PATRICK DALTON (1896–1921)
Patrick Dalton was born on February 23, 1896, in Coole, County Limerick, the son of Michael Dalton and Honorah White Dalton. His siblings included James (b. 1882), Thomas (b. 1890), Johanna (b. 1893), Bridget (b. 1894), Richard (b. 1897), and Mary “Mollie” (b. 1901).
Little is known of Dalton’s early life and education. At the time of his death, during the War of Independence (1919–1921), he was working as a hardware assistant in Listowel, County Kerry. For reasons both political and familial, it is possible he was employed at J. McKenna’s in that town. On October 7, 1920, for instance, the Irish Independent reported that Tim Stack, an apprentice at Richard B. Wolfe’s pharmacy in nearby Abbeyfeale, County Limerick, and Michael Wolfe, an employee of McKenna’s, both were arrested on suspicion of republican activity.
Patrick Dalton was himself a Wolfe and a member of the North Kerry Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). His maternal grandmother, Bridget Wolfe White, was a sister of Richard E. “Dicky Ned” Wolfe, of the Glen, Cratloe, County Limerick. Another Wolfe relative, the pharmacist Dick Wolfe, was an active member of the West Limerick Brigade of the IRA. Wolfe’s brother-in-law, Con Colbert, was one of sixteen men executed by the British after the Easter Rising of 1916.
The months of April and May 1921 were particularly violent in the seven-mile stretch between Listowel on the west and Athea, County Limerick, on the east. Sir Arthur Vicars, fired for negligence as Ulster King of Arms after the theft of the Irish crown jewels in 1907, lived at nearby Kilmorna House. The IRA believed that he was informing on their activities to the British army, and on April 7 they ambushed a group of soldiers returning to Listowel after a visit to Kilmorna. An IRA man was killed. On April 14, about thirty IRA men raided Kilmorna House. According to a report in the Irish Independent the next day, the republicans escorted Vicars from his bedroom while he was still wearing his dressing gown and shot him outside the house in the garden. Around his neck was a note: “Spies and informers beware; the I.R.A. never forgets.” The IRA then burned the house.
A month later, three IRA men, including Patrick Dalton, were shot dead near Kilmorna, at Gortaglanna, Knockanure, County Kerry. The official British account of the incident, published on May 14 in the Irish Examiner newspaper, stated that three police vehicles had been ambushed by 100 armed men, slightly wounding two policemen. “The police returned the fire,” according to the report, “and the dead bodies of three unknown men were later found at the scene of the ambush, and it is believed that the assailants suffered heavy casualties. The Crown forces also captured a number of shot guns, revolvers, and ammunition.”
On May 17, the three men were publicly identified as Patrick Dalton, of Athea; Jeremiah Lyons, of Duagh; and Patrick Walsh, of Coolard.
The next month, Cornelius “Con” Dee, an IRA man who had survived the shooting, testified before Thomas R. Hill, a justice of the peace in Tarbert, County Kerry, about what had happened. Dee, Dalton, and Walsh had been in Athea to warn of a possible police ambush and had stayed for several days. They attended religious devotions and spent their nights in the Dalton home, about a mile from the town. On the morning of May 12, they left for Listowel and met Lyons on the road.
He dismounted [from his bicycle] and began talking about various happenings. After a few minutes Paddy Walsh suggested that we should go into a field as it would be safer than the road-side. We moved and were just inside the fence when we heard the noise of a lorry. “Take cover, lads,” I advised, and we tried to conceal ourselves as best we could. Jerry Lyons, Paddy Dalton and I took cover immediately. Paddy Walsh ran to the end of a field and lay down. Very soon we were surrounded by men in the uniforms of the Royal Irish Constabulary. “We are done, Connie,” said Paddy Dalton. “Come out, lads,” I said, “with our hands up.”
The policemen, correctly believing that they had captured IRA men, called them murderers, searched them for weapons, and severely beat them. They were then driven down the road about a mile, and then back in the other direction, before being beaten again and forced into a field by the side of the road. “We asked for a trial,” Dee said, “but the Black and Tans laughed and jeered and called us murderers.”
We were put standing in line facing a fence about forty yards from the road. I was placed first on the right, Jerry Lyons was next, Paddy Dalton next, and Paddy Walsh on the left. Then a Black and Tan with a rifle resting on the fence was put in front of each of us, about five yards distant. There were about ten more Black and Tans standing behind them. I looked straight into the face of the man in front of me. He delayed about twenty seconds as if he would like one of his companions to fire first. The second Black and Tan fired. Jerry Lyons flung up his arms, moaned and fell backwards. I glanced at him and noticed blood coming on his waistcoat; I turned round and ran. I was gone about twelve yards when I got wounded in the right thigh. My leg bent under me, but I held on running although I had to limp. I felt that I was being chased and I heard the bullets whizzing past me.
Dee eventually escaped.
According to newspaper reports, the bodies of Dalton, Lyons, and Walsh were brought first to the Listowel police barracks and then to Tralee. On May 18, the Irish Examiner wrote that they were then returned to Listowel by train. Many people along the route shut their window and door blinds in sympathy, “but the police immediately after compelled them to raise their blinds and re-open the doors on penalty of having them burst in forcibly.”
Dalton is buried with his family at the Temple Athea graveyard. His stone reads, “Murdered At Gurtaglanna By British Forces.”
Several ballads were subsequently composed about the deaths of Dalton, Lyons, and Walsh. The most popular and oft-recorded is “The Valley of Knockanure,” written in 1946 by the Listowel school teacher Bryan MacMahon with material provided by Pádraig Ó Ceallacháin. It ends:
Oh, Walsh and Lyons and Dalton brave, although your hearts are clay,
Yet in your stead we have true men yet to guard the gap today,
While grass is found on Ireland’s ground your memory will endure
So God guard and keep the place you sleep and the Valley of Knockanure.