By Graham Healy
One hundred years ago this week, the Easter Rising took place and the aim of the uprising was to end British rule in Ireland. The rising lasted just a week but it would lead to increased popular support for Irish independence.
Much of the action took place that week in Dublin, but there were also engagements outside of the capital city in Fingal, Ashbourne, Galway and Enniscorthy.
The order to mobilise troops in Enniscorthy in the South-East of the country came via a courier who had been despatched from Dublin. The man who brought the order from the rebel leaders was Peter Paul Galligan from Leitrim and his journey involved an arduous 200-kilometre cycle.
The courier would have to travel a longer route around the Wicklow Mountains so as to avoid British troops and he would cycle through the night on poor roads with a heavy bike.
Galligan would later recount the events of Easter Week and his cycle from Dublin to Enniscorthy. His statement was one of 1,773 witness statements collected by the Irish state as part of the Bureau of Military History project betweeen 1947 and 1957.
As part of his statement, Galligan recalled how he had joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1907 and would go on to become a captain in the Irish Volunteers.
Prior to the start of the Rising, Galligan explained how there was some confusion in Wexford as to whether they were to proceed with action.
“On Easter Saturday there was an air of indecision prevailing among the officers owing to this lack of instruction. I decided to proceed to Dublin and find out the position exactly.”
In Dublin on Easter Sunday, he met with a number of the rebel leaders at the GPO – James Connolly, Padraig Pearse and Joseph Plunkett.
“At the G.P.O. I saw Connolly, Pearse and Plunkett. I reported to them and after a discussion amongst themselves, Connolly said to me that they had enough men in Dublin and that it would be better for me to join my unit in Wexford.”
“After a talk with Plunkett and Pearse in which I could hear the word mountains being used Connolly instructed me to go back to Wexford as quickly as I could and to mobilise the Enniscorthy Bn. and to hold the railway line to prevent troops from coming through from Wexford as he expected that they would be landed there.”
“He said to reserve our ammunition and not to waste it on attacking barracks or such like. He instructed that I be supplied with a good bicycle. He then detailed an orderly to take me to the canteen to get something to eat before leaving for Wexford.”
“In the canteen I was supplied with two buns and tea by Desmond Fitzgerald who was in charge there. Joe Duffy and another volunteer were either coming off or going on duty and we had our cakes and tea together.”
“While there I noticed a British soldier in uniform, apparently a prisoner, engaged in carrying up supplies from the kitchen. It was about 2 a.m. on Tuesday morning at this time.”
“The orderly now took me to the street door and the officer i/c there Gearoid O’Sullivan, gave me a good bicycle from the stores in the G.P.O.”
“I started straight away for Enniscorthy. It was just breaking day as I left the G.P.O. Connolly had told me not to go back thro’ Wicklow, but to make a detour as he believed that Dublin was being surrounded.”
“When I got to the Parnell Monument I looked back and I noticed that there were two flags flying from the masts on the front of the G.P.O. As far as I can remember there was a green flag at the corner of the G.P.O. adjoining Henry St. and the tricolour of today was flying at the other end (Abbey St.).”
“The flags were more central than at the extreme ends. I left by the N.C.R. and travelled via Mulhuddart and Maynooth. I did not come in contact with any Volunteer posts in my way out of the city.”
“At Maynooth I saw troop trains proceeding towards the city. I travelled all day and late that night I arrived at some place in Co. Carlow the name of which I cannot remember. I got a bed in a hotel there and stayed the night.”
“Next morning – Wednesday – I proceeded to Wexford and late that evening when nearing Enniscorthy I contacted a Volunteer from the town to was delivering bread. I told him that I could not go into the town and instructed him to tell the officers to come out and meet me that I had instructions from Connolly for them.”
“I met the officers that evening and conveyed to them Connolly’s instructions and they decided to act on it. The Battalion was mobilised at about 2 a.m. on the following Thursday morning and was about 100 strong when mobilisation was completed.”
Galligan’s journey over bad roads and on a heavy bike had totalled approximately 200 kilometres but he had gotten the message through.
The volunteers blocked all roads into the town and made a brief attack on the RIC barracks, but chose to blockade it rather than attempt to capture it.
By Saturday, up to 1,000 rebels had been mobilised, and a detachment was sent to occupy the nearby village of Ferns.
On the Sunday after the rising started, the British sent messengers to Enniscorthy, informing the rebels of Pearse’s surrender order. However, the Volunteer officers were sceptical and two of them were escorted by the British to Arbour Hill Prison, where Pearse confirmed the surrender order.
Galligan would escape Enniscorthy and set off for Carlow by bicycle again before heading further north to Cavan on another journey of over 200 kilometres. However, he was arrested soon after his arrival in Cavan and sent to Kilmainham Gaol.
He was charged with being an officer in charge of an armed rebellion. A few days later, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. His sentenced was later reduced to five years penal servitude.
Galligan was transferred to Dartmoor Prison in England. Upon his return to Ireland, he was elected as a TD before retiring from politics in 1922.
Galligan passed away in 1966 at the age of 78, 50 years after being handed a death sentence.
Have a read Jim Delaney..
At the rebel canteen in the GPO
Paul Galligan: I’m just about to head off to Wexford on my bike.
Cook: Here, have a cup of tea and a couple of buns. You’ll be grand.
I hope he had a bit more than just a couple of buns and a cup of tea on his way to Wexford. I’ve cycled to Wexford from Dublin a couple of times, but I took a more direct route down through Wicklow than via Maynooth and Carlow, and I sure as hell had more to eat than a couple of buns.
Actually, that reminds me of a story. I landed in Rosslare from the boat from France once after touring around Normandy, and I was cycling back up to Dublin. Literally all I had with me was half a loaf of bread. I had no money left and was taking water from streams. I knew I’d be spending the night sleeping rough as the boat had arrived late in the day, and I wanted to have something to eat for the latter part of the journey the next day, so I had nothing to eat on the first evening. On the second day I got as far as the Glen of the Downs and finally decided to treat myself to the half loaf of dry bread that I had. I went into a field to get some water at a stream and left my bike and bread near the gate. Off I went to get the water, but when I got back to the bike I saw a donkey merrily scoffing my bread.
Let me tell you, I was completely devastated, and annoyed with myself. But despite my hunger, I saw the funny side too. I wasn’t able to get angry with the donkey. He was a nice donkey. Anyway, I made it back home to the north side of the city, albeit a bit hungrier than I was hoping.