Echoes of the past from the Archives
As usual among the many files this year, there is a handful of historical files. For historians these very early files are often among the most interesting of the documents released. This year, the most interesting one is a police security file on IRA man George Plant dating from 1929.
The file details an armed robbery of the Bank of Ireland in Tipperary town on April 18, 1929. This took place in broad daylight just after lunch, when three armed men stole £930 4s 11d.
The local superintendent reported to the Garda Commissioner that “after long an exhaustive enquiries starting the moment the report of the raid reached the gardai”, three men were arrested: James Plant (26), George Plant (25) and Patrick Keogh (33) at the home of Plant’s mother Mrs Plant in St Johnstown, Cooleagh, Fethard.
The arrested men had only recently returned from America where they had been since the end of the Irish Civil War. Some of the money and a large quantity of arms were found in the house, including two Peter the Painters and a parabellum pistol. The movements of the trio and the purchases they made preparatory to the raid were uncovered.
They had hijacked a car and two men in Limerick and drove around the countryside with them in a search for petrol in tins. They then went on to the bank, which they entered and held up. George Plant pistol-whipped one of the clerks. They then made their getaway, but on the main street knocked over an elderly couple in their ass and cart.
This drew attention to the car, and the gardaí later carefully traced its movements. The police took them quite by surprise by an early morning raid. They were charged and eventually said that they would all plead guilty, in hope, of course, of a lighter sentence.
The police owed their success largely to the co-operation of the civilian population. A copy of the report was proved to every member of the Executive Council.
The file includes a background report on the robbers. The interesting fact about the Plants was that they were Protestants. The family had aided the IRA during the Troubles and the Civil War. “During the Civil War both James and George became active irregulars and were regarded as both courageous and dangerous men.”
Further: “Both James and George are described as having taken part in looting and robberies during the period as a result of which they did not regard themselves safe from arrest until they left the country” – this would have been in 1924. They were said to have rescued cattle seized by the sheriff in 1923 and to have attacked two gardaí and seized their bicycles. But there was no real proof of this.
During the Civil War, George Plant was the “right-hand man” to a leading republican named Sheehan, who led a column in South Tipperary. “During this period George established an unenviable reputation as an unscrupulous gunman participating in numerous raids and robberies”. The brothers fled to Scotland, then to Canada, and finally to the US, where they lived in Chicago.
They went south to Mexico for a time where “they are understood to have been mixed up in the Civil strife” before returning to Chicago in 1927.
This ‘civil strife’ was the Catholic peasant uprising against the Institutional Revolutionary Government. It is not clear what side the Plants, as Protestants, supported. It is unlikely that they were on the side of the Christeros; perhaps they merely took advantage of the social turmoil to rob a few more banks.
Convicted of the Tipperary robbery, the Plants were soon released and were again involved in IRA activities. In 1940, George Plant was ordered by Stephen Hayes to take action against a supposed informer named Devereux from Wexford. Devereux went to a meeting with Plant and was never again seen alive. For George Plant, the phrase “take care of an informer” meant only one thing: he had murdered Devereux.
At the end of September, the police found the remains of Michael Devereux in a cave in Tipperary: he had been shot in the back of the head and his body hidden under a pile of stones. His car had already been found broken up and scattered across the county. Soon after, George Plant and a colleague were arrested. An initial trial collapsed, when two witnesses withdrew their statements; but Plant was rearrested in the court. Tried before the Special Military Court, he was convicted and sentenced to death.
On March 5, 1942, George Plant was executed by a military firing squad. His career as a revolutionary bank robber was at an end.
But subversives were still boldly robbing banks and couriers in 1984. The transit of cash, and the heavy cost of the security provided by the police and army, was of great concern.
For those in Government, the file on George Plant (if they could have read it) would have been not so much an echo of past conflict as a reminder that, in Ireland, subversive crime, however dressed up, has a continuous history going back to the 19th Century.