MEATHMAN DIARY: End of Kilmessan centenary memory of Arthur Griffith lying in state
Tuesday of last week, June 22, was the anniversary of the start of the Irish Civil War.
It was on this date in 1922 that the Free State Army opened fire on an anti-Treaty IRA garrison who barricaded themselves in the Four Courts building in Dublin.
While this is something that generations of us have learned through our history books, there was another generation that experienced it, and I met one of these very interesting people in October 2010 when I visited Bective’s centenarian, the late Terry Finlay, of Tribley. .
Although she had Kilmessan roots (and told me she was a first cousin of my great-grandmother, Mary Plunkett of Ringlestown), she had grown up in Dublin, where her father, John Moran, worked with horses at Islandbridge. His mother was Catherine Clarke of Bective.
Ireland was under British rule during Ms Finlay’s early years, and it was a tense time as the 1916 Rebellion took place, followed by the War of Independence and the Civil War.
“The Magazine Fort was in the park, just behind our house,” Ms Finlay recalled. “It was there that the army kept its artillery. There was only one plantation between us and the fort and we were terrified around 1916 that it would explode one night.
One of his brothers had found an empty cartridge around this time, and it was discovered on the property by British soldiers who were searching, leading to a raid on the house.
His brother, Jack, was among hundreds who on one occasion were stopped and walked down Conyngham Road to the North Wall.
“I remember my dad running after him and throwing an overcoat at him, and he threw the keys. He was held in Wakefield Prison in England for six weeks, surviving on bread and water. He was never the same after,” Ms Finlay recalled in 2010.
She remembered the Four Courts explosion, an explosion that wiped out much of the country’s archives.
“We saw that explosion,” Ms Finlay recalled. “All you could see were papers going up in the air.
“It is said that one of the nights Michael Collins sheltered opposite us in an old barn in Islandbridge.”
And she remembers her mother taking her to see Arthur Griffith lying in state after he died of a stroke, just 10 days before Collins was murdered.
“There were rumors at the time that Griffith had been poisoned.”
One night, trucks were driving past their house on their way to Chapelizod. She wasn’t sure if it was by British soldiers or the IRA, but the light in their house was on, and a roar came to put it out.
“We were afraid to go up to the shops in town at the time, in case there was a bombardment.”
It was a fantastic eyewitness account of the story of a playful centenarian, who was to see much more in her lifetime.
(First published in the print edition of the Meath Chronicle, Saturday July 9).