Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy

Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy

Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy

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Sisters In Revolution

This is a year of remembering in Ireland as the 1916 Rising, a pivotal moment in Irish independence, is celebrated. This story tells of family links some of our Sisters have with this great event.

Easter Rising 1916, Mercy Connections in Galway
Anyone walking or driving through Eyre Square in Galway can immediately be impressed by the statue of Liam Mellows which now graces the esplanade at the top of the Square. Each year a special mass is celebrated in St. Patrick’s church with readings and prayers in Irish, afterwards a battalion of old IRA march to the statue, pray the rosary and an orator delivers a speech, which keeps the romance of a patriotic idea alive for a big number of Galwegians.

Statue of Liam Mellows in Eyre Square, Galway

The barracks in Renmore is also called Dún Uí Maoileasa in honour of this man, so it behoves us to consider who he was and why is he honoured in Galway. He was born in Lancashire of Irish parents and reared in Castletown, Co. Wexford, but later became very associated with Galway.

The first branch of the Irish Volunteers was formed in Galway on 12th December, 1913 and a year or so later there were three thousand men in thirty branches in the county. In this centenary year we are considering the local area round Athenry as it was there at Easter 1916 that as well as Liam Mellows near relatives of some of our Sisters  fought bravely, endured hardship, some even gave their lives and others were imprisoned but lived to fight another day.

The first of those was Fr. Harry Feeney, beloved uncle of Sr. Maria Goretti (1930 – 1989) and Sr. Raymond (1931 – 1989) both sadly now ar shlí na Fírinne (sadly have passed away).    Like the sisters, Fr. Harry was born in Two Mile Ditch, Castlegar on 4th March, 1889, but at the time of the rising he was a Curate in Clarinbridge. He became deeply involved with Liam Mellows in training the volunteers at Killeeneen. So involved did he become and so committed was he that he wrote a letter to his parish priest – April 25th, 1916:  “Dear Fr. Tully, I am going as a chaplain to the Volunteer force. Kindly attend to sick calls in my absence. I shall let you know in time if I can be back for Sunday’s mass.” Yours very sincerely, H. Feeney. This he did and he advised all volunteers to go to confession on Holy Saturday and to go to communion on Easter Sunday.

Liam Mellows had overseen the landing of the Asgard and ensured that some guns from it reached Athenry and they had hopes of 3,000 more from the Aud but of course their hopes were in vain. Mellows arrived in Athenry  early in Holy Week and Margaret Browne (later Mrs Sean McEntee) arrived by train on Holy Thursday with the message that the insurrection was to begin on Easter Sunday.

Looking back over one hundred years, we can ask who exactly were members of the volunteers and  we can safely know who some of them were as both parents of Srs. Assumpta and Máire Cahill i.e. William and Mary Cahill were very involved; as were their  first cousins: Michael and Catherine Forde – parents of Sr. Lily of happy memory. The latter named were grandparents of Sr. Geraldine Larkin.

Sr. Greta Cummins’s father – Patrick took an active part in all volunteer movements. All these Sisters are justifiably proud of the actions of their parents during those times when they risked their lives. It was not only the men who were involved but the women were also active members of Cumann na mBan (Women’s movement). Some of the volunteers were farm boys who never shot at anything more than a weasel in a hen-house but a number of the Athenry brigade were highly trained and were anxious to get artillery even if it were only pikes or hayforks.

Sisters Teresa Delaney (author of the piece), Gretta Cummins, Máire Cahill, Assumpta Cahill and Geraldine Larkin

As regards Liam Mellows we quote an abridged version from Sr. de Lourdes Fahy’s book – “Near Quiet Waters”: “Kinvara convent was in the news for a different reason. On 4th June, 1916 members of the R.I.C. (Royal Irish Constabulary) conducted a search of the convent. When the parish priest heard this he wrote in outrage to General Sir John Maxwell and sent a copy of his letter to the Connacht Tribune and others. General Maxwell replied that the sergeant had received an anonymous letter stating that two rebels – Liam Mellows and John Feeney – were hiding in the convent. The story was false but it is interesting to note that Liam Mellows actually made his escape from Ireland a few months later, disguised as a nun. Fr. John O’Meehan, Curate was one of those who planned the escape.”

In case anyone should say that the habit was from Gort or Kinvara, we are reliably informed that it was from Ennis convent. It is sad to relate that on the 7th December, 1922 as a reprisal for the shooting of two anti-treaty soldiers, four republican leaders who had been captured in the Four Courts were shot at dawn. They were Richard Barrett, Joseph McKelvey, Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows.

Teresa Delaney rsm
Western Province

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