Fermoy GAA club honour Michael Fitzgerald with new jerseys

Freedom fighter died on hunger strike in 1920 and the club grounds are named after him
Fermoy GAA club honour Michael Fitzgerald with new jerseys

Close-up of the sleeve of the special jerseys worn by Fermoy in 2022, commemorating Michael Fitzgerald, who died in 1920. Picture courtesy Fermoy GAA.

While Fermoy GAA Club had hoped to honour Mick Fitzgerald in 2020, the centenary of his death, the inclusion of his image on their jerseys this year is a fitting tribute.

Fermoy have enjoyed opening-round victories in both the Bons Secours Hospital SAFC and Co-op SuperStores SAHC, sporting a new kit that features on its sleeves the man after whom the club’s grounds are named.

Fermoy's Adam Creed in action against Bishopstown's Simon Collins in the Bons Secours Hospital Cork Senior A Football Championship at Rathcormac. Picture: Gavin Browne
Fermoy's Adam Creed in action against Bishopstown's Simon Collins in the Bons Secours Hospital Cork Senior A Football Championship at Rathcormac. Picture: Gavin Browne

Fitzgerald, who was born in 1881, died on hunger strike in October 1920, the first IRA volunteer to die in such a way during the War of Independence, but he is overshadowed in public memory by fellow hunger-striker Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork, who died shortly after.

Having had a variety of employment in the area, Fitzgerald joined the ranks of the local Irish Volunteers after the 1916 Rising, with the arrests of the Kents from Castlelyons – and the execution of Volunteer leader Thomas Kent – a factor.

After involvement in a series of arms raids, Fitzgerald was charged with possession of seditious literature in 1919 and spent three minutes in solitary confinement in Cork Gaol.

Later that year, on September 7, Liam Lynch led members of the Cork No. 2 Brigade in what became known as the Fermoy arms raid, an attempt by the Volunteers to seize arms belonging to members of the South Shropshire regiment as they made their way to a local church. It was the first military engagement the Irish Volunteers had had with British soldiers since the Easter Rising.

At 10.30am that morning, 14 soldiers and a corporal marched from the British military barracks in Fermoy to make their way to the Wesleyan Church. Fitzgerald was among the 25 or so Volunteers involved in the ambush, in which 19-year-old British soldier Private William Jones died. A reprisal by the British military – the first of its kind – followed in Fermoy that night. Fitzgerald and four others were later taken into custody and held in cells in the local RIC barracks. Fitzgerald was later charged with the murder of the soldier who was shot dead in the Fermoy arms raid. He refused to recognise the court.

During the summer of 1920, the trial was transferred to Derry. There on July 21, the grand jury acquitted several of the men. However, Fitzgerald, along with two others, were deemed to have taken part in the killing of Jones and were remanded in custody.

HUNGER STRIKE

Fitzgerald began a hunger strike at his continued detention without trial in August 1920. It would last just over two months. By October 10, Fitzgerald was unable to take a drink of water, and his sight and hearing began to fade. Over the next few days, he was in a semi-conscious state and on October 15 he lapsed into unconsciousness. It was at 9.45pm on October 16, the 67th day of his hunger strike, Michael Fitzgerald died surrounded by priests and nuns reciting the rosary.

From Cork City, Fitzgerald’s coffin was taken from Cork city for a funeral mass at St Patrick’s Church in Fermoy. Arrangements were made for Liam Lynch, then on the run, to pay his respects on the night prior to the funeral.

In 1922, Fermoy Urban Place voted to rename Old Market Place in Fermoy town to Fitzgerald Place. In 1945, the GAA grounds – on the site of a former British Army barracks, were named Michael Fitzgerald Park. On the 50th anniversary of Fitzgerald’s death in 1970, a memorial to him was unveiled by his family and surviving comrades in O’Rahilly Row in Fermoy, still standing today at the site of the Fermoy arms raid in September 1919.

Speaking at the launch of the commemorative jersey, former Fermoy chairperson and current development committee member Brendan Keane said: “As a keen Gaelic games supporter he would be gratified with the ongoing development of the facilities named after him.

“Within weeks, under David Ryan, chairperson of our development committee, we will commence construction of an all-weather pitch behind the stand.

This is the start of an extensive redevelopment next year, which will include new dressing rooms, spectator and player area.

“We are delighted to welcome members of Mick Fitzgerald’s family here tonight to mark the centenary with the commissioning and hand over a set of special commemorative jerseys to be proudly worn by Fermoy in this year’s championships.

“It is a small mark of respect for a man who made a big contribution. Our thanks to Laya Healthcare for their continued involvement and sponsorship.”


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