Dr. Conor McNamara’s publication entitled “DEFYING TERROR – Jeremiah Mee, Glenamaddy and the Listowel Mutiny, 1920” was officially launched by Councillor Peter Keaveney, Cathaoirleach of Galway County Council at the Glenamaddy Heritage Centre, Ballyhard, on Friday 6th May 2022. This work was commissioned by Galway County Council and distributed free of charge as part of their remembrance programme for the decade of commemorations, 2013-2023. It marks the centenary of the Listowel Mutiny, led by Glenamaddy native Jeremiah Mee and his comrades who refused to hand over Listowel RIC barracks to the Crown forces in June 1920. Due to Covid restrictions on public gatherings the official launch date was deferred to facilitate the attendance of relatives and guests, including Marie Mannion, Heritage Officer, Galway County Council. An appreciative audience responded positively to a comprehensive programme co-ordinated by Luke Mee representing the Jeremiah Mee Memorial Society. Glenamaddy Boyounagh Heritage Project (GBHP) hosted the event with President, Sean Garvey, acting as Master of Ceremonies. A message of support from Conor McNamara who was unable to attend was read at the launch by Mike Garvey, Secretary, GBHP. Guest speakers included John Donlon, Luke Mee, Pat Keaveny, Ciarán Mee and Councillor Peter Keaveney. Post-event refreshments prepared and served by Gerry Briggs, Helena Clarke and Mary Brosnan went down a treat while traditional Irish music in-keeping with the occasion was provided by acclaimed violinist, Niamh Ní Bheoláin accompanied by Caoimhín Mac an Bháird on guitar. The event was videoed by Caroline Coneran and livestreamed on Facebook to enable Jeremiah’s 93-year-old daughter, Sister Teresa Mee, who is based in the UK tune in. Transcripts of the various launch contributions are included in this post and a video of the event can be accessed on the Facebook page of the Glenamaddy Heritage website – www.glenamaddyheritage.com.
Mee cousins Declan (left) and Ciarán (right) with Luke Mee from Kilkerrin and Galway Co. Council Cathaoirleach, Peter Keaveney, at the Heritage Centre in Ballyhard, Glenamaddy for the launch of “Defying Terror”, the book on Jeremiah Mee by Conor McNamara.
Sean Garvey, Master of Ceremonies
As president of the Glenamaddy Heritage, it is a great pleasure to welcome everyone here this evening.
We are here to honour a special Irish man and neighbour, Jeremiah Mee. He was born in our parish in Knockauns East. He is survived by many family members but particularly by his daughter, Sr Teresa Mee, a 93 year old nun in London who is tuned into this evening’s proceedings.
I would like to thank our Galway Heritage group in Galway County Council and in particular Marie Mannion who managed the whole event and who has been very supportive of our parish heritage events. The publication is available free of charge this evening.
Our first speaker this evening is very well known to us. He has excelled in many drama productions and on finishing work he went to U. C. G. and got a degree. He comes from Esker, his name is John Donlon.
Our next guest has had so much to do with this evening. He is a member of the original committee, a member of the Mee family and a cousin of Jeremiah Mee. Your welcome for Luke Mee.
Now I want to introduce you to another member of our parish. He has a great interest in local history and has spoken in the past about Jeremiah and his relations occupy the house where Jeremiah was born. He comes from Esker. Welcome Pat Keaveney.
Now we speed off to Belfast to ask Ciarán Mee, grandson of Jeremiah, for his contribution.
The author of this book is Dr. Conor McNamara. He has put an enormous amount of work into this publication and we thank him very much. He is a national award-winning Irish historian and author. He could not join us this evening but he sent us a letter and I now ask our local Heritage secretary, Mike Garvey, to deliver it.
Gerry Briggs plays a clip from the Michael Portillo documentary which recalls Colonel Bryce Smyth’s controversial address to the RIC constables in Listowel barracks.
Finally, we come to the launch of our book. It is a great honour for us in Glenamaddy to have a local man as Cathaoirleach of the County of Galway. He is the first person from our parish to receive the honour. He has done top class work in our parish and in County Galway. I now call on our friend, Peter Keaveney, to honour us.
John Donlon’s address
“I Like A Bit Of History”
If we are to understand the mentality and the character of Irish people, we must look at their history. What were the characteristics that contributed to their survival as a race of people that had to face many difficulties and endure many hardships. Some of those difficulties as a result of natural disasters such as the Great Famine, others imposed on them at the hands of oppressors from outside their own country, or laws imposed on them by legislation from within, not of their making.
