ROINN COSANTA, BUREAU OF MILITARY HISTORY, 1913-21
STATEMENT BY WITNESS.
DOCUMENT NO. W.S 1622
Witness: Michael Hilliard, T.D., 11, St. Enda's Villas, Navan, Co. Meath.
Identity: Capt. Navan Company. Brigade I/O
Subject: Navan Coy., Irish Volunteers. Co. Meath, 1919 21.
Conditions, if any, Stipulated by Witness: Nil.
File No: S.2957. Form B.S.M.2
STATEMENT BY MICHAEL HILLIARD. T.D.,
11 St. Enda's Villas, Navan, Co. Meath.
I was born at 19 Flower Hill, Navan, in March 1903. I went to the local National School until I was 14 years of age. After the opening of a Christian Brothers School in Navan around this time, I went to the school for a short period. Then went to the Diocesan College in Mullingar for another year.
I joined the local company of Volunteers in June 1919. At the time, the strength of the company was 30. The captain was Joe Woods and the Q.M. was Leo McKenna. I don't remember the other officers. Routine drilling and parades were held weekly. At the end of that year, or early 1920, the various companies around the town of Navan were formed into a battalion which was known as the Navan (or 6th) Battalion of Co. Meath Brigade. The battalion officers appointed were:
Patrick Loughran, O/C., my brother James Hilliard, Q.M.; Kieran O'Connell, adjutant. I am not sure who was appointed battalion vice-O/C. The companies comprising the battalion were; Navan, Bohermeen, Johnstown, Kilberry, Clongill, Martry, Castletown (near Kilpatrick) and Rathkenny. A short time later, when companies were formed in Kentstown, Dunmore and Yellowfurze, they were incorporated into the battalion.
After the formation of the battalion, drilling was intensified. Classes were formed for instruction in musketry and the handling and use of hand grenades. Those classes were held at weekends in disused houses in the area and were conducted by Patrick Kelly, an ex-British soldier, and other ex-British soldiers. Patrick Kelly subsequently became Brigade O/C.
Previous to the I.R.A. attack and capture of Trim R.I.C. barracks in September 1920, I took part in the blocking of the roads in our area and subsequently took part in the burning of a vacated R.I.C. barracks at Robinstown. Other vacated R.I.C. barracks burned down around the same time were: George's Cross, Wilkinstown and Lismullen.
Activities of Navan Company around this time included the arrest and detention of criminals in places which became known as "unknown destinations". They were charged with the looting and robbery of shops, churches and private houses as well as other offences. We had one case of murder. In the latter case a man named Gordon was hired in a land agitation to shoot dead a young farmer named Clinton by a party of ten men from or near the same area. Clinton was an I.R.A. man and the Brigade O/C. took a very serious view of the case. All the men, including Gordon, were arrested and tried. Gordon was sentenced to death and was duly executed. The other men involved were deported. The detention and guarding of these criminals for several months in some cases occupied a considerable part of the Volunteers' time especially when criminals were being transferred from one "unknown destination" to another, which involved the employment of Volunteer scouts, armed guards and dispatch work.
Following the attack on Trim R.I.C. barracks, a large scale round-up by military, police and Black and Tans took place in which about 20 members of Navan Company were arrested. They included the Battalion O/C., Patrick Loughran; the Battn. Adjutant, Kieran O'Connell; the Company Captain, Joe Woods, and the Company Q.M., Leo McKenna. Navan Company was then reorganised. Patrick Stapleton became captain; I became adjutant, and James Byrne became 1st Lieutenant.
At the same time Patrick Fitzsimons replaced Patrick Loughran as Battalion O/C.; Tom Duffy became adjutant instead of Kieran O'Connell, and my brother James continued as Battalion Q.M. Our company now numbered 20.
I attended all battalion meetings with the captain and took part in the preparation and formulation of several plans for ambushes which never materialised. Around this period, Navan Company was divided and a new company was formed. It was known as the Ardbraccan Company and it took in part of the old company area known as the Commons. Patrick Stapleton, who lived, in the Commons, remained captain of the new company. I then became captain of Navan Company; James Gorman, adjutant; John McLoughlin, 2nd, Lieut. and Hugh McGee, 2nd Lieutenant.
