A computer has helped a pensioner discover his father’s amazing role in the 1916 Rising, and now he wants families nationwide to find out more of their own family histories ahead of the centenary in 2016.
Kevin Kavanagh, 85, said: “I believe I was named after Kevin Barry and Michael Collins, but now I know so much more, including how my father, Capt Seamus Kavanagh, was arrested after the surrender at the College of Surgeons. He was sent to jail in Wales while others were sent to Kilmainham Gaol, where most were executed.”
His father “rarely spoke about those times, but for my 80th birthday my wife and two daughters gave me a laptop. I never had one before so I went online to look at the census and to research him”.
Kevin was amazed to find that his father was just 14 and working in a drapers in Camden St when Countess Markievicz came in and recruited him into the Irish National Boy Scouts movement. Among those at the first meeting he attended of that movement, which would later become Na Fianna Éireann, was Peadar Kearney.
As Peadar, Kevin’s father Seamus, and others in the movement marched around parts of Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains, they decided to sing a song Kearney was writing. Kevin explained: “Father was singing what would become the Irish national anthem, ‘A Soldier’s Song’.”
His father went on to be a runner for Countess Markievicz and rose to the rank of captain. In 1917, he was OC of H Company, 1st Battalion, which included in its ranks Kevin Barry.
One of the most amazing discoveries for Kevin was that when the Rising ended and the combatants, including his father, were lined up in Dublin Castle in two lines, fate kept his father alive.
“He said somebody asked him for a cigarette so he went from his line and over to give this person a cigarette.
“Well, a solider put him back into the line but he didn’t put him into the line he was originally in. The line he had been moved to was sent to Frongoch prison camp in Wales, but the others were sent to Kilmainham where many were court-martialled and shot.”
As preparations begin for the centenary, Kevin has donated his father’s medals for his role in the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, and the 1939-41 Emergency, to the Louth County Museum where they will go on display shortly.
Kevin is encouraging everybody with memorabilia from that period to contact the museum: “If you think about it, almost anyone may have a connection to 1916. Have a look in the attic or under the stairs and see what you can find. You could be very surprised. I didn’t know anything about my father until I started looking into it.”
Museum curator Brian Walsh said he was amazed by Kevin’s father’s life story: “Here is someone who has played a central role in the 1916 Rising. It’s simply fascinating but similar stories could be held in boxes in attics, sheds, and cupboards all over Ireland and beyond.”
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