Thomas Hodgett, Postmaster
The Murder of Thomas Hodgett
Postmaster at Navan 1917 -1921
By Liam McCarthy
Thomas Hodgett, Navan’s postmaster, was taken from his house in Academy Street on the night of Thursday 17th February 1921. He was shot in the chest and his body was thrown from Pollboy Bridge. The body was recovered from the Boyne near Aylesbury’s sawmills five week later. No one was ever charged with his murder and the circumstances surrounding his killing were the subject of dispute between those close to the events of that night. Below, the evidence presented at the Court of Inquiry established to investigate his murder is outlined and some conclusions drawn as to what lay behind its history.
Thomas Hodgett took up his duty as Postmaster in Navan on Friday 17th October 1917, a time of great turmoil, in the immediate aftermath of the 1916 Rebellion and with the Great War still being fought in the battlefields of France. He was born in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone on 19th September 1866 and commenced his post office career in his hometown in 1887 where he served for three years. From there he went to Derry for about two years and, subsequently, returned to Dungannon. In 1904 he was appointed postmaster at Newtownstewart where he served for three years before going on promotion to Castlebar for a further year and thence to Claremorris before arriving in Navan. Navan Post Office had became a State Office Class I, (which brought it under direct government control), when it was officially opened at Trimgate Street on 5th July 1909.
Fig. 1 Grace Murphy and Thomas Hodgett at the time of their engagement c1895
By any standard Thomas Hodgett was regarded by his superiors and staff as a model post office person, an exemplary official, and by his peers as an enthusiastic sportsman. In his younger days he was an excellent rugby player. While in Navan he lived at Academy Street with his wife, Grace, in a house rented from William Gilbert who lived next door. The Hodgetts had four children, two boys, Henry and Frederick, and two girls, Bessie, the oldest, and Jane, all of whom at the time of the tragedy were away from home. Henry served in the First World War, prior to which he had worked as a watchmaker in Kilkenny. He was, at the time of his father’s death, an apprentice jeweller at Hopkins & Hopkins in Dublin, where his uncle was manager. Bessie worked as an elementary school teacher in London but gave this up after the tragedy and began working as a telephonist at Navan. Jane, aged 18 years, was studying in a civil service college. Frederick, the youngest and aged 15, was a boarding student in The Morgan School, at Castleknock. Later he was a player with both Navan Cricket and Rugby clubs.
Like all postmasters, before and after him, Thomas Hodgett was in constant liaison with the police on security as a matter of routine. His position as postmaster required him to be available twenty four hours a day and on call at anytime day or night. There were substantial amounts of cash on hands at all post offices, even by the standards of the day. Cash was required to be sent to the various sub post offices for the payment of pensions and army allowances, for example. In the wrong hands money orders and postal orders could easily be converted to cash. He would have become very familiar with the area as he carried out audits at the various sub-post offices such as Bective, Garlow Cross, Kilcarn, Brownstown, Wilkinstown, and Athboy. The mode of travel to these offices was by bicycle.
The postal, telegraph and telephone services have always been regarded as part of the integral security of the State. During the ‘Troubles’ it would have been common for him to be called out for duty by the police at any time. On the night of Thursday 17th February 1921, Mr. and Mrs. Hodgett, were alone in their home in Academy Street (close to Mr. Bernard O Brien’s, now Smyth’s public house) and had retired to bed when, at about 12.50am, they were aroused by loud knocking at their front door. Mrs. Hodgett put her head out a window and called out to those knocking, ‘who’s there?’. The reply was, ‘police’. Both she and her husband, by the light of a candle, then went downstairs to the front door.
After the incident Mrs. Hodgett was comforted for the remainder of the night in the home of the Gilberts. It seems that the raiders took Mr. Hodgett via Bridge Street, Ludlow Street and Market Square to the Blackwater (Pollboy) Bridge, between Watergate Street and Flower Hill, shot the unfortunate man, and threw his body into the river (see Fig 2). Gerry Duignan recalls that Molly McNally, a local resident, told him she believed that Mr. Hodgett was handed over to his killers at the Russell Hotel. The subsequent series of events prove this view to be correct. Five weeks later, on Good Friday, 25th March, some local fishermen noticed a body at a weir in the river on the Blackcastle side, near Aylesbury’s Sawmill. These men called out to workers at the Mill drawing their attention to the body. The police having been called, the remains were recovered and brought to the mortuary at the local military hospital.
