Heritage: ‘Yesterday’s gift to today; today’s gift to tomorrow’ “
A Land League incident at Coolavin, Co. Sligo
A very lamentable story reaches us from the Clogher district as to the rejoicings which occurred on the death of the policeman Armstrong”. Our Correspondent states that “from Ballaghaderreen to Frenchpark, from Clogher to Loughglynn, bonfires were last night lighted on the hills in joyful celebration of the event”
Thus ran the headline in the Irish Times dated Friday 8th April 1881, 6 days after the fatal affray near the village of Monasteraden in South Sligo. Certainly there was deep anger also because of two local men who were shot dead in the affray. They were Joseph Corcoran, a 45 year old who left behind a widow and 6 children and Brian Flannery a single man aged 24 years old.
A memorial now marks the spot where this affray took place on Saturday 2nd of April 1881.
The beautiful townlands of Shroof, Clogher, Townabrack and Monasteraden are quiet and peaceful now, but in 1881 the countryside was in turmoil with the Land League becoming very powerful. There is no doubt that there was resistance to paying rent to landlords. In the days prior to the fatal affray, James Broder, the local process server in the area, encountered resistance when he went to serve notices on tenants on the property of the landlord Arthur Ffrench at Clogher, Monasteraden. A police force of forty members was stationed at Clogher police barracks on the 2nd of April to escort Broder in carrying out his duties.
Broder, however went to Mullaghroe police barracks, about 3 miles north of Clogher. From there, a Sergeant Armstrong and 3 constables, Constables Hayes, McNaughton and Donnelly escorted him. They marched towards Clogher and near the area they were met by a group of women and children on the road. Behind the women and children were a large group of men.
Accounts differ as to what happened next, but some facts are indisputable.
Clogher with Lough Gara in background
Police fire on unarmed crowd
Armstrong ordered the crowd to disperse and held up a cartridge to show the crowd that they were armed. He then proceeded to load the ammunition in his gun to show that they were serious about using it. The crowd held firm however and the sergeant ordered the police to load and fix swords. Some stones or sticks were thrown at the police, but nothing to warrant what occurred next.
The police and process server fired on the unarmed crowd with the result that Corcoran and Flannery lay dead and many others suffered injuries. Armstrong rushed at the crowd, but they beat him to the ground and inflicted serious injuries on him. He died a short time later.
Constable Hayes rushed to the aid of Armstrong and he too received serious injuries. He would have been killed also, but for the intervention of a local woman who, it is said, threw herself on his prostrate body, crying that they should kill her, rather than Constable Hayes. It is interesting to note that he later returned and married the girl who saved his life. In the detailed accounts of the affray, this latter incident is not mentioned, but local people and relatives of the two dead men insist that it did happen.
Broder, escorted by Constables Hayes and McNaughton fled the scene, shooting back to try and stall the angry crowd who were pursuing them.
Judging by the reports in the local and national press, the incident provoked outrage in the area. From reading the transcripts of the inquest into the deaths of Corcoran and Flannery, it is clear that the authorities were on the back foot and losing their grip on the situation. So this incident was a defining moment in history, not only for the Clogher region, but for Ireland in general.
The following is part of the report in the Sligo Champion dated April 9th 1881, 7 days after the affray:
Monument to Corcoran and Flannery
Corcoran leaves a wife and six children
"Leaving the barracks, I proceeded to the farmhouse of Joseph Corcoran who leaves a widow and 6 children. Outside his cabin was his coffin. His appearance would lead a person to think he was in a deep sleep were it not for the signs of blood about his nostrils, mouth and ears. On examining the breast, shocking wounds were visible. In the house, a heartrending scene was enacted. His children wept and sobbed loudly and the wife’s sorrow was most intense. While standing in the cabin amoungst her neighbours, she suddenly fell in a faint and had to be carried out. Corcoran was a tenant of Mr. Thomas McDermott and held about six acres. Brian Flannery was unmarried, aged 24 and was shot as I have already stated, through the head. Flannery was the support of an aged mother, father and sister and farmed about four acres on the property of Mr. Ffrench, but I failed to ascertain if he was one of the men who were about being evicted..."
