Murder most foul in March 1921

THE news and sales columns of The Tuam Herald in March 1921 paint a vivid account of life in the town and surrounding countryside during a very turbulent period of the War of Independence.

Browsing through the March editions, life appeared normal with meetings, land sales, and entertainment announcements. Social diary news informed readers that a Tuam man, Judge Bodkin, was blackballed at the RDS and Miss Margaret Nicholls, granddaughter of the late Jasper Kelly of The Tuam Herald, was acting in a play in the Savoy Theatre in London.

In advertisements, Mrs Anna Holmes of Rockwood, Galway was selling six properties on Shop Street. Locals could enjoy a Christian Brothers concert at The Mall Cinema mid-week and return at the weekend to view the film A Trip to Mars.

Moran’s Garage, Tuam were advertising that they were newly appointed Ford Dealers and in Glenamaddy, the National Bank’s new branch was coping with an increasing volume of business in the area from farmers with recently acquired holdings.

The paper also reported on the splendid singing of the church choir led by organist N. Hession during packed Holy Week ceremonies. Animal lovers would be appalled to read that “only seven hares” were killed at the coursing meeting in Parkmore.

But, a more sombre tone was conveyed as you read the news reports and editorials; stories of raids, murder and intimidation gave an insight into violent events that were having an impact on people in the locality and the wider Galway area. The unrelenting cycle of violence and reprisal had intensified since the beginning of the year, resulting in many civilian as well as military deaths.

A sign painted on the wall of a shop in Dunmore stated “if one policeman is shot here then up goes the town, God Save the King.”

The reporter used the word terror as he wrote about the bombing of two houses belonging to County Councillors Kennedy and Finnegan in the town by Crown Forces. Windows were broken and damage caused to the Town Hall. Local men leaving church services in the area were interrogated and searched. A sign painted on the wall of a shop in Dunmore stated “if one policeman is shot here then up goes the town, God Save the King.”

Sunday morning in Moylough, young boys playing handball ran away when two lorries of police and soldiers arrived into the town. They were chased and beaten with rifle butts; the troops then started to fire indiscriminately frightening the local people. The home of Tom Dunleavy, Togher, Tuam was burned by armed and masked men late on Saturday night, March 19. The family were told they had 20 minutes to leave. They managed to save a bed, a few chairs and a bag of flour purchased earlier that day and sought shelter in a neighbouring house.

“Dreadful Doings Near Dunmore” was the heading on a report of the brutal death of Thomas Mullen on March 2, a young man from Killavoher, Clonberne. Thomas, who had no political affiliation, had come home for Christmas to see his ailing mother had stayed on to help on the farm.

Uniformed men arrived at his home in the afternoon looking for his Volunteer brother Michael. The lorries moved off as Michael was not at home and were interviewing a motor cyclist on the road when Thomas was spotted in a field. He was beckoned over, questioned and taken into the lorry. Shots were heard and his severely wounded body was thrown on to the roadside. One of the uniformed men told a local woman who tended to the dying Thomas that he was shot trying to escape. He was due to return to England that week.

Referring to the tragedy during the funeral mass Rev. Colgan of Clonberne said “I declare here today, this young man was innocent of any crime or any connection with any kind of organisation but, the Crown Forces fired six shots into him and finished his young life. If I am within the law, I advise his mother to take an action against the Government for the murder of her son.”

Two RIC men were shot in Clifden in retaliation for the execution of local man Thomas Whelan in Mountjoy on March 14. Reprisals followed swiftly and 16 houses were burned in the town when police arrived out from Galway. John Joseph McDonnell, son of a local hotel owner, was shot and there was a direct conflict of evidence between the official police version “shot trying to escape” and eyewitness accounts of the incident including that of his father who stated his son was ordered from his bed, taken outside and killed.

No let up to the killings

Easter Week fell in March in 1921 and there was no let-up in the killings in deference of it being Holy Week. On Holy Thursday, a young man from Headford, Louis Darcy age 23 and a medical student at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, was found dead at Merlin Park, Galway. He was O/C of the Headford Battalion and had been on the run.

Louis was high on the list of wanted men since the Kilroe ambush (Tuam Herald Jan 13). Although he had not been present at that ambush, he had liaised with Michael Newell in organising the attack. The family were well known republican sympathisers and the family home in Clydagh was subject to frequent searches. His brothers were also involved in Republican activities.

