Fr. Patrick Walsh -The Republican Priest


Tom Williams

Rev. Patrick Walsh B.D. (c.1885-1927) was a native of St. Kearns, Saltmills and went to school at St. Leonards. He attended St. Peter's College, Wexford and Maynooth and was very intellectually distinguished. He was ordained by Rev. Dr. Walsh on June 20 1909 and appointed curate in Cloughbawn. In 1911 he was transferred to Enniscorthy and later the same year in August to Rathangan. He was a strong supporter of Sinn Fein and while in the Rathangan district was a prime mover in the Irish Ireland movement and the founder of the Gaelic League as well as working among the local people promoting all things Irish. He was extremely popular with republicans. The Gaelic League hall was in Baldwinstown where O'Brien's house now stands . He was a good friend of the songwriter, P. J. McCall, who used to spend his summer holidays in the Rathangan district. Fr. Walsh also held concerts in the hayshed at the back of the pub in Baldwinstown and it was there that the great Duncormick baritone, Paddy Redmond, performed in public for the first time. Fr. Walsh lived on the 'quarry road' that leads down by Scar Castle. He spent many musical evenings at the Roche homestead at Scar together with local piper, Luke Kelly . A number of influential local families in Rathangan Parish, whose politics were the opposite to Fr. Walsh's, held a meeting one evening, in 1915, while Fr. Walsh was away. They decided to complain to the church authorities about the young priest's activities. These families were involved in the Gaelic League with Fr. Walsh . Resulting from these complaints, he was transferred to Carrig-On-Bannow in 1915. From there he moved to Coolfancy in 1916 before and went to Raheen in 1920. Finally he was appointed curate in Trinity, Parish of Taghmon, on August 23 1922. He was known as 'The Republican Priest' and was one of two clergymen to attend to Parle, Creane and Hogan before their execution on March 13 1923 in Wexford. He contracted tuberculosis and resigned from his position in Taghmon Parish on September 7 1923. He went to live at his brother's residence at Glebe View, Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow. The Republicans in Rathangan Parish did not forget him and when he ran concerts in Wicklow a contingent used to go up from the area to perform for Fr. Walsh. He died on June 21 1927, aged 42 years. He is buried in Kinnagh, Ballycullane, where there is a memorial, in Irish, on his grave, which reads as follows:

Sagairt Deoisis Fearna a thóg an léacht seo.
I ndíl cuimhne an
tAthar Pádraig Breathnach,
A fuair bás n 21ú lá Meitheamh 1927,
In aois dá bhliadhain is dachad.

Translation:

Erected by the priests of the Diocese of Ferns
In Memory of
Fr. Patrick Walsh,
Who died on the 21st June 1927,
aged 42 years.

Fr. Walsh left a moving account of the events of that fateful day in March 1923, in the form of a letter to Larry, (I have been unable to trace the identity of this person) which records the last hours of those brave young men as they went to face the firing squad .

Rathdrum
17/1/1927
My dear Larry,
I have kept you waiting for particulars of the three boys (MEM my hand is 'perishing' so ...!)

It was 10.30 p.m. when some day in March '23 when, about to retire for the night ('fortified' by some drug or another, and feeling anything but well,) soldiers brought me the message. I first had to go to Caro to ask the C.C. to take my place next day as celebrant of a Requiem Mass for somebody in Taghmon. After trouble with lights of my motor I started thither & thence to Wexford. A cheery welcome awaited me from the three - it was about 12 midnight. They had written their last letters and their demeanour was boyish and gladsome, with something of the exaltation of those who have received some great spiritual uplifting. Fr. Wickham (a tower of strength to us in every sense) and I gave them then every help we could, until between 2 & 3 a.m. we decided they should rest and sleep. We crossed the town to the Manse (my motor-coat weighing something like forty or five tons: (consumption had already, as I NOW know, got a definite hold of me though I wrangled on for 6 months lest in the circumstances of my case I might seem to be begging for quarter): I sat in a chair in Fr. Wickham's (a curate in Wexford at the time) sitting-room, (the spare bedroom was taken up by nuns attending the ill Adm.) (This was probably the Rev. James Codd, ADM in Wexford) until 5 a.m. when Fr. W. arose and we crossed the town again. At 6 a.m. one of the boys, Crane aged 18 - 19, had to be aroused from the sleep of an infant: Fr. W. was wonderful: he knelt upright for what seemed ages on bare flags reciting litanies rosaries etc. etc. I sat on the plank bed listening, my head between my hands, and marvelling at the tone in which the responses were uttered: joy, hopefulness, abounding love and thankfulness: something like the tone of the responses of a first-Communion class answering prayers recited for them after Mass by their Priest.

I went downstairs about 7 a.m. to rest awhile before the end: I sat in a large hall at a sort of desk, my head resting in my hands thereon. I was aroused by a noise of people tramping: it was soldiers passing, carrying three coffins.

I went up again then. It was a lovely morning. Earlier, one of the boys, Parle, had remarked to me in a pleased happy voice, 'do you hear the birds, Father?' We chatted, all together about 7.30 for a few minutes (they had received Holy Communion and all, of course, now.) Parle sat beside me and asked me to break the news to his parents: Creane made the same request: both were from Taghmon; the other was Wexford, and grand poor fellow whose only regret was the loss he be to his father in his work or business. Parle also asked me to advise Bob Lambert (the one time Sinn Fein T.D. and O/C of the famous Kyle Flying Column, he was an important leader of the Republicans in South Wexford.) and his boys to do nothing rash (in the way of reprisal etc.) to give them all his love, and say he died perfectly satisfied and happy.

