On the afternoon of November 14th 1922 (nine months after its foundation) Henry Phelan became the first member of the new Civic Guard (later renamed An Garda Síochána) to be killed when he was shot in a quiet pub in Mullinahone, whilst on a simple errand to get a hurling ball for a team he was starting where he was stationed in Callan. He was 21 years of age at the time but the circumstances behind his killing and the identities of those involved
Today almost 90 years later very little is actually known about young Phelan’s own background and his death is a subject that many in the Mullinahone and Callan areas are still very slow to talk about.
A new documentary however aired recently has looked into the Laois native’s life both before and after he joined the force and also examines some of the theories concerning why he may have been targeted.
Born on Christmas Day in 1900 Henry Phelan got his early education at Paddock National School which he attended until he was fifteen years of age. According to current principal Sean Mullaney who managed to dig up records from the time, “his attendance was a mixture. In the early days he seemed to miss a lot of days but then later on his attendance was pretty ok.” During the War of Independence it was known that he had been a member of the volunteers but which unit was never fully established. Now Castletown historian Mike Rafter reveals that he was in the Mountrath Volunteers after coming across a statement from a comrade testifying to this.
The original Civic Guard application form that Henry Phelan filled out in his own hand writing together with the required letters of recommendation from his local parish priest and his IRA commandant are also featured in the documentary. According to Garda Jim Herlihy from Cork “it strikes you straight away the absolutely beautiful handwriting in great script altogether.” Phelan’s first posting was in Kilkenny city and after a short time he was transferred to Callan in South Kilkenny.
Full story in this week’s Tipperary Star.