Fenian Rising in Kilbaha 1867
By Mathúin Mac Fheorais [Matthew Bermingham]
The spring of 1867 saw the weather cold and blustery. The farmers of West Clare were busy preparing their gardens for the spring sowing. Cows were calving and hay stocks had to be watched carefully. Things had improved considerably in the previous twenty years. For the older generation the really bad potato blight was now no more than an unpleasant memory. True, there were recurring attacks but they never assumed the proportions of the cataclysmic years of the Famine. The Kilrush workhouse was not as crowded as in former years. Funerals to Shanakyle were less frequent as the dreaded cholera had lost its grip on the starving populace.
It was March 23rd 1867 as the workhouse van, drawn by tiring horses, rumbled over the stony streets of Kilrush in West Clare. (1) Its armed guard sharpened the curiosity of gazing onlookers as it wended its way to the Square and moved slowly into Francis Street. It came to a halt at the Bridewell and handed over its charge to the keeper John O’Connor. (2) A hitherto unknown Kilballyowen man had entered the pages of history and was destined to play a significant part in the affairs of Kilrush a generation later. His name was Thomas Fennell, a native speaker of the Irish language, who as Thomas McCarthy Fennell gave invaluable assistance to John O’Dwyer in his campaign to raise a fitting memorial to the Manchester Martyrs in Kilrush.
The “Clare Journal” of March 7th was eagerly read in West Clare, though the story it carried was not new. It had spread like wild fire through the towns and villages of Corca Baiscinn. Those, who could read English, gave the paper’s version of the story to eager listeners: “The western districts of the county are in a state of great excitement and an actual collision has taken place at Kilbaha Coastguard Station, which was attacked by a body of men on Tuesday night and the arms carried off. In the melee one of the coastguards was severely wounded. The insurgent party later marched towards Kilrush.”
The drama commenced on Shrove Tuesday night at the house of Susan Hehir, known locally as Siobhán Pilkington. Five men entered her public house and called for a drink. The conversation inevitably turned to matchmaking and marriages. The customers had things other than marriage in their minds but they did not wish to reveal their secret to the publican. (3) The men were Fenians and they had come to play their part in the planned national rising, the object of which was to rid the country of the invader and establish an Irish Republic. The leader of the group was one John Deloughery, described later in police reports as a national teacher and parish clerk at Cross. (4) His followers were Thomas Fennell, Uaghtarard, Stephen Fennell, Ross, Thomas Brennan, Feard and Patrick Fitzpatrick alias Corbett, Kilballyowen. (5)
John Wilmott was commissioned boatman at Kilbaha Coastguard Station and his assistants were Owen Lloyd and Henry Stanford. (6) Wilmott was a Catholic (7) and the Fenians expected some sympathy from him. Lloyd was a Welshman. Stanford was married to a girl from the nearby village of Carrigaholt (9) and was expected to offer little resistance to the attackers. This was the position as the attacking party saw it.
It was about five o’ clock in the evening when Deloughery and one of his men entered the house of Wilmott, who was having tea with his wife. Mrs Wilmott, thinking it was a social call, invited the visitors to have tea. The men declined but instead asked Wilmott to shake hands with them. Wilmott, immediately suspicious of their motives, refused. Deloughery, who had entered the house at this point, demanded the arms of the station in the name of the Irish Republic. Wilmott directed the men to the watch-house and made urgent preparations to defend the station. “I had the arms in my bedroom and took down my revolver, which was loaded, and ran out shutting the door after me. Then I called for the two other boatmen to come to my assistance . . ..” (11)
In the scuffle, which ensued in the yard of the station, Thomas Fennell was wounded by a shot fired by Wilmott and placed under arrest by him. Wilmott also overpowered Deloughery, who came to the assistance of Fennell, - but he was immediately rescued by his comrades. Deloughery then turned on Wilmott and stabbed him three times, taking his revolver from him in the process. He then fired back at the coastguards as his companions carried the wounded Fennell to safety. It was at this juncture that Stanford appeared belatedly with a drawn sword; Stephen Fennell and Thomas Brennan had impeded him. (12) After the attackers had moved off, the coastguard garrison retreated to Kilcredane Fort (13) where Dr Keogh of Carrigaholt treated Wilmott. (14) Fennell was helped to the house of James Keane where he too received medical aid. The Battle of Kilbaha was over.
