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Posts Tagged ‘Irish War of Independence’

Trinity College Dublin c.1900

I recently began reading a work titled The Good Old IRA, which was issued by the ‘Sinn Féin Publicity Department’ in November 1985. It lists ‘Tan War operations’ which injured or in some cases killed civilians in an attempt to highlight the hypocrisy of those who honoured the republicans of old while attacking their contemporaries.

The works introduction slates Labour Party leader and “Free State deputy-premier” Dick Spring for example, noting that he was

tongue-tied in attempting to explain the differences between the IRA gun-runner Roger Casement (in whose honour he was unveiling a statue at Ballyheigue, County Kerry) and those IRA gun-runners on the Marita Anne who had been arrested by his government’s forces off the Kerry coast 24 hours previously.

One incident detailed in particular, from 1921, stood out for me. It is listed on page 56 of the work.

Not Cricket

One woman spectator, Miss Kate Wright, a student of Trinity College, was killed and another wounded in an attack by armed civilians on military officers playing in a cricket match at Trinity College Dublin on June 3rd. A man fired shots on to the field of play from the railings at Nassau Street from which the pitch was visible.

The Irish Times reported on the day following the shooting that

The occasion was one of festivity and enjoyment in the College Park. A cricket match in connection with Warriors’ Day was in progress. The teams were the Gentlemen of Ireland versus the Military of Ireland. The general belief is that the latter were the objects of the murderous attack which resulted so tragically

From the contemporary newspaper reports, we can establish quite a lot about Miss Wright. Aged only 21 (based on an Irish Independent report of the inquiry into her death),Kathleen Alexanderson Wright was engaged to be married to a young man who was also a student at the Dublin university. His name was Mr. Geo Herbert Ardall, and he was a native of Sligo. He was studying Science at the University, and was with Kathleen enjoying the cricket match, on what was said to be a lovely summers day in Dublin.

From the following days Irish Independent.

Kathleen was the daughter of the Rev. E.A Wright of All Saints Clapham Park in London, and the Irish Independent of June 4 1921 noted that he had “before going to England filled curacies in Cahir and Seapatrick”, both in county Down. At the time of the shooting she was living on Pembroke Road in Rathmines, but before hand had lived in digs at Trinity.

The Irish Independent reported how he told the inquiry into his fiance’s death that

When the shots were fired he pulled Miss Wright down on the ground as quickly as he could. She was moaning, but he was not certain she was hit until a few moments afterwards when he saw blood on the front of her blouse. Three doctors attended her, and one told him that the case was absolutely hopeless. He did not hear her make any remark. He accompanied her to hospital, where he was told she was dead

The Irish Times report into the inquiry noted that

Another witness stated that he was in the cricket pavilion, and heard someone remark that shots were being fired outside in the park. He went out immediately, and ran to where a crowd was collecting inside the park railings opposite the Kildare Street Club. A few of his friends told him what had happened and said that the shots came through the railings (…) When witness arrived at where the girl was lying on the ground the crowd who are usually gathered in Nassau Street outside the railings to watch the game had all cleared off.

Perhaps the most surreal details about the shooting come from the statement issued by Dublin Castle in the immediate aftermath of the event. The official reported noted that another female was wounded during the shootings, and provided great insight into the initial reaction of those on the green.

As soon as the shooting began,the players, realising what was happening, threw themselves flat on the field. A regimental band, which was on the field at the time, threw down their instruments and also lay prone. The spectators were not so quick to realise what was happening until a number of shots had been fired and persons were hit.

The attackers made good their escape.

Nobody was ever tried for the shooting of Miss Kathleen Wright, and little was written about her after her body returned home. Her story is just one of many told in The Good Old IRA, with other tragic events unfolding on the streets of Dublin over the course of the War of Independence.

I’ll no doubt think of her and her story next time I wander through Trinity College.

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Shortly after escaping. Mae Burke, Eithne Coyle and Linda Kearns, Carlow 1921. Notice that they are standing on the Union Jack flag.

It’s been a good week for me as far as documentaries go. Along with the fantastic Seamus Ennis effort from RTE linked to below, TG4 has been on the ball too, with Ealú, a brilliant effort revolving around Nurse Linda Kearns.