Generally, Meath was regarded as a relatively quiet area during the period of the ‘Troubles’ (1919- 21). This was not entirely the situation, however, as extracts from the relevant monthly R.I.C. reports for Navan, reproduced below, record.
February 1921: ‘The general condition of the county is unsatisfactory. There were 18 outrages as compared with 27 committed during the previous month. On 18/2/21 the Postmaster at Navan disappeared. He has not since been heard of and it is suspected that he has been the victim of foul play.’ March 1921: ‘... The most serious crimes with a political aspect were the murder of an unknown man in Navan, who is generally believed to have been a secret service agent from England, and the attempted murder of Frank .......... at Kilberry near Navan.’
April 1921: ‘The general condition of the county was not satisfactory. Thirty-seven outrages were reported as compared with 50 for the previous month. On 7/4/1921 a police Sergt. was fired at and wounded at Navan races. On 10/4/21 an ex-soldier named Dardis was attacked by unknown men who cut his throat. On 16/4/21 a party of police was fired at while making searches at Navan. On 24/4/21 the house of Francis ........., who has already been shot and wounded by the I.R.A. as a spy, was destroyed by fire.’
The Court of Inquiry On the day after the body was found a Court of Inquiry was called for under the terms of Martial Law. Under these regulations, in force at the time, an inquest was prohibited. The proceedings of this Court of Inquiry assembled at Navan Union Mortuary on 26th March, 1921- Holy Saturday. This Court of Inquiry was ordered by Major General G.F. Boyd, C.B., C.M.G.,D.S.O.D.C.M., the competent military authority and Commanding Dublin District on the body of Thomas Hodgett, lying at the Union mortuary. The President of the Inquiry was Captain G.D.O. Lloyd of the South Wales Borderers. The other members of the Inquiry were Lt. B.L. Ainsworth M.C. and Lt. F.N. Hartley, both also of the South Wales Borderers. The press were excluded from the Inquiry and none of those in attendance were allowed to question the evidence or statements put forward by witnesses.
The proceedings were due to commence at 11am but were delayed for an hour due to controversy about who was allowed to attend. The Court, having viewed the body, proceeded to take evidence. The family were represented at the Inquiry by Mr. Thomas Noonan, solicitor. What follows is an account of the evidence given by the different witnesses at the Inquiry.
The first witness was Dr. Francis J. Moore of Navan who swore that, ‘he was called to see the body of a man lying in the mortuary at Navan Union. The body was that of a man aged about sixty years with a probable bullet wound of entry through the right scapulae and a wound of probable exit in front of the right clavicle. The wound had probably severed the sub-clavicle artery, causing death from haemorrhage and heart failure. There was a second wound on the scalp which appeared to be post mortem caused by striking a stone or other body. The body was in an advanced stage of decomposition and presented the appearance of having been in water for several weeks.’
The next two witnesses were Henry and Jane Hodgett, son and daughter respectively, who gave collaborative evidence that they had seen the body lying in the mortuary and identified it as that of their father Thomas Hodgett. This must have been a terrifying experience for these young people.
Grace Hodgett was the next witness. She, in fact, did not attend at the mortuary, but the officers of the Inquiry took her evidence at her residence in Academy Street. Having been duly sworn she stated that
‘on the night of the 17th February 1921 she accompanied her husband, Thomas Hodgett, from the Post Office at about 10.45pm. They went home and then retired to bed. Later they heard a shot in the road and listened for further noise. Footsteps were heard approaching the house and someone knocked. She opened the window and asked who was there.’ The reply was, ‘Police’.
Mrs. Hodgett continued and stated that she responded, ‘you’re not police, you have no uniform’. The man in the street shouted, ‘hurry up and open the door’. They then asked for her husband, the postmaster, who came with her to the door with a candle in his hand. They opened the door and the candle was knocked out with a revolver. After further conversation and appeals on her part for her husband’s life they allowed her to help dress him and took him away.
