In the previous article, we discussed an anti-Treaty IRA ambush of a vehicle containing members of the National Army as it passed through Glasson on the morning of 25 August 1922. Here, we trace the aftermath of that ambush.
A photo taken in Custume Barracks, Athlone, in August 1923. Seán MacEoin, in uniform, stands near the centre of the photo. Seated to MacEoin's right is John McCormack, the internationally famous tenor, and to his left is Michael Curley, Archbishop of Baltimore in the United States of America. In the aftermath of the 1922 Glasson ambush, Curley denounced the anti-Treaty IRA during a sermon in St. Mary's Church, Athlone - (Athlone Public Library).
When news of the ambush reached Athlone, a contingent of the National Army departed Custume Barracks for Glasson. On the way, they encountered the officers Carroll and Rattigan who had found refuge in a local house. At the village, they found Lieutenant Seán McCormack lying dead by the side of the road and discovered that a civilian named Patrick Murtagh had died in Dr Glancy’s dispensary. Both bodies and the grievously wounded National Army soldier, Albert Hayes, were taken in a military ambulance to Athlone.
In total, five people had been shot. Mrs. Boyd and John McCormack, both civilians, were lucky to have received relatively minor wounds. Lieutenant Seán McCormack, who was from Moate, had received a bullet wound to his left shoulder from which he bled to death. He was sixteen years old. Murtagh, a 42-year-old egg-dealer from Wineport, had also died from loss of blood following a wound to the right side of his torso. Albert Hayes, from Tullamore and aged about twenty, remained alive but his wounds would prove fatal. According to Dr Glancy, Hayes had been shot in the back: ‘The spinal cord was affected, and his legs were paralysed’. Within days of the ambush, Hayes died of an infection related to his wounds.
From eye-witness accounts and the testimony provided at inquests into the three deaths, it is clear that Seán McCormack and Albert Hayes were wounded as their car made its way around the corner by the old RIC barracks and the school. They were hit during the first volleys of gunfire from the anti-Treaty IRA. In the initial reports after the ambush, there was no mention of return fire by the National Army troops. However, Carroll and Rattigan told the inquests that they fired revolver shots in the direction of their attackers. If so, those shots were aimed away from the village in the direction of the schoolhouse wall and the high wall bounding the Waterstown estate. It is not clear where each of the civilians were located when they were shot. It seems that Murtagh and McCormack were on the street at the Athlone side of the village and that they were hit at the very beginning of the ambush before they had time to seek shelter. Boyd was likely shot after them, since she rushed onto the street to rescue one of her children when she heard the first shots. She may have been shot when the anti-Treaty IRA chased the National Army car through the village. Given the evidence, it is likely that the three civilians were hit by shots fired by the ambushers rather than the National Army.
Before he died, Albert Hayes made a sworn statement in which he claimed to recognise one of the ambushers: ‘I know a man in the party by his voice. He worked in Tullamore and I saw him in different places. His name was Thomas Berry.’ Hayes’s statement was not accepted as evidence during the inquest because it was deemed to be too tenuous. Yet Hayes was correct in his belief that Berry was one of the anti-Treaty IRA ambushers. Thomas Berry confirmed this fact in his later application for a military pension. Also, Berry claimed that he remained ‘on the run’ until 1924 so as to avoid being the target of retribution from Lieutenant Seán McCormack’s brother Joseph, who was a captain in the National Army. Apart from Berry, a later IRA brigade activity report stated that Tim McCann, Peter Hackett, Edward McCormack and James Casey ‘did outpost duty for an ambush carried out at Glasson in August 1922’. It is likely, although not certain, that they took part in the ambush (at least three of those four men had taken part in the June 1921 attack at nearby Benown that led to the death of Colonel-Commandant Thomas Stanton Lambert of the British army).
In the days after the ambush, the National Army sought to hand out retribution to their anti-Treaty IRA enemy. The Westmeath Independent reported that ‘the military appeared to be remarkably active’ around Glasson, especially in ‘wood and bogs’ near Waterstown House. Those efforts, according to the paper, led to no arrests although the area had witnessed an upsurge of anti-Treaty activity during the previous weeks. In mid-August, the house of a Protestant farmer named Bryan was ransacked by a small group of men, who were, they claimed, searching for arms and ammunition. During the same period, Waterstown House was robbed by armed and masked men. All around Glasson, side-roads were blocked with trees that had been felled by the anti-Treaty IRA while the local post office had, fearful of being raided, ceased to issue stamps and old-age pensions. In order to obtain those services, people were required to travel to the nearest head office (presumably Athlone).
The days after the ambush were also marked by the funerals of those who had been killed. Patrick Murtagh was buried in the grounds of Tubberclair Church. His funeral, according to the Offaly Independent, ‘amply proved that the deceased was a favourite with all sections of the community’. The paper also reported that, at ‘the different Masses on Sunday in Tubberclair the clergy strongly denounced the ambush’. Moate witnessed a similarly large turnout for the funeral mass of Lieutenant Seán McCormack. The Westmeath Independent reported that 2,000 people followed the hearse as it travelled to ‘the family burial ground, Boher’.
McCormack’s death was the subject of sermons in the locality. In the midlands, the media gave prominence to the opinions of Athlone-born Michael Curley, recently installed as Archbishop of Baltimore in the United States. Curley, on a visit to Ireland at the time, gave a sermon in St. Mary’s Church, Athlone, whose contents were reported in the Westmeath Independent. He castigated the anti-Treaty IRA as ‘a small minority’ who offered nothing ‘but wreckage and ruin’. Curley then spoke of the events at Glasson and the ‘men who murdered the little boy, McCormack, in Glasson and shot him dead in the village street’. Such events, he stated, were bringing ‘shame’ upon Ireland and he contrasted the anti-Treaty IRA with the National Army, whom he told the congregation were ‘your National soldiers’. Each night, Curley said, he offered prayers for the safety of those soldiers in the National Army. Such sentiments were shared by bishops and senior clergy in Ireland who strongly supported the Provisional Government and the Anglo-Irish Treaty. As demonstrated by works such as Patrick Murray’s Oracles of God a large majority of priests also endorsed the Treaty.
Over a week after the ambush, the body of Albert Hayes was taken by train from Athlone to Tullamore, where local units of the National Army provided a guard of honour as the coffin was brought from the railway station to the Church of the Assumption. Hayes was buried in Clonminch Cemetery. So it was that, in the same week in which Michael Collins was killed, three midland families were left to mourn the latest casualties in a war whose outcome was yet unknown but whose legacy was being shaped with every fatality.
Dáil Éireann debates; University College Dublin Archives – Richard Mulcahy Papers and Ernie O’Malley Papers; Irish Independent, Freeman’s Journal, Offaly Independent, Poblacht na hÉireann, Westmeath Examiner and Westmeath Independent. For further detail, see John Burke’s, Athlone 1900-1923: politics, revolution and civil war (The History Press, 2015); Liam Cox, Moate - County Westmeath: A History of Town and District (Alfa Print Ltd, 1981); Michael Hopkinson, Green against Green: the Irish Civil War (Gill & Macmillan, 2004); Uinseann MacEoin, Survivors (Argenta Publications, 1987) and Patrick Murray, Oracles of God: The Roman Catholic Church and Irish Politics, 1922-1937 (University College Dublin Press, 2000).
Content Last Updated/Reviewed: 20/10/2022