ROINN COSANTA

BUREAU OF MILITARY HISTORY, 1913-21

STATEMENT BY WITNESS: DOCUMENT NO. W.S. 1060

Witness: Seamus Finn, Athboy, Co. Meath.

Adjutant, Meath Brigade, 1916-17, vice 0/C and Director of Training, 1st Eastern Division

Activities of Meath Brigade 1920-21

File No. S.2160. Form B.S.M.2

STATMENT BY MR. SEAMUS FINN, Athboy. Co. Meath.

 

Soon afterwards we faced another big test. It came in the form of tracking and capturing a gang of men who shot one of our lads. This occurrence happened in North Meath, along the Meath-Cavan border, and the young man who was killed was Mark Clinton, a very good Volunteer who belonged to a family which was rendering us great service. All his people were good and his uncle's house below Mullagh, where his sister Rose kept house, was always open to us and where we received wonderful hospitality. Some time earlier his uncle had bought a farm and Mark was helping at the work on it. There was some opposition to the sale of this farm and a group got together and decided to force Clintons to give it up. After failing by agitation they hired a killer who had been a sniper in France during the l9l4-l9l8 war. This man waited for a suitable opportunity, and one day while Mark was ploughing he shot him dead from a distance of about 40O yards.

This event caused a good deal of consternation in the locality and some days afterwards the R.I.C. arrested this man. They held him for some days and then transferred him to Navan where he appeared before a special court and was charged with murder. We were watching events very closely and had made arrangements with a friendly press man to keep us informed of what was happening. We were not surprised to learn from him that the proceedings at this court were not a serious matter and that the culprit would be released later in the evening. Seán Boylan, who was in Navan on that day, received this report, sent to Comdt. P. Loughran for a few Volunteers and decided to make an attempt to capture this man when he made his appearance in Navan streets. After a while the man was noticed leaving the barracks and making his way towards the railway station, obviously with the intention of travelling to Dublin. Boylan, Comdt. Pat Kelly and Volunteers Mick McKeon and Markey waited for him and found that he had gone into a public house on his way to the station. Markey and McKeon, armed with revolvers, followed him into the pub and after a short talk with him produced their guns and ordered him to go quietly. At first he showed some fight but a tap from McKeon quietened him. They rushed him out to where Boylan was waiting with a car and he was conveyed to "An Unknown" at the residence of our friend Peter O'Connor, Salestown, Dunboyne where he was kept under close arrest.

After some hours hard questioning, in which several of us took part, this man admitted the whole business and gave us the names of his associates, naming one man as the leader. We sent orders to the O.C. 4th Battalion – Pat Farrelly - to arrange for the arrest of these men, which was done expeditiously and successfully. They were brought to a place at Boltown, Kilskyre, where men from the 5th Battalion supplied a continual guard for a few weeks. When the news of these happenings became known, the R.I.C., aided by military, became very active and huge raids and encirclements began. The hunt was up and it became hot. The enemy forces got some inkling of the location of this "Unknown" and one morning some weeks after our men had made the arrests the enemy surrounded a big slice of country inside which this place was and after a house to house search came on it, only to find that our lads and prisoners had got away. This had been carried out by careful planning and hard going by the lads, who were hard pressed while doing guard on the prisoners who, incidentally, numbered seven.

We had planned ahead and had arranged for the next stop which was at a point six miles east of Navan at a place which the lads in that area named "Ballypousta". Its real name was "Slanduff”. The prisoners were kept there for another while and guarded by men from Navan Battalion until the enemy showed some signs of easing their offensive which was very intensive all over the county. After careful watching and more detailed planning ahead we succeeded in getting them away and eventually brought them all to 0'Connor"s of Salestown, Dunboyne, where we kept them until ready to go ahead with their trial. It had been a trying time on our men and they had acquitted themselves very well throughout.

We then submitted a full report to G.HI.Q. and told them that we intended putting the prisoners on trial for the murder of Mark Clinton. We asked for a direction and were told that, while we had done well in capturing and holding the culprits, they would have to give the matter more thought before permitting us to take extreme measures. However we went ahead and held a preliminary trial at which we produced all the evidence in our possession. Some of the prisoners broke down and the whole plot was revealed. We made a fuller report to G.H.Q. and asked them to supply officers to constitute a court. After some delay and much parleying they eventually sent us down an officer who was to act as senior court officer along with two of our brigade officers. This court sat at O'Connor's and tried the prisoners. All the evidence was heard and they were given every facility to prove their innocence but all of them, with one exception, a man who was the real ringleader, admitted their guilt and implicated the killer as the one who fired the shot. The leader eventually admitted his part in the affair too and the court passed sentence on them. The killer was sentenced to be shot, the ringleader was expelled from the country for life, while the others were sent to England for terms ranging from 7 to 15 years. All these sentences were duly carried out by us.

