• Tommy Hourigan, Raheen, Limerick

Article from the Grange Parish Book suggested for reading this week (week 8)


IRA Supper Dance Held at Caherguillamore House on St Stephen's Night, 1920 This week (week 8) our suggested reading from the Grange Parish Book focuses on the supper dance held by the Old IRA at Caherguillamore House on 26 December 1920. St Stephen's Day, falling on 26 December each year, has long been a special day in Ireland. While the custom of small groups of adults and children 'Following the Wren' has declined significantly over the decades, the custom is still honoured in many areas, particularly in rural Ireland. Groups, dressed up and painted for the occasion, move from house to house, where they perform music, song and dance, for which hospitality in one form or another is the reward.

The following are the words of the wren song: The Wren, the Wren The King of the Birds On Stephen’s Day He was caught in the furze. Up with the kettle And down with the pan Give us your answer And let us be gone. St Stephen's Night has traditionally been a great night out for many: 'a good few drinks', partying and dancing. And so it was on the St Stephen's night of 1920, when many young women and men, light-hearted in anticipation of a night of music, song and dance, made their way under cover of darkness, along the roads and over fields, to a supper dance at Caherguillamore House. No doubt, some had 'followed the wren' earlier in the day.

The supper dance was planned as an IRA fundraiser for the purchase of arms. It had had been deliberately rumoured that the event would take place in the form of a céilí at another location (Herbertstown) in order to mislead the British authorities, so as to avoid the possibility of a raid on the dance by British forces. The true venue was not disclosed to the carefully selected invitees until close to the event time. The Great House in Caherguillamore was locked-up and unoccupied at the time, the British owner, Lord Fermoy, being out of the country. So, Caherguillamore House was commandeered by the local IRA for the event, food and drink were brought in under the utmost secrecy and music was arranged for a long night of dance and merriment. The IRA strategically posted sentries throughout the locality to ensure that in the unlikely event of British forces being in the area, revellers at the event would receive plenty notice to evacuate and disperse if deemed necessary. The IRA leadership did not anticipate a sophisticated British raid - the 'lookouts' were in place to warn of any routine presence in the area by the British. While the party got under way, little did the 250 or so participants know that the British had been aware for some time of the upcoming Caherguillamore event and had planned an elaborate raid by the regular military assisted by the 'Tans (Black and Tans) and the RIC. British intelligence indicated that a number of prominent and on-the-run IRA leaders would attend the event. The British raid was well-planned and mercilessly executed by a strong military contingent, aided by the 'Tans and RIC. Despite the deployment of IRA sentries, the British forces surrounded Caherguillamore House and raided the dance. The dance-goers had little or no warning. In the early hours of 27th December, brutality reigned at the house and many of those in attendance suffered injuries, some very serious. Five brave IRA men lost their lives - they are interred together in a Republican Plot in the graveyard at Grange Church. The story of the Caherguillamore House raid and its aftermath is told in two closely related articles in the Grange Parish Book. One, Bravery, Brutality and Death at Caherguillamore, compiled by John D Gallagher, drawing from well-known publications, graphically describes the Caherguillamore events that unfolded on 26/27 December 1920. The other, Martin O'Dwyer's Recollections, compiled by Teresa O'Dwyer Penschmidt and John Penschmidt, tells the story of the incarceration of Martin O'Dwyer, IRA Volunteer, who attended the dance and was injured, arrested and sent to prison in England for a period of time. For anybody with an interest in Ireland's fight for freedom, these articles make for compelling reading. The following is an extract from John Gallagher's article. It describes the escape from Caherguillamore by wounded Ged O'Dwyer (of subsequent international show-jumping fame) with British bloodhounds in hot pursuit. "One hundred and fifty yards in from the road a bullet inflicted a mortal wound on the valiant and dedicated Captain Martin Conway. John Gerard O’Dwyer was shot through the hand, and another bullet cut a furrow over his brother’s ear. Both succeeded in getting away.

John Gerard stumbled on through the woods with the blood flowing and dripping to the ground from his wounded hand through which the bullet had passed. Behind him, he heard the baying of the blood-hounds which the British had been carrying in the lorry. There was, apparently, to be no escape from Caherguillamore House. So thoroughly were the plans laid that it was intended to use the hounds to track down any Volunteers who might succeed in getting out of the ring of steel thrown around the grounds. O’Dwyer stumbled on.

He knew now that he was getting weaker from his wound. But he knew, too, that the dripping blood from his hand would make the job of the dogs on the scent all the easier. Yet, while there was life there was hope. When he rolled into a deep-banked stream of rapidly flowing water, he realised that if he could hold out physically he would succeed in throwing the dogs off the scent. He staggered along in the stream for a considerable distance and when he eventually left it he walked on, with increasing difficulty, for more than a mile.

Very near the point of exhaustion from loss of blood and the ordeal through which he had passed, he called to the house of a friend. It was with reluctance that he did so. Farmers and cottiers who harboured or otherwise aided the men on the run, even to the extent of trying to save the lives of wounded, had their homes burned over their heads by the forces of the Crown, whilst the heads of the households, including the fathers of young families, were, in many instances, taken outside their doors and shot dead where they stood - often on their bare feet after being roused in the middle of the night.

John Gerard O’Dwyer was fully aware of the fate that was likely to befall the family to whom he called in his dire extremity. But he need not have entertained fears about the bravery of the MacElligotts of Lough Gur. They answered his knock with a welcome that was replaced by alarm on observing his condition. He was made comfortable and, still growing weaker, he saw a bottle of whiskey being produced. Holding the glass to his lips, the twenty-years-old Volunteer, who was later to lead Ireland’s army equitation team to victory in some of the most glittering capitals of the world, tasted whiskey for the first time. The MacElligotts attended, as best they could, to his wound and sent immediately for the local medical officer, Dr Kelly, who now resides in England and who lost no time in coming to Lough Gur that night. " The following is an extract from Martin O'Dwyer's Recollections of prison life in England. “After the month of confinement we were led out for work, towards the flag quarries of Portland, and we had heard what a terrible place it was. But we were taken to a smith’s forge instead, and our warder was an old man married to an Irish woman, and he was very sympathetic and honest. Says he ‘I’m a bad warder, but I’m a good watchdog.’

I got a kind of general job. We all got on nicely. You’d get porridge and tea in the morning. At dinner we’d get what we called mystery soup: we’d put in a spoon and if you were lucky you might get a bit of meat. Another day you’d only get beans. They were very nice. I never had them as good since. The day you’d get them, you’d feel a lot stronger.

There were a lot of Dublin IRA men there and a man named Barton was one of the leaders, and we were ordered to go on strike for political prisoner status. That morning we threw off our hats and said we were working no more. The old warder was actually crying, saying: ‘they’ll finish you now . . . there’ll be no chance for Paddys.’" The full article Bravery, Brutality and Death at Caherguillamore may be read HERE. The full article Martin O'Dwyer's Recollections may be read HERE. Next week (week 9) we will suggest another article for reading. Kind Regards to All.

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