The Avondhu - By The Fireside
‘If any man here wants a fight he is going to get plenty of it’
not have their say in future elections and to quote Frank Ryan - IRA leader and prominent socialist of the 1930s, and former St Colman’s pupil too - ‘as long as we have fists and boots, there will be no free speech for traitors’.
This was evidenced in widespread intimidation of Cumann na nGaedheal members. Attacks on opponents and the breaking-up of political meetings became a regular feature from 1933 on. As a direct consequence, a section of the pro-Treatyites formed an organisation that became known as the Blueshirts from their distinctive blueshirt uniform, and their stated objective was the preservation of free speech and deliverance from the ‘republican terror’ of the IRA mobs that threatened the social order. In keeping with this, they began to provide security at Cumann na nGaedheal (now named Fine Gael) events, and this led to serious clashes with the IRA.
By mid-1933 there were two private armies in Ireland. Press reports highlighted IRA outrages and there were photos of Blueshirt batons and knuckledusters too. A hero of the War of Independence and a former Garda Commissioner, the controversial Monaghan man General Eoin O’Duffy, became the Blueshirt leader and soon after he had been elected first leader of Fine Gael. Probably an exaggeration, but he claimed that his Blueshirts numbered nearly 100,000.
WHERE STOOD THE PEOPLE OF KILWORTH
Where did Kilworth stand in all of this? In broad outline, Kilworth followed Cosgrave. The farming community, the strong farmers in particular, favoured Cumann na nGaedheal (which had become Fine Gael in September 1933) and O’Duffy. Both Jack Daly TD of Ballinglanna and his son Paddy, also a TD, were strong supporters of Cosgrave (Cosgrave attended John’s funeral in Kilworth in 1932). In contrast, Araglen with its strong anti-establishment tradition dating back to 1798 and before, was republican and pro IRA. To quote the Superintendent ‘the area is predominantly composed of IRA, some of whom are known to be in this direction very extreme in their views’.
All this formed the backdrop of the riot of March 18. Both sides saw the forthcoming local election in June as a trial of strength between Cosgrave and De Valera and the IRA, they were intent on preventing a return of the Treaty party.
THE LOCAL ELECTION OF
The local election of 26th June, 1934 would bring the first test of Blueshirt popularity. O’Duffy boasted that Fine Gael would sweep every county council in the Free State. On election day Paddy Daly, TD, was determined to help: he voted twice for the same candidate (or so it was alleged), in Curraghagalla School and in Kilworth. He denied it of course but presiding officer, Jeremiah Leonard of Glanworth, together with Dunmahon man, William Courtney, insisted he did; and when the matter came to court in Fermoy some months later Patrick Sweeney, NT, presiding officer in Kilworth, declared that Paddy also voted in Kilworth.
On that day Araglen hosted a polling booth, located at Moher’s Cottage by Baker’s Bridge. Determined to ensure that no one would obstruct Fine Gael followers coming to cast their vote, at 11.30am a party of about thirty-five Blueshirts arrived by lorry from the direction of Kilworth. Among them were two Joyces, Vice-Captain of Kilworth Blueshirts John Joyce and his brother Batt.
Word was passed around Araglen and soon after polling had closed at about 9pm members of the local IRA unit under the command of twenty-one year old Joe Beary, Coolmoohan, arrived. The Garda report says they were ‘marching in military formation’ and taking military words of command’ from Joe who is designated second in command of the Araglen battalion. In the group were men such as William and Patrick Hyland from Barnahoun together with Timothy
White, William and Patrick Leddy of Gortnaskehy. There were ‘party cries and cheers’ as the courageous Fermoy Superintendent, the Araglen Sergeant and two other officers moved to stand between the increasingly agitated opposing sides. Tensions ran high, but eventually the Gardaí succeeded in persuading the Blueshirts to move back and on towards the nearby lorry. With bad grace they did so, while provocatively singing The Soldier’s Song. This greatly annoyed the Araglen men and prompted Sergeant O’Gorman to ask John Joyce to use his authority to silence the singing. John reluctantly acceded to the request and the singing stopped.
