On 20 June 1922, Liam Mellows – who had just lost his Galway seat in the recent general election – delivered an oration at the annual pilgrimage to the grave of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763–1798) at Bodenstown, Co. Kildare. Among the other high-profile figures present were anti-Treaty Republicans Rory O’Connor, Harry Boland, Countess Markievicz, Margaret Pearse (mother of executed 1916 leader Patrick H. Pearse), and Kathleen Clarke (wife of executed 1916 leader Tom Clarke).
The ‘Cork Examiner’ reported the following:
“His (Mellows’) speech was, in some ways, a remarkable one. He told his audience that they did not assemble that day to sing the swan-song of Irish Republicanism. The Irish Republican movement was not dead, he declared, with passionate emphasis. Certain people had taken the road of expediency and had descended to hypocrisy to achieve their object, but the Republicans would not deviate one inch from the straight road.
It was regrettable that their people had yielded to the threats of England, but Republicanism would go on in spite of what had happened. Gathered round the grave of Wolfe Tone that day were some who had endured sufferings and encountered danger during the terrible days of conflict. They were still true to their ideals, and would not be led away by those who had chosen the road of expediency. They were prepared to risk their lives if necessary in order to uphold the ideals of an Irish Republic: and if it became necessary (as well it might) then in what nobler cause could they offer up their lives? As long as the Declaration of Independence stands the Republic exists, and they would allow no one to subvert it.
It cannot be made too clear (he asserted) that their only enemy was England. Let it not be thought, they were out to fight any other enemy, for they were not. But if it came to a fight with England then they would show that whatever might happen they would defend the Irish Republic.
It was not with arms alone that a nation could uphold its honour and defend its rights. What was more important was that the mind and the heart of the nation should be with them. Even if they had nobody on their side except those who took part in that pilgrimage, they would continue the fight, and right would triumph over might in the end just as it did in the recent conflict between England and this country. Though the outlook was black and the odds against them heavy, they would continue the struggle, believing that their cause was just”.
Eight days after the Bodenstown oration, civil war erupted, when the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State ordered the shelling of the Four Courts complex in Dublin, in which the anti-Treaty IRA leadership (including Mellows) were encamped. At the fall of the Four Courts, on 30 June, Mellows was captured.
IMAGE: Liam Mellows at Bodenstown, Co. Kildare, 20 June 1922. Courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland.
Visit the Revolution in Galway, 1913-23 exhibition for more on this period of Galway’s history. The exhibition is open for visitors on the first floor gallery, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-5pm and admission is FREE!