ON THIS DAY: 15th August 1917: LITERARY INSTITUTE RANSACKED BY RIC
99 years ago today, in the early hours of 15th August 1917, the Royal Irish Constabulary acted on a tip and broke into the Literary Institute in search of arms belonging to the National Volunteers.
The Literary Institute had been opened in 1877 and was a key location for Nationalism and Hibernianism in the town. For example, the Letterkenny corps of the Irish Volunteers had been formed there in April 1914 to ensure the smooth implementation of Home Rule while Nationalist speakers such as Joseph Devlin regularly spoke there.
However, first and foremost, the building was the property of the Catholic Diocese of Raphoe, and the break-in in August 1917 had the effect of greatly angering the local townspeople, which was in turn a major factor in the switch for many to Republicanism in this once Nationalist dominated town.
No arms were found during the raid but the RIC broke windows and doors in the search, as well as smashing up tables and chairs, and this destruction of church property was, for many moderates locally, a key factor in switching their beliefs to the growing Republicanism throughout the country, following the release of the prisoners of 1916.
Fr. John McCafferty, Administrator in the Cathedral and a key voice of Nationalism and Hibernianism in Letterkenny warned that this wanton destruction of the Literary Institute would have the effect of “turning the people away from constitutional guidance to meet force by force.”
The following month, the first Sinn Féin club was formed in Letterkenny with several hundred attending the meeting in a hall in Willie Boyle’s backyard, a club which gradually grew in strength over the subsequent months and especially during the War of Independence.
The rest, as they say, is history.