Monday, March 13, 2023

Tommy O’Connell IRA CO

The restored Tommy O’Connel Memorial on the Athy to Carlow Road near Maganey


IT’S almost 20 years ago in Eye on the Past No. 600 since I wrote of roadside memorials in and around Athy and mentioned a particular memorial which unknowingly I passed on many occasions. I wrote: ‘Indeed on first becoming aware of its existence some months ago I kept a careful look out for it when I drove to or from Carlow. I could not find the memorial until yesterday when returning to Athy I stopped my car near Maganey and walked the narrow road, keeping a watchful eye on the speeding cars which threatened at every bend to put a premature end to my search. Eventually I found the memorial on the side of the road where Tommy O’Connell, Officer commanding the Carlow Kildare I.R.A. Brigade was killed in a road traffic accident on 31st  August 1924.’

The memorial was hidden from view by a generous growth of briars and I returned some time later to cut back the briars and reveal the inscription on the stone base into which a metal cross had been set. The inscription read:- ‘Mrs. Kearney presented this memorial cross to the staff of the I.R.A. Carlow Brigade to be erected where their gallant O.C. accidentally lost his life on 31st August 1924.’

Tommy O’Connell had succeeded Eamon Malone of Barrowhouse as Officer Commanding the Carlow Brigade. He was previously Vice O.C. of the Brigade, comprising six battalions of which the fifth battalion area included Athy, Kilkea, Castledermot, Ballylinan and Barrowhouse. When the Civil War broke out he took the anti-treaty side and was subsequently captured and imprisoned but having escaped from prison went on the run for some time.

Some months after I cut the briars surrounding the O’Connell memorial I was disappointed to find that the metal cross had been broken and was nowhere to be seen. I mentioned that in a subsequent Eye on the Past but there seemed little prospect of recovering the missing cross.

Fast forward to three months ago when Jerry O’Toole from Kilbride, Carlow who, having read my articles on Tommy O’Connell, phoned me enquiring where the roadside memorial was located. Jerry told me that his late mother had a photograph of Tommy O’Connell in her home and that his father and two uncles had served in the I.R.A. under O’Connell. I gave Jerry directions to the memorial and he found it hidden behind briars and hedging.

Last week Jerry phoned me again. Having enquired locally he discovered that the cross had been broken during hedge cutting arranged by the county council but luckily enough the broken cross was kept safe by a local farmer.  It turns out that the local farmer’s late father and grandfather had attended Tommy O’Connell at the accident scene in 1924. Jerry O’Toole had the memorial cross restored, the roadside memorial repainted and the surrounding hedging cut back so allowing the memorial to the former I.R.A. leader to be visible to everyone passing the scene of the accident of almost 99 years ago. An interesting fact which Jerry discovered when replacing the cross is that it was made in the foundry of Duthie Larges of Athy.

Tommy O’Connell was buried at Monasteroris, Edenderry on 2 September 1924 and as his funeral passed through Athy the Nationalist and Leinster Times noted: ‘The windows in Athy were shuttered all day on Monday in token of sympathy and great numbers joined the funeral cortege as it passed through the town on its way to Edenderry.’

Jerry O’Toole has also discovered that Tommy O’Connell’s mother gave his address as c/o Mrs Kearney, Brown Street, Carlow when she applied for a service pension. This was presumably the same Mrs Kearney who presented the memorial cross which Duthie Larges made in their Athy foundry. Can any of my readers identify the late Mrs Kearney and the part she may have played during the revolutionary years.

Jerry O’Toole is deserving of great praise for his work in restoring the O’Connell monument and the photographs which he has copied to me and in which I reproduce here are those of the late Tommy O’Connell and the memorial at Maganey as it is today.


Contact Newsdesk: 045 432147

More Eye on the past

Kildare Into O’Byrne Semis

Similar Articles