The Fenians were now fugitives and all the forces of the Crown stationed locally were mustered to secure their arrest. Keane’s house was surrounded three days after the attack and Thomas Fennell was placed under arrest. (15) Stephen Fennell went to Ennis and thence by train to Dublin but returned after a few days and was believed to be hiding at the house of Patrick Keating of Tullagower near Kilrush. (16) Fitzpatrick was arrested on April 13th at the house of Deloughery’s sister and taken to Kilrush. (17) The coastguards Lloyd and Stanford were also arrested and taken aboard the gunboat “Frederick William” stationed at Foynes across the Shannon Estuary in County Limerick, and the “Clare Journal” believed they would later be charged with “timorousness”. (18) Local people say the gunboat fired at least one cannon ball at Rehy Hill, where the Fenians were believed to be hiding. A large iron ball with brass fittings survived in the area until the Second World War and was used by the young men of the district for weight lifting and feats of strength. It is believed to be the ball fired by the gunboat at the local Fenians. (19)
The hunt for the fugitives was carried on relentlessly. Shipping in the Carrigaholt area was watched carefully. Information was not forthcoming and more furtive methods were resorted to. A constable named O’Brien arrived in disguise in the area. In a report to his superiors in Dublin he wrote: ”I beg . . . to state that the Rev. P. White again yesterday called on the people in the chapel in Carrigaholt to subscribe for the defence of the Fenian prisoners now in custody and expressed his gratification that there were no informers in the parish.” (20) Constable Joseph Murphy, who later replaced O’Brien, observed that “a most studious and stubborn silence was observed by the people”. He believed the fugitives hid in the caves at night and remained barefooted by day to enable them to make a quick escape in the event of pursuit by the police. He believed also that the money being collected in the area for the defence of those in gaol was in fact to be used to bribe ships’ captains to take the Fenians safely to America. In a last desperate to get information Murphy visited the house of Mrs Deloughery disguised as a pedlar. “I simulated lameness. I offered her books, shoelaces and blacking for sale. She peremptorily ordered me out of her house and thanked God her son was safe and in the same sentence she said she would not trust a beggarman and boasted that I or any other stranger would not get a morsel to eat as far as Loop Head. (21)
April 20th Thomas Fennell and Fitzpatrick were removed to Ennis to stand
trial. The former on a treason felony charge, the latter on a “Whiteboy”
offence. (23) The judge was William Keogh, who had sentenced the Fenian
leader O’Donovan Rossa. (24) Fitzpatrick was sentenced to eighteen months
with hard labour but was released in May 1868 on condition that he emigrated to
America. (25) Fennell was sentenced to ten years penal servitude and
transported to Western Australia. (26) He was aboard the “Hougoumont” at
anchor near Portland Prison when he first heard the news of the execution of
the Manchester Martyrs. (27) When Kilrush decided in 1897 to erect a
memorial to these men Thomas McCarthy Fennell was contacted. Fennell had
long since left the convict settlement and was now the owner of a saloon in
Elmira. “It is gratifying,” he wrote to Thomas Mahony, Kilrush “that the
national sentiment, for which the old country has been always noted, still
lives and that her sturdy sons are as ready and willing as ever to maintain
it.” (28) Fennell was instrumental in having a generous subscription sent
from America towards the cost of the memorial. (29) Nor did Fennell
forget to return the compliment to Father White, who later became parish priest
of Nenagh in County Tipperary. Father White sent his curate the Rev. M.
