Annual Wolfetone Commemoration
bodenstown, County Kildare
Main Speaker: Gerry Kelly MLA
Assemble @ 2pm
Sallins, County Kildare
"What's bodenstown?" a young Sinn Féin activist recently asked me. In times gone by the question would have been slightly alarming. "How could you not know that?" might have been the response. For years bodenstown was the main national gathering of republicans and the occasion of the keynote political message of the year. It has long been eclipsed by the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis and other events but this year the re-constituted Coiste Chuimhneachán Náisiúnta of Sinn Féin is asking republicans to turn the event into a national mobilisation once again.
For the geographically challenged, bodenstown is near the village of Sallins, County Kildare. For the historically challenged it is the last resting place of Theobald Wolfe Tone, founder of the United Irishmen and the first leading light of Irish Republicanism. Tone was a Dubliner but his family had Kildare connections and after his death in British custody in Dublin in 1798 it is believed he was buried in the small graveyard at bodenstown, beside the tumbledown remains of the old church.
It is not known precisely when the annual Republican 'pilgrimage' to bodenstown began. It must have been visited in a semi-organised way as early as the 1840s because Thomas Davis (died 1845) wrote one of his most famous songs about it: "In bodenstown Churchyard there is a green grave..." The centenary of the 1798 Rising in 1898 saw commemorations in bodenstown, including one organised by the '98 Rank and File Committee and at which the orator was James Connolly.
Last year we marked the centenary of the founding of Sinn Féin but the followers of Wolfe Tone were few and far between in 1905. A Royal Irish Constabulary report of the bodenstown commemoration that year, still preserved in the British records in London, states that there were only about 80 people present, showing "the failure of treasonable or revolutionary demonstrations in Ireland at the present day".
By 1913 things were looking up. Large crowds marched to Wolfe Tone's grave. The ceremony was chaired by veteran Fenian Tom Clarke and the oration was given by Pádraig Pearse. He described Tone's grave as the "holiest spot in Ireland" because Tone was "the greatest of Irishmen". bodenstown 1914 was the first occasion on which Óglaigh na hÉireann (Irish Volunteers) and the Irish Citizen Army marched together. Jim Larkin was present. This was in the wake of the Great Lockout and Larkin was cheered by the crowds, showing the solidarity between Republicans and the Labour movement.
One of the best known photographs of bodenstown shows Liam Mellows delivering the oration in 1922. Within days of the commemoration the IRA occupied the Four Courts, the bombardment of which by the Free State government commenced the Civil War.
The Cosgrave government banned the commemoration in 1931 but the ban was defied and 10,000 people took part, including IRA units from most of the 32 Counties. There was even a contingent from Fianna Fáil. But five years later the Fianna Fáil government itself banned the parade and the commemoration took the form of a meeting near Sallins attended mainly by leading republican women, including Hannah Sheehy Skeffington who gave a speech.
In the 70 years since then crowds at bodenstown have ebbed and flowed with the fortunes of republicanism. The huge crowds of the early '30s were replicated in the '70s and early '80s, with large numbers from the Six Counties. It is fair to say that in recent years attendances have not properly reflected the growing national strength of Sinn Féin, with the crowds mainly drawn from Leinster. 2006 is the year to put that right and all areas are encouraged to organise now for Sunday 18 June.
See you at bodenstown.
Gerry Kelly to address bodenstown 2006
The 25th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strike will form the theme of this year's bodenstown Commemoration. The main speaker is Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member and North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly.
Republican former POWs will form the main Colour Party for the parade to bodenstown and are asked to attend wearing black trousers, white shirt and black tie. All republican former POWs interested in participating should contact Olive Sloan at 44 Parnell Square or their local ex-prisoners' group.
All areas are asked to mobilise for this year's event and Coiste Chuimhneachán Náisiúnta requests all Sinn Féin Cuigí to set up commemoration committees for their region, appointing one person in the area to liase with the National Committee.
Areas should contact Ard Oifig with names and contact details of republicans in their area who may not be tied into party structures or ex-prisoner groups, particularly older people. Such individuals can then be invited by the National Committee to attend bodenstown and provisions made in terms of food, seating and transport.
The annual bands competition will again take place at this year's commemoration and participating bands are asked to register in advance by contacting Olive at 44 Parnell Square. The commemoration ceremony will feature readings from the writings of Bobby Sands. A special issue pamphlet on the theme of republicanism's unbroken connection will be distributed on the day.