During this time a young man from the street whom she did not recognise at the time was halted (by the men at the door) and told to ‘hurry home in the name of the Irish Republic’ and further warned to double up. She continued her statement stating that, ‘her husband was then led away by one of the raiders who was of big build and wore a dark overcoat and muffler, also dark, round his face and a light grey cap. The other man who held us up wore a light fawn coat and felt hat and joined the first man when her husband was marched away. This was the last she saw of her husband.’
Mrs. Hodgett’s statement continued stating that, ‘on the night in question she certainly saw some police in the town and, she believed, there were soldiers about at the time, this being shortly before the kidnapping happened.’ In her statement she further swore that, ‘her husband was 54 years of age and employed as postmaster at Navan, Co. Meath. On the night in question he wore a vest and a grey shirt, like an army shirt, and a waistcoat, grey and flannel lined, with coat and trousers to match, no collar or tie. He also had a dark grey overcoat and fairly new boots, and only one sock. The boots were unlaced. He had also a grey cap.’
This concluded Grace Hodgett’s sworn evidence to the Inquiry.
Two more witnesses swore that they were on their way down Bridge Street to their lodgings at Academy Street. At about 12.40am they were called to halt and put up their hands and asked about their business. This man spoke with a cultivated accent. One of these witnesses was hit two or three times with a revolver and also stated that one of the men used the expression, ‘in the name of the Irish Republic’. Both gave collaborative evidence about the state of dress of the men. One of the witnesses stated that he saw people talking on the steps at the residence of the Hodgetts but assumed they were visitors. Shots were fired but the witnesses believed these were to frighten rather than harm them. There appeared to be a number of armed men in the streets at the time. But neither witness could identify any of them.
Fig 2 Map showing route from Academy Street to Pollboy Bridge
Three further residents of the Academy Street area were then called as witnesses. Two of these were Mr. and Mrs. Bernard O’Brien who were proprietors of a public house. Having been duly sworn in by the Court gave the following evidence: Mr. O’Brien swore that on the night Mr. Hodgett disappeared, ‘some men came and knocked at the door of his house, he opened the window and asked what they wanted, they replied, ‘Black and Tans, open the door’, telling him to hurry.’ The witness did not go down and so after they had fired a shot they broke into the house and came up to the bedroom. Mrs. O’Brien opened the door and the couple were told not to be frightened. They asked where Mr. Hodgett lived and when they were told they went away. Mrs. O’Brien saw them down the stairs and closed the door behind them. Mrs. O’Brien having been sworn gave collaborative evidence to that of her husband as well as evidence of the dress of the raiders.
Then another witness, from the locality, swore that on the night of the incident he heard knocking at O’Brien’s shop which was opposite his residence. The witness swore that,
‘he was in bed on the ground floor at the time. He saw four men in the road, under the sign of the shop. They called on him (Mr. O’Brien) to open and then suddenly a shot was fired and they broke into the house. One of the men was wearing a light fawn coloured coat and a soft hat. Two of them were wearing dark top coats, and one wearing a dark cap, and one a light one. A fourth man was wearing a dark coat and a bowler hat. The two who went into the O’Brien house wore something across their faces. Three of them were about six feet high and the other about 5’ 10’ and stouter than the others. It was a bright moonlight night and the street is about 30 feet wide there. The witness would not be able to identify these men again. One man addressed the other at O’Brien’s shop as, ‘Bob’.
The tenth witness to be sworn in was Mr. Peter Gaughran of Watergate Street, who stated that,
‘on the night of Mr. Hodgett’s disappearance at about 1.00am he was asleep in bed when he was awoken by a shot. He looked out but did not see anything happening. The witness thought it might have been the Gas-work’s engine, which was near his house on the other side of the bridge, back-firing. He went back to bed and a short time later heard footsteps passing his house but took no notice. He could not say where about the shot was fired. The following morning about 10.00am he saw blood stains on the Bridge, both on the footpath and parapet, and marks on the road as though a body had been dragged across.’
