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 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 Bowman.
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 Mountjoy Jail.
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 Kildare Battalion.
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.
Kildare Historian in Residence