War of Independence Commemoration Event, Neilstown, Camross, Co. Laois. 

29th August 2015.

Just after 4pm on Saturday, 29 August 2015, about 130 people anxiously glanced up at a dramatic sky where dark clouds skirted overhead, threatening to engulf the umbrella-less masses below. They were all packed into the front yard of Dooley’s in Neilstown, Camross and they were there to witness the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in honour of those members of the Third Southern Division of the IRA who fought for Irish freedom. MC for the occasion, Peter Dooley, took to the podium and welcomed everyone, thus beginning a poignant afternoon of speech and song, all of which was enjoyed underneath the gathering clouds that had deposited downpours not a half-mile away. Clearly, the past generations that were being honoured were hard at work in the heavens too.

The house in Neilstown was constructed early in the 20th Century, and Paddy Dooley outlined the history of the house and family in a commemorative booklet produced for the occasion;

In 1907 James Dooley married Grett Higgins in St. Molua’s Church, Ballaghmore. Grett was from the Cross of Ballagmore, while James was from the County Bounds, just across the fields from where we stand today in Neilstown. James inherited a farm in Neilstown from an uncle of the same name. He built a new two story house on the farm at a cost of £300. I know this because we have the receipts to this day. James and Grett had three daughters. The eldest, Rita, married Willie Dempsey of Killavilla. Kitty, my mother, married Mick Dooley from Ballyduff. The youngest, Maureen, described by my grandfather as the fairest of them all, died in 1932 at the age of 19, having succumbed to the great scourge of the time, Tuberculosis. This was the family unit which, in a few short years, would find themselves involved in the events which determined the future of this country.

Just after Martin Delaney and Pat Collier finished their first musical piece of the afternoon, Ger Dooley took to the stage and spoke about how James and Grett invited the Volunteers into their home during the War of Independence and the important part that the house played in the war culminating in the establishment of the Headquarters of the Third Southern Division of the IRA in the parlour of the house;

In the wake of a crackdown by Crown Forces on the IRA, Seamus Burke TD fled Tipperary and sought refuge in Neilstown. Three factors were key in this house becoming such a prominent safe house for the IRA. The first is its remoteness. The second was its inconspicuous nature from the point of view of the RIC; a family such as the Dooleys were at the time, with three young daughters was far less likely to draw the attention of the police as say for instance a family with three sons in their early 20s. But the main factor was likely to have been the influence of Killavilla man Ned Quinlan, who was leader of the Roscrea IRA and close friend of the family.

As the War progressed other senior members of the North Tipperary IRA stayed in Neilstown, including Seán Gaynor of Tyone. Gaynor, like so many other men in Ireland, joined the Volunteers in the spring of 1914 but was utterly opposed to the taking over of the organisation by John Redmond following the outbreak of the Great War. He re-joined the Volunteers in 1917 in the home of Martin Ryan, Tyone, following a request from Denis Carey, who would later be killed in the grim month of November 1920, mere weeks after the burning of the town by Crown Forces. Gaynor was briefly the de-facto leader of the Nenagh IRA for a time in early 1918 but his arrest and imprisonment in Belfast put an end to that brief stint. However, in the summer of 1920, following the disastrous fall out from an IRA raid on Borrisokane RIC barracks and the removal of Frank McGrath from the post, Gaynor was appointed as leader of the North Tipperary IRA. The structure of the IRA in the midlands underwent its final change of the War with the dividing of the country into Divisions. GHQ organiser Michael McCormack, who had been in the area since Christmas 1920, oversaw the establishment of the Third Southern Division which comprised of the North Tipperary Brigade, as well as the two Offaly Brigades and the Laois Brigade. When the Division came into operation in the late spring of 1921 McCormack became the Officer in Command whilst Seán Gaynor became adjutant. Given the reputation that it had built up as a secure safe house in a remote area the sitting room of Dooleys in Neilstown was converted into the headquarters of the Division. At a meeting of regional Officers in Command from around the four Brigades in Neilstown. Gaynor and McCormack outlined their plans to improve communications with telephones and copying presses and to establish a Divisional Flying Column which was to meet there on 11 July 1921.

Paddy Dooley took to the stage after his son and he thanked everyone for coming before giving an emotional speech on how much the occasion meant to him and how the generation that had fought for Irish freedom should never be forgotten.

Then Len Gaynor, nephew of Sean Gaynor, took to the stage and spoke about how honoured he felt to be asked to unveil a commemorative plaque commemorating the memory of both James and Grett Dooley, and his uncle, and indeed father, Mick, who was also a Volunteer in the War of Independence and member of the North Tipperary Flying Column.

Please see below some images from the day as well as a link to a video of the event.