THE East Clare Memorial Committee will hold a small ceremony on June 29 to mark the centenary of the last civilian killed in the Irish War of Independence in Clare.
Jim Grogan was shot dead by British forces, while he was making his way to mass in the Feakle area.
The 44-year-old has been largely forgotten and the Committee are determined that they shine a light on his death and on his life.
According to the historian, Dr Tomás Mac Conmara, who is Secretary of the East Clare Memorial Committee and who has researched the story over many years, Jim Grogan was an entirely innocent victim of British aggression.
The British military implied in their reporting of the incident that because Jim Grogan was shot close to where a trench had been dug to impede their forces, that he was a dangerous figure.
In fact, Grogan was entirely unarmed and was not of a capable disposition to do harm to anybody. Local reports also strongly indicate that he had his arms raised when he was shot dead. The solider who shot him, was exonerated fully.
The Committee has been responsible for the commemoration of events and people related to the War of Independence for many decades. Its chairman, Councillor Pat Hayes told The Clare Champion that while the pandemic has restricted the levels of commemoration, the group remained determined to shine a light on events in the period, like the death of Jim Grogan.
“We had a very successful centenary commemoration for the Scariff Martyrs in November 2020 in both Scariff and Killaloe and have had a very strong online presence, which we have used to combat the restrictions resulting from Covid-19. “We recently posted material about the Currakyle ambush in my own area and intend to mark the site later in the year when the opportunity to do so is more suitable.
“We are really taken with the level of engagement and the support we have received over the last year in particular,” said Councillor Hayes.
“We have been doing this, year upon year for many decades and it is wonderful to see a growth in interest over recent times. We felt that it was critical to commemorate Jim Grogan as one of the forgotten victims of that period.”
The committee will lay a wreath at the site of Jim Grogan’s shooting on June 29. The wreath will be laid by Timmy Treacy, the only surviving relative of Jim Grogan.
They will also pay a visit to his grave in St Cronan’s Graveyard in Tuamgraney. The committee have also announced they will erect a memorial at the site of Grogan’s death later this year. For more information, visit Scariff Martyrs 100 on Facebook.
An innocent life cut short
Oral historian and author, Dr Tomás Mac Conmara tells the story of Jim ‘Birdie’ Grogan, a man almost forgotten
FROM behind a low scrub bush, he could hear vehicles screeching to a halt, followed by the overpowering noise of collective shouting in foreign voices. Soon guns were pointing at him, held by angry men.
Known as a quiet and innocent countryman, Feakle’s Jim Grogan was gripped by a type of fear that somehow removes the body’s capacity to move. He managed by some means to raise his hands, a sign of helpless submission. Terror now was in absolute control.
A shot rang out. Minutes of dazed pain followed. A priest came. The bright summer sky above Feakle went dark. Jim Grogan’s eyes closed and never opened again, ever.
It was just after 11.00am on the 29th June 1921, on a remote road in the townland of Core in Feakle at a place locally referred to as Crickeen.
Moments earlier, Jim, known to his family and friends as ‘Birdie’ Grogan, had been quietly making his way towards the Roman Catholic Church in Clonusker, when the tranquil sound of rural life was ruptured by an uncommon but increasingly understood noise.
For Grogan, as well as a group of people in his company, the sound was terrifying. The heavy offensive noise of approaching motors could only mean one thing. The Black and Tans were coming. It was a sound that signalled immediate panic and fear. Jim Grogan’s first instinct had been to run and to hide.
Three days later on 2nd July 1921, a British soldier stood before a military court of inquiry in Tulla.
Private Biggs of the 1st Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, told the court that on 29th June he was on a mixed escort of military and police near Feakle.
The unit, travelling in several military vehicles, was under the command of Lieutenant ‘Hatchet Jack’ Parham (later responsible for the D-Day Fire plan at the Battle of Normandy in 1944).
Private Biggs reported that a man was seen running away from a group of civilians and hiding behind a scrub bush, close to where a trench had been previously dug.
In the court, Biggs claimed, “I saw a man crouching down in the scrub and I told him to come out and put his hands up. I shouted this loud twice … I fired the shot and hit him.”
