The Avondhu - By The Fireside
“COME OUT, FENTON!”
Drawing on secret Garda reports, Pádraig Ó Conchubhair describes the remarkable level of enmity that existed between Kilworth Blueshirts and Araglen IRA in 1934
Canon Morrison, PP, said the final prayer and the last hymn was sung by the choir. The Sunday devotions were now over and the congregation exited the crowded St Martin’s Church in Kilworth. It was March 18th, 1934 and the time was 7.25pm. Sergeant John Meighan, and Gardaí Pat Farren and William Meehan, headed back to the barracks. Passionately committed to the rule of law and order, it was seldom that a breach of the peace would elude John Meighan, but this was one of those rare occasions when it did.
As the three Gardaí walked up lower Main Street, they observed twelve to sixteen strapping young men approaching, walking by their bicycles. The Garda Superintendent’s report with its now yellowed pages refers to a large crowd on the street ahead and the three officers paid little attention to the party heading home to Araglen. But they did remark ‘that some of the men seemed to be rather excited’ and noticed that each had an ash-plant tied to the crossbar. One of them, William Clancy, shouted ‘Search the Blue boys, search the other crowd, you searched us a week ago’. He was smarting after an incident at Araglen Bridge shortly before when the Sergeant and his colleagues had searched him and his IRA colleagues for arms.
The Superintendent’s report spells out in detail the events in the village on that night. (Stamped ‘SECRET’ the report is now available to researchers). It appears that the Araglen men had been attending an IRA parade at the Pike in Fermoy and afterwards, at about 4.30, they called to Jack Cotter’s licensed premises. Having satisfied their thirst and perhaps having had something to eat, they then began to make their way home. But as they proceeded down the street they came in contact with local Blueshirts under the command of company commander, Captain Ignatius (Naish) Fenton.
The Araglen men shouted ‘Take off your shirts and burn them’ and followed with the cry ‘Let’s scatter them!’ What is described as ‘hostile words’ followed, insult was taken and then the clash took place.
Naish told investigating Gardai later, that an Araglen IRA man whom he could not identify ‘rushed at him’ and he ‘struck him with his fist’. His Blueshirt colleague, John O’Sullivan, was struck with an ash plant, and so also was Michael Leonard who fell to the ground. And on the other side there was Maurice Dunne of Lyrebarry, who sustained a blow to the forehead and had to continue in the melee with a hastily applied bloodied handkerchief coiled around his head.
In due course, Naish saw that the Araglen men were getting the better of the exchange and called a hasty retreat. The Araglen men followed ‘in hot pursuit’, letting fly a hail of stones as Naish and comrades sped through the darkness across the Square to the shelter of his home - what is now ‘Fuchsia House’. Entering the house and admitting four of his company - Jack McNamara (described as ‘a farmer’s son’), James Phelan, Paddy Barry of Pound Lane and a John Buckley (described as a labourer from Ballinglanna) - Naish saw the rest of his comrades ‘fleeing in various directions’. Sheltering within, listening to shouts of “Come out, Fenton!”, Naish would later tell investigating Gardaí he could make out the figure of Lyrebarry man Edward Parker. He then heard a noise like a door being kicked in and this was followed by a gunshot.
But whose door was kicked in? It seems that the Araglen men were unsure where Naish lived and mistakenly directed their attention to the public house next door which was the business and family residence of his cousin, Tom Fenton and his mother Ellen. Their front door was kicked in, and then an inner door too, which yielded in a shower of glass. But, of course, there was no sign of Naish and his comrades. Finally, the Araglen men had had enough and headed for home. Naish Fenton and his Blueshift colleagues would survive to fight another day.
THE GARDAÍ INVESTIGATE
Come Monday morning and only one topic was on everybody’s lips. Did ye hear about the clash at the Square? Did you see Fenton’s door? How is Naish Fenton? Isn’t it frightening to have this behaviour in Kilworth? The Canon was appalled and the Superintendent filed a report to the Commissioner. It was clear to the authorities that the matter could not be ignored if law and order were to prevail.
Sergeant Meighan and his colleagues first of all had to seek out witnesses. David Ryan, ‘a labourer living at Kilworth’, was questioned. He said he had heard a shot and then saw smoke, coming from an upper window of Fenton’s pub. Another witness, Mrs Mary Hanlon, wife of James Hanlon, PC, had been looking out her window as the melee was developing. She saw a man lean against his bicycle, she then heard a shot and saw a flash. As it was nearly dark, she said she could not identify the man.
John Lomasney of Main Street also heard the shot. He too could not identify anyone. A soldier, Richard Beecher, was in the vicinity too and asserted that it was a revolver shot coming from near the pub. (Interestingly, John Cotter, grandson of the said Jack Cotter at whose premises the Araglen men gathered, told me recently that it was with a great sense of relief his grandmother had located her missing eightyear old son Tom viewing the action from a top floor window!). And then there was the crucial witness, Tom Fenton, co-owner of Fenton’s licensed premises, who claimed that though he didn’t know the man who smashed in his doors, he could identify him.
Having questioned a number of others who had witnessed the conflict all was to no avail - not one could identify anyone involved. And then ‘a reliable source’ came forward stating that it was the man with the bloody bandage, Maurice Dunne, who was the culprit.
Maurice Dunne was duly arrested and included in an identity parade inspected by Tom Fenton. Tom, who some days before claimed he could identify the guilty one, now appeared confused and declared that Maurice’s face was not as red as that of the man who did the damage! Nevertheless, the Gardaí were convinced they had their man and Maurice was arrested and appeared before a Peace Commissioner. Bail was offered but Maurice stubbornly refused to accept it. This led to a remand in custody to appear in four days at Fermoy District Court.
Maurice duly appeared in court only to hear the Gardaí concede that in spite of their ‘determined efforts’ they had failed to obtain corroborative evidence against him. Quite simply, no one was prepared to come forward, and hence he had to be discharged. The Superintendent now saw it unlikely any further progress could be made, doubting that ‘further enquiries will reveal anything useful’. He reported that he saw ‘no hope of getting any evidence from impartial sources as the great majority of the people in the locality are totally disinclined to be mixed up in what they consider to be a sectional squabble’. Further, he stated there was a rumour that the IRA had discreetly agreed to pay Tom Fenton 30/compensation (a substantial sum, as at the time an agricultural labourer’s net weekly wage was less than 30/- per week).
Was this to bring down the curtain on the Blueshirt-IRA clashes? No. There was to be another day, another chapter in the story. But first, consider the political climate that underpinned the enmity between close neighbours.
THE POLITICAL CLIMATE
One hundred years ago the Civil War was raging, Michael Collins was dead and the Cumann na nGaedheal government led by WT Cosgrave was set to preside over the execution of over eighty republicans who had taken up arms against the young Free State. While many highly embittered republicans went on to join De Valera and the infant Fianna Fáil, a more militant IRA faction parted ways with him. And then on coming to power in 1932, Fianna Fáil lifted the ban on the IRA and released IRA prisoners.
However, their attempt to persuade the IRA leadership to disband met with failure. The IRA were resolute in opposing Dev’s peaceful, constitutional efforts to break the existing residual links with Britain. Fianna Fáil won the 1933 general election and this prompted the IRA to initiate a campaign of unrelenting hostility against those associated with the defeated Cumann na nGaedheal. They were determined that Cosgrave’s followers would