A Bitter Memory: The Deaths of RIC & DMP Officers During Easter Week 1916
In this Centenary year we remember the heroes of the Rising who sacrificed their lives for Ireland. Yet, amongst the Irish dead were those who fought against the rebels. Ray Bateson examines the deaths of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police officers who were killed on Easter Week 1916, bringing together newspaper articles, inquests, trial reports, witness statements and other sources. What he reveals are portraits of men who were brave in the line of duty and widely respected in their communities.
Approximately 500 people died in the Easter Rising including three DMP and fourteen RIC shot dead in the course of their duty. There is probably more information about these deaths than most others. One of the reasons is that the majority of deaths occurred outside Dublin where life, and newspapers, still more or less functioned as normal. Secondly, the event where the deaths occurred was in most cases the only major incident in the county. Thirdly, inquests were held in most cases whereas in Dublin the inquests on victims of gunshot or shrapnel wounds were suspended. Lastly, trials were held in some cases.
In Dublin, many victims were buried in Dublin Castle, Trinity College, churchyards, private gardens and other locations. Very few funerals were held during the week and even in the days after the surrender only one mourner was allowed to accompany the hearse. All those policemen who were killed outside Dublin were given dignified and well attended funerals and their graves were marked with a Celtic cross or family gravestone. Their deaths were individual and singled out by local councils and dignitaries unlike the hundreds of anonymous deaths in Dublin.
Constable James O’Brien (Dublin Castle)
The first policeman to be killed was Constable James O’Brien who was shot dead outside the gates of Dublin Castle around midday on Easter Monday. Mr Doig, Editor, viewed the event from the Evening Mail and Daily Express offices which directly faced the Castle:
‘I looked out of the window and saw 20 or 30 of the Volunteers marching along the street to the Castle just opposite. At the Castle gate was a big policeman whom I knew well – a jolly fellow he was who chaffed all the lasses and played with all the little children. He held up his hand as they tried to enter the place. I could see his lips moving as he spoke to them. And I knew well he would be saying, all in that genial way of his, something like “Now boys you mustn’t try to get in for you know you should be wanting nothing here at all”.
‘And suddenly the whole lot of them who were standing in line, stepped back a pace, levelled their rifles, firing all together and shot him dead. I never saw the like.’
A member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment stationed at Dublin Castle recorded:
‘Then came great excitement. "The policeman at the Front Gate has been shot, and they have carried him in!" The Sister on our landing was summoned and rushed downstairs, while speculation began as to which policeman it was. It turned out to be the nicest, such a dear, with grey hair and twinkly eyes; he always used to salute us when we passed in uniform, and just grin when we were in mufti.’
On Wednesday the same nurse witnessed a procession of policemen with bared heads passing down the corridor – it was the policeman’s funeral. Constable O’Brien was then buried in the grounds of Dublin Castle.
His body was exhumed on Friday 19 May and following Requiem Mass at the Passionist Church, Harold’s Cross, his remains were accompanied by a large contingent of his DMP comrades. At Foynes the RIC helped place his coffin the hearse and on the nine mile journey to Glin many people joined the cortege so that by the time it reached the cemetery it was a vast and imposing crowd.
Constable Michael Lahiff (St Stephen’s Green)
Not long after the shooting at Dublin Castle, another policeman was shot at St Stephen’s Green. Constable Michael Lahiff was born in Kilmurray, County Clare, in 1887 and was nearly 24 years old when he joined the force. He was assigned to work in “E” Division before his transfer to “B” Division on 10th September 1915. According to the Constabulary Gazette: ‘He had been stationed at the Grafton Street entrance to St. Stephen’s Green Park, and was ordered away by the rebels when they were taking possession. He refused to desert his post, and was shot dead.’
Max Caulfield’s book, The Easter Rebellion, is often quoted as the source for the killing of Constable Lahiff by Countess Markievicz. When she was told of his refusal to leave his post, she rushed to the railing and took aim wither her Mauser rifle-pistol: ‘As she fired, two men beside her also shot. Lahiff slumped to the pavement, hit by three bullets. “I shot him” shouted the Countess delightedly. “I shot him.”