He further suggested that “there might easily have been a party hidden” where Grogan had been concealed and declared he was worried it might have been an ambush.
Grogan was hit in the abdomen. He died of ‘shock and haemorrhage’ after approximately 20 minutes, but not before a priest had arrived to administer the last rites.
At the court of inquiry in Tulla, the President and panel were drawn exclusively from the Ox and Bucks Regiment. Somewhat predictably, the court ruled that their colleague, Private Biggs, fired in the lawful execution of his duty.
Grogan’s death certificate signed weeks later, recorded a verdict of ‘justifiable homicide’. That remains the official finding 100 years later.
On the same day that a British solider ended Jim Grogan’s life, Eamon de Valera sent a telegram to the Unionist Leader James Craig, appealing for unity and affirming that “Irish political differences ought to be adjusted, and can, I believe, be adjusted on Irish soil”.
Just seven days later, De Valera and Lloyd George signed the Anglo-Irish Truce, which came into effect on 11 July 1921, leading to a cessation of hostilities.
This made Grogan the last casualty of the War of Independence in Clare before that Truce was declared. Private Biggs would later return to England with his regiment, when in January 1922, British forces left the country. By then, the name of Jim Grogan was already starting to fade from public memory.
When speaking to the generation of Irish people who were born in the early decades of the last century, it was easy to establish the key anchor points of their memory.
Schooldays, the death of a parent, major social change, the Economic War, and electrification, all punctuate the recollections of a man or woman born in the 1920s.
Yet above all, one spectre invariably haunts that memory’s horizon. That is the Black and Tans, predominantly ex-servicemen from World War I, who, even their own superiors described as “a type who would not or could not settle down in civil life, and some of whom were no more or less than real thugs”.
The late Kathleen Nash, who was born in Scariff in 1909, recalled her own memories of that time to me when I recorded her at Mount St. Carmel Nursing Home, Roscrea in 2009. Although her voice was weak, she conveyed with powerful emotion, the experience of that time, declaring, “I was going to school the time of the Tans.”
She was eleven years old then and those experiences left an indelible impression.
“We’d meet a load of them comin’ home from school and we’d be afraid they’d shoot us.” Following one long and thoughtful pause, Kathleen, reached deep into the recesses of her mind and from there, drew the story of Jim ‘Birdie’ Grogan.
Born less than two miles from where he was shot dead, Kathleen wanted him to be remembered.
“They shot another man, era he was simple, goin’ home from mass. When he heard the lorry comin’, he went behind a tree and of course, they saw him, and they thought ‘twas someone was ‘on the run’.
“And ah, they called him three or four times to come out and he wouldn’t come out at all. They shot him. Jim Grogan. ‘Birdie Grogan’. They called him a few times, but he wouldn’t come out, so they shot him. ‘Twas up a bit from Coolreagh, up towards Feakle.”
In two decades of oral history interviews with the post-independence generation in Clare, Kathleen Nash was one of the very few to offer any knowledge of Grogan.
Her comment about him being “simple” is significant and implied a certain innocent or childlike nature to Grogan. His fragile disposition was confirmed at the military court of inquiry, where Jim’s father Paul, testified that his son “had no intellect” and a “weak brain”. The sympathy for this man was carried on Kathleen’s voice through breaking tears, when she said of Jim Grogan that, “He was only a poor innocent craeter.”
The shooting of Grogan came against a backdrop of the most turbulent period in modern Irish history.
The week prior to Grogan’s killing a five-year-old boy was shot dead in the town of Ennis. At 3.45pm on Friday 24th June, Paddy Morrissey was playing in a laneway when a bullet fired by a Black and Tan named James Murdock struck him in the left shoulder and entered his lung.
Murdock, a twenty-year old native of Monaghan, was chasing a republican who with a friend had attempted to disarm him and another colleague in Duggan’s boot shop in the town.
Both republicans, Francis Keane and Patrick O’Keefe were wounded, as was Miss Delia Hewitt who was shot in the thigh, by a stray bullet.
