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

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Execution of D.I. Gilbert Potter, R.I.C.

gilbert-norman-potterGilbert Norman Potter, a District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary, is executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 27, 1921 in reprisal for the British execution of Irish republican Thomas Traynor.

Born in Dromahair, County Leitrim on July 10, 1887, Potter receives his commission as District Inspector on April 27, 1901 having completed his cadetship at the Depot, Phoenix Park, Dublin. His first assignment is to Castlepollard, County Westmeath. During the 1909 ITGWU strike in Cork, he is temporarily posted there from Dublin and is also involved in policing the August 14 marches in Portadown. Having had charge of No. 4 Company at the Depot, he is assigned to Cahir in 1912.

On April 23, 1921 District Inspector Potter is captured by the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, IRA, following the Hyland’s Cross Ambush. This occurs near Curraghcloney, close to the village of Ballylooby. The ambush party is initially made up of a combination of the 1st and 2nd Flying Columns 3rd Tipperary Brigade. This is the largest force assembled to date by the Tipperary IRA in anticipation of a major battle. However, the convoy of military lorries that is expected never materialises. Dan Breen and Con Moloney return to Battalion Headquarters, while Seán Hogan‘s Column withdraws northward in the direction of the Galtee Mountains.

As Dinny Lacey‘s No.1 Column prepares to leave towards the south, a small party of British soldiers accompanying two horse-drawn carts unexpectedly approaches from Clogheen and are immediately fired upon. Amid some confusion Lacey’s scattered men withdraw southwards towards the Knockmealdown Mountains. One British soldier, Frank Edward Conday, is fatally wounded and two others from the relieving party are wounded.

By chance, Potter, who is returning by car from police duties at Ballyporeen, drives into a section of the withdrawing No.1 Column. Although in civilian attire, he is recognised by one of the IRA Volunteers and taken prisoner. As part of a new strategy, he is held as a hostage for the safe release of Thomas Traynor, an IRA volunteer and father of ten young children, then under sentence of death at Mountjoy Gaol. The IRA offers to release Potter in exchange for Traynor’s release. Traynor is executed. Traynor has since been honoured by the Irish state as one of “The Forgotten Ten.”

The Column, under sporadic fire from soldiers, alerted at the nearby Clogheen barracks, follow the contours of the mountains to the village of Newcastle. Losing their pursuers, they stay for a period of time at the townland of Glasha. Here Potter is detained in an out-building of a farm which is regularly used by the IRA as a safe house. From there the party is guided into the Nire Valley by a contingent of local Waterford Volunteers and on to the Comeragh Mountains.

Accounts from Rathgormack, County Waterford suggest he is kept for at least one night at a nearby Ringfort before being taken down the hill to a field then owned by Power’s of Munsboro, where he meets his ultimate fate. At 7:00 PM, on April 27, following news of Traynor’s execution by hanging, he is shot to death, and hastily buried in a shallow grave on the banks of the River Clodiagh. A diary he kept during his period of captivity and some personal effects and farewell letters, are returned anonymously to his wife. It is the first confirmation she has that he has been killed. The artifacts are later lost when his son’s ship is torpedoed in 1942, during World War II.

(Pictured: Photo of District Inspector Gilbert Potter R.I.C. that appeared in the Press during his time in captivity)

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Bridget Cleary Burned to Death by Husband

bridget-clearyBridget Cleary is burned to death on March 15, 1895 by her husband who believes her spirit has been taken by bad faeries and replaced with a changeling.

Cleary is born Bridget Boland around 1869 in Ballyvadlea, County Tipperary. Bridget meets Michael Cleary in Clonmel in August 1887, where he works as a cooper and she serves as a dressmaker’s apprentice, and they marry a short time later.

After the marriage, she returns to her townland of Ballyvadlea to live with her parents while Michael continues to work as a cooper in Clonmel. During this period of living apart, Bridget’s independence grows and she begins keeping her own flock of chickens and selling the eggs to neighbours. She is also a professional woman which is somewhat unusual for the era and area. She obtains a Singer sewing machine, which is state-of-the-art at the time, and is variously described as a dressmaker and a milliner.

Despite their eight years of marriage, the couple has no children by the time of Bridget’s death. Following the death of Bridget’s mother, the Clearys find themselves responsible for Bridget’s elderly father, Patrick Boland. His residence with the couple enables them to secure a house reserved for labourers. Neither Bridget nor Michael is entitled to this cottage, but as Patrick had been a labourer in his youth, they are able to acquire the best house in the village. However, there is no widespread interest in the house as it is built on the site of a supposed fairy ringfort.

In early March 1895, Bridget becomes ill although her specific diagnosis is unknown. On March 13, more than a week into her illness, a physician visits her home. Her condition is considered sufficiently grave that a priest soon follows to administer last rites. Several friends and family members attend her over the next two days and a number of home remedies are administered including one ritual that anticipates her later demise. Her father and her husband accuse her of being a fairy sent to take Bridget’s place. Urine is thrown on her and she is carried before the fireplace to cast the fairy out. By March 16, rumours begin to circulate that Bridget is missing and the local police begin searching for her. Michael is quoted as claiming that his wife has been taken by fairies. Witness statements are gathered over the ensuing week and, by the time Bridget’s burned corpse is found in a shallow grave on March 22, nine people have been charged in her disappearance, including her husband. A coroner’s inquest the next day returns a verdict of death by burning.

Legal hearings take place from April 1 to April 6, 1895. The court session begins on July 3. Evidence indicates that Michael attempts to force-feed his wife, throwing her down on the ground before the kitchen fireplace. Bridget’s chemise catches fire and Michael then throws lamp oil on Bridget. Witnesses are unclear as to whether she is already dead by this point. Michael keeps the others away from her body as it burns, insisting that she is a changeling and has been for a week. Michael believes that this will allow him to get his wife back from the fairies.

Michael Cleary is found guilty of manslaughter and spends 15 years in prison.