Speech: James Quain centenary commemoration

Speech by Cllr. Conor D. McGuinness at the centenary commemoration for James Quain held at Kinsalebeg, May 2021.

a chairde, 

James Quain

I want to say a few words this afternoon as we remember young James Quain, who was shot and killed one hundred years ago today. 

At the outset I would like to thank Liam Allen for organising this dignified commemoration to mark the centenary of this sad event. Liam is the chair of the Piltown Cross Ambush Committee and is a great representative for Sinn Féin in the Kinsalebeg / Clashmore area.

I am happy to see family members of James Quain here. I know his memory is treasured by his relations, and this is a day of sadness as well as pride. 

Liam sent me a photograph of James Quain during the week. I was immediately struck by his youth – here was a fresh faced young man, on the threshold of adulthood, and with his future to look forward to. 

We think back on that turbulent time in our country’s history and we imagine that those who participated in that war against empire were titans, giants of men, battle-hardened war heroes and veteran guerrillas. 

Some were, but for the most part they were young men and women, in their late teens or early twenties – old head on young shoulders., they were fearless, determined, visionary, but they were young and they had their whole lives ahead of them. 

They were excited for the future. They knew it belonged to them, and they set about the work of shaping that future. 

Their grandparent’s generation had starve under the yoke of empire. Their fathers and brothers had been mowed down at Gallipoli and the Somme as cannon fodder for the empire. Their mothers struggled under the enforced poverty that saw the wealth of their nation stripped by empire. 

James Quain knew that things had to change and that is why he looked up to the volunteers of the IRA and became involved in the Republican movement. He wanted to play his part in the struggle for Irish unity and independence. As a teenager he pressed the local leadership to allow him become an IRA volunteer. 

As the Tan War raged across Munster, the West Waterford Brigade of the IRA was bringing the fight to the British – forcing them to concentrate their numbers into ever fewer garrisons. The strategy was to liberate the country one bruning barracks at a time, to cut communications, and to make their oldest colony ungovernable. 

The IRA had put the British on notice: West Waterford was no longer to be considered part of the Empire. The message was being delivered loud and clear – the only safe place for crown forces was the boat back to England.

The Empire fought back – pouring men and weaponry into Ireland. Terrorising civilians and targeting towns and cities in vicious reprisals. 

They feared losing their oldest colony, but more than that they feared the radical and democratic revolution that was taking place across the country. Working people were fighting to liberate their country and to end the endemic poverty and inequality that marred their lives. 

The 3rd Battalion of theIRA covered an area stretching from An Sean Phobal along the coast to Ardmore and from An Rinn over the Drum Hills to Clashmore. The Battalion had been engaged in several operations against British forces including the Marines stationed at Ardmore. 

It was also involved in the intelligence war at local level, and had become adept at intercepting and disrupting enemy communications. 

The British believed the 3rd Battalion headquarters was located close to Ferry Point in and a detachment of 40 Marines landed here from Youghal on the 10th of May 1921.

The moved across the countryside in an effort to engage or apprehend the Republican forces. In a simultaneous operation a smaller unit of Marines moved out from Ardmore towards Ferry Point.

James Quain and his friend Eddie Lynch were on guard duty in the area. On observing the Marines they set out to warn their comrades, who were resting nearby. Some of the Marines were on motorbikes and weren’t long in catching up to the two young men. 

Called on to surrender, Lynch was taken into custody and Quain was shot and killed. Both men were unarmed. 

On hearing the shots, the local company quickly assembled and engaged the Marines, forcing them back to their boat and to Youghal. No other Republicans were killed, captured, or injured, and no arms or equipment was lost. 

The war would rage on in Waterford and around the country for another two months before the British were forced to seek a truce and to negotiate. 

The subsequent treaty and partition, the civil war, and the establishment of the Free State as a backward and conservative entity will no doubt be discussed in great detail over the coming months and years. 

In the midst of the analysis, discussion and reflection that will take place over the coming period, it is important that we remember the courage and dedication of young men like James Quain. Its important that we gather like this to remember him, but the only full and fitting tribute we can give him and his comrades is to deliver the Republic – to build the united and independent Ireland that he fought for, and that he ultimately died for. 

Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann.

Up the Republic!