Local history: Foxford atrocity of 1921 and calling British forces to account
Dr. Conor O’L. Maguire was born in Carraroe, Co. Galway, in 1862. He was a native Irish speaker. He qualified as a doctor in 1882 in Queens University Galway. From 1892 he was a practicing doctor in Claremorris until his death in 1944.
He was a founding member of the Gaelic League, and a personal friend of Dr. Douglas Hyde (An Craoibhín Aoibhinn) and Pádraig Pearse. He, Dr. Hyde and An Phiarseagh all shared a love of the Irish language, and the collection of local history and stories. He also helped to establish Coláiste Mhuire in Tuar Mhic Éadaigh, the Irish language secondary school.
He translated ‘The Cloud’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley into impeccable Irish which was published in the New Ireland Review in October 1909, and he also translated ‘The Men of the West’ for which he received a prize at Féis Mhaigh Eo in 1903.
He wrote about the experiences he had during the troubled times when Claremorris had a large military presence and much unrest in the locality.
His grandson, Roderick Maguire, recently transcribed the following account of an atrocity which happened in Foxford 100 years ago written by Dr. Conor O’L. Maguire.
THE British Military at Claremorris in the year 1921 refused to give me permission to use my own car when visiting patients or (to use it) in any other way.
I got a message from the District Inspector to say that I would be granted a permit to use my car if I would promise to give information about any persons I attended who appeared to suffer from gunshot wounds.
A sergeant came with the message. My reply ( remember reader, I was in a very bad temper) was “Tell your officer to go to hell! I’ll give no information, I am not a policeman or a detective or a spy.” The sergeant evidently repeated the message faithfully.
A day or two after this I met the Inspector. He said what sort of message that I got from you in answer to my message? I said I think it does not require any explanation.
Well, said he, the General was very annoyed that you should send back such a reply.
I said, “Not a bit more annoyed than I was to receive such a message from a man in his position”. “Will you reconsider the matter?” said he. “No certainly not,” I said.
Well then you must dismantle your car, you must take out some part and hand it over to the police so that the car cannot be used.
I had only a short time previously put in a new set of valves. I had the old set which I gave to the police. I took out the new valves and hid them.
Shortly after this, two officers came to ask me to lend them my car to go to a dance in Galway. I gave them a point blank refusal, and they were not at all pleased.
One morning I got an urgent wire asking me to go to Foxford to see a man who was seriously ill. I was in very bad form at the time as I was recovering from a serious surgical operation. Nevertheless I made up my mind to go.
I knew that the journey was risky on account of the violence of the Black and Tans, and had visions of meeting a lorryload of them on the journey and wondering would they shoot or assault me or my driver.
I went down the street and asked Mick Reidy who owned a car if he would drive me to Foxford. He said he would. I told him to go to the military camp and get a permit because Foxford was outside the twenty mile limit fixed by the military.
“Ah,” said Mick, “We’ll chance it.”
“Very good,” I said. “If you are willing, I don’t mind.” So off we went for Foxford.
We went through Balla and then through Straide. When we approached the bridge at Straide, we saw a huge tree standing in the roadway in the centre of the bridge.
We thought that there was room for a car to pass and while we hesitated, Mr. Cannon came out of his house and told us that the bridge was dangerous so we had to double back and go by a circuitous route.
So we made our way to Foxford.
When we drove through the main street all the houses were closed and the windows closely shuttered. This was a surprise to me and my driver. We went very slowly as I was looking out for a name on a sign board to correspond with the name on the (telegraph) wire which I (had) received.
The only person we saw in our slow movement through the town was a policeman. He just put out his head round a corner and retired.
At last I saw the wanted name on a signboard. I went to the door. The man of the house came out and directed me to where to go to the patient’s house, saying ”The people there will direct you further.”
I had no idea at this time what sort of a case I had to attend nor did the man give any indication of what was wrong but he promptly shut the door.
I went to the place indicated and got full particulars as follows.
On the previous night a detachment of military came to the town of Foxford, and collected six young men, shop assistants and others and brought them to the bridge which spans the Moy river which passes through Foxford.
They stripped them naked and flogged them with dogwhips. Then painted them all over in all the colours, red, green, black, yellow, etcetera.
They then seized the boys and threw them over the parapet of the bridge into the river.
The boys had to scramble out as best they could and make for the rear of the houses along the river where the charitable women met them with sheets and blankets to cover their nakedness.
Fortunately the river was not deep at the time so they were able to wade ashore.