Another witness from the Pollboy area, having been duly sworn, is examined by the Court and stated that, ‘on the night that Mr. Hodgett disappeared, I was in my house at the bridge, about 30 yards away and winding my watch about 01.00 hours, when I heard a curious noise which I did not recognise. A motor car had just passed the house and stopped somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Gas Works. Suddenly a loud shot rang out and then there was silence until I heard again the curious noise to which I have referred. About fifteen minutes later I again heard a motor car passing the house. The following morning I saw a large pool of blood in the road on the bridge, and traces of blood and also of cattle manure, which was in the road, on the footpath and bridge parapet. It seemed as though something had been dragged across the road and pushed over the parapet into the river. The river is about 5 feet deep and about 50 yards above the junction of the Blackwater and the Boyne. This water is dammed by a mill in the daytime but runs full current at night.’
Fig 3 Pollboy Bridge on the morning after Thomas Hodgett’s abduction
(Irish Independent, Tuesday, 22nd February 1921)
This concluded the evidence of this witness and the hour being 18.20 hours the Court adjourned having referred to Dublin District Headquarters. The Court of Inquiry reopened on Easter Tuesday, March 29th at 10.00 hours having viewed the place deceased was supposed to have died, i.e. Blackwater Bridge, Navan. This bridge is known locally as Pollboy Bridge.
The twelfth witness was duly sworn and stated that he was employed at the Gas Works, Navan, swore that,
‘on the night Mr. Hodgett disappeared he was on duty at the gas works. The works are situated near the Bridge. About 01.15 hours he heard a shot but did not think it was near him. He heard a motor going into the town shortly before. He also heard one going in the opposite about half an hour afterwards. The mills above the works were stopped during the night and the Blackwater river running free. He believed there would be about 5 feet of water under the Town Bridge.’
This concluded the evidence of this witness. The final civilian witness to be sworn was Mr. Eugene McEnaney, a clerk at the Post Office, swore that,
‘on the night Mr. Hodgett disappeared he left the Post Office where he was employed to go home about 00.30 hours. As he passed through the Square he heard some men talking loudly. He walked on towards the bridge. Suddenly, one of the men whistled to him, the witness stopped on the bridge and he (the man who whistled) came up to him and asked him what he was doing out at that time and what he was his name. He answered and went on home. The man was about 6 feet tall with a dark overcoat, close fitting, and a cap pulled down over his face.’ Witness would not recognise this man again nor did he hear any shots.
Head Constable Michael Queenan, of the R.I.C., a native of Sligo, was the next witness and having been duly sworn stated, ‘
on the night that Mr. Hodgett disappeared I was in company with three officers of our force, returning from the Russell Arms Hotel towards the Barracks about 00.10 hours. We reached the Barracks about 00.15 hours when Captain Johnson went into the Barracks and I reported on my way to my lodgings near the Barracks. Captain Munroe and D.I. Egan of Drogheda got into a car to go to Drogheda. They moved off as I was going home. I saw a man pass down the other side of the street as they (the officers) were moving off and believing he may have been an informer warning of an ambush, ran after him, and after whistling stopped him. He gave his name as McEnaney and was employed at the Post Office. I was wearing a civilian coat and cap over my uniform. I reached my lodgings at 00.20 hours that night.’ This concluded the evidence of Head Constable Queenan.
District Inspector Harry H. Johnson of Duleek was next to be examined by the Court and swore that,
‘on the 17th. February 1921 he had been on duty all day at Navan Barracks from about 14.00 hours until about 21.00 hours when he received a telephone message to the effect that D.I. Egan of Drogheda was in the Russell Arms Hotel. Witness went down there to see him, in party with D.I. Egan, D.I. Munroe and H.C. Queenan. Witness left the hotel about 00.15 hours and proceeded to the Barracks. On arrival there the party completed arrangements for witness going to visit them at Gormanston for a boxing competition the following evening. The others went towards their car and witness went into the Barracks. He did not hear anything further that night. Witness did not leave the Barracks until between 03.00 and 04.00 hours the same night, except in company with County Inspector.’ In conclusion the Inspector stated that the motor car, as far as he knew, was waiting at the Barracks.