From the very earliest days of our history some nine thousand years ago, we know that tribes of people arrived in Ireland. Those people were known as people of the “Stone Age”. We know about those early settlers because of the many Stone Age artefacts, tools and weapons discovered and identified by archaeologists. Around three thousand B.C. Iron Age settlers arrived in Ireland from mainland Europe. They were the Celts and they had a huge influence in the shaping of Ireland. There are many stories and myths associated with Celtic warriors and the first official language that stems from the Celtic language. Other tribes arrived much earlier, such as Partholón and his people, the Tuatha De Danann. Those earlier tribes lived by hunting and fishing. A lot of tribal wars and unrest resulted between the different tribes which led to their demise.
Towards the middle of the fifth century, 432 AD to be exact, St. Patrick arrived in Ireland, bringing with him the Christian faith. While not instantly accepted by all, it gradually became the official religion of the vast majority of the people. In many cases, some Irish people incorporated many of the Celtic practises, having as one might say, the best of both worlds. Some of those practises survive right up to the present day. In the aftermath of St. Patrick’s visit and the message that he brought, that being Christianity, Irish scholars studied Latin, Greek and Christian theology in monasteries throughout Ireland and Irish missionary saints set up schools and monasteries in different parts of Europe. During this period Ireland became known as an “Island of Saints and Scholars”, an era that has left priceless treasures such as the Book of Kells and many other artifacts through Celtic ornate jewelllery, the many carved stone Celtic crosses still to be seen in many parts of Ireland.
At the end of the eight century and throughout most of the ninth, Ireland had the visits of the Vikings from the Scandinavian countries. They established or founded our capital city of Dublin around 985. Following the defeat of the Vikings at the battle of Clontarf on Good Friday 1014 by Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, the Viking influence faded. But the 12th century saw the arrival of the Normans. They transformed many towns in Ireland by building castles, churches, walled towns and so on. They also increased agriculture and commerce in Ireland. What followed was some of the most challenging periods in Ireland’s History.
After King Henry the 8th declaring himself head of the Church of England in 1534, he insisted that the Irish Parliament do likewise. This was enacted in 1541. From this time on, English and Scottish Protestant settlers arrived in Ireland. This led to the imposition of the regime of the Penal Laws. Under those laws Catholics were denied all basic rights under the law in England and Ireland. Catholics were not allowed to hold any office under the Crown, not allowed to practice their religion or send their children to school and not allowed to own land property. The list of restrictions goes on, even clause 23 provides that no papists, except under particular conditions, shall dwell in Galway or Limerick and imposing oath conformity to the Church of Ireland.
Be that as it may, those laws were repealed in 1829 as a result of Catholic Emancipation brought about by the efforts of Daniel O Connell. But there was worse to follow for the Irish. In the mid 1840’s the population of Ireland was over 8 million. At that time the potato crop was the main food source in the country but in 1845 an unheard of form of disease, later known as the blight, ruined the potato crop and disaster followed. The same problem manifested in 1846 and again in 1847, a year that became known as ‘Black ’47’ because of the number of people that starved to death through hunger and the volume of young people that emigrated to other parts on coffin-ships never to return to their native land. This was some of the stuff that transpired during the Great Famine while at the same time Ireland was forced to export an abundant harvest of wheat and dairy products to Britain and further overseas.
In the aftermath of the Great Famine with over a million people starved to death through hunger and another million leaving the country, the Irish people were down but not out. In less than sixty years they rose up against their oppressor in what is known as the ‘Easter Rising’. We are all familiar with what transpired during this important episode in Irish history, likewise the War of Independence and the Civil War that was so traumatic for many people and in particular the events that transpired at Listowel Barracks on the 19th of June 1920. This time of year could be described as the busiest time of year, especially in rural Ireland, in areas such as around Glenamaddy with saving the turf and the crops down, but a lot of work to be done such as spraying and moulding and thinning root crops such as turnips, fodder-beet and so on. Then there was the daily chore of drawing water from nearby wells or streams for the house and farmyard as well as the morning and evening milking of the cows. For the housewife, the hand washing of clothes, the cooking on the open fire, feeding the poultry and pigs. All of which led to a full commitment. It was a hectic time of year for the people of that era. June has always been a popular month for a wedding. Then, if there was a funeral in the village, all work ceased for the occasion.
Against that background in June of 1920, word filtered around Glenamaddy that one of their own had taken a stand against British oppression that led to murder, violence and the burning of property. Nothing was sacred as far as the Crown forces were concerned, or the “Black-n-Tans” as they became known. The torture they inflicted on Jeremiah Mee’s parents and his two young sisters was testimony to their behaviour. As a result of such behaviour many volunteers signed up and became actively involved in the armed struggle that ensued, especially around north Galway. I’m not going naming names but suffice to say Glenamaddy was well represented in the aftermath of the stance taken by Jeremiah Mee and his comrades at Listowel barracks on the 19th of June 1920.
Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a n-anamacha go léir agus go sábhailfidh Dia Éireann is a daoine thar timpeall an domhain.
Go raibh maith agaibh go léir. Seán Ó Domhnalláin
Luke Mee’s address
Ladies and gentlemen, Cathaoirleach Peter Keaveney and Sister Teresa, thank you all for attending this Book Launch. I was asked to speak on behalf of the Jeremiah Mee Memorial Committee, which we formed back in 1987, 35 years ago. It was formed to remember Jeremiah Mee and mark his 100th birthday. At that time we constructed a memorial plaque on a site owned and donated by the late Eamon Phelan. When I joined that Committee back in ‘87, most of the other members were in their 70’s and would have grown up hearing 1st hand of the horrors of the Black-and-Tans, many of whom couldn’t even speak those words.
So we were delighted to have the local Heritage office and, indeed, Marie Mannion and Galway County Council come on board to mark the Centenary of the Listowel Munity and Jeremiah Mee’s input. Also, special thanks to Dr Conor McNamara who wrote the book and put so much research into it. There are a small few of us still left from the committee and a special welcome to former TD Tom Hussey and Councillor Michael Connolly who had a large input into the fundraising and development of the memorial site in Glenamaddy.
Again, thanks to Glenamaddy/Boyounagh Heritage Project and their staff for all your hard work setting up the launch, to Marie Mannion and Galway County Council and all who had an input into the book and its launch.
We hope that these events will prolong the memory of all the heroic people who ‘Defied Terror’ to give us our independence.
Pat Keaveny’s address
Jeremiah would be chuffed to know that a book dedicated to him is being launched in his native parish this evening and that the person doing the honours is a Glenamaddy man, Councillor Peter Keaveney, Cathaoirleach of Galway County Council. I’d like to send greetings to Sister Teresa, Jeremiah’s daughter, who hopefully is able to watch this event online in the UK where she resides. I hope that you are well and that you’ll enjoy the proceedings. Your participation brings home to us that the standout event in which your father played a prominent role 102 years ago in Listowel occurred not all that long ago. Conor McNamara, author of ‘Defying Terror’ is to be congratulated on conducting extensive research into the background of a fascinating episode in our long struggle for self-governance and Galway County Community Heritage is to be commended on sponsoring this timely project, the subject of which resonates locally and adds greatly to our understanding of a very turbulent period in our history.
In considering the Listowel Mutiny one is struck by the firm stand taken by a group of young men against the outrageous suggestion that they should shoot their compatriots on suspicion of being members of the IRA. In refusing to vacate Listowel RIC Barracks to make way for a contingent of Black and Tans whom they held in low regard they had invited a visit from Commissioner Colonel Bryce Smyth on 19th June 1920. The events of that day were to have life-changing implications for all those involved and had the effect of influencing many members of the RIC to resign from the force in the months that followed.
Born in Knickanes in 1889, Jeremiah attended Stonetown National School where one of his teachers was the nationally-minded John O’Keeffe after whom a housing estate in Glenamaddy is named. His predecessor, Luke Comer, was noted for having a special interest in the Irish language and one of his past pupils, Pádraig Ó Conghaile, became a primary school teacher and while based in Ros Muc befriended Pádraig Pearse. His involvement in the independence movement prompted the Black and Tans to raid his school in An Gort Mór. Sir St. George Gore, the absentee landlord in Knickanes East and ten adjoining townlands for much of the 19th century could scarcely have anticipated when he built Stonetown National School for his tenants’ children in 1846 that at least two teachers and two past pupils associated with the school he founded would figure prominently in the Gaelic revival and pro-independence movements. Nor could he have imagined that Jeremiah Mee whose grandfather was a tenant of his in Knickanes would one day assist his cousin Countess Markieviecz whose maiden name was Gore-Booth in her determined efforts to achieve independence. While Jeremiah was attending Stonetown National School Fr. Walter Conway, parish priest and close friend of Douglas Hide, was the school manager and would have visited the school regularly. He loathed landlords of all hues and was a noted proponent of the Irish language and culture. Éamonn Ceannt, one of the 1916 executed leaders, was born in nearby Ballymoe, though some say Glenamaddy. It is reasonable to assume that as a young man Jeremiah would have appreciated that there were people in his community who harboured a deep-seated desire for independence.
