On the morning of the 19th March, 1921, the startling rumour went round the town that an ambush of military had taken place at the Burgery and that there were casualties on both sides. Rumour had it that fighting had been going on all night, and only finished when there was broad daylight in the morning. People asked one another for particulars, but only the vaguest accounts could be learned. But confirmation of the stories was in a measure made manifest when a motor car drove down the Main Street at about ten o'clock in which an auxiliary policeman was dying.
The Burgery is situated on the main road to Waterford from Dungarvan, about a mile to the north-east of the town. It is a pretty suburb, well sheltered with trees, and along the road there are good fences topped with hawthorn and privet on either side. On the evening previous to the ambush a, force of military left the Castle in a motor car and a lorry. There were about twelve soldiers in the lorry, and the motor contained Captain Thomas (in command), Lieut. Griffiths, Sergeant Hickey, of the R.I.C. and two soldiers. The destination was Clonea, on the Ballyvoile Road, the object being to make the arrest. of a man named Murphv who lived there. The party succeeded in finding the man "wanted" at home and in making the arrest. The reason for Sergeant Hickey accompanying the partv was so that he might point out the house of Murphy. Having secured Murphy, the military set out for home, but they made a detour to come back by Cloncoskraine, where some military were stationed, and with whom they wanted to make an exchange of views. Having remained for a short time at Cloncoskraine, they proceeded homewards, it being then somewhere about eleven o'clock at night. The motor car went first, followed at a little distance by the lorry containing the soldiers guarding the prisoner.
People of Dungarvan know well where the road turns off from the main road to go to Lacken or Fruit Hill. Here, behind the fence, a number of I.R.A. lay in waiting. And lest the military would take the old Cork road another party of ambushers lay there also in waiting, screened behind the fence. The motor car, coming along the main road, was allowed to pass, but when the lorry came within some yards a volley was discharged from behind the fence. The lorry stopped, the petrol tank was pierced, and the vehicle became disabled. The soldiers jumped out and ran for what cover they could. Then they opened fire and a rapid exchange of rifle shooting took place between the parties, the encounter having lasted for about ten minutes. Captain Thomas had gone on with the motor car. He pulled up on reaching the Burgery. He found the lorry was not following, and, hearing the shooting in the distance, he surmised an ambush and ordered Lieut. Griffith to proceed with all speed to Dungarvan for reinforcements. That officer came into town and, reaching near the barracks, shouted that his men were ambushed and to have assistance Come quickly. With incredible swiftness three or four motor cars issued from the barracks, accompanied by lorries, all filled with armed soldiers, machine-guns, and other implements of battle, and proceeded with speed towards the Burgery. The men remaining to keep charge of the barracks shot up Verey lights, discharged their rifles, and some of them rushed to the park, where they sent up more Verey lights as a call to the marines stationed at Ballinacourty to come to the rescue. The firing continued for some hours. The people in the vicinity were aroused from their slumbers, but none would venture outside doors. It was a night of anxiety with them long to be remembered.
But to return to Captain Thomas. When he, with the two soldiers and Sergeant Hickey, dismounted from the motor car they fired into the darkness, and while proceeding to the scene of the ambush, a quarter of a mile distant, a number of the I.R.A., armed with rifles, jumped over the fence, shouting "Hands up." Captain Thomas ran over the fence as well as the others, but they were followed by the attacking party and placed under arrest. Captain Thomas had a Colt .455 automatic pistol, while Sergeant Hickey was also fully armed. The I.R.A. now took them up to the road and placed Captain Thomas in the house of Mr. Barr, and the soldiers in the house of Mr. Kennedy. Sergeant Hickey was taken away by others up the boreen leading to Knockateemore, and was never afterwards seen alive. Captain Thomas was held a prisoner, but suffered no further injury.
But how fared it all the time with the ambushed party further down the road? The soldiers made away over the fields. It is not known if there were casualties, but afterwards it was stated that there were seen coffins at Waterford being brought to England by one of the cross-channel boats. The ambushed lorry was set fire to and portion of it was burned. The reinforcements came out from Dungarvan, and in the confusion that prevailed Captain Thomas and the soldiers who were prisoners escaped. They then proceeded to where the lorry was disabled and remained there for some time. Soldiers were stationed at the Burgery. The Marines from Ballinacourty came along and they placed themselves at every vantage point; even some of them mounted the roof of Mr. Barr's house and poured volley after volley into the darkness. Many other houses around bore bullet marks that were seen on the following day. In the early morning, as Mrs. Keating was milking her cow in an out-house visible from the road, the cow was shot dead with a rifle bullet. One bullet pierced Mr. Fives' window. Luckily no one was hit.
