Stephen Coyle tells the story of the Scottish Gael who died for the Irish Republic during the civil war
IAN GRAEME Baun MacKenzie Kennedy or 'Scottie' as he was inevitably nicknamed, was a well known figure in Ballingeary and in Irish-speaking circles during the Tan War. His short life is a story of burning idealism and noble courage and deserves to be retold.
MacKenzie Kennedy was born in 1899 and is believed to have hailed from Inverness-shire in the Scottish Highlands. He came from a distinguished family that was steeped in the military tradition. His father was a major and his uncle had been a major general in the British army. His brother was killed in action in France, and his mother keen for her son to avoid the same fate, took him to live in Ireland about 1916.
The youthful MacKenzie Kennedy was a tall strapping young man in kilts and his Glengarry cap sported the Kennedy badge. He was proficient in Scots Gaelic and was clan proud. Donald, the Great Steward of Mar, a district associated with the Kennedy's to the present day, had led a contingent to the aid of King Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, and the great Brian was himself MacCenneidigh, son of Kennedy, chief of Thomond and hereditary rule of North Munster.
The royal blood of the Bruces also flowed in the Kennedy veins. The Princes Mary, great-grandaughter of Robert Bruce and sister of King James the First of England (James the Sixth of Scotland), married Sir James Kennedy of Dunure, a direct ancestor of Ian Baun.
Scottie and his mother initially lived in Killarney, County Kerry with the Honourable Albina Broderick whose brother the Earl of Middleton, was leader of the southern unionists. Albina gaelicised her name to Gobnait ni Bruadair and was an unrepentant republican.
Later he arrived in Ballyvourney looking for a place to stay in order to learn Irish and further his interest in Celtic studies. Creedons of Ballyvourney advised him to go to the famous Toureen Dubh in Ballingeary where he stayed for the next three years. The house belonged to the Twomey family and had a reputation for being full of laughter and boundless hospitality.
Appearance and more recent history would seem to have been against him. His fellow Highland Gaels came to Cork not as allies in the age old struggle against the ancient foe as did the Gallowglasses several centuries earlier. Having been vanquished at Culloden in 1746, the Scottish Gaels were now organised into regiments like the Cameron Highlanders in the pay of England, and were tragically engaged in the attempted suppression of their fellow Celts.
Despite his background Scottie was warmly accepted by the people of Ballingeary as a true Gael among Gaels, and soon the tiny valley among the hills thrilled to the skirl of his pipes. He is still remembered for his sunny, happy nature. A friend Geraldine Neeson, Cork City musician and journalist, gives the following description of him:
"He was a most attractive person whom we all liked very much. An extrovert with a consuming curiosity about people and their motivations. He had a sharp, frequently-used wit and a clear, infectious laugh, and was excellent company."
Joins the Irish Volunteers
Scottie seemed to love Ireland from the first and before long joined the Ballingeary based D Company, 8th Battalion of Cork No.1 Brigade. His comrades best remembered him for the amusement he caused on so many occasions. His notion for a stovepipe cannon wound tightly with steel wire, to demolish barracks-doors with, might or might not have succeeded. Nobody wished to test it. The sail affixed to his bicycle was quite effective but a good deal more fun.
His comrade Padraig Greene who is still with us, recounts the gunpowder episode.
"Scottie made a quantity of gunpowder and was preparing to test it - an operation in which he asked for my assistance. He had prepared the 'boxing', i.e. the cast iron tapering cylinder which goes into the nave of the wheel by plugging one end of it. With a measured amount of powder he wanted to estimate how far it would throw a 26 ounce steel bowl.
"He had all preparations made to do the test, but luckily for me, I was given another job that took me away from the house. Scottie took the 'cannon', poured in the powder, placed the bowl on top of it and then tamped plenty of paper on top of the bowl. He made one great mistake - he forgot to put paper on top of the powder before he inserted the bowl.
"When he started the tamping, metal struck metal creating a spark, and the whole thing blew up in his hands. His hands were black from grains of powder and the lintel over the window was cracked and so was the sill. Everyone in the house was in a state of shock when I returned.
"The following day, the Bean A' Tigh told Scottie to remove the gunpowder into the ashes around the fire causing an explosion which covered the kitchen with ashes and cinders causing further uproar. Few people, other than Scottie would have been allowed to remain on in the house after these episodes. "Scottie's only complaint was that part of his moustache was burned on one side."
There is another story about how he went about Killarney quite openly during the struggle, but before it reached its Black and Tan zenith. The town was full of British military and one day two swaggering officers armed fully passed him in the street and made some sneering remark about his cowardice in not "joining up". He reached out and grabbed one in either hand, banged their heads together, and threw them dazed up the street.