There is stronger evidence that he was shot at or near the Unitarian Church but there are so many contradictions in relation to the location of the shooting, the manner of the shooting, the timing of the shooting and the identity of the shooter(s) that it is impossible to state categorically what exactly happened.
There is no doubt that Countess Markievicz, according to her friend Nora Connolly was prepared to shoot and be shot, and her sister Eva wrote in late November 1916:
‘She [the Countess] volunteered how she held a revolver at a policeman’s chest but could not shoot when it came to the point as she recognised him and had known him before. She also said she thought she shot one in the arm as he jumped. She’s not the least inclined to minimise her own actions or make little of them nor would she the least mind saying anything she had done.’
Unfortunately, the death of Constable Lahiff has been completely overshadowed by the controversy about whether or not Countess Markievicz shot him. Now that the centenary has arrived, surely it is time to put Constable Lahiff back at the centre of the tragedy that overtook his colleagues, parents, brothers and sisters. His grave is in Glasnevin Cemetery.
Constable William Frith(Store Street, Dublin)
Constable William Frith was shot dead by a bullet through the head in a bedroom of Store Street Police Station on 27 April, 1916. He was 37 years of age, and had over 17 years service. The circumstances of his death were eventually revealed in a series of exchanges in parliament in August 1916.The Chief Secretary, Henry Duke, initially stated that both rebels and the military were firing at the time and that it did not appear that the case was one capable of useful investigation by court-martial. A few days later Mr Healy MP North East Cork asked Mr Duke ‘whether Sergeant Bannon, Royal Irish Rifles, acknowledged in Store Street Police Station, Dublin, that he shot therein Constable William Frith, No. 174 C, Dublin Metropolitan Police’.
Mr. Duke replied: ‘I am informed that Sergeant Bannon stated at Store Street Barracks that he fired shots at the windows through one of which Constable Frith received his fatal injury. The military, I understand, were not aware at the time that the building into which they were firing was a police barrack. In the view of the military authorities, while it is possible that the death of the constable may be attributed to military rifle fire, there is doubt on the point, as rebel sniping was also going on in that vicinity.’
Constable William Frith was born in Clara, County Offaly in 1878. He worked as a railway porter before joining the DMP at the age of 20 and had 17 years of service at the time of his death. He was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.
Constable Christopher Miller (South Dublin Union)
The only RIC man to die in Dublin was Constable Christopher Miller. At 2:30 pm on 27 April a small force of about 30 soldiers and 20 RIC men, the latter being drawn from the NCO’s School of Instruction, received orders to advance upon the South Dublin Union, a position which had been strongly held by Sinn Feiners since the previous Monday.
This group broke down the main gate to the Union and quickly occupied the out-buildings, and from there a heavy rifle fire was directed upon the main stronghold of the rebels, which appeared to be in the nurses home, a building which was separated from the out-houses by some 300 yards. The intervening ground offered very little cover to the attacking force, but the police now began to skirmish towards the main building, endeavouring to draw the enemy’s fire, while a party of bombers—who were in close proximity—worked their way around by the path.
Constable Miller was foremost in the attack and disregarding the intense fire from the barricaded windows continued to advance until less than 100 yards separated him from the foe but unfortunately his gallantry was destined to cost him his life, for in the act of taking aim, a rebel bullet entered his chest and he rolled over mortally wounded.
Simultaneously, the bombing party got into range, and their attack quickly resulted in the rebels evacuating the position. Constable Miller was gently carried back and placed in one of the outhouses where a few minutes later he passed peacefully away.
Liam O’Flaherty, the writer, was fighting with the Volunteers in the South Dublin Union: ‘On Thursday we seemed trapped and a terrific barrage was opened on the building. It was then that Cathal Brugha received the wounds. At this time Eamon Ceannt went in view of the porch of the Nurses Home and shot a North of Ireland Constabulary man who was in the van of the attackers.’
