How the funeral of Tomás MacCurtain was reported in the Irish Examiner on March 21, 1920

As part of our ongoing series to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Lord Mayor of Cork, Tomás MacCurtain, we reproduce this report - first published in the Irish Examiner on March 21, 1920 - of the murdered Irish Republican's funeral.
How the funeral of Tomás MacCurtain was reported in the Irish Examiner on March 21, 1920

As part of our ongoing series to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Lord Mayor of Cork, Tomás MacCurtain, we reproduce this report - first published in the Irish Examiner on March 21, 1920  - of the murdered Irish Republican's funeral.

The funeral of the murdered Lord Mayor of Cork took place yesterday amidst scenes of intense popular grief.

Requiem High Mass was celebrated at 11am by his Lordship, the Bishop.

There was a very large attendance of the clergy.

At 1pm, the cortege left the Cathedral for St Finbarr’s Cemetery.

Thousands of clients, headed by a number of MPs and Irish Mayors, representatives of the professions, Sinn Féin and other National organisations, as well as all the leading public bodies in the south, walked in the procession, while there were vast crowds of respectful onlookers.

Answering Lord Robert Coral who asked for information about the Lord Mayor’s murder, and particularly whether the Chief Secretary could throw any light on the crime, Mr McPherson said he had no information.

Mr T P O’Connor and other members called attention to the military raid following the murder.

Mr MacPherson said this was done to obtain information to trace the murderers.

If they had not done it, the accusation would then be that because this man happened to be a Sinn Féiner, the British Government made no attempt to detect the murderers.

We publish a letter today addressed by General Sir E P Striekland, commanding the 6th Division, stating that it was only after the officer in charge had been admitted that he learnt of the tragedy which had so recently taken place.

The officer expressed his regret to the inmates of the house having to perform such a duty at such a time.

The tragic event of the night, adds General Strickland, was not known until the return of the party to the barracks, and could not possibly have been foreseen.

There has been abundant and recurrent evidences that the shock occasioned by the foul deed that hurried Lord Mayor Tomás MacCurtain into eternity, is nationwide.

The sorrow welling in the public mind over the appalling tragedy is no less confined.

The grief that is peculiarly Cork’s is shared with a deep sympathy by the whole province of Munster, and throughout the country.

These were the messages borne along by the funeral which took place yesterday.

Mere words cannot be properly grouped to paint the set of honour that it was to the dead first citizen of Cork, of regard to his memory, of condolence with his bereaved widow and family.

The late Tomás MacCurtain had much of that noble frankness of a great mind that attracted attention to hold respect.

He was sincere and honest, and loving Ireland dearly and with a singleness of purpose, it was natural to have regard for his sentiments, while his qualities pointed him out and secured preferments from his fellows in any movements that claimed his attention.

Prominently identified with the Volunteers of Ireland, it was naturally then that their display at the funeral should be impressively distinctive.

They were present in large numbers.

It was just as he would wish it.

They led the van, the officers and men in uniform of the 1st Cork Battalion.

But this was not a more remarkable feature of the cortege than any other.

Since his advent into the Corporation as an Alderman for the Blackpool area, and subsequent unanimous election as Lord Mayor, he indicated a strong intent to maintain, not alone all the dignities of the office, out to secure, so far as in his power lay, and with his party, an efficient administration of civic affairs.

Striving with earnestness to master all the details of management, he found time to carry the importance of the office into all branches of activity in the city bearing on the public life and on the general interests of the community.

The full appreciation of his work, so brutally and callously ended, has been paid tribute to by all sides.

Most Rev. Dr Cohalan, Bishop of Cork, and the Rev. Dr Dowse, Protestant Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross join in tributes to his memory and denunciation of the outrage that meant his death.

The judges of assize on circuit at Cork, Lord Justice O’Connor and Mr Justice Samuels, referred to it in not less measured terms and tendered their sympathy to the grief-stricken widow.

Further, the business of the court stood adjourned for the day.

The condemnations, the mourning and acts of respect to his memory were general, and the attendance of organised trades and labour bodies, national societies, employers of the city, professional men, prominent men in public life, the city bands, with the band of Greenmount Industrial School, and Thomas Francis Meabher Band from Waterford, the Mayors of Waterford, Sligo, Limerick, Kilkenny, Clonmel, and Lord Mayor of Dublin, several Irish MPs, Sinn Féin Clubs, Cumann na mBan, was a tribute as sincere as it was well deserved.

