26 January 2023

123 Years Ago Today... Dungarvan: a Deaf Repeat Offender - and a victim of Police Brutality?


 Michael Ahearne was an ex-Cabra pupil from Dungarvan. His education in St Joseph's was funded by the local Board of Guardians, but it seems he left school before his education was finished.
Michael became a prolific offender when he returned home and was often up in front of the magistrates at the Dungarvan Petty Sessions, but he seemed well able to challenge the authorities in written English.
On one occasion in January 1900, Michael was charged with public drunkenness, and the policeman that arrested him - Constable Neill - stated in court that Michael had scratched his face and tried to bite others that helped bring him to the station, and as a result he had to be handcuffed on the street. It was stated in evidence that Michael "frothed at the mouth like a mad dog".
But Michael was not taking this lying down. He had the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses - including the prosecuting policmen. He wrote a question to another of the arresting policemen, Sgt. Creedon, asking if it was true that he used his baton on him that night. Creedon replied that he had - when Michael was gripping him "in the most determined fashion", Creedon had struck Michael on the knuckles. Maybe this contributed to Michael's anger - striking with a baton the fingers that he used to sign and write with, so central to the existence of a Deaf person.
Michael was sentenced to three months in prison and was eloquent in his anger at the court; he wrote to them, "Instruct the police in future to hunt the beasts off the roads and not me." Before he was taken from the court, he also wrote: "It is off to the war you should send me". This no doubt referred to the Boer War in South Africa, where Britain was putting down a rebellion of Afrikaner Boer settlers, a conflict that aroused great interest in Ireland. We can see here that despite his being Deaf and a regular 'troublemaker' for the courts, Michael kept up to date with international news.
Michael would continue to be a regular in front of the courts in Dungarvan. In 1944 he died in the Waterford Mental Hospital (now St Otteran's Hospital), having come at some stage before his death from the County Home in Dungarvan.

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