Carlow Solicitor Takes Down Two IRA Men in Career-Ending Gun Battle, 1923

From the Freeman’s Journal, 19 February 1923:

INDOMITABLE COURAGE

RAIDERS FOUGHT BY CARLOW SOLICITOR

TABLES TURNED

INTRUDERS SHOT: ONE KILLED

Sensational to an almost incredible degree is the account that has just come to hand of experiences that befell Mr Edward S Maffett, a Co Carlow solicitor, and his family some time ago.

Held at the point of the gun by two men, who were ransacking his house, he succeeded in eluding his captors, armed himself with an automatic pistol, and in the most dramatic fashion turned the tables on the raiders, killing one and seriously wounding the other.

Although the tragic affair took place on January 5, the details have, for some unexplained reason, not been previously disclosed.

THE CALL TO HALT

Mr Maffett has offices in Carlow, but resides at ‘Thornville,’ about four miles on the Dublin side of the town, in close proximity to the well-known Burton Hall.  The house is a spacious old Georgian mansion, standing about 80 yards off the road, and approached by a winding avenue.

On the morning in question Mr Maffett left as was his practice, at 10.30 o’clock to cycle to his office.  He had only reached the top of a steep hill about 200 yards from the house when he was suddenly called on to halt by a young man sheltering behind a wall on the left hand side of the road.  Mr Maffett had no option but to dismount, and the young man, afterwards ascertained to be Patrick Bermingham, scrambled across the road and approached him.

He ordered Mr Maffett to put up his hands, and kept him in that position for three or four minutes, whilst a second man, to whom he had whistled, approached across a fied.

OMINOUS WORDS

During this interval Mr Maffett asked what was the reason for being held up. 

The young man replied by asking ‘Are you Maffett?’ and, receiving an answer in the affirmative, said ‘You will soon know the reason damned well.’

On the arrival of the second man, Edward Snoddy, Bermingham said ‘I have got him’.   

The two men searched Mr Maffett, after which they ordered him to return home, saying that they wanted to search the house for arms.

While walking up the avenue to the house Snoddy, pointing a revolver at Mr Maffett, said ‘If we get any arms in the house I’ll plug you.’

The men were met at the halldoor by Mrs Maffett, who was naturally surprised to see her husband coming up the avenue with his strange escort.

DUEL ON THE STAIRS

What happened in the house is best told in the words of Mr Maffett himself, as related to a Freeman’s Journal representative who visited the scene.

‘I went in first, followed by the two men, who first searched the dining-room, where they found an air gun and two or three old cartridges that had been lying for years in a drawer.  They then said they were going to search the upper part of the house.  I led the way upstairs, and went first to the schoolroom, which has a separate staircase.’

‘As you can see,’ said Mr Maffett when showing our representative through the house, ‘this schoolroom has two doors – one at the head of the stairs and the other leading into a bedroom, which in turn communicates with the top landing, off which is my dressing-room.  The men did not notice this second door, as there was a heavy portiere curtain hanging over it.’

While the men were engaged searching a cupboard at the opposite side of the room, Mr Maffett, who had been standing near the concealed door, quickly slipped through it.

SUCCESSFUL STRATEGY

‘I pulled the double doors after me and in a second reached my dressing-room, and opened a black tin box in which I had my automatic pistol.  Having secured the automatic I took up my position on the top landing, from which I commanded a view of the stairs from the schoolroom, and also the double door through which I escaped.’

‘I was barely there,’ he proceeded, ‘before I heard Bermingham coming down the stairs and then I saw his head and revolver coming round the foot of the staircase.  He saw me immediately and raised his revolver to fire, but I fired before he had time to do so and he fell, the revolver dropping out of his hand.’

‘I then watched for the other man, who immediately after the shot rushed at me through the double doorway, and I fired at him.  He turned back immediately for cover, and just as he was entering I fired again, thinking I had missed him, the first time.  He then fell in the door way and did not move again.’

Mrs Moffett stated to our representative that shortly after Bermingham went out she heard a shot, and said to her youngest daughter, ‘Ruby, is that your daddy?’ – thinking Mr Maffett had been shot.  She ran through the double door, and Ruby followed. 

Snoddy shouted to her to come back, and caught hold of Ruby by the arm, but the latter, who is a fine athletic girl of about 17 years, struck him in the face with her clenched fist, and broke away.  She heard the other shots and afterwards saw that Snoddy was lying on the floor.

In the meantime Bermingham, who had been shot through the side of the face, tried to get hold of the revolver he had dropped, but was prevented in time by the older girl, Muriel, who snatched it away from his reach.

WOUNDED MAN’S BOMB

Mr Maffett then went down to the lobby, where Bermingham was lying.  The latter asked for a drink of water, and Mr Maffett said whiskey would be better, and sent his daughter Ruby to get some, which she brought in a tumbler with water.

