(Pictured: The field in the hills north of Dungarvan where Sgt. Michael Hickey's body was found)
IRA GHQ staff officer George Plunkett and the other half of the IRA force shortly arrived at the maelstrom swirling around the Burgery. British army Capt. Thomas and his group blundered into a large number of the volunteers and were captured. The British were put under guard at a nearby house. When British reinforcements arrived from Dungarvan, the volunteers retreated. At that point, Thomas and the other soldiers either escaped or were released, depending on whose version one believes, but Hickey was taken off with them to a farm in the hills. There he was given a quick court martial and sentenced to death.
Hickey had been captured once before at Dungarvan railway station, in August the previous year, and he had pulled his pistol. According to one witness, he fired on some of these same volunteers then, though he didn't hit anyone. He'd been released unharmed then, but it may have worked against him this night. Father Thomas Power of Kilgobnet was brought in to give him the last rites. He was taken to a nearby field (above), where he was shot by a firing squad, with Lennon ensuring he was dead with a pistol shot to his head. He was found the following evening with the tag "Police Spy" pinned to his chest.
(Right: George Lennon in the front row, middle, and Fr. Tom Power, who gave Sgt. Hickey the last rites, rear row middle in a post-war photo.)
Hickey had pleaded for his life to Lennon, saying "George, I knew you as a child. You used to play with the head constable's children in the barracks. You are the only person in the world who can save me."
"I would give anything in the world to save you, but I can't," replied Lennon. It was later reported that Hickey had the tricolour flag sewn inside his green tunic. So perhaps Hickey supported the nationalist cause. Hickey was well-liked around Dungarvan, and in his heart he may have sympathized with the republican cause, but his actions belied this, and it cost him his life.
Lennon's service in the War of Independence and the Civil War would leave him a mentally damaged man. He experienced several break downs in the years to come. No doubt he suffered from what we know today as PTSD. He would later emigrate to the United States and become first a Quaker and then a Buddhist and an opponent of the Vietnam War. He would also write a play titled "I and Thou," which was clearly thinly veiled fiction based on the events of a night that must have still haunted him.
After Lennon passed away in 1991 and was cremated, his family attempted to have his ashes spread over the republican plot at Kilrossanty, where his former comrades Keating and Fitzgerald lie. But, shockingly, the West Waterford Republican Society, which ironically had been founded by Lennon in the 1930s, perhaps influenced by his falling out with the Catholic Church before he emigrated, his conversion to Buddhism and his pacifist leanings, refused the request.
With sunrise and the trauma of the Hickey execution, one would think the action was over, but Plunkett insisted they return to the scene of the ambush to gather up any arms or ammo the British left behind, as the IRA was always short on both. Whelan and Lennon were dead set against it. Finding a priest to minister to Hickey had delayed them for some time, and they believed the British were likely now there in force. But Plunkett was in command, so a group of about eight of them set off back to the Burgery. Included in that group were old friends Seán Fitzgerald and Pat Keating.
(Above: The field the IRA crossed in the morning, with the monument to Fitzgerald and Keating on the right.)
The British had, indeed, returned. They had a horse tied to the Crossley Tender, which the volunteers had set on fire the night before, and were pulling it back to Dungarvan. As the volunteers crossed the long open field to the north of the ambush site, the British saw them coming and opened fire on the exposed group from behind the wall along the road.
Fitzgerald was wounded early in the firefight, and lay exposed in the field. Keating immediately rushed to his aid, and was himself wounded and driven back momentarily. But he refused to give up and tried again, and was again hit. He now lay near Fitzgerald, seriously wounded. Fitzgerald had once wished he was "alongside" Keating when he had thought him dead, and now his wish had come to fruition, as they were alongside each other in the field, one dead, and other mortally wounded. Plunkett then took careful aim at a figure who exposed himself near a gate in the fence and dropped him. Sidney Redman, a Black and Tan who had been in the country for two months, was wounded in the head and later died.
(Below: Locals at the ambush site, probably the gate where Black and Tan Redman was mortally wounded.)
Most of the group retreated now, seeing the situation was hopeless. Plunkett asked for volunteers to attempt to go back and rescue Keating, but none thought it possible. So Plunkett, perhaps feeling guilty at having forced them into this ill-advised action, exposed himself in the field to bring Keating back. Whether his conscience was bothering him or not, this act of courage by Plunkett was not out of character for him. During the Easter Rising, he had left cover and gone into the street to aid a wounded British soldier.
