Poignant Week of Centenaries in Cork, Cloyne and Ross

Speaking to RTE News last week, the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton, said that ‘we need not only to tell, but also to wrestle with every story around the creation of the State during this, the Decade of Centenaries.’ Bishop Colton was speaking outside Saint Mary’s Church, Dunmanway, County Cork, one of the parishes most acutely affected by events of 26th to 29th April 1922. He also referred to President Michael D. Higgins’ public support for this pastoral approach to the commemorations in Cork.

President Higgins wrote openly to the Bishop at the start of the centenaries last week and said

As part of a process of ethical remembrance, it is crucial that the voices of all of those without exception who were impacted by these horrific events are heard.

I wish you all the best wishes in this endeavour as we continue to remember this period in our nation’s history, and seek to do so ethically, and with moral purpose, allowing for an inclusive reflection, open to all sides, including those who left our shores, those who left below, and those who were left in a minority status, North or South, to suffer discrimination in any aspects of life.

President Michael D. Higgins, 26th April 2022
Bishop Paul Colton, together with the Reverend Cliff Jeffers, Rector of Fanlobbus Union, meeting descendants – great grand nieces Jennifer Carolan, Jackie Eakins, and Barbara Gargan – of David Gray who was killed in Dunmanway in 1922: Picture: Andy Gibson

The United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross put in place a Centenaries Commemoration and Reconciliation Project in 2014, co-funded by the Church of Ireland Priorities’ Fund. The rationale for the project, devised by the Bishop and supported by the Diocesan Council and Diocesan Synod, was because Cork was deeply affected and a very violent place during the War of Independence and the Civil War.

The.sunshine and beauty of West Cork during these centenaries, together with the birdsong, stood in sharp contrast to the events of 100 years ago.

Bishop Colton explained the background to the week of visits:

The historiography of events in the Bandon valley between 26th and 30th April 1922, has been written about extensively and debated with different narratives, emotions and responses elicited.  Why it happened and what the motives of people were are elusive questions. What can we know with certainty at this remove? 

At one straightforward level what happened is clear.  In that week, 14 people were killed:  Acting Commandant Michael O’Neill, Thomas Hornibrook, Samuel Hornibrook, Captain Herbert Woods, James Buttimer, David Gray, Francis Fitzmaurice, Robert Howe, John Chinnery, Robert Nagle, Alexander Gerald McKinley, John Buttimer, James Greenfield and John Bradfield.  Two of those were 16 years of age and the oldest was 82.  Twelve were members of the Church of Ireland in this Diocese.  Attempts were made on others’ lives and they had to escape, many never to return.  We know that in the years that followed many people from Cork, Cloyne and Ross felt insecure in this part of the world and left. 

Bishop Colton undertook the 8 days dedicated to these centenaries between Sunday 24th April, beginning with Confirmation Services in two of the parishes – Fanlobbus Union and Kinneigh Union – and ending on Sunday 1st May with a Confirmation Service in Kilgariffe Union.

Part of the gathering at Saint Mary’s Churchyard, Dunmanway. Picture: Andy Gibson.

The Bishop lit 14 candles and laid a wreath in the current Decade of Centenaries memorial space in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork on Tuesday, 26th April, the first day of the fateful events. The same space had been used to mark the centenary of the First World War with images of many of those from Cork, or with present day connections with Cork, whatever side of the war they fought on, who died or were injured between 1914 and 1918. More recently, in the summer of 2021, the memorial space was the centrepiece of a commemoration of the end of the War of Independence – the Truce – and of all those who died in the War of Independence.

Decade of Centenaries Memorial Space in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork where Bishop Colton lit 14 candles and laid a wreath on behalf of the people of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

That evening, Bishop Colton, accompanied by Mrs Susan Colton, visited the roadside at the present day Ballygroman House in the Parish of Desertmore where everything started in that week, and laid flowers there. During subsequent days, the Bishop travelled throughout mid-West Cork meeting people, including descendants of those who were killed, and descendants of some of those who fled in order to save their lives. At each grave, where the grave is known, readings, silence and prayers were offered, and flowers were laid.

Three graves are unmarked, and the exact whereabouts of the burial of three of the victims is not known, but flowers were laid together with silence and prayers in appropriate places to mark each of the events of the week one hundred years ago. The Bishop, local clergy and parishioners, were joined by other local people at some locations, and also by clergy of other Christian denominations, including the Reverend Greg Alexander (Methodist Church), Father Ted Collins (Dunmanway), Father Tom Hayes (Ballymoney and Kinneigh), and Monsignor Aidan O’Driscoll (Clonakilty).