District Inspector Meredith Egan of Drogheda, the seventeenth witness, having been duly sworn told the Court that,
'on the night Mr. Hodgett disappeared he had been to Kells on duty. On his return he stopped in Navan at the Russell Arms Hotel for dinner. Witness rang D.I. Johnson at the barracks to come and join D.I. Munroe and himself. He arrived and the party remained there and talked until about midnight when they left the hotel. They had ordered their car from the Barracks to the hotel, however, they decided to accompany D.I. Johnson and H.C. Queenan (on foot) to the Barracks and so sent the car ahead. They then walked up to the Barracks. They then completed arrangements with D.I. Johnson with regard to a boxing match at Gormanston and he went into the Barracks, and they moved off immediately towards Drogheda. Witness continued, he was wearing H.C. Queenan’s coat, a dark coloured one, and muff coloured herring bone patterned cap. The car went straight on through Drogheda to Gormanston.’ D.I. Egan concluded, ‘I did think at times, owing to the light on the windscreen that another car was following, although they did not see one’.
The next witness, District Inspector James Munroe of Gormanston, having been duly sworn stated that,
‘on the night Mr. Hodgett disappeared he was in Kells on duty with D.I. Egan. They returned through Navan where they stopped at the Russell Arms Hotel for dinner. While they were there they were joined by D.I. Johnson and H.C. Queenan. They stayed there and talked until about midnight when they left to walk to the Barracks, their car which had been outside going on to await them. H.C. Queenan went into the Barracks and D.I. Johnson, after a few minutes conversation went into the Barracks too. Immediately afterwards they went off to Drogheda. Witness did not see H.C. Queenan after he first entered the Barracks.’
Constable Charles William Moran Green (No.75439) of R.I.C., Drogheda, the driver, being the next witness and having been sworn in was examined and stated that,
‘on the night that Mr. Hodgett disappeared he was with D.I. Egan, when they visited Kells, and stayed at the Russell Arms Hotel at Navan in the evening on return. He waited there until 00.15 hours when he left empty to go to the Barracks, the three D.I.s and H.C. Queenan walking up. They left a few minutes afterwards one D.I. and H.C. Queenan had gone into the Barracks. Witness drove the car up the hill (Flower Hill) and then D.I. Egan took over the wheel and drove on. They went straight to Drogheda and on to Gormanston’.
The Inquiry then moved on to hear evidence regarding events on the following morning, after Hodgett’s abduction and the subsequent discovery of his body five weeks later. Another police witness, District Inspector William Reilly, a Mayo man, having been duly sworn was examined and stated,
‘on the morning of 18th., February 1921, I heard that Mr. Hodgett, the Postmaster, had been kidnapped, also that there was blood on the Blackwater Bridge in the town. I went down to the Bridge at 10.00 hours, I saw a good deal of blood in the centre of the road, on the crown of the bridge. There were several small spots of blood along the centre of the road for a distance of 50 feet towards Flower Hill. There appeared to be road dust on the Bridge parapet. I directed and supervised the taking of a specimen of this blood and had it sent to an analyst. The analyst has stated this specimen to be human blood. I directed the Police to drag the river which was done on three different days, these revealed nothing.’
Fig 4 Dredging the River Boyne for Thomas Hodgett’s body
(Irish Independent, Tuesday, 22nd Feb 1921)
D.I. Reilly continued that, ‘on the 25th March, 1921 in response to a telephone message I arrived at Aylesbury’s Mill, below the town, below the Blackwater Bridge, at 13.10 hours. I saw a body in the mill, about 40 yards from the mill and about 12feet from the mill wall. I assisted in removing the body from the water and had it removed to the Mortuary Navan Union. I did not recognise the body. The body was clothed in, one sock, no boots, grey trousers, vest and coat. dark heavy overcoat, blue shirt, white woollen undershirt and drawers. There was nothing in the pockets which would throw any light on the reason for the death. There were holes through the clothing corresponding with the punctures in the skin below. This concluded the evidence of District Inspector Reilly, R.I.C.
The final and 21st witness was Constable James Clitsone, R.I.C. 73908 of Navan who, having been duly sworn, stated that, ‘on the 25th. March 1921, he was in a party with D.I. Reilly, when they went in response to a telephone message to Aylesbury’s Mills. There he saw a body in the river which he assisted to remove from the river, and to take it to the Mortuary Navan Union. He did not know whose body it was.’
