By Andrew Bushe
Sunday July 01 2007 (Irish Independent)
A WAR of Independence veteran who was a Fianna Fail TD for Cork for more than 40 years, had his own 'graveyard' on his east Cork farm for victims he and associates executed in gruesome circumstances during and after the Troubles.
According to previously secret Department of Justice files, the Gardai believed an ex-RIC man who became one of the 'Disappeared' during the Civil War, was murdered after a kangaroo court at the east Cork farm of republican Martin Corry.
The files say ex-RIC man Michael Williams, 37, was taken prisoner at gunpoint by five Irregulars (Old IRA) in Stradbally, Co Laois, on June 15, 1922. He was abducted as he left the village on a pony-and-trap with his parents after they had all attended mass on Corpus Christi Sunday.
Williams's family continued to seek the return of his remains for years so that he could be buried in consecrated ground. The case was considered by the Executive Council (the then government) and Home Affairs (Justice) Minister Kevin O'Higgins took an active interest in the investigation.
The case echoes the current controversy about the 'Disappeared' victims of the Provisional IRA. Although the Provisionals pledged to help locate the bodies of nine people listed among the current 'Disappeared', only four have been found.
Williams had served for 13 years as a policeman when the RIC was disbanded in May 1922, and he went home to live with his parents at Garrons, Stradbally. The former constable was abducted in connection with the murder in Cork city of IRA man Thomas McCurtain by a party of military and RIC men in January, 1920, when McCurtain was Lord Mayor of Cork.
But in a sworn deposition, Williams's sister Harriette said her brother had been in Cork the night McCurtain was assassinated and he had "stopped with me at my lodgings on the night in question and was not out at any time in the city upon that night".
The file, one of 200 previously secret files handed over to the National Archive office by former Justice Minister Michael McDowell, says the Gardai believed he ended up with another kidnapped RIC man on Martin Corry's farm.
Corry, a republican activist from 1916 through the War of Independence and the Civil War, was a Fianna Fail TD from 1927 to 1969.
In September 1924, the Williams family solicitor Horace Turpin said in a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Justice, that "by all accounts this farm [Corry's] is a veritable cemetery". He also provided the Department of Justice with an anonymous letter Williams's mother had received from Cork.
An extract from that letter reads, "It is well known about here that your deceased son Michael was taken to Martin Corry's house near Knockraha, Cork, and courtmartialled (mock) with another poor man, by this Corry and others, and sentenced to death by hanging. The rope was then procured, the victims bound, and the rope fastened on their necks, the executioners throwing the end of the rope over a beam, pulled and pulled for hours, while the unfortunate victims struggled and struggled in their desperate agony. Oh! God, what a death. The executioner Corry, and his accomplices having enjoyed the inhuman sport for some hours, retired for a rest and a drink, and left the unfortunate and unhappy victims struggling in their half strangled condition. When the executioners returned, their victims were absolutely riddled with bullets, and their victims were buried on Corry's farm, where many other victims of his (Corry's) lie buried."
An October 1924 memo from Chief Supt P Fahy in Cork said he had received "reliable information" that Williams had been taken to Corry's farm where a kangaroo court presided over by Sean Hegarty and involving Mrs McCurtain as a witness sentenced him to death.
He gave details of where bodies were buried on the farm and in a nearby quarry.
The Williams abduction took place at a time when many Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men were summarily shot. In one notorious case a month before Williams was abducted, gunmen entered Galway Hospital where two RIC men were recovering from injuries. Both were shot dead in their beds, and a male civilian patient was also shot, apparently in the belief that he was also a former RIC man.
The file indicates that the government and Home Affairs (Justice) Minister kept pressing for a murder inquiry, but the Gardai were concerned about the sensitivity of the situation. In an October 1924 memo, O'Higgins ordered Garda Commissioner Gen Eoin O'Duffy that his men should "be instructed to search for the body of this man and to proceed generally as in the investigation of all cases of murder".
But in reply, Deputy Commissioner Eamon O Cugain urged caution, as the instruction "will undoubtedly have a most damaging effect". O Cugain said the instruction appeared to suggest "the arrests of any parties known to be concerned. This, it is believed, would lead to a very serious situation."
- Andrew Bushe