Tuesday, August 27, 2013

John Howard Wrestler and Barrowhouse Ambush

Professional wrestling on television was a Saturday afternoon sport which held audiences enthralled long before professional soccer was able to secure a stranglehold on national T.V.  I can remember afternoons spent watching the wrestlers going through their well rehearsed performances when during the 1970s I lived in Monaghan town.  Little did I know that one of the wrestlers, who week in week out featured on that T.V. coverage, was an Athy man who in the 1970s lived just down the road from me in Carrickmacross.  Johnny Howard, a giant of a man, was one of a family of six born in the Howard family home in Gray’s Lane, Ardreigh.  His father Jimmy was himself one of six Howard brothers from Ardreigh, five of whom, Paddy, Jimmy, Barney, Michael and Jack all emigrated to England.  The only Howard brother to remain in Athy was Willie, who in the 1950s lived in Janeville Lane.  So far as I can remember Willie was a widower and when his brother Jimmy’s family emigrated to Manchester in the late 1950s Willie moved into the Howard family home in Gray’s Lane.

Johnny Howard, known as Sean when living in Athy, was the eldest of the family of Jimmy Howard and his wife Margaret Mulhall whom I believe was from the Bleach.  His brothers and sisters included Jim who now lives in Tankardstown, Mick, now in Monasterevin and Margaret, Raymond and Patricia who still live in Manchester. 

Johnny adopted the name Rasputin – the mad monk, for what the Guardian newspaper in its obituary for Kent Walton described as ‘the grunts, groans and theatrical mayhem of professional wrestling’.  Kent Walton was the voice of professional wrestling on ITV Saturday afternoons from the mid 1950s until wrestling was removed from the network in 1988.

Jimmy Howard, aka Rasputin, was a regular on ITV with other well known professional wrestlers such as Mick McManus, Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy.  He sported a beard and long hair which was concealed at the start of each bout under a brown cloak and cowl reminiscent of a medieval monk.  At the start of his wrestling career Johnny was billed as Sean Doyle and he wrestled as a welter weight.  When the original Rasputin, aka Frank Hoy, retired from the ring Athy born Johnny Howard took the name and was thereafter known as Rasputin – the mad monk.  Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s Johnny competed throughout Europe, Africa and the Far East, topping the bill on many occasions until he retired in the early 1990s. 

Living in Carrickmacross since the early 1960s Johnny married and had three children, a son and two daughters, one of whom sadly passed away 2½ years ago.  Johnny later divorced and re-married, moving to Lochbrickland, Co. Down where he died on Monday, 19th August of this year.  He was laid to rest following a funeral service in the Baptist Church in Banbridge, Co. Down.

Among the many interesting emails I received in recent weeks was an enquiry from Roger Wiloughby of Oxfordshire who is currently writing a book on awards made to members of the R.I.C.  It would appear that at least two of the constables involved in the Barrowhouse Ambush were subsequently awarded constabulary medals for gallantry.  I have previously written of the Barrowhouse Ambush based on interviews I had with an old resident of the area.  All of the participants in the ambush were dead by then and my written account of what occurred that fateful day was of necessity based at best on secondhand information.  A number of corrections in my narrative are now necessary.  Firstly in referring to those attacked I described them, as did my informant, as Black and Tans.  This was not correct as the party travelling on bicycles from Ballylinan to Maganey were local R.I.C. constables with their sergeant.

Secondly the account of the ambush as told to me described the I.R.A. men lying in wait only to have to change their position and move across fields when school children came out of the nearby school as the R.I.C. men were approaching.  Travelling the road from Barrowhouse to Maganey would not have required the R.I.C. men to pass the local school.  The original ambush position as described to me would not seem correct as it was not on the Barrowhouse to Maganey Road route and claims that the I.R.A. men had to change position and run across a field seems highly unlikely.  They could not have done so without disclosing themselves to the R.I.C.  It seems more likely that the site of the shooting which is marked by a memorial was the original ambush location.  However, it is quite likely, as claimed by my informant, that the ammunition used by the I.R.A. men was damp and ineffective.  This would explain the failure of those lying in wait to have succeeded in their ambush plans.

Monday, 16th May 1921 was the day on which two young men William Connor and Jim Lacey died at the side of the road at Barrowhouse.  A small memorial marks the site of the Barrowhouse ambush.  As we enter a decade of centennial commemorations of major events in Irish history perhaps it would be appropriate for a new memorial to be erected at the place where two young Barrowhouse men died in 1921.

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