On the night of 18th February 1921, Mr. Hodgett, Postmaster, Navan, was taken from his home by a party of R.I.C. from Bailieboro in charge of District Inspector Hunt and shot dead. His wife was a witness to his arrest and some local people witnessed the shooting which took place on the bridge over the river near the town. Mr. Hodgett was a partially disabled man, a member of the Church of Ireland, and, what was known in those days as a loyalist. The shooting was all the more baffling as he was not connected in any way with the I.R.A. or Sinn Fein.
It would appear that the R.I.C. had discovered a leakage of information as to their movements from Navan Post Office. Mr. Hodgett's corpse was recovered next day from the River Boyne; it had a bullet through the body. For some months previous to the murder of Mr. Hodgett, I was in contact with a clerk in Navan Post Office named Patrick Hughes, who was a member of the I.R.B. and a native of Dundalk. By arrangement, he supplied me regularly with copies of messages sent in code to and from the R.I.C. barracks. The messages were from the County Inspector, R.I.C., or Dublin Castle, or vice versa. I always passed the messages on to Patrick Clinton, Brigade I.O.
Around this time, Head Constable Queenan of Navan R.I.C. had been trying to have his daughter installed in the Post Office as a clerk, without success. Hodgett would not employ her. It was thought at the time that Queenan wanted to get his daughter into the Post Office for the purpose of seeking information if possible about the I.R.A. or, alternatively, to ascertain if possible how the leakage occurred relative to police movements. It is possible that those messages sent by me to Brigade H.Q. led to the death of Hodgett.
On the last day of February 1921, a stranger arrived in the town and went into one of the local public houses where he inquired from a man working there John McLoughlin, our 1st Lieutenant as to how or where he could contact the local I.R.A. McLoughlin said he could not give him any information as he did not know anyone connected with the I.R.A. A customer in the public house, who was employed at Crinions' Hotel, however directed the stranger to Patrick Fitzsimons, Battalion O/C. Fitzsimons sent him to a tailor in Trimgate St. named Hugh Durr who was a Volunteer. Durr entertained him until evening and then brought him to the Banba Hall, the old schoolhouse, which was closed down when the Christian Brothers opened a school in the town. It was now the local Sinn Féin Club. Here Fitzsimons had arranged that the local Volunteers would engage him in conversation until it was decided what we were to do with him.
In the meantime, I was mobilised by Fitzsimons and after a short conversation with him went to Loughlin (Jack) Rourke, Knockumber, Navan, another Volunteer, and got from him a short parabellum and a few rounds of ammunition and returned to the hall.
While in the hall, the stranger had introduced himself as Michael O'Brien of Silvermines, Tipperary, and said that he had been in the same cell in Mountjoy Prison as Dick Chandler. It will be recalled that Mr. Chandler, who was a public house owner of Robinstown, Navan, was arrested by the R.I.C. and Black and Tans after they had burned down his home and business premises subsequent to the attack on Trim R.I.C. barracks. He was a Protestant and had no connection with Sinn Féin or the I.R.A. It was a case that received great prominence in the newspapers at the time, in so much that General Tudor resigned as a protest over the burning of Chandler's home by the R.I.C. and Tans.
When I went into the hall, I introduced myself to "Michael O'Brien", telling him I was from the flying column. He inquired for Sean Boylan, Brigade O/C., Paddy Mooney and other prominent I.R.A. men wanted by the R.I.C. at the time. I said: "I will take you to them". By this time he was anxious to get away from the people in the hall as they had become more or less hostile to him in spite of the fact that he spoke to them in Gaelic occasionally.
We proceeded across the Fair Green and on to the Trim road, followed by Patrick Fitzsimons, Thomas Boylan, Hugh McGee and John McLoughlin. When we all arrived at the railway crossing Fitzsimons returned to the town. The others accompanied me along the Trim road. We took him off the main road into Watergrass Avenue, which included the entrance to Beechmount House, the residence of the local Resident Magistrate. Here, I questioned him extensively as to his identity, history, nationality and religion, but he refused to give me any information regarding himself.
I explained that I would have to shoot him as a spy and if he would tell me his religion I would get him a clergyman before he died. He again refused to say what religion, if any, he belonged to. I had his hands tied behind his back with my own handkerchief. He said: "I did not think it was in you to do this. I made a big mistake in dealing with you. If you are ever in a similar position I will show you how to die; go ahead and do your duty".
