War of Independence veteran whose life spanned history of modern State

 

Seán Clancy: Lieut Col Seán Clancy, who has died aged 105, was the last surviving War of Independence veteran. His death severs the final link with what Liam Deasy, the west Cork guerrilla fighter, described as a fortunate and remarkable generation.

Born to a farming family of nine children in Clonlara, Co Clare, in 1901, he joined the Volunteer movement in the wake of the 1916 Rising. He moved to Dublin to work as a clerk in 1919, joined B Company, 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade, and took part in several engagements with British forces, principally in the Whitehall and Drumcondra areas.

He took the pro-Treaty side when the IRA split in 1922 and enlisted as a private in the National Army in Portobello Barracks, Rathmines. There he met Michael Collins and was present at many of the historic events that took place during this time, including the handover of Dublin Castle. He described the flurry of excitement at the arrival of Collins to sign the takeover document. In August 1922 he marched in Arthur Griffith's funeral procession and less than two weeks later in that of Collins.

He was commissioned as a lieutenant in April 1923 and was among those who were retained in service when the Army was greatly reduced in strength in the wake of the Civil War and the Army crisis of 1924. In 1932, by now a captain, he was a member of the officer guard of honour for the Mass in the Phoenix Park during the Eucharistic Congress. He recalled John McCormack singing Panis Angelicus and after the ceremonies the guard of honour attending a dinner with the new Fianna Fáil government. The two groups, who a decade earlier had fought on opposite sides during a bitter civil war, felt a little uneasy in each other's company until Éamon de Valera broke the ice by inviting the officer in charge to sit at his side during the meal.

At the outbreak of the Emergency in 1939, the Defence Forces once again expanded and Seán Clancy, now a commandant, was appointed second-in-command of the newly formed 18th Infantry Battalion. Battalions had strengths of up to 1,000 men at that time and spent the summer months under canvas in intensive training and on manoeuvres. The end of the Emergency brought with it another inevitable reduction in strength with the result that promotion for those who remained stagnated. Nevertheless Seán Clancy, after earning a distinction on his command and staff course in the military college, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1954. Towards the end of his military career he commanded the 5th Infantry Battalion, a unit for which he retained a special affection for the remainder of his life.

Retirement in 1959 gave him time to pursue his other interests. He was a founding chairman of Scoil Uí Chonaill GAA Club and a founding vice-president of Glasnevin Musical Society. It was a standing joke within his very musical family that its only tone-deaf member should have been accorded this honour. He applied his organisational skills to good effect in the fundraising effort for the building of Corpus Christi Church in Glasnevin. To mark his 100th birthday in 2001 he visited his old unit and inspected a guard of honour. In April of this year he was an honoured guest at the 90th anniversary commemoration of the Rising and in August paid a memorable last visit to the family grave in Co Clare.

In 1926 he married Agnes Creagh from Castlebar. They had one daughter and four sons who survive him. He loved the company of young people and took an active interest in his 13 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. Agnes, his wife of 60 years, predeceased him in 1986. This remarkable man, whose life spanned the history of the modern Irish State, who had such a love for its people, culture and history, was led from Donnybrook Church on his final journey by a piper from the 5th Infantry Battalion and at Dean's Grange Cemetery a firing party from the unit rendered honours at his graveside.

Seán Clancy: born July 7th, 1901; died September 17th, 2006