THE BURNING OF O'DORNEY
The months of October and November, 1920 saw an intensification of military action by British Crown forces and police in Ireland. Their thrust was aimed at the non-combatant civil population. It consisted of the burning of homesteads, factories, shops, creameries and haybarns - all actions calculated to cause the maximum distress and economic stagnation. Publication of "The Kerryman" and "The Liberator" newspapers was banned for a portion of the period. As the British had control of all cables, they also had control of the ear of the world. On Tuesday, October 12, 1920, about six O'Clock, three lorries of armed men - some wore khaki and the majority R.I.C. uniforms - entered Abbeydorney Co-Operative creamery and ordered everyone out, including the manager, Tim O'Donovan. While leaving, shots were fired over their heads from a distance. They saw three lorries being loaded with butter and cheese. Subsequently, tins containing petrol were taken from the lorries to the creamery premises and when the manager arrived at his residence two minutes walk from the creamery, he observed the place was in flames. The lorries drove away and the fire was extinguished when damage to the extent of £2,000 was done.
Before the lorries left, the manager was sent for and when he arrived, the key of the safe was demanded. Owing to the battering which the safe had received, the key did not open the lock, but he assured the raiders there was nothing in the safe only books and when he was going away the manager received a blow of the butt of a rifle in the back of the head and his assailant was swinging the rifle to strike him again when the blow was warded off an R.I.C man. On Monday, October 18, 1920, the Manager's residence and the dwelling house of the engine man, Patrick Tuomey were burned by men in khaki and R.I.C. uniforms.
In reply to a question in the House of Commons on November 25th 1920, the Chief Secretary, Sir H. Greenwood said that according to a report which he had recieved the storehouse of the Abbeydorney creamery was burned down on October 12th, but no clue could be obtained as to the identity of the persons who committed the destruction. The manager of the creamery alleged that he was assaulted but the police had no information as to this beyound his own statement or as to the alleged removal of a quantity of cheese and butter. Queried about the burning of the manager's residence and Mr. Tuomey's house, the Chief Secretary replied that it was extremely difficult to get an enquiry together in the disturbed condition of the district. Very often the officers told to hold the inquiry were shot.
On Sunday night, October 31st, 1920, an R.I.C. constable was shot dead and a Black and Tan seriously wonded in Abbeydorney village. On Monday, November l (All Saints Day), people leaving Mass in the village were held up and searched. They were for the most part elderly men as the younger men had fled the village. Between 11 p.m. and 12 midnight that night a large force of Auxiliaries and Black and Tans sallied forth from the local R.I.C. Barracks.
They cordoned off all roads leading in to the now-deserted, unlit village. Some had tins of petrol. They burned down the houses of the following in the village; Eugene Moriarty, blacksmith; Mrs Peggy Joe Lovett, publican; John Lynn, building contractor; Mike Whelan, shopkeeper; Willie O'Rahilly, insurance agent; Mrs Griffin, ex-National teacher and teacher of music. Mrs Griffin pleaded with the raiders to allow her to remove her furniture. A black and tan sat down at her piano and played a medley of World War One tunes including "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag" and "It's a Long Way To Tipperary", while her furniture was being removed. When all the furniture was removed, the house was set on fire and destroyed. Mrs Griffin provided musical accompaniment in the local church choir. Later they burned the home of Jeremiah O' Donovan , carpenter Ballylahive and a hayshed on the farm of Mrs Kearney Milltown.
The Irish White Cross Society was organised to cope with distress and destitution in Ireland during the War of Independence. As the year 1920 drew to a close its consequences in human suffering for the Irish people were on a scale so large that relief work transcended altogether the efforts of private charity. Quite independently of the Irish White Cross in Ireland, there had been founded in New York City in December 1920 a committee for the Relief of Irish Distress. The part which both Societies played in the relief of distress in Abbeydorney is epitomised in this letter from the Parish Priest;
"On behalf of the people and priests of Abbeydorney, I have been asked to convey to you and the other members of the American Relief Committee our deep feelings of gratitude for the generous assistance you have given in the time of our great suffering
Thanks to the generous assistance of the American Relief Committee, these people have been enabled to build new homes, or, where they were not utterly destroyed, to repair their old homes. Were it not for the aid of the White Cross Committee, ten families would have remained homeless as they were without the means of rebulidng their ruined homes. In addition, grants were made by the White Cross to provide implements whereby sufferers were enabled to work at their ordinary avocations.
Were it not for that extraordinary generosity that has always been a characteristic of the American people, the victims of the savage forces let loose on this district would have been in a very bad way indeed. But thanks to the White Cross, the material injuries they suffered are being repaired and they look forward with confidence to a happy future".
James J O 'Sullivan, P.P.
NOTE;This is the first occasion an article has been written about the burning of Abbeydorney and there is no historical information anywhere to be found in connection with it. That it can be written at all is due to the personal recollections of five Abbeydorney veterans of the Irish War of Independence, namely James Costelloe, John O'Dowd, Dan Shanahan, Jeremiah O'Connor and James Barry RIP. Finally, I wish to thank John Dillon, Dromcunning for allowing me access to documentation on the Irish White Cross Society.