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There were roughly 40,000 British troops and 10,000 armed police in Ireland during the War of Independence and yet a

much smaller force of republicans managed to make the country

ungovernable. County Kildare was an important axis for the republicans in intelligence gathering and for disrupting the

communications of the British forces to the south and west. Nevertheless, until recently, the county received a bad press for its part in the war. There have been accusations that Kildare did not do as much as it could have. Indeed, due to the lack of military

attacks and the low death toll attributable to revolutionary

violence in the county, Kildare is rarely mentioned in any of the studies on the War of Independence. Michael Hopkinson, in The Irish War of Independence, wrote: ‘Accounts of the conflict in these

counties [Kildare, Carlow, Wicklow, Offaly and Laois] adopt

an almost apologetic air as excuses are sought for their minimal involvement’.1 Kildare’s part in the War of Independence was

virtually ignored until 2001, which saw the publication of my

book On the One Road. Political Unrest in Kildare 1913–1994. Then, in 2006, an essay by Terence Dooley, ‘IRA activity in

Kildare during the War of Independence’, focused on Kildare’s part in the Anglo-Irish conflict, explaining the reasons why the county ‘underperformed’.


The War of Independence in Kildare

The actions of County Kildare’s inhabitants were no doubt

heavily influenced by the positioning of four military centres in the county, with about one-third of Britain’s overall military

strength in Ireland based in the Curragh alone. The Kildare IRA was heavily outnumbered by crown forces and had neither the

manpower nor weaponry to seriously challenge the military or police. About 300 activists in the county, with only about one-

third of them ready to take to the field at any time, faced nearly 6,000 troops and hundreds of police and Black and Tans, coupled

with a huge population of ex-servicemen and families tied to the military. There was unsurprisingly a fear of bringing retaliation

for any attacks down on the Volunteers’ communities. Indeed,

the three main attacks that did occur in Kildare – at Greenhills, Maynooth and Barrowhouse – brought immediate reprisals from the forces of the crown. Moreover, the flat open plains of Kildare militated against ambushes, the Volunteers’ favoured method of attack.

However, the situation in County Kildare was complex and

its inhabitants were far from compliant. The county, with all its

apparent obedience to the ruling power of the day, always had a reactionary element – be it the Maynooth men who walked the

railway line to Dublin at Easter 1916; the many who participated in county-wide anti-conscription rallies, or the small band of dedicated Volunteers from Kill, Naas, Leixlip, Athy, etc. who took

on the servants of the most powerful empire in the world. County

Kildare was far from being a quiet backwater and its story during the War of Independence deserves to be reconsidered.


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