Thomas Walsh of the Irish Citizen Army will be remembered at a ceremony in his native city next weekend, writes Niall Murray
The death 100 years ago of a Corkman said to have fired the first shot of the 1916 Rising in Dublin is being marked in his native city next weekend.
A memorial to Thomas “Corkie” Walsh will be unveiled on Sunday in the same graveyard as his better-known brother-in-law, the city’s first republican Lord Mayor, Tomás MacCurtain.
As a mason who served his apprenticeship in his native city before moving to Dublin, the monument to Walsh is being erected by a committee formed from the Cork Masons Historical Society in conjunction with the MacCurtain and Walsh families.
He had only been in Dublin around a year before he joined James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army in 1915.
It was while manning a freshly-erected barricade in the earliest stages of the Rising on Easter Monday 1916 that Walsh was recognised by a group of friends.
In order to stop them mocking him with his “Corkie” nickname and kicking his barricade close to the GPO, he fired a shot in the air to get rid of them before any shots had been fired in anger.
The story recounted by Fionnuala MacCurtain in her book about her own grandfather Tomás was seen by Cork Masons Historical Society officer Jim Fahy.
“I had never heard about him before but when I read this I went looking through our records to find out more, and got in contact with counterparts in Dublin,” he explained.
“It was arising from that, and through contact with the family, that we decided to do something to mark the centenary of his death in 1918,” said Mr Fahy.
Thomas Walsh had been in the Cork branch of the Ancient Guild of Incorporated Brick, Block and Stone Mason’s Society, and became a member in Dublin when he moved. The Dublin branch sent money to his sisters back in Cork while he was detained in an English jail, and later at the Frongoch prison camp in Wales, following the Rising.
He had been captured along with other Citizen Army members fighting out of City Hall on the Tuesday of the Rising. Like many other participants, he was sentenced to death, but had that commuted to 10 years penal servitude.
He was released along with many others after a few months, returning to his lodgings in Cuffe Street near the Bricklayers’ Hall. But he died of cardiac failure and pneumonia less than two years later, after being brought from his lodgings to St Vincent’s Hospital on March 2, 1918.
Huge crowds turned out for his funeral in Cork, where local Irish Volunteers fired a volley over his grave at St Finbarr’s Cemetery. The funeral was the subject of a photograph and report seen by readers of the Cork Examiner on the same morning that news broke of the death of Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond.
The Volunteers in Cork were under the command of Tomás MacCurtain whose wife Liz was one of the chief mourners, as Corkie Walsh was her brother.
The couple met through the Irish-Ireland movement and meetings of the Gaelic League in Cork’s Blackpool suburb, but Tomás would be shot dead by police at their home there just over two years later as the city became a violent epicentre of the War of Independence.
The couple’s grand-daughter Fionnuala MacCurtain said that people do not always realise that the Irish cultural leanings of the family were more from Tomás’s side, whereas it was her grandmother’s Walsh family had a stronger Fenian background. Many had been involved in the 1867 Fenian Rising, some having to go to the United States afterwards, influences that might have been a factor in Thomas Walsh’s participation in the Irish Citizen Army.
The limestone memorial at his grave, carved by local mason Tom McCarthy, features the Irish Citizen Army’s Starry Plough emblem. Along with Deputy Lord Mayor Fergal Dennehy, the graveside unveiling at 1pm on Sunday will be addressed by James Connolly Heron, great-grandson of Irish Citizen Army leader and signatory of the 1916 Proclamation James Connolly.
A lecture by local historian Luke Dineen, who has been researching the life of Thomas ‘Corkie’ Walsh is open to the public on Saturday night at the Carpenters Hall on Cork’s Fr Mathew Quay.