While visiting Williamstown RIC Barracks at the age of twenty to renew a dog licence Jeremiah was invited to join constables in a game of cards leading one to believe that policemen weren’t overly stretched investigating crime in the neighbourhood. Before departing it was suggested to him that he should consider joining the force. He talked it over with his parents and they agreed that it sounded like a good career move as he had little prospect of alternative secure employment. The majority of constables came from a farming background so there was nothing unusual about Jeremiah becoming a policeman. In 1910 he entered the R.I.C. training depot in the Phoenix Park having barely met the minimum height requirement. He recounted that one of the happiest days of his life was the first occasion he wore the police uniform and swaggered down Grafton Street. His younger brother, Luke, also joined the RIC and the family tradition of serving in the Gardaí was continued in later generations by Glenamaddy-born relatives Tom Mee from Loughpark and Declan Keaveney from Esker.
John Keaveny from Kiltullagh reminiscing in an article penned for a parish magazine in the 1970s recalled his impressions of RIC constables in Glenamaddy who didn’t give the impression of being overburdened with professional duties towards the end of the 19th century: “The old police used to stand at Keaveny’s corner and they could watch the four roads and, dammit, if things were quiet they used to spur someone to create trouble to keep their jobs. There were four of them and a sergeant here then.” The story goes that a local RIC constable while on patrol encountered an elderly lady on the roadside in Middletown. Close by was an unshod donkey. The constable enquired if she knew who owned the animal. She replied, “Musha! I don’t know either of you from Adam”. A response not calculated to boost the policeman’s self-esteem.
Many of the everyday chores which constables engaged in were repetitive and tedious, having to do with the checking for licences, seizing poitín stills, breaking up faction fights, prosecuting the owners of animals found wandering on the roads, ensuring that publicans abided by the terms of their liquor licences, carrying out regular patrols on foot or on bicycles and writing up daily reports.
Constables were the eyes and ears of the British authorities, keeping an eye out for any suspicious activity that smacked of insurrection as the IRB, a sworn secret society, was active in parts of the country. Relative calm reigned in Ireland from the time of Jeremiah’s birth until the 1916 Rising as the land question was gradually being addressed. As he was about to embark on his police career, there were ominous signs that things were about to take a turn for the worse. Constables were deployed to forcibly curb workers’ rights in the 1911 Wexford lock-out, while two years later, their counterparts in the Dublin Metropolitan Police used strong-arm tactics to break up union meetings associated with the Dublin lock-out.
His first appointment as a police constable was in Kesk, Co. Sligo, in February 1911. He went on the serve in Collooney, Ballintogher and Grange. He noticed that the atmosphere began to change following the execution of the 1916 leaders and the death of a constable from Grange in an assault on Ashbourne police station. His endeavours to unionise the police in Grange didn’t impress his superiors and that combined with the urgent need for police reinforcements in Munster meant that he was soon on the move again.
His arrival in Listowel coincided with an upsurge in IRA activity. By now the British government was concerned that the IRA were getting the upper-hand and that the RIC weren’t up to the job of maintaining law and order. As part of the new game plan to counteract the IRA threat, constables in Listowel R.I.C. barracks were to be dispersed throughout the county to make way for Black and Tans. Having conferred they decided to resist relocation. Jeremiah was selected to act as spokesman though he was not the most senior. Their decision prompted a speedy reaction, with Munster Divisional Commissioner, Bryce Smyth, arriving on site on 19th June 1920. Spelling out revised government policy he told them that henceforth individuals suspected of being members of the IRA should be shot. He assured them that in so doing no questions would be asked, adding that it didn’t matter if innocent people were killed in the process. As a sweetener, constables were assured that their pay and working conditions would improve and that any other grievances they had would be addressed.
Jeremiah immediately responded, vehemently rejecting the Commissioner’s bidding and lost no time in transcribing Smyth’s address before approaching a local priest to arrange for it to be forwarded to I.R.A. headquarters in Dublin
On 6th July 1920 Jeremiah and four of his comrades decided to leave the force without going through the formal process of resigning. They took a train to Limerick and from there they travelled by car to Tuam, knowing that they risked being arrested and facing serious charges. After negotiating roadblocks and following a few close shaves Jeremiah reached Glenamaddy where he visited his parents. He had been forewarned that the Tans were on the lookout for him so he hid in a limekiln in Polshask, a townland adjoining Knickanes. He decided not to stay for long as word was sure to get out that he was in the vicinity.
After leaving Glenammaddy he travelled by train to Ballymote where he most likely met his future wife, Annie O’Rourke, and trusted members of the I.R.A. whom he had come to know when he was stationed there. From there he made his way to Dublin to meet the leadership of the I.R.A.. In the meantime, Commissioner Smyth’s address was published in the ‘Freeman’s Journal’ causing embarrassment to the British Government.
