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Witness to War 1917 – 1923: Commandant Séamus Hennessy
by Colin Hennessy



1923–1969 Political & Family life; Leonardo da Vinci landing; Rineen Memorial; Death

A considerable time after the conclusion of the civil war Séamus eventually returned home to the family farm in Cloneyogan, 24th March 1924, where he remained for the rest of his life. The following day as word spread that he had returned the home was raided by the Civic Guards. Later in the year, 24th May, Séamus was campaigning in Limerick during the by-election for the Republican candidate Tadhg Crowley. On the same day once again his home was raided, this occasion by the Free State Army. At the election four days later Crowley was defeated by the pro-treaty Cumann na nGaedheal party candidate Richard O’Connell.[89]

A man of strong religious faith and observance he married in 1925 Mary Clancy, a former member of Miltown Malbay Cumann na mBan, from Illane, Miltown Malbay, originally from Querrin, Kilkee. During his time ‘on the run’ Séamus met Mary on many occasions as she had a pivotal role in Cumman na mBan in Miltown Malbay. Mary worked in a grocers shop on the Ennis Road as well as living in the vicinity of the R.I.C. barrack. She was in an ideal position to keep Battalion officers informed of the strength and movements of enemy forces. Based on her observations she sent both verbal and written messages to Séamus and Battalion officers. Working in the shop she refused to supply the R.I.C. and military with goods. In reprisal they burnt her families’ supply of hay for the year. Her home and shop were often under observation by the R.I.C. as it was a known safe house for Volunteers in the town and for periods she too had to leave. During the Civil War she housed firearms Séamus and his men had taken from Ennis I.R.A. barracks as they evacuated.[90] Séamus and Mary married on 11th February 1925 in Miltown Malbay Church. They had five children, Mary, Anthony, Michael, Patrick and Gerard.

In 1926 at the formation of the Fianna Fáil party by Éamon De Valera, Séamus was a founding member in the local area leading the Moy Cumann, as well as being a member of the Comhairle Ceantair. As a supporter of De Valera in the 1917 Clare bye-election he was a faithful follower of ‘The Chief’ until Dev’s last election for President of Ireland in 1966. Séamus was a leading light in the party in Moy, Miltown Malbay and within his old 4th Battalion area. He would have come into contact with Seán Lemass, Gerry Boland and Tommy Mullins as they toured the country making contacts with I.R.A. veterans, asking them to lead the launch of the party in their localities. Their ‘...primary emphasis was on contacting local I.R.A. commanders, who, “because of their (real or legendary) exploits during the war of independence and civil war had established themselves as heroic or charismatic figureheads in their localities”...This “key men” strategy of targeting well-known republicans also had the advantage that their lieutenants almost always followed them into the new political activity.’ Séamus was later one of the main proponents within the local party to nominate Dr Paddy Hillery to run for a seat in the 1951 general election. As a well liked and respected figure in the locality he himself was approached by Fianna Fáil to run for office in the 1940s but declined.[91]

After the Military Service Pensions Act 1934 was introduced enabling mainly anti-treaty veterans who had not applied for a military pension under the 1924 act to seek a pension, Séamus spent a lot of his time in the 1930s and 40s completing pension applications and other state welfare forms on behalf of his comrades and former Volunteers, acting as a referee in verifying their service and as an informal advisor. In the year of the act, 1934, his administrative and political work was to be disturbed by an unlikely event approaching from across the Atlantic.



Meitheal Early 1920s
Meitheal Early 1920s
Left to right. Jimmy Finucane, Francey Vaughan, Edward Connell, Ter McMahon, Marty Madigan, Morgan Finucane, Patrick Garrahy, Nora Finucane, Micko Finucane, Séamus Hennessy, John Finucane, Micko Finucane, Corrie Ryan, Mickey Hogan and Tomo Finucane.

Hennessy Family August 1951

Hennessy Family August 1951
Back Row. Anthony ‘Tone’, Patrick and Michael. Middle Row. Gerard and Mary.
Front Row. Séamus and Mary.