As he finished, he dropped dead and fell on his back. I turned him over and took my handkerchief off his wrists. We left the scene, leaving him where he lay. That night McLoughlin and I stayed in a hayshed. The others went home. The stranger was found next day. The R.I.C. called on McLoughlin at his place of business and questioned him. He later attended the inquest and identified the body as that of the man who called the previous day and inquired about the I.R.A. The stranger spoke with a Scottish accent; he was not a Tipperary man. On the instructions of the Brigade O/C., Sean Boylan, around this time, a troop train from Belfast should have been derailed at Tougher, Duleek, but, through a misunderstanding as to time or the receipt of details, the job was not carried out.
In April 1921, the Navan or 6th Battalion was incorporated into No. 2 Brigade, 1st Eastern Division, just formed. I attended the first meeting at which the Brigade was established at the house of Michael Jordan, Oldtown, Johnstown, Navan. The Brigade Staff appointed were as follow:
Patrick Kelly, O/C.; William Booth, vice O/C.; Thomas Coyle, Adjutant; Michael Hynes, Q.M.; Joseph Hughes, Engineer. I became the Brigade I.O. No. 2 Brigade comprised four battalion areas. With the reorganisation, Navan, Martry, Bohermeen and Ardbraccan Companies became the 4th Battalion of the No. 2. Brigade. The battalion officers appointed were: Thomas Gibney, O/C.; Patrick Stapleton, vice O/C.; Thomas Foley, Adjutant; James Hilliard (my brother), Q.M.; Thomas Killoran, I.O. and Michael Hyland, Engineer.
As well as being Brigade I.O., I remained captain of Navan Company. About one month before the Truce I attended a meting of all Brigade Intelligence Officers of the 1st Eastern. Division. There were nine of us representing each of the nine brigades in the Division. Michael Collins, Sean Boylan, the Divisional O/C., Patrick Clinton, Divisional I.O., and other Divisional officers were present. The meeting was held in Brady's public house in Dunboyne. Michael Collins addressed us, issued. general instructions and questioned each I.O. individually.
Signed: Date: 3rd June 1957. Witness: John J. Daly
ROINN COSANTA. BUREAU OF MILITARY HISTORY, 1913-21
STATEMENT BY WITNESS.
DOCUMENT NO. W.S 1624
Witness: Patrick Loughran, 3, Cannon Row, Navan, Co. Meath.
Identity Subject: Capt., Navan Company, Battn. O/C, 6th Battn., Meath Bgde.
Subject: Navan Company, Irish Volunteers, Co. 1917-'21. Meath,
Conditions, if any, Stipulated by Witness: Nil
File No: S.2949. Form B.S.M.2
STATEMENT BY PATRICK LOUGHRAN,
3 Cannon Row, Navan. Co. Meath.
I was born in Shambo, Navan, In the year 1894. I attended the local school in Robinstown until I was 14 years. I then went to Navan National School until I was 16 years. In 1911 I went to Tralee, Co. Kerry, to serve my apprenticeship to the drapery trade. I worked in Tralee for two years and, in the meantime, joined the local company of Irish National Volunteers. When I left Tralee in 1914, I went to work in Dublin until April 1916. I joined the Irish Volunteers in Dublin in l915 at Kimmage under the late Commandant Kent, with William Cosgrave, company captain. On the Tuesday previous to the Rising the company was addressed by Comdt. Kent who instructed the Volunteers to be ready to fight for Ireland at the weekend. He also told us to remain in our homes on Good Friday. That night at 10 o'clock the first shot was fired in the rebellion. Detectives arrived to raid the building in which we were located. It was an old mill owned by Count Plunkett and was used as a drill hall and meeting place. At the time, it housed about 100 men who had come from England to take part in the rebellion. The detectives withdrew when fired on by one of the Volunteers guards as they approached the building.
I was mobilised on Good Friday at 11 a.m. and reported at the Weavers' Hall, Donore Avenue, where I met the rest of the company. We waited for about an hour and were then dismissed without further instructions. On Good Friday evening I went to Captain William Cosgrave's house in James's Street and from his home I carried a dispatch to Kimmage. There I received another dispatch which I took back to Captain Cosgrave. On Good Friday night, with other Volunteers, I was instructed to distribute revolvers and ammunition to various houses around Islandbridge. Nothing further happened until Easter Sunday morning when a notice appeared in the Sunday papers signed by Eoin MacNeill cancelling all Volunteer mobilisations for that day. I came home to Navan that day and took no further part in the events of Easter 1916.
