When it comes to military history, you would travel a long distance to meet anyone with the knowledge of retired army man Larry Scallan.
In recent weeks Larry’s Military History Walking Tours took to the streets of Kilkenny for Heritage Week.
OPERATION HUMPTY DUMPTY
The walking tours took patrons from the Castle entrance into the Butler House gardens where there is part of Nelsons Pillar in the gardens.
At 1.30 am on the morning of March 8th, 1966, an explosion rocked Dublin’s O’Connell Street. The Irish Republican army had blown up Nelson’s pillar in an operation known as Humpty Dumpty.
Its bombing was timed to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1916 rising. How they arrived in Kilkenny is still a matter of much debate. However it seems that admiration for the stone carver’s skill is what brought them to the home of Irish craft and design.
BLACK MILL STREET RESIDENT
The walk headed down the parade to hear the history of the founding of the Irish Republican Brotherhood by James Stephens to the creation of the Irish Volunteers in early 1914 and the Irish Nationalist Volunteers.
James Stephens was reared in Blackmill Street in Kilkenny. A Civil engineer by profession, he was only twenty four when the failure of William Smith O’Briens attempted insurrection in 1884 cut short his professional career. He went on the run and escaped to France where he remained for nine years.
In 1857 he returned to Ireland at a time when the Republican movement was at a low ebb, and, by his optimism and energy, he held the membership together and injected new life and progressiveness to their endeavours. On St. Patrick’s day, 1858 he founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood and soon merged it into the small revolutionary groups which were in existence.
THE FRIARY STREET AMBUSH : 1921
The walk continued up Friary St., where the story of the Friary St. Ambush happened in 1921 and some of the key Kilkenny figures during the War of Independence and Civil War was relayed.
On February 21st, 1921, three man lost their lives in what has become known as ‘The Friary Street Ambush’
Two of those were members of the local IRA.
The plaque which is positioned at the junction of Pennyfeather lane and Friary Street reads as follows.
‘At this spot, Capt. Thomas Hennessy and Michael Dermody (NCO), two brave soldiers of The Irish Republican army, gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom on February 21st, 1921, during the War of Independence.
To perpetuate their memories, this plaque was erected by the members of the 1st Battalion Kilkenny Brigade I.R.A.”
The third person to die was a local Council worker called Thomas Dullard, who was an innocent bystander.
WOODGATE WAS YOUNGEST IRISH CASUALTY
A stop at the Thomas Woodgate Memorial was next on the route with the tragic story of the youngest Irish casualty of WW1 remembered.
The Woodgate story and its amazing background is possibly one of the sculptures that attracts most attention in Kilkenny city.
The Thomas Woodgate sculpture, which is situated outside The Kilkenny Courthouse at the Market Yard was constructed by Kilkenny Company Stapleton Engineering and the story behind the monument is intriguing.
A boy of 14, killed in the final weeks of World War I, is commemorated with this public sculpture in Kilkenny.
Thomas Woodgate duped recruiting officers by claiming he was 18 and enlisted in the Royal Air Force on September 19, 1918.
He left his home in Mill Street in Callan, Co Kilkenny, to begin a journey to join his training squadron in Egypt. He sailed on the RMS Leinster steamship from Dún Laoghaire, then known as Kingstown, on October 10.
However, shortly after leaving the harbour, a German submarine attacked the ship with torpedoes and sank it.
The Irish boy was one of 569 men, women and children who lost their lives in the attack. Thomas’s tombstone in the military cemetery in Grangegorman in Dublin stated he was 18.
His true age was revealed a century later when the Kilkenny Great War Memorial Committee was organising a public memorial for the 829 who lost their lives in the war who were from Co Kilkenny.
OVER THREE THOUSAND MEN AND WOMEN FROM KILKENNY
The penultimate stop was to the WW1 memorial where Larry spoke about the tragic loss to families in Kilkenny during WW1.
Today, we have a glorious memorial in Kilkenny to those who died in WW1.
A fitting tribute to man and women from Kilkenny city and County who partook in what can only be described as a horrible time in our history. However, horrible and all as it was, it must and should be remembered.
Tribute to those committee members who instigated the idea of a memorial and who put in such long and arduous hours of work to make the dream become a reality.
While it is impossible to be definitive about actual numbers, it is on the public record that over 3,300 Kilkenny women and men participated in many battlefields and parts of the world on land and at sea during WW1. Of the 3,300 we know that at least 830 died; 5 nurses and 825 soldiers, sailors, airmen clergy and munitions workers.
All these Kilkenny people are now commemorated on fitting memorials on the banks of the river Nore at the Peace Park and at Mac Donagh Railway station in Kilkenny City
The final stop was to the Museum in James Stephens Barracks, a first for many on the tour. It is always a highlight for many to see examples of weapons, medals and artefacts pertaining to the military history of Kilkenny.