Glountane Explosion Commemoration 95 Years to the Day

Tom Fleming Monument in Glounthane 16-6-2014
Eamonn Breen (left) and Patrick O’Leary marking the anniversary of Volunteer Tom Fleming by placing a wreath on his monument at the spot in Glountane where he was killed in an explosives accident on Thursday, June 16-1921. ©Photograph: John Reidy

On this Thursday, June 16th. 2016 a wreath will be laid at the site of an accidental explosion at Glountane where Tom Fleming lost his life and a number of others were injured on Thursday, June 16th. 1921. The main speaker at the event will be well known historian, Martin Moore.

This is part of the 1916 – 2016 commemorations and will take place at 8pm on this Thursday, June 16th at the monument in Glountane and all are welcome.

Captain Peter Browne, Scartaglin

In a vivid account in the Bureau of Military History 1913-1921, Captain Peter Browne of the Scartaglin Company Irish Volunteers tells the story of that fateful afternoon in June 1921.

“We stayed at Kilquane, Cordal, that night, and the following day, having nothing else on, some of us decided to pay a visit to a battalion engineering camp that was being held at Glountane, Cordal, a short distance away.

Tom Fleming, formerly of the Brigade Column, was in charge of the class. He was a native of Currow and had been in my section in the column. I had sworn him into the Volunteers in Tralee in 1918, where he worked as a mechanic before going on the run after participating in the seizure of arms at Tralee railway station.

Class in Full Swing

Irish Volunteers Plaque Unveiling 24-4-2016
Historian, Martin Moore (right) pictured with John O’Donoghue. Mr. Moore will be the guest speaker at Thursday evening’s commemoration in Glountane. ©Photograph: John Reidy

The class was in full swing when we arrived in the afternoon. There were representatives of all the companies of the battalion attending the class. The purpose was to instruct suitable men from each company to prepare and set off a land mine.

The explosives used were home-manufactured ‘Black Powder’ made from charcoal and saltpetre. An electric detonator and electric battery were used to set off the charge. The class was assembled on a by-road a short distance off the public road in a very remote and hilly part of the area.

There was little danger of surprise from the enemy so there was no guard out locally. The instructor carried out a demonstration and for the purpose he had filled the iron box of a horse cart wheel with black powder. One end of the box he had previously sealed up with a block of wood while he packed the powder gently into the’box’ through the open end.

All Interested

We were all interested in the demonstration and were seated on the side of the road in two rows facing each other, with our legs into the dyke of the road. I was directly in front of Tom Fleming, the instructor, with my back against the earthen fence.

He had previously cautioned all about the danger of smoking and the electric battery and wires were put carefully aside while the filling was going on. He had the ‘box’ between his knees. The man on the other side of him was holding the ‘box’ steady while he packed in the last of the powder and drove in with a hammer the plug of wood intended to seal the second end through which wire from the detonator extended. The conversation was general.

An aeroplane passed overhead going towards Cork. As the day was very fine and clear somebody suggested that we should remain motionless as the plane passed as we could be seen. Someone else suggested blowing up the plane.

A Loud Explosion

Scarcely were the words uttered when there was a loud explosion. I was blown back against the fence, while through a dense smoke I could see men scrambling on either side of me. I thought the plane had dropped a bomb. I got to my feet and stumbled over somebody. I lifted up the body. It was Tom Fleming. The smoke was clearing and I said something.

The man I had lifted recognised my voice and said ‘For God’s sake put a bullet through me.’

I could notice clearly his mangled body while I tried to console him. I sent for priest and doctor, though realising that he had no need for the latter.

While he repeated the act of contrition after me . He was bleeding from several gashes in his legs, head, hands and body. I endeavoured to stop the main arteries with assistance, hoping to keep him alive until the priest arrived, but gradually he grew fainter and fainter until finally, after about ten minutes, he passed out. There was no time for sentiment.

Others were rolling in agony round me.

In a Bad Way

I turned my attention to them and found two of them in a bad way. The flesh was burning off them. They had got a blast of the powder in the face and clothes, as well as some cuts from flying scrap.

There were others with less injuries lying around so I had a look at them and concentrated on the more serious cases. After months of treatment under doctor’s care they all survived, one with the loss of an eye and a few fingers off.

It was a sad procession as we journeyed from Glountane to Mullen with the dead body of our comrade and to Kilsarcon churchyard the following day when he was laid to rest.

The funeral, considering the time and the danger, was immense and was vividly representative of all adjacent parishes.