War stories revealed in Wexford man's account of war and peace
Published 19/03/2016 | 00:00
WITH the centenary of the 1916 Rising fast approaching, a Wexford town man has recalled fond memories of his Uncle Michael 'Micker' Kehoe, who joined Fianna Eireann that year and subsequenty spent 18 months in jail after being captured by Free State forces in 1922.
Speaking from Kerlogue Nursing Home, John Codd, formerly of Parnell Street, told how his Uncle Michael joined the nationalist youth organisation Fianna Eireann and steadily rose through their ranks.
Michael's political credentials were firmly with the nationalist cause. He was a first cousin of Patrick Hogan, who, along with John Creane and James Parle, was executed by firing squad in the grounds of Wexford Jail on March 13, 1923, after being found guilty of possessing a firearm. A plaque remains there in their memory.
A year earlier, in 1922, with the outbreak of the Civil War and the formation of the Irish Free State, Michael and his comrades were forced to go underground and spent time on the run.
He was captured during July, 1922, and with some of his brothers in arms, was put on a train in Wexford destined for Mountjoy.
Reading from a copy of details of Michael's exploits, which have never been published, John said the IRA ambushed the train at Killurin in an attempt to free the prisoners. However, the operation failed and Michael was shot in the knee during the skirmish, put back on the train and taken to hospital in Meath for treatment.
The train was again ambushed at Harcourt Street Station and another attempt was made to free the captives, two of whom were seriously wounded and later died.
Subsequently Michael escaped from hospital and was given refuge by two women at a 'safe house' in Rathmines, one of them a nurse and the other a schoolteacher, who nursed him back to health.
When he left the house he was 'on the run' again, however, his freedom was short-lived and he was captured again. This time, he was send to Harebrook Concentration Camp, at the Curragh, where he served 18 months, before being released.
During his time in the camp, Michael reveals a life of hope and despair, of rumour and conjecture.
Scant on detail, it is still a chilling record, deaths dealt with in terse, one-line comments:
'Owen O'Brien, Kimmallock, died from ill-treatment on Good Friday, 1923.
'Denis Barry, from Cork, died after hunger strike, November, 1923. As also did Andy O'Sullivan from Cork and Joe Lacey, Wexford, who died after hunger strike in December, 1923.
'Dick Humes, Wexford, killed by ill-treatment, November, 1923.'
Other 'one-liners' record the humdrum, tedious life of the prisoners, broken up by talk of escape and tunnels and food.
Easter Sunday: 'Rashers and eggs and pudding for breakfast. Tunnel found in camp.
Two days later: 'Very warm day. Tunnel filled in... had a bath.'
April 8: 'Chapel burned at Curragh.. a day later: 'Independent papers in. Parcels and letters in. Cabbage and turnips for dinner.'
April 10: 'Joe Leacy and J. Malone released. Liam Lynch, chief of staff, killed in action. (Hut) 37 beat 35 in f.ball (Good).'
April 12: 'Paper record of C. of S. death. Rosary recited. Argument with Com. O'C (officer commanding).
April 19: 'Wrote to Mary Hackett.'
April 20: 'Had ring made.. Received new coat.'
On April 26, armed guards entered the camp, two days after the Officer Commanding it and other leading men were removed.
'Rumours of making the prisoners work. All men confined to huts. Men taken from huts 39 and 40 refused to work. Fired on and S.Behan (16) wounded in the neck. Rosary recited in the hut. Doors opened at 5.30. Great stories told of shooting, narrow escapes. Chancer came into hut.
April 28: 'Great Peace move. DeValera issues a Proclamation. Cessation of hostilities on Monday at 12 noon.'
May was a quiet month in the camp with reports of feet being washed and flu sweeping through it and fights between prisoners, song writing, foot ball matches.
The date Michael was released is not included in the camp diary, which has been passed from generation to generation in his family.
However, in 1927, he left Ireland for a new life in the USA, sailing from Cobh to Chicago.
'I don't have anyone to leave it to now,' said his nephew John, aged 84. John said his father had travelled to the USA to meet his brother, but the journey to Chicago took some time and when he arrived he found that Michael, who had been running a tavern there, had had a heart attack and died a couple of days earlier.'He was obviously held in high regard because the Chicago police, who were all Irish, laid on a guard of honour for him,' said John, who recalls his uncle, with fond affection.