Three young men who were executed by firing squad at Birr Castle by the Leinster House administration on the 26th January, 1923 – 99 years ago on this date – were claimed by the IRA as being members of that organisation even though their applications for membership had been rejected.

Patrick Cunningham (20), Willie Conroy (16) and Colum Kelly (22), all from Tullamore, County Offaly, were executed in an act that was “..overly harsh. The boys’ youthful exuberance and naivety lured them into the easy pickings of crime. They never harmed anyone. The Free State’s insatiable desire for a pound of flesh in a desperate measure to stamp out criminality was futile.

In Offaly extreme measures were enforced in an attempt to curb the growing anarchy stalking the county. Tullamore natives Colum Kelly, Patrick Cunningham and William Conroy were tried by a military court in Roscrea and executed at Birr Castle on 26 January 1923 for armed raids on houses at Ballycowan. They were found guilty and sentenced to death for possession without proper authority firearms, burglary of houses, stealing a silver watch, several sums of money, with other goods and chattels.

The young gang’s downfall occurred when they held up a few farmers on their way from Tullamore. The boys demanded money and the farmers handed over about eighteen shillings. The farmers later gave evidence at the court-martial in Roscrea. One crucial witness who sealed the boys’ fate was an ex-member of the RIC.

Conroy was briefly in the Free State Army but deserted to join the IRA. He was deemed to be too young for the IRA and was refused admission to their ranks. A republican related how the IRA objected to Conroy’s youth : “..some of his friends raised objections as to his age, saying he was too young. In fact, I myself was one. With the result that he went home.”

Rejected by the IRA, Conroy sought alternative adventure in crime…poor victims of mischance – making atonement for a boyish prank without a word of complaint. Buried in unmarked graves in Clonminch Cemetery…the three boys were recorded on the list of 77 republicans officially executed. They were not members of the IRA.

Seán McGuinness, O/C 1st Battalion (Tullamore), Offaly No. 1 Brigade, recalled how the IRA “..told them to go home out of compassion…they were all young.” As with many people at the time they exploited the break down in law and order as a convenient opportunity to engage in robbery. To maximise the propaganda capital out of the executions, the IRA claimed them as ‘Republican Soldiers’. The IRA may also have wanted to save their republican families from the shame and stigma that the criminal label implied. The boys were soon relegated to the historical doldrums becoming largely forgotten figures in local history. In 1924, at Blueball, Tullamore, large crowds assembled to meet the bodies of the executed boys for internment.

In 2003 a plaque was unveiled in Birr Castle on the 80th anniversary of their execution. The Free State did not flinch on any emotional grounds over the youth of the boys. Kelly was aged 22 while Cunningham was 20. Conroy was believed to be aged 16 although this has yet to be confirmed…” (from here.)

In our opinion, regardless of the “shame and stigma [to family members] that the criminal label implied”, or “the propaganda capital” to be ‘gained’ from adding people like that to any Irish republican Roll of Honour, it is beneath Irish republicanism to do so, either then – 1923 – or today. We have a proud history and a proud tradition and we must not sully same ourselves by our deeds, no matter how well intentioned.


This dramatic account of the action was given to one of our representatives in an interview with one of the men who took part.

From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, July, 1954.


When our own man was dressed he marched out and took up a stand as sentry, while the Tommy was ordered into the guardroom where he was bound similar to the others.

The lorry had been signalled and it drove up and in through the gates, stopping outside the armoury. Out jumped our men dressed in khaki, and five of them entered the building.


Two soldiers were sitting at a table checking over the list of weapons in the armoury when our men burst in : “Up on your feet and hands above your heads.” In a flash they were bound and gagged and, within a few minutes, Volunteers were loading the truck but, first of all, a Bren gun from the armoury was loaded and cocked, left ready for action.

Relays of Volunteers carried armfuls of guns and magazines to the truck in which two others remained to pack them and so expedite the loading. Just then a ‘cool man in a green coat’ arrived…



On Wednesday, 26th January, 1921 – 101 years ago on this date – three members of the RIC, from the Phoenix Park Depot (said to be in the ‘Reserve Force’ of that grouping), were staying overnight in the Railway View Hotel (aka ‘Roddy’s Bar/Central Railway Hotel’) on Townhall Street in Belfast (pictured) when five IRA men, said to be from Dublin, paid them a visit.

Two of the RIC men, Thomas Heffron (26 years of age, ‘service number’ 69264, a native of Ballycastle in County Mayo) and Michael Quinn (‘service number’ 69729, a native of Killeigh in County Laoighis [Laois], or ‘Queens County’, as he would have called it, was 20 years of age at the time), were escorting one of their colleagues, Denis Gilmartin, to a ‘court’ in Belfast to give evidence in regards to the shooting of an RIC man, Hunt, in Tipperary. It is believed that the informer, Gilmartin, had once associated in republican circles and was actually described later in some newspaper reports as an “IRA prisoner” of the two RIC men.

Michael Quinn had joined the RIC in early June 1919, and was stationed in Cork. He transferred to the ‘RIC Reserve’ in September, 1920, and his brother, William, was also a member of the RIC.

