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21 April 2016

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100 years ago – Tragedy at Ballykissane

● The car in which the Volunteers perished

WHILE THE FIRST SHOTS of the Easter Rising may have been fired in Laois on Easter Sunday, the first casualties occurred two days beforehand, on Good Friday 21 April 1916, in County Kerry, when three Irish Volunteers were killed on active service.

Seven Volunteers, some with training in wireless communication and knowledge of British Royal Navy admiralty codes, had set off to seize Valentia Island wireless station in County Kerry. Their mission was to distract the British Royal Navy patrols with false news of a German attack on Scotland and thus allow arms ship The Aud land its cargo of 2,000 rifles, ammunition and machine guns at Banna Strand for distribution to Volunteer units across Ireland.

Two cars set off from Killarney. In the first were driver Sammy Windrum, Denis Daly and Colm Ó Lochlainn; in the second were Charlie Monahan from Belfast, Tom McInerney and Con Keating from Kerry and Donal Sheehan from west Limerick.

The second car was forced to stop twice and lost sight of the lead vehicle. The lead car was stopped at a Royal Irish Constabulary police checkpoint for a short time. Believing the mission had been compromised, and with no sign of the second vehicle, Daly and Ó Lochlainn aborted the mission.

Unbeknownst to them, the second car had taken a wrong turn onto a treacherous mountain road overlooking the River Laune at Ballykissane, near Killorglin, and went straight over an unprotected edge, plunging into the river. Driver Tom McInerney and Charlie Monahan managed to get out of the vehicle and although McInerney succeeded in swimming to shore, Charlie Monahan drowned. McInerney reported the incident to Killorglin RIC Barracks, claiming he was simply a driver and his comrades were tourists who had hired him.

The next day, fishing boats recovered the bodies of Con Keating and Donal Sheehan. Documents implying involvement with the Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood were found on the bodies. Tom McInerney was arrested and sent to Tralee Jail before being deported to Frongoch Internment Camp in Wales.

On Easter Monday, Volunteers succeeded in sending the coded message from Valentia wireless station to America signalling that the Rising had begun and the dramatic news of the rebellion almost at the heart of the British Empire was splashed across newspapers in the USA.

Survivor Tom McInerney went on to fight for the IRA in the Tan War and died in Barrington's Hospital in June 1922 after being wounded in an accidental shooting at Annacarty in Tipperary.

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Contributions from key figures in the churches, academia and wider civic society as well as senior republican figures

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