Plan to honour 1916 priest is scrapped as objections raised
PLANS to honour a priest who served on a peace committee involved in the negotiations leading to the surrender of rebels involved in the 1916 Rising in Enniscorthy have been scrapped following complaints from one of their descendants.
While Glynn PP Fr R Fitzhenry is regarded as a hero in some quarters, he is vilified as a traitor by those who claim that after the surrender he urged the church to excommunicate anyone with republican sympathies or had taken part in the Rising and that under no circumstances should a plaque be erected to his memory.
'He ex-communicated all the Volunteers and told them they would never receive the sacrament. I don't think he's due an honour for that,' said retired Press photographer Paddy Murphy, a member of Enniscorthy's Easter Monday committee for the past 20 years and who had eight family members who took part in the Rising in the town.
Paddy said he had written to Enniscorthy District Manager Padraig O'Gorman setting out his concerns at the council's plans to erect a plaque to the priest.
Mr O'Gorman said he had taken Mr Murphy's concerns on board, and of the 10 plaques that were on the drawing board, there was not one for Fr Fitzhenry.
'Mr Murphy is on the committee and we ran his views past a couple of local historians who said having a plaque for Revd Fitzhenry would not be appropriate,' said Mr O'Gorman.
'I know from stories from my own family that have been handed down that this (the threat of excommunication) happened. I was told he said it from the pulpit in the Cathedral after the surrender,' said Paddy.
'It didn't have much of an effect on the men, they just shrugged it off, but the wives, girlfriends and mothers were really upset at his threat,' said Paddy.
'All the town councillors at the time condemned what the rebels had done and then later had to change their minds,' he said.
A contemporary account of events in Enniscorthy by Glynn Parish Priest Patrick Canon Murphy, recorded in 1955, outlines Fr Fitzhenry's role in negotiating between the rebels and the British commander in Wexford, Col French:
'Rumours of an attack on Enniscorthy reached town. Fearful of loss of life and destruction of property, a number of leading citizens formed themselves into a peace committee. Rev R Fitzhenry, administrator, and Rev John Rossiter visited the Republic headquarters (at the Athenaeum). What transpired is thus recorded by Captain Etchingham:
'We discuss things and ultimately agree to recognise an armistice. We discuss peace conditionally on the English Military Authorities issuing a proclamation in the four towns of Wexford of this action and that will not compromise in one comma our principles. We are not averse if an almost bloodless blow wins Independence.'
'A meeting of the members of the peace committee is held and Father Fitzhenry, Citizens P. O'Neill and S. Buttle go to Wexford.
'Next comes the return of the Wexford deputation and we know by the face of Fr Fitzhenry that he considers he has bad news. We assemble and listen to the result of the interview. It is unconditional surrender. A copy of the special edition of the 'Free Press' is produced which announces the unconditional surrender of our noble Commandant Pearse. Copies of telegrams purporting to have come from the County Inspector of Police were given to Father Fitzhenry. One asks all units of the Irish Volunteers to surrender.
'The six leaders of the 'Wexford Revolt', Captains Robert Brennan, Seamus Doyle, Seamus Rafter, R.K. King, J.R. Etchingham and Lieutentant Michael de Lassaigh subsequently jointly sign a letter sent to Colonel French by the peace committee asking the British to guarantee the safety of Captains Doyle and Etchingham to travel to Dublin to interview Commandant Pearse.
'Col French agreed and the two rebel officers travelled to Ferrycarrig and were taken through English picquet lines and conveyed under safe conduct to the capital.'