On a spring evening in 1942 in the North Dublin suburb of Clontarf, a tragic shooting led to the deaths of Una Ennis (aged 19) and her boyfriend John Prendergast (aged 30).
Nearly seventy-five years later, here is the story retold for the first time online. We understand this is a sensitive topic for the two families concerned and hope the chain of events can be recounted in a compassionate, factual way.
Una Ennis was born in 1922, worked as a typist and lived at Whitefields Lodge with her family in the grounds of Phoenix Park. Her father, retired Major-General Thomas Ennis, was superintendent of the Park.
A little bit about his background.
Thomas Ennis (1892-1945) joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914, fought in the G.P.O. during the 1916 Easter Rising and was interned in Frongach, North Wales. Upon returning home, he helped re-organise his Irish Volunteer company from 1917 onwards. He was active with E Company, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, IRA between 1919 and 1922 during which he was a founder-member of Michael Collin’s ‘Squad’.
As Oscar Traynor’s second-in-command during the burning of the Custom House in 1921, he was was shot twice in the leg and badly wounded. Joining the Free State Army in February 1922, he was in command of Government Troops as they battled anti-Treaty IRA volunteers during the Battle of Dublin (28 June to 5 July 1922) marking the start of the Cvil War. He resigned from the Free State army in May 1924 and later became superintendent of the Phoenix Park.
His brother Peter Ennis was also a veteran of the 1916 Rising and War of Independence. He became Chief of the Republican Police and during the Civil War was Chief Superintendent of the State’s Intelligence Department (Oriel House). At the foundation of the Garda Síochána, he became the first superintendent in the Detective Branch and retired from the force in 1941.
John ‘Jack’ Gerald Prendergast was born on 11th May 1911 to parents Thomas and Margaret (nee O’Sullivan). They lived at Dock House, Spencer Dock, North Wall where Thomas worked as a lock keeper.
He was known to his friends as ‘Jack’ but also ‘Sean’ or ‘Jimmy’.
Prendergast enrolled at University College Dublin (UCD) to study engineering in 1930 but left in his first year to join the Civil Service.
Several newspapers reported that he traveled to Spain and fought with the International Brigades in the Civil War for a period of three years. More on this later.
Prendergast returned Dublin and to college in 1939 and became chairman of the College Engineering Society. At the time of the shooting, he was about to take his final year exams.
On Sunday 12th April 1942, John Prendergast left his home in North Wall at 12.45pm. His father said he “appeared to be in normal spirits” (Irish Independent, 14th April).
Maureen Ennis, sister of Una, said that John Prendergast called to their house in the Phoenix Park about 3pm and stayed for an hour. Maureen had known Prendergast “for some time” and “knew that he was keeping company” with her sister. She believed the couple “appeared to be in the best of spirits” (Irish Examiner, 14 April)
The couple probably took a bus or a tram some of the way to Clontarf where they were spotted walking together about 5pm. It’s a distance of over 9km and it’s unlikely they would have been able to walk it in an hour.
They were seen stopped and talking together on the Howth Road near the junction with St. Lawrence’s Road.
Witnesses then heard two shots ring out.