The writer Sean O'Faolain who was a comrade of Scottie's, recollects him in his autobiography Vive Moi! from when he stayed in Dick Twomey's of Tureen Dubh. "I slept there (in a haybarn) many a night beside a magnificent tall Scot, named Ian Bawn MacKenzie Kennedy, who had come over to Ireland to fight for the Irish Republic."
Scottie was respected by his IRA comrades as was shown early in 1921 when he was entrusted with the arms fund totalling £85 and travelled to England at great risk to himself to purchase arms. He returned on March 24th with eleven new Webley .45 revolvers hidden in a crate of plough socks.
An underground foundry was constructed at Carrigbawn, Ballingeary to manufacture hand grenades and bombs. Local volunteers scoured the countryside for scrap metal, old pig troughs and plough boards. A year earlier Scottie had provided the "74/14/12" recipe for gunpowder to the officers.
Scottie played the Flowers of the Forest on the bagpipes at Donall 'ac Taidhg McSweeney's funeral, at the old man's dying request. He visited his mother at regular intervals in the Castle Hotel in Killarney, but she failed to persuade him to return to Scotland.
In what was a big occasion for him, Scottie and his mother converted to Catholicism, having been influenced by the religious atmosphere of the home of St. Finbarr. There is a story that he made a visit to Rome, and while there had an embroidered Tricolour, which he had worked himself, to be blessed by Pope Benedict the Fifteenth.
The signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty led to a split in the IRA and Scottie opted to defend the Republic against the emerging Free State. In about July 1922 he strapped his rifle to his tall bicycle, and set out with his Republican comrades to oppose the landing of Free State troops at Passage West. Everyone in the Twomey household tried to dissuade him to no avail. He seemed to have had a premonition that he would not return to Ballingeary as he left his camera, his family pedigree and other personal belongings there.
It was not long before Scottie was to enter the fray. Most of what follows is based on an article that appeared in Poblacht Na h-Eireann (Scottish Edition) dated 21 October 1922. During the fighting in the Passage Rochestown front, as the covering party of the IRA was evacuating to their second position near Douglas village, their lorry broke down at Belmont Cross. Three Volunteers jumped from the lorry and took up position in Belmont Cottage nearby to enable the rest of the party to get away under the protection of an armoured car. These were Scottie, Frank O'Donoghue and Moloney.
One party of Free State soldiers who charged the cottage was forced to retire leaving one of their number by the name of Flood, a Dublin man, dying on the road. Frank O'Donoghue rushed from the cottage to Flood's aid, whispered an act of contrition into his ear, and the unfortunate Flood died grasping O'Donoghue's hand. The republicans took one prisoner.
The cottage was later surrounded, and the three brave republican soldiers kept up an unequal fight against 64 Free State troops, killing 12, and wounding 15 according to the report. Only when the last bullet was fired did the battle cease. When further resistance was impossible, and having delayed the enemy until the republicans had taken up their position, the little party decided to surrender.
MacKenzie Kennedy opened the door and put up his hands in token surrender, but was shot dead as was Moloney. O'Donoghue was captured and taken prisoner.
Ian MacKenzie Kennedy was only 23 when he was killed on the 7th of August 1922. Everyone was heartbroken when news of his death reached Ballingeary. Large and sympathetic crowds attended his funeral. He was buried on the 12th of August in the republican plot in St. Finbarr's Cemetery in Cork City alongside other soldiers of the Republic. There is a small plaque to his memory in Ballingeary and he is commemorated on the republican monument in Macroom. There was a MacKenzie Kennedy Cumann of Fianna Fail in Mitchelstown, County Cork in 1933.
A Cause Not His Own
Some people have written that MacKenzie Kennedy died for a cause not his own. It is unlikely that he would have seen it that way however. If the Englishman is a foreigner in Ireland, the Scot is not. Gaelic Ireland and Gaelic Scotland are the sea-divided Gael and share the same great Celtic civilisation. Robert the Bruce the King of the Scots, of whom Scottie was a descendant according to his genealogical chart, told his Irish allies who helped to defeat the English at Bannockburn in 1314:
"our people and your people, free since ancient times, share the same national ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom."
The small band of Scottish republicans that gave practical assistance to the IRA during the Tan War and helped save Scotland from disgrace, viewed the Irish and the Scots as one race with common objectives. This was also the position of John McIntosh, another courageous Highland Gael and trusted lieutenant of Robert Emmet, who shared the same fate as his leader for his part in the abortive rising of 1803.
To conclude, MacKenzie Kennedy was an exemplary Gael and man of noble ideals and great integrity. The story of his sacrifice in defence of the Irish Republic and the cause of the sea-divided Gael, cannot fail to inspire the true Gaels of Ireland and Scotland and freedom loving people everywhere.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2006 Stephen Coyle