Brendan McCann, whose father Anthony was also a volunteer on the day 100 years ago); Suzanne Gunn, Drumlane Heritage Committee); Paddy O’Reilly, his wife Ann O’Reilly, their granddaughter Johanna O’Reilly, all distant relatives of Vol. Seán McIntyre and Micheál McCabe, Drumlane Heritage Committee.

Remembering Seán McIntyre 100 years on

Today (Friday), June 4, will mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Seán (John) McIntyre, volunteer, with a memorial planned at a later date.

Seán tragically lost his life at the tender age of just 21 years. He was killed during an operation when an incendiary devise detonated prematurely. Seán and his fellow volunteers were attempting to blow-up a derelict landlord’s house at Tomkin Road, Belturbet, Co Cavan. Their mission was to prevent the British Army from occupying it. A native of Lagan, Belturbet, Seán was survived by his two sisters and brother; he was predeceased by his parents James & Mary Kate and older brother James.

The years of 1920-21 were a very dark period in Ireland, with the Civil War and the policing by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). The RIC were the force that policed Ireland since 1836 and, while these forces were historically deeply resented, they were tolerated by most of the population. In January 1920, the old order of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) was beginning to crumble.

The RIC Special Reserve was formed and officially named The Black & Tans. In January of 1920, the recruitment drive in England for the Black and Tans began and over 10,000 men were recruited over a two-year period. There was an actual shortage of RIC uniforms after a sudden surge of recruits attracted by a pay increase incentive. All new recruits were issued khaki trousers, dark green RIC tunics, caps, and belts. With their mismatch uniforms, the new reinforcement became known as The Black and Tans.

Most of these recruits were convicts and World War I survivors, their only experienced was on the war battlefields. They had no formal policing experience, except for two weeks of training at Gormanstown Camp, Irishtown, Co Meath. After the killing of the first Black and Tans in County Kerry, the beleaguered and much despised RIC / Black and Tans retaliated by the raiding the homes of Sinn Féin and Irish Republican Army (IRA) members and their supporters. The Black and Tans all over Ireland increased their attacks. They besieged many towns, looting and burning homes and businesses. They also murdered innocent civilians as they walked the roads. There was a curfew put in place, and nobody was allowed out after dark, under peril of execution.

At the time it was customary in Ireland that the IRA would order all large unoccupied properties to be blown up and demolished because of the fear that the Black and Tans would move in and occupy them. In June 1921, the derelict landlord house of David Griffith at Tompkin Road, Belturbet, was to be blown up.

The following were assigned the task by the West Cavan IRA Brigade: Patrick Flood, Cullighan; John/Seán McIntyre, Lagan; Hugh Reilly, Kilcorby; Thomas Reilly, Cullighan: James Flynn, Kilcorby; Anthony McCann, Drumeethia; Edward Flood, Tomassan; James Reilly, Cornernia: John Reilly, Camalier; John P. Reilly Camalier and Frank Reilly, Church Street, Ballyconnell (names per MA/MSPC/A/69 West Cavan Brigade Military Archives, Ireland).

They were to use petrol to blow up the house. When all was set, they lay in waiting for the house to blow, but it failed to explode. Seán McIntyre went back to check why it had not exploded and, when he opened the door, was killed in the blast and buried in the rubble. Recovering his body was a very arduous task and took four to six weeks as the site was under constant surveillance by the Black and Tans. The following people were assigned this task: Patrick Flood, Cullighan; Edward Flood, Tomassan; Thomas Reilly, Cullighan; Frank Reilly, Church Street, Ballyconnell; Anthony McCann, Drumeethia: Patrick Sheridan, Creeny; Patrick Maguire, John Flynn, Charlie Flynn, Patrick Reilly, J. Curry, Coragh, Belturbet; Hugh Curry and Larry Drumm.

They removed his body and placed it on a donkey and cart, covered it with hay and started the perilous journey to Drumlane. It involved three men walking at a time each carrying a whistle. This took most of the day, as they had to take back roads to Milltown because of the risk of meeting the Black and Tans. One man walked before and one behind the cart, acting as guards and lookouts. If either of these men heard or saw anything, they would blow their whistle. This would alert and warn the man with the donkey, who would leave the donkey to eat grass along the roadside.

John Gunn, Creeny, a carpenter and a local neighbour Edward Alwill, Glasstown, made the coffin for Seán as it was not safe to buy a coffin from a local undertaker. He was coffined at John Gunn’s home and thus began the final part of the journey to Drumlane Cemetery by the back road. He was interred at Drumlane Cemetery in the middle of the night. The men had arranged with the local priest, Fr Thomas Myles, to meet them there. The burial ground for the McIntyre Family was in Staghall Cemetery but it was considered too risky because of its proximity to the main road.

Seán McIntyre’s younger brother Peter emigrated soon afterward to the United States, because he and his family were now targeted. He married and raised a family there and returned to Ireland in 1970s to visit the area. Sean’s sisters contracted Tuberculosis. It was recommended by their doctor that they emigrate to Australia to the warmer climate. However, they both succumbed to their illness shortly after arriving there. The family later sold their house and farm and moved to Belturbet town.

Sean McIntyre was awarded The War of Independence Medal Posthumously. There will be a memorial of remembrance at a later stage.