‘I lifted him up to give him a drink,’ said the solicitor, ‘but observing him putting his right hand into his overcoat pocket, I dropped him and searched his pocket, in which I found a Mills No 5 bomb.

His daughter afterwards cycled into Carlow to report the matter to the military, who at once rushed to the scene, and took away the dead body of Edward Snoddy and the wounded man, Patrick Bermingham.

DEFENDED HIS HOME

Asked by our representative whether he could offer any explanation of why the men held him up and searched the house, Mr Maffett said the only reason he could suggest was that one night some months ago a party of Irregulars, some 40 strong, had tried to break into the house.

He had fired on them, shots had been exchanged and the party went away.  After that, Mr Maffett had sandbags placed on the windows in case of a repetition of this attack.   He received threatening letters at the time, but paid no heed to them.

Mr Maffett is a native of the county, and has been established all his life in practice in Carlow.  In politics he was always a Unionist, but like so many men of his way of thinking in the Free State, he has philosophically accepted the new order of things, and was quite ready to give the new Government full recognition and loyal service.  He has never taken sides in the present conflict.

RAIDERS’ RECORDS

Edward Snoddy, who was shot dead, belonged to Blackbog, outside Carlow.  He had been a railway porter, and was a political prisoner till quite recently.   It appears he had been arrested by the military and, pending trial, had been sent to a military hospital as a consequence of injuries received at the time of his arrest.  He escaped only a few days before his death and was, it is said ‘on the run,’ at the time of the raid on Mr Maffett’s.

A DESPERATE ATTACK

Attention has been further roused by an attempt on Saturday, February 10, to murder Mr Maffett.  He was driving home from his office about 2 o’clock that day, when three shots were fired from behind a road fence at practically the same spot where he was previously held up.

Since the occurrence the house has been occupied by a strong guard of National troops.”

Alfred Harmsworth BL and Geraldine Maffett, parents of newspaper proprietor Alfred Harmsworth.

Mr Maffett was the son of William Maffett, an Irish barrister. His aunt Geraldine had married another Dublin barrister, Alfred Harmsworth BL; they subsequently moved to England. Their son, another Alfred Harmsworth, went on to revolutionise the British newspaper industry by founding the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail – just one of many Irish legal offspring to make their names in areas outside the legal world!

There was some surprise – and not just in papers controlled by the Harmsworth family – when the Carlow inquest jury returned a verdict of manslaughter by Mr Maffett. Though subsequently arrested and remanded on bail, it does not seem that he was ever prosecuted. Perhaps a compromise was reached. On April 23, 1923, a notice appeared in the local paper to say that he had retired from the business of solicitor, and that his practice had been acquired by Mr O’Donnell, ‘a popular local practitioner.’

After that, Mr Maffett, aged 59 at the date of his retirement, occupied his time with farming, sport and fishing, occasionally surfacing in newspaper reports of shareholders’ meetings. His 1948 obituary in the Nationalist and Leinster Times described him as a foundation member of the Bective Rugby Football Club who had come to Carlow in 1893 and practised at Leinster Crescent with a very extensive practice in Carlow and surrounding counties.

At Carlow Circuit Court the following week, Judge Sealy referred to Mr Maffett’s recent death, saying that although the name of the deceased could only be a name to most lawyers in court as he had retired very many years ago, he, as a member of the Bar, had known Mr Maffett very well and he was a man of great ability in the profession and of high integrity. He was a very satisfactory man to deal with and he never concealed his opinion about any man. His clients, in whose interest he never spared himself, appreciated that. Mr R O’Hanrahan BL, as senior member of the Leinster Bar present, said that, although the late Mr Maffett was a practitioner in that Court long before they came there, the current Carlow Bar had heard of him as a man of character and ability who did his best for his clients without fear or favour. Mr Maffett’s descendants now live abroad.

The remains of Ned Snoddy, aged 18, were first conveyed to Carlow Military Barracks and then to his father’s residence at Blackbog, where they lay overnight, numerous people coming to pay their respect to the dead and sympathy with the living. The subsequent interment took place in the family burial ground, Ballinacarrig, and, according to the Irish Independent of January 1924, the funeral was large, all classes, creeds and shades of political thought being represented. The funeral cortege was preceded by the Graigecullen Fife and Drum Band, playing appropriate music along the route. Following the coffin was a large guard of honour, composed of the dead man’s comrades in the Carlow Brigade IRA and the Carlow Cumann na mBan. The general public followed. A volley was fired over the grave and the ‘Last Post’ sounded, and the large crowds then dispersed.

The loss of one man’s life – and another’s career! Would Mr Maffett have been better not to resist? Or would he have been shot had he not done so? Where does a man’s right to defend himself begin – and end? Would any of this have ever happened if the Carlow Brigade of the IRA had considered that a solicitor might have the skill and determination to protect himself and his family?

Just one of a multitude of tragic stories during a decade of change!

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