By Frank Murphy:
There are many stories told of the courage and bravery of the men and women of this country going back for centuries, the martyrs and patriots who lay down their lives for the cause, their stories recalled and recounted in song, and by the open fires throughout the country as the peat turf glowed to warm our homes, and the oil lamp burned in the corner. But coming up to the centenary of 1916 it is very important that we also remember one particular group of men, who lay down their lives every day of their working lives, as they pounded with the hammer on the anvil to set the sparks flying as they turned the pike heads so Ireland could be free and up until after the war of independence these great men plied their trade in whatever was deemed necessary to make and shape the weapons of their era.
There are so, so many stories to be told about such great men particularly the Wexford men, the Carlow men, the Wicklow men and the Waterford men, and countless others from all over Ireland and their deeds, but I will tell of but one of these great men who lived and worked no more than 20 miles from where I presently live here in Callan, Co Kilkenny.
THE BLACKSMITH HENRY HAMMOND
The name of this man was the blacksmith Henry Hammond. Henry Hammond was said to be a man in his mid-thirties and with most blacksmiths a fairly robust, well-built man who earned his bread by the sweat of his brow. Born and reared at Coppenagh, Co Kilkenny, half way between the picturesque village of Graignamanagh and the lovely small town of Thomastown, which would be no more than 10 miles from Kilkenny City. A married man with a family, Henry Hammond was well known throughout the length and breadth of Kilkenny, down into Carlow, and also in to Wexford where he plied his trade.
Henry Hammond was a respected man in his locality, even by the gentry of the time, and was afforded a freedom of sorts not generally given to Catholics or someone of his station. Supposed to be a top craftsman on the anvil, and did work for a lot of the estate houses in the vicinity of where he lived, which in turn gave Henry Hammond access to information that would and was to be valuable to the united Irishmen of the time, as he was free to move around from one part of the county to the other, engaging with other blacksmiths as far afield as the counties Wexford, Carlow and Wicklow as he passed valuable information to them which he had gathered up by working for the gentry.
Like all the other great blacksmiths of his era Henry Hammond also forged and turned the pike heads on the grinding stones, as with hundreds more of his kind. When the 1798 rebellion broke out Henry Hammond, like many others of his kind was not to be found wanting, and took up his place at the Battle of New Ross, with 22 year old Captain John Kelly from Killane, in County Wexford, and brave Harvey who also stood and fought side by side. The brave united Irishmen were defeated at Ross, and along with John Kelly from Killane, and many others, Henry Hammond was captured and taken prisoner and transported to Kilkenny Jail where he was tried for treason and was sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered.
Not too many men of his time or at any time for that matter get to walk away from the hang man’s noose and the rack, but Henry Hammond was one of these men. As I said prior to this he did much work for the gentry and one of these he did work for was Miss Eleanor Doyle, who was one of the aristocracies of the time in the locality where Henry Hammond lived and worked. I suppose most people of today would find this hard to believe but the aristocracy of that time had the power over life and death, and who lived and who died even if one were to be condemned to death by the so called courts of the time. Miss Eleanor Doyle being one of these people, and because of her station in life, she was afforded, or should I say granted the privilege of having any three people of her choosing reprieved from their death sentence and released. Now this was not a one off thing, Eleanor Doyle and such people had this power granted to them on a yearly basis, in that every year she could have three peoples death sentences commuted, Henry Hammond was one of these people.
On the day of Henry Hammonds release he walked most of the road from Kilkenny to Thomastown; about 4-5 miles from his own home place, where he stopped as any good Irish man would and went into an ale house at the time to drink his fill. As the day progressed the talking and laughter grow more intense and soon Henry with his drinking companions, were singing the rebel songs of their day and passing derogatory remarks about the red coats. The longer and louder it got, the more attention this drew upon them, until that evening the red coats having been tipped off came back and re-arrested Henry Hammond where he was escorted back to Kilkenny Jail. Henry Hammond was publically hung, drawn, and quartered; outside Kilkenny Jail, which was demolished during the late 1930s and early 1940s, and the limestone that built the jail was thereafter used to build the banks of Nolan Park, Gaelic Athletic Association grounds, O’Loughlin Road, Kilkenny.
Henry Hammond’s family originally came with the Norman invasion, but married into Irish blood and settled where they had a good business at Coppenagh, prior to this occurrence. I always make it a point to stop and pay my respects when I pass by what is left of his forge which is but a gable end wall, but I am very grateful that the people of the locality, including descendants of the Hammonds saw fit to erect a nice granite monument at the place of his workshop and forge during the bicentenary celebrations of 1998.
We must always bear in mind as a people, that without the great blacksmiths throughout the length and breadth of this country, we as a people would have fought no war against any occupying force, for the blacksmith was the man who made the pike head, the fork, the slash hook, and the billhook, which were used by the United Irishmen to defeat many a red coat in battle, and also the casings for the mines, bayonets and other such explosive devices that were used up until after the war of independence in this country. To all these great men and their families, and yes to their descendants also, I would like to say a very respectful Thank You, for the great sacrifice that these men made, for some were hung by the forge door for no more than plying their trade as blacksmiths, as the sweat dropped from the brow of others as they hammered on the anvil to shape and form the weapons that defended our people. Respectfully yours, Frank Murphy.