Echoes of 1921: Holzer’s Paranormal Investigation of a North Kerry Tragedy

The Lively Ghosts of Ireland (1967) by American based parapsychologist and author, Hans Holzer (1920-2009), illustrated by his (then) wife, Catherine Geneviève Buxhoeveden, author of Growing up Haunted A Ghostly Memoir (2008), is the product of paranormal investigations in Ireland in the 1960s.[1]  It includes a number of tales from ‘the rocky Kerry Coast.’


Before he made his journey to Ireland, Holzer researched potential locations for investigations in which he was assisted by the late Gordon Clark, and the late Patrick Francis ‘The Ghost’ Byrne, author of Irish Ghost Stories (1965).[2]


Holzer arrived into Shannon airport in the summer of 1966 with his wife and the British medium, Sybil Leek (1917-1982).  They travelled to Kilcolgan Castle, Co Galway, where Sybil had arranged for them to stay and which would be their headquarters.  However, Holzer found the accommodation unsuitable, and the party journeyed on in search of something more imposing, which resulted in accommodation at Dromoland Castle, Co Clare.


From there, they travelled to the ‘sleepy old town of Listowel’:


It was quite a sight we gave the townspeople, Catherine, elegant as ever, Sybil Leek in purple, and me, heavily burdened with tape recorders and cameras.  It is to the eternal credit of the people of Listowel that no one ever asked us any questions.[3]


Holzer had been given the name of playwright, Eamon Keane (1925-1990), to assist in locating a number of properties in the town believed to be haunted.  Holzer had learned this much from Listowel native, Patrick Maloney, of Queens Village, New York who had lived in America for forty-three years and worked as a supervisor in ‘one of the larger mental institutions near New York.’[4]  Holzer had been advised to make acquaintance with Eamon Keane in his bar:


Mr Keane was most helpful.  He knew what I was looking for, and he offered to take me to a man who had had some experiences and could tell me about them firsthand.


Holzer was introduced to John Garren, who had lived in Listowel for fifty-seven years.  Mr Garren directed him to a house on Convent Street called Glauna Foka, ‘Glen of the Fairies.’[5]


Being unsuccessful in gaining admission there, the party moved on to find ‘O’Connor’s house’ in Greenville Road ‘near the mill,’ but this had property had recently become the home of a Mrs Healy.


‘There is a need for silence here’


The party pressed on again to try to locate a monument at a crossroads ‘following Patrick Maloney’s crudely drawn map.’  They ‘wasted an hour going up and down wrong country roads’ before locating a crossroads that matched Maloney’s description, ‘but no Celtic Cross in sight.’  Holzer described what happened next:


Leaving Sybil with Catherine in the car, I set out on foot to explore the land beyond the road.  About twenty yards inside the area, I suddenly came upon the monument … there it was, set back from prying eyes, beyond which stood a tall Celtic Cross.  Before the cross were three graves, inscribed only in Gaelic.  Beyond the graves the hill sloped gently towards the faraway Kerry Coast.


Sybil was asked to come forward, and said:


There is peace here, but only on the outside.  On my right there seems to be an old building in the distance.  I feel it is connected with this spot.  It is a tragic, desperate spot, with a lot of unhappiness, helplessness – something had to happen here.  There is mental torture.


Sybil was asked if anyone had died there, and looking at the memorial, replied in the affirmative:


As you see yourself the inscriptions are in Gaelic and I don’t understand Gaelic, but I think this was forty years ago, between forty and fifty years ago – there was fighting, and it was unexpected.  Coming again from the right of me, some mortal conflict involving death of several people.


Sybil was asked how many people, and she replied, ‘I can see two.’  She was asked if any presence remained there:


The two, because these are the people that I feel.  Why, I don’t know, but again, the building on my right seems to interest the people and myself.  Two men.  Perhaps they’re only guarding something.  Something to watch in this area, always watching the countryside.  Perhaps they had to watch the countryside and still must do so.


Sybil was asked why the men were still there, and to describe their physical appearance and their dress, and observed, ‘I don’t see uniforms, very ordinary dress, trousers, ordinary clothes of about forty-five years ago.’


She added that they were ‘serving something, but I don’t know what.  No uniforms, but they are serving.’  Pressed for more information, Sybil stated they were serving ‘Something noisy.  I think they’ve been shot.  One in the shoulder, near the heart.’


Holzer asked Sybil to inform the two men that the war was long over and they should return home to their families.  Holzer asked Sybil if there was a response:


The main man still stands, but the other one is gone now.  Patrick is his name … I think he goes to the right now.