The Gardaí then turned to Joe Beary, appealing to him to keep the peace. But Joe was in no mood to comply and the official report records his reply: ‘Ye can mind ye’re own bloody business and I’ll mind mine!’. Turning to the Superintendent, he then added: ‘If any bloody man here wants a fight he is going to get plenty of it - we are a crowd of our own in Araglen and we won’t have these bas***ds’.
Tension was now at boiling point as Liam Leddy, Gortnaskehy, battalion commander of Araglen IRA arrived at the scene and promptly took command. Bravely, or provocatively, he walked alone past the Gardaí and on down to the Blueshirt contingent. He then turned and came back again - a distance of some 300 yards - to confer with Joe Beary at the head of his advancing colleagues.
All this time the exasperated Gardaí were appealing to the Blueshirts to enter the lorry. Ultimately and with bad grace they eventually got on board and to the chorus of IRA jeers and a hail of stones they were whisked away. And the Superintendent reported ‘unable to retaliate as they were standing up in their lorry and packed tightly together’ they were far from happy they turned for Kilworth. And then a shot rang out from the lorry. This led to a reply and now a shot came from an IRA revolver. Both sides followed up and five more shots were exchanged, all in rapid succession by both sides. Fortunately, the standard of marksmanship must have been low for no one was hit (perhaps the reported descending fog accompanied with heavy rain had had a say too?). But matters didn’t end there for the lorry soon came under rifle fire from a Coolmoohan hillside a mile distant - investigating Gardai later retrieved ten .303 cartridge cases at the spot).
‘LET’S GET BATT JOYCE’
But our story doesn’t end here. Pushing aside the Gardaí, Liam Leddy and John Mahony (IRA) and some twenty to twenty-five IRA ‘with sticks and batons’ now entered the polling booth in search of Blueshirt Batt Joyce, who had been acting as Personation Agent for Fine Gael. Cries of ‘Where is Joyce, we’ll get the f***er’ rent the air. But, luckily for Batt, he had departed earlier.
In frustration, Thomas Lomasney of Billerough with stick waving menacingly about headed towards the Presiding Officer, RIC pensioner and Blueshirt member James Phelan of Ballynalacken (whom we have seen was one of those who secured shelter at Naish Fenton’s in March). Phelan was endeavouring to vacate the booth while carrying the ballot box. Quickly, the Gardai surrounded Phelan and he was whisked away in the Superintendent’s car. Yes, Thomas Lomasney had been thwarted and the Araglen Sergeant could report that while ‘there were some minor injuries from the stone throwing no one was seriously hurt’.
In his secret report to superiors, Superintendent Brady stated that in the days following Gardaí undertook numerous searches of the homes of those IRA present but wrote ‘nothing incriminating was found’. He supplied a list of those targeted and it included Gortnaskehy men, William and Patrick Leddy, and John O’Mahony; and he also cited Paddy Flynn of Coolaneague, the Hylands of Barnahoun, together with the Lomasneys of Billerough, Thomas and
He surmised that Joe Beary and Thomas Lomasney could be prosecuted for breach of the peace, riot and unlawful assembly, but he was far from optimistic that the charge would succeed. Adding as we have seen that that Araglen was ‘an area predominantly composed of IRA, some of whom are known to be in this direction very extreme in their views’, he wrote that there would be much bitterness if a prosecution of the popular two went ahead. And he added that anyway, the Blueshirts were far from blameless on the day.
Chief Superintendent Ó Coillte agreed and his recommendation to the Department of Justice was that ‘no useful purpose would be served by the institution of proceedings under abnormal circumstances such as this’. The Department agreed, and the events of 1934 in the parish of Kilworth are now forgotten.
As boys in national school, we viewed Naish Fenton, Liam Leddy, Joe Beary and Paddy Flynn as the gentlest of men and what a pity it is that no one ever recorded their stories. As for the Blueshirts, the organisation began to disintegrate soon after a disastrous result for Fine Gael in that fateful County Council election. General O’Duffy left the movement behind and after his disastrous adventure in the Spanish Civil War fighting for Franco with his Irish Brigade, he returned to Ireland a serious drinker and broken man. He died in 1941 and is buried in Glasnevin beside his friend and comrade of the War of Independence, Michael Collins.
- An Dr Pádraig Ó Conchubhair a scríobh