Volunteer Michael Fitzgerald

 

Volunteer Michael Fitzgerald (aged about 34) of Clondulane near Fermoy (Cork Gaol)

Date of incident: 17 Oct. 1920 (died on hunger strike)

Sources: II, 18, 21 Oct. 1920; CE, 18, 19, 20 Oct. 1920; Con Leddy’s WS 756, 8 (BMH); John Fanning’s WS 990, 15 (BMH); Patrick Ahern’s WS 1003, 18-22 (BMH); James Coss’s WS 1065, 8 (BMH); James Hackett’s WS 1080, 2 (BMH); Rebel Cork’s FS, 45-48; Costello (1995), 201; Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Ó Ruairc (2015), 91; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014); www.irishwarmemorials.ie; http://irishvolunteers.org/cork-county-gaol-ira-volunteers-executed-memorial/ (accessed 3 Nov. 2015); UCC IRA Memorial; Kilcrumper Cemetery Memorial, Fermoy.

 

Note: A close friend of Volunteer leader Liam Lynch (commandant of the Cork No. 2 Brigade), Fitzgerald died while on hunger strike in Cork Gaol. He was ‘the first hunger-striker to die in jail’ during the War of Independence. See II, 18 Oct. 1920. He had been one of the political prisoners not put on trial (all but two of the original seven prisoners had by this time been released) for the notorious killing of a British soldier (Private William Jones of the Shropshire Light Infantry) during a successful IRA raid for arms in Fermoy on 9 September 1919. Fitzgerald’s trial at the Cork summer assizes of 1920 had to be abandoned owing to the non-attendance of the jurors. At the time of his death on 17 October 1920 he had been fasting since 11 August—for as long as sixty-seven days. His was the first death of a hunger-striker in an Irish prison since the death of Thomas Ashe in Dublin in October 1917. See CE, 18 Oct. 1920. A large crowd (captured in a newspaper photograph) assembled outside Cork Gaol to pray for the repose of Fitzgerald’s soul soon after the news of his death. See CE, 19 Oct. 1920.

 

The crowds that turned out for the removal of Fitzgerald’s remains from Cork Gaol to SS. Peter and Paul’s Church in Cork city were enormous. Different companies of city Volunteers took steps to clear and preserve a passage for the cortege from the gaol entrance to the Western Road. The coffin was carried along the streets in relays on the shoulders of Volunteers from Fitzgerald’s own battalion. For the portion of the procession that passed through Patrick Street, another newspaper photograph showed the crowds from five to ten people deep on both sides, with many others on the pavements. See CE, 20 Oct. 1920. Before the removal of Fitzgerald’s remains from Cork to Fermoy, and just before the crowd at the funeral Mass was to leave the church, a military party entered, consisting of an officer with drawn revolver and four soldiers carrying rifles, to present a letter to Canon Patrick O’Leary, ‘saying only 100 persons would be allowed at the funeral, and there should be no marching in military formation. There was a big display of military on the streets. Nothing untoward happened, thanks largely to the efforts of Fr Kiely, C.C., Professor Rahilly, and numbers of Volunteers.’ See CE, 20 Oct. 1920.

 

Fitzgerald was buried in Kilcrumper Cemetery outside Fermoy amid a further extraordinary outpouring of republican support: ‘On the outskirts of Fermoy, where it [i.e., the cortege] arrived about 6 p.m., the funeral was met by a huge crowd. High Mass was held next morning in the crowded church, where the coffin, covered by the tricolour, was surrounded by an I.R.A. bodyguard. During the night Liam Lynch visited the church and arranged to have the coffin opened so that he could see his old comrade for the last time. As the remains were being removed from the church, word was received that a force of British military were guarding the bridge over the Blackwater on the funeral route to Kilcrumper. The Volunteers detailed as [the] “firing party” then dumped arms for the time being, and the funeral proceeded towards the bridge, where there was a general hold-up, and only a small number of people were allowed to pass the cordon. However, large numbers reached Kilcrumper via the [railway] viaduct as I had done on the day of the Wesleyan raid, and there was quite a good gathering at the burial in Kilcrumper, where the graveyard was also surrounded by a strong force of military. After the burial the crowd dispersed and the military returned to barracks. Immediately following the withdrawal, a firing party composed of John Fanning, Daithi Barry, and witness (Paddy Ahern), who were armed with revolvers, proceeded to Kilcrumper and fired three volleys over the grave of their late battalion O/C. They then dumped their guns and returned home. This closed the activities for October 20th, 1920.’ See Patrick Ahern’s WS 1003, 21-22 (BMH).

 

Born at Ballyoran near Fermoy and later a resident of Clondulane, Volunteer Michael Fitzgerald (a mechanic and a mill worker by occupation) was one of the three adult children (two sons and a daughter) of the widowed Fermoy car driver Michael Fitzgerald Sr of Church Hill. He received an education in the Christian Brothers’ Schools in Fermoy. After joining the Irish Volunteers in 1914, he played a prominent role in building up that organisation in the Fermoy district. He rose to the rank of commandant of the First (Fermoy) Battalion of the Cork No. 2 Brigade. He led a small body of Vulunteers in capturing the Araglen RIC Barracks on Easter Sunday in 1919. Soon thereafter he was arrested and served three months in Cork Gaol. Shortly after his release in August 1919, he took a leading part in the disarming of British soldiers at the Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Fermoy, prompting his re-arrest on 8 September 1919. See www.irishwarmemorials.ie; http://irishvolunteers.org/cork-county-gaol-ira-volunteers-executed-memorial/ (accessed 3 Nov. 2015).

 

Besides being an officer of the Cork No. 2 Brigade, Volunteer Fitzgerald was an organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, which was strong in the Fermoy district. He led the hunger strike in Cork Gaol from August to November 1920, in which he, Joseph Murphy, and Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney (in Brixton Prison) died. See Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Ó Ruairc (2015), 91.


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