The Navan Company of the Irish Volunteers was formed early in 1917 and numbered 20 men at the start. The first captain was a man named Séamus Ryan, a Tipperary man employed in a local furniture factory. In the month of July, I succeeded Séamus Ryan as captain in Navan. Our early activities consisted of drilling and general training in the use of arms. In general, practically all our members were active in the formation of Sinn Féin Clubs and Gaelic League Branches over a wide area. In early 1918, during the conscription crisis, we organised public meetings and public parades of the Volunteers. At these parades a number of new recruits joined. When the crisis abated however, very few of our new recruits persevered. In July 1918, a by-election took place in East Cavan in which practically all our members took an active part around the town of Bailieboro, working for the success of the Sinn Féin candidate.
Around this time there was a strike of farm workers on the big estates in the county. On the instructions of the Brigade 0/C., Seán Boylan, a goods train was derailed at Farganstown, Navan, by members of Navan Company in charge of Lieut. C. McMahon. This action was taken following representation by the strike leaders to the Brigade Staff. During the general parliamentary election in December 1918, all our members again took a leading part, canvassing, supplying personation agents and tallymen.
Other activities by the Navan Company at the latter end of the year included the organisation and formation of Volunteer companies at Bohermeen, Johnstown, Stackallen, Castletown and other areas. I was sworn in a member of the I.R.B. at this time. The year 1919 saw the formation of the various companies in Co. Meath into battalion areas. Navan became the H.Q. of the 6th Battalion which comprised companies in Navan, Stackallen, Johnstown, Bohermeen and Castletown.
A short time later, when companies were formed in Clongill, Kilbarry and Yellow Furze, they were incorporated into the battalion. I became Battalion 0/C., A. Levins vice-0/C., Kieran O'Connell adjutant, and Joe Hughes engineer. Company training in the area was now intensified. Rifles and revolvers were purchased secretly from members of British armed forces. At the end of the year, shotguns and other arms were collected from civilians, resulting in the securing of a goodly store of weapons, chiefly shotguns. In some cases we raided the homes of loyalists and seized the guns. In a couple of these raids we were attacked by the owners with shotguns. Another Volunteer and myself received a number of pellets in the legs. The arms obtained in the raids were dumped in a house in Curraghtown.
In November, the police barracks at Lismullen or Dillon's Bridge as it is often called four miles from Navan, was attacked by selected members of the Navan Battalion. The attacking party numbered 20. A ruse to gain admission to the barracks failed, after which the attack opened and lasted about 45 minutes. Unfortunately, the arms were not good enough; they were mostly shotguns and a few .22 rifles, so the capture of the barracks was not effected. A police sergeant was wounded in the attack. A considerable amount of preparation was made previously, including instruction in the use of bombs, scouting and reconnoitring the position. The Navan Company took part in preparing for similar attacks on R.I.C. barracks in George's Cross and Bohermeen, but before the attacks matured, they were vacated by the R.I.C.
The Meath Hunt (Foxhounds), then almost the preserve of British officers, their families and British supporters, were debarred from hunting over Meath lands as another protest against British rule. Where necessary, active measures were taken to order off the lands the huntsmen and huntswomen with very effective and lasting results. A hunger strike by Volunteers detained in Mountjoy was in progress at the time. During this period fairs were held up and live stock was not allowed to entrain. Early in 1920, members of Navan Company resident in The Cmmons and Ardbraccan formed themselves into a separate company known as the "Commons and Ardbraccan" company. By this time, the R.I.C. barracks at Lismullen, Robinstown, Gorge's Cross and Bohermeen had been vacated. On the orders of the Brigade 0/C., Sean Boylan, they were all burned down. In addition to continued training exercises, scouting, intelligence service, arms raids, dispatch carrying, road-cutting and road blocking, dislocation of the telephone service and raids on mails, the year 1920 was marked by;
(1) Arrests, detention and trial by Volunteers officers of criminals;
(2) Organisation of Republican Courts and police work in conjunction therewith pending the formation of Republican police;
(3) Co. Council activities including Co. Council or local elections;
(4) Collection of funds and raising of funds by aeriochts for the purchase of arms.
In connection with No. 1 above, many members of Navan Company participated in what became known as the arrest of the "Cormeen prisoners". This action arose from an agrarian dispute in North Meath in which a young Volunteer named Clinton was shot dead. In charge of ten men I left Navan on a Thursday night and went to Cormeen where we were joined by Volunteers from Trim in charge of Sean Boylan, Brigade 0/C. We had a list of the men who organised the shooting; they numbered ten in all. The man who did the actual shooting had already been arrested by the R.I.C. and military. That night, we arrested seven of the gang. On the following Sunday, the other three were arrested. The arrested men were detained in an "unknown destination" near Navan and members of Navan Company did long spells of guard duty before the prisoners were transferred to Brigade, H.Q. at Dunboyne for trial They had been detained for two months.
