Takeover Kilkenny Military barracks – 7th Feb 1922
It is said that the old Dublin City could be reconstructed by a reading of Ulysses. If so, Kilkenny is quite safe from being forgotten by the detail available in Jim – Judge Comerford’s book on the takeover of Kilkenny barracks. The Kilkenny People gave a more brief if no less triumphalist report of the proceedings.
A body of 42 personnel drawn from the three Kilkenny flying columns and reps from the 9 battalions of the Brigade assembled at St James’ Park and proceeded via Vicar St to the Market Yard which was the meeting place. The troops were commanded by Brigadier George O’Dwyer whom Comerford describes as six feet two inches and built in proportion, wearing a uniform of green gabardine and a shiny Sam Browne belt from which hung a holster holding his favourite .45 colt revolver. The St Patrick’s Brass and Reed Band playing A Nation Once Again led the way.
The Parade led off shortly after 2 o’clock passing the historic inscription on the Market Pier marking the Confederation Hall. They were loudly cheered by Smithwicks’ workers standing in Parliament St. Irish Republican flags flew from Peter De Loughry’s shop. Passing the Butter slip the Printers of the oft suppressed Kilkenny People gave vent to their patriotic fervour. At the Tholsel two of Kilkenny’s greatest patriots – Peter De Loughry and Tom Treacy led a cheering party. High St from end to end had exuberant crowds. From upstairs in Miss Farrells shop at 13 High Street where the Bde had its Headquarters came a particularly warm greeting.
At the end of Friary Street brown robed Friars showed their support. The day was crisp and dry – ideal for such a parade. Next stop was at the gates of Kilkenny Castle where word was awaited from the Military barracks as to its readiness for take over. Appropriately they now stood on “The Parade”. At this point Comerford who was in the military group entertained thoughts of how tyrant soldiers of a foreign country had strutted on this very spot.
The word of readiness arrived and the troops advanced through the Parade and down Rose Inn St. People stood packed three deep on either side of the narrow street. Clapping and ringing cheers greeted the liberators. Going over John’s Bridge Comerford remembered his seeing it being built even on St Patrick’s Day 1910. The women and men of Coon and Muckalee picked this vantage point to cheer their heroes. The music being played in John’s Street included The Boys of Wexford, God Save Ireland and Who Fears to Speak of Easter Week. At Wilsdon’s corner, now Lalors, the Dunbell Clara and Paulstown people gave vent to their patriotic feelings. Many Cumann na mBan ladies were there including Helen Murphy and Angela Mulrooney.
Approaching the military barracks the march slowed as departing British vehicles came through the gate turning up Ballybough St – they were reluctant to test the mood of Irish supporters on John St as they headed for the Curragh. This interruption caused Brigadier O’Dwyer to give the order “mark time”. The late Christy Coogan told me that this was the moment a local publican passed the wry comment “have the Irish fellows got corns”. Some publicans did not welcome the change over as British pay was guarranteed – the Irish likely to be scant and uncertain.
The troops arrived in barracks and an exchange of guard – Irish from British – took place with the normal courtesies. The very symbolic lowering of the British flag and raising of Irish was next. Two Tommies lowered the British flag and then with a small tug lowered the flagpole. It had partly been sawn through. Nobody flies their flag on a British pole. The Kilkenny men were equal to the situation and flew the Irish flag from a young tree supplied and planted by Ned Mulrooney. Willie Cody conducted the band in the playing of the Soldier’s Song – not yet the official anthem of the new state. Symbolically our bratach naisiunta was raised on the tree of liberty.