As day broke the soldiers commandeered a horse belonging to Mrs. Morrissey to draw in the disabled lorry, to which they yoked the animal, and, accompanied by soldiers, the lorry was being drawn up the hill on the road to Dungarvan. When at the gate of the field where there is a "short cut" to Lacken the auxiliary policeman, Redman, who had the horse in charge, was mortally wounded and bled copiously. A soldier covered John Fitzgerald, one of the party at the other side of the fence, and shot him dead. Patrick Keating; another of the I.R.A., rushed out from cover to bring Fitzgerald in, but he was fired at and wounded; He went back, but instantly turned again to the assistance of his fallen comrade, when another shot was fired at him which also took effect. With an effort only was he able to get into cover of the fence. His companions took him away, carried him in the direction of Knockateemore, where he was rested for a while, and ultimately he was housed in a dwelling in the high land that overlooks the valley of the Colligan, where he lingered until 5 p.m. same day, and died. Much regret was felt at the death of this young, courageous, and genial Irishman, whose memory is revered by the people.
When Redman, the auxiliary policeman, was wounded Mr. Barr cycled in to town for medical assistance. He called on Dr. Hackett. It was early morning, and the doctor answered the call with promptitude. In a few minutes he was ready and cycled with Mr. Barr to the scene of the tragedy. The ride was a risky one, as bullets were whizzing around, and through the ring of fire the doctor reached the wounded man. On examination he found that nothing could be done - that Redman was mortally wounded. The auxiliary was then taken in a motor car into Dungarvan, a soldier holding him in his arms. He lived till just before entering the barracks, when he expired.
As has been said, Sergeant Hickey was taken up the bye-road that leads to Knockateemore, then towards the glen at Castlequarter. What happened is not quite clear, but it appears he was sentenced to death. A priest was procured and the sergeant was prepared for death. He received the viaticum, and the sentence was then carried out. His body was pierced with bullets, and it was left in the lonely glen. For two days the soldiers scoured the countryside to find him, and it was Mr. Beresford, on whose land the body lay, that discovered it lying in the glen. The soldiers took charge of the remains, which were removed to the barrack. The body of John Fitzgerald was also taken there. The relatives of Fitzgerald made application for the remains, but they would not be given up until the funeral of Sergeant Hickey had taken place. No civilians accompanied Sergeant Hickey's remains to the grave. The cortege was composed entirely of soldiers and police. In fact there was some difficulty in having the grave dug. An order was issued by the military that all shops should be closed during the funeral, and this was observed. The body was interred in the cemetery of the parish church.
When the funeral of Sergeant Hickey was over, the remains of John Fitzgerald were handed over to the relatives. The funeral took place from the barrack to the Parish church. It was an immense concourse of people. On the following morning Requiem Office and High Mass were sung, and it was known the remains were to be in-terred in Kilrossenty. The military had issued an order that only twenty people would be allowed to follow the remains. As the coffin was removed from the church soldiers were posted outside the railings with fixed bayonets, keeping the crowds back. There was a large number of people present. As the coffin was carried through the outward gates and down Mary Street the ladies of the Cumann na mBan lined up in processional order and marched after the remains. But only a limited number of people were allowed to join the funeral, which passed over the bridge on its way to Kilrossanty. As the cortege proceeded on the road it was met by numbers of people from the country, so that by the time it reached Kilrossenty it had assumed considerable dimensions. The remains were laid to rest in the Republican Plot in the ancient graveyard of Kilrossanty.
Oh, remember, life can be
No charm for him who lives not free.
Sinks the hero to his grave
Midst the dewfall of a nation's tears.
On the evening of the ambush Patrick Keating died. He, too, subsequently was buried in the Republican Plot at Kilrossanty. The news of his death was kept quiet for a time, but coming from his funeral, which took place in the night, many people were met by soldiers, an exciting time followed, and some arrests were made.
While this work was going through the press a letter appeared In the Waterford News on the Burgery Ambush. It was written by an officer who took part in the exciting affray. But it does not differ in any essential points with the account here given. And with respect to what took place in Dungarvan on the same night, it would be difficult for an officer engaged at the Burgery to personally know. We who lived inside the town heard through the night the tramp of armed men, the rushing of lorries, and the firing of shots, and those living in the vicinity of the Park give personal testimony as to the terror in which they were that night from rifle shots.
There is a conflict of opinion as to whether Captain Thomas was released or whether he and the soldiers escaped when reinforcements came. When the question was raised subsequent to the ambush, Captain Thomas had a letter published in the papers stating that he and the soldiers escaped, that the guards left them when extra military came out from Dungarvan. The I.R.A. officer maintains they were released. I am not in a position to verify either story.
It might be further stated that 'in the ambushed lorry there was a man named Dwyer, who was taken with the military as a hostage, and his mysterious disappearance during the fighting was a matter of much speculation. It appears he got through the fields, made for the high ground, and eventually succeeded in reaching Kilrossanty, where his dishevelled condition gave rise to suspicion, but he was ultimately set free on his being recognised by a resident of Dungarvan. There can be no question, however, as to the casualties. On the military side two were killed, Hickey and Redman, and on the I.R.A. Fitzgerald and Keating But these two latter would not have suffered injury had they not come round with others in the morning to reconnoitre the scene of the fighting, when the military had been reinforced to a big extent, which could not be known to the I.R.A. owing to the high road fences and the cover which they afforded.
Author: Fraher, Mansfield, Keohan