"Leonardo da Vinci" taking off from Floyd Bennett Field, New York 15th May 1934

‘Leonardo da Vinci’

taking off from Floyd Bennett Field, New York.15th May 1934

On Tuesday 15th May 1934 taking off from Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field, a J-300 monoplane christened the “Leonardo da Vinci” attempted the first non-stop flight between New York and Rome. The plane was jointly piloted by Lieutenant Cesare Sabelli and Captain George Pond.[92]After almost thirty three hours flying in adverse weather conditions and with a fuel system problem they were forced down at the first sight of land in Cloneyogan - the first recorded plane crash in Clare. Despite this it was an authentic transatlantic flight, the eighth such in aviation history. As the sound of a low- flying aircraft alerted them the local people rushed to the scene and the airmen’s assistance. Séamus was one of the first to reach them as the crash location was at the rear of his own farm in neighbouring Finucanes. The aviators were uninjured but exhausted after their ordeal across the Atlantic. The Irish Press reported: ‘A neighbour, Mr S. Hennessy, soon had hot tea, boiled eggs and homemade cake brought to the field; it was the flyers’ first real meal since they left New York 32 hours before. Both are keenly appreciative of the hospitality that has been shown them. Lieut. Sabelli said: ‘We have often heard of the hospitality of the Irish people, but all the kindly actions of the people since we landed clearly proves that their reputation for hospitality to all is well deserved.[93] A cyclist was despatched to alert the authorities. Superintendent Keenan soon arrived and took the aviators back to Lahinch. There they stayed at The Commercial Hotel now the Claremont Hotel. They telephoned Baldonnel for a mechanic from the Army Air Corps. The next day a team led by Capt. P. Quinn, a native of Newmarket-on-Fergus, arrived to work on the crippled aircraft. The aviators stayed a week in Clare before taking off on Tuesday 22nd May. Before they left they once again had a meal at Hennessy’s. The Irish Press reported: ‘Pond and Sabelli had tea with Mr. Séamus Hennessy the man who gave them their first meal after they landed in Clare.’[94] At take-off the “Leonardo da Vinci” bumped dangerously several times, skimming hedges before rising into the evening sky over Cloneyogan heading for Baldonnel for a stop before its onward journey to Rome. Their flight from Baldonnel included a further unscheduled stop in Cardiff due to continued engine trouble and a period in London for repairs. Sabelli and Pond finally arrived in Rome on June 12th to a public reception led by Mussolini almost a month after they left New York. The aviators left Séamus with a small piece of the planes body as a memento of their unscheduled visit to Cloneyogan and his house for tea. [95]

Memento of the ‘Leonardo da Vinci’s’ fuselage

Memento of the ‘Leonardo da Vinci’s’ fuselage .

Memento of the ‘Leonardo da Vinci’s’ fuselage
left by Pond and Sabelli.
(Note – Séamus wrote the incorrect date. The plane left New York on May 15th)

Lieutenant Cesare Sabelli and Captain George Pond

Lieutenant Cesare Sabelli and Captain George Pond

The ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ after crash landing in Cloneyogan, Lahinch

The ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ after crash landing in Cloneyogan, Lahinch



The Dairy Disposal Board Company formed in 1928 sought a site for an ancillary creamery to the main creamery in Ennistymon. In 1933 they approached Séamus to source a site in Moy. In an attempt to develop and give the local economy a focal point, and to clear the debts he and the farm had incurred during the period he was on active duty, as well as enabling him to support his young family, Séamus sold the board a site within his lands. The creamery opened on 23rd April 1935 with, at its peak, over sixty suppliers. Supplier number seven on the creamery roll was Séamus.

As war raged in Europe between the Allies and Germany in a broadcast to the nation on 1st June 1940, the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera announced the establishment of the Local Security Force, and appealed for recruits. During the Emergency period 1940-45 Séamus served with the renamed An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (The Local Defence Force) in Lahinch. An armed group, their role was to protect Garda stations, vital installations and were given responsibility for local defence in the event of hostilities or invasion. On 29th November 1944 the Minister for Defence announced in the Dáil that medals would be struck for members of the force but these were not issued until after the war in 1947. Séamus was presented with a medal in recognition of his national service.

