Volunteer Denis Bennett

Volunteer Denis Bennett (aged about 18) of Ballynamona near Mourne Abbey (Mallow)

Date of incident: 31 Jan. 1921

Sources: Death Certificate, 31 Jan. 1921; CE, 1, 2, 15 Feb., 30 March, 30 April, 2 May 1921; II, 2 Feb. 1921; CC, 3 Feb. 1921; FJ, 3 Feb. 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/146A/35 (TNA); MSPC/RO/62 and MSP34/REF28925 (Military Archives); Report of the Mallow Court of Enquiry, p. 336, H.C. 1921, xv [1220]; Leo O’Callaghan’s WS 978, 9-11 (BMH); Jeremiah Daly’s WS 1015, 5 (BMH); Joseph P. Morgan’s WS 1097, 11-12 (BMH); Seán Healy’s WS 1643, 10 (BMH); O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 132-33; Lankford (1980), 185; Gyves (2010), 33-52; Mourne Abbey Memorial, Knockmourne, Mallow; http://theauxiliaries.com/INCIDENTS/mallow-1921-jan/mallow-shooting.html (accessed 5 Oct. 2016).


Note: An engine cleaner, Bennett was one of three railway workers killed or mortally wounded by British forces in the reprisals that followed the IRA attack on RIC County Inspector William King and his wife at Mallow. Bennett was a member of the IRA, though not, it seems, an active Volunteer in this incident. The pension claim of Dr Timothy John Vaughan lists those whom he treated after this episode, including ‘John Bennett IRA Mourne Abbey GSW [gunshot wound] died next morn’. See MSP34/REF28925 (Military Archives). Bennett is also named at the bottom of the Mourne Abbey Memorial, Knockmourne, Mallow.

Denis Bennett was in 1911 one of the seven children of the railway labourer Edmund Bennett and his wife Ellen of house 4 in Ballynamona townland near Mourne Abbey. Six of their seven children (three sons and three daughters) co-resided with them in that year. Denis Bennett (then aged 8) was their second youngest child.  

The best account of these civilian casualties will be found in O’Donoghue, No Other Law: ‘The dangers to which the civilian population were exposed were tragically illustrated at Mallow on the night of 31st January 1921. About 10:20 p.m. on that night an attack was made on Captain W. H. King, R.I.C., in the vicinity of Mallow railway station. Captain King was accompanied by his wife and in the exchange of fire Mrs King was killed. At the time there were about a hundred workers on duty at Mallow railway station. British military and Black and Tans turned out in force, entered the station premises, indulged in a good deal of indiscriminate firing, and arrested all the men they could find. A little later, a party of Black and Tans, under a head constable, entered the station as the Thurles goods train arrived. They opened fire on the engine driver and his fireman. They broke into the saloon bar and helped themselves liberally to drink. Meanwhile, such of the workers as had escaped arrest were carrying on their normal duties when this party of police re-emerged and commenced firing at every man they saw carrying a lamp. Many had narrow escapes. In the waiting-room attached to the locomotive department a number of men were preparing for work when the place was raided by the police. All the men were ordered out on to the road outside the station, with their hands over their heads. They were then told to run for their lives. Fire was opened on them and most of them were wounded. Three died subsequently of wounds, a seventeen year old lad named Bennett, Patrick Devitt, father of eight children, and Daniel Mullane, a twenty three year old fireman who, having escaped himself, went back to assist a wounded driver, Harry Martin, and received three bullet wounds through the hips, from which he died early on the following morning.’ Though a military court of inquiry was held into this wild episode, it was a complete whitewash: ‘The findings blandly allege that the railwaymen were mistaken in thinking that their wounds had been inflicted by members of the crown forces, and implies that the men killed and wounded were the victims of rebel fire. The report is typical of the kind of mendacity to which the British authorities were driven by occurrences of this kind.’ See O’Donoghue, No Other Law (1954, 1986), 132-33.

The pertinent sections (paragraphs 7, 8, and 9) of the report of the British military inquiry stated: ‘7. That the persons arrested . . . were despatched in two parties to the military barracks, Mallow. The first party reached there safely. The second party (which included the three railway employees since dead, and those who were wounded) came under rebel fire from the vicinity of the south signal cabin. 8. That the rebel fire referred to in paragraph 7 was immediately returned by the R.I.C. and that such “return fire” unavoidably caused some of the casualties in the second party. 9. That from the location and character of the wounds, one of such casualties at least was caused by rebel fire; that one R.I.C. was at the same time wounded by a pellet from a shot-gun, and that neither the military nor R.I.C. were armed with such weapons on the night in question.’ See CE, 30 March 1921.

Testifying a month later before the Recorder of Cork at the Mallow quarter sessions, Michael Mahoney, a steam-raiser on the Great Southern and Western Railway at Mallow, described how he and other railway workers came to be shot: ‘Men came on to the platform dressed in police uniform, armed with rifles, on which there were fixed bayonets. They ordered witness [Mahoney] to put his hands up, and with Patk. Maher, Patk. Howe, Henry Martin, Chris. O’Connell, Daniel O’Mullane, Matt Cronin, and Denis Barrett, [they] were ordered out to the platform, and on their way several shots were fired over their heads from behind. They were then ordered out on the road, and having been halted for a minute . . . , [were] then told [to] run for their lives, and as they ran, they were fired at from behind.’ See CE, 30 April 1921.

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