On 4th May 1916 Cornelius ‘Con’ Colbert, prisoner No. 70, faced a Courts Martial at Richmond Barracks. Those presiding at the Courts Martial were Colonel D. Sapte, Major W.R. James and Major D.B. Frew.
The charge was that he “did an act to wit did take part in an armed rebellion and in the waging of war against His Majesty the King, such act being of such a nature as to be calculated to be prejudicial to the Defence of the Realm and being done with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy”.
Colbert replied: “I have nothing to say”.
Con Colbert was found guilty and sentenced to death
This was not the first time Colbert was before a British Court, although sadly it would be his last. In October 1913, Colbert was on trial for threatening behavior and acts of intimidation.
The following article is an account of the court proceedings which took place at Dundrum, Co. Dublin on October 20th, 1913. It appeared in the Freemans Journal, the following day (October 21st 1913).
At Dundrum Petty Sessions yesterday before Mr. R. H. Davis (in the chair), Dr. Usher, Mr. White-King, Mr. John Mooney C.V.O., Mr. Westby and Mr. H McComas. District-Inspector Murphy charged a young man named Cornelius Colbert, 7 Clifton Terrace, Ranelagh with having on the 31st August threatened Charles Rance at a camp in the townland of Kingston*, near Dundrum, and with having performed acts of intimidation.
Mr. John O’Byrne, B.L (instructed by Mr. John Gore, Solicitor) defended.
The court was crowded during the hearing of the case.
District-Inspector Murphy said defendant was a member of the Irish National Boy Scouts organisation (also known as Na Fianna Eireann) and Mr. Rance was a member of the Imperial Cadet Corps. On the 31st August some 20 or 30 of the Boy Scouts went to the cottage at Kingston occupied by the cadets. At the time Rance was the only person in the cottage, and the crowd gathered around and made a demonstration of a threatening nature. They tore down the Union Jack which was flying nearby, and, generally speaking, behaved in a violent manner.
Mr. Henry N. Roberts, 20 Cabra Road, stated that he is a member of the Imperial Cadet Corps. Five or six of them were coming back to camp on the 31st August from St. Columba’s College, where they were having a bathe, Rance having gone back earlier. Witness on nearing saw a party of Boy Scouts (Fianna) numbering about 40. They were in front of the cottage. The flag was missing. When the Scouts saw them coming “they faced about and broke ranks” and witness went after them and asked who was in charge. There was no direct answer given to him, but one of the party called for a show of hands of the ones who were the leaders and defendant was one of those who raised his hand. They rescued portions of the flag from some of the Scouts.
Replying to the Chairman as to the probable cause of the attack by the scouts, witness said he thought it was because the Cadets wore the British uniform. The Scouts were armed with French bayonets, which they drew outside the cottage.
Mr. O’Byrne, B.L. (to Mr. Roberts) – You take this matter very seriously? Yes
Did you see the defendant in the camp or with any portion of the flag? No
Were you threatened by him? Yes, he threatened us, the flag, and the cottage.
Were they any unpleasantness between the two organisations before? Not on our side.
You say it was your uniform? Do you remember in August last when a number of Cadets captured a Scout and tried to force him to say “I am a happy English boy”?
Witness: That did not happen.
Did defendant ever annoy you before? No, not that I know of.
Chares Rance stated that he was alone in the cottage on the 31st August. He saw about forty Scouts outside, and about twelve of them, mostly officers, came up the avenue to the cottage. Defendant was with them. Witness said, “What are you going to do?” and defendant said, “If you want any satisfaction, I’ll give it to you.” Then a rush was made for the flag, which was pulled down, and witness saw defendant with it under his arm. The Scouts had swords drawn, and defendant seemed to be the ringleader.
Then how do you recognise him? Well, to tell you the truth, it was by his appearance.
In reply to Mr. O’Byrne, defendant said he had no hand, act or part in the taking of the flag, nor did he threaten anyone. He was on the avenue at the cottage.
The Chairman – Did you see the flag being torn down? Yes
And did you think that was proper conduct? I thought it wasn’t a very wise thing to do. He further said he was an officer (of the Fianna), as a rule but was not one that day (laughter in the court).
Mr. O’Byrne having addressed the bench, the magistrate decided to bind the defendant to the peace for twelve months in his own security for £5.
*Kingston, also known as Kingstown (not to be confused with Kingstown/Dún Laoghaire) is in the parish of Taney in South County Dublin, close to Ballinteer. A housing estate in the townland is also named ‘Kingston’. However, despite also being referred to as ‘Kingston’ in the Freemans Journal, it is referred to as ‘Kingstown’ on Ordnance Survey maps and in surviving civil records. I would be interested to hear any views on the correct name for the area.
Research and story by Eamon Murphy.