Plaque to remember innocent council worker shot dead after a prayer at the Friary

John Dullard (inset), lays a wreath at the plaque on Friary Street where his grandfather Thomas was shot and killed.

Photos by Pat Shortall

The German philosopher Georg Hegel famously said, “The only thing that we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history”.

But history, depending on where it is sourced, can be blemished.

Often, stories that were handed down from father to son, or mother to daughter may or may not contain the full truth.

People might choose to omit that which they do not care to remember.

One wonders was such the case with Kilkenny County Council worker Thomas Dullard.

Indeed you would be forgiven if his name is not known to you.

Even the mention of, and his connection to, The Friary Street Ambush may not enlighten you.

You would not be on your own.

Thanks to ‘The Kilkenny Historical Re-enactment Group’, Thomas Dullard’s name, and the reason why he should be remembered has found its way onto a plaque on Friary Street.

On February 21st, 1921, three men lost their lives in what has become known as ‘The Friary Street Ambush’.

Two of those were members of the local IRA.

The plaque which is positioned at the junction of Pennyfeather Lane and Friary Street reads as follows; ‘At this spot, Capt. Thomas Hennessy and Michael Dermody (NCO), two brave soldiers of The Irish Republican army, gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom on February 21st, 1921, during the War of Independence. To perpetuate their memories, this plaque was erected by the members of the 1st Battalion Kilkenny Brigade I.R.A.’

The third person to die was a local Council worker called Thomas Dullard, who was an innocent bystander.

But it is only in recent years that the name of Thomas Dullard has come to the fore.

Thomas Dullard was a corporation worker and father of four who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He would die of his wounds.

At a brief gathering on Sunday 20th of February 2022, members of The Kilkenny Historical Re-enactment group, family members of Mr Dullard and a few friends gathered to remember the County Council worker.

Thanks to research by Berni Egan, we can take a closer look at the aftermath of the shooting of Thomas Dullard.

Following the shooting of Mr Dullard, a military court of enquiry was held in Kilkenny on 22nd February 1921.

One witness who testified was Bridget Dullard, wife of Thomas.

At this stage, let us remind ourselves of the state of play in Ireland.

In January 1919, following a landslide victory in the previous December’s election, a new government was set up in Dublin, called Dáil Eireann, which had declared Ireland an independent nation. By 1920, British authority was collapsing and in an effort to regain control, Emergency powers, and later Martial Law was declared in much of southern Ireland.

Ireland was becoming an increasingly nervous and violent society as attacks and reprisals by the IRA and the authorised military apparatus of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Auxiliaries and Army continued. Kilkenny, as a traditional barracks town, would not escape unscathed in these troubled times.

Each morning, following the same timetable and same route, a limber carrying rations for Kilkenny Gaol would leave the military barracks on Ballybought Street and travel via John’s St, Rose Inn St, High St, and Friary Street, making its way to Kilkenny Gaol.

Protecting this limber were seven soldiers of the Devonshire Regiment, divided into three groups.

These soldiers would be armed with loaded guns and fixed bayonets. Such an obvious display of weapons would prove a tempting target for the local Volunteers, and a plan for an ambush was drawn up by the local IRA.

Monday morning, 21st of February was the agreed date to execute a planned ambush, and orders were given that they would not shoot the soldiers but instead attack and physically overpower them with the intention of disarming them.

Thomas and Bridget Dullard, having breakfast were blissfully unaware of the events unfolding around the corner from their house.

All accounts in the British archives file agree that around eighteen civilians, men, women and children were also on the street that morning. Shots rang out in quick succession, and two IRA members, Thomas Hennessy and Michael Dermody fell to the ground. The people who had been on the street were running to escape.

A civilian male suddenly appeared about twenty-five yards down the street near the Friary.

Another shot was fired and he too fell.

A search of the bodies found one dead from a shot to the abdomen and the other two with severe head wounds, unlikely to survive.

Bridget Dullard soon discovered that the third casualty was her husband Thomas, who had just left their house to go to work in the corporation.

The Next morning Bridget had to attend Kilkenny Barracks for an enquiry in lieu of an inquest into the shootings, and formally identified her husband’s body.

After many witness statements, the findings concluded that both Thomas Hennessy and Thomas Dullard had died due to gunshot wounds.

Shots had been fired at Dullard thinking he was one of the attacking party.

The Military refused any responsibility for his death stating ‘he had only himself to blame as he was running away from the scene of the ambush.’

It was recorded that Dullard went to work each morning as a corporation worker at seven a.m., returning home for breakfast at nine a.m.

He returned to work at about quarter to ten. He had a habit of stopping into the Friary on the way to say a prayer.

It was while leaving the Friary on the morning of 21st February that the ambush occurred, and as he ran away he was shot.

Witnesses from the Military party that day were called and stated no arms were found on his person.

A Captain Sinclair declared that his wounds had been caused by a ricochet bullet.
After deliberation, his Honour came to the conclusion that the death had been accidental and expressed his sympathy to Mrs Dullard, but no compensation would be awarded to her.

The widow’s plea for aid had fallen on deaf ears.

On Christmas Day, 1931 Bridget herself died of kidney failure. Thomas Dullard’s tragic demise as part of the events in Friary St had almost been forgotten.

A plaque to commemorate the death of Thomas Dullard was erected by Kilkenny County Council last week.

Congratulations to The Kilkenny Historical Re-enactment group for instigating the idea and following through with it.

Special word of praise to Gargan sculptors, Friary Street, for their professionalism in creating the plaque and for the restoration of Mr Dullard’s grave stone in Patrick’s Graveyard.

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