The funeral procession was not only the most imposing and impressive ever seen in Cork, but the manner of the keeping of the day in itself was a solemn sharing of the indignant grief that had fastened in the hearts of the people at the murder of their first citizen.

The day was kept as a general holiday, consequent on the decision of the Trades and Labour to suspend all work as a protest against the revolting deed that terminated Tomás MacCurtain’s life, as a sincere expression of admiration for his public spirit and work, and of sympathy with his widow.

This decision, come to at a meeting on Sunday, was strictly observed.

All factories, shops and business establishments were closed.

Ships at the quays stood idle, no trams ran, there were no evening papers, and a conspicuous section in the procession was a bugler boy, dressed as a sailor, his cap bearing the words “US America” leading about 300 of the workers at Messrs Ford’s Marina works.

On every side there was that stillness peculiar to the proper honouring of a sad event.

It was a truly remarkable manifestation of the deep-seated grief of the citizens of all creeds and classes.

A dull, overcast sky intensified the depression everywhere felt.

The quiet of the streets in the morning was broken by the martial thread of thousands of Volunteers filing into the city.

In the vicinity of the Cathedral, the spectacle of several contingents passing on to allotted places was continuously impressing on the mind the momentous happenings of the last few days.

Not long since had many of the bodies gathered around there with the late Lord Mayor to celebrate the National Festival.

That was St Patrick’s Day (last Wednesday), and then Tomás MacCurtain, with his Chaplain, Rev. Father Dominio, OSFC, and Very Rev. Canon O’Leary, and his colleagues of the Corporation and Harbour Board, had driven over much of the route that the contingents now gathering were to walk after his mortal remains and in honour of his memory.

What a tragic picture.

It shaped in most men’s minds, and was still further emphasised within the beautiful Cathedral.

Here the catafalque, on which rested the remains of the Lord Mayor, was erected before the High Altar.

Six officers of the Volunteers stood over it on guard.

Magnificent wreaths of natural flowers, principally made of daffodils, lilies, ferns – green, white and gold, were hung all ‘round, and peeped out here and there from the Sanctuary and altar rails.

Shortly before 11am, the cross-bear, Rev. J Ahern, CC, and acolytes, followed by the priests in their soutannes and surplices, or wearing the habits of their Orders, emerged from the Sacristy.

They preceded his Lordship the Bishop, wearing his mitre and black cape, and attended by Very Rev. Canon O’Leary, PP, SS Peter and Paul’s, and Very Rev. Canon Barrett, PP, Passage West, wearing their red cloaks trimmed with white ermine.

This procession along Cathedral Walk to the main entrance to the church was at once appealing and significant.

The nave of the church was reserved, and the colour-infused by the academicals of the President and staff of University College, the draped insignia of the Mayor of Limerick, the brilliant chains of office of the Mayors of Waterford and Limerick, all contributed to make the scene memorable.

Above the gallery was crowded, and in the aisles there were too hundreds of devout assistants at the Solemn Requiem Mass.

The Volunteers formed file outside the main entrance.

About noon the Mass was over, and the Bishop, having imparted the blessing, the procession of clergy came back to the Sacristy.

After an hour, the Cathedral bell pealed out its sombre notes indicating that the coffin was being removed.

It was shouldered by six comrades in the Volunteers. Twenty minutes later, the funeral procession started.

Officers and men of the Volunteers had the place of honour, the Bishop in his carriage came next.

The clergy, numbering about 100: Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers followed.

Then came the Volunteers’ Pipe Band, playing ‘Wrap the Flag Round Me’.

The spectacle immediately following embodied handsome tributes. These were gorgeous wreaths.

A hearse was laden with them, and over a dozen men in single file on both sides, reaching the bier on which the coffin was, each carried a wreath.

In these, there were abundance of lilies and daffodils, and long flowing green and gold and white ribbons.

The pallbearers were six volunteers in uniform, and the hearse was surmounted by wreaths, the centre place being filled by an erect cross.