Jeremiah met Michael Collins and Countess Markievicz in Dublin and began organising employment for members of the R.I.C. who had tendered their resignation. He acted as an advisor to Collins and played a part in getting the Dublin Metropolitan Police to discontinue accompanying the Auxiliaries on raids.
In the midst of all the turmoil he married his sweetheart, Annie O’Rourke, in August 1920. For the foreseeable future he would be away from home for lengthy periods on dangerous missions and remain a wanted man.
In October 1920 he took a perilous trip to Listowel disguised as a cattle dealer with the aim of recruiting former comrades to pass on inside information on planned police raids. He travelled to the UK to address pro-independence meetings where he received a hero’s welcome.
His next mission was to organise a boycott of goods manufactured in Belfast. Belfast businessmen were happy to sell their products to Catholics in the south while at the same time dismissing Catholic employees in the North. He was relatively successful in this mission posing as a drapery salesman.
Revenge for the Listowel mutiny wasn’t long in coming. In the Spring of 1921 Jeremiah’s parents’ home, animals and crops were destroyed by the Black and Tans. Jeremiah must have been distraught on learning that his ancestral home had been torched and that his parents and siblings had been abused in retaliation for his part in the Listowel Mutiny. Glenamaddy Town Hall and Ballinastack Dance Hall which he was known to frequent were burned to the ground.
He worked with the Irish White Cross which was established to relieve distress among people caught up in the War of Independence but when funds dried up during the Civil War he became unemployed. By all accounts he never joined the I.R.A and didn’t actively take sides in the Civil War but, nevertheless, his strong nationalist sentiments saw him arrested and incarcerated for four months in Custume Barracks, Athlone.
In September 1924 he secured employment with British Petroleum where he became involved in union activity to secure better treatment for Catholic employees who were being discriminated against on religious grounds and as a result was dismissed. In 1932 he took up a position as an Employment Insurance Inspector in the Department of Local Government.
Whereas his decision to quit the RIC was prudent and principled, it was also pragmatic, as he would have been acutely aware that members of the RIC had become targets for an emboldened IRA. Two Glenamaddy constables who would have been known to Jeremiah were shot in Balbriggan in September 1920. Peter Burke from Boyounagh Bridge was mortally wounded and his brother, William, seriously injured in an altercation in a pub in the town.
He could have resigned from the RIC without creating a fuss. He neither resigned nor was he dismissed. Instead, he chose to leave the force with some of his colleagues, carrying their weapons with them. Had he resigned and walked away quietly, his departure would have had little or no impact. By openly challenging and publishing the outrageous instructions of his superior officer he exposed British policing policy in Ireland and brought it to the attention of a wide audience.
Moving from relative obscurity to national prominence must have taken some getting used to for someone who shunned the limelight. That said, his reserved nature didn’t deter him from showing leadership in situations where social justice was at stake.
I’ll conclude with an excerpt from William Timothy’s recollection of Jeremiah as a neighbour and friend. It depicts him as a carefree, self-assured young man who was approachable, unpretentious and sociable. William who resided in Cloonlara North, across the fields from Knickanes, was a member of the Old IRA and in an article entitled “More Recollections of ‘The Troubles’” which was published in a parish magazine in 1978 he said of Jeremiah. “I knew Jeremiah Mee personally. He was a real gentleman type, so I thought anyway, and everyone liked him. He always had that couple of tales to tell and at a dancehall when he’d start talking everyone would be quiet to hear what he had to say. It would be something important and he had a great sense of humour.”
Conor McNamara, author of “Defying Terror”
Dr. Conor McNamara, Galway County Council Historian-In-Residence, was commissioned to explore the career of Jeremiah Mee and the events surrounding the Listowel Police Mutiny of June 1920 when Mee and fourteen fellow RIC constables refused to hand over their police barracks to the British military during their campaign of terror against the Irish people. He has worked at the National University of Ireland, Galway, the University of Notre Dame and the National Library of Ireland and is considered to be one of Ireland’s foremost experts on the independence struggle, publishing extensively on many aspects of modern Irish history. The people of Glenamaddy greatly appreciate Galway County Council’s timely tribute to our native son and take this opportunity to sincerely thank Dr. McNamara for his thorough research and absorbing presentation.
Message from Dr. Conor McNamara read by Mike Garvey
I would like to thank Galway County Council, and in particular, Galway Heritage for their immense support over the last number of years. It has been an honour and a privilege to work on so many worthwhile history projects that have left a lasting legacy to the people of Galway. Galway Heritage has left an unprecedented legacy to the people of Galway and their energy and commitment has been outstanding.
