.
A memorial was erected to Con Keating and Donal Sheehan over their graves in 1919. In 1939, 23 years after the tragic accident took the lives of the three volunteers that fateful night, a monument was erected and unveiled at Ballykissane Pier, by J.J. O’Kelly. In 2006, a mural was unveiled at Short Strand, Belfast, to honor Charlie Monahan as one of the 1916 heroes.
* My thanks to Kieron Punch who provided invaluable information about the driver of the first car.
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Some interesting points, and thought provoking.
Re the late arrival of the guns - I don't think it would have made much sense to import them earlier as this would have attracted undue attention to the planned rebellion. The Howth landings were of a small number of guns and in direct response to the Larne landings which were uncontested. but to bring in a massive amount of weapons might have brought about the feared round-up of the Volunteers before they were ready. By not having the weapons here there could be no leaks - and thus no advance warning of the Volunteers' intentions.
The main reason the rebellion was compromised was the countermanding order, which meant so few people turned out on the Easter Monday. Easter, I presume, had been chosen for its religious significance as much as the fact that many officers would be out of Ireland - back with their families in England on holidays. I agree that Monday was opportunistic rather than deliberate - forced by circumstances rather than planning.
had the rebellion gone ahead as planned it undoubtedly would have lasted much longer before being defeated. It would have been bloodier, and it is likely that the rebels could have surrendered "on terms".
The abortive rising that occurred, and the enforced unconditional surrender, with the subsequent executions, meat that the British "overkill" reaction helped turn public opinion more so than a major rebellion would have done. In terms of ultimate effect, I believe the rebellion that occurred was more successful than the planned one would have been - contradictory as that might seem.
The lopsided reaction to the Nationalist importation of arms through the Asgard with the fatal shooting of three civilians and many injuries at Bachelors Walk two years before 1916 Rebellion was a tacit admission of British allegiance to the Unionist and their threats. They imported significantly more tonnage of firearms a few months before and also from Hamburg where all Irish arms, imported or attempted, were sourced. Their password during the distribution cynically was "Goff" So I think the decision to stage a major rebellion m and openly drilling was born out of these events. You make the point the Larne Landings were uncontested which is correct. But at the expense of the removal of the Home Secretary who ordered the British Army in Ireland to go disarm these Carsonite Covenanters. You will be aware that the officers including Goff threatened they would resign than try to disarm the Unionists, which in many peoples book constitutes Mutiny. Craig effectively threatened the same mutatis mutandis strategy in the treaty negotiations in 1922.
So the planning allowed up to two years to devise ways and means of importing guns, and if it was a decision the Rebellion would take place, which I think was the plan, then there was distinctly flawed operational planning. Casement was disappointed in not having German 'Boots on the Ground' and may have been suffering from depression when arrested in McKennas Fort, and may have been opposed to the rebellion for the same reasons as McNeill. Accounts exist of opportunities afforded Casement to escape which he chose to ignore, particularly when arriving in Kingsbridge (Heuston) Railway Station on route to London and Pentonville. His escort, an unarmed RIC sergeant, suggested to him he go and buy some cigarettes. Further validation of this account may be required.
That the RIC were in strength at locations as remote as Cahersiveen College, minding the wireless station, suggests their information was substantial, although they may not have known the Aud did not have radio communication facilities, no more than our own organizers knew. The other business about the Consulate in New York passing word to London and Dublin Castle about the Hamburg connection, and the fact that the Aud was boarded by British Naval personnel in Tralee Bay, who permitted the case to develop and disembarked, suggests the British were all over this attempted importation.
If there was the remotest hint of this planned importation of a shipment at Banna or anywhere along the coast, I think the officers and God knows who else would have been put on alert in the RMF recruitment HQ at Ballymullen Tralee. Apparently they were not alerted which suggests the British felt events were well under control, and this humiliation and failure would have the desired effect of calling off the rebellion. They were half right and half wrong. They were fully wrong in their actions after the half rebellion.
