A Kilkenny Kidnapping

The New Ross Standard reported that on midnight, Wednesday the 26th of May 1920, a wealthy protestant farmer named Joseph Y Jeffares and his eldest son aged 20 were taken away from their home in Rochestown Co. Kilkenny (About 4 miles from New Ross) by unknown men . Mr Jeffares had been awoken by a number of men banging on his door and upon asking who was there he was told to get up and open it. He and he son were ordered to get dressed and they were blindfolded and led outside to a waiting motorcar. During the ordeal a younger son of Mr. Jeffares attempted to leave via the rear door but was stopped from doing so. It was reported the intruders wore no masks and others kept guard outside the home.

The incident reported on that night was later retold by Liam O Leary in his witness statement. He says how the operation was undertaken on orders from GHQ in Dublin who were acting on information that the R.I.C officers, who murdered the republican Lord Mayor of Cork Tomas MacCurtain earlier in March of that year, were being harbored there. The murder of MacCurtain sparked an international outcry as he was an elected official and was shot in front of his wife and kids by the R.I.C. Liam says three officers were sent down from Dublin IRA HQ to help in the operation. In contrast Michael Kirwan in his witness statement says there were instead just two, but names them as Frank Thornton and Eamon Fleming. Frank Thornton is known to have been a member of Michael Collin’s intelligence staff.

Frank Thornton in 1965 during an interview for RTE on his work as an intelligence officer

On the night of the operation Liam describes how between 24 to 30 men set off from Enniscorthy on bicycles in three groups. They cycled to designated meeting points where they met local scouts who knew the area. Liam’s group made their way to a place called Dysart and proceeded to head to the Jeffares home. Once Mr Jeffares and his son were in the car they were then taken to the home of Martin Kelly of Tombrick, Ballycarney and kept there for several days. The Ballycarney Company of the I.R.A kept guard and watch throughout this. The Dublin officers interrogated Mr Jeffares and his son before eventually releasing them on a back road near Camolin.

Two cars were used on the night. The first was obtained from a Dr Kelly, a dispensary doctor in Killanne who when asked is said to have ‘cheerfully’ obliged. Dr kelly provided medical assistance to the I.R.A in wexford on many occasions throughout the war of independence. The second car was got from a Ms M. O’ Neill of Ballingale, who offered to even drive it herself ‘no matter to where’ such was her enthusiasm, but her offer had to be declined and just the car taken instead. Liam mentions that they raided another house and took two people called Sullivan also but no account of this could be found elsewhere.

This operation is a good example of the intelligence gathering capabilities of the I.R.A who were aware that they needed to know their enemy just as well as they knew them. Intelligence played an important role in the war of independence and was crucial in undertaking operations to understand the enemies strength and weaknesses to help keep ahead of them as much as they could.

References

Liam O Leary, Bureau of Military History witness statement #1276

Michael Kirwan, Bureau of Military History witness statement #1175

New Ross Standard May 28th 1920

North Wexford Brigade Activity Files

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