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grave error Historians' blunder sees memorial stone to Specials victim placed on wrong grave

A small stone was erected at what has become known as Hickey’s Lane’ on the Armagh Road where he was killed by the Specials

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The wrong grave which was cleaned up.

The wrong grave which was cleaned up.

The wrong grave which was cleaned up.

Local historians bungled when they put a memorial stone to a man killed by Crown Forces on the wrong grave.

In February Newry’s Lisdrumgullion Commuity Group started the project to mark the 100th anniversary of the murder in July 1921 of William Hickey.

A small stone was erected at what has become known as Hickey’s Lane’ on the Armagh Road where he was killed by the Specials.

And they started work to refurbish an unmarked grave in nearby St Mary’s graveyard which they believed to be Hickey’s final resting place.

Another stone memorial was placed at the grave and a dedication ceremony was planned for early July with orations from the community group’s chair John McCabe and Canon Brown from St Mary’s.

Members of the public were encouraged to attend and learn something of ‘Newry’s turbulent past’ and bring flowers for the grave.

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The roadside tribute to Hickey

The roadside tribute to Hickey

The roadside tribute to Hickey

But with days to go, the event was called off without explanation.

The Sunday World understands the refurbished grave was drawn to the attention of a family who own the plot and who have a relative buried there.

“It was my mistake,” John McCabe told the Sunday World. “I put my hand to it, it was an honest mistake, human error.”

He said reports that a family headstone had been removed and replaced with the Hickey stone were wide of the mark.

“There was no headstone nor did we erect one,” he said. “We had placed a small memorial in the shape of a book at the grave, but as soon as our mistake came to our notice it was taken away.”

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He said he had been in touch with the family and that it was no longer an issue.

“We carried out remedial work at the grave, there is no issue with the family.”

He pointed to the memorial stone erected at Hickey’s Lane and said it was important the historical importance of the event should not be over-shadowed.

And he said Hickey’s death at the hands of the RIC had been forgotten

“‘Many of us may recall decades of the previous troubles primarily in the North of Ireland with just under 2,000 civilian deaths occurring,” he said during the dedication of the stone.

“Yet if we regress back to a two year period in the early 1920s in Newry and District it was to witness an horrific period of murder and mayhem. Having come across one listing from 1921 to 1923 it made for grim reading but it left out the brutal murder of Hickey.

“The day before Hickey’s death, a ‘B Special’ RIC constable Hugh Gabbie, was gunned down on a Newry street in broad daylight and this, amongst other things was to secure poor Hickey’s fate.”

Hickey was a single 26-year-old born of Irish parents in Manchester. He’d only been living in Newry five years and was working as a manager in a furniture shop in the town.

In the wake of Gabbie’s murder, his colleagues were in the mood for revenge.

A two man assassination team targeted two IRA men who lived at Mary Street, Newry, Bob Kelly and Edward Fullerton.

Having been tipped off the men fled leaving two frustrated RIC men who turned their attention to the innocent William Hickey, kicking their way into his house and hauling him out of bed.

His battered and mutilated body was found the next morning in a cattle shed on the Armagh Road. Aside from being shot he had been tortured and is believed to have been chained to the back of a lorry and hauled along the road.

Hickey had been staying at Miss McGuigan’s lodging house, she said Hickey begged for his life but was hauled away.

A note was found beside his body which read ‘Convicted Spy-IRA’ in what was thought to be cynical attempt to blame republicans.

richard.sullivan@sundayworld.com

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