by P J Mathews
We all know we shouldn’t have favourites. And we have them anyway. My not so secret favourite in Skerries history is Patrick Mathews, stone cutter and Milverton Quarry foreman a century ago. Why? If you joined Skerries Historical Society’s first ever Zoom presentation, given by Prof. P. J. Mathews earlier this month, you will know all about him.
Prof. Mathews, the great grandson of Patrick Mathews, has been researching his formidable forebear for some years now and this is not the first talk we’ve had about him – indeed, he crept in to one of mine a couple of years ago, but that’s another story.
This was a special occasion however as the title of the talk will show: ‘The Shooting of Patrick Mathews, 22 November 1920’. It’s a century since the Black and Tans forced their way into Patrick Mathews’ home. P. J.’s mission was to look at the reasons why Patrick Mathews might have been singled out by the British forces.
Patrick was a political animal. He was a member of the United Irish League, the Land League, Irish Nation League and the Town Tenants’ League. If there was a league going, Patrick was a member of it. His work for the Town Tenants gives us a good notion of what type of man he was: when the Tiernan family of Red Island, having lost their breadwinner, was being evicted for failure to pay their rent, the bailiffs were backed up by forty to fifty RIC men. Patrick came up with an interesting solution. He mustered the local brass and reed band and got them to rally support on Red Island. And the Tiernans kept their home.
1914 was a busy year for Mr Mathews. He was elected a member of the Balrothery Rural District Council but also joined the Skerries Volunteers and took part in the Howth Gun Running in August of that year.
Despite joining the volunteers, he seems to have been more of an organiser, agitator and consciousness raiser than a soldier. Certainly there is no record of him taking part in the 1916 Rising although that could have been because he was already in his fifties by that time. His eldest son, on the other hand, called Patrick like his father, was also a Volunteer and active in the Fingal Brigade.
So it’s possible that the Black and Tans were after Patrick Junior rather than Patrick Senior when they beat on the door of the Mathews’ home in Chapel Street in the early hours of 22 November 1920. It was the third time they had come to the Mathews home after dark in the course of that year. The first time they were definitely after Patrick Junior. But Patrick Senior was also a thorn in the side of the British establishment. Perhaps, in the end, the Tans didn’t care who they shot, as long as they shot someone. Luckily he survived and was one of the first Peace Commissioners appointed by the new Free State in 1924. There is so much to this son of Skerries. In this space it is only possible to give you the edited highlights.