I am very grateful to the Mee family for their support of the publication which was crucial to the completion. Jeremiah Mee was an upstanding character and left an enduring legacy that has been a privilege to write about.
The activities of community groups across Galway in exploring the history of the Independence Struggle has been to the fore in this regard. I hope everyone enjoys the book and it might even inspire further local research on the period; I would encourage everyone with an interest in history not to be reticent about beginning your own research and writing journey.
Finally, a big thank you to the local committee for launching the book and my apologies for being unable to attend due to family commitments. Have a great night. Gaillimh Abú.
Ciarán Mee’s address
- Buíochas mór, a Sheáin (much obliged, Seán). Cathaoirleach Peter Keaveney, Pat Keaveny, John Donlon, Luke Mee, Galway County Council, Glenamaddy-Boyounagh Heritage Project, Jeremiah Mee Memorial Society, cáirde agus gaolta go léir (beloved friends and relations)
- Go raibh maith agaibh as an gcuireadh labhairt. Tá sé go deas sibh a fheiceáil arís, agus is cúis áthas dom a bheith anseo tráthnóna inniu. (Thank you for the invitation to speak. It’s a pleasure to be here this evening and, of course, it’s nice to see so many of you all again – especially after the 2 years we’ve all been through.)
- I had really hoped that instead of listening to me tonight all of you’d be meeting and talking with Constable Jeremiah Mee’s daughter, my very dear and wonderful aunt, Sister Teresa Mee.
- Teresa is desperately disappointed that she can’t be with us in person. But, unfortunately, her health no longer permits her to travel. So as well as asking this ‘poor substitute’ to speak for her, she wants to send everyone in Glenamaddy and Galway her love and her good wishes.
- Secondly, Teresa will never forgive me if I don’t immediately congratulate and thank Conor McNamara, Luke, Marie Mannion and Galway Heritage Office and everyone here who played a part in producing this exciting account of her father’s life – Defying Terror.
- Teresa also wants me to acknowledge everyone’scommitment in making sure Conor’s book would have a proper public launch and for everything Glenamaddy and Galway does to remember Grandpa Jerry.
- I was fascinated listening there to what Pat has told us about life in this area in Grandpa’s time, what was happening in Ireland and the part he played in that history. It leads me very neatly into what Teresa wants me to talk to about briefly this evening. And that is:- what really drove Grandpa as a person; what he fundamentally believed in; and his impact, and Granny Anne’s impact, on their own family.
- And the first thing I should tell you is that Grandpa Jerry and Granny Anne were – and remain – towering presences amongst the Mees – and even amongst a few of the famous O’Rourkes of Leitrim to whom Granny belonged!
- Grandpa and Granny, in their own different ways, left a deep mark on us all. It’s a mark that led one of their daughters, Kathleen, to announce that, at the end of her days, she wanted to be buried with her father and mother. And, true to her wishes, dear Aunt Kathleen is today resting alongside her parents in Glasnevin Cemetery.
- I, too, have a vivid memory of another daughter – whom I won’t name – calling to her late father from her deathbed.
- Even more recently my own daughter, Aoife, has asked what her Great Grandfather might make of today’s Ireland if he was still alive. My nephew, Cormac Mee – who lives and works in London – has wondered how Grandpa might view a modern, international social phenomenon such as ‘Black Lives Matter.’
- And the questions keep coming. What might Grandpa have thought about climate change, or the #metoo movement, or LGBT rights, or even the 6 county state in the north – which he always opposed – and its new economic border with Britain?
- Young people, of course, are always very good at asking questions. But answering them isn’t always easy – especially for old fogies like me! And in Grandpa’s case it’s difficult because he belonged to a very different era and, in so many respects, a very different Ireland.
- In his time, there was little or no public discourse around many of the issues that this generation is confronting. Grandpa himself was neither as travelled nor as formally educated as most Irish people are these days. Those opportunities simply didn’t exist for the likes of him, or for Granny for that matter.
- So when we ask about Grandpa, we have to ask about him on his terms. And, as Teresa describes it, her Dad was solid. Her Dad was a man of conscience. And as a man of conscience his views, his opinions were often highlychallenging.
- But there was a reason for this. Because Grandpa Jerry was always, at heart, a revolutionary. But he was a revolutionary with a difference. For him ultimate revolution, ultimate rebellion and ultimate freedom sprang from his conscience.
- It was conscience, too, that impelled Grandpa to behave in such an outrageous fashion in Listowel in June 1920 when efforts were made to induce him, and his RIC comrades, to commit what could be regarded, in modern parlance, as war crimes.