Constable Christopher Miller was born in Limerick in November 1886. He worked as a farmer before joining the RIC in January 1908 and served in Kerry, Armagh and Belfast. He was buried in Bully’s Acre Burial Grounds, Royal Hospital, Kilmainham.’
Constable Charles McGee (Castlebellingham, County Louth)
The Dundalk Company of Volunteers had mobilised on Sunday and had gone to Ardee. On their way to Slane they learned that the orders were countermanded. They stayed in Slane that night and in the morning the men from Dunleer and other places went home. The remains of the Dundalk Company were overtaken by Sean MacEntee who told them the Rising was on. They moved on towards Castlebellingham where they stopped for supplies. The local RIC were rounded up and placed against a railing at the edge of the Green. After gathering up the supplies, and just as the convoy was moving off, a shot was fired and a policeman, Constable Charles McGee, fell mortally wounded.
At the inquest, Sarah Connaughton, Castlebellingham deposed that on Easter Monday she saw a party of armed men in the village at 7pm. They were in motor cars, proceeding towards Dunleer. Some of them carried guns. Acting Sergeant Kieran and Constable Donovan went down after the party who got out of the motors. The men called on the police to halt and three men with revolvers searched the officers and placed them against the railings. Constable McGee rode down on his bicycle and the witness said to him, ‘Don’t go down there or you will be shot’. McGee went on and was halted and his bicycle taken from him. At the same time three men pointed revolvers and took some papers from McGee’s pockets. The men also stopped another car containing a military officer and they bade him and his chauffeur stand with the police. Shortly afterwards she heard three shots. She remarked that they were puncturing the motor tyres.
A whistle was blown and the crowd of people who had collected shouted, ‘Run, they are going to shoot’. As she was running away she heard Constable McGee say ‘Oh my arm’. She saw him catching his arm at the same time. The constable staggered towards the road and the witness saw blood streaming down his coat. The witness was horrified to think the man was shot and she said, ‘Oh my God, are you shot?’ As the constable was too injured to be brought to the doctor, the witness went to fetch the doctor for him.
By the time the doctor arrived it was already too late. When he examined the deceased he found him bleeding from four wounds – two on the left arm, one on the back, and one on the side of the axilla. He did what he could for the deceased, and had him removed on a motor car to the infirmary in Dundalk.
A Limavady lady states that she was in the neighbourhood of the spot where Constable McGee was fatally shot by the armed insurgents. The luckless young constable was able to give his name and home address to those who were succouring him and his last words weakly uttered were: ‘Tell my father and mother.’
Four men, including Sean MacEntee were put on trial for the murder of Constable McGee. They were found guilty and sentence to periods of penal servitude from five years to life. Constable Charles McGee was a native of Inishbofin Island, County Galway. He was born in July 1892 and worked as a fisherman before being appointed to the RIC in November 1912. Constable Charles McGee was buried Gortahork.
Head Constable Rowe (Castlelyons, County Cork)
At approximately midnight, on 1 May 1916, a small raiding party of eight RIC with Head Constable Rowe in charge left Fermoy Barracks with orders to arrest all the prominent Sinn Feiners in the district. They travelled in two small trucks and arrested a number of men before arriving at the Kent house. The house was surrounded and Frank King, who was a Constable in the RIC stationed at Fermoy was with the raiding party:
‘The Head Constable and his men approached the kitchen door and knocked. They stated their business and also who they were and almost immediately there was a very loud and defiant answer. I believe the words spoken were “We will not surrender until we leave some of you dead”. This answer was followed almost immediately by a shot. The answer and the shot came so quickly that the occupants of the house could not have been in bed or asleep.
‘When I got back some distance from the house I could see the Head Constable crouching behind a low wall on the far side of the house. Several shots rang out and I saw him fall back on the ground. His head was almost completely blown off by a shot gun blast. It was about the fourth shot I heard that killed the Head Constable.’
