The Priest and Parishioner Murdered in West Cork in 1920

By Pauline Murphy

It happened after noon on Wednesday December 15th 1920 when Canon Thomas Magner was taking his daily walk along the road at Ballyhalwick, just outside Dunmanway town. He came upon local Magistrate P.S. Brady who was having trouble with his stalled motorcar.

The elderly priest stopped to help and so did local lad Tadhg Crowley who was cycling by. As the three men were trying to start the stalled car, two military lorries approached. The first one sped past the three men but the second one stopped, and fear filled the old priest, his parishioner and the magistrate.

The lorries carried members of K company, RIC Auxillary Division. They had been moved from Cork city when they burned the city on December 11th 1920 and were now based in Dunmanway. They terrorised locals in the town by wearing burnt corks on their tam o’ shanter caps as a victory sign.

Canon Magner had found himself at odds with the Auxiliaries when he refused to toll the Church bells for Armistace Day. They sent him a number of death threats at the parish house and church. When the second lorry stopped, a drunk Auxillary Cadet called Vernon Hart got out brandishing his revolver. He began shouting at Canon Magner and Tadhg Crowley called on the drunken Auxie to stop. Hart turned on Tadhg and shot him dead.

Following that cold blooded murder, the Auxie turned his gun on the priest. He pushed him to the ground and then shot him twice. The horrified Magistrate Brady ran for cover behind the military lorry but he found no safety there and he jumped over a ditch and ran across fields as Cadet Hart and his fellow Auxiliaries were firing at him.

Terrified Brady reached Dunmanway town and told of the horror which had unfolded on the roadside outside the town. He brought some townspeople to the scene of the murders where they found the bodies of Canon Magner and Tadhg Crowley dumped in a roadside drain.

The murdered priest and parishioner were laid to rest after a joint funeral in St. Patrick’s Church, Dunmanway. The cold-blooded killings caused outrage and Cadet Hart was arrested. He was court martialed and found guilty but insane and sentenced to a year in a mental asylum. Afterwards he left for South Africa where he lived on a large citrus farm. He died there in 1937.

Today the scene of the murders is marked with a stone high cross. The centenary of Canon Magner and Tadhg Crowley’s murder was marked in December 2020 with a Covid restrictive commemoration.

After midday Mass in St. Patrick’s Church, Dunmanway, relatives of the murdered men laid wreaths on their graves. During the commemoration the rosary beads Canon Magner clutched in his hands on the day he was murdered were brought to the altar in St. Patrick’s Church. 

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