The evidence of all of the witnesses having been given the Court retired to consider its findings. Four days later, on the 30th. March, 1921 the Court signed it findings and gave the following: _______________________________________________________
OPINION The Court having carefully considered the evidence before them is of the opinion that the deceased Thomas Hodgett of Academy Street, Navan, in the County of Meath, died at the Blackwater Bridge, Navan, on the eighteenth day of February, 1921 from haemorrhage and heart failure caused by a bullet wound inflicted by a person or persons unknown with intent to murder. The Court find that the deceased was murdered by some persons or persons unknown.
Signed: G.D.O. Lloyd, Capt. So. Wales Bords. President
Signed: B.L. Ainsworth, Lt. 1st. Ba. So. Wales Borderers
Signed: F.W. Hartley, Lt. 1st. South Wales Borderers
OPINION OF CONVENING AUTHORITY I concur. Wilful and cold blooded murder against some person or persons unknown. Signed: G.F. Boyd, Major General, COMMANDING DUBLIN DISTRICT. COMPETENT MILITARY AUTHORITY Subsequent to the conclusion of the Court of Inquiry there was protracted correspondence, interviews and discussions between Mrs. Hodgett and the authorities. However, on 1 June 1921 a letter was written to her personally by Pte. Jenkins, 3902167, a ‘sapper’, at Navan Union, along the following lines
I hope you won’t think it impertinent of me in requesting some recommence for services rendered at Navan Union Mortuary in your recent bereavement, as I am the man that is usually called in all such cases now I think it is only fair that I should be recompensed in some way or another as I usually have to get a certain amount of whiskey before I undertake the work, trusting you will send something along however small as I am going on leave in a few weeks. I am Yours sincerely
This letter must have been the final straw for a distraught Mrs. Hodgett so she wrote to General Macready, Commander in Chief in Ireland, on 6 June 1921 as follows:
Your reply received today, and I now (expect you) as an officer of the British Army and a General in it you will see justice done to the men that murdered such a loyal subject as the late Postmaster of Navan – murdered by men, as he was so loyal to, men that should protect us. I sent a copy of the Private’s letter to His Majesty King George, Mr. Lloyd, (Prime Minister), Major Rigg and gave them the names of the men, I also wish to inform you that Capt. Hartley, one of the men concerned in the murder was on the (Court of) Inquiry and imagine gave me the bible to swear on. Capt. Munroe in the presence of Major Rigg and Capt. Hartley said to President Lloyd (of the Court of Inquiry), (he) (and) Munroe put in a night in that night and as sure as there is a God in heaven he would not like to put another in like it. President Lloyd asked him was he out for a night’s sport.
When County Egan came from the Castle (Dublin) the 17th. February: the code was changed, D.I. Johnston came out to help them but got so drunk he had to be carried back to R.I.C. Barracks, slept in Head Queenan’s bed, Head Queenan then slept in his own private house. I can inform you to deceive about footprints. D.I. Egan changed coats with Head Queenan also cap, and I must impress on you the noise made by these men would not be done by the enemies of the Crown or would the enemies bring my husband down opposite the Police Barracks and fire shots as the police heard shots and not one of them came out to see where the shots came from. The Head Constable has a daughter in the Post Office and she was also a cause of spite with the Police as her father said she would be kept on in spite of any one, she is only on temporary duty.
Both my husband and myself were loyal to the heart. I would like you as the Loyal General to bring both military and Police to justice. My husband is a great loss to me and this letter from Private ….opened up my wound as my husband’s death was one of the most cruel uncalled and unpardonable deaths in the annals of Irish crime. I think if you had a conversation with Major Rigg he would be able to tell you how my husband met his death by the hands of the Egans, etc., and the Guard, Assistant Guard and Sergt. in charge on the 17th 18th night February would be able to give you true account of all their doings. Yours respectfully G. Hodgett.
There appears to be no evidence in the files that a copy of this letter or copies of others and recorded interviews with Mrs. Hodgett were seen by General Sir Nevil Macready, Commander in Chief, Ireland.
