SCARIFF businessman Mike Rodgers still lives in the house where his famous granduncle was born. Pictures of Alphie Rodgers and his family hang on the wall of the house in The Square where the man who was to become one of the legendary Scariff Martyrs came into the world in 1897.
Alphie was one of a family of four and grew up alongside his brother Gerald – Mike’s grandfather – and his sisters Gertie and Kathleen. As respected shop-keepers, with a wide and loyal customer base, the family could never have imagined the devastation the events of the War of Independence would bring to their home.
“Alphie was a bit of a golden boy,” Mike told The Champion. “We have letters that he sent when he was a pupil at Rockwell College, thanking his mother for sending him sweets. He was as good boy, but must have had a strong personality too.”
Alphie was just 23 when he was fatally shot on November 16, 1920, on the bridge in Killaloe, alongside Brud McMahon, Michael Egan and Martin Gildea. All four had been active members of the Fourth Battalion of the East Clare IRA Brigade and had participated in an attack on Scariff RIC barracks that September. After being captured in Williamstown, the four were taken aboard the SS Shannon to Killaloe, where they were brutally tortured before the notorious shooting.
“Scariff RIC barracks was a couple of doors down from Alphie’s house,” Mike noted. “British forces would have been in their face and visited the shop regularly. Our lockdown in 2020 is nothing compared to the kind of restrictions people would have lived under 100 years ago. They lived with a heavy military presence and under curfew. You can understand why Alphie did what he did. It was a time of war and if he hadn’t joined the fight for Ireland, who knows what kind of country we would have now.”
Growing up, Mike was very aware of his grand-uncle’s story and the hurt Alphie’s death had caused. “It was a very, very sore subject,” he said. “It wasn’t something that would be discussed in front of us as kids, but we gradually became aware and grew up with it. It really devastated the family.”
The release of the bodies of the martyrs from Crown forces had to be negotiated by a local Church of Ireland member of the Sparling family. The funeral itself had a military presence that Mike says was designed to intimidate mourners. The family was also regularly singled out in incidents including the looting of their shop by the Black and Tans in the months after Alphie’s death.
“It was a heart-breaking time,” said Mike. “Alphie’s immediate family never really recovered. How do you recover from something like that? There were no support services in those days. They didn’t harbour any anti-British feelings though, and some of the family would have spent time in England before moving home.”
The forthcoming book by Dr Tomás MacConmara is something that Mike and the wider family, who are dotted around the country, are very much looking forward to, as a way of celebrating the memory of the martyrs and expressing their pride.
“The story of Alphie and the martyrs, more than any other family event, is what really brings us together,” he said. “Alphie’s nieces and nephews, Arthur, Nuala, Patsy and Vera O’Donnell live in Carrick-on-Suir and they’ve been able to provide a lot of letters and documents to Tomás. Since Tomás started cataloguing the story, many people have come forward with memories and documents too. We’re very grateful to him and all of the members of the East Clare Memorial Committee. Alphie’s story and the story of the martyrs has come down from one generation to the next and we really have to keep the memory alive.”