Thurles – Policeman Shot – Town Wrecked – Inhabitants Terror Stricken.

The Nenagh Guardian is the longest established local newspaper circulating in North Tipperary. First established on Saturday, July 21st, 1838 as ‘The Nenagh Guardian’, the paper has recorded many Tipperary momentous events over the last 183 years, including the event hereunder, which was published on Saturday January 24th 1920 using the headline:-

Exciting scenes in Thurles.
Policeman shot.
Town Wrecked – Inhabitants Terror Stricken.

[The report is published in full hereunder.]

Constable Luke Finnegan, while going home just before 11 o’clock in Thurles on Tuesday night, was shot as he was about to enter his home. He received three bullets and was conveyed to Dublin for an immediate operation. His condition is reported to be critical.

Armed squads afterwards made a search of the district entering several houses. Pedestrians on their way home where held up, questioned and searched. Later there was a crashing of glass from shop windows in Friar Street and this was followed by a volley of police rifle fire. It was thought a midnight attack was being made on the local barracks, but this proved to be incorrect. There was further smashing of plate glass windows before quiet was restored.

Archbishop On Scene. Most Reverend Dr. Harty and members of the local clergy walked through Thurles streets on Wednesday morning and inspected the damage done.

The English Labour delegates included Thurles in their itinerary through Ireland and were expected to arrive about midday on Wednesday.

The above deputation comprised of the Chairman of the British Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), William Adamson, and MP’s William Tyson Wilson, Arthur Henderson, John Allen Parkinson, Walter Robert Smith and John Robert Clynes. H. Scott Lindsay, secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party is acting as secretary to the delegation.

English Labour delegation arrives in Thurles

Surgeon Arthur Joseph Chance

The injured Constable Luke Finnegan who was shot in Thurles, arrived at Kingsbridge Station and was at once removed to Stephen’s hospital. An examination of his injuries showed that a bullet had passed through the abdomen and that he had been struck in the right arm, one of the bones of which was broken. Despite loss of blood he was perfectly conscious on admission. An operation was performed by Surgeon (Arthur Joseph) Chance on Wednesday morning.

Shortly after 11:00p.m. when comparative quite reigned, the streets being in possession of armed forces, the next thing heard was the crashing of glass from shop windows in Friar Street. A loud report followed. It was a volley of rifle fire. Consternation reigned in the town, the impression at first being that an attack had been made on the local barracks. But not so. Another volley rang out and more glass crashed on the pavement. Then ensued wild but systematic smashing of plate glass windows.

Terror Stricken Towns-People.
Terror-stricken women and children crowded together in back rooms for safety. Some fainted. For an hour and a half firing continued. Huge damage has been done. On Wednesday morning the streets were littered with broken glass, while several houses bore bullet marks. Many bullets were picked up in the streets. After 1:00 o’clock the firing ceased.

Enquiries made so far disclose that at least three houses were fired into. Bullet marks are in the bedroom of Mr James Leahy U.C., manager for Mr Michael O’Connell (now in jail). His house is in Main Street (Today’s Liberty Square) and the bedroom is on fourth storey. Mr Leahy luckily quitted the room on hearing the first bullet coming through his window. The window is riddled in many places.

Providential Escapes
In the house next door Mr J. Corbett, drapers assistant had a narrow shave. He was going to bed and he was near his window when two bullets crashed through the glass. His room is also on the fourth storey and bears numerous bullet marks.

Mr Charles Culhane’s residence, Friar Street, too, came in for special attention. His bedroom windows were riddled with bullets and he himself narrowly escaped being shot.

Mrs Benson’s Drapery Shop

Rifle firing started at 11:15 p.m. The streets were normal at the time and all lights were out. Most of the houses in main Street were wrecked including Molloy’s hardware store, Jeremiah O’Dwyers, McLoughney’s drapery house, O’Connell’s public house, D.H. Ryan’s drapery, Mrs Benson’s drapery house, Mrs Tobin’s hotel, Mr D. Morgan’s in Cathedral Street, (Latter grandfather of the late Dermot Morgan of “Fr. Ted” Channel 4 sitcom fame.), Mr C. Culhane’s, Friar Street, Mr T. Fitzgerald’s Westgate and the Star Newspaper office. Into the above places bullets were sent flying through the windows and doors. The terrified inhabitants had narrow escapes. Women became hysterical and fainted and children were frightened beyond description. Inmates of houses lay flat on floors and moved to back places. The firing lasted till five minutes after midnight. At 1:15 a.m. it again began and lasted until 1:40.

The amazement of the English Labour delegates at the occurrence in Thurles is expressed in a special statement which they issued on Wednesday evening on arriving in Tipperary from Thurles. They saw in Thurles, what Mr Arthur Henderson MP described as, “a besieged city”. After seeing Dr. Harty they had personal interviews with several persons whose houses had been attacked, and the situation was so extraordinary that they decided to issue a special report, when questioned by Press representatives regarding what came under their notice.