The chief mourners walked immediately behind, and then followed the members of the Corporation, Harbour Board, and public bodies and organisations.

Volunteers acted as connecting files, marshalled the contingents, and regulated the traffic very well – in fact, all congestion was avoided.

The procession, as has been said, was the largest and most representative ever seen in Cork.

It was a thoroughly fitting demonstration, and its dimensions are indicated in the fact that it took one hour and a half to pass any given point, and that well over 10,000 people took part in it.

It extended over a distance of probably four miles.

Volunteers were there in great numbers.

The Transport Workers of the city and county were the next largest contingent, while the organised trades and the Cork Young Men’s Society, with their President, Rev. R J O’Sullivan, and Vice-President, Mr John Sisk, were also prominent sections with the workers from Messrs Ford’s, the Cumann na mBan, the cailíní of the Pipers’ Clubs, members of the Corporation of Waterford, nurses from the North Infirmary, the students of Farranferris, St Bonaventures, Rochestown Monastery, the boys of the Greenmount Industrial School.

Many of these latter sections carried wreaths, and the one from the boys of the North Monastery may be mentioned, for it was a token of respect also to their schoolmate, the little son of the Lord Mayor.

It bore the inscription, ‘With tender and loving sympathy to little Tomás, son of one of Ireland’s best and truest sons’.

The Killarney Volunteer Band, with Volunteers from the company, was also a notable feature and members of the Discharged Soldiers and Sailors’ Federation (Cork Branch) were there in large numbers.

The members of the Southern Law Association, Ancient Order of Hibernians, with the President, Mr Michael Lynch; Commercial Travellers’ Federation, National Union of Railwaymen (Nos 1 and 3) and All-for-Ireland Club were other large sections and also the Grocers’ Assistants’ Association, Cork Grammar School was represented by Mr West, Headmaster, Mr Glynn and Mr Wood.

The Superiors of the Christian College and Presentation College and the North Monastery (Christian Brothers) represented their schools, and the national teachers of the city and county were present in large numbers.

The attendance of the general public was very representative, not only of Cork but the civic heads of many municipalities in Ireland were present, and chairmen and members of Urban Councils and Rural Councils from Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Macroom, Midleton, Youghal, Queenstown, Mallow, Kanturk and Ennis, Tipperary, Carrick-on-Suir, Waterford and Limerick etc.

The Jewish community in Cork were also represented by Rev. Mr Klein and others.

There were at least a dozen bands present.

The route of the funeral was Roman Street, John Redmond Street, Camden Quay, Bridge Street, Brian Boru Street and Brian Boru Bridge, Merchants’ Quay, Patrick Street, Grand Parade, Washington Street and Western Road to the New Cemetery.

With thousands of visitors in from the country and the whole population on the streets, the sad procession, with the funeral music from the several bands rising in the still air, passed through dense avenues of people.

In addition, every place of vantage was occupied, and as the coffin passed reverential respect was paid by the tens of thousands of persons that lined the entire route.

A place of honour was assigned to the Lord Mayor’s chaplain with the guard of honour supplied by the Volunteers.

Two companies of Volunteers held the cemetery and roads adjoining.

Over 100 wreaths were placed on the grave.

An incident in the excellent regulation of the crowds by the Volunteers was that no persons were allowed to stand across the intersection of the Western Road by the Gaol Road.

The purpose was to give political prisoners interned a chance to view the funeral from the latticed windows of the cells of the gaol.

When the cortege reached St Finbarr’s Cemetery, the closing scene was affecting.

The thurifers and acolytes preceded the Bishop and clergy into the cemetery.

The clergy chanted the ‘Miserere’, after which the choir sung the ‘Benedictus’.

His Lordship, having blessed the grave, gave the Absolution, and then the ‘De Profundis’ was recited.

When the grave was covered in, the ‘Last Post’ was sounded and three volleys of shots were fired.

At the graveside, Mrs Mac Curtain and three of her children, two little girls and a boy, were accommodated.

They had been seated there before the arrival of the remains, and were joined by Mrs P H Pearse, Mrs Éamonn Ceannt, Mrs McGarry, Dublin, and a number of other ladies.

Naturally, the children were the object of much sympathy.

* First published in the Cork Examiner, March 21, 1920.

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