On 26 February 1927, Thomas Caddell died at his home in Gneevebawn, Tyrrellspass, succumbing to what the registrar for the district recorded as cardiac failure brought about by acute bronchitis. He was just twenty-nine years old.
Caddell was one of several Westmeath participants in the Irish revolution who died before getting a real chance to live the Ireland they helped to create. In most cases, the cause of death was severe illness attributable to one’s active service – like Joseph McCormack, a Moate man who served in the IRA’s North Roscommon Brigade before attaining the rank of captain in the National Army. McCormack, aged twenty-six, died just over two months after Caddell, yielding to tuberculosis brought on by ‘terrible hardships and exposure’ during the Irish Civil War.
In Thomas Caddell’s case, however, there was a more sinister genesis to his sad demise at such a young age – a savage beating received from a member of the Crown forces near Tyrrellspass in June 1921.
Caddell was born in Gneevebawn, Tyrrellspass on 6 February 1898, the son of Andrew, a farmer, and Mary Caddell, and the youngest of six children. Andrew was a tenant farmer on the Earl of Longford’s Gneevebawn estate before he and his young family were evicted during the 1890s. He then worked as a labourer, before being re-instated on his twenty-five-acre farm following the passage of the 1903 Wyndham Land Act, which created a new scheme of tenant land purchase attractive to both tenants and landlords.
Despite the past injustices suffered by the Caddells, there is no evidence that, prior to 1920, any of the family took an active role in the political life of their county and district. There was, however, a strong tradition of agrarian agitation in the district, and in 1914 this tradition merged with the nascent Irish Volunteer movement, under whose banner a branch was established in Tyrrellspass under the command of a young Catholic curate, Fr Patrick Smith. In November 1914, a number of ‘Fr Smith’s Volunteers’, as they became known, were involved in a cattle drive on the McKenna estate at Tore, Tyrrellspass. Though Smith was moved to another parish because of his activities, the level of zeal of the local Volunteer branch was maintained by the Malone brothers of Meedin, who led the company in a stand-off with the police during Easter week, 1916.
Thomas Caddell came of age during this time but neither he nor his brothers were involved in the events of late April and early May 1916. Activity reports for Tyrrellspass Company, 1 Offaly Brigade IRA show that the first notable involvement the Caddells had was in January 1919, when the company mobilised to stop local gentry involved in the Westmeath Hunt from hunting on lands at Dalystown and Middleton Park. This agitation was initiated by James King of Kilbride House, Gaybrook, the political activist and father-in-law of the Sinn Féin TD, Laurence Ginnell, as a means of pressuring the Lord Lieutenant, Viscount French, to push for the release of Sinn Féin prisoners. Two of Thomas’s older brothers, John and Andrew, were involved in this initiative, as well as raiding for guns and other routine Volunteer activities in 1920.
Thomas joined the IRA in February of that year. The scope of his activities, and his exact role, are difficult to pin down. In IRA membership rolls, Andrew Caddell is listed as a quartermaster for Tyrrellspass Company, while John and Thomas listed as ordinary Volunteers. In the Army Pensions Board’s assessment of Thomas’s 1924 wound pension claim, he is described as having held a rank similar to that of private. However, elsewhere in the same documentation, he is identified as ‘Section Commander A Coy. (Tyrrellspass), 3rd Battn., No. 1 Offaly Brigade’.
There is no evidence that Thomas was involved in the planning of execution of any major operations, beyond the routine activities of a regular Volunteer, such as carrying dispatches, or felling trees and trenching roads to make it difficult for Crown forces to move around the district.
It was this sort of work in which Caddell was engaged on 11 June 1921, when his life changed forever. Acting under the orders of his company OC, Edward Carley, he led his Volunteer section to a stretch of road between Mullingar and Tyrrellspass to carry out a road-blocking operation.
A National Army report to army pensions administrators in April 1924 outlines what happened next:
... he [Thomas Caddell] was met on the road near Tyrrellspass by Crown Forces and beaten with rifles. Whilst in a stooping position he received a severe blow with the but [sic] end of a rifle on the spine. He has not yet recovered from the injury. A number of shots were fired over Caddell’s head by R.I.C. and Black and Tans. He was then left in helpless condition on the road. Subsequently he was assisted to his home by some of his comrades. Applicant was treated by Dr. Rowan (Senior), Tyrrellspass, who sent him to the County Hospital Mullingar, where he spent three months.
Caddell was readmitted to hospital in 1922, where he was fitted with a spinal corset to further aid his recovery. However, by 1925, he had been reduced to a miserable existence. The steel supports for his spinal corset had broken away from the felt, and were pressing into his hips, causing him extreme discomfort. At just twenty-six years of age, he was ‘permanently disabled’ and unable to work. To compound matters, his condition had led to the development of dorsal spine tuberculosis.
Caddell was granted a wound pension of forty-two shillings per week in August 1924, subject to periodic medical re-examination. In addition, the government also agreed to supply him with two poroplastic corsets. The pension was renewed in the summers of 1925 and 1926, but Caddell died the following February.
Wound pension application for Thomas Caddell (file W1P6), brigade activity reports for 1 Offaly Brigade, 3 Southern Division IRA (file A17), nominal rolls for Tyrrellspass Company, 3 Battalion, 1 Offaly Brigade IRA (file RO/175), pension application for Joseph McCormack and dependents (files SP2230 and 2D99A) – Military Service Pensions Collection, Irish Military Archives; Westmeath Examiner, 11 June/12 July 1904; Paul Hughes, ‘Fr Smith’s Volunteers’ in Paul Hughes (ed.), Iarmhí ag Éirí (joint Westmeath Examiner/Westmeath Independent 1916 centenary supplement, April 2016), p. 12; 1901/1911 census returns, available at census.nationalarchives.ie; registrations of deaths/births for Tyrrellspass parish, available at IrishGenealogy.ie. The assistance of Thomas Caddell's grandnephew, Andy Caddell, in compiling this article is greatly appreciated.
Content Last Updated/Reviewed: 12/05/2021
This article was published on: 12th May, 2021
Filed under: Decade of Centenary