While the British claimed there was an exchange of gunfire, this was contradicted by republican accounts of the incident. Paddy Morrissey was just two months shy of his sixth birthday when he was buried in Drumcliffe cemetery by his parents, John and Kate.
His grave declares, ‘In sacred memory, Paddy Morrissey, shot by British Crown Forces, 24 June 1921’.
Such were the sudden outbursts of violent moments alongside daily life that largely characterised the period.
The area around Grogan’s native Feakle was a relative hotbed of republican activity during the struggle for Independence.
On 7th October 1920, Sergeant Francis Doherty and Constable William Stanley were killed during the Feakle ambush. Later that month, very close to the same road that Grogan was shot, another native of Feakle, Martin Counihan, was executed by the local IRA on suspicion of being an informer.
Against this backdrop was an increasing division between the parishioners of Feakle and the local Parish Priest, Fr. Michael Hayes. After Hayes launched a sustained campaign against local republicans, he was boycotted.
In April 1876, Jim Grogan had been born to his parents, Paul and Mary. He was their first child. The couple had been married the previous February in Scariff.
In his home in the townland of Coore, Jim was held tightly and nurtured. In his forty-four years, he never left that home. It was that home he was trying to reach when British forces overtook him in 1921. It was less than 300 yards away from where he was shot dead. His parents must have heard the shot.
It was this boycott that led Jim Grogan in the direction of Clonusker church on the day he was shot, and not his native Feakle.
Bodyke IRA Captain, Michael Gleeson recalled that in the same area, in June 1921, he together with Ned Doyle, Jack Considine, Michael and Paddy Tuohy and James Rochfard, were arrested in Coolreagh bog and severely beaten by British forces.
According to Gleeson, hundreds of combined British forces had made ‘several big sweeps’ in the area. The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment based in Tulla, were heavily involved in those sweeps.
The regiment had a relatively turbulent experience in east Clare, considering their ostensible neutral position in the conflict.
The February prior to Grogan’s shooting, Privates Williams, Walker and Morgan, members that regiment, were captured between Feakle and Scariff and claimed that they were deserters. Following a court marital, it was decided, by one vote, to execute the soldiers. This was carried out close to Lough Atorick, where their bodies were left. While it is inevitable that this would have left a very bitter taste with the Ox and Bucks Regiment, it is difficult to find a direct connection with Grogan’s death, four months later.
Significantly however, in the context of Grogan’s death, the evening before, Lieutenant Richard Warren of the Ox and Bucks, died from wounds he received in the Four Roads ambush in Fortane, Tulla, the night previously.
Given the pattern of reprisals for such incidents over the previous year, it merits suggestion that when the same regiment travelled towards Feakle that morning with Black and Tans and RIC, they were determined to seek revenge.
If so, then Jim Grogan, walking in his own townland, found himself in the path of that bloodlust.
Given Grogan was of a fragile disposition, the impulse to run and hide was natural. The Black and Tans had been in the country for almost 15 months by June 1921 and their exploits were well known.
That the sound Grogan heard and ran from was a mixed regiment of British soldiers and not exclusively Black and Tans, was irrelevant. To the majority of those on the other side of their guns, the British forces all had the same purpose and could appropriately fall within collective description ‘Tans’.
Given the nature of the ambush that killed their colleague in Tulla a day previously, it is possible that Biggs fired in fear of a similar attack.
However, there are aspects of the British account that contain notable contradictions. If standing in front of a scrub bush that one suspects is lined with rebels, shooting at the man you suspect of luring you in there, is unlikely to make you safer.
In addition, the court claimed that Grogan ran away ‘very fast’. However, local knowledge suggests Grogan had a severe limp and therefore was unable to run with speed.
When it was established that Grogan was unarmed and a civilian, no apology was tendered at the subsequent court of inquiry, despite the presence there of Grogan’s father.
Days after his shooting, Jim was buried in St. Cronan’s graveyard in Tuamgraney with his grandparents and brother Patrick, who had died in 1918. No reference is made to the nature of Jim’s death.
