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The Keatings of Comeragh

Waterford's Revolutionary Women 1916-1922

16. The Keatings of Comeragh
Comeragh, Kilrossanty

The Keating family home in Comeragh, Kilrossanty was considered the local headquarters for volunteers, and safe house during the revolutionary and Civil War period. The family included parents Michael, Margaret and children, William, John, Thomas, Marcella, Michael, Bridget, Margaret Mary and Lena Keating. The youngest brother Pat Keating was shot during the Burgery Ambush 19th March, 1921 later dying from his wounds. Thomas Keating was also shot and mortally wounded attempting to escape capture from Free State Soldiers, April 11th 1923. But less is known of the Keating women, the sisters of the men who fought for an Irish Republic. All four sister Marcella, Margaret Mary, Bridget and Lena were members of Cumann na mBan taking the anti-treaty side during the Civil War. The women provided a safe house, food and clothing for volunteers, carrying dispatches at any time day or night, often traveling significant distances. In February, 1923 Marcella Keating the eldest of the Keating sisters was representative of the Keating family meeting Eamon de Valera at an Army Executive; Council meeting held at Bleantas in the Nire. Another member of Co. Waterford Cumann na mBan, Bridie Hanley was also present.

Lena Keating the youngest of the sisters wrote her memories of the period 1916-1923, writing how almost every day despatch riders came to the house in Comeragh from long distances often by foot in all kind of weather. The visitors were always given a meal by the women of the house before their journey home. Information, messages, shopping bags of guns and ammunition were delivered to the house, which then had to be despatched to other areas involving the whole family in the struggle. The home was searched regularly by British Soldiers, Black and Tans and during the Civil War by Free State Soldiers. On one occasions soldiers raided the home missing a bag filled with bullets and a Soldier's bandolier stored in the dairy room. Lena remembers her mother insisting this was in answer to a prayer she made to St Antony asking the saint to blind them when they went in to the room.

When Pat Keating was killed the family including his father, mother and sister Bridget rode by pony and trap to collect his body that had been hidden in Monarud in a field close to the Whyte's home. If the body was discovered it could mean severe repercussion the Whyte's. Lena describes the heart breaking experience finding their brother soaked in blood in a corner of a field and then the panic of not knowing what to do with the body before the Black and Tans arrived. She describes the sad scene that would never be forgotten by parent's brother and sisters. The Keating women dealt with and supported a grief stricken family losing two brothers to the cause for freedom and continued in the face of such adversity providing a refuse for volunteers and anti-treaty supporters actively contributed through to the end of the Civil War period. Many years later Lena Keating was given a rifle that was discovered by a nephew of Bridie Morrissey hidden in the thatch with Thomas Keating's name and the date inscribed on a piece of paper hidden within. The rifle had been given to Bridie Morrissey member of Cumann na mBan by Thomas Keating for safe keeping and she had kept her promise keeping it safely all her life. The riffle and its story are now safely preserved in a Waterford museum. The Keating women like the men risked their lives on a daily basis with their active involvement in the fight for freedom and without the contribution of women like the Keating's many of the activities of the volunteers would have proved very difficult if at all possible.

The Keating house in Comeragh was always considered to be the headquarters of the Old I.R.A flying column in the Killrossanty/Kilmacthomas area. The four Keating were member of the Cumann na mban and throughout 1918-1923 actively involved providing safe house, carrying dispatched, cooking, washing and mending clothing for the volunteers. Two of their brothers, both volunteers were killed during this period. Lena Keating was the youngest of the sisters.

"It was about seven o'clock that night when Paddy Guiry and Michael Dunford reached Comeragh and asked to see Thomas. They would not go in but asked Thomas to come outside. When Thomas went back in to the house he was very distressed. He announced that Pat and been wounded and John Fitzgerald shot dead in an ambush at the Burgery. After a few minutes he said that Pat had died at five o'clock at Whytes of Monuad. It was a dreadful shock for all the family. They did not know what to do as they knew there was a reward offered in the British army newspapers for his capture 'dead or alive'. They decided the best thing was to go immediately to Monaud. Thomas, Bridget, my father and mother went first travelling by pony and trap. They were soon followed by Marcella, Margaret, Michael and myself. Mary and Katie Cullinane, who had also heard the news, travelled from Kilmacthomas."

"When the first member of the family to leave Comeragh arrived in Monaud, the Whytes told them they had taken Pat's body to a field across the road for safety. When Pat knew he was dying he asked the Whyte's not to let the Black and Tans to get his body. There was also the fear that if Pat's body was found in the house, severe repercussions would have followed for the Whyte family. They had to act quickly as word had reached the house a search was underway in the area. It was a heart breaking experience for my mother and father to find the body of their son in the corner of a field. They had been shocked at the news of his death, but this shocked them even more. Then there was the panic of not knowing what to do with the body before the Tans arrived and took it away as they surely would. They were already on the road when the other members of the family arrived. It was a sad scene which would never be forgotten by our parents, brothers and sisters".

Source: The Keatings of Comeragh, Their part in the War of Independence, 1918-1923, Lena Keating.

Author: Chrissy O'Connor Knight & Eddie Cantwell

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