Some of you know the lines from Laurence Binyon’s ‘Poems For The Fallen’ ,
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning ,
We will remember them.
Binyon was writing about those who died in the Great War 1914-1918 fighting for the freedom of small nations. They are remembered now on poppy days and honoured in the public media here and elsewhere. Patrick Casey of Caherelly was not among them. He did fight for the freedom of a small nation and consequently met his death before a British firing squad, paying the ultimate price for his courage and love of his native land. His fate is unique in the history of the Irish War of Independence as he was the only member of the I.R.A. to be sentenced to death by Drumhead Court-Martial and executed.
By April of 1921 the Galbally Patrol consisting of soldiers from the Green Howards Regiment along with R.I.C. and Black and Tans based in the village were under the command of Captain Anthony Turton. He studied the tactics of the I.R.A. very closely and developed counter measures. He rarely used lorries but preferred to travel on foot or by bicycle. Thus it was that at Shraherla between Kilfinnane and Kildorrery on Sunday morning May 1st 1921 a mixed force of British military and police surprised the I.R.A. in the very act of setting up an ambush, acting on “information” leaked to them by Turton himself. The British force comprised about 30 men under the Green Howard’s commanding Officer Colonel Marais based in Tipperary town, along with soldiers from the Queen’s Regiment based in Kilworth. The military laid down a withering fire from rifles and machine guns as the volunteers retreated. Patrick Casey, James Horan, Timothy Hennessey and Patrick Starr from Nenagh facilitated the escape of their comrades by taking up positions and returning covering fire. Patrick Starr and James Horan from Caherconlish were killed almost immediately. With Hennessey wounded and he now surrounded, Casey with an empty magazine in his gun had no choice but to surrender. He was taken by military lorry, along with the wounded Timothy Hennessey to Victoria Barracks, Cork. At 8.30 the following morning Patrick Casey was court martialled, and sentenced to death by firing squad. A phone call to General Strickland determined that he be taken to Dentention Jail, now part of U.C.C grounds, and executed that same day. At 18.30 on that May Monday, twenty five hours after his capture, Patrick Casey was executed by firing squad, and buried in Cork. His case never came before the Judge Advocate General for review before being carried out; he was not given the right to appeal; neither was he allowed time for final visits from family. His case was later brought up in the British House of Parliament by Major McKenzie Wood and by Captain Wedgewood Benn, both of whom had served with distinction in the Great War and were appalled by the misconduct of the mock trial and hasty execution.
On Sunday, the 25th of September, ninety years after his death, Patrick Casey will at last be remembered and honoured by the unveiling of a memorial to him in his native Caherelly, (near Caherconlish in Co. Limerick), reminding us of the huge sacrifices made by a previous generation to win our freedom. We will remember him , and perhaps even strangers passing that way will ponder on his deeds and pray for his eternal rest. A booklet has been prepared for the occasion by Thomas Toomey, historian and author, detailing Patrick Casey’s part in the struggle for Irish Independence.