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Past lives and family ties

The Easter Rising (fight for Independence) began Easter Monday 24th April 1916.

It was launched by a group of Irish republicans who were against British rule in Ireland.

The aim to was to achieve an Irish republic (free state).

Led by Irish volunteers Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and 200 women of Cumann na mBán they seized strategically placed important buildings in Dublin.

It lasted 6 days but the incidences of that day and the days to follow caused ripples that reverberated throughout the country.

Sixteen of the rising's leaders were executed from May 1916

Tom Clarke

Seán Mac Diarmada

Joseph Plunkett

Eamonn Ceannt

Thomas McDonagh to name a few.

This ultimately contributed to an increase in sympathy for the cause and support for Irish Independence.

Almost every county in the country of Ireland recruited young men and women to call to arms to fight for the cause.


A letter outlining Micheal Collins visit to Carrick on Shannon in 1917 no doubt this rouse the likes of my Granddad to take action

Harry Boland (left), Micheal Collins (The big fella) center, Eamonn De Velera (The long fella) on the right


In 1917, the same year that Micheal Collins was elected to the Sinn Féin executive board and visited the town of Carrick-on-Shannon County Leitrim, a local man 20 years old, set up the first company of volunteers in Gortletteragh, County Leitrim.

His name was John Joe McGarry (Seán Seosamh Mag Fhearraigh) and he was my grandfather.

Son of Patrick and Ellen (Nelly)née Lennon, Born in 1897 in Drumhass Co. Leitrim.

He was the 2nd of 3 boys and lived (from what i can gather) a pretty normal existance as a scholar on a rural farmstead where his father worked as a tailor.

I've always known my granddad played a role in the Old IRA but the details were hazy.

My own father didn't speak much of it but i know he was proud, as we would stop off to see John Joe's memorial on every trip to visit his family home which was often.

I still remember my grandmother telling us stories as a child about his escapes from the black 'n' tans but i suppose it takes us a while and often until we have children of our own to fully appreciate our family history.

South Leitrim is in blue between Longford, Cavan, Roscommon


By 1920 John Joe was in command of the first battalion of the Leitrim brigade, IRA until 1928.

This was a time of huge unrest, particularly when groups of unemployed former british soldiers who had fought in World War one were drafted in and began a 'war of terror' on locals.

These soliders had a reputation for brutality and became known as the black 'n' tans for their mixture of dark green and brown uniforms.

There were two large bases in Mohill and Carrick-on-Shannon where the black and tans were stationed, so as it was common to do, groups of IRA volunteers would go in seperate groups called 'flying columns' depending on where the need was.

The most documented battle of that time in County Leitrim was The Ambush at Selton Hill near Mohill.

On March 11th 1921 a group of IRA volunteers were massacred by RIC soliders after a tip off from 2 different sources a local protestant farmer and a doctor. Subsequently one was murdered and the other fled to England to later die in a car accident.

A wonderful photo of the Black and tans leaving the barricks in Carrick-on-Shannon for the last time March 1922


Only one man Bernie Sweeney from Ballinamore survived, he had crawled into a ditch where the cold water stopped him bleeding to death and locals later found him and kept him hidden.

My grandfather was supposed to be with the group at Selton hill and the story goes that my great grandmother Nelly was on her knees praying in the local church for her son, believing him dead. She got word later he in fact had been sent with a flying column to Carrick-on-Shannon on a mission there instead and was now 'on the run' as he was targeted by the British.

It had been only decided the night before that this change was to be made.


How fate played such an important part, for i would not be here today writing this only for that decision.

I'm not sure how long John Joe was on the run but i do know there are stories of him dodging the black 'n' tans many times.

One particularly story, though not funny in reality, does make me smile.

Seems a local man was up on a roof

(i like to imagine thatching!) and spotted a black 'n' tans truck with soliders making it's way along road towards the homestead.

The man on the roof gave warning to whoever was at home at the time and they got John Joe out of bed.

Seemingly he ran with his nightshirt on down the fields to the bog/lake (I'm not 100% on which) but none the less the tans shot 2 times and missed him on both.

They went to take a 3rd shot but were told that it was infact a woman in petticoats and not the man they were looking for at all!!

With John Joes white nightshirt flapping in the breeze perhaps it was enough to look the part and whether it's true or not i think it brillant and hope it indeed was the case.

On January 16th 1922 a treaty was signed at Dublin Castle and the crowns 700 year old grip on Ireland was over.

In March 1922 the black n tans finally left Leitrim (see photo)

and the local people of Leitrim could start to dream of a life without war at least for a while.

I'm sure it took years for the people involved to truly believe they could stop hiding, i can only imagine the memories they had to deal with, the brutality they had to see, the hardships they endured, I'm sure it left many scars.

John Joe McGarry was a member of Leitrim County council from 1934-1941. He was elected as an IRA candidate.

He settled down, took up the tailor trade like his father Patrick and married my grandmother Josephine (Jodie) née Fox.

They had 5 children including my father Patrick Noel (Noel)

John Joe died of cardiac arrest in 1954, he was 56.

Unfortunately we have very little photographs or evidence of the life john joe lived back then.

I believe it may have been hidden or disposed of and i hold no grudge for that as it is understandable when any connotation with the IRA became taboo in latter years.

A celtic momument was erected to his memory, organised by his Leitrim and Longford comrades who obviously thought much of him.

It sits at Cornageeha church where his mother prayed for his safe return in 1921.

The unveiling of the momument was a major event in 1956.

Many TDs from all parties attended and counciller E Lennon from Drumlish said "This momument is erected on almost the same spot he drilled one of the first companies in Leitrim"

My granddad died when my dad was only 12 and so i never got to meet him, but i still feel a connection, and i like to believe it's where some of my fighting spirit comes from.

I am and always will be very proud of what he did, standing up for what he believed in under very difficult circumstances.

We have people like John Joe McGarry to thank for the freedoms we take for granted in our lives today.

I think it's important that we keep his memory and the memory of all those men and women who sacrificed themselves, alive.

Visiting Grandads memorial

Thanks to Padráig McGarry for putting up with my endless questions 😅 and to Cormac Ó Súilleabháin for the exerpts from Leitrims Republican story 1900-2000

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