The military were called for and the Kents surrendered when they arrived. During the arrests, Richard Kent ran off and was fatally wounded. Tom and William Kent were court-martialled in Cork on the 4th and 5th May. David was in hospital and not well enough to stand trial. Tom was found guilty and was executed by the British. William was acquitted. About six weeks later David was court-martialled at Richmond Barracks, Dublin.
The Constabulary Gazette paid tribute to Head Constable Rowe:
‘The murder of Head Constable W. N. Rowe at Fermoy County Cork caused great local indignation. He was stationed in Cork prior to his transfer to Fermoy, and as a member of the Church of Ireland Cork Young Men’s Society, he was prominent in all the meetings; in St Luke’s Church he was one of the most earnest workers. The murdered Head Constable leaves a widow and five children.’
The interment took place two days after the constable’s death. The coffin which was of polished oak was placed on a gun carriage and covered with a Union Jack. The cortege proceeded from Fermoy church where the remains had lain since the previous Tuesday to the picturesque churchyard at Castlehyde. Sergeant William Rowe was a native of Wexford and was aged 20 when appointed in September 1887. He was appointed head constable in June 1915.
Constable Patrick Whelan (Carnmore, County Galway)
Early on Wednesday morning 26 April, a party of police, and special constables, under the command of District Inspector Heard, had set out from Galway in five or six motor cars to reconnoitre the Castlegar/Claregalway area for the purpose of seeing how the ground lay; monitoring outlying barracks; quelling the insurrection; and making arrests. All went well until, at daybreak, the party reached the cross roads at Carnmore, where the most serious encounter of the local crisis occurred. The police took cover and an exchange of shots went on for about an hour. A number of slightly different accounts of Constable Whelan’s death were given including that of District Inspector Heard who said that one Volunteer was about to surrender:
‘I covered him with my rifle and I believe Constable Whelan did the same. I called on him to surrender. Almost immediately when I had got to within three yards of him, a volley was fired by a party of anything between 15 and 20 men who were lying on the left hand side of the wall, and only came into my view as I reached that spot. The deceased constable was a very tall man of about 6ft 3in and the shots fired appeared to go high – certainly over my head. Whether from the concussion of the constable falling on me, I cannot say, but I fell out into the middle of the road. The deceased was also on the ground when I recovered myself and we both crept back to the shelter of the wall on the west side. Constable Whelan, as he lay up against the bank behind the wall, within a few yards of me for some time, was a little bit exposed to the fire so I spoke to him and got him to move down a few yards. The side of his face was then covered with blood. I knelt on my knee a few yards out from the wall, and I continued to return the fire of the rebels. When the RIC were low on ammunition they retreated back to barracks.’
At the inquest Dr Sandys had made a deposition in which he swore that when he saw the deceased at Eglinton Street Barracks he was dead. The left side of his face, forehead and neck, nearly to the collar bone, were covered with blood, and he had several puncture wounds over these regions, caused by pellets of the fourth gunshot, one of which he extracted. Some of these wounds penetrated through the cheek into the mouth, and the blood vessels inside of the neck were wounded. Death was caused by hemorrhage of these vessels and by shock.
Of the poor constable who met his early death, people speak in the highest terms. He is represented as one of the most kind hearted and good natured young men that could be found. He was of a genial and friendly disposition, and was extremely popular with everyone who knew him and with all the members of the force. Resolutions of condolence with his bereaved family were adopted by the Coroner’s jury at the inquest.
On Thursday morning the funeral took place of Constable Whelan RIC and was one of the largest and most representative seen for some time in Galway. Every mark of respect and regret for the deceased was shown. It was a very large funeral and the interment took place at Prospect Hill Cemetery. Constable Patrick Whelan was born in Kilkenny in February 1882 and worked as a farmer before being appointed to the RIC in April 1908.