Gortaglanna: 12 May 1921


There can be no question that Holzer and his team carried out their investigation at Gortaglanna, which is located between Listowel and Athea, and where on 12 May 1921, three unarmed men were shot dead.[6]  The killings occurred in the wake of the murder of Sir Arthur Edward Vicars, former keeper of the Irish Crown Jewels, who was shot outside his home in Kilmorna on 14 April 1921.


On the evening of 12 May 1921, four men met on the road to Gortaglanna and sat on the parapet of the bridge in the hollow of the road.  They were all members of the IRA.  Many people met them there, including Father O’Shea, CC, who warned them it was not a safe place to be conversing at a time when British Forces were combing the district.


Suddenly a crowded lorry with came into view and swept down on them:


After the usual man-handling they were pushed roughly into the lorry, driven about half a mile of the road in the Listowel direction, when they were taken into a field, placed up against a ditch, and a shooting party appointed by Smyth.  The order of fire was given, the three young martyrs fell dead but in some manner that seems miraculous, Con Dee, a splendid athlete, sprang from the rank of the dead and though accompanied by the death-carrying bullets, escaped with a rather painful wound in the leg.[7]


‘Ireland Unfree shall never be at Peace’


On the first anniversary of the killings, Friday 12 May 1922, all business in the town of Listowel was suspended in memory of the four men.[8] They were Patrick Walsh (1894-1921),[9] Patrick Dalton (1896-1921),[10] Jeremiah Lyons (1897-1921),[11] and Cornelius Joseph Dee (1897-1967).[12]


In 1925, the plot at Gortaglanna was decorated for the fourth anniversary, where a banner read: ‘While Ireland holds these graves, Ireland Unfree shall never be at Peace.[13]


A memorial project was undertaken by the North Kerry Republican Soldiers’ Memorial Committee in 1939.[14]  In 1948, survivor Con Dee Con Dee wrote from America where he was living and requested the unveiling ceremony be postponed until 1949 when he hoped to be able to be present.[15]  However, it did not transpire.  A Celtic Cross was unveiled on Sunday 14 May 1950 when Padraig O Ceallacain, chairman of North Kerry Republican Memorial Committee, read a message from Con Dee in Chicago.


Never a day passes that the tragedy of that glorious morning is not re-enacted on the plain of my memory.  I see again the flashes of the rifles.  I hear once more the thud of the riddled bodies of my loving pals as they fall to earth at my side.  I traverse anew the fields and fences of Carrauerach and the marshy moor of Moinvianloch in my dash to freedom … from the depths of my heart I pray God and His Blessed Mother to guide and guard you all and so hasten the day when the greatest of all memorials – Emmet’s Epitaph, will be erected.[16]


About five thousand people gathered for the ceremony which began at Knockanure led by the Paddy Dalton Memorial Band, Athea, supported by the Lixnaw Pipers Band:


The cemented enclosure has three circular spots of grass to mark the places where the three men met their deaths, and it also indicates where Mr Con Dee stood before he made a dramatic and successful dash for liberty from his captors.[17]


One Century On: Gortaglanna Monument is testament to the horrific events of 1921


The Houlihan and Walshe Bridge (Cashen Ferry Bridge), opened (officially) on 1 February 1962, was named after Patrick Walsh, Coolard, Lisselton, shot at Gortaglanna 12 May 1921.[18]


Many songs and ballads, such as The Ballad of Knockanure, record the tragedy.


[1] Countess Catherine Genevieve Buxhoeveden, daughter of Mrs Hans Kessler of Lake Ronkonkoma, L.I., and the late Count Alexander Buxhoeveden of Paris, was married to Hans Holzer, son of Leo Holzer of New York in Noroton, Connecticut in 1962.

[2] Holzer visited Ireland in 1965 and 1966.  ‘Gordon Clark wrote to me in longhand, enclosing a magazine which had published an account of a haunting that might interest me’ (p3). Guy Lawrence Gordon Clark (1928-2020), son of Henry Michael Gordon Clark.  Mr Lawrence Clark married in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Shipley, Sussex in 1952 to Pauline Guise Fairrie, daughter of Mrs P B Fairrie, of Durrance Manor, Shipley.

