In 1966 in Boyle, Barry Feely, who was 26 at the time, helped his father, Henry, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. A white marble plaque to Padraig Pearse, a signatory to the Proclamation, was erected on the Courthouse on May 22, 1966.
Afterwards, the organising committee and guests adjourned to the Feelys’ home at Greatmeadow for refreshments provided by Barry’s mother, Una. It was their way of honouring those who sacrificed their lives in the fight for Irish freedom.
Fifty years later, on the 100th anniversary of the Rising, Barry, who is now almost 76, intends erecting a simple plaque beside the Courthouse in Boyle.
“We already have one up celebrating the 50th year, so I want to put one up for the 100th,” he said. The plaque will be erected in the coming weeks.
The 50th anniversary intensified Barry’s interest in Irish history: for the past half-century, he has devoted much of his time to the subject.
Since 1966, he has retained anything relevant that he has come across, such as photographs and newspaper clippings.
Recently, this approach crystallised itself into a book, They Dared to Challenge, his labour of love over many years. The book catalogues the story of the Troubles in Boyle, which includes the IRA, the Royal Irish Constabulary and the British Army.
A chapter is devoted to his father, Henry, a staunch Republican, who was involved in the Volunteers and the IRA during the Civil War.
In 1920, Henry was arrested with a despatch in Carrick-on-Shannon, was found guilty of treason and sentenced to one year in Mountjoy Prison.
During his time in ‘The Joy’, Henry kept an autograph book, with entries from his comrades that reflected the defiant mood of the Volunteers. Barry regards that book as his “treasure”.
“He (Henry) was second in command in Mountjoy at that time, and he got all his mates to sign the autograph book,” he said. “They had plenty of time, of course, and there are 50 pictures.”
One of the pictures is of the ‘Ballinameen bomb’, a concrete device made in the north Roscommon village.
The autograph book forms part of Barry’s exhibition currently on display in King House. His has devoted much of his time to such activities since he retired as Managing Director of FeelyStone in Boyle in 2000.
Barry worked there for 45 years, beginning his career as a 15-year-old in 1955 as an apprentice stone-cutter and carver to his father. The business continues to flourish, now run by the ninth generation of the Feely family.
Having swapped his ‘chisel for his pen’, Barry has written three books – the others being A Life in Stone and Great Character – in the years since.
For his recently-launched book, written mainly from his home at Doon, Boyle, he “talked to 45 people, some of them three, four of five times”.
He added: “What I wanted to do was to give an idea of the atmosphere at the time and to give some of the idea of the characters and personalities.
“I avoided just the hard facts because they were already written about. So I was trying to give more about personalities and that sort of thing.”
Boyle was a garrison town. The Connaught Rangers, a regiment of the British Army, were based in King House for more than a century, having purchased the landmark building in 1795.
“The Connaught Rangers left Boyle in 1914 and they went to India,” Barry said. “They were not involved in the Troubles at all because they were gone.
“So it was then different regiments came, and there was always at least 200 soliders in the barracks in Boyle.”
There were more British than Irish in Boyle for years, he said, and the soldiers augmented the town’s income significantly.
“It was the main commercial business in the town,” Barry said. “Two hundred soldiers, you can imagine, all the pubs kept going, all the business they brought to town. The IRA were very unpopular in Boyle at that time.”
Barry said that 126 Boyle men were killed in the First World War. “It is something that we cast aside…but now we should be more mature and be able to recognise them,” he said.
Barry intends also marking their sacrifices with a plaque in Boyle.
“It’s an ambition of mine,” he said.
“I have a proposal actually that we would erect a plaque shaped like a V: one side would be to remember the IRA and the other side would be to remember the Boyle men who died in the First World War.”
More books are surely in the pipeline, but not before a brief interlude.
“My wife (Ursula) says this is the last one because I write best on the kitchen table, so you can imagine the disruption that causes!” Barry said.
“So I will rest for a while, but of course something else will come up!” he concluded, with a hint of inevitable future projects.
Barry’s book is for sale in ETL, Roscommon town.