- And it’s in this incident where Teresa feels that young people especially, might just want to give her father a brief, passing thought. When we speak nowadays of “war crimes”, we tend to think of the terrible things happening to the people of Ukraine, or the genocides of World War II, Syria, Yemen, the Balkans – not to mention the abuses invading Western coalition forces indulged in in Iraq and in Afghanistan and over the past 15 to 20 years.
- Time and again, when individual police or military personnel are called to account for what they did, they often make the point that they were under duress and following orders. This was war, there was a chain of command, and, in those circumstances, subordinates act according to instruction. For junior officers, disobedience is never an option. It would be unthinkable, a dishonour, a betrayal. The responsibility for what was done really belongs with the senior commanders or even the politicians.
- That kind of defence would not have worked for Grandpa Jerry. He just didn’t have that strength. Grandpa’s weakness was that he was possessiveandstubborn. As far as he was concerned his conscience belonged to himself and to nobody else. He could never entrust it to another, no matter how high their authority, no matter what his refusal might cost him. In this, Grandpa was uncompromising.
- Teresa appreciates, of course, that some people might be appalled by her father’s defiance – or “defying“, as Conor describes it. But as a daughter, Teresa would pleadwith such people to grant her Dad a little understanding. To bear in mind that Grandpa saw a great deal of cynicism and callousness in his life – especially in the attitude of the powerful and the privileged towards the poor and the vulnerable. As a result, Grandpa used to hammer home a message to his children that they must never, never measure their worth by how much they acquired for themselves. Instead, Grandpa measured worth by how much a person was prepared to cast aside, or abandon for a larger good.
- These values are what inspired Teresa’s own lifetime vocation. It’s also one of the reasons why – as Conor highlights in Defying Terror – that Grandpa enjoyed such a warm relationship with Countess Markievicz. He saw a woman who was born into great wealth and privilege, but who was prepared to surrender all that for the causes she believed in.
- So, when one tries to imagine how Grandpa might have viewed furious modern protest movements – such as Black Lives Matter, or #metoo or whatever – we need to go to a different level.
- Teresa and I tend to think back to fireside conversations that Grandpa enjoyed with his family, or the general chats he used to have at local youth clubs where he liked to volunteer so much of his time. And Grandpa would often sit and listen as his children, or friends and neighbourhood youths, described day-to-day difficulties in their lives while he puffed away on his favourite old pipe!
- And, during certain discussions, Grandpa had this notorious habit of standing up at the most intense moments in a debate and challenging an entire room full of people all by himself. He once declared that it’s easy to pass judgement on angry, hostile and resentful people and say they’re unreasonable, they’re trouble-makers or even to shootthem as he was once ordered to do.
- Grandpa always thought that it was much harder, and much more important, to enrich a life that was in crisis; for him it was much harder, and much more important, to replace despair with hope; for him it was much harder, and much more important, to try to craft something new and different that answered everybody’sneeds.
- Grandpa certainly disliked being the object of hostility and resentment. He experienced a lot of that as a policeman. But Grandpa had his own very particular ideas about policing. He firmly believed that, as a police officer, his obligations to the powerless were far larger than his obligations to the powerful. That’s why, in the end, Grandpa’s call to the RIC was not so much a call to politics or war, but a call to conscience.
- All these are exacting standards. They’re standards which Teresa lives by even today at 92 years of age. They’re standards which haunt me, both as one of Jeremiah Mee’s grandchildren and Teresa’s nephew, because of my sheer inability to live up to them.
- But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that Conor McNamara, with the support of so many of you here tonight, has given us in Defying Terror, a fresh and broader perspective on Jeremiah Mee. Conor’s work brings to light many previously hidden facts around a defining period in our country’s history and in Galway’s history.
- If you’re interested in Conor’s revelations for their historical value, you’ll be fascinated by what he has produced.
- But whatif you happen to be, as I said a moment ago, a young person – perhaps curious about questions like freedom and conscience, the rule of law, the connection between individual action and the well-being of our families and our communities – or simply speaking truth onto power? Well, thanks to Conor, you can read Jeremiah Mee’s wider life story for the first time. You will see in those pages the example that this one, very ordinary Galway man has left us all. It’s then entirely your choice as to whether you wish to reflect on his example, or reject it.
- I’d like to just finish, if I may, by giving the last word to Grandpa Jerry himself. He always liked the last word! With your permission, I want to read you a very short letter he wrote to Teresa a few years after Granny died and just a couple of weeks before he passed away himself. Grandpa wrote constantly to Teresa after she moved away to join a religious order. He sent this letter to her immediately after coming out of hospital. The letter’s dated 23rd April 1953 and it reads:-
“My Dear Teresa
A short line to say all here are well including self.
I came home on Tuesday last and am very much improved.
