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Unique Record Of Carlow And Laois Volunteers Is Unearthed

The following article appeared on Thursday, April 27, 2006 in the Laois Nationalist newspaper.

By Ronan Early

A list of men (above) from Carlow and Laois involved in the Irish National Volunteers in 1914 has been discovered by a local historian.

Brendan "Gala" Hutton has, for several years, been examining the thousands of documents that comprise the Pat Purcell Papers. From his research he has unearthed evidence of nearly 100 local men who joined the Irish National Volunteers which was formed in November 1913 to combat the threat from the heavily armed Ulster Volunteer Force which had been formed in January 1913.

The list of local volunteers is a record of an attendance at a short rifle range in Ballickmoyler, County Laois on August 4 1914, the day after Germany declared war on France in what would turn out to be the beginning of World War 1 . Interestingly, the meeting was addressed by prominent local businessman, Michael Governey.

Soon after the meeting the volunteers split when the leader of the Nationalist Party and Home-Ruler advocate John Redmond M.P. advised INV members to join the British Army, "to help them win this war that would be over by Christmas" and secure the goodwill which would grant Ireland autonomy.

Seventy five per cent of the Irish National Volunteers backed Redmond, many of whom joined the British forces. It is not known how many of the Carlow and Laois volunteers fought in the "war to end all wars." One that certainly did was Tom Mulhall who was killed in action in 1918.

Many of the names on the list went on to become active in the Irish Republican Army in the 1920s. Pat McDermott, Martin O'Neill and Tom Seeley are three Carlow examples of this.

"This is a major find. It's the first contemporaneous record of Volunteer activity in Carlow/Laois during this period, just after the movement was formed and just before it split," said Carlow historian Michael Purcell, a nephew of the late Pat Purcell. Pat handed over his archive to Michael just before he died and Michael passed them to Gala Hutton to examine.

Pat Purcell, of Killeshin and Quinagh, passed away in 1994 in his 99th year. He was a member of the Irish National Volunteers and active in the movement at the time the list was drawn up, Pat joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1915..

The letter was sent by J W Feehan, who later ran the Post Office in Ballickmoyler, to Pat Purcell who leased the land where the firing range was set up at Rossena quarry from Michael Quinn who was living in America.

The meeting on August 4 takes place soon after the Asgard, navigated by Erskine Childers, landed 1,500 guns for the Irish volunteers at Howth. Also present in Rossena were young members of Na Fianna scouts movement.

"Many of the Irishmen who joined the British forces for the Great War (World War 1) were often portrayed as a betrayal to the cause ," said Michael Purcell. "This is not the case. Those that went to fight against Germany did so in the belief that it would secure Home Rule for Ireland in a matter of months. They were not to know how long that war would last or that during this war a rising would take place in Dublin ."  
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