Sergeant Thomas Rourke & Constable John Hurley (Monour, County Tipperary)
On Tuesday 25 April Michael O’Callaghan went to visit his father in Tipperary town. A hostile crowd, confronted him and he drew a revolver to keep them at bay. The police were called and three shots were fired through O’Callaghan’s hall door at the police when they knocked. One young man was shot in the leg. O’Callaghan went on the run and ended up in Peter Hennessy’s house at Monour. The following morning Sergeant Rourke and Constable Hurley arrived at the farmhouse. The following statement was made by Sergeant Rourke in the kitchen where he lay dying:
‘About 12:30pm I and Constable Hurley entered the dwelling house of Peter Hennessy, Monour, and went into the kitchen. I saw a man sitting on a chair there. Peter Hennessy was also sitting down. I asked the strange man his name and he didn’t give it. I asked Hennessy who the man was. Hennessy said he was a neighbour. The man then said “I’ll give you my card”. He then pulled out a revolver and fired at me. I felt that I was shot and I fell on the floor. I then saw him fire at Constable Hurley and they both rushed out of the door together. I heard two shots outside in the yard. This is all true. I feel very bad and I am afraid I’ll not get over it. Hurley had the revolver. I had no arms. We had plain overcoats on.’
Peter Hennessy gave evidence that he shoved the sergeant a little way from the fire. The sergeant was very weak. He remained there until Capt. Hunt arrived at about half past four and examined him. In the meantime they put pillows under him.
Capt. Hunt R.A.M.C. stated that when he arrived at Monour at 4:30pm in the afternoon he found Sergeant O’Rourke lying on the floor of Mr Hennessy’s kitchen in a very collapsed condition. On examination witness discovered a bullet wound situated in the abdomen, two inches from the navel on the left side. The witness had him brought on the ambulance to the hospital in Tipperary. The sergeant died at 1:15pm on Thursday morning.
The remains of Sergeant T F O’Rourke were laid to rest in the burial ground of Clonbeg Protestant Church, Aherlow on Monday afternoon. Accompanied by a score of police the coffin was borne from the morgue on the shoulders of his comrades to the bier. On the way to Clonbeg, a large number of people from the Glen of Aherlow where the sergeant was immensely popular joined the procession.
Sergeant Thomas Rourke was a native of County Cork. He was aged 20 and worked as a railway clerk before being appointed to the RIC in January 1894. He married a Kilkenny woman in July 1913 and made permanent sergeant in January 1914. It can be truly said of him that he was one of the most popular policemen in the Tipperary district and if he erred at all it was certainly on the side of leniency rather than severity.
At the inquest on Constable Hurley, Captain Hunt R.A.M.C. stated: that on going to Monour on Wednesday April 26th he found the following wounds on the body of Constable Hurley: (1) Bullet wound on right side of head; the bullet penetrated right through and penetrated the earth. (2) Bullet wound three inches below and on inner side of left nipple. (3) Bullet wound below centre of right clavicle (4) Bullet wound exit of No. 2. (5) Another bullet smashed deceased’s watch which was in his left trouser pocket. In his opinion death occurred from a bullet shot through the head.
There was speculation that while running away in the yard Constable Hurley was shot and fell to the ground where he was finished off with a bullet to the head. On Friday evening the remains of Constable John Hurley, a native of Fahir, Castletownbeare, were brought to Bantry by the noon train and were subsequently trans-shipped for interment in Castletownbeare. The greatest horror and detestation were expressed on all sides at the dastardly act which so suddenly cut short the life of a brave and highly promising young man. The sad spectacle of trans-shipment on board the Castletown steamer which left at one o’clock was witnessed by large numbers of representative people from the town and district who all showed their sorrow and sympathy with the deceased’s afflicted father. On all sides the strongest terms of condemnation were used at the present senseless Sinn Fein revolt in Dublin, of which this tragedy seems to have been an offshoot. The funeral party was furnished by the Bantry police.