 

The enemy continued their search for these men for a long time after we had finished the case, and this continued activity made things more difficult for us as they seemed to know that something drastic had happened to them and were determined to find out who were the principals acting for us. They failed in this but their continual raids to discover our hide-outs made things very inconvenient for us, but we must have shaken them off successfully because they never came near Peter O'Connor's, where we continued to be always welcome and used as our headquarters.

 

ROINN COSANTA. BUREAU OF MILITARY HISTORY, 1913-21 STATEMENT BY WITNESS: DOCUMENT NO. W.S. 1715. Witness Comdt. General Seán Boylan, Edenmore, Dunboyne, Co. Meath. Identity. O/C Meath Brigade; O/C 1st Eastern Division. Subject. I.R.A. activities, Meath Brigade, 1917-1921. Conditions, if any, Stipulated by Witness. Nil.

In the month of May 1920, it was reported to me by the O/C. 5th Battalion - Seamus Cogan - that a man named Mark Clinton had been shot dead on the farm of his uncle - Phil Smith at Coole, Kilmainhamwood, by a man named Gordon, an ex-British soldier, and that the two horses with which he was ploughing had been shot dead by a man named McGovern, another ex-British soldier. Gordon received the sum of £2 for the shooting from a William Rogers, an ex-South African policeman, who had organised a band of terrorists to seize the land. The objective of the gang was to seize this land and divide it among their adherents. I secured a lorry from Joseph Lawless and proceeded to Moynalty where, by appointment, I met several members of the I.R.A. in charge of Phil Tevlin, and proceeded to effect the arrest of all those involved. I arrested seven of them the first night and another six a few nights later. Included in the first batch was McGovern who had shot the horses. The prisoners were taken to Harry Dyas house at Bolttown, Kells which was unoccupied at the time, where an armed guard was placed on them. They were transferred by stages to Salestown, Dunboyne, where they wore lodged in the basement of an old rectory. The basement had barred windows and made an excellent prison. Prior to this, Gordon had been arrested by the British and brought to trial in Navan, where he was charged with the possession of arms and ammunition without a permit. He was released and told by the Resident Magistrate that the Volunteers had his comrades and that he would be better off in prison or out of the country. He was given an address in London to report to.

On the day of his trial I happened to be in Navan on G.A.A. business, and was in the house of Sean Giles, who was then secretary of the G.A.A. While in Sean Giles's house word was conveyed to me that a man was being tried for the possession of arms. I sent a messenger to the Courthouse to find out if it was Gordon who was being tried. I received word back that it was not. I sent the messenger back again, with the same result I was not satisfied, so I went to Loughran & Woods, Drapers, in Market St. Patrick Loughran, of Loughran & Woods, was then O/C. 6th Battalion. I inquired if he knew the man being tried for the possession of arms. In a moment or two Sean Hayes, who was then on the reporting staff of the "Meath Chronicle", came into Loughran & Woods and told me that Gordon had been tried and released. I issued orders that all roads leading from the town were to be patrolled by Volunteers and that all pubs were to be searched and that, under no circumstances, was Gordon to be allowed to escape. In the meantime, I secured a motor car from Bernard O'Brien, Navan. Just then, I received word that Gordon had been located in the Flat House (a publichouse opposite the convent on the approach to the railway station). I called for Volunteers to effect Gordon's arrest. Volunteers Boyle and Keating answered. I instructed them to go the pub where Gordon was located. I asked for arms and was handed an old .32 rusty revolver, the only gun available. I then proceeded alone in the car and got to the "Flat House" before Volunteers Boyle and Keating. When I reached the pub, Gordon was standing close to the door beside Volunteer Kelly, who had found him. At the other end of the shop were two R.I.C. men - Sergeant Wynne from Nobber and another. I drew the gun and shouted: "Hands up, face the wall!" They obeyed. As they did so I said: "Anyone who leaves this house for an hour will be shot". At the other end of the street were five other R.I.C. on protective duty. I pinioned Gordon and tied his hands behind his back with a piece of thin rope. I then bundled him into the car, took in Boyle and Keating, and proceeded towards Kilmessan. A mile outside the town I dropped the two Volunteers and proceeded alone with the prisoner to Salestown, where the other prisoners had already been detained.

