Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

John Gunning 1891-1923

John Gunning was born at Ballitore County Kildare in 1891. His mother Ellen worked as a charwoman and at the time of 1901 census was the sole provider for five children.

Gunning worked as a labourer before joining the Leinster Regiment in 1911. After basic training in Birr Barracks, he joined the 1st Battalion and was posted to India. At the start of the Great War, Gunning and the Leinsters fought in France but in late 1915 his unit were deployed as part of the 10th (Irish) Division on the Macedonian/Salonica Front facing off against Bulgarian troops and malaria carrying mosquitos. In 1917 the division was shifted to Egypt and fought in the Palestine campaign against Ottoman forces.

Reenlisting at the end of the war, Gunning was stationed in Birr when he married Crinkill woman Johanna Sullivan in April 1920. During, 1921, the majority of the Leinsters 2nd Battalion was deployed in India subduing the Malabar Rebellion, while elements of the Regiment were posted to Silesia. Gunning does not appear to have been posted overseas during this period.

On 2 February 1922, a contingent of Leinsters marched out of Birr for the last time. A few days later, the Northamptonshire Regiment left the barracks, and it was occupied by the IRA. In June, the 6 Irish Regiments were formally disbanded in a ceremony attended by King George V at Windsor Castle. Gunning was discharged from the army on 3 July at Warwick. Returning to Ireland, he lived with his wife at Millitary Road, Crinkill.

When the National Army occupied Birr in late July, Gunning’s home played host to several troops from his native Kildare. On 14 July, retreating republicans had burned Birr Barracks. In addition, significant opportunist looting also occurred at the Barracks. When the army searched houses in Crinkill looking for looted property, Gunnings ties to the military became resented. Johanna Gunning was assaulted and verbally abused by a neighbour who made erroneous allegations of spying.

On his discharge, Gunnings character had been described as exemplary. Nevertheless, his British Army pension was still under consideration 8 months later. On the 14 February 1923 Gunning joined the National Army and was posted to Roscrea.

In February 1923, there were some signs that the Civil War might be coming to an end. In late January, imprisoned IRA leader Liam Deasy had issued an appeal calling for an immediate ceasefire. In response the Free State government temporarily suspended executions and offered an amnesty to republicans who laid down their arms. Ultimately the peace initiatives were unsuccessful, and the war continued.

While the Civic Guard had arrived in Roscrea in late 1922, the disturbed state of the country meant that the army were still occasionally called on to carry out policing duties. On 28th February 1923, Gunning was part of a twelve-man bicycle detachment led by Lieutenant Sean Barry sent to carry out arrests in relation to ongoing land disputes at Crimblin Hill near Moneygall.

Simultaneously, a Tipperary anti-treaty column commanded by Paddy ‘Lacken’ Ryan and Cork man Denis ‘Sonny’ O’Neill had sought shelter in Crimblin while evading army sweeps at Cureeny to the south.

Arriving at Crimblin, the National Army section divided into groups.  Approaching a house where the column leaders were billeted; Sergeant Byrne, Private Gunning and Corporal D’Arcy came under a sustained attack during which Byrne and Gunning were severely wounded. A larger party under Lieutenant Barry was also fired upon and Sergeant Doyle injured. Most of the anti-treaty column escaped in the confusion, but three IRA men were captured and detained.

Removed to Roscrea Barracks, Gunning died there on 1 March, Sergeant Patrick Byrne died from his wounds the following day. Republicans have traditionally held that the killing of Ballymackey anti-treatyite Patrick Glesson while a prisoner at Cloughjordan on 3 March 1923 was carried out as a reprisal for the Crimblin Confrontation.

Gunning was buried with full military honours at Clonoghill Cemetery after mass in St Brendan’s Church Birr. On the 100th anniversary of his death a memorial (carved on stone sourced from Birr Barracks) was placed at Gunning’s previously unmarked grave by historian Stephen Callaghan A memorial was also erected on Crimblin Hill in May 2023.

 

The author wishes to acknowledge the very substantial work carried out on the John Gunning by Stephen Callaghan and Seamus Doherty. 

Sources:

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

Military Service Pension Collection. John Barry 24SP1944. Denis O’Neill MSP34REF4067. Patrick Byrne 3D240. John Gunning 3DI4I. https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/search-the-collection

John Gunning British Military Records. National Army Museum online at https://www.nam.ac.uk/soldiers-records/persons?ss=%7B%22q%22:%22gunning%22%7D

Stephen Callaghan. ‘The departure of the British Military from Offaly one hundred years ago’ online at https://offalyhistoryblog.wordpress.com/2022/02/05/the-departure-of-the-british-military-from-offaly-one-hundred-years-ago-birr-barracks-stephen-callaghan/

Stephen Callaghan. ‘Remembering Vol. John Gunning.’ The Barrack Square Blog online https://www.thebarracksquare.ie/post/remembering-vol-john-gunning-on-the-centenary-of-his-death

Seamus Doherty. The Crimblin Hill Ambush’ in Under Crimblin Hill Vol 3 (2022).

Terry Dunne. The Leinster Regiment and the Malabar Rebellion of 1921. History Ireland. Online at https://www.historyireland.com/the-leinster-regiment-and-the-malabar-rebellion-of-1921-another-irish-question/

Terry Dunne. ‘The disbandment of the Leinster Regiment’ Laois Local Studies online at https://laoislocalstudies.ie/disbandment-of-the-leinster-regiment/

Michael Hopkinson. Green against Green, the Irish Civil War (Dublin) 1988.

Gearoid Keegan. Offaly Live. Memorial place at Grave of Offaly National Army Solider century after his death. online at https://www.offalyexpress.ie/news/tullamore-tribune/1049807/memorial-placed-at-grave-of-offaly-national-army-soldier-century-after-his-death.html

Leinster Regiment Association Website. Online at http://leinster-regiment-association.org.uk/wp/the-regiment/a-short-history/

Alice MacDerrmott. It’s a long way to Salonika- Irish Soldiers in the Balkans. History Ireland. Online at https://www.historyireland.com/its-a-long-way-to-salonika-irish-soldiers-in-the-balkans-in-world-war-i/

Uinseann MacEoin. Survivors. (Dublin) 1980.

Tipperary Live. Family members attend Tipperary commemoration of National Army deaths in Civil War. online at https://www.tipperarylive.ie/news/home/1166442/family-members-attend-tipperary-commemoration-of-national-army-deaths-in-civil-war.html

Dublin Evening Telegraph 13 February 1922.

Leinster Reporter. 18 February 1922. 12 August 1922. 10 March 1923.

Lurgan Mail. 4 June 1921  

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