Interesting Visit.
Their joint statement is in part as follows: “The deputation had a very interesting visit to Thurles and had striking evidence of what is going on in various parts of Ireland at the present time. It appears that the night before a policeman was shot out in the street and wounded and that as a consequence the above policemen lost their heads. Walking down the street about a dozen houses bore marks either by way of shattered windows or otherwise of a considerable amount of indiscriminate shooting. From the evidence that one could gather from the prominent residence a number of the inhabitants who had retired or where retiring for the night, ran very narrow escapes from shooting through windows and doors”.
The deputation had an interview with one man who had retired with his wife and children and where awakened by the reports. Bullets began to come through the windows and he and his family had to leave the bedroom and shelter in the basement. Their passage to the basement was extremely perilous as bullets were coming through the windows and the doors”.

Greatly Astonished
Mr William Adamson MP, Chairman of the Party, in an interview stated that the deputation had been greatly astonished by all they had seen in Thurles and it was a striking confirmation of the many statements they had heard since their arrival in Ireland and showed conclusively the deplorable results of the present Castle (Dublin Castle) rule.

Most Rev Dr. John Mary Harty

The occurrence in Thurles, Mr Adamson said, and the evidence gathered by the deputation, will form an important part of our report to the Labour forces in Great Britain, and will without doubt strengthen the demand for the abolition of the present military regime in Ireland, and the substitution of a more enlightened method of government.

Mr Lindsay, Secretary of the delegation, issued a report as to the interview with Most Rev Dr. Harty: “The Labour Party deputation was exceedingly gratified” the report said “in securing an interview with the Archbishop of Cashel, who gave a very instructive and illuminating explanation of the prevailing opinions of the people of Ireland, as recorded by them in recent elections, Parliamentary, Municipal, and pointing out in view of past history the Irish people had come to the definite conclusion that nothing short of complete independence would be beneficial to this country”.

Thrilling Story.
They had also an opportunity of conversations with the editor of “The Tipperary Star” and with Mr Morgan, a secondary teacher who had just been elected to the Urban Council and whose place had been raided during Tuesday nights affray.

A thrilling story was told by Mr Callaghan President of the local Sinn Fein club. “The first intimation I had of the affair”, he said “was the report of a rifle shot. Immediately afterwards a piece of the ceiling in the room in which I slept, fell to the ground. The window was pierced through by the bullet. I knew what was coming then and I dressed and went downstairs. The crash of the lower window being broken and the door being battered then began. Meanwhile, I had gone out into the yard which was dark and went to the far end. Two policemen came out but could not see me. Nine policemen then enter the house, having forced the door. Some of them rushed upstairs and called for me. Nobody was in charge of the police who entered my house but there were two bunches of them and I saw one bunch hold up a motor car in the street outside.

Many Shots Fired.
The maid servant in the house related a similar story and the house bears evidence of a very large number of shots being fired at it. In all 16 houses were assailed, either with bullets grenades or clubbed with rifles. The damage to glass alone is estimated at £3000.

The house of Mr O’Connell in The Square bore traces of 15 rifle shots. In addition eight shots passed through the window of one room in the apartment adjoining, which a child was sleeping. One bullet pierced a picture of the Sacred Heart and penetrated through a thick partition and was found embedded in the far wall.

The premises of Mr McLoughney next door appeared to have been the target for several shots. While the fusillade was more intense, families who had not retired to bed, retreated to back portion of their houses, for safety and there joined in reciting the Rosary. One lady stated that you thought a rebellion had broken out, the firing was so rapid and so long sustained. Most people however were of the impression that a desperate street battle was in progress.

Thurles Police To Be Transferred.
The special correspondent of the “Dublin Evening Mail” states that the members of the entire police force now in Thurles are to be transferred to various other stations.

Thurles Outbreak Sequels.
Constable Luke Finnegan, who was shot in Thurles on Tuesday night, died in Stephen’s hospital as 11:30 o’clock on Thursday night.

Thurles resumed its normal appearance on Thursday and no police patrols were on the streets. Many of the shops, which suffered in the outbreak, were shuttered.

A number of high constabulary officers arrived in Thurles on Thursday night and were escorted from the railway by armed police and armoured cars to a local hotel. The houses attacked in the Mall on Tuesday night included that of Mrs Conran, mother-in-law of Mr George Clancy MP for South Sligo.
In the house of Mr Leahy a sleeping infant had a miraculous escape; a bullet passing between its arm and body and embedding itself in a wall opposite.

A Place Of Battles.
The town of Thurles with its many ancient castles and ruins has often witnessed scenes of a warlike nature. Originally called Durlas-O’Fogarty it was the scene of a memorable battle in the 10th century, between the Danes and the Irish, in which the former suffered severe defeat. After the Norman invasion those Danes who still remained in the country went to reinforce Strongbow at Cashel. When they halted at Thurles they were attacked and defeated by O’Brien of Thomond, who shortly afterwards compelled the invaders, who he encountered near the town, to retreat.

It is hardly to be wondered at that the late Fr. Benson shows Thurles as the most important Ecclesiastical Centre in the country, in one of his most famous novels. In addition to it being the Cathedral town of the Archbishop of Cashel, it contains several monasteries and convents. In former days a monastery for the Carmelites was founded there by one of the Butler family and also a preceptory of the Knights Templars, while in the 15th century a Franciscan monastery was established by the O’Meaghers.

The newspaper article of Saturday, January 24th, 1920, concludes.


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