Recovering the ‘mislaid’ past…

Long before Slugger, I used to spend time on the Compuserve Ireland forum. It was ably moderated by the late (great?) Vincent Hannah – a sincere, passionate and scrupulously fair man. In one round of discussions it became obvious that most of us tend to remember the past through the prism of our own community’s sensibilities, which often requires the complete relegation from memory of atrocities committed by ‘our side’ on ‘theirs’. Eoghan Harris tells one such forgotten story from the Civil War, which is worth quoting at length:

At about 2.30am, on the night of April 26, 1922, a party of anti-Treaty IRA officers from the Bandon Battalion, under the command of Michael O’Neill, broke into Ballygroman House, the home of Thomas Hornibrook, his son Samuel, and daughter Matilda, members of a respected family of Cork Protestant merchants. Also in the house was Matilda’s husband, Captain Herbert Woods, a Bandon Protestant.

Given that this was the dead of night, in the middle of a civil war, with no police to call and armed men raiding Protestant farms far and wide, it was not surprising that armed intruders should strike fear into the family huddled upstairs, or that Captain Woods should have fired a shot to frighten them off – a shot which fatally wounded Michael O’Neill who was carried away by acting commander Charlie Donoghue and his men.

In the words of Peter Hart, “Revenge was swift and complete. Charlie Donoghue drove back to Bandon and returned with reinforcements – and rope.” The reinforced republicans laid siege to the house until eight o’clock the next morning, when the two Hornibrooks and Captain Wood agreed to surrender on condition their lives were spared.

Charles O’Donoghue and Michael O’Neill’s two brothers confronted the helpless men and asked who had fired the fatal shot. Captain Woods without ado, admitted responsibility. “I fired it.” He was beaten badly – the details are dire – and the three men were taken by car towards the hilly country of Templemartin. On the way, Woods was tied to the car and dragged a few miles along the road until he died.

The next day the two Hornibrooks were told they were to be shot and were forced to dig their graves. Thomas Hornibrook threw his stick into the grave, drew himself up to face the firing squad, and told them to go ahead.

The bodies of the three men were buried secretly – but of course the location was no secret to the the large number of men from Bandon and Kilbrittain who took part – or indeed to some of their descendants today.

Neither was there much secrecy about the share-out of the spoils. Ballygroman House was looted, then burned, the plantation of trees was cut down for sale, the fences flattened and the land seized. In sum, scores of people took part in the atrocity or the aftermath.

Now for the frightening part. Nothing about the murders appeared in any Irish newspaper. No attempt was made then, or later, to look into the murders. It was as if the three men had been taken away by aliens.

And no attempt has ever been made to find the three bodies and give them a Christian burial.