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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

It Happened in November

I'm eagerly looking forward to Christmas. And looking back Dickinson-like on past Novembers; one in particular.

It has been said that the first duty of a gentleman is to keep out of the hands of the police. Up to the time of writing I have carried out my gentlemanly duties, in that respect, every day of my life, with one exception. That was Tuesday 04th November 1969 when I was the victim of a false arrest.

It was 11:15 A.M. and I was feeding our one and only bonham. A car bearing the roof-sign of our National Guardians of the Peace stopped at the gate of our humble abode. Two Gardai asked me to accompany them to Blessington Station. They revealed to me that I had stolen an unspecified quantity of ham on Friday 24th October 1969.

Once in the station another Garda imparted the additional information that I had maliciously burned a rick of hay on Saturday 27th September1969.

Very shortly afterwards it was established that said hay had been burned accidentally. So the Garda's rhetorical question: "Would it surprise you to know that you were seen lighting it?" was slightly off the mark (not to mention off the wall).

From the word go I had my doubts about the existence of the alleged stolen ham, (I still don't know if it was a quarter or a half pound). Now 32 years later I'm more convinced than ever that it should enter the annals along with The Easter Bunny, the Unicorn and a few pre-election promises.

When I refused to confess to two fictitious crimes the Sergeant gave the OK to have me locked in a cell. (His only comment to me was: "I have enough evidence here to charge you!")

Each time I banged on the door I was told: "You'll get out when you tell us the truth."

Men who would not appreciate Tennyson were uttering this. I felt it would be futile to quote;

This truth within thy mind rehearse,
That in a boundless universe
Is boundless better, boundless worse.

After some hours I was released with a promise from a Garda; "We'll be takin' you in agin."

He wasn't a man of his word; I haven't been arrested since.

A few hours in a cell in Blessington is minor compared to the cases of Nickey Kelly, The Birmingham Six or the Guilford Four. But it was enough to cause me a lot of worry, since at 24 years of age I hadn't ever seen the inside of a police station before. It was enough to cause a lot of upset to my 71-year-old father and a mother who had been an invalid for 12 years at the time. And it was enough to make me vow to do my best to ensure that as many people as possible would know about it.

On the five mile walk back to Kylebeg I was sure of two things:

    That I hadn't committed any crime and
    that the Gardai knew I hadn't committed any crime.

But I didn't know why they had taken me in.

Everyone in the area knew I was not a criminal, and the following light dialogue was exchanged at Burke's shop in Lacken that night;

    "I hear Lennon is up for arson."
    "Yes, he should be made marry the girl."

In my capacity as Secretary of Lacken Fianna Cumann (I know that a lot of people, then and now, would consider that a less than prestigious position) I wrote to the then Minister for Justice Michael O 'Morain asking him to have an enquiry. The auctioneer from Castlebar, with the cow-shite on his boots, wasn't much help. His reply stated: "There is nothing to corroborate your story."

Subsequent requests to him drew similar negative results. And it wasn't very long until, maybe, there wasn't anything to corroborate his story.

I wonder what led the Minister to the conclusion that there was nothing to corroborate my story? The "file" containing the information and my letters to Mr. O 'Morain, seems to have vanished from the Department of Justice archives. When researching in later years I received negative answers from successive Ministers of Justice.

    "The papers you seek cannot be located." (Michael Noonan).
    "....the papers are no longer retained in the Department..........Despite an extensive search of our records we have been unable to trace the matters referred to by you". (Alan Dukes)
    ".....the papers you are seeking are no longer stored in this department and cannot be located". (Ray Burke)

In November 1999, under The Freedom of Information Act, I again applied for the papers. Once again I drew a blank.

A calendar of events in 1969/70 might hold the key to the Gardai's motive for my arrest and incarceration on that November day. In October 1969 seven men rented a cottage, from Jim Browe, at Lacken about a half-mile from my home. They told Jim Browe that they were students and were working at night for Telefis Eireann on Kippure. Did the local Gardai check those men out? Of course not, they were too busy investigating illusory crimes.

A few weeks later a number of armed men dressed as Irish soldiers carried out a daring raid on a Bank in Rathdrum County, Wicklow. On April 03rd 1970, Garda Richard Fallon was shot dead while attempting to foil a raid on the Allied Irish Bank, on Arran Quay, Dublin.

