IN one of the first ceremonies to be held to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising, a memorial stone was unveiled in Athea at the weekend in honour of Con Colbert, one of the 16 men to be executed in the aftermath of the Rising.
The memorial stone was unveiled by Con’s relative, Aida Colbert Lennon, amid a large gathering which included other family members, public representatives and members of the public. Con Colbert’s great-grandniece, Grainne Buckley from Dromcollogher, played the harp during the ceremony and was accompanied by her brother Ronan on the cahon, or drumming box.
The new memorial stone, commissioned by the West Limerick Monuments Committee, is located close to the Athea community hall, which is also named after Con Colbert. Members of the committee acted as flag-bearers for the occasion and dressed in replica uniforms of the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan.
Welcoming the gathering of men, women and children, particularly the relatives of Con Colbert, MC for the event, Aileen Dillane said: “Is fiú cuimhneamh ar on fís a bhí ag Con Colbert agus na laochra eile, idir mhnáibh agus fir, a chuir bunchloch don phoblacht nua.”
The last words of Con Colbert, who was executed along with Eamonn Ceannt and Michael Mallin on May 8, 1916, were spoken by Catherine Inchmore, a member of the organising committee while Aida Colbert Lennon also addressed the crowd. “I am proud to carry the name of Colbert,” she said. “I have always been aware of the historical significance of the Colbert connection and presence within the village of Athea. I feel very privileged to be part of this Colbert heritage and proud of my family connection with the brave patriot Con Colbert who gave his life that Ireland might be free.”
The daughter and grand-daughter of Theobald Wolfe Tone O’Shaughnessy, a 17-year-old who fought with Con at Marrowbone Lane, also recalled his recollections of Con Colbert as man and as leader. The final speaker was Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams who travelled to Athea following a walk-about in Limerick city.
“Despite what some of our political opponents have recently tried to claim, Sinn Féin has never tried to “claim ownership of 1916”,” he said. Instead, he continued, they had sought to popularise the centenary and place the message of the 1916 proclamation at the centre of commemorative events.
“Some in the political establishment don’t want to talk about the republican and egalitarian message of the proclamation,” Mr Adams said, adding that the government had sought “at every stage” to “sanitise and depoliticise” the events of Easter Week.
“The 1916 Rising in which Con played such a valiant role was a proud and momentous event in the history of the Irish nation,” he continued. “It is very, very important that Irish citizens remember and honour women and men like Con Colbert and I want to commend the local committee for leading the way here in County Limerick with this monument.”
Con Colbert was born, the fourth youngest of 13 children, in Moanlena, Castlemahon in October 1888 but the family moved to Athea when he was just three years old. He attended the local national school but left Athea, aged 16, to stay with his sister Catherine in Dublin where he continued his education and also found work as a clerk in Kennedy’s Bakery.
He joined Fianna Eireann and became a drill instructor at St Enda’s School. He was an early member of the Irish Volunteers and also joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In the weeks leading up to the Rising, he acted as bodyguard for Thomas Clarke.
During this time in jail following the surrender, he forbade his family to visit, saying it “would grieve us both too much”.
See our West Limerick edition, page 20, for more pictures