‘Byrne kindly showed me the manuscript of his planned cyclopedia of ghostlore’ (p3).  Patrick Francis Byrne (1919-1999), better known as ‘Paddy Byrne,’ was for many years associated with the Dublin Evening Herald in which he conducted a series of articles about ghosts.  See obituary, with accompanying photograph, Evening Herald, 5 February 1999, ‘The Final Chapter of a Fine Storyteller.’  See also Byrne’s articles, ‘Looking for Irish Haunted Houses,’ (Evening Herald, 16 November 1965) and ‘Witch Joins in Ghosthunt’ (Evening Herald, 19 July 1966).  In the above articles, Mr Holzer requested those with information about ghosts to write to him at 140 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10024, EN 2-2822. 

The magazine sent to Holzer by Gordon Clark appears to have been Ireland of the Welcomes published by the Irish Tourist Board, the article, ‘On the Trail of a Ghost’ by Captain Patrick Denis O’Donnell, Volume 12, No 4, Nov-Dec 1963 (this article is referred to in another chapter from Holzer’s book, ‘Ballyheigue is Calling, or The Ghost on the Kerry Coast’ (pp25-34) which includes a sketch of the castle).  Further reference to this subject, The O’Donnells of Tyrconnell – A Hidden Legacy (2019) by Francis Martin O’Donnell, ‘The Ghost of Ballyheigue Castle.’

[3] The Lively Ghosts of Ireland (1967), ‘The Case of the IRA Ghosts,’ p9.

[4] Patrick Maloney was born in Ireland in 1901, ‘Later he lived in England for a few years prior to settling in America.  It was during his youth in Ireland that he became aware of his psychic gifts … He is a Roman Catholic in good standing, married, and a grandfather many times over.  One of his married daughters also has had psychic experiences, proving again that the talent does sometimes get handed down in a family.’  Mr Maloney’s supernatural experiences are recounted on pp11-21.

[5] It is likely that the name of the informant was Gouran (otherwise Gowran, McGouran or McGovern), the son perhaps of Duagh native, Thade (Timothy) Gouran (1868-1927) of Knocknacrohy, Duagh, a balladeer described by John B Keane as ‘pale-faced, rather lanky man, the kind of man country people would describe as rawly.’ 

Thade Gouran composed a song about Gortaglanna.  A version of one of his songs, ‘The Banks of the Feale,’ is held in The Schools’ Collection (Volume 0410, pp151-154).  The first verse runs, ‘Through the green hills of Kerry my ballads are ringing.’  It records the deaths of Jerry O’Leary, Mount, Scartaglen ( shot dead in Castleisland 29 May 1923, and John Linnane, Glouria, Ballydonoghue, who worked as a Draper’s Clerk in Listowel, shot dead at Trieneragh, between Duagh and Listowel, on 13 April 1923.  Tim Horgan’s Dying for the Cause (2015) includes an account of both men, Jerry (Jer) O’Leary (pp218-220) and John Linnane (pp171-173). 

Elsewhere, the song records other events from this period: ‘Sad was my heart at the death of brave Rory, And Buckley and Traynor and Foley likewise.’

Thade Houran also composed his own epitaph:

Through all the wide Kerry my ballads are ringing
My motto Sinn Fein and my land Graunawaile
Young men and young maidens my songs will be singing
When I’m sleeping at rest on the Banks of the Feale. 

(Ref: ‘Balladsingers and Balladmakers, Bryan MacMahon recalls old friends,’ Kerryman, 27 April 1963).

Thade Gouran is remembered on a plaque in Duagh.  A music CD, The Songs of Thade Gouran with biographical booklet was published in 2007.

[6] Indeed, Holzer included a photograph of the memorial cross in a reproduction of his work in 1997, Ghosts True Encounters with the World Beyond, pp583-588.  Gortaglanna is in the townland of Lissaniska in the parish of Knockanure. 

[7] Kerryman, 17 May 1924.  ‘The dead bodies of Walsh, Lyons and Dalton were thrown into the lorry as so many animal carcasses and conveyed to the barrack from whence they were afterwards taken to Tralee.’ 

‘They asked them if they had shot Sir Arthur Vickers (sic) and added, It is now our turn to shoot’ (Evening Echo, 9 January 1967).

