As we fill out our Census forms tonight, many of us will empathise with the work of the enumerators whose job it will be to come and collect the data in the coming days and weeks.
In 1911, it was usually a local member of the Royal Irish Constabulary or Dublin Metropolitan Police who did this job. And in the mid-Cork parish of Kilmurry, the enumerator who signed most completed forms was Constable Thomas Felix Rourke.
He signed, for example, the Census form filled out by my great-great-grandfather William Murphy in his family farm at Currabeha (between Kilmurry village and Béal na Bláth) on Sunday, April 2, 1911.
The house’s youngest occupant, 1-year-old Norah is my maternal grandmother. (She would later spend her married years living in a house built on the site of, or possibly a renovation of, the Kilmurry barracks where Constable Rourke had been stationed.)
Below is the Census entry for Rourke himself in the Barracks Return for Kilmurry barracks in the townland of Coolduve, half a mile below the village itself.
He is number 3, TF R. Interestingly, his occupation is entered as: Railway Goods Clerk. It was not unusual for RIC constables – who were usually only entered by their initials – to have odd or unrelated occupations listed. The sergeant and five other constables in the barracks were Catholic men, Rourke was a member of a Church of Ireland family, and so may well have attended services in the nearby St Andrew’s Church (only a quick stroll through two fields behind the barracks, if he needed a short-cut).
To the front of the barracks, stood a small gate for staff and pedestrians to enter the grounds. It still stands today, but 100 years ago this weekend, members of the local constabulary stood at it and watched as hundreds of uniformed Irish Volunteers passed up the hill to the village. Thomas Felix Rourke was not there on the day, having been stationed as a Sergeant in Co Tipperary for the previous two years.
The gate at the right of the photograph above is the one at Kilmurry RIC barracks, from which police watched 350 Irish Volunteers pass on Easter Sunday 1916. On the same date 100 years later, Saturday, April 23, 2016 nearly the same number marched past in this re-enactment walk from Bandon to Kilmurry organised by Kilmurry Historical and Archaeological Association (KHAA) and Cumann Seanchais na Banndan.
In various groups, the Irish Volunteers had come from the city, from companies in east Cork (Cobh and Dungourney), south Cork (Ballinhassig and Tracton), and from the Bandon and Kinsale districts (Ballinadee, Kilbrittain, Clogagh, Kilpatrick, Bandon, Gurteen & Tinker’s Cross) on foot, on bicycle and, for some, by train from the city as far as Crookstown Road station. All came through Béal na Bláth on their way to Kilmurry (some of the early arrivals had
Easter Sunday Mass in St Mary’s Catholic Church), and more than 350 had gathered in the one-street village sometime approaching 2pm.
Under the command of Cork city battalion officer-in-command, Sean O’Sullivan, the men marched in the rain from Kilmurry a further six miles north-west to Macroom, where they would ultimately be dismissed as orders earlier brought to Béal na Bláth by Cork Brigade commanders Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney were delivered.
The men would return to their villages and towns soaked to the skin, and frustrated later in the week to learn that the Rising in which they were intended to play a role had commenced in Dublin. (They were to have been collecting guns from the doomed Aud gun-running mission that ended disastrously in Co Kerry in the preceding days.)
While a successor of Thomas F Rourke in Kilmurry RIC barracks (probably Sergeant Peter Beirne) had trailed the Irish Volunteers up to Kilmurry and on to Macroom, he kept his distance under the watchful eye of the rearguard of Volunteers from one of the four city companies in the mobilisation.
Weeks later, it would be possibly the evidence of this un-named RIC officer which, ironically, helped the prominent Gaelic League activist Peadar O’Hourihane from Skibbereen escape a conviction following his arrest in the aftermath of the Rising. Brought before some kind of preliminary court-martial hearing at Richmond Barracks where he was detained with many other Cork figures in the Volunteers – including MacCurtain, MacSwiney and Kilmurry Volunteers officer John T Murphy – O’Hourihane had evidence given against him from two RIC members. One told the court officer he had seen the detainee on a march from Dunmanway to Inchigeela (in which he had, in fact, participated) on Easter Sunday. But another told of seeing him take part in the mobilisation from Bandon to Macroom that passed through Kilmurry, and was probably one of the garrison of the RIC barracks at Coolduve, Kilmurry. O’Hourihane wrote later that the officer of the court pronounced there must have been a miracle, as the man before him appears to have been in two places at the one time.
Thomas Rourke, meanwhile, was in charge during the week of the Easter Rising, of Lisvernane station in Co Tipperary. It is unusual, as a native of west Cork, that he had been serving in his native county in 1911, a practice which was deemed inappropriate due to likelihood of interaction with family or neighbours in carrying out policing duties. He had also, however, served in Co Kerry and at the RIC Depot in Dublin during his career which, by this stage, stretched back 22 years.
With his wife – daughter of a deceased RIC Sergeant Ward – expecting a child (probably their first) – Rourke might have been glad to be out of Co Cork when the Rising had begun, knowing of the historic tendency of its natives to be to the fore in many past rebellions. He hailed himself from near Rosscarberry, where Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa called home in his childhood but who was buried eight months earlier in Dublin’s Glasnevin cemetery.
Thomas Rourke may not have expected the morning of Wednesday, April 26, 1916 to be too unusual, then, when he took up duty. But it was to be his last morning to go to work, due to the outcome of his response to a wired message about an incident in the district. Michael O’Callaghan, a leading Irish Volunteer had fired a shot at a young Patrick Ryan and evaded arrest the night before. He had, earlier the previous day, fired shots in the air in a disturbance with the wives of Irish soldiers in the British Army, possibly upset because their separation allowance could not be collected at the post office as a result of the rebellion started in Dublin.
When Sergeant Rourke and his much younger RIC colleague, Constable John Hurley, also from west Cork, went to the home of O’Callaghan’s cousin on information that he might be hiding there, their suspicions were correct. Michael O’Callaghan shot Thomas Felix Rourke in the stomach, causing wounds from which he would die the next day, Thursday, April 27.
The 42-year-old police sergeant was buried at Clonbeg, in the Vale of Aherlow on Saturday, April 29, the day that Patrick Pearse ordered the surrender of Irish Volunteers, Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan and Fianna Éireann who had been holding out against British military forces since the previous Monday.
A namesake of Sgt O’Brien’s colleague, Sean Hurley from Drinagh in west Cork died in, or on the way to, a Dublin hospital the same day, suffering from wounds received in the Church Street area near the Four Courts. He was not identified for several days, but on the day he had died, another funeral took place in west Cork.
Constable John Hurley had also died from a bullet in Michael O’Callaghan’s revolver, passing away almost immediately outside the house where he and Sgt O’Rourke had gone to arrest him. He was buried in Castletownbere at a grave recently the scene of a commemorative event by family and members of the Historical and Reconciliatory Police Society (HARP).
As HARP member and leading Irish police historian Jim Herlihy has written recently, these were just two of the 17 policemen of the RIC and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) to lose their lives in the Easter Rising.
While Kilmurry marked the centenary of the Rising through the local connection with the assembly there of hundreds Irish Volunteers, it is now clear that the community also has other links to the events of that fateful final week of April 1916.
The plaque which commemorated the 100th anniversary of that mobilisation was blessed yesterday by Catholic Monsignor Kevin O’Callaghan, and by Church of Ireland curate Rev Anne Skuse, St Andrew’s Church, Kilmurry.
As Census night 2016 draws to a close, Ireland is a much much different place to that in which Constable Thomas Felix Rourke collected census forms around Kilmurry in mid-Cork 105 years ago this month.