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03 Oct 2022

Remembering an Offaly man who died in the War of Independence

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The late Lt Matthew Kane

‘EARLY April 1921.

There was an ambush outside our house, in which a Black and Tan was shot dead.  The Black and Tans forced their way into our house, searched every inch and left a huge mess.  They also left my terrified mother, father and five brothers and sisters.  Three weeks later, I was born & my mother often recounted the fact that after my birth I was a very jumpy baby.’  Nuala Holland (née Mahon, Charleville Road, Tullamore). 

Nuala Mahon was referring to the attacks on the RIC in Tullamore in April 1921 that are matter-of-factly referred to by Sean McGuinness of Kilbeggan in his witness statement, now in the Military Archives (online, p. 29 in the pdf), in what he called ‘onslaughts on Tullamore RI.C. patrols at Charleville Road, New Road, Hayes Cross and Barrack Street, all on 1 April 1921 in which policemen and I.R.A. men were wounded and killed’.

Peadar Bracken in his Brigade Activity Report filed about 1940 noted the activities in Offaly in 1921 and up the truce in July as being:

Jan., 1921 – Ambush at Belmont. Eight rifles and 900-rds. Captured.
22nd Feb., 1921 – Police ambushed near Philipstown; five wounded.
22nd Feb, 1921 – Police lorry ambushed at Mount Lucas, Edenderry.
21st March, 1921 – Police fired on at Portarlington; one wounded.
(6th Period)  – Blueball – planned ambush.
1st April, 1921 – Policeman wounded in Tullamore.
18th April, 1921 – Philipstown Barracks attacked; one wounded.
23rd April, 1921 – Edenderry Barracks attacked.
15th May, 1921 – Constable wounded at Edenderry.
17th May, 1921 – Two constables killed and two wounded at [Kinnitty], Birr.
3rd June, 1921 – Edenderry Barracks attacked.
4th July, 1921 – Crossley tender ambushed at Ballycara
 6th July, 1921 – Military and police ambushed at Raheen, Geashill.
8th July, 1921 – Police ambushed near Ballyduff.
8th July, 1921 – Skirmish in Mitchell’s Lane, Tullamore.
(7th Period)    – Banagher – planned attack.
11th July, 1921 – Policeman wounded at Edenderry. As to the involvement of Matthew Kane the B.A.R. report mentions him as having participated in a second Armed Raid on the Tullamore Post Office on 11 January 1921 with others including:
Louie Downes, Patrick Evans, John Killeavy, Michael Galvin, James Hogan, John Connor, Martin Poland, Harry Cavanagh, Patrick Finlay, Mathew Kane, Michael Garry, John Horan, Henry Mahon, John Hughes, Edward Conroy.
Kane is again mentioned in connection with the 1 April 1921 attack on R.I.C patrols in Tullamore in which mostly Kilbeggan men participated including Sean McGuinness, James McGuinness, John Crowley, Christy Bastick, William Killoran and Pat Guilfoyle.

‘On that night Lieut Kane was killed and Volunteer Conroy wounded on the I.R.A side and a couple of R.I.C. wounded. There was a sharp exchange of fire between James McGuinness and Michael Galvin (Tullamore) and a patrol of R.I.C men outside the Barrack Gate.’

There is no mention here of any policemen being killed on the night. Matthew Kane was either killed near Hop Hill, New Road, or as the late Noel Gowran’s mother said he may have been taken prisoner, killed in the barracks and his body dumped later that evening. This recollection was cited by Thomas Gowran this week in a comment on our Facebook site on 1 April and mentioned by the late Noel Gowran in conversation.

My mother Francesca Clarke was in Kay Dunne’s [Patrick Street] and was looking out the window at Matty Kane tied to the back of a truck by the British forces and brought down to Riverside View and executed.
Philip McConway in an article in the 2018 Tullamore Annual states that ‘the circumstances of Kane’s death are problematic and hampered by conflicting sources’. The death notice in the Irish Independent states that he was a lieutenant in the I.R.A and killed in the execution of his duty – i.e. in the course of attacks on policemen. The report in the Dead of the Irish Revolution (2020, pp 368–9) confirms this.

Who was Matthew Kane?

Matthew Kane was aged 33 or 34 when he was killed and he was single and a labourer. His family lived in Ruddock’s Lane (now Bride’s Lane) behind the two Italian restaurants in Patrick Street. The family circumstances were like many in Tullamore at the time with bad private housing and the council schemes before WW1 amounting to about 80 houses and demand nearer to 500 to sort the housing crisis early in the last century. John Kane was a widower, aged 61, in 1901 and Matthew was aged 13 and attending school. There were five in the house on census night 1901 comprising two girls aged 21 and 24 and one other boy Patrick, aged 16. All were working save Matthew. The lane had 27 houses described as in the second class and mostly two or three-roomed cottages with no sewerage or running water. Kanes were five in number in a three-roomed house and the family of Joseph Conroy lived next door with seven in three rooms. Was there a connection?

By 1911 there were still five in the Kane household, but now in the ages 22 (Matthew) to 71, the widowed father, and a brother. None living in the house were then married and Patrick Kane and his brother John served in the British forces in WW1. John (40) was killed in France in 1916 and was survived by his wife Margaret.

Commemoration in 1922 and memorial in 1948

Commemoration of Matthew Kane’s death came quickly in February 1922 – a month before the British vacated the town’s barracks so close to Kane’s house and six months after the Truce. The Offaly Independent was burnt out by the British forces in November 1920, but the Midland Tribune was on hand to report on the walk to Mucklagh of Kane’s old comrades. All the ex-prisoners and ex-internees were present  and walked in procession headed by the pipe band. Fr Smyth of Rahan, a strong Sinn Féin supporter, who had been interned led the prayers.

Thousands took part in the ceremony in September 1948 at Mucklagh, 27 years after the death of Lieutenant Kane. The memorial erected is a very fine Celtic Cross, in Ballyduff limestone, and was the work of Mr Alex Wrafter, Monumental Sculptor, Tullamore, and bears an inscription in Irish and English. On one side in engraved the Volunteer badge of Óglaigh na hÉireann. The inscription records that the memorial was erected by Lieut. Kane’s comrades, of Tullamore Coy. I.R.A. and that he was killed in action against British forces.

The parade from Tullamore to the cemetery was of ‘vast proportion’ and was representative of old I.R.A., F.C.A., G.A.A., and public bodies, while the general public were present in large numbers. Four bands – an Army band, Clonaheen, Clonaslee and St. Columbcille’s Pipe Bands- took part in the demonstration, organised by members of the Tullamore Old I.R.A. Association.
Outside the cemetery there was a Guard of Honour of Mucklagh F.C.A. and Very Rev. T.H. Burbage, P.P., V.F., Mountmellick, performed the unveiling ceremony, attended by another Guard of Honour from Tullamore. Volleys were fired over the grave, Mr. James Clarke, Chairman, Old I.R.A. Men’s Association, being in charge of the firing party. The last post was sounded and the proceedings in the cemetery concluded with the laying of wreaths on Lieut. Kane’s grave. Wreaths were also placed on the grave of Volunteer Conroy, Tullamore.

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