I kept Gordon in a separate room. Having left the prisoner under an armed guard, I proceeded via Leixlip to Bachelor's Walk, Dublin, where I met Tom Cullen, acting Q.M.G., to whom I reported the arrest. I asked him to inform Mick Collins, I.O., G.H.Q., and arranged an appointment for 35 Lr. Gardiner St. Dublin, that night. I called and asked to see Mick. We had a discussion on the matter and I asked him to appoint the members of the Court to try Gordon, as I wished to be impartial. Within a day the Court was appointed as follows; - Judges - Dr. Ted Kelly, John V. Joyce and Sean Dowling, all of whom were officers of the Dublin Brigade. Prosecution Counsel: Seamus O'Higgins, Captain of Trim Company, Co. Meath. Defending Counsel, or prisoner's advocate, Seamus Cogan, O/C. 5th Battalion, Meath Brigade. Clerk of Court: Peadar O'Brien, Vice O/C. 4th Battalion, Dublin Brigade. The Court assembled on a Sunday evening later. The members of the Dublin Brigade arrived by car owned by Dr. Russell. The prisoner was brought before the Judges and the trial, which lasted several hours, began. He confessed to the crime and admitted attempted murder in two other cases and the burning of two homes. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. After the sitting, all the members of the Court left for their various destinations. I went to Dublin with the findings of the Court and presented it to G.H.Q. and the Dáil Cabinet, who ordered another trial. A fortnight later, Gordon was re-tried. The Judges on the second occasion being Dr. Ted Kelly, John V. Joyce and Patrick Mooney (Captain, 4th Battalion, Dublin Brigade). Prosecution Counsel: Seamus O'Higgins. Defending Counsel: Sean Dowling. Clerk of Court: Peadar O'Brien. The second trial, which lasted most of the night, resulted in a similar verdict which I again transmitted to G.H.Q. Dublin. G.H.Q., in a day or two, referred the matter back to me, saying I could release him or execute him as I pleased. I decided to execute him and informed G.H.Q. to that effect. When G.H.Q. heard of my decision, they communicated it to Austin Stack who was Minister for Home Affairs. Gordon, being a Presbyterian, Austin Stack contacted the Rev. Mr. Irwin from the North of Ireland to give him (Gordon) spiritual consolation. I met Mr. Irwin at the Russell Hotel, Stephen's Green, Dublin, and brought him to Baytown Park, Dunboyne, the residence of Mr. O'Connor, where Gordon was now detained. He had been moved from Salestown to other localities to evade capture by the British. Gordon, in the presence of Mr. O'Connor's maid, told Mr. Irwin that he was not sorry and that he would do it again. During his period of arrest he kept slips of paper with the names of those who had arrested him and kept him prisoner. Mr. Irwin subsequently spoke to me and suggested that if I would have him released he (Mr. Irwin) would have him sent by the Moore McCormack Line to the U.S.A., saying that it was a pity to see a young life going. I replied: "Yes, and let him come back by another line to hunt down everyone connected with his arrest and trial and have them arrested by the British". I parted with Mr. Irwin at Loughsallagh Bridge, Dunboyne.

Gordon was duly executed at Castlefarm, Dunboyne. I took charge. Before his execution he wept. I said: "We have given you more time than you gave your unfortunate victim. If you have not asked the Almighty God for forgiveness, I will give you time to do so." I gave him time to make his peace with God.

In the early morning of the second trial a lorry load of military accompanied by an armoured car pulled up at the gate of the house where the trial was being held, but they did not enter. They proceeded into the village of Dunboyne where they searched several homes, including Brady's publichouse and hotel, which we often used for meetings. The proprietor, by lowering himself out of a back window with the aid of sheets, escaped. The military had arrived that morning following the receipt of information supplied by an English nurse employed by Leonard Morrogh Ryan at Dunboyne Castle, to the effect that there was great I.R.A. activity in the area and that motor cars were coming and going. During the military occupation of the village, Father O'Neill, C.C., approached the officer in charge and remonstrate with him on the conduct of his men. As he was doing so, the members of the Court in Dr. Russell's car came into the village. When the officer saw the car approach, he gave the order to his men to open ranks. The car passed through. As it did so, Dr. Ted Kelly, who was, by the way, Commandant of the 4th Battalion, Dublin Brigade, bowed his thanks to the officer. The car proceeded to Mulhuddert, where it took a turn to the left by a graveyard, instead of proceeding direct by the main road to Dublin. They dumped their arms and papers and proceeded to Dublin via Drumcondrath Co. Meath. They were held up at Drumcondrath and questioned by the military. They explained that they were going to a race meeting which had been fixed for that day at either Baldoyle or Leopardstown, and were allowed to proceed on their way. That morning, I followed from Salestown via Dunboyne. When I reached the outskirts of Dunboyne, I was informed that the military were in occupation. I waited until they had left and then proceeded to Dublin with the findings of the Court, and arrived safely. Following the trial of Gordon on the second occasion, the other prisoners were dealt with the same night, or I should say, in the early morning of the next day. All of them were sentenced to from 3 to 15 years and ordered to be deported; their cases to be reviewed when the occupying forces had left the country. John Kelly, brigade police officer, with the help of other Volunteers, had them deported in batches of three and four from Dublin, Dundalk and Drogheda. In Dublin at the time the Great Northern Hotel, North Wall, was occupied by British military. The prisoners were taken to the South Wall and rowed across the river in time to place them on a boat for Liverpool.