On 21st January 1941, the Irish Government announced the creation of a medal for those who took part in the War of Independence. Séamus was awarded the War of Independence service medal (1917-1921) with 'Comrac' (Combat) bar for his active service in a number of engagements against Crown forces and as a member of the Battalions ‘Flying Column’. His wife Mary was awarded a medal without 'Comrac' bar as she was deemed to not have been on active service during the War but was a member of Cumann na mBan. In 1971 Mary was also subsequently awarded ‘The Truce Commemorative Medal ‘, issued to veterans to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the treaty.

Ernie O’Malley, the staff captain who in 1919 had trained Séamus and the mid Clare Volunteers, now the former O/C 2nd Southern Division I.R.A. and author of the celebrated account of the War of Independence ‘On Another Man’s Wound’, interviewed Séamus in 1954 as part of a number of lengthy interviews with former I.R.A. veterans.[96] The results detailing the volunteer’s activities during the war were published in a series of articles in The Sunday Press from 1955 to 1956 as well as a Radio Éireann series. These accounts by O’Malley were later collected and posthumously published in 1982 in a book titled ‘Raids and Rallies.’[97] A collection of articles was also published by The Kerryman in 1955 titled ‘With the IRA in the Fight for Freedom.’[98] The article ‘A Fighting rearguard saved I.R.A. in the retreat after the ambush at Rineen’ was based partly on the recollections of Séamus as told to the author Patrick Lynch.



Séamus and Mary Hennessy’s War of Independence and Emergency medals

Séamus and Mary Hennessy’s War of Independence and Emergency medals

Rineen Memorial Unveiling - Guard of Honour - 22nd September 1957

Rineen Memorial Unveiling - Guard of Honour - 22nd September 1957

Rev. Dr. Rodgers, Bishop of Killaloe, inspects 4th Battalion Mid Clare Brigade guard of honour at Rineen, Co Clare at the unveiling of a memorial to the ambush. With the Bishop are Commandant Séamus Hennessy who introduced his Lordship to members of the guard of honour and Captain Thomas Burke who was in charge of the parade of veterans.

In 1957 Séamus was Chairman of the committee set up to raise funds to erect a memorial in the Battalion area which now stands at the site of the Rineen ambush: ‘...The erection of a memorial hung in the air for a few years. In the spring of 1955 the project was started with a meeting in Hillery’s Hall in Miltown Malbay. The committee was drawn from the old column irrespective of which side was taken in the Civil War. Séamus Hennessy and John Joe Neylon were unanimously chosen as Chairman and Vice Chairman.[99] The unveiling ceremony was performed by his Lordship Most Rev. Dr Rodgers Bishop of Killaloe on Sunday 22nd September 1957. Inscribed in bronze lettering is the following: ‘This memorial has been erected by the officers and Men of the 4th Battn, Mid Clare Brigade to commemorate the gallant stand made at this spot against the forces of British oppression on the 22nd day of Sept 1920, and to honour the memory of comrades who made the supreme sacrifice during the period 1917 – 1923.

Some of the funds raised also went to marking and erecting new headstones on the graves of departed comrades including Commandant Steve Gallagher and Vol. Michael O’Dwyer: ‘...Mr Burke said that the last of the debts had now been cleared for the monument which was erected last year at Rineen. Commdt. Séamus Hennessy contacted a nephew of his in Chicago and informed him of the debts. A committee was formed and a cheque was forwarded which enabled them to put their financial worries aside and leave a substantial balance on hands...This sum had now been spent in a very good cause in these two monuments unveiled that day...The guard of honour consisted of Commdts. Séamus Hennessy and J J Neylon, Vice Commdt. A. Malone, Capts. P. Kerin and T. Burke, John Maloney and John Wolfe, Paddy Queally, Michael Queally, J. Mahony, M. Hayes, P. Hogan, Seán Gallagher, Paddy Nagle and Paddy Hogan.’[100]

