LIMERICK BROTHERS MURDERED BY BRITISH FORCES, 1921,

THE SHOOTING OF TWO TEENAGE BROTHERS BY THE RIC AND THE IRA’S EXECUTION OF THREE BRITISH SOLDIERS THE SAME DAY SHOW HOW BLOODY THE CONFLICT WAS IN CO CLARE. FOLLOWING EARLY MASS ON THE MORNING OF SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 1921, BROTHERS AIDAN, 18, THOMAS, 17, AND CECIL O’DONOVAN, 14, LEFT THEIR HOME IN THOMONDGATE, CO, LIMERICK.
THE TRIO SET OFF FOR PARTEEN JUST ACROSS THE COUNTY BORDER IN SOUTHEAST CLARE. THEY WERE PLANNING TO SPEND THE DAY SEARCHING FOR BIRDS’ NESTS.

ON THEIR JOURNEY, THEY MET THEIR COUSIN BEN O’DONOVAN WHO DECIDED TO JOIN THEM ON THEIR ADVENTURE.
AROUND 12PM, THE FOUR ARRIVED AT BLACKWATER MILL AND, AFTER EXPLORING THE RUIN WITHOUT FINDING ANY NESTS, DECIDED INSTEAD TO PLAY IN THE FIELDS OUTSIDE. ABSORBED WITH THEIR GAMES, THE FOUR BOYS DID NOT PAY ANY ATTENTION TO TWO CROSSLEY TENDER LORRIES LADEN WITH BRITISH TROOPS THAT WERE APPROACHING FROM LIMERICK. THE ADVANCING BRITISH PATROL WAS UNDER THE COMMAND OF RIC DISTRICT INSPECTOR JOHN GREALLY AND CAPTAIN DAVID STURROCK OF THE BRITISH ARMY.

STURROCK, AN INTELLIGENCE OFFICER, LATER CLAIMED HE HAD BEEN TIPPED OFF BY A SPY THAT AN IRA UNIT WAS DRILLING IN THE GROUNDS OF THE MILL, AND IT WAS ON THE FOOT OF THIS INFORMATION THAT THE CONVOY HAD BEEN SENT TO INVESTIGATE.. INSPECTOR GREALLY AND CAPTAIN STURROCK MOVED UP TO INVESTIGATE. THE BRITISH OFFICERS LATER CLAIMED THEY HAD SEEN A LARGE NUMBER OF IRA VOLUNTEERS FLEEING THE MILL AS THEY APPROACHED. GREALLY AND STURROCK BOTH CLAIMED THEY ONLY OPENED FIRE AFTER CALLING UPON THE FLEEING VOLUNTEERS TO SURRENDER. THE TRUTH IS THAT THERE HAD BEEN NO IRA VOLUNTEERS PRESENT AND O’DONOVAN BOYS HAD NO CHANCE TO SURRENDER BEFORE THE RIC OPENED FIRE WITH FATAL CONSEQUENCES.

A PARTY OF RIC CONSTABLES AND BLACK AND TANS UNDER THE COMMAND OF SERGEANT JAMES HORAN, AN INFAMOUS RIC OFFICER FROM CO MAYO WHO HAD BEEN INVOLVED IN SEVERAL CONTROVERSIAL KILLINGS IN LIMERICK, IMMEDIATELY OPENED FIRE. AIDAN O’DONOVAN WAS SHOT IN THE CHEST AND DIED A FEW MINUTES LATER. HIS OLDER BROTHER CECIL WAS SHOT THROUGH THE FOREHEAD AND DIED INSTANTLY. BEN O’DONOVAN MANAGED TO ESCAPE THROUGH THE GROUNDS OF THE MILL WHILE THOMAS O’DONOVAN WAS TAKEN, PRISONER. THE SHOOTING ONLY STOPPED AFTER CAPTAIN STURROCK OF THE BRITISH ARMY PERSONALLY INTERVENED TO PREVENT THE RIC FROM KILLING THE TWO SURVIVING O’DONOVAN BOYS.

A BRITISH ARMY INQUIRY WAS HELD AT THE NEW BARRACKS (NOW SARSFIELD BARRACKS) IN LIMERICK ON FEBRUARY 22. IT WAS VERY CLEAR THAT NO ORDER TO OPEN FIRE WAS GIVEN BY EITHER CAPTAIN STURROCK OR INSPECTOR GREALLY. INSTEAD, IT WAS THE GROUP OF RIC CONSTABLES AND BLACK AND TANS LED BY SERGEANT HORAN WHO WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT BECAME KNOWN AS THE BLACKWATER MASSACRE. IN HIS EVIDENCE TO THE INQUIRY, THOMAS O’DONOVAN SAID WHILE HE SAW THE LORRIES ARRIVING, HE DID NOT HEAR ANY ORDER TO HALT OR SURRENDER BEFORE SERGEANT HORAN AND THE MEMBERS OF THE RIC OPENED FIRE, KILLING HIS TWO BROTHERS. ALTHOUGH THE O’DONOVAN BROTHERS WERE INNOCENT CIVILIANS SLAUGHTERED WITHOUT WARNING, THE HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ARMY’S SIXTH DIVISION, PUBLISHED A FEW YEARS AFTER THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE, INVENTED THE CLAIM THAT THE O’DONOVANS HAD BEEN ARMED WITH HAND GRENADES AND REVOLVERS WHEN SHOT. THIS CONTRASTS WITH THE CONTEMPORARY BRITISH ARMY INVESTIGATION, WHICH FOUND THAT THE BROTHERS WERE UNARMED CIVILIANS.

PÁDRAIG ÓG Ó RUAIRC HAS A PHD IN HISTORY AND HAS WRITTEN SEVERAL BOOKS ABOUT THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE.

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