Unmarked Dungarvan grave pushes man to act as his father’s son

By Jim Memmott, Senior Editor, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Wrapped in sorrow and silence, this pre-Saint Patrick’s Day story seems to linger in time, haunting, unresolved.

It has a Rochester angle, certainly. But it focuses on a grave in Dungarvan, County Waterford, Ireland.

Ivan Lennon, 62, a retired Rochester schoolteacher who was born in Ireland, would like to put a marker on the grave.

In a sense, he is acting as his father’s son in desiring to do this. But Lennon’s father is not in that grave. Resting there is a man his father had executed 85 years ago.

The details of that execution and its consequence are anchored in the Irish War of Independence, the uprising against the British that lasted from 1919 to 1921.

Lennon’s father, George, who later became a pacifist, was an officer then in the West Waterford Brigade of the Irish Republican Army, the force committed to disrupting and supplanting British rule.

On March 18, 1921, he led a group that ambushed some Black and Tans, members of the British paramilitary force.

Men on both sides died, and the IRA forces captured Sgt. Michael Hickey, an Irish police officer who was with the Black and Tans.

Hickey was well-known and well-liked, a respected community police officer. He was Catholic, he was Irish, but, at least technically, he worked for the British.

War has its own logic, and the IRA members decided Hickey had to be killed because he knew their identities.

Right before he was shot by a makeshift firing squad, Hickey turned toward George Lennon.

“George, I knew you as a child,” the policeman said. “… You are the only person in the world that can save me.”

“I would give anything in the world to save you,” Lennon replied. “But I cannot.”

As George Lennon later recalled in a memoir, Trauma in Time, the two men exchanged a “glance of understanding.”

Hickey, who had turned 36 the day before and was about to be married, squared his shoulders. Lennon tied a bandage around Hickey’s eyes.

Stepping back, he called, “Fire.” Shots rang out. Hickey slumped to the ground, dead.

Lennon walked over to his body and fired one shot into Hickey’s head, a coup de grace.

His killers put a tag on Hickey’s body that said “Police Spy.”

Gravediggers at first refused to dig a grave for his burial. They relented, but Hickey’s fiancée asked that no marker be put on the grave for fear that it would be defaced.

George Lennon laid down his arms in 1922. Eventually, he immigrated to the United States, only to return to Ireland in 1935.

Eleven years later, he came back to the United States. His wife, May, and his son joined him a few years later.

George Lennon, who never talked to his son about his time in the IRA, became a Quaker, an opponent of the war in Vietnam. He helped found the Rochester Zen Centre. He died in 1991.

But starting with a trip to Waterford in 1987, Ivan began to pick up on clues to his father’s past. Eventually, he understood his father’s role in Hickey’s death.

And eventually, he came to believe that he should put a marker on Hickey’s grave.

It has proved to be a sensitive issue. A contact at the Waterford Museum in Dungarvan has told Lennon that there is some opposition to a marker, some concern that it could raise old grievances against Hickey.

But Lennon says that he’ll persist.

“It’s 85 years later,” Lennon says. “The guy (Hickey) wasn’t a hero, but he was a victim. He was a good man.”

* This report originally appeared in the March 11th edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York – www.democratandchronicle.com

For full story see The Munster Express newspaper or
subscribe to our Electronic edition.

Comments are closed.