WHILE Shannon is a new town, there is plenty of heritage in the adjoining area and a major amount of work has been taking place on preserving Hastings farmhouse, close to Illaunmanagh Graveyard. It will be opened to the public on two occasions in the coming weeks.
The house in question was the setting for drama during the War of Independence, as the IRA held the British Army’s Brigadier General Lucas there.
Speaking to The Clare Champion on Monday, Olive Carey of Dúchas na Sionna explained a little about his capture and imprisonment. “Brigadier General Lucas was the highest ranking British soldier to be captured during the War of Independence and Hastings farmhouse was one of the safe houses that he was kept in. He was held there for a period of time and he was also held in other safehouses in Clare, Brennan’s in Clonmoney, Corbett’s house, which is the Bunratty House Hotel today and Hogan’s in Moyhill.”
She said he had been in other counties too and was effectively released by the rebels. “He was captured down in Fermoy. He was on a fishing expedition at the time with two other officers. During the course of his capture, they made an attempt to escape and one of them was injured. It was decided to leave the other officer with the injured man and to take General Lucas and proceed on their journey. He was held for about a month, moving from safe house to safe house, through North Cork into Limerick and across the Shannon to Clare.
“At the end of the month, he escaped basically but really he was allowed to escape. Michael Brennan, in his book on the war in Clare, talks about him being taken on walks around the countryside to familiarise himself with it and basically he was let escape. Really, he was too much of a drain on their resources and while they kept him they had to keep a very low profile.”
While being taken prisoner might not be the best of starts to a relationship, a good rapport was struck up between Lucas and his captors and after his escape/release he said he had been treated as a gentleman by gentlemen.
In recent times, letters that Lucas wrote to his wife have resurfaced. Olive said he sought to put her fears to rest through the letters. “He was at great pains to say how well he’s being looked after and he tried to put his wife’s mind at ease as well because his wife gave birth to their first child during that time.”
At the moment, those letters are being used to write the full story of the affair and Lucas’ grand-daughter Ruth Wheeler is involved in the project.
“Ruth is working with Aideen Carrol, who is the grand-daughter of Sean Moylan, who was one of General Lucas’ captors in Cork. They’re working together along with Tom Toomey, who has written a book on the War of Independence in Limerick to bring the whole story of General Lucas’ capture and imprisonment in Ireland together, to write it from both sides.”
She said Hastings farmhouse has quite a long history and a lot of work has gone into making improvements over the last few months.
“Hastings farmhouse appears on the 1840 first edition Ordinance Survey map of the area. We know the Hastings family were living in the house in 1855. Up until the end of the 1960s or early ’70s, it was lived in by the Hastings family. After old Mr Hastings died, in or around 1969 or 1970, the house was taken over by Shannon Development and scouts used it for a time as a clubhouse.
“Then, in the mid-’70s it was vandalised and set on fire and since then, it has fallen into ruin and disrepair. A few years ago, Dúchas na Sionna started looking for grants and fundraising to do some conservation on what’s left of the cottage there. With the aid of a grant from Clare Local Development and some sponsorship from local businesses and some organisations, we were able to begin work this year on the conservation of the farmhouse.
“In February of this year we had a volunteer day and a number of people got involved in clearing vegetation from the site and we began work in March on the actual conservation. Martin Ryan, the conservation contractor, worked on it with us. We’re at the stage now where the work on the farmhouse itself has been completed. We still need to do some landscaping works around it and we hope in the future to have some workshops, like traditional wall-building workshops, that kind of thing.”
The first open day will be on Saturday, August 18 from 2pm to 6pm. The second one is on August 22 from 7pm to 9pm and this second day is a joint initiative between Dúchas na Sionna and the Shannon Archaeological and Historical Society.