War of Independence remembered at The Closh as Garden of Remembrance is planned

Representing Kilkenny County Council at The Closh: David Fitzgerald, Fideles Doherty (Chairperson), Pat Boyd (KKB) Eugene McGuinness, Maria Dollard, Mayor Andrew McGuinness , John Brennan, Pat Fitzpatrick.

The call was issued and the community rallied. For weeks, residents of Walkin Street worked diligently to ensure the occasion was a success. The area known as ‘The Closh’ witnessed hundreds of Kilkenny people, gather for a day of music, song and dance.

by: Gerry Cody
Photos: Pat Shortall

Over 50 men marched through Friary Street and formed a guard of honour at St Rioch’s Graveyard, where prayers for loved ones were offered.
Flags, banners and bunting decorated the surrounding houses and streets.
Dancing continued until 11p.m, with a constant stream of people visiting the dancing board, erected specifically for the occasion.
James Donnelly made a vociferous appeal to convert The Closh into a public space, to be named St Rioch’s Park.

Before you start wondering how this gathering occurred, during a time of ‘Covid’ restrictions, let me assure you, that all is well.
The call by James Donnelly to rename The Closh, and the attendant merriment, took place in 1929, at the revival of the annual Patron to St Rioch.
Prior to this, the last Patron had taken place at the Walkin Street Graveyard in 1827. The local population greeted the call for a revival with enthusiastic delight. Embellishing the day, the iconic St Rioch’s Fife & Drum band marched around the city delighting the citizens with a collection of well -loved tunes.
How symbolic, that in 2021, another gathering took place in The Closh, replicating the hopes and aspirations of our forbearers. “The more things change the more they remain the same”
However, this time the community came together to commemorate all those that fought during both World Wars. Poignantly, also remembered on this occasion were the local heroes that had taken part in The War of Independence.

Addressing the assembly Mr Pat Boyd, chair of the organising Keep Kilkenny Beautiful committee, said, that the long -term goal was to see The Closh transformed into a garden of remembrance.
Mr Boyd praised KKB partners, Kilkenny County Council who had supported the concept from the beginning.
During his speech, Mr Boyd, thanked the dreamers and visionaries that formed the KKB Committee. He paid tribute to all who worked for KKB and paid special mention to : Elaine Bradshaw, Kieran Crotty, David Fitzgerald, Sean Leahy, Peter Bluett, Pat and Mary Durkin.
Calling for greater awareness on Climate change, Pat hoped that the Garden at the Closh would be “a commemoration of the past and a beacon for the future”

The Keynote address was delivered by the noted historian, Commandant Larry Scallan (retired), who reflected on the fact that all Centenaries are a once in a life time occasion, giving us the opportunity to reflect and to remember events, of which few have a living memory.
Speaking on the founding of the Irish National Volunteers in March 1914 Commandant Scallan insisted that the local volunteers, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, should be remembered fondly and with grateful appreciation.
“It is important that we recall their names: Jackie Brett, Tom Hennessy, Michael Dermody, Pat Walsh, Sean Quinn, Jack Hartley and Nicholas Mullins”.
Larry went on to praise the often -forgotten heroes, the women of Kilkenny. He spoke, passionately, of Mrs Margaret Ryan, from Callan, who was mortally wounded by an Auxiliary RIC bullet at 5.30pm on the 21st of December 1920.
“It is very important that we recall and reflect on the Kilkenny mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, who actively supported the cause of independence. The logistical support, intelligence gathering and the constant need to harbour the hundreds of men and women on active service by providing safe houses, for much needed rest and support, was enormous”.
Reflecting, Commandant Scallan noted that The Closh is just 100m from where Sgt Edward O’Gorman is buried, and that Kilkenny Military Barracks is the site of the Civil War executions of John Murphy and John Phelan. “This place of reflection will allow us to reconcile these fractures of 100 years ago”, he said.
Concluding his speech, Larry paid tribute to residents of the area remembering Kitty and John Doyle, both of whom passed away recently.

An Ecumenical service, with contributions from Bishop Michael Burrows, Fr Dermot Ryan and Iman Ebrahim Nadur, highlighted the diversity of all participants in previous conflicts.

Cathaoirleach of Kilkenny County Council, Fideles Doherty said that the story of the Emerging Irish State was one inspired by a sense of positivity and self-assurance which showed that a small country like Ireland could strive for its own identity and its own independence.
Cllr Doherty insisted that the Irish story inspired other countries that gained independence.
The Cathaoirleach concluded “Ireland now holds a place amongst the world’s nations as a leader in conflict resolution, a leader in crisis management and as a democratic society”

Wreaths were laid by Cathaoirleach Kilkenny County Council Cllr. Fideles Doherty and by the Mayor of the city, Cllr Andrew McGuinness, by Elaine Bradshaw and Margaret Walsh, Keep Kilkenny Beautiful and by Patrick Bambrick and Tom Reade on behalf of the residents of Rioch Street and the Gaol Road. The final wreath was laid by John Joe Cullen representing the 1st Battalion, Kilkenny Brigade Re-enactment group.
The dignity permeating the ceremony was visible by the pride and respect displayed by Army flag officer Lt Róisín O’Driscoll as she raised The Irish flag.
James Stephens Barracks was also represented by Commandant Stephen Mc Eoin.
Others integral to this successful thought proving gathering were:
The 1st Battalion, Kilkenny Brigade re-enactment group, added greatly to the occasion. The attention to detail of outfits and rifles enhanced the day, providing a sense of historical authenticity.
Bugler Charlie Parsons and piper Finbarr McCarthy rendered The Last Post, Reveille and The National Anthem.
The Proclamation of the Irish Republic was read by Brendan Corcoran.
Equipment and sound were in the capable hands of Ray Brophy.
As the beautiful commemoration, coordinated by Donal Croghan, concluded, the expressive plea of Commandant Larry Scallan, resonated: “remembering the past while planning the future, can blend so easily”.

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