At 5:30p.m. on Monday the 5th of July 1920 RIC constables Connell and (Henry) Lenihan, who were stationed in Ferns, walked into the public house of Thomas Dunbar. The pub was located at the Lower end of the village on the corner of Main street and Milltown Road. Both policemen were in an intoxicated state, having been drinking for some time before. Taking notice of this Mr. Dunbar refused to serve the men. But they were adamant on obtaining more, so they decided to help themselves behind the counter and remained in Dunbar’s for the rest of the evening, drinking as they pleased.
Later in the evening at about 9p.m. a man named James Dunne walked into the pub. James was 35 and worked as a Miller for Bolger’s of Milltown Ferns. He was in the pub for only a short while when an altercation occurred between himself and constable Lenihan. The latter had been antagonized Dunne, who was reported as being sober. Several men who were also drinking in the pub attempted to break up the two. During this constable Connell took out his revolver and three shots were discharged inside the premises, one into the floor and the other two into the ceiling.
Following the incident Dunne left the pub by the front door leading onto the main street. Lenihan, in a drunken rage, pursued him to the street corner, antagonized him further. This led to a scuffle between the two in which Dunne knocked Lenihan to the ground. Wanting nothing more to do with the drunken policer officer Dunne then went to walk away. But Lenihan got up and pointed his revolver at Dunne, ordering him to get down on his knees. One witness reported hearing Dunne being ordered to ‘kneel down on the ground and beg his (Lenihan’s) pardon’, to which he replied, ‘I never did it to anyone and I won’t do it to a cur like you.’ Lenihan then went for Dunne, putting his hand around his neck and shooting him three times at close range. Now injured, Dunne got up and stumbled across the road to Bolger’s Wall where he collapsed on the ground and died. Lenihan went back to the barracks where he was later found in a drunken sleep and covered with blood. He was later convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years penal servitude.
James Dunne wasn’t married and had no children. His family came from Ballintray, near Courtown, where they ran a mill. Following the shooting his remains were interred in St. Michaels cemetery Gorey and a large crowd was reported at the funeral. ‘All National organizations were represented and bands also attended’ while ‘A Volunteer commandant acknowledged the action of soldiers, who saluted the remains’.
Dunbar’s pub where the incident took place still operates as a pub in Ferns to this day.
The New Ross Standard, 16th July 1920, p3
The New Ross Standard, 23rd July 1920, p2
The Wicklow People, 18th December 1920, p8