Thursday, February 27, 2003

Death of Thomas Dunne - Castledermot - 16 June 1922

On 26th April, 1922 the Irish Hierarchy issued the following statement, “The best and wisest course for Ireland is to accept the Treaty and make the most of the freedom it undoubtedly brings us”. Their reference was to the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland approved by the Dáil in the previous January. The Civil War which resulted is generally considered to have begun when anti-treaty troops seized the Four Courts in June 1922. However, Civil War was a reality once those opposed to the Treaty landed German arms at Helvic Head in Co. Waterford on 2nd March. By then the country was inexorably moving towards war and it was a war which would not end until May of the following year. In the intervening period many young men would die, sometimes brutally and almost always needlessly. Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera, one time colleagues in the fight for Irish independence but on opposite sides of the Civil War factions, following the treaty debate of December 1921 entered into a pact in May 1982. They agreed on a Sinn Fein panel of candidates drawn from pro-treaty and anti-treaty sides to contest a general election which was scheduled for Friday, 16th June. On that day yet another young man was to die in South Kildare exactly thirteen months after a botched ambush had claimed the lives of Connor and Lacy in Barrowhouse. Thomas Dunne was a young man described by the doctor who attended at the scene of the shooting as “a hard working, decent, respectable, young fellow”. He was one of a party of four anti-treaty soldiers who on the evening before the General Election took over the Sinn Fein hall in Castledermot. The hall was commandeered in order to establish a Barracks in Castledermot which the anti-treaty troops intended to use as a base for patrolling the area. Both treaty and anti-treaty sides were anxious to extend their control throughout rural Ireland and those opposed to the Treaty sought to do this by providing a militarised police force in as many localities as possible. Particular concern had been expressed at the increased lawlessness in South Kildare during the early months of 1922 and a daring daylight robbery at Ballycullane in early June had prompted the anti-treaty side to establish a barracks in Castledermot. The Garda Siochana set up by the Government some months earlier had not yet arrived in the area and the IRA (both treaty and anti-treaty) were undertaking law enforcement duties in the locality. Mr. O’Gorman, Manager of the Hibernian Bank in Athy was held up at Ballycullane at about 2.00pm on a Monday afternoon as he was returning from the banks Ballitore branch office. Driving his newly acquired motor cycle and accompanied by the bank porter in the side car he had no option but to stop when ambushed near Ballycullane Wood by three masked men armed with revolvers. A sum of £170.00 was stolen on that occasion. On the evening before the 1922 general election polling day Sgt. John Dempsey of F. Company 5th Battalion Carlow Brigade IRA, accompanied by Volunteers Thomas Dunne, Peter Brien and William Kinsella, took over the Sinn Fein hall in Castledermot. They were ordered to do so by Captain P. Kavanagh of Castledermot who in turn had received his instructions from Commdt. Thomas O’Connell of the Carlow Brigade. On the following morning about 14 or 15 pro-treaty troops under the command of Brigadier Adjutant Lillis of Carlow arrived in the village of Castledermot. Statements made by Volunteers Peter Brien, William Kinsella and Sergeant John Dempsey indicated that the pro-treaty troops passed the Sinn Fein hall in a lorry travelling from the Carlow direction. The lorry travelled towards the chapel and stopped about 200 yards from the Sinn Fein hall. Captain A. Nolan got out of the lorry and walked back to the hall and on entering saw that it was occupied by anti-treaty soldiers. He returned to the lorry but almost immediately came back again to the hall when he was refused entry by Volunteer Peter Brien. Within minutes, according to the statement of the anti-treaty Volunteers, the lorry containing the soldiers returned and 14 or 15 men jumped down and rushed through the door of the Sinn Fein hall firing shots. The statements made by the pro-treaty soldiers those who entered the Sinn Fail hall gave a somewhat different version of events. Paddy Cosgrave, a resident of Castledermot, and Brigade Vice Commdt. of the treaty troops stated he entered the Sinn Fein hall with Lillis, Captain F. Lawler and another un-named officer who may have been the earlier mentioned Captain Nolan. Cosgrave was behind the other three officers as they went in, but was able to see four anti-treaty soldiers inside the building, two of whom he said were armed with shotguns in the “ready position”. After he entered the hall he heard three shots, the first of which he believed was fired by Captain Lawler. It was then, according to Paddy Cosgrave, that the soldiers in the lorry jumped down and rushed into the hall. Cosgrave saw Thomas Dunne turn away and stumble towards the back door. He had been mortally wounded and was to die within minutes. Captain F. Lawler who fired the fatal shot was an experienced soldier who had fought during the Easter Rising. He confirmed that he was the first to enter the Sinn Fein hall, accompanied by Lillis and Cosgrave. He had a revolver in his hand and was about to cock it when his thumb slipped and the revolver went off. He turned the revolver towards the ground and attempted to cock it again when “it slipped again and the second shot was discharged”. No explanation was offered for the third shot heard by his companion Paddy Cosgrave. Which of the shots allegedly accidentally fired by Lawler killed Thomas Dunne was never determined. What is known is that Adjutant J. Lillis, having been informed by a local man, Patrick Walsh, that the anti-treaty side had taken over the Sinn Fein hall, decided in consulting with Paddy Cosgrave to have them ejected. Dr. Francis Brannan was immediately called to the scene but the unfortunate young man Thomas Dunne was already dead. That night an inquest was held by Dr. M.F. Kenna, Coroner for South Kildare following which the jury chaired by William J. Dalton brought in the verdict of “death from shock and hemorrhage caused by the piercing of the aorta by a bullet accidentally discharged in a Sinn Fein hall.” On the following Sunday afternoon Thomas Dunne’s funeral procession left Castledermot for Carlow headed by the Clashganny Pipers and the Athy Fife and Drum bands. Volunteer Thomas Dunne was buried in the Republican plot at St. Mary’s cemetery, Carlow town. Less than three weeks after Thomas Dunne’s death another young man was killed in the village of Castledermot. The story of how Volunteer Lawrence Sweeney of Dundrum, Co. Dublin met his death on the same day as Sylvester Sheppard was shot in nearby Rosetown is a story for another day.

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