Part of the report of the funerals of Corcoran and Flannery read as follows:
"At Clogher during the day when the victims were being buried, Major Stone was in command of 27 men of the 80th Regiment while 100 police were under the control of Sub-Inspectors Gardiner and Reeves. No disturbance whatever took place. The funerals were the largest ever seen in this part of the country. The coffins were carried by young men. The people all marched in a procession of five deep until they reached the burial ground Kilcolman. The funerals were attended by the Rev. Mr. O’Hara and the Rev. C.A. Connington (?). After the burial service was read they addressed a few touching words to those present. The entire multitude were moved to tears. They asked them to pray for the souls of the brave men who fell victim to bayonets and buckshot while defending their home. The place where the affray occurred is covered in blood which has turned, from the dryness of the weather, into a sort of red clay. The stones around the spot were all besmeared with blood. Everything is perfectly quiet in the district. The people have obeyed the instructions of the Rev. O’Hara.
Close-up of memorial
Eleven charged and acquitted
Eleven people were charged with riotous assembly and assault in connection with the affray. They were Hugh Kelly, Darby Duff, Patrick Flaherty, Michael Casey, Bridget Sharkey, Mary P. Duffy, Bridget Regan, Mary Sharkey, John Callaghan, John Gaffney and Martin Golden. All were eventually aquitted.
James Broder, the process server, as well as constables Hayes, McNaughton and Donnelly were also charged with murder, but as to their fate – well that requires further investigation. They were most likely acquitted.
A memorial at Clogher was unveiled by John Dillon, M.P. on August 31st 1913. The inscription reads:
Erected to the memory of Joseph Corcoran and Bryan Flannery, who, while defending with other brave men and heroic women of this district, their hearths and homes against landlord oppression, were shot by police and process server, April 2nd 1881.
No more evictions ever took place in the Clogher area. No more rent was ever collected and the families Corcoran and Flannery still populate the area to this day. I penned this song after reading snippets of an earlier song regarding the affray.
The suggested air is from a song called “John Twiss from Castleisland”, which, I think suits it.
Here to listen to 1st Verse
The Coolavin Lament.
United men of Ireland, attend both one and all.
And listen to these verses, while on no spies I call.
I sing about this dreadful deed and I mean to let you hear.
That it happened close to Coolavin, in the springtime of the year.
‘Twas the second day of April, in the year of ’81
The process server Broder with Sergeant Armstrong
And with three more policemen, they were the despot band.
They came to drive the tenants from their houses and their lands.
It’s when they came near Coolavin, the people they did meet
saying “go back to your grey barracks and leave us here in peace”.
“We will boldly stand together and resist all tyranny”
“We’ll defend our homes and keep our lands in this our country”.
Sergeant Armstrong then he read the act, to the people he did say
“Disperse at once unto your homes, the law you must obey”
Broder fired his gun to make them run, but while they stood brave and bold.
The fatal shot it found it’s spot and Brian Flannery lay cold.
Sergeant Armstrong too he raised his gun and fired into the crowd.
A bullet struck Joe Corcoran and brought him to the ground.
Two men lay dead and many more lay injured by the road.
Such grief and sadness in this townland, was never seen before.
But grief soon turned to anger and the crown with vengeance swore.
They seized on Sergeant Armstrong and laid him in his gore.
They chased the process server and policemen there also.
Where they cowered in their barracks, in the village of Mullaghroe.
On a winding road near Coolavin, there stands a tall grey cross.
And on white stone are carved these words, to be seen by all who pass.
To the memory of Joe Corcoran and brave Brian Flannery
who died to save their hearths and homes ‘neath the slopes of Mullagh ‘a Tí
No more they’ll roam the fair green hills round Shroof and Fauleens fair.
Or hunt the hare and red tailed fox in Townabrack’s bright air
Or trawl Lough Gara’s waters clear, where pike and perch range o’er
Where the crannógs peek from waters neat, all by the Island shore.
Article and photos by Frank Finn.
Frank placed second in the All Ireland Fleadh 2007 for the above song which is his original composition. He is one of the featured artists in A Fairy Wind. More information HERE