In the meantime, the man detained by the British whose name was Gordon was brought from Dublin to Navan for trial. His trial lasted only a few minutes when he was acquitted. As he left the Courthouse he was handed a 10/- note to buy himself a few drinks. On my instructions, a local Volunteer attended the trial. As the prisoner left the Courthouse, the Volunteer accompanied him to a nearby public house. In about half an hour we arrested him and had him conveyed to an "unknown destination" near Dunboyne. At his trial, presided over by a High Court Judge, with I.R.A. officers for the prosecution and defence, he was found' guilty and paid the extreme penalty. Following the trial of the ten men about one month later, they were sentenced to deportation, being escorted to the North Wall, Dublin, and placed on board a boat for Liverpool.
A series of robberies from private houses, business premises and churches occurred around the same time resulting in the investigation and arrest by the Navan Company of the culprits and the receivers of the stolen property. Quantities of the stolen goods were recovered. The detention and guarding of the prisoners' in an "unknown destination" followed. Another series of robberies, known as the "Carlanstown robberies" were investigated and most of the stolen goods recovered. Four culprits were arrested, detained and guarded for a long period and eventually tried by I.R.A. officers. These detentions and trials were fairly and efficiently conducted. The verdicts of the Court of Officers were just and practical that is to say, that, reduced to a Cash Account, the verdicts would read as follows:
Value of goods stolen and damaged.
Expenses of investigation and arrests.
Expenses-feeding of prisoners.
Expenses- feeding of guards.
Value of goods recovered and restored.
Balance levied as fines to recoup losses.
Some culprits received the added penalty of deportation, being escorted to the North Wall and placed on a boat for Liverpool. Until the Republican Courts and the Republican police force got into their stride, the Volunteers enforced law and order, as the British police force at this time had become a para-military force. In regard to No. 2 above, the organisation and direction of' North Meath constituency republican courts was undertaken by Volunteer Tom Duffy of the Navan Company, who became local Court Registrar. Here it may be said briefly that many of the Judges and Justices were themselves Volunteers or the parents of Volunteers. Most of the Court Registrars were active Volunteers and the Court Orders were enforced when necessary by Volunteers. This latter duty was, in due course, assumed by the Republican police force which was constituted by the Volunteers.
Coming to No. 3 above, the Local or County Council elections of 1920 completed the work begun by the general election of 1918. In Meath, as elsewhere, Sinn Féin candidates were elected by a large majority and Local Government administration was now in republican hands under the National Ministry of Local Government. Both as successful candidates and as active election workers, Volunteers were actively engaged in the local elections. The new Meath Co. Council immediately cancelled allegiance to British Local Government. The secretary of the Council, however, declined to co-operate and he was dismissed from office. Volunteers recovered Co. Council books and records from his control. Meetings of the Co. Council were held 'on the run' and secretarial duties were discharged by Volunteers until the Truce.
In relation to No. 4 above, throughout the summer and autumn of 1920, collections in aid of funds for the purchase of arms and Volunteer expenses were widely held and feiseanna and Aeriochts were held for a similar purpose. Navan was a very important centre for communications, i.e., Dublin to Cavan and Cavan to Dublin. We had certain houses for the receipt and issue of dispatches and Navan Company did its share in keeping lines of communication open. During the Belfast boycott several shops were raided for Belfast goods, railway stores were also visited and travellers were warned not to supply Belfast goods. I was arrested by British military on 1st December 1920, and taken to the Co. Home, Navan, where I was held for four days. I was then transferred to Collinstown aerodrome where I spent a fortnight and was later taken to Arbour Hill barracks, Dublin, until mid-February, when I was brought by boat to Belfast and on to Ballykinlar where I was interned until after the Truce.
After my arrest Patrick Fitzsimons succeeded me as battalion 0/C. Patrick Keating subsequently succeeded Pat Fitzsimons. For the events after my arrest up to the Truce, including a big reorganisation of I.R.A. battalions in Co. Meath and surrounding counties, I would recommend that statements be obtained from Mr Michael Hilliard, T.D., or Mr James Byrne, Dunmoe, Navan.
Signed: Patrick Loughran. Date: 3rd June 1957. Witness: John J Daly.