Such a lowly piece of furniture to exhibit so grandiose a claim!
A gold plaque attached to its back reads: "The Bravest Men in Ireland Sat in this Chair---The Old IRA." Where did the chair come from, and by what stretch of hyperbole did the inscription come to be placed on the back of a seemingly ordinary wooden chair made in Ballyhaunis in 1916?
After the War, the chair had been dismantled, placed in a shipping crate, and misdirected to several countries in Europe (Italy, France, and the Netherlands) before reaching its final destination in Boston, Massachusetts.
Read More: The common men who freed Ireland
And what a dilapidated specimen of craftsmanship it presented after reassembly---a singed crescent in the back slat coupled with a huge hole in the seat. Brave men sitting in it indeed---more than likely simple men, audacious and/or distracted individuals. What pomp, what an outlandish proclamation, and yet what profound truth.
For the chair had been one of a set of eight made for the Vaughan family of Cloonsuck, County Roscommon. On it had rested the fighting men of the 1st Battalion South Flying Column---daring, bold, uncaring as to their own physical safety, burning with a desire to free Ireland.
On this chair was seated Martin Ganley, Ned Shannon, or John Vaughan on the morning of 22 June 1921, when a thunderous explosion of crashing glass startled the men and roused them from their drowsy state. Vaughan lobbed a hand grenade out into the midst of the Black and Tans who had surrounded the house. Failing to explode, it offered no protection or distraction for the men trapped inside. Grabbing the chair and holding it up in front of him to serve as a shield, one of the men attempted to deflect the ravages of bullets streaming unceasingly from the gun barrels of the Tans. Shannon and Vaughan decided to bolt for the back door where fields might provide an escape route. It was not to be.
Unbeknownst to them, another squad of Tans had assembled on the west side of the house and to the rear. When Shannon and Vaughan entered the clearing, they were greeted by a barrage of lead that tore through their bodies. Vaughan died within minutes, Shannon a short time later after his body had been placed on a cart by the Tans and was on route to Castlerea. Fearing the worst, Mrs. Ellen Vaughan attempted to go to her son's body which lay in the field. One of the Tans struck her with a rifle butt.
Ganley, who had remained behind in the house, at first hid from the soldiers. Upon a second search, however, the Tans found him and John's brother, Tom. The two men were herded out onto the road along with other family members who had been aroused from a sound sleep by the commotion. Not content with killing two men, another group of Tans climbed to the roof and attempted to set the thatch ablaze. Meanwhile inside the house, the furniture, the dishes, every item of value was heaved and tossed. The wooden chair, on which had been seated any one of the three, was but one of many items whirled in the tornado of destruction.
Martin Ganley survived that day. He was arrested, court-martialled, and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude at Mountjoy. He was released following the Treaty.
Tom Vaughan, who at the time was suffering from a recent bout of pneumonia, was beaten senseless, arrested, and taken to Athlone Barracks whereupon a doctor ordered his release three months later due to his ill health. Tom was to suffer throughout his lifetime from the thrashing he endured that terrible day in June.
And the chair, a witness to one of many battles for freedom in Ireland, what of it? It stands, complete with golden plaque, next to a fireplace in the living room of Pat Vaughan's daughter in Cape Cod, Massachusetts where it bears stoic testimony to truly brave young men, who lived not to see the birds flutter and grass bend in the late summer breeze of 1921.
Source: Filmed interview with Pat Vaughan, 10 April 1995, Boston, Mass
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