Tuam Executions: One who got away

Tuam Herald, May 29th, 2003.

Last month we remembered the six unfortunate young men who were executed in Tuam 80 years ago. Francis Cunnane, Kilcoona, Headford; Michael Monaghan, Clooneen, Headford; John Newell, Wineforth, Headford; John Maguire, Cross, Cong; Martin Moylan, Farmerstown, Annaghdown and Joseph O'Malley, Oughterard, were the truly unlucky ones: they were among the last to die by state sanction in that unholy civil war, and they have never been forgotten.

But what of the other young Republican "Irregulars" who were captured with them at Cluide, Corrandulla in February, 1923? They too were sentenced to death by the mere fact of being captured under arms.

Fortunately for them, the war ended before any more lives were ended in cold blood. They went their ways, one presumes, and carried the memories of those stirring and terrible times to the grave.

Recently I was interested to read about one of them, a man called Jim Cradock from Ballycasey, Headford. He was born in 1900 and joined the IRA some time after the epoch—making events of 1916 when the executions in Dublin made new martyrs for old Ireland and the mood of the country changed from acquiescence to British rule to a desire to rid ourselves of it at almost any cost.

While Jim was on the run with the IRA, his family home was burned out by the Black and Tans. So too was that of another family, the Dooleys, at Clooneen, three miles away. Nora Dooley and Jim Cradock were sweethearts: while her home was burning, he and his comrades were out in a field on a height from which they could see the blaze, but were helpless to do anything about it.

Eventually the War of Independence ended and the Black and Tans went home, but a worse war was to ensue when the Republican movement split into the Pro— and Anti—Treaty factions and civil war broke out.

Jim Cradock was a member of the First Galway Brigade under Comdt. Tom Maguire, which took the anti—treaty side. His group was captured at Cluide after an abortive raid on the Bank of Ireland at Headford and held in Galway jail, where the Cathedral now stands.

That April 10, Jim Cradock was told he was to be shot the following day in Tuam. But for some reason, another man was selected in his place. Jim Cradock later told his son that this man was "young, very frightened, and he felt terrible about it".

Nobody ever knew quite why he was spared, but his relatives (who thought for a while that he actually had been shot) later felt that the suffering of the family under the Black and Tans may have been a factor. Another theory was that there was a practice of executing younger people.

Neither does anyone know who was the person substituted for Jim Cradock in front of the firing squad in Tuam Workhouse, but it may have been Joseph O'Malley from Oughterard. The other five were all among those captured after the failed raid in Headford, but Joseph O'Malley had no connection with them.

In any event, Jim Cradock was released after the cease—fire and one of his first tasks was to assist in the re—building of the family home. After that there was not much work to be found, especially for men who had been on the wrong side in the Civil War. So, like many another, he sailed for America, one of what the writer Frank O'Connor called "the Lost Legion".

He had another reason to sail, though. Nora Dooley had left for Boston some time before, and he went after her. Jim and Nora were married at St. Theresa's in West Roxbury, and raised a family of six children in Jamaica Plains. He worked as a bartender, according to his son "the best bartender in Boston" and lived a quiet life. Their son, also called Jim, told his father's story in the March issue of the Boston Irish Reporter, which was passed on to me by a friend.

He described his Dad as being far from the typical roistering Irishman of popular imagination. He was rarely, cross or contrary; he brought his children on fishing trips, built bikes for them, was a great father, who surrounded his family with love. He liked to entertain guests in his hospitable home, and was described by some of the old timers in the neighbourhood as the finest Irishman they had ever met.

He died in 1965, relatively young, but fortunately he had managed to make a trip home to Ballycasey the year before. Delia died in l973.

Their son Jim, who told the story, was born in 1941. He served in the US Navy from 1963 to 1968, and later served in the Reserve,'; retiring as Captain. He graduated from law school in 1970 and practiced as a labour attorney for 20 years until he was appointed a Federal Law Administrative Judge in 1991. He and his wife Jean DiGregorio have four children and six grandchildren.

And they are all part of the legacy of Jim Cradock, born in Ballycasey in 1900, who came within a day of dying in Tuam at the age of 23. What might have sprung from the loins of the other young men, the six who died? We'll never know. They are just another few of the millions of needless deaths of the 20th century.