In a confidential submission of an interview with Mrs. Hodgett, dated 12 June 1921, Col. Commandant Oldman, reported he assured her that, ‘the letter written by the man of the 1st. Ba. South Wales Borderers was an improper one and that suitable disciplinary measurers would be taken against him’. It is likely that this unfortunate private soldier, Jenkins, would appear to be the only individual to suffer any punishment for the brutal murder of Thomas Hodgett.
Mr. Hodgett’s remains were taken from the mortuary at 2pm on Easter Sunday. The postal workers, in uniform, walked in procession behind the hearse from the mortuary via Brews Hill, Railway Street and the Fair Green, to the church. They were followed by what the Meath Chronicle described as, ‘a huge concourse of townspeople’. The Urban Council and local Catholic clergy, led by Rev. N. Cooney, Adm., most unusual for the period, also attended the obsequies. The funeral service in the Church of Ireland and burial in the attached grave-yard was conducted by Rev. G.R.L. Wynne, rector, was one of the biggest ever seen in Navan, with all the post offices in Meath represented.
In the course of his eulogy Rev. Wynne said, ‘for long we had hoped and feared; hoped that Thomas Hodgett would safely return; feared that the worst had happened. Now our hopes are dashed; our worst fears are realised. We leave punishment of those who cruelly did him to death to Him Who has the power to repay.’
Fig 5. The grave of Thomas and Grace Hodgett at St. Mary's Church of Ireland Navan.
Apart from the immediate family the chief mourners were, Samuel, James and Richard, brothers; Mr. William Murphy, Wexford. and Robert Murphy, Dublin, brothers in law; Mrs. Neill, Dublin, sister in law; Isaac Reid, cousin. Mr. Edward Hodgett, Newry, nephew, was unavoidably absent.
Mrs. Hodgett always denied that republicans killed her husband. In a letter to the editor of the Irish Independent, dated April 4, 1921, she wrote
‘My attention has been called to a paragraph in your issue of Saturday last, headed, ‘The Castle Review’ stating that in the case of a civilian killed the motive was ‘the friendly relations of the victims with the police or military authorities. Amongst those was the late Postmaster of Navan’. I most emphatically deny this was so in the case of my late husband. He, in the course of his duty, had reported the police on more than one occasion for robbing sub-offices. The authorities have collected evidence against the police in connection with this matter but, apparently, they prefer to throw the blame on other shoulders. At the military inquiry held in Navan, in lieu of an Inquest, some of these men were allowed to make statements in their own defence but witnesses on the other side were excluded.’
Post Office records show that Mr. Hodgett died on 18 February 1921. He was 55 years of age. No one was ever charged with his murder. At the time of death his Post Office salary was £284 per annum and his widow would not have been entitled to any pension arising from his position as postmaster. Thomas Hodgett died intestate, his widow Grace, obtained Administration of his estate in the High Court on 26 April 1921 the total value of which was £796. Grace Hodgett died on 16 January 1931, many believed of a broken heart, and is buried with her beloved husband. Miss Bessie (Elizabeth Francis) Hodgett served as a telephonist at Navan from 2md May 1921 until 4th June 1932 when she resigned, ‘with a view to marriage’. She married Mr. Bob Carson, a member of the staff and overseer at Navan Post Office. Mr. Carson was promoted as Postmaster at Roscrea, Co. Tipperary on the 7 December 1939. In British archival records numbered 2/39200/237 Thomas Hodgett is described as, ‘Loyalist’. Regrettably, no such memorial stands to honour his loyalty and faithfulness to the Post Office.
Who murdered Thomas Hodgett, and why?
Dublin Castle was quick to condemn the murder of Thomas Hodgett, issuing a statement which, inter alia, stated that he was killed by Republicans because of his close and friendly relations with the police and military authorities. Mrs. Hodgett refuted this in the letter to the Irish Independent dated 4th April, 1921. She wrote that her husband, on more than one occasion, had reported the local police, for robbing sub-post offices. By all accounts, there seems to be no doubt that there was enmity between Mr. Hodgett and Head Constable Queenan but this surely did not lead the police to kill him.
