Kilskyre community’s events to mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising take place this weekend, on Saturday 7th May, when the life of Brian O’Higgins is commemorated. The local man was in the General Post Office during the rebellion.
by Noel French
O’Higgins was born in Kilskyre in 1882. According to tradition his grandfather came from Tyrone to take part in the 1798 rebellion on Tara. Educated at Kilskyre National School, O’Higgins became a draper’s assistant in Clonmellon. A number of his early poems were published in the Meath Chronicle, and he was encouraged to continue writing by the then editor, Tom Daly.
In 1901, he went to work as a barman in Dublin where he joined the O’Growney branch of the Gaelic League. In 1906 O’Higgins became the Gaelic League organiser in Meath and Cavan and a travelling teacher of Irish, visiting all the major towns in the area. O’Higgins began writing verses in street ballad style, mainly of a political and nationalistic nature, writing under the pen name ‘Brian na Banban’. One of his works ‘A Stór Mo Chroi’ remains a popular song today.
He contributed to a number of local papers and also religious magazines. In 1915 he founded a satirical magazine Irish Fun which ceased publication after the 1916 rising. O’Higgins was mobilised at 11 o’clock on Monday and then he heard of the Kerry disaster and the capture of Casement. He made his way to the GPO where he was welcomed by Pearse. Due to the state of his health, he did no actual fighting, but helped the others in every way he could. When the GPO caught fire and was in danger of exploding John McLoughlin, John Reid and O’Higgins went into the basement of the GPO where the explosives and grenades had been stored. O’Higgins was imprisoned in Stafford Gaol and Frongoch.
In the 1918 general election, O’Higgins stood for West Clare and was elected unopposed. He was in prison when he was elected and so missed the meeting of the first Dáil. In 1919 he was involved in the establishment of Republican Courts in Clare.
O’Higgins opposed the Treaty and was returned unopposed as TD in 1922. Interned in 1923 he went on hunger strike. Almost dying he finished his strike after 24 days. He was elected on Éamon de Valera’s surplus in 1923. O’Higgins gave the Wolfe Tone oration at Bodenstown in 1924. In 1925 he published ‘The Soldier’s Story of Easter Week’. Choosing not to join the Fianna Fáil party he remained with Sinn Féin until he was defeated in 1927. In 1926 he and the artist Michael O’Brien established a firm to manufacture greeting cards and other items based on Celtic designs.
O’Higgins resigned from Sinn Féin in 1934. In 1937 O’Higgins with Joseph Clarke founded the Wolfe Tone Weekly which was suppressed and then he began a yearly publication of the Wolfe Tone Annual. O’Higgins provided a story based on a hero or event from Ireland’s past as a counter to the revisionist historians and politicians. The 1944 issue was banned for its republican views. O’Higgins described Éamon de Valera as ‘His Majesty’s Prime Minister’ and accused him of corrupting Ireland more than the centuries of British rule had. The Wolfe Tone Annual appeared each year until 1962. Copies are available in the local studies section of Meath County Library.
In 1938 O’Higgins and a number of other former anti-Treaty TDs signed over the authority of the government of Ireland to the IRA Army Council which then saw itself as the legitimate government.
A regular church goer, O’Higgins died during a retreat at St Anthony’s Church, Clontarf, on 10th March 1963. The grounds at Kilskyre GAA club, which he helped found, were named in his honour in 1974, when it was opened by the late Fr Packie Tully, former GAA county board chairman. The committee at that time included Pat Farrelly, Des and Maureen Ferguson, John L and Minnie McCormack and Tom Marry and family.
Further reading: ‘1916 Meath and More’ by Noel French.
Saturday’s ceremonies at Kilskyre begin with a parade from Kilskyre hall, assembling at 3.30pm, to the GAA grounds, where it will be led by a piper. James O’Higgins, Brian O’Higgins’ nephew, will carry the Tricolour, while Michael Reilly, nephew of Phil Reilly who founded the Kilskyre club in with O’Higgins in 1905, will carry the club colours.
Club members will follow, as well as as pupils from local schools and various community organisations with banners, including the Carnaross 1916 group. Participants will be in period costume.
‘The Foggy Dew’ will be sang, and ‘Ireland’s Hurling Men’, a poem written by Brian O’Higgins at the behest of Michael Cusack, will be read by Mairead O’Reilly, a grandniece of O’Higgins. Another grandniece, Rosemary Carty, will recite the ‘Soldiers of Cumann na mBan’.
Marty Devine, who is a grandnephew of O’Higgins, will be MC, and Peader Toibin, Sinn Fein TD, is the guest speaker.
A plaque will be unveiled by grandsons of O’Higgins, while his grandnephew, Ciaran, who lives at the family homeplace of Gleann na Mona, will read the Proclamation. Ann Galligan will sing the National Anthem, Amhran na bhFiann. An exhibition match between local clubs will follow the formalities..
Kilskyre acknowledges the support of the Carnaross and Kells 1916 groups in the organisation of the event, as well as the Kilskyre and Ballinlough Historial Society, and Meath County Council, which has provided funding as part of the centenary programme.
The life story of Brian O’Higgins, published by Fr Packie Tully in 1974, has been reproduced for the event.