WHILE the eyes of the nation were on Croke Park this weekend, both for sporting action and commemoration events, ceremonies were also held in this county to mark the centenary of Bloody Sunday.
The events of November 21, 1920, are etched deep in the history of the War of Independence. Newspaper accounts of the time used words like “massacre” and “slaughter” to describe the killing of 14 civilians, including three children, and the injuring of up to 80, at the football match between Tipperary and Dublin. The killings were a reprisal for the assassination of 12 British Army intelligence officers and two auxillaries, and were followed, that night, by the torture and murder of Peadar Clancy, Dick McKee and Conor Clune at Dublin Castle. The three had been arrested on suspicion of being part of Michael Collins’s notorious Squad, or of having information about the unit, and are understood to have endured hours of brutal torture.
Both Clancy and Clune were Clare men and both were IRA volunteers. Peadar Clancy, from Cranny, was Vice-Commandant of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA. McKee was his superiour officer. Conor Clune, from Quin, was an earnest young man devoted to the Irish language and the Gaelic League. While he was a volunteer, his interest lay mainly in cultural nationalism and his relatives remain convinced he was not a member of Collins’s inner circle.
“It is hard to know exactly what role Conor played in the events,” explained his grand-nephew and namesake, Conor Clune, who also grew up in Quin. “There was so much propaganda put out by both sides. The story that Conor was related to Archbishop Clune of Perth [a native of Ruan], for example, is rubbish. It suited the narrative of the time.
“Conor worked for Edward Mac Lysaght in Tuamgraney, and, at the plant nursery he worked in would have been IRA meetings and possibly an arms store. Some say Conor was an intelligence officer for the IRA, and he definitely was a volunteer. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.”
Historic reports suggest that a fevered atmosphere permeated the city of Dublin as that fateful Sunday wore on. “Peadar was very much involved with Michael Collins,” outlined Pat Shannon, a grand-nephew of the Cranny native. “He would have been involved in the events of Bloody Sunday. They were informed of a possible raid on Vaughan’s Hotel and moved to a safe house, known as Fitzpatricks. Before they were arrested there, they managed to burn a list of Collins’s targets.”
When the two were taken to Dublin Castle, Conor Clune was already there, having been arrested during a raid on Vaughan’s Hotel, the nerve-centre for much of Collins’s strategising.
“There were a total of 18 people rounded up at Dublin Castle,” said Conor. “Fifteen were taken to Beggars’ Bush [Barracks] and Clancy, McKee and Clune were kept back. Some accounts of the time noted that the mood darkened at Dublin Castle throughout that evening and into the night. They felt these three men had contributed to the killing of their colleagues and there is evidence that they were tortured severely.”
While a story was circulated by the British forces that the men had tried to escape, it is widely accepted their deaths were an act of retaliation. “Absolutely,” said Conor. “This was part of the retribution. It suited the British narrative to say the men attempted to escape.”
The dark events of Bloody Sunday are believed to have been pivotal in the slow move towards a truce.
“The truth is that the maintenance of law and order had long crumbled in Ireland, and Dublin Castle struggled to put together an effective, unified security command,” wrote historian Professor Diarmuid Ferriter in an article to mark the centenary. “A failure to grasp the impact of shooting civilians continued to blight the British government’s approach to Ireland for decades, right up to the second Bloody Sunday in January 1972.”
In the family histories of the Clancys and the Clunes, both men have loomed large. “All our lives have been entwined with what Peadar did,” said Pat, who lives a stone’s throw from where his grand-uncle was born and where the school is named in his honour and a monument has been erected to his memory.
“Quin Abbey was our playground,” said Conor. “The family grave inside where my grand-uncle is buried is just inside. A plaque was put up there to mark the 50th anniversary. There are pictures of him and of Peadar in the house and we were very aware of the story.”
On Saturday in Quin, Conor’s dad Michael and his mother Pauline laid a wreath on the grave at the Abbey. “We were very aware of the restrictions, so it was a limited event,” he explained. “Beatrice, Lizzy and Tim Clune were there as well as Jimmy Meagher, Pat Leamy and Michael McNamara. My father said a few words and we said a prayer. Normally, we would be at an event in Dublin Castle, but that couldn’t happen this year.”
In Cranny, as part of commemorations last Sunday, Marie Kelly sang a piece which she composed for the occasion and Peadar’s great grand-niece Orla played a slow tune on the concertina. “We had hoped to have a hedge school, but had to shelve those plans,” explained Pat. “Now, instead, Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, Tomás Mac Conmara, Liz Gillis and Cormac Ó Comhraí will take part in a virtual hedge school and that’s gotten funding from [Councillor] PJ Kelly and Clare County Council,”
“This is something that needs and deserves to be commemorated,” said Conor. “We are very proud and we’re sorrowful too. It’s so important to remember and give dignity. When my grand-uncle was being buried in Quin, two lorries carrying Crown forces arrived and demanded that the priest take a tri-colour from his coffin. He had to remove it against his will for the safety of those attending. Conor Clune was a huge hero in Quin.
“Over the years, when I would be attending the commemorations at Dublin Castle, I was very conscious that those present were all the nephews and nieces and their families. The men didn’t have families of their own and that makes it all the more poignant and shows the sacrifice they made.”
Also tying in with the centenary events is a new display unveiled at Kilmainham Gaol Museum on Saturday last. It contains a pen taken from Dick McKee’s body by his sister, a lock of hair cut from Peadar Clancy’s corpse by Dan Breen and a copy of Irish-language writings owned by Conor Clune.” While the Museum remains closed, the objects are featured by RTÉ on their War of Independence website.