Compensation Claim for Death of Nicholas Prendergast

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The document seen here is an application for compensation for loss of life or property during the Irish War of Independence.  This application was submitted on 18 February 1921, by Eileen Prendergast, who was seeking financial compensation, totaling £10,000, from the British government for the murder of her husband, Nicholas de Sales Prendergast.  Mr. Prendergast was the proprietor of the Blackwater Hotel in Fermoy and was well known in the area.  On 1 December 1920 Members of the British Auxiliary Forces stationed in Fermoy, Ireland murdered Nicholas Prendergast after an altercation with him in the Royal Hotel in Fermoy.  Interesting to note was that Prendergast, while a nationalist who wanted to see Home Rule enacted, was not known to be sympathetic to Sinn Fein or the Irish Republican Army and had served in the British Army during the Great War.[1]  This would seem to make him an unlikely target for the Auxiliary forces, however his murder highlights the divide between the Auxiliaries and Irish Citizens.  The Auxiliaries had seen their own men ambushed and killed by members of the IRA in civilian attire and were therefore wary and hateful towards the Irish populace whom they viewed as beneath them.

James Coss, a Fermoy Battalion intelligence officer, recounted the events of Prendergast’s murder in the witness statement he gave to the Irish Bureau of Military History, years after the War of Independence.  According to Coss, the Auxiliaries entered the Royal Hotel on 1 December 1920 and began to cause trouble in the bar by harassing the customers.  Prendergast stood up to the Auxiliaries and told them that he had been a Captain in the British Army during the Great War and that they would not push him around or disrespect him.  The Auxiliaries told Prendergast that “The Irish in the were no damn good and that all Irishmen were the same.”  The Auxiliaries then physically assaulted Prendergast, punching and kicking him until he was motionless on the floor.  They dragged his body out of the Royal Hotel and threw it into the Blackwater River.[2]

A later account published in the Irish Times on 31 October 1921, when the claim was being heard before the court, stated some alternative facts regarding Prendergast’s murder.  According to the Times article, five Auxiliaries booked rooms for the night at the Royal Hotel on 1 December 1920.  They also booked a room at the Blackwater Hotel for their driver.  While at the Blackwater, an altercation took place between the Auxiliaries and Prendergast, who took offense to one of the men pulling out a revolver.  Later that night, Prendergast went to the Royal Hotel bar and was approached by one of the Auxiliaries who accused him of being in the IRA.  Prendergast denied the accusation and informed the men that he had served in the British Army and that the IRA were his enemy.  The Auxiliaries asked Prendergast to show his papers. Prendergast refused to do so and instead stated that he would report them to the police the next day.  The Auxiliaries then dragged him from the hotel and beat him in the town square before dumping his body into the river. [3]

If a previous altercation did occur at the Blackwater Hotel between Prendergast and the Auxiliaries, then that provides them with some motive for murder.  One of the Auxiliary soldiers had become so enraged with Prendergast during that altercation that he felt the need to pull out his revolver to threaten him.  When the Auxiliaries saw him enter the bar at the Royal Hotel later that evening, they likely saw an opportunity to take revenge Prendergast for the trouble he gave them earlier in the evening.  Since Prendergast refused to cooperate with their demands, the Auxiliaries utilized physical force to make an example of him and intimidate the populace into submission so that they would not have any further resistance.

Prendergast’s body wasn’t found for almost a month after his murder, his decomposing remains finally washed up in Clondulane.  A military inquest into his death ruled that “a person or persons unknown, belonging to His Majesty’s Forces, known as the Auxiliaries; said person or persons are guilty of willful murder.”  The compensation case claim was heard in Cork in October 1921, where the Recorder in Cork referred to Prendergast’s death as a “cowardly and atrocious murder.”  Eileen Prendergast sought £10,000 in compensation for her husband’s murder, but she was only awarded a total of £6,500 – £3,500 for herself and £1,500 each for her two children.[4]

This document is important because it highlights one of the many atrocities committed in Ireland during the War of Independence.  It also showcases how many people sought some form of financial compensation for losses that they suffered during the war.  Some claims were made for property, while others were made to compensate for the loss of a human life.  Each claim was equally important to the person filing the case and the money awarded was often essential for their future survival and livelihood.  The National Archives in Ireland houses an extensive collection of the claims that can be viewed in their reading room.

NOTES:

1. Cork War of Independence Fatality Register http://theirishrevolution.ie/1920-155/#.XDTVS1xKiUk

2. James Coss, BMH WS 1065, 8-9

3. Irish Times 31 October 1921

4. Irish Times 31 October 1921

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