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By David Gahan.
The village of Kilcoole in north Wicklow involved itself in the decade of commemorations by remembering a significant though not widely known event, the Kilcoole Gunrunning of August 1914. In 2013 the Kilcoole Heritage Group was formed to commemorate the gunrunning, and their efforts culminated in a programme of events, leading up to and centring on the weekend of 26/27 July 2014 to relive the happenings in Kilcoole one hundred years ago.
The historical context surrounding the gunrunning lies in the Home Rule crises of 1914. The bill granting Home Rule for Ireland had been passed in the Commons in 1912, and could now only be delayed for a further two years by the House of Lords, meaning that it was due to come into being in 1914. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had been formed in January 1913 to resist Home Rule in Ulster; the Irish Volunteers had been formed in November 1913 to defend its implementation. When the UVF landed arms at Larne, Donaghadee and Bangor in April 1914, it heightened the need for the Irish Volunteers to arm.
Kilcoole was chosen because of a blind spot on the beach which coastguards could not see from Greystones (north) and Newcastle (south); the choice was most probably influenced by Kilcoole native and leading IRB member Robert Monteith. The operation was funded by wealthy donors and the American based Clan na Gael. Darrel Figgis purchased 1,500 Prussian rifles and 45,000 rounds of ammunition from the Moritz Magnus firm in Hamburg. The weaponry was moved from a Liege warehouse to Hamburg and then transhipped to two yachts, the Asgard and Kelpie, owned by Erskine Childers and Conor O’ Brien respectively, near the Ruytingen lightship off the Scheldt, Belgium on 12 July. The Asgard landed its cargo at Howth on 26 July in broad daylight, supervised by Bulmer Hobson aided by a large party of volunteers and Na Fianna Éireann. The Kilcoole landing was originally planned for the night of 25 July; the Chotah owned by Sir Thomas Myles was engaged to bring the guns to Kilcoole owing to the fact that it had an engine which could time its arrival more accurately and because of security issues surrounding the Kelpie. But adverse weather conditions caused a delay in the transhipment to the Chotah off Bardsey Island in the Irish Sea and the Kilcoole landing was put back till 1/2 August.
On 1 August volunteers from Dublin posing as tourists went to Kilmacanoge and after dark to Kilcoole. Fianna Éireann under the command of Liam Mellows acted as look-outs. Two RIC men, Dalton and Webb who were patrolling the beach were locked up along with the station master. Seán Fitzgibbon supervised the landing of the guns in the early hours of 2 August. Local volunteer William Foley used his horse and dray to move the cargo from the beach to where they were loaded on to cars. Seán T. O’Kelly and Mellows organised the transport of the arms to secure Dublin locations. One of the last cars to leave, a charabanc, heavily loaded broke down in Bray, but after some time other cars arrived from Dublin to take the cargo. Many leading volunteers were in Kilcoole that night including Hobson, Thomas McDonagh and Eamon Ceannt.
The Kilcoole Heritage group organised a programme of events, which included historical talks in the weeks preceding the commemoration festival. The weekend highlight was a parade, with people in period dress, led by an army band to the beach, where a re-enactment of the landing took place. There was a Kilcoole historical maps display, an old photo exhibition by local photographer Chris Dobson and a gunrunning pictorial by Michael Kunz in the local St. Patricks Hall over the weekend. On Sunday the Main Street was closed off and various traditional heritage demonstrations took place including blacksmith, pottery throwing, hurley making, wool spinning and wood turning. There was a food market, traditional children’s games and Irish dancing. All shop fronts displayed old photos and images of the past.
The weekend certainly brought history to life, and remembered an event long overshadowed by the more dramatic events at Howth, but which rightly takes its place in the decade of centenary commemorations.
Martin, F. X. (ed), The Howth Gunrunning and the Kilcoole Gunrunning: recollections and documents. (Dublin, 2014)
Kilcoole Heritage Group, Forgotten History: The Kilcoole Gunrunning (Greystones, 2014)
My main research is in political and socio-economic developments in twentieth century Ireland and the wider world. I have a BA in History and English from 2012, from St. Patricks College, Drumcondra. I am currently a PhD student at the Department of History at NUI Maynooth. My thesis which is being supervised by Prof. Terence Dooley, examines the agitation surrounding the land annuities 1926-32. It aims to look at the economic effect of annuities on farmers and on political developments, particularly the positions adopted by the various political parties and how this impacted on the wider Irish political context.
