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Tipperary War of Independence: The sad and grim death of Borrisoleigh's Patrick Maher

Tipperary War of Independence: The sad and grim death of Borrisoleigh's Patrick Maher

Borrisoleigh barracks: By early June, plans were well underway to attack the local barracks

John Maher left the family home at Mountkinane at 7.30 am on Sunday June 26, 1921 to attend Mass at the parish church in Borrisoleigh.

In conversation with his mother prior to leaving, he was informed that men had called to the house late on the previous evening looking for his brother Patrick, who left with the callers and as of the following morning, had not returned.

As John Maher neared the gates of Glenkeen graveyard, he noticed the form of a human body lying on the road. The body, now lifeless, was that of his brother Patrick.

The Kilkenny People newspaper of July 2, 1921 carried the following brief report: “A man named Patrick Maher was reported to be found dead at Glenkeen with a card around his neck”.

The Patrick Maher in question was born to Thomas and Ellen Maher (nee Bevans) in the townland of Gortnaboul on September 28, 1878.

Part of a family of six, he had one older brother, James and four brothers, Thomas, Michael, John and William who were younger.

The year 1901, see the family living in Mountkinane. These townlands lie to the north east of the village of Borrisoleigh

Patrick Maher enlisted in the Royal Irish Rifles at Manchester on September 4, 1901 and was assigned the regiment number, 6460. Described as being 139lbs in weight, a little over 5’ 8” in height, chest measurement 35” to 39”, with dark brown hair, fresh complexion and grey eyes.

His service takes him to the African continent and to South Africa, where he is a combatant in the Boer War. After 12 years of service, on September 3, 1913, he is discharged from the army at Belfast.

On the fair day of Borris, November 27, 1916, before Fr PW Ryan, PP, and in the presence of witnesses Thomas Hogan and Margaret M Ryan, Patrick Maher and Bridget Butler are married. The bride’s address is given as Fantane and occupation as that of “servant”. Maher’s occupation is given as “labourer”.

The June of 1921 experienced the highest temperatures in over 25 years.

On the political front, temperatures were also at an all-time high. By then, the system of administration of justice had completely broken down with police mostly confined to well-fortified barracks.

Borrisoleigh was not immune from the violent events that had now gripped the country. Indeed, by early June, plans were well underway to attack the local barracks.

At 10pm on the last day of the month, these plans came to fruition, in an intense attack that lasted for four hours.

At about 11.30pm on Saturday, June 25, 1921 a number of visitors called to the Maher home at Mountkinane.

At the subsequent inquiry into the ex-soldier’s killing, his brother John, proffered the following brief testimony: “At about 6am on Sunday June 26, my mother told me that my brother Patrick had been called out of the house about 11.30pm the previous night and had not returned. I went out to go to Mass around 7.30am and found my brother lying on the road about half a mile from the house. He was dead”.

Some ante-mortem violence was used.

Templemore doctor Gerald Mitchell’s report contained graphic details of injuries on Maher’s body, consistent with violent assault prior to being killed. In the doctor’s belief, death was instantaneous.

Sinn Féin councillor, Denis Treacy of Knocksharoon had this to contribute to the inquiry: “He was universally popular in the area and I do not know that he had many enemies. He used at times have refreshments with the police in Borrisoleigh”.

The court of military enquiry recorded the death as “willful murder” and also noted that Maher was not involved in politics.

A local newspaper of the time give a slightly different version as regards detail. That report said about strangers calling to the house around 1am and they wanted Maher to show them the way to Glenkeen graveyard.

Was Patrick Maher shot dead because it was believed by the local IRA. that he was a spy or an informer, that he was somehow supplying information to the police with whom he fraternised in the village’s public houses?

In the troublesome period of the War of Independence, many ex-soldiers were subjected to intimidation, and oftentimes worse, simply because of a certain uniform that they happened to wear at one particular time in their lives.

To instil fear and maintain control over the population, both sides had their various means and approaches.

The reprisals, both official and unofficial, employed by the British were highly effective in this regard.
Equally, the discovery of a corpse on a roadside, with a label attached branding the person as a spy or informer, would have a similar effect.

All of these forms of “justice”, dispensed by either side, were arbitrarily administered without trial, judge, jury, right to appeal or petition. All sides were equally culpable in this regard.

If Patrick Maher was an informer, it would seem strange that his association with the police in Borrisoleigh was conducted openly and with local common knowledge.

A statement to the Bureau of Military History, given by Jimmy Leahy, O/C Mid Tipperary Command of the IRA, contained the following: “I had no hesitation in approving the sentence of death.Just a short time before the attack on Borrisoleigh, a labouring man named Patrick Maher who lived in a labourer’s cottage in Mount Kinnane, 1 1/2 miles from the former place, was taken from his home at night by a party of IRA men under the local company captain, Tommy Kirwan, and shot as a spy. Kirwan was in charge of the firing party. The executed man had been associating for a good while before with the RIC. He generally left his home at night and met the police in Borrisoleigh where he drank with them in the pubs. A number of warnings had been given him that consorting with the enemy might have fatal consequences for him but he ignored these warnings. Maher’s home was in a locality that was much used by ‘wanted’ IRA men where they received food and shelter. Raids made by the enemy on houses frequented by IRA men indicated that information was coming to the police from some person residing in the neighbourhood. The finger of suspicion naturally pointed at Maher and, when he declined to desist from associating with the police after having been warned to do so, I had no hesitation in approving of the sentence of death which had been passed on him by the local IRA officer.”