We were awaiting the officer now, all five standing together when Parle asked me with a smile 'what time is it now, Father'. I said 'It it is twenty minutes to light now Jim', as calmly and cheerfully as I was able. 'Well, Father' he continued, 'I never felt as happy in all my life', quite truly I am certain, but quite as evidently for the purpose of, himself, helping me - just think of it -not to be sad.

The officer came; the boys made him a cheery good morning. We descended to the ground floor; two poor tired Soldiers, who had stood on guard, above, most of the night and with whom I had chatted awhile stood beside with rifles, tears in their eyes: the boys were taken into separate open cells to have their eyes bandaged: they seemed to offer their heads for the process in an eager sort of way. A little procession was formed: Fr. Wm. recited the prayers, I walked between the two Taghmon boys holding an arm of each: they answered just as they had answered the other prayers. We had a fairly long walk. Eventually we came to the side of a huge grave beside which were the 3 coffins; the wall behind was well sand-bagged 12: (or 15?) young soldiers with rifles were on one knee opposite the sandbags: We turned when near the wall & beside the grave, we turned the three blindfolded around to face the soldiers, the Wexford boy in the middle. No sound could be heard for eternity of a couple of minutes while the officer made some arrangement. I stood out at an angle to the left of the boys and in line with the soldiers: Fr. Wm. and doctor O'Connor Westgate stood similarly on their right: the boys faces wore an expression of listening to some sound in the distance: the officer made two motions with a handkerchief to the soldiers, these made two corresponding movements, and as he quickly, by a third movement, lowered the handkerchief, I was utterly stunned by the report of the rifles, and although I saw Fr. Wm. actually anointing the Wexford boy (who had dropped like a stone, having apparently got most of the bullets, being in the centre) I stood rooted to the spot where I stood for several seconds. I then realised the situation, the other two poor fellows were dying slowly: I went forward and anointed Parle while F. Wm. anointed Creane. A diminutive young officer then came forward and slowly drawing a revolver from his pocket or somewhere, calmly fired twice into the ear of Parle, then turned and looked at Creane, stepped slowly across, did exactly the same for him, and all was over. I drove home and took 'breakfast': I then went over to the office. As the soldiers and lorries had accompanied me to Caro at my request (as I did not (know) where the Jail was and feared being fired on) the then C.C. to whom I did not reveal the situation, had evidently...

I then drove to each of the two houses, Parle's and Creane's and did what I could in the hardest task of all.

I had dinner at four and went to bed.

I hope you are all well in all the houses: I am getting on grand T.G. and have very good hopes of progressing well with God's help through all the kind prayers of so many kind friends. I am done with this book and for a few days past its bright outer cover has kept hurling at me a reproachful 'and perhaps Larry has not read me'. You'll be able to say, sometime how you liked it.

Tell Mary I may yet live to work a pyatey cake as a matter of course.

Ever, dear Larry,
Yours very sincerely,
Patrick Walsh.

Bill Parle of Clover Valley, brother of Jim, records that Fr. Walsh offered to exchange his clothes with Jim to allow him to escape. Jim Parle refused the offer.
Rev. Michael Murphy had been curate in Taghmon from 1916 to August 1922 when he was transferred to Tinahely. He was obviously quite friendly with the Creane family, as he wrote a letter of sympathy, from Tinahely, to Mrs. Creane on March 15 1923.

Tinahely,
Co. Wicklow,
Mar. 15th 1923

Dear Mrs. Creane
I thought Jack was only a chap but I find he was a man - a great man - a hero..one of those great ones who will live forever in Irish History. And hence you don't need sympathy but deserve congratulations. I need say no more at present.
I will offer Mass for the three heroes tomorrow morning although I am convinced they don't need it.
In future I will pray to, not for such martyrs.
Kindest regards to Watty and all.
Michael Murphy C.C.

Fr. Patrick Walsh (c.1885-1927) - the Republican Priest

The memory cards of Creane, Parle and Hogan

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND REFERENCES

Mrs. Anna Kehoe, St. Kearns, Saltmills
The Free Press
Fr. Lory Kehoe, Gorey
Fr. John Carroll, Summerhill, Wexford
Dick Lambert, Rathangan
Anna Lambert, Rathangan
Babs Egan, Scar for the photograph of Fr. Walsh.
Dick Parle, Baldwinstown
Seamus Seery, Wexford
Canon Seamus de Vál
The Secular Priests of the Diocese of Ferns, 2001 by Canon John V. Gahan
County Wexford's Civil War by Seamus Mac Suain. Wexford 1995
Republican Wexford Remembers 1922-1923 by Seamus Mac Suain. Wexford 1993.
  1. Rathangan Parish Journal, 1979 page 6.
  2. Remembered by Babs Egan, Scar.
  3. My thanks to Dick Lambert, the Rathangan historian. Fr. Walsh was very friendly with Johanna Jordan, the mother of Dick's wife, Anna Lambert and he wrote some letters to her which are still in the possesion of the Lambert family.
  4. See 'Republican Wexford Remembers 1922-1923' by Seamus Mac Suain - Wexford 1993.