A new book telling the story of The Scariff Martyrs will be launched this week by award-winning Clare oral historian, Tomás Mac Conmara.
In November 2008, Tomás Mac Conmara sat with a 105 five-year-old woman at a nursing home in Clare. While gently moving through her memories, he asked the east Clare native; ‘Do you remember the time that four lads were killed on the Bridge of Killaloe?’ Almost immediately, the woman’s countenance changed to deep outward sadness. This was her response:
‘I was crying like a child. ‘Twas a terrible thing to say they were brought out and shot on the bridge in Killaloe … There was a safe house, along an avenue in from us … When I went into the house where there was a couple of [IRA] lads asleep. I was crying and the man in the house let a shout at me, “what’s wrong with you?” And ah, [begins to cry] I told ‘em. ‘Twas bad news …’
Margaret Hoey – Aged 105
Her recollection took Tomás back to 17th November 1920, when news of the brutal death of four men, who became known as the Scariff Martyrs, was revealed to the local community. Late the previous night, on the bridge of Killaloe they were shot by British Forces, who claimed they had attempted to escape. Locals insisted they were murdered. It has taken recognised historian, Tomás MacConmara, almost 20 years to explore this significant event, during this time he developed a deep understanding of the event, how it came about and the enduring nature of the memory.
Close to midnight on the 16th of November 1920, on Killaloe bridge, British Forces shot dead four young men. Young rebels committed to a cause, their betrayal by a spy, their brutal treatment and refusal to give up their comrades, when combined, bequeaths a memory that has reverberated across the generations.
Assembling all available evidence for the first time, with previously unused material and over 100 interviews, Mac Conmara brings seventeen years of research to completion. With his unique skill as a navigator of memory, he addresses what happened that night on a darkened bridge and finally explains how four men were drawn together to form one of the most enduring stories in Clare’s War of Independence.
This incident presents a remarkable confluence of dimensions. The young rebels committed to a cause. Their betrayal by a spy, their torture and evident refusal to betray comrades, the loneliness and liminal nature of their site of death on a bridge. The withholding of their dead bodies and their collective burial. All these dimensions bequeath a moment that carries an enduring quality that has reverberated across the generations and continues to strike a deep chord within the local landscape of memory in east Clare and beyond.
Scariff Martyrs: War, Murder and Memory in East Clare, is due to be published by Mercier Press on 14 September 2021. RRP €19.99. ISBN 9781781177259
Tomás Mac Conmara is an award-winning oral historian from County Clare. He completed a PhD at the University of Limerick in 2015, which explored the memory of the Irish War of Independence. He began recording oral history as a teenager and is now regarded as one of the leading oral historians in Ireland.
He was the founder of Cuimhneamh an Chláir (Memories of Clare) and was commended by President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins with a Comhaltas Forógra na Cásca Centenary Award in 2016. In 2017, he published Days of Hunger and in 2019, his twenty-year oral history collection work, The Time of the Tans was published by Mercier Press.