Church of Ireland bishop visits IRA grave whose death triggered Bandon Valley massacere

‘Extraordinary generous gesture of reconciliation’, says local historian

Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton has been praised for his commitment to reconciliation by visiting the grave of an IRA man whose death is believed to have led to the killing of 13 Protestants in West Cork 100 years ago this week.

Author of Cork's Revolutionary Dead 1916-1923, Barry Keane said the decision by Bishop Colton to begin the commemoration of the Bandon Valley killings by visiting the grave of acting IRA commandant, Michael O'Neill from Timoleague was highly commendable.

“I think for Bishop Colton to begin these days of commemoration by first visiting the grave of IRA man, Michael O’Neill – the first man to be killed in this outrageous series of events 100 years ago – was an extraordinary generous gesture of reconciliation,” he said

"Obviously, there were many victims in Bishop Colton's own Church of Ireland community around Dunmanway in that last week of April 1922, but to remember the other man who died is a brilliant gesture which truly goes to the heart of reconciliation."

Bishop Colton began the day of remembrance by visiting Michael O'Neill's grave in Kilbrittain where he laid a wreath and prayed for the IRA man whose death at Ballygroman House near Ovens in Mid-Cork is generally regarded as having triggered the week of killings.

According to Mr Keane, Mr O'Neill was the acting commandant of the Bandon Battalion of the No 3 Cork IRA Brigade. Together with three other IRA men, they went to Ballygroman Housein the early hours of April 26th, 1922, to seize a car belonging to the owners, the Hornibrooks.

It is believed the IRA party first knocked at the door and demanded entry to obtain the magneto necessary to start the car but they were refused. After threatening to break in, Mr O’Neill found an unfastened window and entered the house with two of his comrades.

Mr O’Neill went from the dining room into the hall and then up the main stairway. However, as he did, a shot was fired and he managed to make it back to the dining room from where his comrades, Charlie O’Donoghue and Stephen O’Neill carried him out and down the avenue.

According to Mr Keane, Mr O’Donoghue went to try and find a priest to administer the Last Rites to Mr O’Neill but by the time he returned with a cleric, Mr O’Neill was dead – the spot where he died on the main Bandon-Killumney road is today marked with a simple cross.

Intense gun battle

Members of the IRA returned and surrounded the house and after an intense gun battle, the occupants, Thomas Hornibrook, Samuel Hornibrook and Herbert Woods were arrested by the Irish Republican Police and taken to Newcestown where they were held for a number of days.

All three men were shot by the IRA and buried in nearby Farranthomas bog and some years later the bodies were quietly buried in a nearby Church of Ireland graveyard, said Mr Keane, adding “there was little doubt that the motive was straight revenge” for Mr O’Neill’s death.

The shooting of Mr O’Neill and subsequent killing of the the Hornbrooks and Woods, who had fired the shot that fatally wounded Mr O’Neill, led to a spate of attacks on mainly Protestant men and boys along the Bandon Valley over the next three nights.

A total of 13 Protestant men and boys, ranging in age from 16 to 82, lost their lives and according to Mr Keane, it is almost certain that the killings were carried out by anti-Treaty IRA men as part of a co-ordinated reprisal for the death of Michael O’Neill.

Bishop Colton marked the events by attending a service at St Mary's Church of Ireland in Dunmanway where prayers were said at the graves of those who died during the killing spree that was condemned at the time by both Arthur Griffith and Eamon de Valera.

Mr Keane concluded: “Today’s events is an acceptance of the reality of what happened in 1922 – Michael O’Neill couldn’t really be held responsible for what happened afterwards but for Bishop Colton to visit his grave shows a true commitment for real reconciliation.”