Thomas Hodgett was certainly not a republican. In his earlier days in the Post Office he was the subject of a Parliamentary Question because of his participation in a Loyalist Orange march in Dungannon. In British Military records he is described as ‘Loyalist’. In a letter to General MacReady, Commander of Forces in Ireland, dated 6 June 1921, Mrs. Hodgett refers to both herself and late husband as, ‘loyal subject’, ‘so loyal’ and ‘loyal to the heart’. Despite rumours that the I.R.A. might have murdered Thomas Hodgett it is very unlikely that they had any part in the atrocity. Even Mrs. Hodgett, in her distress, was observant enough to note that, ‘or would the enemies (of the Crown) bring my husband down opposite the Police Barracks (see Map) and fire shots’.
Several witnesses and reports observed military and police activity around the town, and in particular, in the immediate vicinity of the tragic event. Even the police and military witnesses admitted their presence in the area at the relevant time. It was not a time or place for I.R.A. activity. Nor, is there any logical or known reason why the I.R.A. might have singled out Thomas Hodgett for execution. A retired R.I.C. Constable, Eugene Bratton, No.58238, in the course of a statement to Comdt. Matthew Barry, on 11 January 1951, for the Bureau of Military History (File No: S.1626, Military Archives Cathal Brugha Barracks) made reference to, ‘serious leakage of police messages from the Post Office at Navan’ and ‘I (Bratton) was in touch with the I.R.A. in Navan through Pat O’Brien and Paddy Dunne, who worked in the Post Office’.
Bratton’s statement goes on to relate the general gist of the known events leading up to the murder of Thomas Hodgett. He goes on to state ‘a couple of nights afterwards Mr. Hodgett was taken from his home by three armed men in civilian clothes and shot and thrown in the river.’
While much of the statement is substantially correct there are a number of factual errors. According to the Establishment Record Paddy Dunne did not take up duty at Navan until 22 May 1921 (Fig 6). While he could have been leaking police messages he could not have done so at the time of the murder of Thomas Hodgett. Pat O’Brien was a postman who would have had no access to the Telephone or Telegraph section of the office and could not have read or heard police messages received via this media. Pat O’Brien, who had served in the World War, was an unlikely candidate for the activity described by Bratton. His son, Paddy O’Brien, late Head Postmaster at Navan, having read the statement, refuted the suggestion that his father would have been involved in the activities described. Paddy described his father as, ‘a loyalist’.
Fig 6 Establishment record for Paddy Dunne
Eugene Bratton stated ’the three men who shot him (Hodgett) were the Co. Inspector Egan, his brother D.I. Egan and a Tan from Gormanston. Hodgett was not a Roman Catholic and took no part in politics. He was probably an upholder of the existing regime. It was a dastardly act and it was farcical to see Egan investigating this affair, scraping blood from the footpath into a box and so forth. He did his best to pin the crime on the I.R.A.’
Mrs. Hodgett in her letter to General MacReady mentions, ‘Capt. Hartley one of the men concerned in the murder was on the enquiry’ and again how Major Rigg could tell him (Macready), ‘how my husband met his death by the hands of the Egans’ etc.’
Mr. Gilbert, the Hodgett’s neighbour, in a letter dated 13 January 1953 stated, ‘Three men were responsible for that murder. They were a policeman from Dublin Castle named Igoe, a civilian named Brady from Dublin (he was shot at the Bull Wall, Dublin a few weeks later) and County Inspector Egan.’
It would appear that the real cause for the murder of Thomas Hodgett was that he, unfortunately and inadvertently, divulged information through an indiscretion, to Dublin Castle that made local police and military look incompetent in the eyes of Headquarters and therefore signed his own death warrant. Local friction between the parties and drink were also contributory factors.
Irish Independent Newspaper, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1.
Meath Chronicle, Market Square, Navan, Co. Meath.
British Post Office Archive, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU.
Post Office Archives, General Post Office, O’Connell St., Dublin 1.
Military Archives, Cathal Bruagha Barracks, Rathmines, Dublin 6.
National Archives, Bishop Street, Dublin 8
Maps Ordnance Survey Office, Ireland