The Burning of Lisheen Castle and John J Fanning of Lisdonowley, Co Tipperary Ireland 1921

John Fanning, grandson of Patrick Fanning and Margaret Cantwell of Lisdonowley, Co Tipperary,Ireland, was an IRA member and falsely rumored to be involved with the burning Lisheen Castle in 1921. The story goes that he fled to America but was followed and murdered there. He was not one of the three IRA men who torched the castle. He died somewhere in America in 1931.

Lisheen Castle Co Tipperary about 1860

Patrick Fanning (c1809-22 Sept 1895) the son of William Fanning and Hanera Cormack came to live at Lisdonowley and his descendants still live there. He married Margaret Cantwell and had 14 children.

Lisheen Castle
The restored Lisheen Castle

One of their sons James was the father of John Fanning born 1900 who was a member of the IRA and some have him being involved with the burning down of Lisheen Castle in 1921. After this he is said to have fled to America where he was followed and murdered. He died in 1931 so I am not so sure about him being murdered.

I have found John’s record of travel to America on the Ellis Island site. He emigrated, age 29, to New York on “The Carmania” from Queenstown (Cobh) on 28 April 1929. His mother’s name is given as next of kin and he was to stay with his aunt Mrs Margaret O’Donnell at 194 Court St Brooklyn New York. Margaret O’Donnell is most likely his mother Anne’s sister, Margaret Hogan.

In the recently released military transcripts John Fanning is listed as a captain of “D” Company in Moyne. These statements make fascinating reading as they give an incredibly vivid picture of what life was like around Thurles in 1920-21 during the War of Independence.

John Fanning of Lisdonowley
John Fanning of Lisdonowley 1900-1931
John Fanning IRA company Moyne
John Fanning IRA company Moyne

His descendants who I talked with recently cast some doubt on his involvement with the burning of this castle.

Lisheen Castle Burned

“At 11.20 on June 29 Lisheen Castle (Tipperary), the property of Mr. John F. O’Meara, corn merchant, Thurles, was maliciously destroyed by fire by a party of unknown civilians.”- Dublin Castle report.

Freemans Journal July 4 1921.

“Lisheen Castle was occupied at the time only by the caretaker, Patrick Sweeney. A number of men ordered him out, a drawing room window was smashed and petrol was thrown in. The deed was done by local IRA activists, whose names were known. Other buildings burned down around that time in Tipperary according to the Star report were Loran House, near Templemore, Derrycastle Bungalow overlooking Lough Derg, and vacant RIC barracks of Holycross, Shevry and Roskean.

John F. O’Meara was awarded £15,000 compensation the following October. The judge hearing the claim stated that he was satisfied that the O’Mearas intended to use it as their residence, and that it was an effective dwelling house at the time it was burned.”

(Taken from the Lisheen Castle website which has a excellent history of the castle and some wonderful photos in their gallery. The castle is also available to rent!)

I was reading a transcript of a talk given by Turtle Bunbury on Big House Families and Lisheen Castle was mentioned. This is the excerpt:

“Approximately 200 big houses were destroyed during the Irish Civil War, as well as 80 or so that went up in flames during the War of Independence. Some were destroyed because of hatred of the family. Some were taken out as possible enemy strongholds – Woodstock, in Co. Kilkenny, was one. Another was Lisheen in Co. Tipperary – I recently heard the tale of one of the Lloyds of Lisheen who had been a young girl when the house was burned and she came back to Ireland as an old woman and was introduced to an elderly man. He was one of the three lads that had set the castle ablaze. He apologized for burning the house and maintained it was not personal against the Lloyd family who were held in high regard by locals. “It was war. We were fighting for our country.” They did not want the British to have access to the castle which gave a commanding view of the area.”

I have been sent this extract which actually names those involved in the torching of the castle and John Fanning is not named. So that myth has been laid to rest. John Fanning of Lisdonowley was not one of the three.

