Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

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Liam/Willam Jr./Willie Dignam 1898-1921

Liam Dignam was born in Clara in 1898. His father William worked in Goodbody’s Jute Factory, the towns main employers. His mother Mary, raised seven children after Williams premature death. Liam was a member of the local dramatic society.

After Dignam joined the Irish Volunteers, the family home at Kilnbana served as a meeting place and safe house for republicans.

In May 1918, an ex British solider Nick Bannon was shot and wounded in Clara after confronting Dignam and Thomas Fleming with a knife. Fleming was later found not guilty of assault on the grounds of self-defence. After Flemings promotion to Battalion staff, Dignam was appointed captain of the Clara volunteers.

In the Spring of 1920 Dignam was assaulted by a group of ex-serviceman in the town. In response the IRA carried out a series of house raids and attacks on those they held responsible.

That summer Dignam took part in the unsuccessful attempt to capture Clara RIC Barracks. Occupying buildings in the vicinity of the station, the IRA attacked using gunfire and explosives, but the police put up a spirted defence and the attackers  withdrew as daylight approached. Patrick Seery, Edward Brennan, Martin Fleming and Martin Meleady were wounded during the attack. Seery, captain of the Tyrellspass IRA company later died in hospital from his wounds.

On October 25th 1920, Dignam was shot on the main street of Clara.

Sean O’Neill a Galway man who had joined the local company while working at M.H White’s merchants and bar, later told the Bureau of Military History that he and Dignam were on policing duties standing on the street having encouraged customers to vacate a pub when…

‘A Lancia car came down the hill as silent as a ghost and the Tans and R.I.C. jumped out and fired at us without the slightest waning. I dashed round the corner and over a wall and Liam dived in the opposite direction and headed for “Minor” Whyte’s door. He got a bullet in the back at the point of the kidney. I heard him moan and say he was shot. The R.I.C. jumped into their vehicle and sped off as fast as their engine could take them towards Tullamore. I immediately returned to find Liam on his face half-way in the door calling for his mother.’ (1)

Writing  in 1966 to the Offaly Independent, a correspondent titled  ‘Purely for the record’ stated…

‘Capt. Dignam was one of a number of men who had Just come from a meeting of the Clara Dramatic Class, and were standing in the Square, before dispersing when a lorry of Black and Tans swung into the Square. Captain Dignam and his companions, knowing what lay in store for them if they were captured, hurried towards the house of the late Mr. Michael White, The Mart, Clara, knowing this was ‘open house’ for the I.R.A., to escape the unwanted attention of the Black and Tans…

The last of the group to reach Mr. White’s house. Capt. Dignam was Just entering the doorway when a fusillade from the Black and Tans’ guns rang out and he fell mortally wounded just inside the hallway. First to come to his aid was Mrs. M. White, and through the efforts of the then postmaster, who contacted the late Mr. S. Clyne, Rev. Fr. McCormack (then C.C. in Clara was summoned and he came immediately and rendered spiritual aid to the badly wounded man.’ (2)

Removed to a safe house Dignam was later transfered to hospital in  Tullamore.

On October 31st the Tullamore IRA shot dead Sergeant Henry Cronin. In the nights that followed the crown forces carried out a series of reprisals in Tullamore and Clara. Shops and pubs were looted, Tullamore Foresters Hall burned down and at Clara, Leo White himself a Great War veteran was shot and wounded.

On November 1st fearing that wounded republicans would provide an easy target, the IRA removed Dignam and other injured volunteers from the county hospital.

Dignam was transfered to Dublin by barge along the Grand Canal. He succumbed to his wounds on March 21st 1921 at the Matter Hospital. His remains were returned to Clara railway from where the coffin draped in the tri-colour was borne to the parish church, he was later buried at the Monastery cemetery.

In 1922 after Dignam’s  anniversary mass, a procession 400 people including the contingents from the IRA, Cumann na mBan and Fianna Eireann followed the Clara Brass and Reed band to his grave, where the rosary was recited in Irish and of an oration given by Fr. Smith from Rahan, himself a former Curragh internee.


Sources:

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

Bureau of Military History Statements. Sean O’Neill Witness 1219. Search online at  https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

Military Service Pension Collection. William Dignam DP2067 . Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923

Liam Dignam Blog online at https://liamdignam.wordpress.com/

Thomas O’Grady ‘Remembering Liam Dignam 1897-1921’ Boston Irish March 2021 Online at https://www.bostonirish.com/sites/default/files/issue/temp_28pp_bir_st_pats_2021.pdf

Offaly Live online at https://www.offalyexpress.ie/news/home/622076/100th-anniversary-of-offaly-man-s-death-in-war-of-independence-marked.html

An Phoblacht. 24 April 2003 online at https://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/9958

Irish Independent. 28 March 1921.

Offaly Independent. 12 March 1966. 26 March 1966.

Westmeath Independent. 28 August 1920. 1 April 1921.

(1) Bureau of Military History Statements. Sean O’Neill Witness 1219. Search online at  https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

(2) Offaly Independent 26 March 1966.

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