Science week provides a unique opportunity for those with an interest in the history of science and technology in Ireland to visit many institutions and locations that might not be accessible during the rest of the year. While there is much interest in current scientific endeavours, Ireland’s rich scientific and technology heritage is often forgotten.
A good starting point for anyone seeking a greater understanding of the history of science in Ireland is one of Ingenious Ireland’s walking tours (of Dublin). During science week Ingenious Ireland will be hosting walking tours entitled ‘Irish Ideas and Inventions that Changed the World’, see here (fees apply). The founder and lead guide of Ingenious Ireland, Mary Mulvhill, will also be giving a talk at Portlaoise Library on Irish scientist and inventors (12 Nov., 7.30 pm).
A number of Irish Science and Technology museums will be opening their doors for the week including the Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio, located in the Martello Tower overlooking Howth Harbour, Dublin. This museum concentrates on the history of telecommunications. Also opening its doors is the National Science Museum, at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth (15 Nov., 2.00 pm to 3.00pm). This museum contains one of the largest collections of historical scientific instruments in Ireland. (More about the museum can be found here). The National Print Museum will have an open day entitled ‘Printfest’ (15 Nov., 12.00pm to 4.00pm). A particular highlight of the week will be an exhibition entitled ‘The Eighth Continent’ at the Edward Worth Library (Dr Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin 8, opposite Heuston Station, 13 Nov. 10.00 am to 4.00pm). This will centre on a display of early-modern texts on the moon and for anyone with an interest in early-modern science the ‘Worth’ is well worth a visit (please excuse the extremely bad pun!).
Lecturers during the week include: ‘The King Under the Carpark- Where Science Meets History’, by Dr Cas Kramer, University of Leicester which was part of the group that found the body of King Richard III in 2013 (Waterford IT, 10 Nov. 7.00pm); a lecture on the Irish Scientist John Desmond Bernal will be given by Professor Paul Barnes, Birkbeck, University of London (Nenagh Arts, Centre Banba Square, Nenagh, 11 Nov. 8.00pm); Professor Etienne Parizot, Professor of High Energy Astrophysics, Université Paris VII, France will give an presentation entitled ‘Cosmic Rays: A Century of Adventure and Mysteries!’
For those with an interest in Science Communication and the difficulties that can arise from its misrepresentation might be interested in a lecture by Professor Brian Hughes, entitled ‘Adventures in Science Communication’ (Maynooth University, 10 Nov. 7 pm, Theatre 2, Hume Building).
Hopefully, our readers will have a chance to attend at least one of these exhibitions. Events such as these provide a great opportunity to demonstrate the wealth of science and technology heritage that Ireland possesses. In addition, for those with an interest in more contemporary scientific discoveries there is plenty on offer during the week. More information can be found on the Science Week website here.
While there is much more culture than history on offer this night does have some great events for those with an historical leaning in their recreational pursuits. There will be several historical tours of Dublin city (including tours of the historic quarter, museum quarter, the north Georgian area, TCD and the Docklands, and Temple Bar, all require booking thought the Culture Night website and some are already booked out, so hurry!).
Some fine buildings and museums are also opening for the night. In addition to the main national museums, these include the Custom House (open 5-11pm), Dublin Castle (open 6-10pm), Dublin Civic Trust (open 5-9.30pm), Dunsink Observatory (open 7-11pm), Dublin Writers Museum (open 5-9pm), the Freemasons’ Hall ( 5-10pm) and the Irish Architectural Archive (open 5-11pm) to name but a few. The night however is not restricted to Dublin with events taking place throughout the island. Galway City Museum, for example, will host ‘Sketches of Galway’s Cultural History’, in Limerick city the Hunt Museum is opening for the night and Belfast has an array of events.
While Holinshed is focused on history it mightn’t hurt to acquire a little bit of culture. Remember there is plenty on offer including a vast selection of traditional music, for example guided tours of Na Píobairí Uilleann’s premises on Henrietta Street (worth a visit to see the building alone) which will of course include some fabulous pipers. In addition, some of our other cultural delights will be on offer with the opening of the National Gallery of Ireland, the Contemporary Music Centre, the National Concert Hall and a Public Art Walking tour. Visitors to the Culture Night website would be forgiven for thinking that this event should last a week not a night and with all these excellent events on offer the hardest part (at least for myself) will be choosing which one to attend.
All details on the above events and many more are available on the Culture Night website http://www.culturenight.ie/
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