Lisheen Castle was burned towards midnight on 29th June 1921, just days before the Treaty was signed in 11th July 1921! Lisheen Castle was burned to prevent it being used for military purposes by the English. On that night, Mr. Patrick Sweeney, the caretaker living at Lisheen Castle, was ordered out of the Castle by three armed men, Mr. William Conroy of Ballyerk, Mr. John Ely of Moyneard, and Mr. Denis Maher of Moyne, who torched the Castle. No furniture or possessions were in the Castle at the time of the burning. Newly weds Camilla (nee O’Brien) and John O’Meara did not restore it after the burning, although they were well compensated (£15,900) and so it remained a picturesque ruin”

Source: “Moyne-Templetouhy. A Life of Its Own. The Story of a Tipperary Parish”. Hayes, W.J., 2001, Vol II p 452 published by Moyne-Templetouhy History Group, Thurles and Tipperary Star 2nd July 1921 and 8th October 1921.

In the Bureau of Military History witness statements, Sean Scott, a commandant in the IRA, states that he received news that the British forces were about to occupy Lisheen Castle and so he ordered it burned. Scott was in the second Battalion Tipperary, the Second Tipperary Brigade. John Fanning was in the same battalion and was the captain for Moyne where the castle is situated.

The photo below is not of the second Brigade but the third but I included it for interests sake. I would like to get a photo of the second brigade if it exists and someone has a copy.

Sean Hogan's Second Flying Column Third Brigade Tipperary
Sean Hogan’s Second Flying Column The Third Brigade IRA Tipperary about 1920

John Fanning died in Brooklyn Kings New York on 28 Feb 1931 and was buried in St Johns Cemetery Queens New York, Section 25/Row N/Grave 74.Cemetery on 2 March. He was living at 255 Clinton St. Brooklyn New York. He was working as a clerk and was not married.

Grave of John Fanning from Lisdonowly in St John Cemetery Brooklyn USA. The above photo and the next were kindly taken by JP Rayder for Find A Grave.

St Johns Cemetery Middle Village New York
St Johns Cemetery Middle Village New York


In memorium Irish Press 28 Feb 1933


Irish Press 28 Feb 1935

Author: Kathleen

I have done an Ancestry DNA test and also have uploaded my test results to GedMatch. My GedMatch kit numbers are A029138 and T470174. Please contact me if we are a match. kathleenmfanningAThotmailDOTcom

18 thoughts on “The Burning of Lisheen Castle and John J Fanning of Lisdonowley, Co Tipperary Ireland 1921”

  1. Hi,

    Lisheen Castle, Co. Tipperary was built by my great great great grandfather Frederick Lloyd. Actually he began construction and son John Lloyd completed it. John Lloyd is my great great grandfather. He emigrated to Canada in 1856.

    Lisheen was set fire just two or three weeks before a treaty was signed. The young lads who set it on fire were known and their names are a matter of public record. I could probably dig up a book reference for you. My cousin actually met one of the men who set it on fire. He was quite elderly when she met him about 10 – 15 years ago . It is amazing that she met him.

    John Redmond

    1. Great to hear from you John. The story I heard was that John Fanning was one of the men who set fire to Lisheen Castle and then he fled to America where he he was hunted down and executed. But he died in 1931 in America so they took their time.
      Direct descendants of John Fanning are skeptical of him being executed by British agents and of his teasons for leaving Iteland. But he was in the IRA that is a fact.
      I would like to know if there is any truth in the story of John Fanning and the burning of Lisheen Castle. So if you were able to find the names of the IRA men responsible that would be much appreciated.

  2. pps
    to correct/clarify the story; my cousin was not a young girl (nor even alive) when Lisheen was set fire. She was visiting from Australia and was introduced to the gentleman in question.

    john redmond

  3. Hi,

    My cousin sent me the book references that I mentioned.
    It does not seem to implicate Mr. Fanning in the torching of Lisheen.
    I don’t think that I can paste the pictures etc into this reply box.
    If you send me an email with an e-mail address I will forward them to you.
    The e-mail you sent does not allow a reply.

