By Sean Moriarty
The centenary of one of the most unusual acts of historical importance to Killarney is set to be re-enacted in new the Cultural Centre next weekend.
This Thursday (October 10) will mark the centenary of Archdeacon Thomas Joseph O’Donnell’s visit to the hotel. The Tasmanian was appointed Chaplain to the 11th Battalion on the Western Front and in late 1919 he was granted leave to visit relatives and friends in Ireland, including a cousin in Killarney.
On October 10, 1919 O’Donnell was dining in the International Hotel in Killarney, engaged in animated conversation with William Marsh, a slightly deaf Northern Unionist.
It was later alleged by JS Chambers, an off duty officer of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, dining at a nearby table, that O’Donnell made seditious remarks about the King and the British.
The incident was reported and two days later O’Donnell was arrested under a charge of speaking disloyally in Killarney against the King and the Empire. O’Donnell was escorted to London where he spent time in the Tower of London in the very same cell occupied by Roger Casement three years earlier. The priest faced a trial in London’s Guild Hall but was acquitted following a testimony by International Hotel’s manager Georgina Bennett.
O’Donnell sued the British Government and such was the notoriety of the whole matter by this time, parliamentary questions were raised on a number of occasions in the House of Commons, and these were fielded by none other than Winston Churchill, the then Secretary of War and the Armed Forces.
“Rich in history, the walls of the International hold some secrets and could tell some stories!,” General Manager, Tracy Coyne, told the Killarney Advertiser.
“It is with great pride that we are commemorating the centenary of a historic event that happened in the dining room of the International Hotel in October 1919, which caused an international diplomatic incident during World War 1.”
The events are of much interest to historians, but also to those old Killarney families who remember stories of war and espionage passed from elder generations, she added.
“One of the central figures in this tale of treason and accusations was the then manager of the International Hotel, a Miss Georgina Bennett of Borrisoleigh, County Tipperary, who gave evidence in London’s Guild Hall. In fact, Miss Bennett’s evidence was the turning point in the whole affair, changing the outcome of what would surely otherwise have been the imprisonment of the accused, Captain Rev. Thomas O’Donnell, a Chaplin of the Australian Army.”
These historical moments from the International Hotel will be played out in the Cultural Centre on Saturday next (October 12), through a historical reading and a re-enactment by members of the Tipperary War of Independence Tours historical society.
The event begins at 8pm.