Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Thomas Feery 1860-1920

Thomas Feery was born in county Westmeath around 1860. By 1901 he was living in a labourers cottage in Ballycommon with his wife Maria. Feery and two of his sons worked as agricultural labourers, while his two teenage daughters were employed as domestic servants. Some of the family later emigrated to England or found work on the near-by canal. One son Maurice was appointed a district postman.

In 1910 the Feery family were closely connected with the local branch of the Land and Labour Association with Maurice serving a secretary of its local branch.  The Land and Labour Association was founded to agitate for better housing and conditions for rural labourers who often felt left behind as farmers benefited from reforming Land Acts. 

In July 1920 British military guards were placed on bridges across Offaly. IRA leader Sean Mahon formulated a plan to overpower an army detachment stationed at the canal bridge in Ballycommon. On 8 July, volunteers from three battalions were assembled to carry out the attack. In the run up to the operation two unarmed soldiers were captured and detained 500 metres from the army checkpoint. When these prisoners failed to show for their scheduled watch 30 minutes later, three armed soldiers set out to locate their missing comrades.

Seeing the troops advance the IRA improvised. Sean Mahon, Edward Brennan, Sean Barry and Frank Mooney pretend to play pitch and toss on the road and attempted to overwhelm the search party as they passed by. Mahon managed to secure one soldier’s rifle but firing commenced and the IRA abandoned their scheduled operation and withdrew.

The republican’s line of retreat took them past Thomas Feery’s nearby cottage and it was quickly surrounded by the pursuing British troops.  When the labourer failed to come to the door, the Sergeant Noel Greenfield of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry fired ‘four or five shots’ through the lock and private Gilbret repeated the procedure. Entering the cottage, the soldiers placed a badly wounded Feery in bed, where he expired a short time later after the military had left. A subsequent inquest held at Tullamore found that…

 ‘the cause of death was shock and haemorrhage due to bullet wounds inflicted by the military. We condemn in the strongest possible manner the firing of rifle shots recklessly into the house of the deceased, and thereby causing his death. We consider the Government should pay adequate compensation to the next-of-kin of deceased, and for damage to the house‘. (1)

Feery was buried at Ballycommon graveyard. In subsequent years he was occasionally listed as an IRA member, but the evidence suggests that this assertion is a mistake.


Sources:

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

Military Service Pension Collection. Francis Joseph O’Brennan MSP34REF59902. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/search-the-collection

Daithí O Corráin and Eunan O’Halpin. The dead of the Irish Revolution. (Yale) 2020.

Westmeath Independent. 12 November 1910. 17 July 1920.

(1) Westmeath Independent. 17 July 1920.

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