The Sunday Press, on 05th April, published the names of a number of men whom the Gardai wanted to interview in connection with the shooting. And it would have been a good idea for the Blessington Gardai to have a word with the occupants of Jim Browe's cottage. But while the Blessington Gardai missed everything (except me) in the previous months, the detectives from Dublin Castle 25 miles away weren't asleep. A subsequent news report read:

"...Chief superintendent John Fleming led a mixed force of his own heavily armed Special Branch Detectives and local uniformed Gardai into a galvanised-roofed two roomed cottage in remote West-Wicklow, used from time to time as a hide-out by seven wanted men.......all wanted for questioning about the murder of Garda Dick Fallon. The raiding party was wryly amused by what they found lying on the floor.... Some of the residents had been studying detective methods. Their reading matter included at least one copy of the American magazine 'True Detective'. Also found in the cottage were items of clothing and other things indicating that it possibly had been used as a cache by an illegal organisation. Some of the clothing was of an army type".

The officers from Dublin Castle established that seven men had rented the cottage in October '69 at 3 per week. They stayed in the cottage on the night of Sunday 05th April but did not return after that. I made persistent enquiries and sent many letters to Mr. O' Morain. But I did not succeed in getting a satisfactory explanation for my arrest and detention before he tendered his resignation on 04th May 1970.

The Taoiseach advised the President to accept his resignation. During his last days in office Mr O'Morain had not been very agreeable to people in general.

On Thursday 16th April, when Mr. Gerry L'Estrange asked, in the Dail, "Is the Minister further aware that, on the evening of the Wicklow bank robbery, the Garda Authorities..........knew where these six men were?" the fast talking auctioneeer didn't seem to have an answer.

A few weeks before his resignation, he had walked out of a Dinner, given to honour the Irish Bar by the Advocate Society of Ontario. He objected to a remark made by the President of the Society, Mr. Joseph Sedgwick. Mr. Sedgwick was speaking about Serjeant Sullivan, an Irish Barrister, involved in the defence of Roger Casement, and the last holder of the legal title "His Majesty's Serjeant at Law". It didn't suit the cattle-salesman from Castlebar.

An Taoiseach announced at 02:45hrs on 06th May his decision to dismiss Ministers Haughey and Blaney. The shock was: "All the greater because it is so unbelievable; because it gives body and substance to the waves of rumour that have been circulating here since the Six Counties trouble last Summer and all the talk about the involvement of some Ministers in the events there."

The Taoiseach "... repudiated the suggestion that no attempt had been made by the Government or any of its members to pursue the hunt for the perpetrators of that foul deed" (The shooting of Garda Fallon).

Transfers were proposed for the Sergeant in Blessington and three of his married subordinates from Blessington Station. (I'm sure it's pure coincidence that it was only the officers involved in my arrest and detention who were ordered to transfer.) The order was based on the allegation that it was due to their incompetence that a number of wanted men evaded detection in Jim Browe's cottage.

The Sergeant claimed that: "...months ago my request for extra men, so that I could adequately police my district, was refused."

I wonder how many false arrests he would have authorised if he had enough men?

A petition to oppose the transfer was organised, by an outsider, in Lacken and the surrounding areas. I signed it! That'll show you the sort of an eejit I was.

The proposed transfer of the three Gardai was cancelled but the Sergeant was moved to Coolock.

And that's when I wrote a song titled "The Hideout On The Rock."

During the Summer of 1970 things returned to normal in Lacken. The presence of unmarked Garda-cars and the crackle of walkie-talkies gradually died away.

Ministers, Haughey and Blaney were charged in "The Arms Trial" and acquitted.

Nobody was convicted of the Fallon shooting.

And if you were to ask my opinion of the Gardai who arrested me it would have been like asking a lamppost's opinion of a dog. I still don't know the real reason for my arrest. But if you are a stranger in West Wicklow and you ask for the Hideout, you will be directed to Jim Browe's.  

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Reader Comments

Name: Mary E. Adair Email: marbety@pencilstubs.com
Comment: Mattie, this should cheer you up... one of your favorite singers, Peggy Sweeney whose fascinating career you wrote about recently, has just released her new video "Kerry ; A Kingdom of Song" is out now and available from; Peggy Sweeney, Mountcoal, Listowel, Co. Kerry, Ireland....... and best of all, even we struggling writers can afford the price at only 18 Dollars (inc P&P)

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