One of the barmen in the hotel, Vincent Watters, was an IRA man and he was aware of who the three guests were and got word to his comrades. At about 9.30pm that night, five men who had been sitting in a snug in the bar made their way upstairs and four of them – Séamus Woods, Joe Murray, Roger McCorley and a man named McKennay – shot the RIC men. Heffron and Quinn were killed outright but the informer, Gilmartin, survived that night, despite having been wounded fifteen times. He lived long enough to retract his ‘evidence’ regarding the shooting of an RIC man in Tipperary.

Hours later, in the early hours of the following day (Thursday, 27th January 1921) a Sinn Féin supporter, Michael Garvey (23), from Armagh, who worked as a chemists assistant and was renting a room in a house on Bray Street, just off the Crumlin Road in Belfast, heard someone letting themselves in to the house with a key. Three men confronted him and shot him dead ; those three men were later identified as high-ranking RIC members and were named as a Detective Inspector Harrison, Detective Inspector Nixon and a Head ‘Constable’ named Pakenham.

It transpired later that the three RIC members were of the opinion that they had shot and killed a barman named Michael Garvey, a suspected IRA man…


Rita Smyth examines the editorials of the Northern newspaper, ‘The Irish News’, for the first six months of 1987.

Her analysis shows how the paper reflects the political attitudes of the Stormont Castle Catholics (who dominate the SDLP*) and the conservative values of the Catholic Hierarchy, especially Bishop Cahal Daly.

(From ‘Iris’ magazine, October 1987.)

(‘1169’ comment – *…and who now fill the ranks of other Stoop-like political parties in Stormont and Leinster House.)

Catholic, but not Nationalist :

It is not without reason that the editorials appeal for a rejection of affiliation to ‘nationalist’ and ‘loyalist’ identities, in the cause of embracing a new ‘European’ identity. They purport to speak for ‘constitutional nationalists’ while having in fact jettisoned all but the most token affirmation of the nationalist cause.

The ‘Irish News’ editorials appear under the paper’s motto ‘Pro fide et Patria’ (‘For Faith and Fatherland’) ; whatever about the ‘Fatherland’, ‘Mother Ireland’ has certainly been forsaken, but ‘Faith’ – ours – remains securely in place. The new ‘European Identity’ will certainly not be a secular one. Indeed, one could be forgiven for wondering if the editor was not double-jobbing as Bishop Daly’s press officer, so often is the Bishop quoted.

The authority of the Catholic Hierarchy is invoked with relentless regularity ; no less than 26 editorials are based on the pronouncements of various clergy, and even St Patrick is rolled out to do his bit, having first established his credentials –“In the league table, one might say, of the Christian sanctified, he is out in front.” The spirit of St Pat is calling upon us to “..reject the men of evil in our society. We must ask St Patrick to intercede that the serpent of deceit will be driven from our midst and that we will recognise the hatred for what it is..” (March 17th and 18th.)! (MORE LATER.)


On the night of Tuesday, 25th January, 1921, six members of the British Auxiliary military force left their barracks in Trim, County Meath, on foot patrol and, as was customary for ‘safety reasons’, in two groups of three.

Minutes after they left the relative safety of their barracks, they turned on to Haggard Street when gunfire was opened on them ; one of their number, a 23-year-old London-born man, Robert Thomas Walter Barney (‘service number 74970’), was wounded. He died the next day.

In November 1920, 23-year-old Charles Ingledew (also spelt as ‘Englesden’ and/or ‘Engleden’) joined the British Auxiliarys and was jobbed by that grouping as a driver in their ‘Drivers and Veterans’ division, but only lasted in that position for about ten weeks, when he was enlisted into the RIC ‘proper’.

On the night of Wednesday, 26th January 1921, he was drinking in a pub in Listowel, in County Kerry, with two other RIC members when, apparently, the lights went off in the pub and, seconds later, a gun was discharged. When the lights were turned back on, Charles Ingledew was on the floor, dead, bleeding from a head wound, shot with his own gun. He had either accidentally shot himself or he had shot himself in the head on purpose.


From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, March, 1955.


Public meetings were held during the past month in Nobber, County Meath ; Kingscourt, County Cavan ; Castlebar, County Mayo and Draperstown, County Derry. Despite the inclement weather all our speakers had large and attentive audiences.

Tomas O hEanain, in the course of his speech, appealed to the electors to vote solidly for Sinn Féin – not only because Tom Mitchell was a young man well worthy to represent them in the republican government – but because the Sinn Féin policy alone could bring peace, unity and prosperity to Ireland. He stated that the issue at stake in the election, so far as the Six Counties was concerned, was Ireland versus England – every vote for Tom Mitchell and Sinn Féin was a blow struck for the unity and independence of Ireland.

He outlined the three major problems of Ireland as political, economic and cultural. Nothing effective, he said, had been done in the past 30 years to make the Irish nation a sovereign nation, nothing had been done to develop the natural resources of the country to provide Irish citizens with the means of a full and complete life at home in their motherland.

Irish culture generally had declined and the general attitude engendered by opportunist and expediency measures of politicians was either contempt or indifference. These problems, he said, can only be solved when Ireland is completely free from all interference by England.

Cathal Laverty, Magherafelt, County Derry, and Michael Traynor, Dublin, also spoke…


Thanks for the visit, and for reading,

Sharon and the team.

About 11sixtynine

A mother of three (and a Granny!) and a political activist , living in Dublin , Ireland.
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