A very informative presentation on “The Plane Crash at Knockatallon” by Tydavnet Historical Society took place in Ballinode Church Hall on Wednesday 5th December 2018. The lecture was given by Marie McKenna, and she also gave a fascinating insight into the political and social life of the area in the time of “The Emergency” of WW2. There was a large and appreciative audience in attendance, and some of these people took along artefacts of relevance to the story.
The plane crash took place on Tuesday 28th December 1943 in an area known as “The Long Hollow”, Knockatallon, and Marie did huge research to find out all the available information on it, and present it to the community lest this important event in our local history be lost forever. She traced the formation of the State from the Civil War and the foundation of the Irish Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, and the Anglo Irish Trade War 1933 to 1939, and took in the declaration of an official state of “Emergency” in September 1939 when war broke out. While formally neutral (on the outside anyway), Ireland gave support to the Allies in several ways – their aircraft accessed Irish airspace through a Donegal Corridor, allowing access to/from the Atlantic ocean and Lough Erne. Military intelligence was also shared between G2 and the Allies, and data on weather, sightings of German warfare and aircraft. The “rationing” also limited the availability of goods – and smuggling became a way of life along the border – tea, butter, sugar, cocoa, flour, bacon, ham, meat products, lard, cereals, cheese, infant products, alcohol, coal, tobacco products, candles, oil, and footwear and clothing. Rural dwellers fared a lot better than their urban counterparts – due to self sufficiency of growing fruit, vegetables, pigs and cattle for food, and poultry for eggs and meats. The shortage of petrol affected everyone who used vehicles, and sports and social events were also severely impacted. Even the doctors and local police had to take to the bikes.
Marie also gave information on the Local Defence Force (LDF) and the Local Security Force (LSF) who were used to back up the Gárdaí and Army. She interviewed a number of people in the community who were able to tell about life at the time – Jack Casserly, Frank Clerkin, Eugene McCague, and Marie Caulfield – their stories providing a very poignant account of what many endured to eke out a life and a living at the time.
The shortage of paper, and censorship by the Government forbade the publication of any material which it considered might jeopardise international political stability, and news of the plane crash did not even merit a word in the local Northern Standard (despite having a weekly column on the war) or any of the national papers. The plane crash took place between 10am and 11am on a Tuesday morning, and there was also an account from an eye witness John McGinnity, formerly from nearby Kilmore West, who is domiciled in Rochester.
Marie outlined the background of the pilot John Reid McMillan, and how he came to be flying over rural north Monaghan at the time. She also traced how it was discovered a plane, a Miles Martinet HP371, was missing, and following the accident, the arrival of investigators to the site. She also got access to G2 secret files with details and costs of the undertakers (Ned Sewell and James Corrigan from Scotstown), the coffin which came from Cavan and its cost, and the £5 cost for the attendance (twice) of Dr Gribbin from Scotstown on his bike – he arrived on the day of the crash, but he couldn’t reach the body till the following day. The body was handed over at Clones border on Wednesday 29th December, and the pilot buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard, Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh.
Research for the night involved interviews and information from many sources like Frank Clerkin, Lawrence McKenna, Patsy Treanor, Susan McKenna, Marie Caulfield, Kathleen McKenna, Jack Casserly, Jimmy Sherlock, Sean Corr, Denis Burke, Johnny McNie, and Danny McAloon, for which we are very grateful. Danny still possesses a metal piece from the exhaust of the plane which was on display on the night.
