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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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IRA Cork No. 2 Brigade Arms Capture at Fermoy

The first organised action against British military forces since the 1916 Easter Rising, takes place at Fermoy, County Cork, on September 7, 1919. It is carried out by the Cork No. 2 Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) under the command of Liam Lynch. Their objective is an armed party of British soldiers who attend Sunday service at the Wesleyan Church at the eastern end of the town, the church being about half a mile from their barracks. It is not known if the rifles they carry are loaded but the assumption is that they are and plans are made for that contingency.

At around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, September 7, 1919, fourteen soldiers and a corporal leave their barracks and march through the town towards the Wesleyan Church. They carry their rifles at the slope. Approximately twenty-five volunteers from Fermoy company, armed with just six revolvers between them, assemble in groups of two and three in the vicinity of the church, remaining well spread out to avoid attracting attention. The main attacking party of which Larry Condon is in charge, includes John Fanning Michael Fitzgerald, Patrick Ahern and James Fitzgerald. Another group is detailed to collect the rifles and transfer them to cars parked nearby, while the remainder are to close in from the rear when the attack begins and prevent any attempt by the British to get back to their barracks. Any volunteers who are unarmed carry short clubs hidden on their person.

One of the cars, with George Power in charge, is halted near the church, with two men attending to an imaginary breakdown. The second car, which includes Liam Lynch, drives up Patrick Street behind the party of soldiers, timing it to arrive at the church at the same moment as the soldiers. A whistle blast begins the assault. Liam Lynch calls on the soldiers to surrender but they immediately resist. The attackers rush them, shots are fired and for a minute or two there is a confused struggle. A soldier swinging a rifle butt at Lynch is shot dead while three others are wounded. When the soldiers are finally overpowered, their rifles are taken from them and piled into the Buick driven by Leo O’Callaghan. Into that car also goes Liam Lynch, Owen Harold, Ned Waters, Tom Griffin, Larry Condon, Michael Fitzgerald and John Fanning while Jack Mulvey’s Ford contains Pat Leahy, John Joe Hogan, Peter O’Callaghan, George Power and Dan Hegarty. Both cars head out the Tallow road while the remaining volunteers scatter on foot.

Shortly afterwards a bugle call at the barracks raises the alarm and within minutes two lorry loads of soldiers are speeding out the Lismore road in pursuit. However, at Carrigabrick, a mile and a quarter from the town, two trees on the roadside have been partly sawn through and then held in position by ropes. The moment the cars carrying the rifles pass, the trees come down with a crash thereby forcing the pursuers to make a detour and lose the trail. At Kilmagner, five miles from Fermoy, the rifles are taken to a pre-arranged spot and safely concealed. The following night they are transferred to a dump in the Araglen company area.

Much thought had been given to the selection of officers and men for the task. It is inevitable that those of them who are well known locally would thereafter have to evade arrest. Intensive searches by military and police continue throughout the day. Parties of military in lorries scour the countryside, cars are held up and many people questioned. Two days later the district is proclaimed a military area.

On the Monday night following the raid a large party of soldiers from the British garrison at Fermoy descend upon the town. They smash the windows in most of the shops in Pearse Square, MacCurtain Street and Patrick Street and loot the contents. The following night the troops are confined to barracks, but on Wednesday night they assemble again but find a large crowd of residents waiting for them in Emmet Street. Armed with sticks, stones and other weapons, the local people attack the soldiers so furiously that they are driven back to their barracks. Many citizens barricade their homes and premises and prepare to defend them against further attack, but by Thursday the spate of lawlessness appears to be over for the time being.

However, arrests soon follow. Local Battalion Commandant Michael Fitzgerald, Vice Commandant Larry Condon and Fermoy Company Captain, John Fanning, are among those detained. Others arrested are James Fanning, John Swaine, John Joe Hogan, Martin O’Keeffe, Dick O’Keeffe, Pat Leahy, Tom Griffin, Peter O’Callaghan and Jack Mulvey. Two months later further arrests are made at Mallow. Dan Hegarty, Brian Kelly, Ned Waters, Owen Harold and Leo O’Callaghan are detained. After a series of weekly remands, the prisoners are returned for trial at the Cork Assizes in July, 1920. At Cork the Grand Jury finds against Michael Fitzgerald, John Joe Hogan and Dan Hegarty. The remainder are released.

(From: “Arms Captured in Attack on Military at Fermoy,” http://homepage.eircom.net/~corkcounty/ | Pictured: The former Wesleyan Church in Fermoy)


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Birth of Sir James Comyn, Irish-born English High Court Judge

Sir James Peter Comyn, Irish-born barrister and English High Court judge, is born at Beaufield House, Stillorgan, County Dublin on March 8, 1921. Considered by many to be “the finest all-round advocate at the English bar”, he is appointed to the High Court of Justice in 1978, serving on the bench until his retirement in 1985.