Aloysius Raphael Darcy was born in June 1897 to Nicholas Darcy and Mary Forde, both National School teachers. His father had died in 1917 and his mother was teaching in Claran National School. On Wednesday morning of Easter week, Darcy and another man were on their way to board the 8.20 train to Dublin on route to GHQ to meet Michael Collins.

Darcy had been careful in his movements and had stayed at various safe houses during the previous few days to avoid detection. The two men were dressed as labourers and came across fields towards the station but as they arrived on to the platform, Crown Forces suddenly appeared and arrested both men. It was believed afterwards the police were informed of their plans.

Darcy’s body was found the following day March 24 in the same spot where Constable Martin Foley from Castlerea was gunned down the previous August. The RIC from Oranmore had run amok in the village the night of Foley’s death. Winter’s Intelligence Report from Dublin Castle contains the following wording “he was arrested and, while being transported into Galway in a lorry, attempted to escape and by one of the extraordinary decrees of fate met his death on the same spot as the Police Sergeant brutally murdered by him a few weeks earlier.”

This report, like most of the official reports of deaths by Crown Forces investigated at Military Inquiries, could not be trusted either for veracity or accuracy.

Head Constable Murphy gave evidence at the Military Inquiry held in Renmore on Saturday morning. He declared that his men had handed over the prisoners to the Auxiliaries for safe custody following their arrest at Oranmore Station. Darcy was to be transferred to Eglinton Street for positive identification.

Two Auxiliaries in charge of the transfer then gave their account to the Inquiry. C W Owens, the driver of the Crossley Tender transporting Louis Darcy, had also been part of the detachment that arrested the Loughnane brothers near Gort.

Owens said he pulled in to the side of the road following a break-down of the car in front. He saw the prisoner jumping from the lorry and making for a gap in the wall. When the prisoner refused to halt, he was shot by the escort.

Cadet John Lowe on escort duty in the rear of the lorry was one of three Auxiliaries present when Michael Moran was shot the previous November. Lowe claimed to know Louis Darcy by sight for some time and “shot him while trying to escape”. No medical evidence was available for the Inquiry, which was unusual, and the Court’s finding concluded with the standard sentence from many such inquiries; “the deceased met his death from gunshot wounds fired by the police in the execution of their duty while he was trying to escape from arrest.”

Other accounts refute this testimony completely and state that Darcy was kept at Oranmore barracks until identified by local Headford RIC men. He was questioned and tortured and the following day, instead of being brought to Galway, tied to the back of the lorry and dragged along the road for some distance. He was then placed back into the lorry and brought to Merlin Park where he was shot a number of times.

Coffin was draped in a Tricolour

Commander Joseph Kenworthy, MP for Hull, frequently raised issues in Parliament regarding deaths attributed to Police and Auxiliaries in Ireland. In April, he questioned the shooting of Louis Darcy in police custody along with that of William McCarthy two days later in Tralee. He also referred to the death of 15-year-old Joseph Molloy near Boyle shot “accidentally” and that of Seàn O’Leary in Moneygall, saying such deaths were not accepted in Ireland and that “shot while trying to escape” was looked upon as a cover for cold blooded murder. Attorney General for Ireland Sir Denis Henry quoted the Military Courts’ findings on every occasion.

Louis Darcy’s funeral took place in Headford and his coffin was draped in a Tricolour made from the green and yellow material of the flag of local football club, Corrib Shamrocks, owing to a difficulty in securing material at that time.

When his mother Mary died in Tuam in 1938, the same flag covered her coffin on the journey to Cargin Graveyard and the story was told once more of how local people had seized the flag from police at her son’s funeral.

Large numbers of Black and Tans had attended the in full war gear and pulled the flag from the coffin. They trampled on it and a fierce tussle then ensued with mourners who were eventually victorious and the flag was placed once more on the coffin which bore the simple inscription, Louis Darcy, Capt. IRA.

Sixty -one deaths were recorded for Easter Week 1921, both Military and Civilian, the youngest being 12-year-old Hannah Keegan, caught in crossfire as she walked home from a shop in Dublin.

Unfortunately, many more were to die in the following months before the July ceasefire, and another spiral of violence was unleashed in the Civil War following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921.

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