Plunkett succeeded in getting the badly wounded, but conscious, Keating from the field. They retreated to the hills north of Dungarvan. Keating was taken into the home of the Whyte family in Monarud.
Lennon was said to be distraught over the wounding of his good friend Keating and barely able to drag himself along with the column. Cumann na mBan member “Birdie” Hanley, of Gliddane, nursed Keating until Dr. Hackett of Dungarvan arrived. Ironically the doctor had treated the mortally wounded Black and Tan Redman earlier in the day. Unfortunately, there was nothing the doctor could do for him. Keating died around 5 p.m. with Father Power performing the last rites for the second time that day. Lennon later felt that he should have sent someone ahead to reconnoiter the ambush site, and thus felt responsible for the deaths of Fitzgerald and Keating -- one more preoccupation that would cause him such suffering later in life.
Hickey's body was laid to rest in an unmarked grave at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dungarvan (right), but only after a priest convinced reluctant gravediggers to dig his grave. His funeral and burial were attended by only soldiers and police, including Hickey's RIC constable father, along with Hickey's brother. No marker was placed on his grave. Its exact location is still unknown.
Fitzgerald's body had been taken to the castle in Dungarvan and was not released to the family until after Hickey's funeral. He was laid to rest in Kilrossanty, with the local people ignoring the British order restricting the attendance to no more than 40. A contingent of the Cumann na mBan followed his casket on the road to the cemetery in Kilrossanty.
With the passing of Pat Keating the men of the A.S.U. melted away back into the safety of the Comeragh Mountains at Kilbrien to avoid the Black and Tan dragnet they knew would be coming. Keating's body was immediately taken from the Whyte family home and hidden in a field, as discovery of it there by the Tans would have been disastrous for the family. There was also a "wanted dead or alive" reward for him, so his body was worth money to any Tan who could find it.
The Keating family later brought Pat's body to the Newtown cemetery and temporarily buried him in secret there, then moved him to a plowed farmers field when they feared the British had been tipped to the Newtown site. Finally, two months after his death, he was re-interred at Kilrossanty in what is now the Republican Plot. Apparently, the British had been tipped off to the republican activity and raided the area as the funeral was breaking up. Pax Whelan and George Lennon were nearly captured, narrowly escaping by crossing a waist-deep bog.
The weeks after the ambush the British army and the Black and Tans, who were reinforced from Waterford, engaged in numerous reprisals against homes and businesses in the area, including the burning of the Strand Hotel and the Fahey house in Abbeyside, the destruction of the Dunlea house in Ballycoe (left) and the Morrissey house in the Burgery. At the latter two homes, "Hickey and Redmond" (misspelling Redman's name as seen on the right side of the home, left) was painted on the walls.
One of the volunteers who helped capture Thomas that night, Michal Shalloe, claimed that Thomas was released under the promise that there would be no reprisals. If that was true, it was a promise he probably couldn't have kept even if it was sincerely made.
Another death would follow two months later, that of 80-year-old Mary Foley, in Carriglea, on May 25. A Crossley Tender full of Black and Tans saw a figure in the bushes near the road and called for them to come out or they would shoot. She was collecting firewood and was deaf, and thus unaware of their presence. On edge after the ambush in Burgery, they opened fire, killing her. Hers was the last in the string of tragedies associated with the ambush.
Not long before he was killed, Pat Keating had written a poem that contained this prophetic stanza:
The village church close by the hills
Again I seem to view
It stands as neat and beautiful
As when I bid adieu
The boys with whom I used to play
I seem to see them still
But some are sleeping peacefully
Nigh Comeragh's rugged hills
They had grown up alongside each other, fought alongside each other, and been wounded alongside each other. Now, and for eternity, Seán Fitzgerald and Pat Keating are at that village church "Nigh Comeragh's rugged hills" lying alongside each other as Seán had wished many years ago. They had truly been friends to the very end. Today their names remain etched on a lonely marker that sits beside the busy road from Waterford to Dungarvan. As the cars rush by, the little tricolour flag they died for flutters in the breeze.
The Price of Freedom - Story of George Lennon by WG member David Lawlor
George Lennon Biography - From Wikipedia
George Plunkett Biography - From Wikipedia
Rebel Heart: George Lennon: Flying Column Commander - Biography (Book)
George Lennon from TG-4: part 1 - 3 parts (Parts 2 and 3 will load automatically)
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