    John Redmond

    1. Have just got back from a great holiday and have just sent you an email. Would like to include the book reference to who torched Lisheen Castle and pictures are always welcome.

  4. My 4x Great Grandfather Michael FitzGerald (and his mother Eleanor) was a tenant farmer of Frederick Lloyd and I am searching for any Llyod family rental/estate information from the mid 1700s that might give a clue to indicate who Michael FitzGerald’s father was. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Maurice,
      The best I can suggest is The Tithe Applotment Books, which you have probably looked at.
      Eleonor and Michael Fitzgerald appear there as early as 1815 in Ballyknocken Templetouhy.

      The other thing you could do is join Ireland Reaching Out which is a fairly new site and free.
      You could ask them if they know of any early land rental records.
      A lot of knowledgeable Irish people help people like yourself with their ancestry search.

      There is also DNA testing.

      You have a fine Anglo Norman Irish name. The Fitzgeralds being a very powerful and influential clan before Cromwell.
      There are two Fitzgeralds buried in Loughmore Cemetery who were from Templetuohy in Moyne who are quite possibly related to you.
      Delia Anne Fitzgerald died 1983 and William in 1971.

      regards and good luck with your search.


  5. Hello.

    Amazing to read this story. I have on my little finger a Claddagh Ring made by John Fanning while he was interred in the Curragh camp. It was given to me long ago by my grandmother, his sister Margaret shortly before she died.
    She married Martin O’grady Of Dukesland Thurles.

    Brian O’Grady
    Stockholm Sweden

    1. Also my father John O’Grady (Culbaire – Tipp Star) was named after his uncle John.
      We have a number of his letters written from America to my little sister Margaret- my grandmother.

    2. Hi Brian,
      Thanks for making contact.
      I am a bit confused about the John Fanning you mention and are related to.
      Is this the same John Fanning son of Patrick Fanning and Margaret Cantwell of Lisdonowley ?
      I also don’t know what or where the Curragh camp was. Can you tell me more. Kathleen

      1. I’ll need to ask my father (his nephew) for more details. This is the same John Fanning named here. We have the very same photo at home in Thurles. As I was told he was interred during the Irish War of Independence/civil war at the Curragh Camp. While there he made a Claddagh ring from a silver coin. I got it around 1985 from his sister Margaret (my grandmother). I knew about him emigrating to the US and dying there – he had sent a number of letters to Margaret (we have them at home) and then apparently he was never heard from – so it’s amazing to see his grave marker here. I’ll ask my father for more details and perhaps send you scans of the letters if you’re interested.

        1. I would love to read the letters John Fanning sent to his sister Margaret and anything else you or your father remember about the Fanning family. In my family there were said to be letters my grgrgrgrandfather’s sister wrote to him here in Australia. He came from Thurles and emigrated in 1841. Unfortunately, they no longer exist, most likely thrown out!
          My email is kathleenmfanningAThotmailDOTcom

  6. I’d love to know of tenant lists available for Lisheen or other Lloyd lands nearby such as Lloydboro. In my great grandfather Henry Lloyd’s obituary it mentions that his father John Lloyd,who completed construction of Lisheen Castle, had facilitated emigration to Canada of some of his former tenants. This would be between 1856 when he arrived in Canada with his second wife Mary Ann nee Minton, baby Catherine and elder son Frederick by his first marriage, and his death in August 1870.
    It would be interesting if I could cross reference tenant lists with the older Canadian census. It’s just a little project I’ve thought would be interesting.

    John Redmond

      1. Hi Patrick,

        I’d like to see the photo of Lisheen castle, if you can add it to a comment for me.

        I can also contact John Redmond and alert him to your comment.

        Is it okay to give him your email address? Kathleen

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