Living History, — January 13, 2009 11:30 — 0 Comments

William Hickey et alia

Recently in these pages Martin Payne referred to the fact that Hickey’s Lane on Armagh Road is so named after a young lad whose shattered and tortured body was dumped there by the Black and Tans in those awful years when those thugs held sway some ninety years ago in Ireland. 

Hickey’s Lane also featured in the newspapers last week as an alleged congregation place for local drug-users. This is doubly unfortunate as this loanan is also one of the few remaining public rights-of-way in the locality and might come under sustained attack (and possible threat of extinguishment) as a result. 


It was also the home locality of Sean McKenna (RIP) who died this week in Dundalk. Sean was the leading hunger-striker of the Troubles in that prison action that preceded the famous Bobby Sands protest. You may recall that Sean was captured by Crown forces in the Free State and abducted across the border for internment. 


He was practically blind and permanently damaged and close to death when he appealed to his O/C in Long Kesh for his life. Though that strike was soon after called off (the IRA thought some concessions had been won), another soon started and McKenna was (at best) forgotten even by his erstwhile comrades.


Sean never recovered his health and, as noted, died this week in his early 50s. 



But I wanted to put the Hickey’s Lane incident of 90 years ago into context.


The most dramatic incident in that year of the setting up of the Northern Statlet was the sustained gun and bomb attack on the Camlough barracks. As noted earlier on this site, this was combined with an ambush at the Egyptian Arch – designed to prevent police and military reinforcements from reaching Camlough. 


In the village several homes had been commandeered and were used as cover from which to launch a sustained volley of gunfire. Hand grenades were also thrown.


The besieged police retaliated and used furniture to reinforce the blasted steel shutters. Then the assailants used large barrels of paraffin, a rubber hose connection and a long hose to flood the building with fire accelerant. They set it alight. The building was destroyed. 


Reinforcements – a detachment of police and military, including the dreaded Black and Tans – were rushed out the Camlough road to the rescue of their colleagues but were met with a wall of felled trees. 


By the time they reached the Egyptian Arch they came under sustained attack from a fussilade of gun fire from above. Some hand grenades were dropped down on the military detachment.


The Crown forces responded with machine-gun fire which silenced the saboteurs. One IRA man (named William Canning from Ballyaghan) was killed and another, John F O’Hare of Needham Place was wounded and arrested. He died some ten months later. Peter Shields from John Martin Street, wounded in the incident was spirited across the border but died later and was buried in Omeath. O’Hare’s remains were brought back to Newry for a joint funeral service with Shields in the Cathedral. They were interred in St Mary’s Cemetery.  


A second well-planned IRA attack came immediately after King George had opened the Northern Ireland Government at Stormont. A detachment of British troops had been despatched from The Curragh for his protection. On the railway route back, the convoy was attacked at Adavoyle, with the loss of two soldiers and a rail guard. Rather typically, the British press focused more on the deaths of some four horses in the incident.


A local farmer Patrick McAteer was shot dead in retaliation and two others, James Boyle and Owen Rice were wounded. 


Newtownhamilton Barracks also came under sustained attack from some 200 armed men who took over the town and, using explosives and petrol, reduced the barracks to ashes. There were also attacks on other police stations, namely Mayobridge, Rostrevor, Whitecross and Cullyhanna. 


There were other less spectacular incidents that were just as fatal for some of the participants. When Constable Gabbie was shot dead in Newry, an abortive search was made by the ‘security forces’ for one Paddy Fearon. His lodgings at Kilmorey Street were raided but Fearon was not there. Not to be outdone, the Tans seized another young lad who was lodging there. 


The following day the mutilated and tortured body of innocent William Hickey was found slumped in the Lane which since then has borne his name. 


About the same time two young lads from the Rathfriland area, John McAlinden and Patrick Tumilty were found shot dead, after being interrogated in the local police station. Also, in South Armagh, the bodies of two men named Crawley and Creggan were dumped on the road between Lislea and Whitecross after having been forced on board a military lorry. This was openly claimed as retaliation for the murder of magistrate Woulfe Flanagan as he left Newry Cathedral. 


The worst week saw the killing of an innocent Catholic in Newry, followed by the slaughter of three more in Ballymacdermott. Immediately after seven Protestants were slaughtered in the same vicinity at Altnaveigh. (These awful events were mirrored in our recent Troubles with the Whitecross – followed by the Kingsmills massacres).



I began this article contemplating the present in the light of the past and with special reference to Republican involvement. There was another such tragic occurrence over the holiday period. 


That wonderful, beautiful and gentle lady Maire Rankin who was brutally murdered in her home on Dublin Road on Christmas Day was the widow of Gerry Rankin who was himself the son of the only Newry man (Patrick Rankin) to be involved in the Rising in Dublin GPO on Easter 1916. 



And now, lest my nationalist bias is showing too much, let me inform you that I intend to follow this article shortly with a series on Newry men who volunteered for the British Army in the First World War. They numbered in their hundreds!


 And, finally, Yeats may have been proved wrong less than three years later but was he a century before his time when he penned the following … ?


September 1913


What need you, being come to sense,

But fumble in a greasy till

And add the halfpence to the pence

And prayer to shivering prayer, until

You have dried the marrow from the bone?

For men were born to pray and save:

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary* in the grave.


Yet they were of a different kind

The names that stilled your childish play

They have gone about the world like wind

But little time had they to pray

For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,

And what, God help us, could they save?

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary* in the grave.


Was it for this the wild geese spread

The grey wing upon every tide;

For this that all that blood was shed,

For this Edward Fitzgerald* died,

And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,

All that delirium of the brave?

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary* in the grave.


Yet could we turn the years again,

And call those exiles as they were

In all their loneliness and pain,

You’d cry, ‘Some woman’s yellow hair

Has maddened every mother’s son’:

They weighed so lightly what they gave.

But let them be, they’re dead and gone,

They’re with O’Leary* in the grave.




(* Author’s note: substitute your own favourite patriot’s name, if you will, from any age: Wolfe Tone, RobertEmmet, John Mitchel, Michael Collins, Bobby Sands, Sean McKenna … whoever. )


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