The Founding of the Presentation Brothers’ Schools at Birr in 1877; recollections of 1927 from J. Deering.
[Birr Historical Society meets again on Monday 4 December 2023 after a break of three…
‘Well, Tommy, I am sentenced to death on this day 23rd February  and tomorrow will face it. I feel quite happy thank God only I feel very lonesome when I think of you… I am praying for you as I know you will for me, and I hope they will be heard… from your old chum Tom, Goodbye ever, it’s a long way to Tipperary.’
Last letter from Thomas Gibson who was executed at Portlaoise during the Civil War.
The piece below is from my Cloneygowan and District book of 1998 which is overdue for a new and updated edition. I am presently researching a centennial tribute to Cloneygowan Company, Second Battalion Offaly Number One Brigade and with that in mind hope to present an update in booklet form. (P.J. Goode)
There was a unit of the Volunteers in the Cloneygowan area, indeed a Sinn Féin club had been formed as early as 1917. Locals were employed in transporting arms and other supplies through the area for use in more active districts. Some units were involved in ambushes outside of the immediate area, and one volunteer (Dan Quinn) recalled… ‘The site of an ambush was carefully chosen. The escape route through ditches and dikes had to be carefully memorised, right down to the number of paces it took to find that all important gap in the hedge and safety. The ambush took place at dusk, the retreat in full darkness. We had to be safely in our beds before the soldiers and peelers came raiding.’
Bill Quinn recalled being involved in an ambush on the Black and Tans as far away as Edenderry and then making his way home through the fields (source Jack Fitzpatrick Cloneygowan) The main through road was trenched to disrupt military traffic, locals then being forced make repairs. Sometime in 1920 an ambush had been laid on the Garryhinch road. When firing commenced, the British soldiers sent up Very lights to illuminate the scene. The attackers withdrew with no casualties.
At other times known activists were liable to be rounded up without warning ; the Crossley tenders could be heard approaching the village, slowing down to negotiate the railway bridge, allowing sufficient time for a hasty dash up the Moor Lane and dispersal through the fields.
Volunteers had safe houses in the countryside, one such house in Kilcooney being McEvoys later Carters where Jack Drum and his unit took refuge. Drum, later a lieutenant in the Free State Army, was to lose his arm in a shoot-out in Killeigh during the Civil War.
In June 1921 a month before the Truce, the train from Portarlington to Tullamore was held up by 30 armed men about a mile and a half from Geashill station in the townland of Ard. There were some R.I.C. among the passengers who returned the fire of the attackers. The firing lasted about 30 minutes, one civilian was reported injured among the attackers, who then withdrew.
The R.I.C. barracks at Cloneygowan and other villages had been evacuated early in 1920 as part of a regrouping of constabulary in the face of armed attacks , these small barracks being considered difficult to defend. At Easter the G.H.Q. of the I.R.A. issued an order for these abandoned buildings countrywide to be destroyed. On Saturday night, April 25th, the barracks and courthouse were destroyed by fire, at the hands of the local unit.
From local knowledge, the roll call of those active in the district, although by no means complete, runs as follows… Din Hyland, Bill and Dan Quinn, Bill and Joe Dempsey, Johnny, Dennis and Martin McEvoy, Tom Guinan, Jack Deegan.
Din Hyland was interned in Ballykinlar Camp, Co Down, from January to December 1921, along with Dennis (Froggy) Kelly, Walsh Island who was lifted for felling telegraph poles around Cloneygowan. Din recollected the escape attempts, tunnels dug and the clay scattered from pockets, clay in the turn-ups of trousers being the giveaway, and a water filled moat around the camp ending the digging; other attempts were via the carts that delivered provisions to the camp.
Green Linnets and Diehards, the Civil War Period.
From July to October of 1922 the I.R.A. following their expulsion from Tullamore, continually disrupted communications in the general area. Railwaymen are stated to have been laid off as the G. S. & W. section from Portarlington to Tullamore was continually being subjected to disruption. Trees were felled to block the road outside the village and the Kilcooney bridge was broken down; the postman Peter O’Rourke was held up at Cloneygowan bridge and mail stolen; Scallys shop was raided but little taken. Derrykillane bridge was damaged by explosives along with Newtown bridge further up the line.
Derrykillane has a sharp turn in the road at the top of the bridge; local man John Byrne hurrying to Mass on his bicycle failed to negotiate the gaping hole, and landed on the railway track, fortunately not being seriously injured.
Ambush site, and Irish Independent for Tuesday January 9th 1923, and January 12th 1923.
