New: The First Casualties of the Easter Rising of 1916: Tragedy At Ballykissane Pier

Will Boutelle MD
Monday March 28, 2016 - 11:55:00 AM

I write this on the eve of the 100th anniversary of Good Friday 1916, a day on which occurred the very first casualties in what is generally known as the Easter Sunday Rising in Ireland. I first heard this story in 1972 from my cousin Bride Keating (now deceased), who was either the niece or the sister of Con Keating (I cannot remember which) and who was a lifelong schoolteacher in Caherciveen, County Kerry. My wife Ann and I were visiting to renew family connections which came from my paternal grandmother, Margaret Keating Boutelle, whose father had journeyed from Caherciveen to Worcester, Massachusetts in the later 19th Century. When we visited again in 1977 I heard the story again and asked Cousin Bride if any of the other people from that time were still alive. She knew several, all very elderly, and invited them to tea. 

After the story was again told, Cousin Bride presented us with a copy of The Capuchin Annual 1966 published in Dublin, which gave an account of the events of that night. Since that time, I have seen an article in the Archives of the journal The Kingdom from April 13, 2006 (archives.tcm.ie/thekingdom/2006/04/13/story20146.asp) and a publication from North Antrim (northantrim.com/rogercasement.htm), both of which describe these events. Both of these latter have since been removed from the internet, but are available on archiving sites. Given these varied sources, I will present the events as I heard them from my cousin and her friends, using the written sources for factual backup. 

Before the Easter Rising, Padraig Pearse, Roger Casement and many others recognized the necessity of obtaining arms and other materiel for the fight. Germany, which was engaged in fighting the British in World War I, was only too willing to help. A quantity of arms (some 20,000 rifles, a few machine guns and about 1 million rounds of ammunition) was loaded aboard the “Libau”, a ship originally named the “Castro” and owned by a Hull company before being captured in the early days of the war by a German torpedo boat. The ship was outfitted as a Norwegian freighter, renamed again as “Aud Norge” and crewed by German sailors disguised as Norwegian seamen. Under cover of darkness, the new name and “Bergen” as her home port were painted on her hull. The ship sailed from Hamburg to Leubeck, where she was loaded with arms and carefully disguised. 

Captain Karl Spindler was in charge of the Aud and he met with Roger Casement in Berlin before the mission. The plan was for the Aud to sail to a point off County Kerry and there meet with Casement for the delivery. However, Casement became concerned about travelling by surface ship and agreed to be delivered to Ireland by German submarine. The sub which took him, U19, was commanded by Captain Weissbach who, a year earlier, had been the Torpedo Officer on U20 when it sank the “Lusitania”. Indeed, it was Captain Weissbach himself who released the torpedo. 


Meanwhile, it had been proposed by the Volunteer headquarters to dismantle the British wireless station on Valentia Island just off Caherciveen and set up a transmitter in Tralee to make contact with the Aud. On Good Friday morning, a party of 5 men left Dublin to carry out this task. They were Denis Daly, Con Keating, Donal Sheehan, Charles Monaghan and Colm O’Lochlainn, with Daly in charge of the party. Keating was chosen because he was the one man of them all who was an expert on wireless installation and also knew Morse code. They rode the train from Dublin to Killarney, where two cars from Limerick would be waiting to take them first to Caherciveen to capture the radio and then to Tralee to set up the transmitter to guide the Aud in for unloading. 

One of the Limerick cars, a new Briscoe American 20 horsepower open tourer, belonged to John J. Quilty, the son of a man from the 1867 rising. The other, an older Maxwell, belonged to Tommy MacInerney, a garage owner. They met the Dublin party in Killarney and set off, the car containing Daly in the lead because he knew the way, with MacInerney following. The weather, which had been fair, began to darken with mist. Daly’s car got through to the outskirts of Caherciveen and waited there for the other car. MacInerney, meanwhile, had had engine trouble and lost sight of the lead car. He also encountered a policeman outside Killorglin who became so inquisitive that Keating finally drew his revolver and ordered him off. Now, with the mist swirling and newly anxious about the police, they headed off without seeing Daly’s car.  

MacInerney was not sure of the way after Killorglin and stopped to ask directions from a young girl, who told them “first turn to the right”. Macinerney was still in some doubt after the turn and asked Keating (who was from Caherciveen) if they were on the right road. Keating replied that he was certain they were on the road to Caherciveen and MaciInerney put on speed. The road actually ended on Ballykissane Pier and seconds later the car shot over the pierhead and into the water. MacInerney, the only survivor, heard Keating utter the words “Jesus, Mary and Joseph”, after which he sank out of sight. 

Donal Sheehan, Con Keating and Charles Monaghan were therefore the very first casualties of the Easter Rising, having drowned before midnight on Good Friday. Con Keating is buried in Caherciveen and a city park was named in his honor. 

There is a heavy irony to this tragic story: Although Con Keating the radio expert was there to contact the Aud after the British station was overwhelmed, no one had thought to check whether the Aud carried a radio. It did not. 

As my wife and I sat in Bride Keating’s sitting room in 1977 listening to the older ladies retell their remembrances of that night 61 years earlier, we noticed that several of them indicated that the men stopped for a “cup of cheer” on their journey during that dark and misty night. Surely, it is possible that these statements were only delivered to make the teller part of the story—but if true, then there might have been another reason for that car to shoot off the end of that pier.