By James Durney
James Durney, County Kildare Historian in Residence, takes a look back at Stephen Ferguson's book on the GPO in 1916 and focuses on the Kildare connections.
As we approach the centenary of 1916 the GPO seems to be the place for book launches on the subject.
In March 2012 the first three books of the 16 Lives series were
launched, while on 24 April 1912 it was the turn of Mercier Press’ GPO
Staff in 1916, by Stephen Ferguson. The date, 24 April, ironically
enough, was the day the Rising began ninety-six years ago. GPO Staff in
1916 was launched by the political journalist and historian, John
Famous as the headquarters of the leaders of the 1916 Easter
Rising, the GPO was also the controlling nerve-centre for communications
throughout Ireland. This book looks at the Rising from the perspective
of the many men and women who worked for the GPO. Using Post Office
records, personal accounts and photographs, Stephen Ferguson tells the
story of the Post Office staff in 1916 and reveals their involvement in
and response to the events of Easter Week. Their accounts provide a
fresh perspective on the rebellion that recognises the crucial
importance of the GPO and its staff in the event which defined Irish
history and politics for close to a century.
From a Co. Kildare perspective the book is very interesting in that
there are five local names in a list – in Appendix 3 – of forty-six
Post Office staff suspected of complicity in the Rising.
The five Kildare entries are:
Michael Smyth (Postman), Athgarvan, Newbridge (in Military Custody)
Daniel Buckley (Telephone Attendant), Maynooth (in Military Custody)
Joseph Kenny (Postman), Rathangan (Restored to duty)
Patrick Kenny (Postman), Rathangan (Restored to duty)
Christopher Kenny (Postman), Rathangan (Restored to duty)
The list was prepared for the Under Secretary, Dublin Castle, on
the basis of Special Branch intelligence reports. The Wilson-Byrne
Commission examined the cases of civil servants on suspension at the
time of their inquiry. They did not deal with those restored to duty
before it began or with those who still remained in military custody.
Since the Special Branch list had been compiled before the Wilson-Byrne
Commission was set up, some suspects were no longer in military custody,
but remained under suspension and were duly examined by the committee.
The intelligence reports, however, were not wrong. All those implicated
were ‘guilty’ as charged.
Michael Smyth was born in Rosetown Cottages, Athgarvan, in 1890. At
the time of the Rising he was the Officer Commanding (OC) Athgarvan
Company, Irish Volunteers. He was interned in Frongoch Camp in 1916, and
later became OC Kildare Brigade in 1921. Smyth was elected to Kildare
Co. Council and Newbridge Town Commission in 1920 for the Labour Party.
Arrested in 1921 prior to the Truce, he was court-martialled for
possession of ammunition, and imprisoned in Hare Park, the Curragh, and
Daniel Buckley, or Domhnall Ua Buachalla, formed the Maynooth
Company, Irish Volunteers, in June 1914. He led a contingent of
volunteers to Dublin and fought in the GPO during Easter Week. He was
interned in Frongoch after the Rising and was elected Sinn Fein TD, for
North Kildare, in 1918. Ua Buachalla later became Quartermaster, 1st
The Kenny family of Main Street, Rathangan, were prominent
republicans. The three postmen, Christopher (32), Michael (28), and
Joseph (21), were arrested after the Easter Rising and detained in
Richmond Barracks, Dublin, before deportation to Wakefield Jail, on 13
May. Two other brothers, Patrick (23) and John (18), were also arrested
and interned in Wakefield. Christopher Kenny was released on 29 May; Joseph, Patrick and Michael were released on 2 June; while John’s
release is not recorded.
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