Constable John Hurley was born in December 1892 and worked as a gardener before joining the RIC and was appointed in March 1913. His quiet gentle manner made him a great favourite. Michael O’Callaghan escaped to America and never stood trial.
The Battle of Ashbourne
On Friday 28 April 2016 the Volunteers of the 5 th Battalion (Fingal) Dublin Brigade attacked the RIC station at Ashbourne. After about one hour the police inside were on the verge of surrender when a convoy of cars carrying around 50 RIC men came down the road from Slane and were halted not far from the station when fire was opened on them. The police in the station refused to surrender and a battle ensued between the Volunteers and the police in the station and those in the roadway. At the end of the battle, eight policemen, two volunteers and three civilians were dead or dying of their wounds. The road that evening was a terrible sight with blood and bandages strewn on it.
The Drogheda Independent graphically described the arrival of the dead and wounded in Navan:
‘From 6.30 onwards until 11 PM cars with the wounded and dying flowed into Navan infirmary. How eloquently the cars spoke of the terrible conflict that had taken place! The windscreens were riddled with bullets, the mudguards, cushions, and chassis were dotted over with bullet marks. Some of the cars arrived with punctured tyres and the sights of helpless bodies lying in the cars with wrapped dressings around their wounds excited a sympathy keen and deep among the relatives of those who had gone out in the morning, to return motionless and dead. In the hospital extensive preparations were made for the treatment of the wounded. The medical and nursing staff was considerably augmented and the clergy from Navan were busily engaged with such as could receive their administrations.’
The paper went on to relate how the battle scene became an instant tourist attraction on Sunday when hundreds of people came there to search for mementos.
County Inspector Alexander ‘Baby’ Grey
County Inspector Alexander Gray was the most senior policeman killed during the Rising. He was in the first car of the convoy and was shot in both of his hands and through his hip. After the battle he was brought to Navan Hospital where he died of his wounds on 10 May.
County Inspector Gray was born in October 1858 in County Tyrone (Belfast is also given as his birthplace) and was appointed to the RIC in November 1882. He had been particularly active on behalf of the landlords in the land disturbances in Kerry in the 1880s and had even been mentioned in Peig Sayers’ autobiography, Peig. She referred to him as ‘Baby’ Gray which was a nickname he had been given presumably because of his boyish looks. Between then and his death he served in eight counties before taking up his position as County Inspector for Meath in 1912.
The many obituaries and council resolutions concerning him show that he was a popular individual among his own class. The Constabulary Gazette paid Gray the following tribute:
‘Probably Co. Meath never knew a more popular County Inspector. He was the soul of honour and of righteousness. No man ever appealed to him in vain for justice or mercy. His end was a sad though gallant one. Outnumbered by rebels and seriously wounded in hands and body, he courageously and resolutely refused to surrender when asked to do so by a rebel leader. With a heroism worthy of any cause he held his ground for five long hours until, by reason of lack of ammunition, resistance could no longer be sustained. May history do justice to his name, and may a gallant Force revere his memory.’ He was buried in Esker Cemetery, Lucan, County Dublin.
District Inspector Harry Smyth
Newspaper reports stated that District Inspector Smyth was twice wounded and towards the end of the battle he was rallying his men when the rebels suddenly appeared on the ditch overhead, and the District Inspector fell dead, with a bullet through his brain, in a double ditch on the side of the roadway half-way up Hammondtown hill. His brains were scattered all over the place.
Volunteer Joe Lawless recalled how his father and his men heard Smith loudly berating the police for skulking in the ditch and calling on them to get up and fight: ‘Smith was undoubtedly a brave man who stood there exposed to show the police that they need not fear to get up there also. Hearing the movement of my father towards him he fired at him on the instant and his bullet, missing my father, penetrated the heart of the Volunteer behind him killing him instantly. My father’s shot at the same time hit Smith on the forehead and smashed his skull.’
