One Fifth Of March - 3rd Mar. 1945


One Fifth Of March: Text Version

Mar. 3 1945


Vinegar Hill and Ballinamuck, Thomas Street and Ballingarry, were chapters as black in Irish history as Aughrim and Kinsale. '98, 1803 and '48 were years of tragedy and defeat; disaster had followed hard on disaster, but still the old separatist idea lived on in Ireland. The belief in Ireland's separate nationhood could not be destroyed, and but a few years were to roll by before the old gospel of complete independence and freedom would again be proclaimed. This time it was the Fenian Brotherhood who were destined to make the attempt 'to break the connection', so ardently hated and denounced by Tone. Their plans for a countrywide rising in '67 were all upset by a terrific snow-storm that swept the land in those very March days when they should have been out fighting fiercely for freedom. Here and there they made a fight, but their weakened efforts were but the feeble protests of a paralysed nation. The great Fenian movement had ended in disaster.


Kilmallock was one of the few places that saw the Fenians in action. On the night of March 4th, 1867, they began to move quietly into the town in twos and threes, and early on the morning of Ash Wednesday, March 5th, they launched an attack on the police barrack. This was a formidable building, but it must inevitably have fallen to the Fenians had not their plans miscarried. The railway line between Kilmallock and Buttevant, which their leader, Captain Dunne, ordered to be cut, was left intact, and one can well imagine the consternation the news caused among the ranks of the attackers when they learned that a train crowded with soldiers had steamed into the station. The military quickly advanced to the aid of the besieged garrison. Blunderbusses and pikes were of little use against well-armed and well-trained troops, so the Fenians withdrew out of the town - some of them returning to their homes, others going 'on the run.' All was lost and the police still held the barrack. On that bitter day of defeat it might have been some consolation for the vanquished men could have known that on a bright May morning 53 years later their sons and grandsons would come back and capture the barrack for the Army of the Irish Republic.


Scare had the echo of the last shot fired on that March morning in Kilmallock died away when the spies and informers got busy. One of the infamous brood was a gent called 'Jack from Nenagh'. Soon many of the local Fenians stood in the dock charged with:-

'...not regarding the duty of their allegiance nor having the fear of God in their hearts, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the as false traitors against our said Lady the Queen, in the fifth day of March, in the year of Our Lord, one thousand, eight hundred and sixty Kilmallock, in the County of Limerick aforesaid, together with divers other false traitors...aim in warlike manner; that is to say, with guns, muskets, pistols, swords, bayonets, pikes and other weapons, being then unlawfully, maliciously and traitorously assembled and called together against our said Lady the Queen, most wickedly, maliciously and traitorously make open war against our said Lady the Queen...'

Those charged were:- Patrick Walsh, Daniel Bradley, Patrick Riordan (otherwise Patrick Riordan, the driver), William O'Sullivan, Maurice Fitzgibbon, Denis Hennessy, Christopher Hawthorn, Michael Riordan, Michael Foley, John Sheehan, Michael Noonan, Patrick Ward, Patrick Riordan (otherwise known as Patrick Riordan, the smith), William Turner, Robert Cantillon, John MacCarthy, Thomas Aherne, Patrick Maguire, Patrick Pigott, Thomas Daly, Thomas O'Donnell, Patrick Barrett, Thomas Meehan, Denis Connors, John Walshe and John Dunne.

For their terrible designs on the person of our said Lady the Queen, who, incidentally, might have been slightly more familiar to many Irishmen if described as 'The Famine Queen', a number of the Fenians received long terms of imprisonment or were transported.


When the Fenians withdrew on that ill-fated morning of March 5th, there was one of their number who remained behind. In the confusion, no one thought of telling him that the day was lost, and for hours he remained at his post near the old bridge at the rear of the barrack, sniping at the police. For a long time he carried on a lone fight, not realising that he was but one against so many. The police slowly worked their way around him and shot him dead. No one recognised this Fenian who had fallen so young and so tragically in the fray.

'Nameless he fell on the frozen sward dying,

No kind heart to soothe him or bear him away,

The dreary March wind his sad litany sighing,

His couch and pillow the moistened clay.

When the brave few who struck for their old land retreated,

Outnumber'd – not routed, betray'd – not defeated,

Their gallant young comrade who fought so elated

Pour'd out his heart's where behind them he lay.'

No one ever learned his name, but few there are who have not heard of the glorious part played by the Unknown Fenian at Kilmallock in '67. He was buried in the local churchyard, and there he rests with his secret. On his headstone the following lines were inscribed:-

'Here lies one who loved his country well,

And in her sacred cause untimely fell;

Let every honest heart who reads this scroll,

Pray God Save Ireland and his immortal soul.'

Near the old castle of King John, where Sarsfield Street joins Sheares Street, there stands a splendid Celtic Cross, erected by the people of Kilmallock to perpetuate the memory of the nameless soldier who gave his young life for the sacred cause of freedom. It bids us pray for the Unknown Fenian and the cause for which he died.

'Some died by the glenside, some died 'mid the stranger,

The wise men have told us their cause was a failure;

But they loved poor old Ireland and never feared danger,

Glory O! Glory O! to the bold Fenian men.

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