Comyn is the son of Nationalist barrister James Comyn KC and of Mary Comyn. Through his father he is the nephew of the barrister Michael Comyn KC. Both his father and uncle had been political and legal advisers to Éamon de Valera, who at one point uses Beaufield House as a safe house. However, the Comyn brothers have a falling out with de Valera shortly before he comes to power in 1932, and Michael Comyn is passed over as Attorney General of the Irish Free State. As a result, James Comyn, who is then attending Belvedere College in Dublin, is sent by his father to attend The Oratory School in England. He spends six months as a trainee at The Irish Times under the editor R. M. “Bertie” Smyllie, but abandons journalism after a joke he added to an obituary is printed in the paper, leading to his demotion to the racing department.

Comyn then matriculates at New College, Oxford, where he reads law, graduating with Second Class Honours. In 1940, he defeats Roy Jenkins for the presidency of the Oxford Union, winning by four votes. After suffering the first of several breakdowns through his life, he briefly works for the BBC‘s Empire Service during World War II.

Comyn is called to the English bar by the Inner Temple in 1942, the Irish bar in 1947, and the Hong Kong bar in 1969. In 1944, he begins his pupillage with Edward Holroyd Pearce KC, later a law lord, and joins his chambers at Fountain Court. He practises in London and on the Western circuit, supplementing his earnings by teaching banking, a subject of which he knows nothing. On one occasion, he rises in Lambeth County court to cross-examine a female defendant in an eviction case. Just as he begins by saying “Madam,” the defendant opens her bag, takes out a dead cat, and throws it at him. The judge’s reaction is to tell the defendant, “Madam, if you do that again, I’ll commit you.” Comyn wins the case.

Comyn takes silk in 1961, and acquires a large practice as a senior, appearing in many high-profile cases. In 1964, he wins damages for libel for the former safe-breaker Alfred George Hinds against a Scotland Yard inspector by convincing the jury that Hinds is in fact innocent. In 1970, he successfully defends the Labour MP Will Owen, who is accused of providing information to the Czechoslovak intelligence services. In 1975, he defeats the government’s attempt to obtain an injunction against the publication of the diaries of former minister Richard Crossman.

Comyn is Recorder of Andover between 1964 and 1971 (honorary life recorder from 1972), commissioner of assize for the Western Circuit in 1971, and a Recorder of the Crown Court between 1972 and 1977. He is elected a bencher of the Inner Temple in 1968, and serves as chairman of the Bar council from 1973 to 1974.

Having refused a previous invitation by Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone to join the bench, Comyn is again nominated by Elwyn Jones, Baron Elwyn-Jones, in 1977, and is appointed a High Court judge in 1978, receiving the customary knighthood upon his appointment. Initially assigned to the Family Division, he does not take to the work and is reassigned to the Queen’s Bench Division in 1979. He has a reputation for leniency in sentencing, first acquired as Recorder of Andover. In 1980–81, he presides over an unsuccessful libel action by a member of the Unification Church, colloquially known as the Moonies, against the Daily Mail, the longest libel trial in England up to that time. His Irish background makes him the target of Irish Republican Army (IRA) action, and in 1981 the Provisional IRA burns his house in Tara.

Recurring bouts of depression lead to Comyn’s early retirement, on grounds of ill health, in 1985. In retirement, he divides his time between England and Ireland, whose citizenship he has retained. He writes a number of books, including memoirs, light verse, and books on famous trials. He also breeds Friesian cattle. He dies in Navan, County Meath on January 5, 1997 at age 75.


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Hanging of Peter Barnes & James Richards

peter-barnes-and-james-mccormackIrish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers Peter Barnes and James Richards are hanged in Winston Green Prison in Birmingham, England on February 7, 1940 for their involvement in a bombing in Coventry the previous year which killed five people.

Barnes and Richards (also known as James McCormack) are members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and participate in the August 25, 1939 Coventry bombing which kills five people. Although they both admit to constructing the bomb, which is intended to be used to destroy a power station, they claim not to be involved in planting the bomb.

Seán MacBride, a former Chief of Staff of the IRA and Irish barrister, attempts to secure their release claiming they are being illegally held without a writ of habeas corpus. However, both are charged with murder on December 12 along with Brigid O’Hara and Joseph and Mary Hewitt. All five plead not guilty before the court at Birmingham Assizes.

Brigid O’Hara issues statements between August 28 and September 4 to Scotland Yard and Birmingham City Police denying any knowledge of the bombings and later provides evidence for the prosecution. Found guilty of murder on December 15, Barnes and Richards are hanged at Winston Green Prison in Birmingham on February 7, 1940. Their remains are returned to Dublin in 1969.

The reinterment in Mullingar, County Westmeath is attended by an estimated 15,000 people. Mass is said in Irish in the Cathedral before the funeral to Ballyglass Cemetery. Among those attending are three brothers of Peter Barnes and a sister and brother of McCormack.

The trial and execution results in a public outcry in Ireland against Neville Chamberlain and the British Government as Peadar O’Donnell and other prominent Irish writers sign a petition campaigning for leniency towards the condemned men.