A few minutes later, Joe Lawless saw the District Inspector Smyth lying on the ground and still breathing: ‘He still lay as he fell – as I came along – feet on bank and head near the edge of the roadside and although his brain matter spattered the grass beside him he yet lived, his breath coming in great gasps at long intervals, in the minute or so I watched him. Then he was still and the muscles of his face relaxed.’
District Inspector Harry Smyth was born in Hertfordshire, England, and was aged 25 years when mappointed to the R.I.C. He married a Leitrim woman, Georgina Eveleen, in August 1901 and they had four children. He was buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland in Ardbraccan, County Meath.
Sergeant John Shanagher
John Shanagher was born in County Roscommon and was aged 23 years when appointed in January 1891. He was promoted to permanent sergeant in May 1907. Newspaper reports stated that Serg. Shanagher was with County Inspector Gray in the first car of the convoy and was shot through the heart almost as he was leaving his car. The sergeant fell into a channel of water near the cross and presented a gruesome spectacle when the battle ended. He was thrown into the channel in a sitting position and was found dead still wearing his helmet. Volunteer Jerry Golden gave the view from the other side:
‘We were about two minutes firing at the motor cars when we saw one of the police step out of the front one and attempt to cross the road to a cutting in the bank which would give him cover to fire on us. He was just in the middle of the road when I saw Mick McAllister step out on the footpath raise his rifle and fire at the man who staggered into the cutting and fell against the side of it with his rifle pointed down the road at us who were at the Cross Roads and only about 60 yards from us. Thinking he was about to fire at us, Mick Fleming, Dick Aungier and myself had shots at him but we saw no replying shot and concluded he was either seriously wounded or dead.’
Volunteer Joe Lawless described how he came across the dead body of Sergeant Shanagher at the end of the battle: ‘There he crouched, sitting on his heels as I came up, with his rifle across his knees, and getting no response to my order to him to get out on the road, I pulled him by the shoulder to find that he was not only dead but quite stiff. The body toppled over towards me and remained in its crouched form, still grasping his carbine with the right hand at the small of the butt.’
The Chairman of Navan Magistrates described Sergt. Shanaher ‘as an officer of the highest efficiency and integrity.’ Mr JP Timmons made special reference to Sergt. Shanaher who he said by his rugged honesty had so won the esteem of the people that even those unfortunates whom he was sometimes compelled to deal with cried when they heard of his death’.
On Sunday evening 30th April the remains of Sergeant Thomas Shanagher arrived in Strokestown by motor whereupon the coffin was placed in a hearse. A large concourse of police and people followed the hearse to Killina chapel where the remains were laid until the following Monday when all that was mortal of that ill-fated sergeant was laid to rest in the family plot at Killina cemetery.
Sergeant John Young
A native of County Cavan and aged 23 years when appointed in November 1896, Sergeant John Young was made full sergeant in October 1913. He married a Donegal woman in August 1912.
Volunteer Jerry Golden described the events leading to Sergeant Young’s death: ‘The hour was now about 4 pm and we who were down at the Cross Roads heard a shout “Charge”. We looked up the roads and saw Lieut Mulcahy lead a party of about seven men all with fixed bayonets charge down the road on the police rere while our men on both sides of the road opened a rapid fire into the body of the policemen who were grouped under cover from us of the halted cars. When the police saw this party charge down on them with fixed bayonets they threw their rifles out on the road and raced into a labourer’s cottage on their side of the road. Those who could not get into the cottage then came out into the road with their hands raised over their heads and shouting “we surrender”.
Joe Lawless found one of his men [Tom Weston] firing across the rere of a cottage on the right. ‘He told me he had succeeded in getting one Constabulary man who had tried to get through a window into the cottage [probably Sergeant Young], and he thought there were others in bushes above the cottage.’
Newspaper reports stated that Sergeant Young’s dead body was found at the back of a cottage near the Rath Cross. 14 wounded constables lay in agony in pools of blood in the fields and on the road.
