CIVIL WAR AT THE FARM
Chris Paton uncovered a major Irish Civil War battle fought on a family farm
Paton tells us about the Irish Civil War battle fought on a family farm.
Over the last decade, I have spent a lot of time researching the family history of my wife Claire’s ancestral Prendergast family from County Kilkenny, Ireland. There have been many surprises along the way, but none has beaten the discovery of an Irish Civil War battle fought on her family’s doorstep in 1922.
Descended from an old Norman line, the Prendergasts were based in the townland of Killonerry from at least 1827, when Claire’s 3x great-grandfather, John Prendergast, was recorded in the Tithe Applotment Books (http :// tit heap plot ment books. nationalarchives.ie), holding a lease of just 13 acres there. In the 1851 Griffith’s Valuation ( www.askaboutireland.ie) it was noted that John’s son Thomas had succeeded him, expanding the farm to now take in over 119 acres. A subsequent record found within the Registry of Deeds on FamilySearch ( https:// familysearch.org/search/catalog/ 185720? availability= Family %20 History %20 Library ), showed that in August 1892 Thomas’ widow, Bridget O’Donnell, had purchased the farm through the Court of the Irish Land Commission from the estate of the Earl of Bessborough, thanks to a loan of £2650, which was to be paid back with interest over 49 years.
Bridget and Thomas had raised a family of five children at Killonerry, with their two sons Thomas and Patrick found to be still resident in the farmhouse in the 1901 census ( http://census. nationalarchives.ie). They were both now married and had families. When Bridget died in December 1904, the farm was subsequently divided between the brothers, with Thomas building a separate farmhouse close to the old property. With his wife, Mary, Thomas raised a family of nine children at the new farmhouse at Killonerry, including my wife’s grandfather Paul (born in 1895), whilst Patrick had five children of his own with his wife, Annie Hogan, in the original farmhouse. In the early part of the 20th century, the two brothers’ children grew up together, as Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom was set to change forever.
In October 2005, I was contacted by an Americanbased woman called Ann – she was the daughter of Michael Prendergast, one of Patrick’s sons. Ann informed me that her father had joined the Third Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Republican Army, and had fought against British forces in the War of Independence between 1919 and 1921. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which confirmed the Partition of Ireland and saw the creation of the Irish Free State, the ‘Old IRA’, as it has since become known, split into two. The largest faction formed the Free State Army, whilst a minority formed the ‘antiTreaty’ faction known as the ‘Irregulars’, which refused to accept Partition and the lack of a fully-fledged Irish republic. Michael continued to fight with the Irregulars in the ensuing Irish Civil War (1922–1923) against his former Old IRA colleagues. Following defeat, he was forced to go on the run from Ireland, travelling first to Canada, and then to the United States, where he married. He eventually returned to Ireland in 1978, and passed away in his sleep some nine years later.
This was astonishing stuff, but was my wife’s own branch of the Prendergast family caught up in the conflict? The Irish Newspaper Archives website(www. irish news archive. com) provided some answers. A 1936 obituary in the Munster Express for Claire’s greatgrandfather Thomas recorded that ‘his home was a centre of much activity during the Anglo-Irish war in which himself and his sons and daughters took an active part’. An even more remarkable article from 1934 noted a compensation claim by one of Thomas’s nephews (Patrick’s son, also called Thomas) to
the Irish Government for damage caused to the original Killonerry farmhouse by the Free State Army in August 1922. He admitted to being an active sympathiser of the pre-Partition IRA, and later for the Irregulars, for whom he had worked as a driver.
The article also noted that in one of the war’s biggest battles near the town of Carrick-onSuir, the army had occupied the original Killonerry farmhouse for two days, to which soldiers had caused significant damage, ripping up the floorboards for fuel and tearing down the curtains. At the court hearing for the compensation claim, my wife’s great-grandfather Thomas was also questioned. He revealed that he had witnessed the army taking his brother’s property, recalling how the soldiers had also slaughtered all of the cattle on his own adjoining farm in the process, an action which had left him ‘a teetotal wreck’.
Hooked now, I obtained a book called ‘Carrick- on-Suir: Town and District 1800–2000’ by Patrick C. Power, which gave more detail. In a bid to rid the area of Irregular forces, the Free State Army had taken control of Killonerry after a battle with the 8th Battalion of the IRA’s 3rd Tipperary Brigade. Two 18-pounder cannons were brought to Killonerry, and from there the Free State forces bombarded republican positions across the River Lingaun, as well as machine gunning and mortaring their opponents, until they retreated.
I had one final discovery still to make. When Ireland’s Military Archives ( www. militaryarchives.ie) uploaded its Military Services (1916–1923) Pension Collection, to help commemorate the current ‘Decade of Centenaries’, I searched the records for any confirmation of the Prendergasts’ Old IRA membership. Sure enough, the files of the 8th Battalion of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade included a listing for members of “K Coy. (Killonerry)” in file MA/MSPC/ RO/152. Michael Prendergast’s name was included – as was that of my wife’s grandfather Paul, and his brothers Thomas, Daniel and Patrick.
A regular YFH writer, genealogist Chris Paton is originally from Northern Ireland but now lives in Scotland. He is the author of ‘ A Decade of Centenaries: Researching Ireland 1912–1923’ (Unlock the Past, 2016).
His obituary stated that ‘his home was a centre of much activity during the Anglo-Irish war’
The farmhouse at Killonerry