In various accounts of the period, reference to Grogan has been minimal and frequently inaccurate, with some historians calling him a ‘Feakle Volunteer’, and others suggesting he was “murdered by Auxiliaries”. In one case, it was claimed that his death took place four months earlier.
Even at the time, it appeared the press had little interest in the Feakle man, with minimal coverage, documenting the death of ‘a man named James Grogan’ who it was largely reported ‘failed to halt’.
The Clare Champion carried a brief report on Grogan’s death. However, there was no follow up reports and no details of the funeral were carried. Even his age was reported carelessly as thirty, when in fact, Grogan had just turned forty-four the previous March.
In my research locally, where I did encounter the story, there was much confusion. Seeking clarity, on 11 March 2013, I made my way to the townland of Laccaroe in Feakle, next to Core.
There, I visited John Michael Tobin, born over a century earlier in 1912. John Michael was nine years of age when the incident took place and I hoped that he might have had some memory.
After asking a deliberately vague and broad question about “the Grogan man that was shot in Core”, I waited. John Michael wiped his mouth with a handkerchief, held in his left hand. Within the first few words of his response, I had been taken back to Core, to the sound of approaching military and to the final moments of Jim ‘Birdie’ Grogan’s life:
“Well shur, I saw Jim Grogan a few hours, a few minutes nearly before he was shot! The time of the Tans in Feakle you know, people out of the parish wouldn’t go to mass in Feakle at all. And we were goin to Clonusker … We were going, maybe ten young lads.
“Jim Grogan was with us and the Tans was coming down the main road from Feakle in a lorry and he heard ‘em. ‘God’, we said ‘that’s the Tans!’ Well, says he ‘I’ll go back no further, I’m going home’.
“He turned back and when they were coming down the main road, they saw him goin’ down the road to Core. They drove hard and followed him. There’s a big long stretch of the roadway. They turned down after him and they knew well that he wasn’t gone that length in a few minutes.
“So, they searched around and some solider or whatever you’d call him, spotted him in by the ditch. Jim put up his hands and your man shot him. And that was the last of Jim Grogan. Last, I ever saw him.”
John Michael’s testimony is supported by the court of inquiry in Tulla, where it was noted that Grogan had “ran away from a party of civilians”.
John Michael lived a further 93 years after he heard the shot that killed his neighbour. He never forgot him.
In April 1876, Jim Grogan had been born to his parents, Paul and Mary. He was their first child. The couple had been married the previous February in Scariff.
In his home in the townland of Core, Jim was held tightly and nurtured. In his forty-four years, he never left that home. It was that home he was trying to reach when British forces overtook him in 1921. It was less than 300 yards away from where he was shot dead. His parents must have heard the shot.
By 1921, Paul and Mary had seen many of their children emigrate. Jim’s sisters Delia and Mary, as well as his brother Thomas boarded the Saxonia at Cobh on 3rd April 1908, from where they would make their way to Boston.
In October 1911, his brother Michael left for New York where another brother John had earlier settled. Jim’s father Paul died in July 1933 and his mother seven years later in December 1940.
When in January 1966, his brother Paul, better known as ‘Son’, was drowned tragically, the Grogan name was gone from Core.
In writing about the past, historians often present material which is drawn from and represents a hierarchical and elite structure.
Events which relate fundamentally to people’s lives and emotions are reduced to mere detail and facts if they are recorded at all. Jim Grogan was not an IRA volunteer. He was not armed. He posed no threat to the heavily armed British force that faced him.
Instead, he was a ‘simple’ man who happened to be making his way to Mass, and who understandably became frightened and ran.
Until we bear witness to people like Jim Grogan and Paddy Morrissey, those who did most of the living and most of the dying, we only hold up a partial and obscured mirror to ourselves. No monument stands in Jim’s memory. No craftsman’s effort was carved in stone to remind passers-by of his name. No songs have been composed to preserve his story.
His name has largely faded with each passing year since a bullet from a British gun ended his life in 1921. That same memory that almost lost him is now the gift that can save him from obscurity.
Tomás Mac Conmara’s next book, The Scariff Martyrs, War Murder and Memory in East Clare, will be published by Mercier Press in September 2021.