At Trim Petty Sessions District Inspector Murnane said: ‘His sympathy went out to the widow of Sergeant Young, who had been married only three years, and was now left with two young children. Every man from his station had done their duty nobly and well, and he was glad to say that the entire sympathy of the people of the district was with them.’
Sergeant Young was buried, along with three other fallen constables in the New (St Mary’s) Cemetery, Navan, County Meath; Constable Hickey, Constable Gormley, and Constable McHale.
Constable James Hickey
James Hickey was born in County Kilkenny and was aged 23 when appointed in September 1890. He had been a fisherman before joining the. The Meath Chronicle reported:
‘Much regret is felt at the death of Constable James Hickey, Kells, who was killed at Ashbourne on Friday night 28th ult. He had been stationed for some time in Kells and was very popular with all classes by reason of his genial and unassuming disposition. He belonged to a respectable family in the County Limerick.’
Constable Richard McHale
Richard McHale was appointed to the RIC in February 1913. In May 1916 the Constabulary Gazette published an account of the battle which resulted in the wounding of another policeman Constable Michael Duggan:
‘[Duggan] was shot while lying under a motor car from which he kept up an incessant fire on the Sinn Feiners. Ten minutes after the fight started two men, Constable McCabe and Sergeant Shanaher, were shot dead beside him. Their life blood squirted on to Constable Duggan.’
As no constable by the name of McCabe was either wounded or killed in the fight at Ashbourne, it is probably safe to assume that the person killed next to Constable Duggan was Constable McHale.
Constable James Gormley
James Gormley was a native of County Sligo and was born in 1891. He was appointed to the RIC in September 1912. James Gormley’s brother was an active member of the Ballintogher Volunteers and the family were very popular in the area. Constable Jeremiah Mee who was stationed in Ballintogher at the time noted that, ‘nearly all the people, including the local Volunteers, turned out to attend a Requiem Mass for the dead constable and to sympathise with his widowed mother and family.’
Constable James Cleary
James Cleary was a native of County Galway. He was born on 24 February 1888 and was a farmer before being appointed on 28 July 1909. An account of the Battle of Ashbourne by a Volunteer Officer includes the death of a policeman who was likely to have been Constable Cleary:
‘One big powerfully built, dark complexioned Peeler, was very badly wounded. He was on the first automobile and had got four bullets, one in the leg, one in the thigh, and two in the body. I was doing what I could for him and had cut open his trousers made of very thick stuff, to get at the wound in his thigh, when he fainted from loss of blood. As I was working on him and the flow of blood was staunched, he recovered consciousness and asked: “Is it all over?” – meaning the fighting. I told him it was and then he asked “Am I going to die?” I told him he wasn’t, though I knew there was no hope for him, and he asked hadn’t he other wounds. I said “No you’ll be alright”. Then he said there was a flask of whiskey in his knapsack and told me to get it for him, asking innocently; “Is it a sin to drink whiskey when nyou are dying?” I reassured him on that point and gave him a little of the whiskey. He brightened up and said; “I thought we’d all be slaughtered, but I see yez are dacent chaps. It’s too bad we have to be fighting one another”. In a few minutes he died.’
It is possible that this policeman was Constable Cleary as the newspaper reports mention the deaths of the other constables and state that Constable Cleary died later of wounds. The remains of Constable Cleary were brought on Wednesday 2 May to his native place, Tuam, for interment.
The majority of people will soon forget this wretched affair but for some the Easter of 1916 will be a bitter memory. Every policeman who was killed or wounded during the rebellion was engaged in the performance of a duty they could not avoid, and it is lamentable in the extreme that they suffered so severely. They have been cut off in their prime by their own countrymen without warning and so far as we are judges without cause. Wives have been left without husbands, children without fathers, parents without sons and sorrow has entered the house of many.
Ray Bateson is the author of The Rising Dead RIC & DMP, which expounds much further on the RIC & DMP members who lost their lives during the Rising. The book is available from the website www.therisingdead.com or by contacting email@example.com.