Part 7: 'Fight On, Struggle On'
In one of the most famous rescues in Irish history, the IRA stages a daring raid on a train carrying one of their leading commanders. One unfortunate result: the execution of the last of the "Forgotten Ten."

 

By Kieron Punch

Sean Hogan was one of the "Big Four" IRA leaders from Tipperary, who were wanted in connection with the Soloheadbeg ambush of January 1919. On May 12th, he was arrested and taken to Thurles to await transportation by train to Cork, which was the usual destination for all men arrested under the "Defence of the Realm Act" in Munster.

(Left: Sean Hogans Column , 3.rd Tipperary Brigade.)

The three other members of the "Big Four" — Sean Treacy, Dan Breen and Seamus Robinson — knew that once Hogan reached Cork it would be impossible to rescue him. So a daring plan was hastily conceived to intercept the train on the following day, as it called at Knocklong Station in County Limerick.

Realizing they had insufficient numbers to mount the hold-up, the three leaders appealed for assistance to the East Limerick Brigade and were joined by five men, Eamonn O'Brien, John Joe O'Brien, Edmund Foley, Jim Scanlon and Sean Lynch, from the local 6th (Galtee) Battalion based at Galbally. Another Volunteer, "Goorty" MacCarthy from Thurles, was to travel on the train to identify Hogan's carriage.

'Our hearts go out to all our dear old friends. Our souls go to God ...'

When the train pulled into Knocklong, just after 8 o'clock, Sean Treacy, revolver in hand, led his comrades aboard the first carriage, where Hogan was being held in the custody of four officers from the Royal Irish Constabulary. Despite repeated calls to surrender, the police sprang into action and a vicious hand-to-hand struggle ensued during which Breen and Treacy were seriously wounded and two other Volunteers also received gunshot wounds. Hogan was freed, but not before two of the policemen died. Constable Michael Enright was shot through the heart as he levelled his revolver against Hogan's neck, while Sergeant Peter Wallace eventually fell mortally wounded after a heroic five-minute duel with Treacy.

Kilmainham Jail Museum
Ned Foley, whose luck ran out after he helped free Sean Hogan

In the weeks after the incident, intensive police and army activity led to the arrest of many suspects, but they failed to capture any of the actual rescue party. At an inquest held in Kilmallock Courthouse, Inspector McLean instructed the RIC witnesses not to answer jurors' questions but to portray the deaths of Wallace and Enright as cold-blooded murder.

A juror responded to Police claims by boldly stating, "You are simply trying to paint your own story in your own way." The jury not only failed to bring a verdict of murder but blamed the Government for exposing the RIC to danger and condemned "the arrest of respectable persons and the exasperating of the people."

As months passed, British search operations began to ease and several of the Galbally Volunteers believed it was safe to return to their own homes. However, on the morning of September 23, police raided several locations and arrested many suspects, who were taken to William Street Barracks, Limerick, for a lineup. Among those who were picked out by Crown witnesses were Ned Foley, who had participated in the raid, and Patrick Maher, who had not.

Maher worked as a clerk at the railway station in Knocklong, where he graded poultry and eggs. He was a member of the Irish Volunteers, having joined the Cush Company of the Galtee Battalion in 1913, but it was his intimate knowledge of train movements and railway timetables probably implicated him in the rescue of Hogan. Despite his claim that he was at a crossroads three miles from Knocklong when he heard the shooting, and despite Foley's specious claim that he was in his garden on the day of the shooting, both men were remanded in custody.

"May God forgive those who were really guilty. I do."
— Edward Wallace, father of slain slain RIC Sgt. Peter Wallace

Trial was initially set for the hostile environment of the Belfast assizes but defense solicitors, headed by J. J. Power of Kilmallock, appealed to the High Court to have the venue changed to Dublin. The High Court compromised and fixed the hearing for the Armagh assizes to be held in July 1920.