Correction to first submission. The ADRIC and Black and Tans had not arrived in Ireland for another four years. So the RIC would have been totally inadequate to cope with any major conflict or upheaval. In the event, this would have made the military intervention of the soldiers/recruits in Ballymullen necessary
Heritage Partner Comment by That's Just How It Was on March 5, 2016 at 7:16am
Michael + michael ... that the British had a substantial amount of boots on the ground in and around Cahersiveen College, is indicative of the intelligence that they had gained, in an era where communication, was not ,as sophisticated as it became it later years....The planning for the cargo of armory by the IRB arriving on the Aud,at Banna Strand, to be met by the Volunteers and others, woudl suggest that British Intelligence had got it right again.... It was not a coincidence that all of British boots were on the ground, in and around the whole area.....
michael. the Easter Eggs, I woudl agree did have to be ordered, however I also agree that to leave it as late,as Thursday / Friday for a delivery is a bit frustrating to say the least.... People would want to have bought their Easter Eggs a week before hand if not longer than that... to unload; to dispatch all this armory around the country, in two days, in an era when transportation was a real issue, then to train all personnel in the differing equipment, was , in my opinion, naive , to say the least , and downright high-handed , that all of this could be achieved in two/three day, before an insurance, beggars belief.
One thing the RIC personal missed however, when they stopped O'Lochlinn car was the guns and other offence weapons hidden in the back of the boot---.
Michael Collins was also strongly advised not to travel to Cork by his most trusted colleague's ... did they know that something was going to take place ?.. was there a leak in his personnel... it was not a coincidence that he was where he was , when he was assassinated, and importantly , only Anti.- Treaty and Pro- Treaty were "supposedly " the only personnel at the scene.... all giving conflicting statements... a crime scene that was so dreadfully left bereft of any evidence, is a dreadful indictment on our history, that a man who was so significant and powerful in the country, could be shot and all his diary's documents and other personal stuff went missing, only to turn up decades later ... History is indeed , like a jigsaw puzzle..
The 'what if'' will continue I have no doubt ... , .
Aye, it is a grand job indeed to study the historical jigsaw puzzle. It always leaves it up to the interpretation of the latest piece found and how we make it fit. My grand da use to make puzzles and always had a wee pocket knife on the table, to which he used to make the pieces fit better as to the picture he envisioned. Maybe we all have that wee "pocket knife" to assist us in our understanding of the past. Even when an event happens, each of the eyewitnesses will have a slightly different view of what just happened. It is a lovely "game" we play. Slainte !
That's Just How It was and Michael
My understanding is that the British had cracked the German radio codes and knew all about the Aud and its mission. That is why, as you say TJHIW, the 'boots were on the ground'. They also knew of the rebels' plans to try to send international messages and therefore protected the local transmitter.
With all of this information the obvious question is how come they did not suspect that the rebellion was about to take place? The answer may be that they did and that there was more truth to the Castle Document than we have been allowed to think, which makes the Rising imperative not optional.
As the information leaks were undoubtedly two-way, bringing in a major cache of arms to distribute throughout the country long before the Rising risked having them seized. no-one was sure who would rise when called - even Redmond's call to join the British army only generated about less than a 20% response - so why supply weapons to people who may not join a rebellion or, even worse, might use those weapons against you by joining with the police and army to save their own skins?
The Irish Volunteers were well trained in the use of rifles of varying sorts. This is obvious when one looks at the ease with which they changed weapons as required during the actual fighting. Weapons only needed to be distributed to depots on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday for distribution to those who needed them. The confusion that would have ensued nationally had the rebellion gone to plan would have facilitated movement of arms and munitions as all communications would have been cut, rail transport disrupted etc. With isolated RIC unaware of the national situation, the better informed rebels would, initially, have had the upper hand.
But, of course, all this is speculation and, apart from passing time, is of little real value.
Heritage Partner Comment by That's Just How It Was on March 5, 2016 at 12:21pm
The Castle Document "Fake or the real McCoy" .. its relevance to the Easter Rising of 1916, should not be undermined. The debate over this document has raged over many decades, and will no doubt continue to be debated , long after I am gone, Was it a genuine piece of Info, either leaked from the Castle or was it, in fact stolen from the Castle ,,, or indeed was it a ploy by the IRB to force the Volunteers into action .. Fake or the real McCoy ... it certainly forced MacNeills hand, to countermand the orders and cancel the Volunteers nation-wide plans for the Rising, and thereby leaving the rebellion itself to take place, mainly in Dublin .
