Brigade Activity Reports of the IRA, 1916–23 and Tullamore and Clara in the aftermath of the killing of RIC Sergeant Cronin in October 1920 during the War of Independence. Michael Byrne

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The Brigade Activity Reports (BAR) series of the Military Service (1916–1923) Pensions Collection, released by the Military Archive recently were compiled from 1935 onwards to assist in the verification of individual applications for pensions; nearly all of the reports include brief descriptions of particular operations undertaken or planned including some in Tullamore, the attacks on Clara barracks, Kinnitty, Raheen and more. A new publication, a Guide to the Brigade Activity Reports is available from the Military Archive and a copy can be downloaded there free of charge (hard copy in Offaly History Centre Library). The published guide contains useful essays together with listings of Brigade activity in Offaly, the diversionary attack at Geashill, the killing of Sgt Cronin and the death of Matthew Kane, IRA Volunteer. Last week we looked briefly at the killing of Sergeant Cronin and this week the aftermath. But first a mention of what else is contained in the BAR for Offaly.


Summary of IRA attacks in Offaly.

A18_1 2 Offaly Brigade
MSPC/A18_1-2 Offaly Brigade (p.3) ‘Activities in Offaly, 1920-1921’

Activities in Offaly are summarised in the reproduction of an Offaly list of activities for 1920–21. This will need close scrutiny in light of local information. An incident at Parkwood is claimed by both Athlone and Offaly brigades (see the BAR guide, p. 32).What is useful about the reports is the fact that they can easily be searched and collated with local versions of events. This will be very much the case for the attack on Clara barracks and there will be questions about how it was handled. Many questions will arise but it may be idle to speculate unless there is good quality evidence to counteract what has been provided in the BAR reports. We must also be conscious of lapses of memory and, especially with oral accounts of events, how far were they from the actual event. Was there even in the 1970s and 1980s the view that IRA military matters should be kept secret from a prying public? Perhaps dust was showered even at such a late remove.

Who were the girls mixed up with Tans when shot up in April 1921 in Tullamore? Was one of them tarred and feathered in the aftermath? There is a Tullamore story to this effect in regard to the April 1921 incident leading to the death of Matthew Kane and its aftermath. Was Sergeant Cronin shot because he had special reporting duties or was he an easy target leaving his house in Henry St and whose death might evoke less sympathy as he was only four years in the town? We may never know. The reports of his police work in the press suggest no more than that he was a vigilant police sergeant. As yet no quality evidence has been adduced to suggest that he was especially deserving of being shot in what had become a bloody campaign from January 1919. Likewise, the names of those who killed Cronin or executed the alleged spy Steadman are less important save in the context of how these IRA men were treated in the aftermath by the Pensions Referee and Advisory Committee or may have suffered trauma because of their role in the War of Independence and the Civil War.

Sometimes it is said that the men who killed Cronin were from out of town. Bishop Cronin did not think so and there is nothing to suggest that there were more than two involved. See the report to the Military Archive below that provides the names of Sean Barry and Sean Killeavy, both from Tullamore. In the aftermath of the war a third man, or even more, might be introduced to lessen the concern for local families. The BAR report of about 1940, probably compiled by brigade officers Bracken and Galvin, among others, is very specific on who shot Cronin. At the end of the day it is of no import. To say he was shot in the back is to suggest cowardice which would be wrong. That said it was hardly a fair fight, but then war is not about playing fair. It is about winning.

 

A memorial card for Sgt Cronin and a welcome for his son, Bishop Cronin, on his 25th anniversary as bishop in the 1970s from well-known Tullamore people including Tom and Mrs Lawless, Molly Adams, J Allen, Mona  Wrafter, -.