I examined all as I was directed from one house to another. One boy I examined had his mouth and tongue covered with green paint. He (had) opened his mouth to howl with (the) torture as he was flogged when his assailant painter pushed a paint brush charged with green paint into his mouth.
All the boys were almost in the same condition. They were all over covered with long raised weals - bodies and limbs.
They were trying to remove the paint from their bodies which had to be done very gently owing to the bruises and abrasions caused by the whips, kicks and blows that they had received.
Some of them were very weak, suffering from pain and shock and most of them were almost insane from thinking that the military might come back and repeat the performance.
Having seen them all and prescribed for them I was very tired and anxious to get home, but before I left I got a message from the curate Father Denis Gildea, that he wanted to see me before I left.
He refreshed me and we started for home thankful to Father Denis Gildea for his kind hospitality.
I should have mentioned before this that I knew for some time before I got the summons to Foxford that the local (doctor) Doctor Fearon was in a concentration camp having been arrested by the British authorities who suspected him of being concerned in the activities of the I.R.A.
Having known this I was not surprised when I received the urgent telegraph, as I thought owing to (the) disturbed state of the country and violence of the Black and Tans that the patients in Foxford might have a difficulty in getting any doctor to risk a journey to Foxford.
Immediately before I left Foxford, one of the young men whom I had attended came to me and earnestly begged me to carry him as far as Claremorris.
His name was, I think, Connolly. I told him it was risky for him as we might meet Black and Tans on the road and if we did they might ill-use him again.
He said he would take the risk if I was prepared to take him in the car. I told him if we were challenged by the Black and Tans on the journey he was to say that he was coming with me to take back medicines for the sick men.
So we started and got on well until we came near Bohola, when we saw a large lorry in front of us.
In this were about a dozen Black and Tans fully armed. When they saw us approaching they signalled to us to stop so my friend Mick Reidy pulled up.
Then they signalled to us to come on towards them. When we got within a few yards of the lorry a tall man approached. His name I think was Denis O’Sullivan. He had been stationed in Claremorris for a time and knew me.
When he recognised me he said to his companions, that is Dr. Maguire, I know him, come on Doctor. You’re all right, go through. So Mick drove on. I need hardly say we were all intensely relieved when we got permission to proceed, and I am sure the poor boy Connolly was delighted to have escaped any attentions from the occupants of the lorry.
I dropped Connolly about half a mile from Claremorris and directed him to take to the fields and avoid the roads until he reached his home in Milltown.
I heard afterwards that he got safely home unobserved.
One month later on the evening of (that) day I got a message to attend at the police barrack at Claremorris. No mention was made of what they wanted me for.
I attended and after some time waiting I was told that I was wanted to give evidence about the flogging in Foxford. There were military officers in the enquiry room. One seemed to me to be the President of the Court.
He asked me some questions and I described the condition of the young men of Foxford, and at the end of my evidence the presiding officer said “Well I suppose we may take it from your evidence that those chaps got a damn good hiding,” I was dismissed from the court.
I heard afterwards that Mother Murrough Bernard – Mother Arsenius in religion had reported the occurrence at Foxford to Dublin Castle and that the enquiry was the result of her complaint and protest. She was the nun who started the Foxford Woollen Mills and was a woman of great influence. But her interference in this case was futile we (?noted) that the officers who committed these brutal assaults were (not) even mildly reprimanded.
After some time (after the treaty) the victims of these assaults made a claim for compensation from the British Military. The cases were heard by County Court Judge Charles Doyle.
I was summoned as a witness and described the injuries, etc.
In giving his decision, the Judge denounced in the strongest terms the conduct of the military and said (that) they had disgraced the uniform they wore, and he gave compensation to each of the claimants. The amounts granted as well as I can remember were from £250 to £350 each claimant.
It is easy to understand that this Foxford brutality caused indignation wherever the story was known in Ireland, but few people outside the locality knew of it because the Dublin daily papers as well as the local weekly papers were not allowed to publish any details of such matters.
I should mention before I conclude this narrative that when the cases were heard at Swinford Court, there was an adjournment for lunch.
Mr. Pat O’Connor, Solicitor, who appeared for the injured boys asked myself and another to lunch. I forget who the third (person) was.
We walked from the courthouse to Mr. O’Connor’s house about half a mile from Swinford. As we walked along the foot path a military lorry followed and overtook us.
The driver of the lorry which was on its way to Castlebar and contained the officers (presume) who were concerned in the outrage deliberately drove the lorry in close to the kerb where the water table of the road contained a flood of water and splashed us three all over and passed on jeering and laughing.
Doubtless they were angry with O’Connor and myself for bringing down upon them the severe censure of Judge Doyle.