. Whatever it was, it forced McNeill to countermand the orders to mobilise the IV, and cancel the nation-wide plans for the Rising, leaving the Rebellion itself to take place primarily in Dublin.
The question is, and once again we are back to the "what if", MacNeill had not sent out the message to countermand the Rising on the Easter Sunday ..
Redmonds call to join the British Army was a catastrophe, and those that did join, only did so , to earn a few bob to feed their family's .. Even Erskine Childers was against this,
The support of weapons to the volunteers, was a must , they were after all going to be in the forefront of any fighting , yes I agree that some of them had been trained ; but the vast majority who were members of the Volunteers, had not had a been trained,
I agree with micheal dunne on this one ;;;; the Easter Eggs , should have been in the shops, days beforehand, so that the people who were going to be buying and dealing with the armory, had the opportunity to fit themselves to the weapons.
The ,,,, "What if" will no doubt continue , like a jigsaw
That's Just How It Was
The Castle Document was used to force McNeill to OK the Rising, not to cancel it. He cancelled when he discovered that the Aud had been intercepted and the arms lost.
Re joining the British Army - don't be too quick to ascribe reasons to those who did. The poet Francis Ledwidge, for example, joined because he did not want England saying she had fought to protect us and we would not raise a hand to help.
Michael, the guns on the Aud were old and outdated. The ammunition likewise. These were guns Germany was scrapping, but all that Casement could get. They still would have been of use - just because something is superceded does not mean it is useless.
once the Irish rose up, what the Unionists had became irrelevant as we were now going to be fighting the British army with its modern weapons.
I agree that England knew well the best places to place a barracks - she had centuries of practice. She still lost the war with her nearest neighbour, however, because she could not fight a non-conventional war successfully.
This Rebellion was botched. To expect a gun shipment to land on Good Friday and have the 20,000 rifles and the ammunition distributed nationwide to all the relevant insurgents for Easter Saturday is madness. Given the articles included in the papers in this thread, the local CO Austin Stack was in custody as was Casement on the same Saturday and the deaths of those killed in Ballykissane also a matter of record. The excellent Proclamation had to be drafted and printed and its assertion of good planning is at a remove from what actually occurred. One cannot dress this up as being anything other than a botched job that it even fooled the British.
Without going into the rationale or philosophy or British counter blunders, most Irish people respect the courage shown by those who fought in the knowledge that their situation was hopeless.
Heritage Partner Comment by That's Just How It Was on March 6, 2016 at 8:24am
My understanding of the “Fake or the real McCoy document” is … that it was planted on MacNeill, purporting that the leaders of the Volunteers were to be arrested by the British Authorities, to effectively disarm all of the organisation, arrest them, and that Dublin was to be occupied by the British Army. This was not so far off the truth.. as the British Authorities had received intelligence that “something was afoot” but decided to put off any action until after the Easter Monday.
MacNeill was then informed of the planned landing of the arms, and he issued an order for the Volunteers to take part in a ‘defensive war’. He was not informed that the Aud had been captured when he had issued his this order , but on the Saturday,however only discovered the forgery of the “ Fake Or Real McCoy” note, and it was at this time he issued the now infamous countermanding order…. …
By this time the Castle Authorities were in confusion, because of the many rumours going around… but had made the decision to act on the Tuesday … so in effect, even with all the intelligence that they did have, they were still caught off guard, by their own postponement of action….
Plunket et.al-- did not trust Casement that is why Plunket was sent to Germany, to ensure that Casement was acting in Ireland’s interests. Neither Casement nor Childers were ever fully accepted trusted by the IRB ..
michael dunne , I whole-heartily agree with you that the British had centuries to build and “establish locations and expensive upkeep of these military barracks is clear testament that Ireland was never a colony but a hostile place for those who would attempt to suppress this nation.”…
Finally , now that we have some notion of how defunct and outdated the armory was on the Aud ; would suggest to me , that these eggs should have been in the shops before Thursday, Friday or Saturday,,,