This usually tranquil district was not to be spared the full horror of Civil War violence then in progress nation-wide. Fourteen soldiers of the National Army (Green Linnets) were attacked from the hill of Cappinska, Raheen townland, overlooking a bend in the road, near the Barony walls, and close to Raheen church. This area had been the site of sniping activity previously, but this full scale attack was planned and serious. Rifle and machine gun fire swept the column of soldiers and civilians. Two bombs were thrown over the wall but did not explode. The attackers, estimated at about 30, had positioned the machine gun in a gap on the stone wall overlooking the road. The engagement lasted half an hour, and a discarded weapon, a Lewis gun containing 60 rounds which jammed shortly after fire was opened, was recognised as an old model left behind in Crinkhill Barracks by the departing Leinsters (British Army).
The attackers retreated across the fields pursued by the troops. Among the wounded were Lieutenant Lacey, commander of the Geashill garrison; Private Mulpeter, Daingean; Private Patrick Lynch, Croghan; Private P.C. White, Blessington. The wounded were removed to Geashill and from there to Tullamore Hospital.
Private Patrick Lynch (24) died at the Curragh military hospital from gangrene in two large wounds received in the calf of his leg. At his inquest (Irish Ind. Jan.16, 1923) it was stated that the bullet wounds were too large to have been inflicted with an ordinary bullet ‘unless it was flattened out’ (dumdum bullets). He is interred in Croghan graveyard. He had joined the Volunteers before 1916 and was on standby for the Easter Rebellion,with access to the local stock of arms and munitions. His father was also a member of the National Army.
Cadet P.C. White (25) also died at the Curragh from wounds received above the heart, the bullet entering from the left rear shoulder. Patsy White was the only son of shopkeeper Simon White of Lugnagun and Main Street, Blessington, Co. Wicklow. He is interred at Manor Kilbride cemetery in the White family plot. Sadly the new state did not (and does not) commemorate the actual site of their fallen soldiers. A simple wayside monument would suffice, as neither cross nor marker identifies where these soldiers of the National Army were mortally wounded.
The fledgling state found it necessary to introduce draconian powers, the Emergency Powers legislation, as the Civil War worsened. Thousands of known republicans, among them Jack Deegan and Din Hyland, were interned for up to two years in the Curragh camp.
Local man Thomas Gibson, a corporal in the National Army, was alleged to have absconded from the Portlaoise garrison to join the ‘Irregulars’ (opposing the Treaty). A son of Michael and Anne Gibson, grandson of William, he was born in Cloneygowan townland around 1897 and lived in Clonyquin. In the early years of the Civil War returning to former comrades was not an unknown practice, but circumstances throughout the country, and especially the Raheen ambush, provoked a strong reaction. In January 1923 Gibson and two comrades were captured in an army sweep of the Cullenagh district of Leix as they lay sleeping in a safe house. His companions, Tom and Frank Dunne were, respectively, a battalion commander and an adjutant of the Leix brigade. The Offaly Chronicle linked these arrests with the Raheen ambush. Four rifles and ammunition, telephone equipment, documents and dispatches were all found in their possession
At a general court martial held at Roscrea on 18th January 1923, Volunteer Gibson was charged that being on active service on 19th November 1922, he left Portlaoise barracks taking rifles etc. and was absent until the Jan 10th when he was arrested. He was found guilty of the charge of treachery, and was sentenced to suffer death by being shot. Among the last letters he wrote on the eve of his execution was this note to the Dunne brothers which reads (in part)… ‘Well, Tommy, I am sentenced to death on this day 23rd February and tomorrow will face it. I feel quite happy thank God only I feel very lonesome when I think of you… I am praying for you as I know you will for me, and I hope they will be heard… from your old chum Tom, Goodbye ever, its a long way to Tipperary.’ The sentence was duly confirmed and was carried out on the morning of Monday February 26th at Kellyville barracks, Portlaoise, where he was initially interred. His remains were re-interred in Raheen graveyard, where a memorial was raised by his comrades in the Leix brigade.
The judicial killing of a citizen by the State is a horrific act. Even today, and at this remove, the execution of over seventy citizens found carrying arms, an act the new state sanctioned, is difficult to come to terms with. Thomas Gibson’s last resting place has for many years been venerated by an Easter commemoration march and ceremony, and old comrades paid their respects. To us schoolchildren it was simply ‘The March’, an occasion for crowds and excitement, with little understanding of the solemnity of the event being recalled.
Service medal War of Independence