On This Day in 1920 Rev. Canon Thomas Magner PP of Dunmanway, West Cork was shot dead by a British Auxiliary called Hart for not tolling his church bells on Armistice Day. Hart was found guilty of murder but declared insane at the time of the shooting. By 1923 he was free and he went to live in South Africa.
The British Auxiliary forces responsible for the burning of Cork city, those of ‘K’ company, were moved to Dunmanway, in the west of the county, just days after their rampage of destruction. Under Colonel Latimer, they established their barracks at the workhouse in the town. This was just two weeks after the Kilmichael ambush, where a company of their colleagues were wiped out by Tom Barry’s West Cork Flying Column.
The auxiliaries and also black and tans (who were based in the local RIC barracks) declared their intention of seeking revenge for the defeat at Kilmichael. At 11.30 on the morning of December 15th., 1920 about thirty auxiliary police left Dunmanway, in two Crossley tenders, with Hart in charge, to go to Cork to attend the funeral of Cadet Chapman who had been killed in the Dillon’s Cross Ambush.
About a mile along the road they met Canon Magner, the 73 year old parish priest of Dunmanway, and Tadgh Crowley, aged twenty-four, a farmer’s son. Canon Magner had been walking along the main road. He came across a car broken down on the road and stopped to help. The man driving the car was called Mr. Brady from Skibbereen, a Resident Magistrate. Tadgh Crowley also stopped to help. Canon Magner and Crowley pushed the car. Just then the two Crossleys full of Auxiliaries passed them, went on about 100 metres and then backed back. They were coming from the workhouse in Dunmanway.
The cadet in charge stopped the lorries, walked up to Tadgh Crowley, asked him for a permit, and then shot him dead with his revolver. He then turned to the priest, and, according to the evidence of one of the police, “started talking to him.” Two other cadets went towards him, but Hart turned round, waving his revolver. They withdrew, Hart seized the hat from the priest’s head and threw it on the ground and made him kneel down. He fired, and wounded him, and then fired again, killing him. Mr. Brady, the resident magistrate, who was a witness of the murder, was also threatened with death, but took cover and escaped. It was evident that Hart had been drinking heavily.
The bodies of Canon. Magner and Tadgh Crowley were pushed into a drain at the side of the road. At a subsequent investigation, one of the reasons given for his murder was that he refused to have the parish church bells tolled after the deaths at Kilmichael, when ordered to do so by the British. On the 21 February 1921 Sir Hamar Greenwood replied to a question in the House of Commons and confirmed Hart and Cadet Chapman who died in the Dillon’s Cross ambush had a “close friendship.”
“DIED SAVING A YOUNG MAN
Our Dunmanway Correspondent wired last evening – I regret exceedingly to report the death of our beloved P.P., Canon Magner, at the hands of some auxiliary police, recently come to Dunmanway, and a young man, which occurred this afternoon on the Ballineen road, outside Dunmanway. The town is horrified, and the deepest mourning and resentment are displayed.,
It would appear that Canon Magner was taking his customary walk when he came upon the scene while they were shooting somebody.
He intervened and suffered death in consequence, as was characteristic of his charity and benevolence.
Later – It appears that it was a young man named Crowley who was shot whilst cycling when the Canon intervened and met his death.
Extracts from THE CORK EXAMINER, Thursday, December 16, 1920.”
1921 – Mar 3. In the House of Commons, Commander Kenworthy asked Sir Hamar Greenwood whether he was aware that Mr. Brady, resident magistrate, present at the murder of Crowley and Canon Magner, stated that the other cadets in the lorry made no attempt to interfere, that Mr. Brady’s house was subsequently raided; whether Mr. Brady was called as a witness at the special investigation; whether these other cadets were punished in any way, and whether any of them are now employed in Ireland. Sir Hamar Greenwood answered: “A written statement by Mr. Brady, setting out the full circumstances of the murder, was fully considered in the course of the official investigation into the conduct of the cadets who were witnesses of the occurrence. As a result of this investigation it was decided that these cadets were in no way responsible for the crime, and that no action was called for in their case.”
1921 – Mar 19. Ministers were asked whether Mr. Brady’s house had been raided by the Auxiliaries, whether they had threatened him, and whether he had left the country on the advice of the right honourable gentleman’s responsible officers. Replying for Sir Hamar Greenwood, Mr. Henry could not deny this statement, but professed ignorance of the whereabouts of Mr. Brady, who had obtained leave of absence and was “broken down in nerves.”
1931 – Hart is living in South Africa and is on the Potgietersrus Voter’s List. Now Mokopane, some 200 miles north of Pretoria.
1937 – Hart died in Cape Town.
The brutal act provoked widespread outrage while highlighting the unsavoury actions of the so called ‘cadets’ of the auxiliary forces in Ireland. The incident was also probably one of the contributing factors towards the instigation of later peace negotiations.