Father Patrick Delahunty

Paddy Neary

Patrick Delahunty was born to James and Ellen Delahunty of Curraghmartin, Aglish, Mooncoin in September 1880. After primary education in the local school, he indicated a wish for the priesthood so he went on for further studies at Saint Kieran’s College where he was ordained in 1905. His first appointment as a curate was to Saint Mary’s parish, later transferring to Callan.

With the formation of the Ulster Volunteers in 1912, the signing of the Covenant, the Larne gun running when 25,000 rifles and 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition were landed in opposition to Home Rule and defence of Ulster. The Nationalists led by Eoin Mc Neill formed the Irish Volunteers in 1913, Kilkenny soon followed.

Coming from a strong nationalist family, Father Pat. took a great interest in politics, and when the Irish Volunteers were formed in 1913, he immediately supported the organisation. The Kilkenny branch of the Volunteers was formed in 1914 and he became County President. A public meeting was held in the market yard to debate John Redmond’s proposal to support the British War effort by enlisting in the British Army thus bringing a speedy end to the war and Home Rule would be ours. In general the trend was to support Redmond’s call, this was opposed by Peter DeLoughry, Pat Corcoran, Tom Treacy, and Ned Comerford.

Peter DeLoughry called on those who stood for Ireland and the Green Flag to fall out and stand to, at a spot he indicated. Of the 20 officers and 630 Volunteers present, 30 stood aside and were marched by Tom Treacy to Banba Hall the site of the present day Kytelers Inn. Fr. Pat. disagreed with Peter DeLoughry’s stand on the question of the Volunteers split but changed course when the British Government attempted to introduce the Conscription Bill in November 1915.During the week of the 1916 rebellion he urged the Callan Volunteers to support the rebellion. Following the instructions of the Irish Hierarchy to condemn the Rebellion, or leading his parishioners in an armed conflict. He chose the latter course. County Inspector Power reported the cleric for delivering a violent speech calling on the people to resist conscription and recruitment and would be opposed by armed force. The cleric was not so much at odds with the Catholic Church, he simply went his own way, and took a full part in the War of Independence in Kilkenny.

Fr Pat was tried by court martial at Waterford Barracks, in December 1920. He was charged with possessing seditious documents issued by an illegal organisation namely Dail Eireann. The accused entered a plea of not guilty an officer told the court that a house occupied by the cleric was raided in Callan in which a great deal of correspondence was found relating to the Department of Finance in respect of a loan raised by the Dail. One letter stated “you will be glad to know that at the time of writing the loan exceeds £260,000” and was signed by Michael Collins. The accused said he had nothing to say, was found guilty and imprisoned for three years with hard labour. After a campaign in the National papers this was reduced to two years. Quite a number of the clergy were active supporters and organisers of the Dail loan. Fr Delahunty was the only priest prosecuted for raising money.

After his sentencing he was held at Waterford Barracks before being transferred to Kilkenny Gaol. November 22nd 1921,prior to the ratification of the Treaty , Fr. Delahunty and forty six other prisoners tunnelled their way out of Kilkenny Gaol. He was offered first place in the tunnel but declined making way for prisoners under sentence of death or a life sentence. All escaped never to be recaptured. One of the more notable escapees was Martin Kealy a brother of John Kealy who had collapsed and died in John Street whilst been escorted to Kilkenny Railway Station after the 1916 military swoop for deportation to an English prison. As the last batch of prisoners got safely through the tunnel, the escape was discovered by the authorities and the siren was blown. About 200 military fully armed were at once rushed to the gaol as well as 90 policemen. People in the vicinity were questioned, houses near the gaol searched but the prisoners had made good their escape scattering into the countryside.

The distance of the tunnel from the prison cell to the exit at the public road was estimated at close on 60 yards. It was said where the prisoners emerged had been bored to a depth sufficient for an average man to stand upright. The quantity of earth removed during excavations must have been several tons and was taken away in a small pan and deposited in a cell. A boy of 16 years was captured while in the tunnel, Maurice Walsh of Limerick was on his way out when portion of the tunnel collapsed in front of him, there was nothing for it but crawl back to the prison and when he appeared at the entrance he was met by several armed guards.

Fr. Pat at first hid out in the Mullinahone area, but later moved to Mooncoin and lived there under the guise of a fisher man until the Treaty was signed.

During the civil war Fr.Pat took the anti Treaty side, his suspension still in force the only course left open to him as a priest was abroad, through a family connection he secured a post in the diocese of Kansas. On the 6th January 1927 he set sail from Cobh for America and a new life. Among his roles he took up was chaplaincy to the general prisoners at Leavenworth State Penitentiary but also to prisoners on Death Row. He returned to Ireland a number of times attending games in Nowlan Park, where the crowds flocked to meet him. His last visit was in 1952 when he began to suffer ill health. He died April 1955 and was given a state funeral in Kansas, at the High Mass 100 priests sang in the choir. In Carrigeen Church, Mooncoin, Solemn Requiem Office and High Mass was also offered for his soul but noticeably lacked the attendance of the Hierarchy. His former comrades of the 7th Battalion OldI. R. A.Callan arranged for a Novena of Masses Mass offered for him in his Parish church.

At the following Monday meeting of Kilkenny County Council the Chairman, Senator P. Teehan proposed the sympathy of the Council be tendered to the relatives of the late Fr. Delahunty. He went on to say” It was sad that he had died in a foreign land after his wonderful achievements in this country in the struggle for Irish freedom”. W.J.Cleere seconded and S.J.Moynihan, County Manager joined in the expression of sympathy.

In 1957 Kilkenny Corporation voted to name a terrace in the new public housing scheme Father Delahunty Terrace in memoriam to the cleric. This terrace stands close to the site of the former gaol from where the break for freedom was made almost 100 years ago.

An interesting note to end the story is that the Capuchins, Frs. Albert and Dominic, were exiled to America where they joined Fr. Delahunty, while Fr. Hackett was exiled to Australia presumably for taking the anti treaty side in the Civil War.

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