B.Corry to America at the turn of the nineteenth century to collect funds to
build a new church in that North Tipperary town, which like Kilbaha was in the
Diocese of Killaloe. “I got a considerable share of money for him,” wrote
Fennell was released from captivity with eight other prisoners in March 1871 and went to America. (31) He still maintained an interest in Irish affairs and he was the person who gave to John Devoy the idea, which resulted in the rescue from Fremantle some years later of the soldier prisoners. These were Irishmen serving in the British army, who were discovered to be either members of the Fenian Brotherhood or active sympathisers with the movement. Because they had proved unfaithful to the Crown they were subjected to the vilest tortures during their years of detention and their rescue was consequently of paramount concern to Fenians everywhere. (32)
The only West Clare man to give his life at that time was Patrick Keating, a soldier of the Fifth Dragoon Guards, who was arrested in 1866 and sentenced to penal servitude in Fremantle for “concealing mutiny”. He died of a heart attack, brought on no doubt by the rigours of his imprisonment, before the arrival of the rescue-ship “Catalpa” and is buried in an unmarked grave far from his native Corca Baiscinn. (33)
Fenian actions in Kerry, Cork and Dublin receive prominence in history books. No mention is made of the action in Kilbaha, in which the Irish Republic - all thirty-two counties – was declareed in armed rebellion by the leader John Deloughery and baptised in the blood of Thomas Mc Carthy Fennell. It is hoped that in some small way this article will redress the slight to Kilbaha and give to the men of Kilballyowen the place in history they have won for themselves.
(1) “Clare Journal” (CJ), March 25th 1867.
(2) Thom’s Directory 1867.
(3) Chief Secretary’s Office (CSO) Registered Paper (RP) 7641/1867
(4) CSO RP 13503/1867 (Const. J Murphy).
(5) CSO RP 7641/1867
(6) CSO RP7641/1867 (Hehir, Wilmott, Lloyd, Stanford, Stephen Brennan)
(7) CJ March 11th, CJ July 18th ,1867
(8) Anraoi de Blác, Cill Bheathach
(9) Anraoi de Blác
(10) CSO RP 764/1867 (Lloyd)
(11) CSO RP7641/1867 (Wilmott)
(12) CSO RP 7641/1867 (Wilmott, Lloyd, Stanford)
(13) CSO RP 7641/1867 (Joseph Rockett)
(14) CSO RP 7641/1867 (Dr John Keogh)
(15) CSO RP 7641/1867 (Mc Cullagh RM)
(16) CSO RP 5706/1867 (Sub.Inspector Kennedy to Inspector General (IG)
(17) CSO RP 7641/1867 ( Sgt. Cronin to IG)
(18) CSO RP 7641/1867 (Sub. Insp. Kennedy to IG)
(19) John Kelly, Capel Street, Dublin and Anraoi de Blác.
(20) CSO RP 13503/1867 (Const. O’Brien to IG)
(21) CSO RP 13503/1867 (Const. Murphy to IG)
(22) CSO RP 5246R/1869
(23) CSO RP 7641/1867
(24) CJ July 18th, 1867
(25) Fenian Papers 5246/1869
(26) Fenian Papers 5246/1869. CJ, July 18th 1867.
(27) Máiréad Ní Dhuibhir Cearnóg na Mairtíreach, Cill Ruis (Letter from Thomas Mc Carthy Fennell to Thomas Mahoney, June 1st 1867.
(29) Máiréad Ní Dhuibhir. (Manchester Martyrs Memorial Committee, Minutes of Meetings 1897).
(30) Máiréad Ní Dhuibhir. (Letter from Thomas Mc Carthy Fennell to Thomas Mahoney , July 12th 1897)
(31) O’Brien & Ryan, “Devoy’s Postbag”, Vol. 1, P. 71.
(33) Devoy, John, “Recollections of an Irish Rebel”. P.143.
B. Mac Giolla Choille, Keeper of State Papers (for permission to publish extracts from State Papers); Iníon Mhic Ghiolla Phádraig, State Papers Office; An tAthair S. Ó Deá, Stiúrthóir Fhoras Uí Chomhraí (for access to Foras Archives); Anraoi de Blác, Kilbaha; John Kelly, Capel Street Dublin and Rehy, Kilballyowen; Máiread Ní Dhuibhir, Kilrush; Mago Carmody (RIP), Kilballyowen; Johnsie Keane, Ross, Kilbaha; Mártan Mór Ó Fionnaíl (RIP), Ross, Kilbaha.
© Mathúin Mac Fheorais/Matthew Bermingham 2002
To Readers of this Article: The author would welcome information on John Deloughery/Delohery who lived in Danbury Connecticut after his escape from Ireland in 1867. He would also welcome information about the killing of a Crown Witness from Ennis County Clare named Simon Navin or Nevin in Ballarat Australia in 1870. Navin had betrayed his Fenian comrades for what he thought was the safety of Australia. Information to firstname.lastname@example.org