New evidence on west Cork burial of IRA's 1922 Protestant victims

The recovery of the remains of three Protestant victims of the IRA has moved a step closer, almost a century after their deaths that marked the beginning of a vicious killing spree in West Cork.

An appeal for information led to the evidence suggesting the bodies of Thomas Hornibrook, his son Samuel, and Captain Herbert Woods were removed from a bog and reburied in a Protestant churchyard.

A suggestion of Garda knowledge of the reburial sometime between their deaths in 1922 and 1948 has prompted a request for official records on behalf of the family.

The three men were taken away, killed, and secretly buried after Capt Woods shot Bandon-based IRA commandant Michael O’Neill in a botched raid on the Hornibrook home in Ovens in April 1922, not long before the Civil War began.

IRA shootings of 10 more Protestants in the Bandon Valley area over the three days and nights that followed have divided historians on whether the motive was purely sectarian, punishment of suspected loyalist informers, or a mix of both.

The new evidence turned up in a Dublin Catholic Archdiocese archives file on a search for the Hornibrook family in connection with land being acquired for a school in Crumlin.

Cork solicitor John Stanton’s September 1948 letter to a Dublin legal firm suggests details were known for “a few years” by local solicitor Barry O’Meara, whose firm had represented the Hornibrooks after they left for England in 1922. He wrote that Mr O’Meara had been contacted by gardaí to say the bodies were found “in a bog hole” and authorities wanted to know if the family should be informed.

“Mr O’Meara consulted the Protestant rector of the locality and it was decided that there was no good in raking up the whole matter, so the bodies were quietly buried in a Protestant cemetery,” said Mr Stanton’s 1948 letter.

Its significance was clear to Dublin diocesan archivist Noelle Dowling after an appeal last year for information by Thomas Hornibrook’s great-grandson Martin Midgley-Reve. She made contact last month with local historian Barry Keane, whose book on the West Cork killings prompted some tips on the location of the bodies.

“We had it narrowed down to 18 acres of bog near Newcestown but this could make finding the remains much easier. All the family want is to be able to mark the place with a gravestone,” said Mr Keane.

He asked anyone with information to contact him at bkeanefg@yahoo.com.

He has also put in a request for information to the Department of Justice and this has been forwarded to Garda Commisioner Nóirín Ó Sullivan.

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