On the eve of the trial a vital witness, Constable Reilly, who had been involved in the railway carriage struggle at Knocklong, was kidnapped, forcing the date of the trial to be rearranged yet again. It was at this time, however, that trial by jury was superseded by trial by Court Martial and so Foley and Maher were sent to Dublin to await a hearing.

Court Martial began in Dublin's City Hall on March 15, 1921, and lasted for five days. Council for the defense, R. Best, argued that the identity of Maher as a participant in the attack had not been firmly established. Witnesses had given differing descriptions of the man supposed to be Maher and it was also claimed that this man had been injured. Yet Maher had turned up at work the morning after the rescue without any trace of an injury. Such appeals had little effect as both Maher and Foley were found guilty and sentenced to death.

Kilmainham Jail Museum
Patrick Maher, an innocent man executed by the British, was buried near his East Limerick village in October.

After the verdict, many professional people, clergy of all denominations, and even landed gentry participated in a campaign headed by the Archbishop of Cashel to secure a reprieve. The most poignant appeal for clemency was made by Edward Wallace, the father of Sergeant Wallace, who wrote to the Commander in Chief of British forces in Ireland, Sir Nevil Macready, "The tragedy will pass heavily on me during the remaining years of my life, if any lives are sacrificed on account of my son's death. My son and daughter join with me in imploring you to be clement and merciful to those who have been tried in connection with the tragedy. May God forgive those who were really guilty. I do." Such appeals were to no avail, however, for on Wednesday, June 1st, General Military Headquarters, Dublin, confirmed the sentence of death.

The following Tuesday, June 7th, crowds once more began to gather outside the gates of Mountjoy Prison, where they faced strong detachments of soldiers with fixed bayonets and roaming armoured-cars. Relatives of the condemned men, including Mr. and Mrs. William Foley and Mrs. Maher, took their places in the crowd, which sang hymns and recited prayers in the brilliant sunshine.

Shortly before 6 a.m., Canon Waters and Father MacMahon joined Maher, Foley and their Auxiliary guards in the condemned cell. Waters celebrated Mass and then imparted Holy Viaticum and the Papal Benediction, before MacMahon celebrated Mass again.

A few minutes before 7 o'clock, the executioner, Ellis, and his assistant entered the cell and pinioned the prisoners' hands behind their backs. Canon Waters walked to the execution chamber beside Maher, while Father MacMahon accompanied Foley. As the friends stood side by side on the trap, one of the Auxiliaries gave Ned Foley a scapular from Lourdes that he had worn during the Great War.

At 8.15 a.m., a typewritten notice announcing that the sentence of death had been carried out, was posted on the main gates. It was later revealed that Foley and Maher had made a joint, final statement just hours before their deaths: "Fight on, struggle on, for the honour, glory and freedom of dear old Ireland. Our hearts go out to all our dear old friends. Our souls go to God at seven o'clock in the morning and our bodies, when Ireland is free, shall go to Galbally. Our blood shall not be shed in vain for Ireland and we have a strong presentiment, going to our God, that Ireland will soon be free."

Joseph Gannon photo
A scene from Dublin's historic Glasnevin Cemetery

Last October 14, a Sunday, 80 years after these events, the Irish Republic finally honoured the 10 brave men who had paid the ultimate price to help bring about the creation of the State.

At a moving ceremony attended by Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, nine of the Volunteers — Kevin Barry, Patrick Doyle, Frank Flood, Thomas Bryan, Patrick Moran, Bernard Ryan, Thomas Whelan, Thomas Traynor and Edmund Foley — were reintered with full state honours at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

Six days later, in accordance with family wishes and in remembrance of his final statement, the body of Patrick Maher was returned to Galbally. After a Requiem Mass at St. Patrick's Church, Glenbrohane, where Maher had been baptized, he was laid to rest at Ballylanders Cemetery, beneath the majesty of the Galtee Mountains.

The Forgotten Ten ... finally forgotten no more.

This page was produced by Joe Gannon, with assistance from Gerry Regan.

 

Copyright © 2012 GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to permissions@garmedia.com.

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Tags: Europe, Execution, IRA, Ireland, War

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