Thomas Greehy was just 19 when he died in the Civil War trying to remove guns from an IRA arms dump in Co Waterford.
He did not get a proper burial for over a year. But to add to his mother Bridget’s woes, any hopes of recompense under laws sanctioning payments to family of dead anti-Treaty IRA members were dashed — simply because he was illegitimate.
The decision — revealed in her file in the latest release of Military Service Pensions Collection records — is a demonstration of the morals at the time according to archivist Michael Keane.
Thomas was killed in March 1923 after being sent by one of his IRA officers to remove rifles and ammunition from the arms dump. When he went to lift open the door of the dump in the woods at Ballcylement near Tallow, a trip mine that had been planted by the National Army exploded.
Maurice Ronan, a 40-year-old who had served with the British Army in World War I, heard an IRA man had been killed but was lying outside unburied. After going out to look for the body, he was the first person on the scene, probably three or four days after the explosion.
He found Thomas Greehy’s body had been blown a considerable distance away by the mine left by the National Army. They had been searching the area for days beforehand for an IRA arms dump, and left the mine after finding and removing the weapons.
From the position of the body, Ronan believed the young IRA volunteer was in a stooping position when the mine exploded. It left a hole in the ground around 4ft feet deep and twice that in width.
Ronan thought the teenager had died instantly, finding his head and right arm partly blown away by the explosion.
“I tied the body up in his trench coat and put it on my back and brought it to Kilwatermoy graveyard, and buried it without any coffin,” he wrote in a letter to the pension board a decade letter, in support of Bridget Greehy’s claim for a special allowance in respect of her son’s death.
Having already carried the remains of Thomas Greehy over a mile on his back to bury him, Ronan came back the next day to put the body in a coffin provided by a local carpenter.
After his blind mother applied from her home in Lismore for an allowance or one-off gratuity payment, the Military Service Registrations Board certified Thomas’ active service in the IRA in November 1937.
Since the age of around 13, he was active in the republican boy scouts, Na Fianna Éireann. He joined the IRA just after the July 1921 truce in the War of Independence, and was described as a well-conducted and careful Volunteer by a commanding officer.
Although there was no registration of his death because of the circumstances of the Civil War, some of his background is known.
Thomas Greehy was born to 28-year-old Bridget Greehy in the workhouse in Lismore in 1903 or 1904. They were still living there when the census was taken in 1911.
According to one of his commanding officers in the IRA, Thomas was illegitimate and was Bridget’s only son, on whom she would have been dependent if he had lived.
In a letter supporting her claim, Bridget Greehy stated: “I was a widow when my only boy Thomas Greehy was taken from me and now I am left depending on a few shillings relief.”
On August 10, 1924, Thomas Greehy was afforded a proper burial when his remains were disinterred and re-buried at Lismore Cemetery in a ceremony that also honoured a number of other IRA members killed in the Civil War.
With his prior service in the eastern part of the IRA’s Cork No 2 Brigade, Greehy was also honoured seven weeks later at a ceremony organised by Fermoy’s Republican Commemoration Committee at Kilcrumper Cemetery.
But despite the republican honours and the support of various TDs, his mother’s claim for a gratuity was unsuccessful.
“The applicant in this case, Bridget Greehy, is claiming in respect of the death of her illegitimate child and is consequently ineligible for the grant of an award under the [Army Pension] Act,” wrote a civil servant in a note on her file.
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