Rineen Memorial Unveiling 22nd September 1957

Rineen Memorial Unveiling 22nd September 1957
Front row: John Beakey, Corofin; Joe Connole, Ennistymon; Bob O’Neill, Miltown Malbay; Comdt Séamus Hennessy, Moy; Adjutant John Burke, Lahinch.
Second Row: Comdt J J Neylon, Ballinacarra; Captain Thomas Burke, Ennis; Vice-Comdt Anthony Malone, Miltown Malbay; Captain E Lynch, Miltown Malbay; John McMahon, Miltown Malbay; Captain Pako Kerin, Glendine; F Mee, Ennistymon; M Reynolds, Ennis; P Devitt, Kilfenora; J Burke, Glendine; Timmy O’Connell, Moy; Martin O’Connor, Letterkelly; Michael Nestor, Ennistymon.

Comdt. Steve Gallagher Memorial Unveiling

Comdt. Steve Gallagher Memorial Unveiling
21st September 1958, Kilfarboy Graveyard

(Left to right): Thomas Burke, Thomas White, Seán Gallagher, Paddy Queally, Anthony (Col) Burke, John Burke, Anthony Malone, Morgan Finucane, Séamus Hennessy, Timmy Connell, Tommy Gallagher, Michael Clancy, Steve Gallagher, Paddy Nagle, John Malone.

Vol. Michael O'Dwyer Memorial Unveiling

Vol. Michael O’Dwyer Memorial Unveiling
21st September 1958, Callura Graveyard

(Left to right): P. Mc Donagh, J Burke, A Burke, S Hennessy, A Malone, M Hayes, T Burke, J Woulfe, P Frawley, P Kerin, J J Neylon, G Curtin.

1916 50th Commemeoration 25th September 1966

1916 50th Commemoration 25th September 1966
Commandant Séamus Hennessy and Captain Thomas Burke welcome President Eamon de Valera to Rineen.

In the subsequent years a number of commemorations were held at the memorial, including the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966 when President Éamon de Valera visited and was introduced to the veterans. ‘His official opening of “The Centre” in Lahinch attracted a big crowd...This, and some of his earlier calls, accounted for his delay in arriving at Rineen. The survivors under the command of Commdt. Séamus Hennessy whiled away the time smoking and joking. Someone commented on the very extended and hazardous wait at that spot forty six years ago...Eventually the President and his party arrived. Séamus Hennessy introduced the survivors and he had a hearty handshake and a few words with each in turn.[101]

Previous to this, in September 1965 custody of the Memorial was handed over by the remaining veterans to the Defence Forces. By 1965 as Seán Burke recalled ‘old Father Time was taking his toll at an increasing rate’ and was catching up with the remaining Volunteers so they decided to hand over the monument to the care of the FCA at a ceremony on September 19th 1965.[102]

Séamus passed away aged 75 on 12th March 1969. His funeral, attended by the last few remaining comrades, was accorded full military honours at his graveside in Kilfarboy. Dr Patrick Hillery TD, Minister for Labour and later President of Ireland was also present. His father Dr Michael Hillery had aided the wounded after Rineen. His former comrade Seán Burke in discussing another close veteran Steve Gallagher recalled Séamus’s funeral: ‘...I had known him since childhood. That it was a coincidence that he, Commdt. Séamus Hennessy and myself went to the same school, even though both of them were a few years before my time – that we had seen a lot of service together... Since then the same graveyard holds the body of his near neighbour and comrade in arms, Commdt. Séamus Hennessy. His funeral was a very big one. The traditional volleys were fired over the grave by his comrades. The two old soldiers were pals during their lifetime; they are once again near neighbours in death. May the Lord grant them eternal rest.’[103]

Séamus Hennessy’s grave. Kilfarboy, Miltown Malbay

Séamus Hennessy’s grave. Kilfarboy, Miltown Malbay

 

 

Witness to War 1917-1923 - Commandant Seamus Hennessy


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