Following up on my article examining the last great battle of the War of Independence, the confrontation between a combined force of pro- and anti-treaty units of the Irish Republican Army and the British Occupation Forces in the “Pettigo and Belleek salient“ of counties Fermanagh and Donegal during the summer of 1922, Jim Greenan has provided some additional information about one of the eye-witnesses to the clashes, in two emails outlined below:
“I was very interested in your comments on Fr. Lorcán Ó Ciaráin whom you described as a pro-treaty Sinn Féiner. This would have been at odds with what my father told me. My father was a taxi driver during the later years of Fr. Ó Ciaráin’s time in Belleek and he told a different story. He drove Fr. Ó Ciaráin to mass in Mulleek and Pettigo regularly and was very friendly with him. He told me and actually recorded on tape a few years before he died that Fr. Ó Ciaráin maintained he was against the Treaty and was not on good terms with Michael Collins and the government but after the June battles the British army and Specials gave him a very hard time and the curfew in the area made it impossible to do his duty. He made contact with Michael Collins to see what could be done to lift the curfew or allow him to carry out his duty to his parishioners. He arranged to meet Michael Collins at a priest house in County Cork on the day he (Michael Collins) was shot. The meeting didn’t take place but Michael Collins went to the house and apparently was shot later that evening.
Fr. Lorcán Ó Ciaráin told my father on his deathbed that he had to live with the belief that he was partly responsible for Collins death. Fr. Ó Ciaráin fell out with de Valera over the use of the Donegal corridor in WW2 with the allies stationed on Lough Erne.
Regarding Belleek Fort my father bought it in 1961 and demolished most of it with gelignite that he bought from Donegal County Council [early 1962/63] and brought from Lifford in the boot of an Austin Farina. I sold the site in 2001.
…there was an unholy row about the demolition of the Fort, Donegal County Council bought the stones from my father and used them as filling on the then new road in Ballyshannon which by-passed the Port road in the town.”
Thanks very much to Jim for that alternative interpretation of Lorcán Ó Ciaráin’s views during the latter part of the revolutionary period. Con O’Neill has also pointed me to this mention of the Monaghan-born priest and republican activist in bishop Edward Daly’s biography “Mister, Are You a Priest?“, published in 2000:
“My father’s work as undertaker took him to two parishes and four different churches. As a result, I was in frequent contact with many priests whom I came to know and respect. As an altar server, I was in regular contact with the priest based in Belleek, but as a result of attending funerals with my father I frequently met priests attached to other churches and parishes. They were all very kind to me. Some of these priests would have called in the shop also. One priest who particularly fascinated me was Father Lorcan Ó Ciaráin. He lived in a castle at Magheramena, about two or three miles outside Belleek. It had formerly been the dwelling of local gentry. I don’t quite know the story of how it came to be parish property or how a priest came to be living in such an edifice. It was strange that such a building should be the parochial house. It was an impressive, if somewhat dilapidated building with large draughty rooms. It was the biggest house that I was ever in as a child. In the autumn every year, coming up to Halloween, Father Ó Ciaráin invited people out to the castle where, in a large room, the floor was covered with apples which had been picked from the adjoining apple orchard and he encouraged them to help themselves which they did. He was given to telling tall and fascinating stories. He specialised in ghost stories. During our Halloween visit for apples, he always had a new ghost story. He was very elderly when I first came to know him. Not surprisingly, Magheramena Castle was disposed of after Father Ó Ciaráin died in 1945.”
Daly, indelibly associated in Irish minds with the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1972, was the son of Susan Flood, the cousin of Patrick Flood, a young volunteer killed on Drumhariff Hill during the latter part of the battle for the village of Pettigo, possibly by British artillery fire. His partially buried body was recovered from a trench on the hill and taken to a nearby cemetery by a young priest, despite the hostility of enemy soldiers and unionist crowds in the area.
If anyone else has more information on the events in south-west Ulster during May and June of 1922 please contact me via the form here.