Civilian Nicholas de Sales Prendergast
Civilian Nicholas de Sales Prendergast (aged about 44) of MacCurtain Street, Fermoy (Fermoy)
Date of incident: night of 1-2 Dec. 1920
Sources: CE, 4, 6 Dec. 1920; CCE, 4 Dec. 1920; II, 4 Dec. 1920, 7, 14 Jan., 22, 23 March, 31 Oct. 1921; FJ, 6 Jan. 1921; Kerryman, 8 Jan. 1921; Nenagh News, 8 Jan. 1921; Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15); Military Inquests, WO 35/157B/12 (TNA); James Coss’s WS 1065, 8-9 (BMH); Rebel Cork’s FS, 207-10; O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 80; Donnelly (2010), 172-78.
Note: Prendergast was killed as a consequence of a brutal attack by Auxiliaries in the midst of a night of terror for the citizens of Fermoy. Florrie O’Donoghue offered this succinct account of Prendergast’s fate: On the night of 1 December 1920, ‘a party of Auxiliaries from Tipperary, probably on their way to the funerals of their comrades who had been killed in the Kilmichael ambush a few days previously, stopped at Fermoy and indulged even more freely than usual in drink. Late that night some of the party wantonly murdered a British army ex-officer named Prendergast and threw his body into the Blackwater. They seized a man named Dooley whom they also threw into the river, and at whom they fired several shots, but he fortunately escaped with his life. Not satisfied with these activities, they proceeded, for no apparent reason, to burn a number of shops in the town.’ See O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 80.
Prendergast, proprietor of the Blackwater Hotel, was their most prominent victim; his fate was recalled by one of his former students, the Fermoy Battalion intelligence officer James Coss (Seámus MacCos): The Auxiliaries ‘entered the Royal Hotel, where they went to the bar and began to look for trouble. They pushed and jostled the customers, amongst whom was an ex-officer of the British army named Prendergast. He was the owner of a public house in the town, but it was generally known that he usually went to the Royal Hotel each night for a drink or two. Prendergast resented being pushed around by the Auxies. He informed them that he had been through the 1914-18 war as a captain in the British army. They replied that the Irish in the war were no d___ good and that all Irishmen were the same. They then punched him round the bar, knocked him down, and kicked him to death. They then took his body to the rear of the hotel and through a gateway across the road to the bank of the Blackwater. They then threw his body into the river. I knew Prendergast well as he taught me in the Christian Brothers’ schools in Lismore, where I received my secondary education when living in Cappoquin. He was a strong supporter of the Redmondite party at the time, and I don’t think that he was at any time sympathetic to Sinn Féin or the Volunteer movement.’ See James Coss’s WS 1065, 8-9 (BMH).
A native of Ballinaboola, Co. Wexford, Prendergast ‘took a prominent part in politics and was identified with the A.O.H. and National Volunteers’. See II, 7 Jan. 1921. He was an active Home Rule nationalist and a former member of the Fermoy Urban District Council and had served with the Royal Munster Fusiliers in the Great War. He had been missing for five weeks before his body was finally found on Careysville Island in the Blackwater (below Clondulane). Early in January 1921 his funeral ‘took place to Kilcrumper Graveyard. There was a large and representative attendance, including many of the Munsters, with whom he served in the late war.’ See II, 14 Jan. 1921.
Contrary to these two republican accounts, it appears that in actual fact Prendergast was still alive when thrown in the river. At the military inquest into Prendergast’s death certain Auxiliaries—A. K. Watson, E. S. Radford, Jackman, and Courtney—were named as among those who had carried the unconscious victim from the Royal Hotel towards the Blackwater. See Military Inquests, WO 35/157B/12 (TNA). This military court ‘returned a verdict of wilful murder against members of the Auxiliary force’. In late March the Irish Chief Secretary, Sir Hamar Greenwood, informed the House of Commons that two members of the ADRIC had been arrested and that the murder was still under investigation. See II, 23 March 1921. At a subsequent hearing in October 1921 at the Fermoy quarter sessions, the solicitor for the victim’s widow, Timothy M. Healy, declared that the case was ‘as remarkable as any in the tragic history of Ireland’. On behalf of Prendergast’s widow Eileen, Healy sought £10,000 in compensation. The Recorder of Cork awarded £6,000 for what he called ‘a singularly cowardly and atrocious crime’. See II, 31 Oct. 1921.
A professor at St Colman’s College in Fermoy, Prendergast had joined the British army in 1916 and served in France. He had one child by a previous marriage—Mary Josephine Prendergast (aged 8 in 1921). His second wife Eileen Prendergast of Fermoy was the stepmother of the late Nicholas Prendergast’s only child and had a child of her own from a previous marriage. Eileen owned ‘a prosperous public house’ in Fermoy. Early in 1921 the Master of the Rolls in Ireland refused the application of Pierce Bolger of the Blackwater Hotel in Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, for custody of his granddaughter Mary Josephine Prendergast, the 8-year-old child of his late daughter, Nicholas Prendergast’s first wife. Mary Josephine was then being sent to school at the Loretto convent in Fermoy, and her stepmother Eileen Prendergast was appointed as her legal guardian; the Master of the Rolls refused the application of her maternal grandfather for custody. See II, 22 March 1921. Coming in the wake of her father’s tragic death and the belated discovery of his decomposed body on an island in the Blackwater about six weeks later, this custody battle must have been another wrenching experience for Mary Josephine Prendergast and her stepmother Eileen.