National Army Soldier (Captain) Hugh Thornton Jr


National Army Soldier (Captain) Hugh Thornton Jr of (aged 24) of 55 St Patrick’s Road, Drumcondra, Dublin, and 84 Donnelly’s Orchard, Clonliffe Road, Dublin (his father’s address), (between Bantry and Skibbereen)                                               

Date of incident: 27 Aug. 1922

Sources: Evening Herald, 29, 30, 31 Aug., 1 Sept. 1922; CE, 30 Aug., 2 Sept. 1922; SS, 2 Sept. 1922; FJ, 2 Sept. 1922; II, 2 Sept. 1922; MSPC/2D477 (Military Archives); Denis Lordon’s WS 470, 6 (BMH); Michael Crowley’s WS 1603, 2 (BMH); Keane (2017), 299, 416; http://www.irishmedals.ie/National-Army-Killed.php (accessed 5 July 2017); http://antoglach.militaryarchives.ie/PDF/1922_09_02_Vol_IV_No_13_An_t-Oglac.pdf (accessed 9 Feb. 2018).


Note: Adjutant of the Second Battalion of First Dublin Brigade in the Second Eastern Division of the National Army, Captain Hugh Thornton Jr was ‘proceeding in an armoured car from Bantry to Skibbereen [on 27 August 1922] when the accidental discharge of a rifle caused his death’, according to a military inquiry. An earlier report erroneously claiming that Thornton had been killed in an ambush by Irregulars while travelling through Clonakilty was disowned. See CE, 2 Sept. 1922. Thornton was the brother of Commandant Frank Thornton, ‘one of the most popular and daring men in the Irish War of Independence, who at present lies dangerously wounded as a result of an ambush near Clonmel about a week ago’. See CE, 30 Aug. 1922. Another brother, Patrick Thornton, had ‘died in February 1921 as a result of broken-down health consequent on wounds received in the [1916] Rising and his prison treatment after’. See II, 2 Sept. 1922. For the erroneous report about an alleged ambush killing Thornton in Clonakilty on 29 August 1922, see http://antoglach.militaryarchives.ie/PDF/1922_09_02_Vol_IV_No_13_An_t-Oglac.pdf (accessed 9 Feb. 2018). 

Hugh Thornton Jr left a deep mark on the Irish Volunteers in Dublin and County Cork from the Easter Rising through the War of Independence, and then held high rank in the National Army at the outset of the Civil War. Along with his brothers Frank and Patrick Thornton and his sister Nora, Hugh Thornton Jr (a member of the Liverpool Volunteers) had travelled from Liverpool to Dublin in order to participate in the Easter Rising of 1916. He fought in the General Post Office on O’Connell Street in Dublin during the Rising. Arrested by the British authorities after its failure, Hugh Thornton resisted their efforts to conscript him into the British army while he was interned at Frongoch in Wales. He subsequently served as vice-commandant of the Cork No. 3 Brigade in 1919 and later still as intelligence officer in the Second Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA during the War of Independence. For his distinguished record of service, in 1941 Hugh Thornton Jr was posthumously awarded a 1916 Medal and a Service Medal with Bar (1917-21). In civilian life Thornton had been a grocer’s assistant in Bandon and subsequently an employee of the New Ireland Assurance Company. See MSPC/2D477 (Military Archives).

His major role in the early organisation of the Volunteer movement in West Cork was later recalled by Michael Crowley, a native of Kilbrittain (and one of a family of six children who was about 19 at the time of the Rising): ‘Late in 1916, G.H.Q. [in Dublin] sent Hugh Thornton, a young officer who had participated in the Rising, as Volunteer organiser for West Cork. He made Kilbrittain his base for training of existing units and forming new ones, and I spent a considerable portion of my time assisting him in his work in adjoining areas. To his enthusiasm and tireless energy West Cork owes a debt of gratitude, as he laid the foundation of the later formed Cork III Brigade.’ See Michael Crowley’s WS 1603, 2 (BMH).

According to former Volunteer leader Denis Lordan, Hugh Thornton was appointed vice-commandant of the newly formed Cork No. 3 Brigade in the immediate aftermath of the December 1918 general election. For some months previously (since March 1918), Thornton and Denis Lordon had been splitting responsibility for organising and training Volunteers in the Bandon battalion area; they agreed to a plan under which Lordon took charge of these duties in the area north of the River Bandon and Thornton became responsible for districts south of the river. See Denis Lordon’s WS 470, 6 (BMH).

The body of Captain Thornton was carried to Dublin on the SS. Minerva, which left Cork city on Wednesday evening, 30 August 1922, and arrived in Dublin the following morning. His remains were removed with ceremony to Portobello Barracks and then to the Catholic church in Rathmines. He was interred in the National Army Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery on 1 September. See http://www.irishmedals.ie/National-Army-Killed.php (accessed 3 July 2017).

Captain Hugh Thornton received a funeral and burial befitting his rank and military accomplishments on 1 September: ‘The coffin was borne on a gun carriage [from Our Lady of Refuge Church in Rathmines after Solemn Requiem Mass] whilst a guard of honour of officers marched beside it. A strong body of National troops under [the] command of Captain Corri [O/C, Portobello Barracks] and wearing mourning badges, marched in the cortege, in which was also included the Wellington Barrack fife and drum band under Sergt. Healy. As the funeral passed through the city, it was observed by large numbers of people and presented an imposing spectacle. The wreaths, which were numerous and beautiful, were borne in a special motor and included ones from the officers and men of the late Capt. Thornton’s battalion and others. The attendance of the general public was large. On arrival at Glasnevin the coffin was borne through an avenue of troops who, as it was conveyed to the mortuary chapel, presented arms. . . . The interment took place in a plot adjoining that where rests General [Michael] Collins.’ See II, 2 Sept. 1922. The deceased’s brother, Commandant Frank Thornton, was prevented from attending his brother Hugh’s funeral because he was still recovering from wounds received in a recent ambush near Clonmel in County Tipperary. See FJ, 2 Sept. 1922.   

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