Thanks to Lawrence McKenna formerly from Knocknalun, Scotstown who brought a very important Local Security Force (LSF) medal to the presentation on the Knockatallon Plane Crash. Set up under control of the Garda (Irish Police Force) it was responsible for local security and its duties included replacing members of the Garda when required, monitoring Irish Republican Activity (IRA) and assisting the Garda in maintaining law and order. The medal belonging to his late father Jack McKenna was from a series which were instituted on the 6th October 1944 but were not issued until after the cessation of war. The obverse shows a female figure representing Eire, facing left in a flowing gown and cloak. She is straining a wolfhound with her left hand and her right hand holds a long sword facing downward. Surrounding her is the inscription “Ré na Práinne” translated as “Emergency Period” The obverse of the medal bears the dates 1939 – 1946, and bears the words “Na Caomhnóirí Áitiúla” (the organisation receiving the Medal)in old Gaelic script, as well as a laurel spray. The medal is bronze coloured, 35mm in diameter on a red ribbon has a single white stripe. The ribbon is threaded through a ring that is attached to the top of the medal and hangs from a bronze pin back brooch bearing the words “Seirḃís Náisiúnta” (National Service). The medal was presented to Jack in Urbleshanny School in 1946 by Sergeant McCarthy. The medal was awarded for 2 years service with a 1939-1946 service bar add for each further 2 years of service up to a maximum of 2 bars. Henry Smyth of Scotstown was in charge of the local LSF.
Gerry McQuaid, formerly from Barratitoppy, brought along a photo of the LSF marching in Monaghan town in the forties – many locals were involved in this under the command of Henry Smyth of Scotstown. Benny Maguire also brought along original Petrol Ration coupons to the event.
Marie McKenna herself provided a unique and beautiful WW2 artifact in the form of a pretty cardigan wedding gift from a liberated German concentration camp. Her grand aunt Lily Hegarty from Drogheda trained as a nurse in England, and later went off to work as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross who were working to liberate the Concentration Camps in Germany. Even long after the war, the “inmates” of the camps were reluctant to leave – they had nowhere to go, all that they knew best was destroyed – and Lily was a volunteer who provided tender and compassionate care for them. Lily met her boyfriend who was an RAF pilot, and he also joined the volunteer group who assisted in the camps. They married in 1946 in Brunswick, and to show their appreciation for her kindness, the women in the camp (who were left with nothing only garments that were knitted and sent to them), unpicked some of the previously knitted clothes which had been sent to them like socks and jumpers, and created an intricate and beautiful woollen fitted cardigan/jacket out of the báinín wool, with traditional Bavarian twisted stitching, complete with ornate zigzag panels and diamonds on the sleeves, and a row of buttons on the front. Marie’s mother remembers her aunt wearing the jacket with a beautiful skirt on a subsequent visit to Monaghan. She later lived in Kent, and died in the early 1980s.
At the beginning of the night, Secretary Heather Stirrat paid a wonderful tribute to the late Eileen McKenna from Knockballyroney who passed away on 3rd September 2018. Eileen made an enormous contribution to our small heritage society, and though she wasn’t originally from this area, she was instrumental in producing the “Barratitoppy Book” in 1995, and she also worked in the offices of Tydavnet Community Council where she played a key role in compiling a quarterly Parish Newsletter along with Fr John Gilsenan, who also had a great interest in local heritage and history. After the death of Fr Gilsenan, Eileen undertook to complete his work and put it into book form – the Townlands of Tydavnet Parish book being testament of her ability, endeavour, and determination. Eileen completed a Degree and a Master’s in Irish Studies, basing her thesis on Archbishop John Joseph Hughes from Augher. With the assistance of Clogher Historical Society and the Ulster History Circle, she worked to have a commemorative plaque erected in his memory at St Macartan’s Church. Eileen was a member of Clogher Historical Society, and she worked in Monaghan Museum for many years. She was a regular contributor to history journals and magazines, and she was a very capable presenter on local history topics, particularly townlands and mapping. She was a valued member of Tydavnet Historical Society, and the William Carleton Society, and she also compiled the Knockatallon News for the Northern Standard for many years. Above all, Eileen always made time for any worthwhile project that she could help out with. We will miss her wise ways! (Thanks to Josephine Treanor for all her help here).
A vote of sympathy was also offered to Maureen, Gerard, and Imelda Clerkin and the extended family on the recent passing of Bennie Clerkin, a very popular local man from Annacalkill, Scotstown. May they rest in peace. (Click on images to enlarge……)