Nights of destruction in Tullamore and Clara in the aftermath of the Cronin attack
Sgt Cronin (aged 46 and in Tullamore since 1916) was shot in Henry Street (the Pig Market) about 7.45 p.m. on the evening of 31 October and died in the County Infirmary nearby early the following morning. Mrs Cronin thought she heard five shots and according to the inquest Cronin was hit with three bullets – two in the stomach, one in the chest and his right arm was shattered. There were six bullet holes in his body – three entry and three exit from shots fired at close range. After the shooting people fled their homes in fear of reprisals. The Foresters Hall (then on the site of what is now the Youth Club) was destroyed as was the Transport Workers Hall and the premises of Mrs O’Brennan and Mrs Wyer in Church Street. The office of the Offaly Independent was destroyed as were the Sinn Féin room overhead. Houses searched included Barry’s in O’Moore Street and Heavey’s in Harbour Street where James O’Connor was lodging. He was arrested but was later released.

A17 Offaly Brigade_Tullamore pg 102 - Copy
MSPC/A17_1 Offaly Brigade ‘Attack on RIC at Tullamore 1 Nov 1920’

The Cronin inquest jury deplored the incident and noted that hitherto Tullamore had been quiet and peaceable. Fr Daly deplored all violence at Sunday mass and that the incident was likely to have been done by people not from the town. Sgt Cronin was buried in a military style funeral on the following Wednesday in the presence of a large crowd from Tullamore including Ulster Bank manager Thomas Mitchell who was shot dead in 1922. Fr Callary PP condemned the killing as the work of ‘misguided fanatics’ from out of town.

A17 Offaly Brigade_Tullamore
MSPC/A17-1 Offaly Brigade Sketch map of Tullamore, April 1921

On Monday it was the turn of Clara with the military shooting up Sinn Féin supporter Michael Henry White’s grocery and pub and severely injuring his brother Leo White who had served in the Great War. Curfew was imposed in Tullamore during darkness and searchlights were in operation. Black and Tans behaved in lawless fashion in many of the midland towns, even Birr much to the surprise of residents there. An attack on the military at Raheen was also reported on. This involved Sean Barry who was placed in charge of the company as Peadar Bracken confirmed in a letter to the press in 1954.

So how did it work out for everyone after the Cronin killing?

Foresters Hall 1918
The Foresters Hall Tullamore in 1918. It was destroyed by lawless police and military on 31 October 1920.

But how did it all pan out?The Cronin family were compensated for their loss in money terms. So too were the Foresters who built a new hall incorporating part of James O’Connor Co-Operative bakery and had the successful Grand Central Cinema (now Characters) and their clubrooms. Of the two men who shot Cronin Sean Barry joined the Free State army and Sean Killeavy the Republicans. Friends and comrades in the War of Independence must have fallen out in the course of the civil war. It will be remembered that it took fourteen years for the two sides to come together in silence to unveil the memorial in front of the county courthouse in 1953.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Rebellion in 1966 was a time of quiet celebration. Perhaps in more ways than one. The long and dreary aftermath of the civil war (one could say from 1923 until 1960) was over. The economy was lifting under Lemass and the tide of emigration (400,000 in the 1950s) was reducing. The country was modernising and so were the women. One of these was none other than the widow of Sean Barry, now remarried as Mrs Hochstrasser. She was better known as Nurse Barry and had delivered many a child in Tullamore. Her first husband, Sean Barry, had died in 1931 at the age of 32. He got a glowing obituary but the little money by way of invalidity pension that Nurse Barry had dried up with his death. His obituary in January 1931 noted that:
He was a staunch and courageous follower of the movement, and those who were associated with him bear testimony to the fact. He was imprisoned for his activities, and was one of those who in Belfast jail, under the leadership of Austin Stack, fought against the tyranny of the Belfast prison authorities. He also spent long terms in the internment camps. He endured great hardships in the campaign, but carried on valiantly to the end. He subsequently joined the ranks of the National Army and held the rank of Lieutenant.

 

 

Nurse Barry’s in Cormac Street, Tullamore with Vincent Hussey and Fergal MacCabe. Fergal was delivered by Nurse Barry.