A lone wreath in the churchyard of Fanlobbus Parish, near Newcestown, County Cork, was laid in recognition of Thomas Hornibrook, Samuel Hornibrook and Captain Herbert Woods, whose graves are unknown.

Bishop Colton said:

Several things struck me as being especially poignant during these centenaries including the spectacular beauty of the countryside in the sunshine of those days, together with the birdsong in those quiet places where the victims of such horrible events now lie. The contrast was very poignant. I also appreciate and pay tribute to the compassionate and caring way that the pastors in this Diocese have engaged with people in their own parishes and listened to them, so that their wishes might be taken into account throughout these centenaries. A group of young people from Dunmanway came to ring the Sam Maguire bells, half-muffled, and their presence was greatly appreciated.

Naturally, meeting some of the descendants was especially moving; and I was also struck by the number of people who turned up and who told me that they too were descendants or connections of some of those who were killed. Among them and local historians I was also very moved by those who came to me to impart some piece of information or insight, inherited in the oral tradition of families, about the events of that time.

The Rev. Greg Alexander, Methodist Minister, lays a wreath on the grave of 82 year old victim James Buttimer. Picture: Andy Gibson.

On their own initiative, today’s parishioners, in the case of many of the known graves, had arranged for the headstones to be cleaned or restored. Where a name had never been put on one headstone, it was added by the parish, and the new plaque was blessed by the Bishop. There are plans in preparation in another parish to erect a headstone in another previously unmarked grave. Such was the fear and silence in that period that some of the deaths were not entered in the burial registers of the parishes concerned.

Although the names of Robert Howe and Alexander Gerald McKinley (also 16 years of age) are entered in the burial register of Saint Paul’s Church, Ballymoney, their graves are unmarked and unknown within the churchyard.

Following an extended period of consultation about the form that the current phase of the project should take to mark the centenaries of the killings of 14 people in 1922, including of 12 members of the Church of Ireland from Cork, Cloyne and Ross in the period between the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the start of the Civil War, it was decided that the Bishop would undertake a series of pastoral visits which would take into account the particular wishes of each of the parishes affected. The process of consultation took place, in spite of the challenges and constraints of the Coronavirus Pandemic, with all clergy in the Diocese, their parishes, most especially the parishioners affected in the Rural Deanery of Mid-West Cork, with those descendants with whom were able to make contact, and with local historians, researchers and authors. Bishop Colton had also raised the matter of these commemorations during a visit to a meeting of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations established by An Taoiseach in 2011, and also the Church of Ireland’s own Historical Centenaries Working Group.

The view from the churchyard of Christ Curch, Kilmeen, where two victims – John Buttimer and James Greenfield – are buried. James Greenfield’s grave is unmarked but the parish has plans to erect a headstone.

Announcing the proposed 8 days of pastoral visits in the Cork, Cloyne and Ross Diocesan Magazine at the start of April, Bishop Colton, referred to the contested historical narratives about these killings, but emphasised that the purpose of his visits was pastoral and commemorative in prayer, liturgical and contact with people. ‘I am not in a position to adjudicate on the historiography of that period,’ he said.

As lead pastor in this Diocese today, however, my primary duty, having consulted with the local clergy, who have listened to descendants, is to ensure that in prayer and liturgy, these people and events are appropriately remembered in the context of this Decade of Centenaries.

Bishop Paul Colton, Diocesan Magazine, April 2022

On Sunday, 1st May, prayers were said and acts of remembrance took place, at all Services throughout Cork, Cloyne and Ross to mark these centenaries, based on materials prepared by the Church of Ireland Liturgical Advisory Committee for use throughout Ireland during the Decade of Centenaries.

In Kilgariffe Church, as a candle of remembrance was being lit at the start of the Confirmation Service on Sunday 1st May, Bishop Colton said that the horror of what had happened hit home to him as he was signing the Confirmation Register.

Robert Nagle who was killed in this parish on 27th April 1922 and who is buried in the churchyard just meters from the door of this church, was only 16 years of age. Today, one of you being confirmed is that same age: just 16. That’s how awful those events and times were.

The grave of 16 year old Robert Nagle previously did not include his name, something which has now been rectified by the rector and churchwardens of Kilgariffe Parish Church, Clonakilty.
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