The Twelve Apostles


The ‘Twelve Apostles’  is a name given to  twelve men from the Athenry area who were identified out of a group of Irish Volunteers by a local eighteen year old girl for being involved in the rising. The men were tried and convicted and served their sentence together. The twelve men known locally as the ‘Twelve Apostles’ were: Thomas Barrett {Caheroyan}, Michael Donoghue {Rathgorgon}, Murty Fahy {Sliabh Rua},

John O’Grady {Old Church St.}, Michael O’Grady {Old Church St.}, Jack Hanniffy {Tallyho}, Martin Hansberry {Rahard}, Michael Higgins {Clamperpark}, Patch Kennedy {Sliabh Rua}, Tom Kennedy {Sliabh Rua}, James Murray {Derrydonnell}, Charlie Whyte {Caheroyan}.

These men were connected on many levels. all were active members of The irish Volunteers, were present at the Agricultural College, Moyode and Limepark during Easter Week. Some were brothers, others cousins, all were friends but ultimately their main connection was the betrayal of them by Maisie Shackelton. Maisie Shackelton was the daughter of the presbyterian caretaker who remained in charge of the then unoccupied Moyode Castle. She was present at Moyode during the Easter Rising when up to six hundred volunteers were camped there. Many of the Volunteers would have patrolled the area, foraging for supplies and food. Maisie had ample opportunity to take note of the men’s identity. Following discharge from duties at Limepark the Volunteers returned home and were subsequently arrested within days and taken to Athenry Barracks.

The men were identified as being involved in The Rising by Miss Shackleton and then held in Galway Gaol, before being transported to Arbor Hill Prison, Dublin, where all twelve men were tried by Military Court Martial, held in Kilmainham Gaol for three days and sentenced to one year in prison with hard labour. They were moved to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin and held for two weeks before being sent to Wormwood Scrubs, in London, where they spent seven months. They were then moved to Lewis Prison in Brighton to serve the remainder of their sentence. Few of the men spoke of the conditions of their imprisonment. However those that did relayed stories of the immense hardship and cruelty endured in Wormwood Scrubs and the then more lenient regime in Lewis. Records from Mountjoy show that eleven of the twelve men had injuries over the left eye which were most probably inflicted by their captors. Their time at Lewis Prison seemed to have been much more bearable. Friendly relationships were formed between the chaplain and guards. The chaplain gifted two postcards to Jack Hanniffy on his release with the inscription ‘Get a little frame for this and hang it in your bedroom, God Bless’.

Letters from Harry Boland to his family, recount stories of the hurling team made up of the Athenry men, in which Harry proudly captained. Harry Boland’s mother kate also wrote of her contact with the men after their release, regarding her son’s state of health. The men from Athenry informed her that Harry was in good form and as big as a house.

The twelve men were released in March 1917. Patch and Tom Kennedy, James Murray and Charlie Whyte managed to smuggle British arms into Ireland on their return. All rejoined their companies and continued their active service during the War of Independence. These twelve men sacrificed much in the pursuit of Irish freedom. They lived simple lives as labourers and farmers. Michael Higgins and James Murray emigrated to America and tragically Martin Hansberry was accidentally shot and killed in a hunting accident, six months after his release from prison.

Words written by Liam mellows about the men who served with him in Galway, aptly describe the twelve men from Athenry who were known as the Twelve Apostles. Mellows wrote ‘ There are men and women in Ireland today, compared with whom, I am nothing. Many of them are poor, almost all are, most of them are unheard of and yet their work for Ireland deserves to be known. It will never be in our day anyway in all probability but it is to them, the thanks of future generations of the Irish people will be due. They gave their all in silence, seeking no reward and getting none. Dreamers, fanatics, intransigents, fools, yes but unconquerable and sublime’

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