By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A niece of Tomas Ceannt, who was executed in 1916 and is buried within the walls of Cork Prison, has objected to efforts by Sinn Fein to have his body moved to "a more fitting resting place," one that can be visited by the public.
A second blow to the Sinn Fein move is that the 1916 Rising man’s remains cannot be found.
A motion at last weekend’s Sinn Fein Ard Fheis from the Bun na bhFai Cumann in Clonard, West Belfast, calls for the Irish government to "immediately" exhume his remains.
However, Justice Minister John O’Donoghue has told the party’s TD, Caoimhghin O Caolain, in a written Dail answer that the prison authorities could not locate Ceannt’s body when there was a previous attempt at reinterment.
"What authority has he to do that?" asked Kathleen Ceannt of Banward House, Castlelyons, Co. Cork, a niece of the executed man, when told of O Caolain’s efforts.
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She said she had heard nothing about any move to have her uncle’s remains exhumed.
"This is a family affair," she said. "We are not seeking a moving of the remains at this stage."
Asked if the family had sought a reinterment, she replied, "Not at all. It is a private thing now."
She is a daughter of William Ceannt, who was acquitted after being tried by a military court in connection with the gun battle that resulted in the execution of Tomas on May 9, 1916.
Ceannt said her father had received permission to have the remains moved to the family vault at Castlelyons in the 1920s but, when the grave was opened, no trace of the body could be found.
The body may have been buried in quicklime, which caused a complete decay, or the exact location of the burial plot may have been unclear.
She said the family regularly went to an annual Easter Sunday Mass in Cork to remember her uncle and then visited the grave in the prison.
The incident that led to Ceannt’s execution was a gun battle on Easter Monday 1916 involving him and his three brothers, during which an RIC head constable called Rowe was killed in an exchange of fire.
The RIC had come to arrest the Ceannt brothers at Banward House. They refused to surrender and the gun battle started. One of the brothers, Richard, subsequently died from his wounds and another brother, David, who was also wounded, was later sentenced to five years’ penal servitude.
The prison in Cork, which had been a military detention center, was taken over by the Department of Justice in 1972.
Liam Metcalfe, the deputy governor, said Ceannt’s grave was carefully tended and that wreath laying at the site has always been permitted.
This had been done by relatives and friends of Veterans of the War of Independence and, more recently, by the Thomas Kent Branch of Oglaigh Naisiunta na hEireann (the Organization of National Ex-Servicemen and Women), which was set up three years ago.
Capt. Sean O’Donovan, secretary of the branch, said it has no connection with Sinn Fein or the Old IRA and does not want to say anything that might upset the family.
Sinn Fein is also seeking the reinterment of the so-called "Forgotten Ten," who include Kevin Barry, who were executed and buried in the grounds Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison during the War of Independence.
"We believe it is a disgrace that over 80 years later, the bodies of these martyrs should still lie behind prison walls," the Bun na bhFai Cumann motion said.
The campaign to move the Forgotten Ten to Glasnevin cemetery has already been pursued without success for 65 years by the National Graves Association.
The Department of Justice has maintained they are unable to exhume the bodies because they don’t have an accurate map of the burial plots and a relative of one of them, Patrick Moran, objects to any disturbance of his remains.
The burial of Barry, Moran, Thomas Bryan, Patrick Doyle, Frank Flood, Bernard Ryan, Patrick Maher, Thomas Whelan, Thomas Traynor and Edward Foley in the prison grounds was part of their death sentences.