Link to documentary online, at TG4 Beo.

Only two days into the 1916 Rising, Nurse Kearns set up a temporary hospital at North Great George’s Street. This hospital was designed to provide medical aid to both British and Irish wounded. This temporary hospital was closed by military orders. Linda was to become a more active part of the republican movement after the Rising.

Interesting information on her activity on behalf of the IRA can be found in Sinead McCoole’s No Ordinary Women. Linda was never a member of Cumann na mBan for example, though did provide lectures to the women of the movement, as Doctor Kathleen Lynn had before the insurrection. The nursing home Linda ran in Gardiner Place also functioned as a sort of hiding spot for republican men on the run.

Cal McCarthy’s excellent study of Cumann na mBan (Cumann na mBan and the Irish Revolution) quotes the report of the Sligo County Inspector following the arrest of Linda Kearns in November 1920.

“On 20-11-20 a police and military patrol stopped a motor car driven by nurse Belinda Kearns of 29 Gardiner Palace Dublin and found therein ten service rifles, four revolvers, 403 rounds of service rifle ammunition, 23 rounds of revolver ammunition and a quantity of equipment.”

Linda Kearns

The report went on to state that three male suspects were arrested in the motor car, and that crown intelligence ascertained that “…Miss Kearns has for the past two years been the medium of communication between Head Quarters IRA Dublin and County Sligo”

Linda did time in a number of Irish prisons before being sent to Walton Prison in Liverpool, where she went on hungerstrike. From here she was sent to Mountjoy Prison.

In The Jangle of the Keys, her highly regarded personal history of her time in a variety of British and Free State run Irish prisons, Margaret Buckley wrote at length about the 1921 escape from Mountjoy.

Linda Kearns was largely responsible for the planning of the sensational Mountjoy escape, and entered with great glee into organising it”

A sympathetic wardress had seen to it that the girls were able to get their hands on a wax-mold of the key needed for their escape.

“It was Hallowe’en. Word was sent out; signals agreed on; and time and place fixed…”

The female prisoners were participating in a football match, Cork versus the Rest of Ireland. The Rest of Ireland won, but that was irrelevant. The prisoners created plenty of noise, and the four female prisoners plotting their escape seized the moment. Linda Kearns, Eithne Coyle, Mae Burke and Eileen Keogh made their move. Throwing a small perfume bottle over the wall at the agreed spot, a rope ladder was returned. Linda went first, due to ill-health, followed by Eileen Keogh, Mae Burke and lastly Eithne Coyle. Linda Kearns would find shelter at an IRA training camp in Carlow until the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty.

Amazingly, Linda Kearns was to play a role in the Civil War too, ensuring she earned all her republican stripes! Having failed to gain entry to the Four Courts, she found herself in a variety of locations throughout Dublin tending to the wounded. When the focus of the battle in Dublin shifted entirely to O’ Connell Street, the stretch from the Hammond to the Gresham Hotel was occupied by something in the region of 100 republican combatants.

Margaret Ward noted in her study of the role of women in Irish nationalist history (Unmanageable Revolutionaries) that Cathal Brugha himself had to appeal strongly to the 30 women to leave, as the fight looked doomed. Three remained. Alongside Kathleen Barry and Muriel MacSwiney (The widow of Terence, The Lord Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike) was Linda Kearns.

Free State armoured car, photographed during the Civil War in Dublin.

Linda Kearns witnessed the wounding of Cathal Brugha, who had refused to surrender to the forces of the new state. She held his severed artery between her fingers as he was driven to hospital, but he would die two days later. Cumann na mBan activists stood guard over Brugha when his body lay in state.

Her story is an amazing one, and by no means ends there. Nor does it start on North Great George’s Street.

In his wonderful biography of Kevin Barry (Kevin Barry And His Time), Donal O’ Donovan wrote that “Linda Kearns of Sligo, a trained nurse, is one of those people who was in everything during the War of Independence and the Civil War, but has not yet got her due meed of praise”

This fantastic effort from TG4 is most worthy of your time, and finally sees to it that Linda Kearns gets some of the attention she deserves.

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