Am spending a little holiday with Eileen and Michael where I am being treated like a king.
Will be back in work in about 2 weeks’ time D.V.
My sister Ellen had an operation in Roscommon hospital and will be home D.V on Saturday.
So you see, we all have our little trials and troubles and get over them again with God’s help.
The weather here is simply beautiful with plenty of sunshine every day.
I do hope your hand is now alright again. It must have been very unpleasant, especially the right hand. I am writing this in bed with Eileen telling me to hurry up or I’ll be late for the post. Hope you will be able to read it.
With all my love
- Congratulations again everyone. Sin é. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
Councillor Peter Keaveney’s address
Members of The Jeremiah Mee Memorial Society, the extended Mee family, Glenamaddy Boyoungh Heritage Project, elected members and distinguished guests I am delighted to be with you all here this evening on the occasion of the launch of “Defying Terror: Jeremiah Mee, Glenamaddy and the Listowel Mutiny” which was written by Dr Conor McNamara.
This book was produced to mark the centenary of the Listowel Mutiny, led by Glenamaddy native Jeremiah Mee and his comrades in Listowel RIC barracks, who resigned from the police rather than hand their barracks over to the Crown forces in June 1920.
The events of the decade between 1913 and 1923 were momentous and defining ones. It was the decade that influenced relationships for a generation and was a period which saw the achievement of Irish independence and the foundation of our State.
It was also a period of transformation and cultural renewal in Irish society, following on electoral reform, land reform, education reform and migration. The demand for constitutional change was in parallel with the assertion of workers’ rights and women’s rights.
The decade was one of the most momentous of modern Irish history and justifies a comprehensive commemorative programme that recognises its importance, acknowledges the achievements of its generation and enhances the understanding today of the events that shaped our society.
Therefore, Galway County Council in the context of its role in providing civic leadership recognises the importance of playing a positive and proactive role in leading commemorative activities during the course of the decade and has produced a County Commemorative Strategy for 2013 to 2023.
The Galway Commemorative Strategy and annual commemorative programmes encourages Galway people at home and abroad to remember our shared history and to reflect on the events which shaped us.
The Strategy and the annual commemorative programmes place a strong emphasis on encouarging and enabling active community participation and engagement throughout the Decade of Commemorations.
Indeed, this publication has been produced by Galway County Council as part of its commemorative strategy for the decade of commemorations, 2013-23.
Jeremiah as you have heard came from Knockauns East in Glenamaddy and he was a constable in the Royal Irish Constabulary stationed in Listowel, Co. Kerry, when in June 1920, he and thirteen colleagues resigned from the force rather than hand their barracks over to the military.
The Listowel RIC Mutiny was an important event in the history of the Irish Independence struggle because it exposed the brutal nature of the British campaign in Ireland.
This book explores Jeremiah’s contribution to the independence struggle, and the history of Glenamaddy and North-East Galway during the early decades of the twentieth century.
The revolutionary generation in Ireland was the product of a rural society that underwent great social and political change over the previous fifty years, with the collapse of the power of the landed gentry, major population decline in the aftermath of the Great Famine, and the emergence of a new vision of Ireland’s future.
In this short book Dr Conor McNamara explores the role of the ordinary men and women of the independence movement and the experience of a small rural community in a time of extraordinary change.
We hope that this book would serve as a starting point for further research into this turbulent period in Irish history, as well as the history of the independence struggle in County Galway.
It is also hoped to encourage and assist heritage groups and researchers to further explore the issues discussed, therefore references to primary sources are given throughout the text.
Another very important aspect of this book is that all of the resources quoted are freely available to researchers and an additional discussion of archives and further reading is provided in the final section of the book.
This publication would not have been possible without the support and co-operation of the Mee family and the help of Teresa, Ciarán and Luke, in particular, who supplied family documents, photographs and information. I would also like to pay a sincere tribute to Dr Conor McNamara who researcher and wrote up this publication, to Damien Goodfellow Graphic Designer, Marianne ten Cate, proof-reader and the staff of the Heritage Office of Galway County Council who were involved with this publication. Grateful thanks to Neil Carron, Commemorations Unit, Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for his assistance with the publication and to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (Decade of Centenaries Local Authority Funding) and Galway County Council for funding the publication.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank Glenamaddy Boyoungh Heritage Project who have played a vital role in promoting the publication and hosting this book launch tonight. They are a fantastic group who leave no stone unturned to create a greater awareness, knowledge and pride in our local heritage here in Glenamaddy.
I hope that this short publication will encourage further interest and research into the heritage and history of County Galway and I now declare this publication “Defying Terror: Jeremiah Mee, Glenamaddy and the Listowel Mutiny” officially launched.