It is patently obvious that a fondness for alcohol played a major part in the demise of Paddy Maher. Such a case would not be an exception with many who returned from various theatres of war, as did Maher, bringing with them an insatiable appetite for alcohol.

In an era when post traumatic stress disorder was unheard of, alcohol was the only means of relief available to many veterans of haunting battlefields.

In conversations with people now long deceased, that this author had with people who knew Maher and were familiar with the story of his killing, phrases such as, “it was wrong what was done to that man, or “Paddy Maher was harmless, he should never have been shot”, kept on repeating.

The general feeling being one of sympathy towards Maher and his family.

Towards the end of the War of Independence, John M McCarthy of the East Limerick Brigade, gained possession of “the weekly intelligence summary”, compiled by General Strickland, the British Army Commander in Cork.

The dossier, thought heavily laden with propaganda, did contain some curious observations on a number of Brigades throughout the Munster region.

In relation to the Mid Tipperary Brigade, the report had this to say: “The Mid Tipperary Brigade though inactive are certainly in and around Thurles. James Leahy has been seen in Thurles during the past week, it appears that he has taken to drink and last time he took charge of an operation was not in a fit state to give an order. James Larkin, Roskeen, James Stapleton and Patrick Kinnane of Upperchurch have left for Kilcommon”.

Embellished and exaggerated in the extreme perhaps - but it would be true to say, however, that once the guns finally fell silent, many participants of that troubled period went on to live lives, that could be best described as dysfunctional.

Perhaps the memories of their battlefield, where the killing was often of an “up close and personal” nature, did in time return to disrupt many a night of restless sleep.

As to who was involved in the abduction and execution of Maher, some documentary proof exists.

Leahy in his BMH statement says that the sentence was passed by the local IRA officer. That officer was Capt Thomas Kirwan from Curraghleigh. Kirwan gave no statement to the BMH but he did, however, make an application for a military pension.

In his submission to the pensions board, he said that he was involved in the execution of four spies. It would be indeed reasonable to surmise, that the misfortunate Patrick Maher was one of those.

Michael Droney from Killamoyne, who incidentally joined the newly formed Garda Síochána in 1924, also admitted in his military pension application, to having a central role in Maher’s execution.
Droney also claimed involvement in the execution of another man accused of spying but in that instant, revealed no name or identity.

As the War of Independence entered its final weeks, a major plan was set in place to mount an attack on the local RIC barracks, Jim Stapletion of Finnahy being the main organiser.

The plan was to attack the barracks with mud bombs from the yard of Maher’s public house next door, while keeping the garrison pinned down with gunfire from positions that the IRA had taken up on the opposite side of the street.

With the exception of the road leading to Upperchurch, left open as a line of retreat, road blocks were erected on all other approaches to Borrisoleigh by local volunteers and men placed in positions to ambush any relief parties that might arrive.

At about 10pm, the attack party left Glastrigan, using an ass and cart to transport their arms, ammunition, mud bombs and paraffin.

In a carnival like atmosphere, they set out for Borrisoleigh, being joined along the road by men and boys who were not even members of the volunteers.

The attack on the installation commenced about midnight.

A group, including Jim Stapleton, Jimmy Leahy O/C of No2 (Mid Tipperary) Brigade and also included Seamus Burke, TD, took up position in Maher’s yard.

Despite the number of mud bombs thrown on to the roof, few made contact and rolled down the walls, exploding harmlessly. Some did shatter a portion of the slates and into the holes created, the attackers attempted to throw their petrol and paraffin bombs.

At times, it seemed as if was the barracks was about to become a raging inferno and the surrender of the garrison was imminent, but the garrison continued to defiantly defend their installation.

After a number of hours and as daylight was approaching - and fearing the arrival of reinforcements, a decision was made to call off the attack. This was signalled by the ringing of the church bell with the idea of it being a source of annoyance to the local parish priest, who the local leadership felt was not sympathetic to their cause.

This assertion might not have been entirely accurate, as at a local function held in the village in 1926, PP Canon Ryan spoke lavishly on the “brave and gallant men from the district who took on the might of the Empire”.

However, he did protest vocally when the family of a returned British soldier was subjected to extreme intimidation by some local volunteers in late 1919.

The attack completed, the men then retreated to their billets in the direction of Upperchurch.
Fearing reprisals on the local inhabitants, Jimmy Leahy and a group of about 30 men, returned to the village the following day but no Crown Force activity was to be seen.

The attack on Borrisoleigh RIC barracks was the last significant IRA action in the area, prior to the calling of the truce on July 11, 1921.

The final chapter of the Borrisoleigh barrack attack was played out at Thurles Quarter Sessions on the following October.

Here, Sgt Teape lodged a claim for compensation on foot of a wound he received. His account of as to the details of what took place was broadly along the lines of that as given by the IRA, only his version being that the attack lasted one hour and three quarters and was repelled by the garrison.

That garrison, he said, consisted of himself, another sergeant and seven men.

After about 10 minutes of the firing commencing, he received a bullet wound to his shoulder but in the excitement, he continued to fight after the wound being dressed by Constable McPhearson.

Aged 43 and having almost 23 years’ service, he stated that he felt it unlikely that he would ever resume duty.

Dr V Power also testified on the sergeant’s behalf, swearing that he believed that the policeman would never be able to resume duty.
Thomas Teape was awarded £700 compensation. The injury to Teape is the only one that is documented in relation to the barrack attack. The house opposite the barracks belonged to Matthew Whyte, a retired policeman who conducted a small grocery business.

So traumatised was his wife by the takeover of their family home and the mayhem that ensued, her hair turned grey practically overnight.

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