Tuesday 15th August 2017. Heavy rain
Dundalk (population 40,000) is a large town, just 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the border with “Northern Ireland”. It lies on the main Belfast-Dublin rail line. So a short 60 kilometres (36 miles) from my starting point at Portadown in County Armagh.
I got a train around 1pm and via Newry arrived at Dundalk at about 1.45pm.
In some ways, Dundalk is defined as a “border town”. It sometimes appears that when the “Republic’s” economy is doing well, then there are a lot of cross-border shoppers. And when the “North” is doing well, shoppers go to Newry. A lot also depends on the strength or weakness of the Euro against Pound Sterling.
But of course the Troubles also defined Dundalk. IRA volunteers from South Down and South Armagh often launched operations from safe houses and farmhouses in the Dundalk area.
It seemed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, that there were a lot of Northerners in Dundalk and they were either “on the run” or pretending to be “on the run”.
The Courthouse dominates the Town Square along with 1798 Rebellion statue and a new (to me) statue commemorating the visit of USA President Bill Clinton. As monuments are much in the news in the past few days with Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis protesting the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, I think that monuments are as much about the future as the past. It is a feature of so many towns in the Republic of Ireland that 1798 memorials were actually erected in 1898 for the centenary and to give a boost to the nationalist/republican sentiment which would manifest itself in 1916.
Across the road from these monuments is the constituency office of Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin leader who a few years ago de-camped from West Belfast. I note his office has a memorial to Martin McGuinness who died earlier this year and to “Sinn Féin” women from a century ago.
The women are Countess Markievicz, (third in command of the Irish Citizen Army, a leader of the Easter Rising in 1916), Dr Kathleen Lynn (also Citizen Army officer who took command at Dublin City Hall when Captain Seán Connolly was killed), Kathleen Clarke (widow of Thomas Clarke who signed the Proclamation and sister of Commandant Ned Daly …both were executed) and Grace Gifford, fiancé of Joseph Plunkett (a signatory of the Proclamation…she married him in the prison chapel hours before his execution.
In the Quay Street area, I spotted a memorial to a young man taken from his home and killed by British forces in 1921. Doubly poignant because just a few metres away wasa n identical monument to his brother.
On a cheerier note, the nearby Castle Bar has a very amusing sign.
Dundalk looks like a good base to explore more of County Louth.
Dundalk Train Station is named for Thomas J Clarke. there are fifteen stations in the Republic of Ireland, all named for the sixteen executed leaders of 1916. One station Pearse Station (Dublin) is named for the Pearse Brothers. Tom Clarke has no connexion with Dundalk but he was raised in Dungannon, County Tyrone and obviously there are no official monuments to the Rebels. I suppose Dundalk is the nearest station to Dungannon. As part of the 2016 Commemoration, these fifteen train stations have similar artwork.
Tom Clarke was the oldest signatory of the Proclamation . He was only 58 when he was shot by firing squad but he looks much older. He had spent fifteen years in British prisons in the late 19th century. He then moved to New York before returning to Ireland.
I think it is worth noting that these Rebels were in fact traitors to Britain. Rather like Robert E Lee, the Confederate general. But in the “Republic” at least, they are founding fathers of our nation. There is, I would argue no other comparison. The cause of Irish Freedom and the cause of the racist Confederacy cannot be reasonably compared.
And yet…it is only fair to say that Tom Clarke often talked about his life in New York in very racist terms.