Civilian Canon Thomas J. Magner

Civilian Canon Thomas J. Magner (aged about 69) of 1 Chapel Street, Dunmanway (Ballyhalwick near Dunmanway)

Date of incident: 15 Dec. 1920

Sources: CE, 16, 17 Dec. 1920; II, 16, 17 Dec. 1920; SS, 21 Dec. 1920; CCE, 8 Jan. 1921; II, 8 Jan., 5, 18 Feb., 22, 28 March, 5 May 1921; CWN, 15 Jan. 1921; FJ, 18 Feb., 4, 26 March, 5 May 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/155B/12 (TNA); Ted O’Sullivan’s WS 1478, 27 (BMH); O’Mahony (2010-11), 59-61; Leeson (2011), 204; Ó hÉalaithe (2014), 147.


Note: K Company of the Auxiliaries, whose members had been mainly responsible for the burning of Cork city on the night of 11-12 December 1920, were very soon thereafter moved to Dunmanway, where under their commander Colonel Latimer they set up their barracks in the Dunmanway workhouse. Their move to Dunmanway occurred only about two weeks after Tom Barry’s Flying Column had wiped out a company of their comrades at Kilmichael. In combination with RIC constables based in the Dunmanway RIC barracks, the Auxiliaries of K Company had proclaimed their intention to avenge their defeat at Kilmichael, but the more likely spur to the killings of Canon Thomas Magner and his young parishioner Tadhg or Timothy Crowley was the Dillon’s Cross ambush a few days earlier.  

Dublin Castle officials provided a reasonably accurate report of the incident that transpired on 15 December 1920: ‘At 1 p.m. yesterday about 30 Auxiliary police left Dunmanway in two motor lorries, with a cadet in charge, to go to Cork to attend the funeral of one of their number who was recently shot dead in Cork [almost certainly RIC Auxiliary Cadet Spencer Chapman]. About one mile from Dunmanway, on the road to Ballineen, they met the Rev. Canon Magner, aged 73 years, Parish Priest, Dunmanway, and Timothy Crowley, 24, [a] farmer’s son. The cadet in charge stopped the lorries, walked over to Timothy Crowley, asked him for a [bicycle] permit, and shot him dead with his revolver. The cadet then turned to Canon Magner, who was close by, and shot him dead also. . . . The motor lorries returned to Dunmanway, and the men reported what took place to the colonel in charge, who immediately placed the cadet under arrest and sent him under escort to Cork, where he is now in military custody. He is reported to be out of his mind.’ See CE, 17 Dec. 1921. The culprit was RIC Auxiliary Cadet Sergeant Vernon Anwell Hart.

One Dublin newspaper correspondent reported that the offending cadet ‘was one of the party attacked at Dillon’s Cross last Sat. evening [11 December], when one Auxiliary was killed and 11 wounded’. Of Magner, it was said that he ‘was a most inoffensive priest, who was most anxious for peace in Dunmanway. Crowley was a respectable farmer’s son who took no part in politics’. See II, 17 Dec. 1921.

There was enormous sympathy for Magner and tremendous revulsion among nationalists over his killing. It was reported, first of all, that he was shot dead ‘while endeavouring to prevent the killing’ of Crowley, who was cycling outside the town. (Crowley may not have had a permit for his bicycle, as was now required under martial law.) Magner ‘was taking his customary walk on the Balbreen road outside the town when he intervened on Crowley’s behalf’. The priest seems to have been reading his breviary. ‘The news of the tragedy created a painful sensation in Cork city, where [the] deceased had spent many years,’ reported the Irish Independent the next day. ‘He was advanced in years and was one of the most popular priests in the diocese.’ A native of The Ovens, Co. Cork, he was educated at the diocesan seminary at Farranferris and then later at the Irish College in Paris. At the first he excelled in math, and at the second in theology. He reportedly ‘had a brilliant course’ in Paris. His first curacy was at Kinsale, his second at Bandon, where he spent about eleven years. He was then appointed to the cathedral parish of Cork, where he distinguished himself as president of the Young Men’s Society. ‘Some years ago he was appointed to Dunmanway and also to the diocesan chapter.’ See II, 16 Dec. 1920.

Resident Magistrate P. S. Brady was an eyewitness to most of what happened and provided an account to the ‘special representative’ of the Irish Independent. The breakdown of Brady’s motorcar put him at the spot. The offending cadet at first refused to believe that Brady was an R.M. and threatened to shoot him. When the cadet walked over to Crowley and shot him in the head after a short conversation, one of the other Auxiliaries cried out, ‘My God! He shot him!’ Finally, according to the reporter’s version of Brady’s account, ‘The Auxiliary approached him [Canon Magner], got him on his knees, took off his hat, and apparently kept him on his knees for about a quarter of an hour while he plied him with questions. Then another shot rang out, and Canon Magner fell dead.’ See II, 17 Dec. 1920. Bishop Daniel Cohalan of Cork, in a letter to the press, called the killing of Canon Magner ‘the latest move in the devil’s competition in crime’. He added that he had feared ‘such an occurrence since the Kilmichael ambush’. See II, 16 Dec. 1920.

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