Thursday, March 24, 2011

Athenry and the Irish War of Independence 1919-1921 Part 5: Other deaths and the burning of the Cricket and Tennis Pavilion by Ronan Killeen

The death of  Tom Egan-Irish Volunteer was believed to be a reprisal for the death of Frank Shawe Taylor.
Below is taken from James Charles Roy's The Fields of Athenry when talking to Nora Egan about
her father's death:

A friend of Dad's warned him to get out but he wouldn't. He hadn't done anything wrong. A week later Sonny (Egan) came into the pub to tell us there was a rumour the Tans were about that night, on a rampage, and later on they showed up at our door.

For those readers around the globe that did not study Irish history or know what an Irish person means by Tans or Black and Tans here is a background history:

In 1919, the British government advertised for men who were willing to "face a rough and dangerous task". Many former British army soldiers had come back from Western Europe and did not find a land fit for heroes. They came back to unemployment and few firms needed men whose primary skill was fighting in war.
   Therefore, there were plenty of ex-servicemen who were willing to reply to the government’s advert. For many the sole attraction was not political or national pride – it was simply money. The men got paid ten shillings a day. They got three months training before being sent to Ireland. The first unit arrived in Ireland in March 1920.

   Once in Ireland it quickly became apparent that there were not enough uniforms for all those who had joined up. Therefore they wore a mixture of uniforms – some military, some RIC. This mixture gave them the appearance of being in khaki and dark police uniform. As a result, these men got the nickname "Black and Tans", and it stuck. Some say that the nickname came from a pack of hunting hounds known as the 'Black and Tans'.
   The Black and Tans were not regular troops. There were many examples of them shooting indiscriminately at civilians as opposed to republican guerrillas. Creameries were also destroyed by the Black and Tans – almost as a way of economically punishing those who may have been helping the IRA. Those experienced in trench warfare fighting a seen enemy, were of little use in Ireland. The Black and Tans were so poorly disciplined and trained for Ireland that their casualty rate was far higher than could have been imagined when the government first advertised for them. The government in Westminster quickly realised that they were a liability as even public opinion in mainland Britain was appalled by a lot of what they did.

Nora Egan's conversation in The Fields of Athenry continued:

Mary Jane and I were upstairsin our room, over the bar. Dad was in the kitchen reading a newspaper. Mother answered the knock and it was the soldiers. They said, 'Who's in the house?'. Mama said no one.
   They barged into the kitchen.'Who is this man?' they asked. 'My Husband,' she replied, and they went for him to take him out the backdoor. But my mother God rest her soul, ran to the latch and threw the bolt, because Hanlon had been taking out to the back of his home just a week before and shot, supposedly because he was running away.
   And Mama said, 'You'll not make a John Hanlon of him.' So a sergeant, he had three stripes on his shoulder, grabbed my mother with one hand, holding her back, and shot my Da in the temple, then again in his throat. Another Tan let off his rifle, and the hole was still in the wall for years.

  'Mama collapsed then on the floor. The smoke of the sho smothered her. The Tans went outside, shooting their rifles in the dark. I was the first to comed down--I was thirteen at the time--and my father was lying on the floor gasping.
   Mama came to hersel, we lifted him up, Mama said an act of contrition in his ear, then he died. We laid him back on the floor in his own blood, which was pouring out the doorway. Mama got a mop and tried to clean it up. We couldn't go out. The Tans were going mad, shooting everything in the night. We couldn't go for help and no one could come into us.
   Imagine from half past ten until the next morning. Mama and us girls alone in the house with poor Da stretched dead on the floor, and the Tans, twelve or thirteen of them, all drunk and sleeping on the straw in our barn.
   Mary Connolly, at half seven, was the first to come to us at next day. None of the lads dared come, and neither did the priest.We had Da on the floor until Monday night because the man with the coffin was too scared to come. Finally Michael O'Brady brought up a box from Athenry on a cart. On Tueday we had mass in the house, on Wednsday at 4 p.m he was buried.

We had to go thorough Moor park, Shawe Taylor's place, to get to the graveyard and we had to pass the Tans who lined up on the avenue. They were firing shots in all directions. When we got him in the ground it was dark, and coming home we were all frightened to death. It was a terrible, terrible time.
   How Mama got through it I will never know. We children couldn't sleep  for Mama's crying for Daddy, and every week or so there would be a banging on the door at night, and Mammy going down in the dark to let the Tans in.  
   They would take whatever they wanted, Mama had us all sleep in the far room, not over the bar, so stray bullets couldn't come in from below. Really, no one could stop them. We would say the rosary every night for Daddy, I lived on the understanding Daddy was in heaven, and so did Mama. Bill Fahey, one of the lads on the run and a fine person and all once came by and said to my mother 'I'm going to have revenge for Tom' but my mother said 'We will let the dead rest, now'. I have to raise my family'. I really don't know why she didn't drop dead from it all the poor woman. [sic]

Another Irish Volunteer, Bill Freaney met his death inside the Cricket and Tennis Pavilion in June 1921. Freaney, Jack Mahon and Martin Ruane wanted revenge for Tom Egan's death. They went to Castle Lambert and tried to burn it down but it failed beacus of bad petrol.
   The three men went to the Cricket and Tennis Pavilion. Bill Freaney was down in the cellar and while the other two men were over head and they called 'everyone out'? They believed everyone was out and set the pavilion on fire. Ruane and Mahon told the story to Nora.

So it went on for six months until a truce (in the Black and Tan war) was called. Bill Freaney was then exhumed. They could do it then you see as the Tans couldn’t interfere then you know. I remember the Sunday well. It was after last Mass in Athenry – half eleven Mass. I’d be fourteen now. I was at Mass and they put the little box into a full length coffin and I can see Mick O’Grady there and the two horses and the hearse and I couldn’t say how many men were outside and they had the green, white and gold (flag) and black armbands and they all marched to Willmount to bury him there-Nora Egan on the death of Bill Freaney.

Bill Freaney died on the 30 June 1921 in the Pavilion fire and he is now buried with a grave  'The grave of the unknow warrior' is engraved on to the grave. On the 25 October 1921 Dr. Quinlan of Athenry recieved compensation of  £700 for the burning of the Cricket and Tennis Pavilion.The Truce is called on the 6 July 1921.

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