The following account of the affair, written by ‘S. O’C’ appeared in the Kerry Reporter, 24 May 1930.  ‘It was a lovely May evening as we wended our way to a meeting at Gunsboro’.  We knew that a number of attacks on British posts in Kerry were being planned for the following Saturday night, and naturally we were eager for any news.  Roads had little attraction for us those days and the green carpeted fields of Ireland had many a traveller over them at this period.  Lolling about the place, we found many we had not met for weeks, and we listened eagerly to Jerry Lyons telling us how on the previous Saturday he outwitted the Tans to attend a Convention at Tralee for the selection of candidates at the May 1921 elections ... as it grew dark, we adjourned to Aherne’s of Gunsboro’ where a substantial meal awaited us, and as we discussed the plans for Saturday night, we did ample justice to May Aherne’s spread.  Not a shadow of the awful tragedy that was to make the morrow a bitter memory lay on that pleasant group.  Paddy Dalton decided to visit me early the next week to better fix up a dispute in Beale, and had to stand a good deal of banter because he would not go at once.  The childish Jerry Lyons was eager for the work of Saturday and discussed the plans again and again.  Then in the loneliness of the midnight hour, we parted, each taking his own silent path.  The morrow was uneventful, but what a crop of rumours the next day brought, ‘Three RIC men shot’ and many wild and vague stories on every lip.  The story of how Paddy Dalton and Jerry Lyons, returning from the Gunsboro’ meeting, met Con Dee and Paddy Walsh coming eastward from Athea, where they had attended a mission, is too well known to require repetition here.  Con Dee may some day tell how they sat on the bridge beside the fatal spot and discussed the question of an Irish Republic, and of Paddy Walsh’s words on the matter.  Con too, will, I hope, tell of the miraculous escape he had, and of Donal Bill’s carrying him wounded on his back to safety.  Then there will be the story of his transportation at night by Dick Kissane, now an exile in the Australian bush, across the country to Larha, where he found refuge and care in the hospitable home of John O’Connor (Thade).’ 

[8] First Anniversary notice inserted in Irish Independent, (issue 11 May 1922) by comrades of O Company, 6th Battalion, Kerry No 1 Brigade, murdered at Glortaglanna, Kilmorna, Co Kerry on Thursday 12 May 1921: A noble friend from us is gone/A voice we loved is stilled/A place is vacant in our ranks/Which never can be filled.

[9] Patrick Walsh, son of Patrick Walsh, farmer, Gunsboro, Listowel, buried Gale Cemetery. ‘A farmer’s son ploughing and mowing among the fields of Gunsboro’ was Paddy Walsh.  Of a dour yet kindly nature, he was sincere to a fault, and long before the ideals of Pearse and Connolly became fashionable, this hard-working young countryman had been caught with the fire of freedom.  He was early in the fray: 1918 and 1919 found him either in prison or on the run, and it was no wonder too that in 1920 he was being eagerly sought for and hunted by the forces of the Empire’ (Kerry Reporter, 24 May 1930).  Captain of Ballydonoghue Company: ‘His desire to drill and arm the young men of North Kerry set many wiseacres thinking.’ He received a jail sentence for illegal drilling, which he served in Limerick.  ‘He was here there and everywhere humming as he walked the highways and byeways of the district: Hear it in the City/Hear it in the glen/Hear it on the mountain/The tramp of marching men’ (The Liberator, Tralee, 16 April 1932). 

‘It was Capt Paddy Walshe, ‘The Gortaglanna Martyr,’ who organised and carried out that little mark of respect to a soldier comrade, aided by two Listowel men ... the late ‘Capt Paddy’ refused to put the remains of Michael Galvin on the sidecar of his first cousin, saying: ‘We will pay him our last respects and shoulder him to his last resting place’ which was done over three miles of the most public road in Kerry, that between Listowel and Ballybunion – Tomas O Coileain’ (Letter to the Editor, The Liberator (Tralee), 21 March 1935).

Further reference, Dying for the Cause (2015) by Tim Horgan, pp183-186.  An account of the tragedy is also included in Kerry Folk Tales (2019) by Gary Branigan and Luke Eastwood,‘The Gortaglanna Killings.’

[10] Patrick Dalton of Ardea, Captain Kerry Brigade, worked as a hardware assistant in the shop of John Faley (sic).  Further reference, Dying for the Cause (2015) by Tim Horgan, pp158-160. 

