The local headmaster who became an unlikely hero during the Easter Rising

THERE was great excitement amongst pupils and staff in Glenavy National School on the afternoon of Thursday, November 22 1906.

They had just heard that there would be several important visitors passing through the village and it was reported in the local press that the youngsters would be invited to watch the Lord Lieutenant and the Countess of Aberdeen travelling from Antrim to Lisburn.

The dignitaries had been visiting the province and were the guests of Lord and Lady O’Neill at Shane’s Castle.

Their busy schedule had included the re-opening of Ballymena Cottage Hospital the previous day and the opening of the new Technical Institute at Ballymoney.

They were so impressed by the turnout of pupils in Glenavy that they requested their entourage to stop and they spoke to the young people and requested that their headmaster be presented to them.

At that time, 26-year-old Arthur George Camp, originally from Longford, was that very man.

Most likely he was the hero that day in the eyes of his pupils when the Lord Lieutenant and Countess requested that they should receive a half day’s holiday to mark the occasion of their impromptu visit.

It would not be the last time that Arthur Camp would come to the attention of the press.

Sometimes referred to as Arthur Kemp in documentation held locally, he had trained to be a teacher under the Kildare Place system in Dublin.

Coincidentally, one of the other students during his time in the city, William James Collins, ended up in the Borough too teaching and boarded with the Colburn family in the townland of Ballynacoy.

Arthur was a man with musical talents and during his stay in the area he was church organist, Honorary Parochial treasurer and Select Vestry member of Glenavy Parish Church and conductor of Dundrod Silver Band.

He regularly provided musical accompaniment at various functions held by the Girls’ Friendly Society and Glenavy Air Gun Club too.

Arthur also composed music and was credited with a number of musical scores which were performed locally.

His contribution was also recorded in the minute books of local Orange Lodge LOL 227. Apparently they had been seeking his assistance to re-organise Glenavy Brass Band and to purchase two new cornets.

Marriage record show that in 1907 he married a Welsh lady, Edyth Thomas, at Pontypridd in South Wales. Three years later their daughter Thelma was born back home in Glenavy.

In April 1916 a National School Teachers’ conference was being held in Cork. Arthur, a regular attendee of such events, left his home at Avey Lodge to travel to Cork via Dublin.

On Easter Monday, April 24 1916, he was passing through Dublin as dramatic events began to unfold. A Rising was underway, and the local man had a front row seat.

It was later reported that Arthur was at the GPO in Dublin when it was taken over by the insurgents. It was worlds away from his quiet existence 100 miles away.

The Glenavy man remained in the vicinity as the insurrection continued throughout Easter Monday, and the following morning he made contact with the Irish Automobile Club to volunteer his services as an ambulance driver.

He spent Easter week conveying the wounded to various hospitals and temporary treatment centres as the battle between the British forces and the insurgents raged across Dublin.

He worked under fire and on one occasion a bullet struck his ambulance and missed his head by an inch.

On Saturday April 29 at 2.30pm Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the uprising, announced an unconditional surrender.

The previous day General Sir John Maxwell had arrived in Dublin to take command of the British forces. He is remembered by many as the man who organised the court martial and execution of the ringleaders.

On Saturday May 27 Arthur Camp was introduced to General Maxwell at the Royal Barracks at Cavalry Square. The General was carrying out an inspection of the ambulances due to their ‘excellent and fearless work during the week of the rebellion’.

He was shown the ambulance which Arthur had commandeered and it was reported that he took great interest in the obvious battle scars it bore. He also personally congratulated the Glenavy school master on his courage under fire.

Readers of the local press learned more about Arthur’s extended family in 1916. His parents at that time were residing in Exeter, while his sister Mary’s husband - Charles Edward Hill - was serving with the Salonika forces.

Arthur’s brother, Walter Camp, was serving as a gunner on HMS Commonwealth having joined the navy before the outbreak of World War One.

As for the man himself, he gladly returned to village life in Glenavy. Ever the professional, his traumatic experience in Dublin did not put him off attending future teacher conferences.

In 1917 it was reported that he was one of the speakers at the annual meeting of the County Antrim National School Teachers’ Association.

In June 1917 Edyh Camp unfurled a new banner for Dundrod Temperence LOL 73.

The Camp family remained in Glenavy until 1919 when they left the village to relocate to the UK mainland.

According to official records, the deaths of Arthur and his wife were both registered in Wrexham in Wales in 1974.

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