Nurse Barry (Mrs Hochstrasser) of Cormac Street, Tullamore: some plain speaking in 1966 in a letter to the press (19660430 Offaly independent)
“One of the Many”
(To the Editor)
The wife of the late Sean Barry, who died on 17th January, 1931, R.I.P., would like to state a few facts regarding his part in the Fight for Freedom;-
“Although quite a lad when working in the Post Office in Tullamore, then under British rule, from a platform there singing song entitled “Whac-Fol-Diddle Die-Die –Do Dee,” he lost his job and got three months imprisonment. When he came out he still continued in the cause of freedom and drilled his men out on the hills of Arden. He was O.C. of the Flying column with Offaly Brigade. He took part in various ambushes. On one occasion, while on the run, he was knee deep in water for four hours in order to escape an R.I.C. convoy.
At the age of 19 he was one of the men who went on hunger strike in Belfast Jail. When he was released he continued his activities and was arrested in Ballydaly with the late Jack Doody of Convent View (R.I.P.). He was interred in Rath Camp, Curragh, County Kildare, and escaped with sixty more through a tunnel they had burrowed. After the truce he joined the National Army with the rank of Lieut. He was stationed at Durrow, Portlaoise, Tullamore, Daingean and Mountbolus. From there he was transferred to Castle Barracks. Roscrea, 2nd Battalion of Athlone Command, under then Sean McEoin.
While there he saved Seamus Burke’s house at Rockforest, Roscrea, then Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance, from being burned down by the Irregulars [Republicans]. In 1924, when they were reducing the strength of the Army, he was demobilised and was without a job for two years, as there was no vacancy for him in the Post Office (only part-time). His health deteriorated owing to the hardships he endured while on the run. He was a patient in County Hospital, then in Church St., being treated for pleurisy under then Surgeon Meagher [the same as treated Cronin]. The R.I.C. got to know of his whereabouts and he had to walk out of there with the late Nurse Heavey of Harbour St. (R.I.P.) disguised as a woman. He was never able to get proper treatment, drifting from place to place. When he finally got his full-time job back in the Post Office, his health worsened and he had to be sent to Newcastle Sanatorium. It was then too late and he finally died in his home at the age of 33 years. His service pension died with him and I was left with five children to provide for. I has no widows or orphans pension and his children were very young and two of them, a boy and a girl passed away shortly after him .. .
But my thanks are due to Benevolent Fund of Post Office, the Red Cross, and Offaly County Council, who helped me out to rear those children. His comrades didn’t wrap the National Flag on his coffin, neither did the Pipers Band turn up, although he was a member of same, nor was the Last Post sounded. Was he not up to standard? (It makes one wonder.)
Elizabeth Hochstrasser
S.C.M.
Cormac Street,
Tullamore
19/4/ ‘66

Nurse Barry, as she was affectionately known (for she had been a midwife for many years and at a time when home births were much more common), died in 1982. Her second husband, Frank Hochstrasser, had predeceased her by 20 years.

Sean (John) Killeavy)
Sean Killeavy was from William/Columcille Street, Tullamore and was a son of Henry and Catherine Killeavy. The family were victuallers and John’s brother was Michael (died 1975) who fought in the Great War and the War of Independence and was chair of the town council in the 1960s. John fought on the Republican side in the civil war. Soon after it was over he emigrated but was back in Ireland in the mid-1930s and took a part in the reorganising of the old IRA. He later became a civic guard and served in the north west. In retirement from the 1970s he returned to Tullamore and  died aged 82 in 1980 and is buried at Durrow.

Killeavy J.
In loving memory of John Killeavy (Arden Road Tullamore) who died 24th May 1980. Durrow RC Cemetery

Henry Cronin’s son, the archbishop, is well remembered in Tullamore as is his sister Peggy who worked in Hoey & Denning. Bishop Cronin got a huge welcome back to Tullamore as bishop in the 1950s.

The 1916-23 period was tough for many people and as historians we look back and try to appreciate those times and tell the stories of the people who served in so many ways be it as policemen, Volunteers, Free Staters or Republicans. Have you a story to tell for offalyhistoryblog? Contact us at info@offalyhistory.com. Thanks to the excellent work of the Military Archive we have so much more to weigh and consider. Offaly History will be organising a lecture on the archive soon.  We are grateful to the Military Archive for permission to use their images and to all those who give pictures to Offaly History for use in our work.

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