[11] Jeremiah Lyons, Duagh Company.  Mr J Lyons Merchant and contractor, Duagh. father of Jeremiah (Diarmuid) Lyons, died at Duagh in June 1924. ‘Of a different type was the childish youth from Duagh.  Just a mere boy, with all the unsophisticated ways of a child, Jerry Lyons struck one as being more of a saint than a soldier.  His every action was that of a child; there was none of the cuteness that age brings in its train, but ‘tis wonderful what strange types ‘Caitlin’ brought to her throne those days.  Up among the green hills and long mountain stretches of the Duagh country, Jerry had been actively working, and the toil of many a day and night bore fruit in one of the best organised districts in Ireland.  The arrest of Paddy McMahon saw the beardless stripling in charge of the Duagh company of Volunteers.  Truly a strange trio, but circumstances threw them together and fast friends they became’ (Kerry Reporter, 24 May 1930).

Further reference, Dying for the Cause (2015) by Tim Horgan, pp174-177.

[12] Cornelius Joseph Dee, Ballyline, Ballylongford, Co Kerry, son of Mr and Mrs Michael Dee, ‘There was another, whose name will ever be associated with Gortaglanna – Con Dee, whose escape that day was nothing short of miraculous.  Con, a first cousin of Paddy Walsh’s, had served some time in the British army, but like many more, he too was caught in the wave that swept through Ireland and threw in his lot with those who dared that she might be free’ (Kerry Reporter, 24 May 1930).  In 1925 Con Dee went to America where he was employed by the Board of Education.  He was an active member of the United Irish Alliance affiliated to Clann na Gael.  He later built up a travel agency.

Con Dee published an account of the event in the Shannonside Annual.  He died at his home, 218 North Menard Avenue, Chicago, on 3 January 1967 and was buried with IRA military honours in Queen of Heaven Catholic Cemetery, Hillside, Cook County, Illinois.  He was survived by his widow, Margaret Pierce (1900-1989) and three daughters, Ellen Louise, Honora Loretta and Mary.

[13] On Sunday 11 May 1924, an ‘Immense demonstration took place at Gortaglanna when people gathered for the third anniversary of the shooting of patriots, Patrick Walsh, Coolard; Paddy Dalton, Ardea and Jeremiah Lyons, Duagh by Black and Tans under the command of Head Constable Smyth, RIC.’

[14] In May 1939, Mr P O’Callaghan, Knockanure, chairman of the North Kerry Republican Soldiers’ Memorial Committee, presided at a meeting held in Listowel.  The meeting authorised Mr O’Callaghan to interview William McMahon, Gortaglanna, with a view to the taking over of the Republican Plot there.  The secretary was directed to write to Kerry County Council for permission to erect a roadside memorial at Banemore, Ballyduff to the memory of Section Commander John Houlihan, and also for permission to erect a memorial at Gortaglanna.  It was stated that ‘the annual commemoration at Gortaglanna would not be held on May 14th but would take place at a later date when the unveiling ceremony would be held then’ (Kerry Champion, 13 May 1939).

In 1949, twenty young people were working voluntarily on the memorial project, a Celtic Cross, cost approx £300, which was erected by October 1949.  More work was needed to enclose the plot before it was unveiled the following May.

[15] Kerryman, 22 May 1948. 

[16] Report of unveiling ceremony, Kerryman, 20 May 1950.  Members of the memorial committee: P O’Ceallachain, Chairman; Jeremiah Buckley, Listowel, Honorary Secretary; John Costelloe MCC, Ballyduff; Maurice Nolan, Ardfert; James McEnergy, Ballyduff; T J McElligott (‘Pro Patrio’); D J Flavin and Sean Barry, Listowel.  Relatives of the dead patriots present were Messrs Michael and P Dalton, Mrs M Foley, Mrs Dillon, Duagh; Messrs Maurice, Jack and Willie Walshe, Mrs Hartnett, Ballybunion, as well as brothers and other relatives of Con Dee, and Mr Donal Bill O’Sullivan, who helped Con Dee to safety.

Donal Bill O’Sullivan, Coilbee, Listowel, died in November 1980 aged 87.  ‘He was an active member of the Derry (Listowel) Company Old IRA – the 3rd Battalion Kerry No I brigade.  He served a period in jail and also took part in a hunger strike.  The rescue of Con Dee is what Donal Bill O’Sullivan will be best remembered for.  Dee was found by the late Mr O’Sullivan who brought the injured man across country to the Enright home at Ballyhadigue where he received medical attention’ (Kerryman, 21 November 1980).

[17] Kerry Champion, 20 May 1950.   The Sworn Statement of Con Dee taken before Thomas R Hill, JP, Tarbert, in June 1921 is given in Kerry’s Fighting Story 1916-1921 (1947) pp282-283. 

[18] It also commemorated John (Seán) Houlihan, Benmore, Ballyduff, shot on 1 November 1920.