Remembering Sean Mac Caoilte/John Forrestal of Tullamore (1885–1922). Great talent we lost during the revolutionary period.
Happy St Patrick’s Day to all our followers. A good day to recall a talented…
It was a quiet afternoon on Monday 3 July 1922 when Thomas Mitchell, the manager of the Ulster Bank in High Street, Tullamore was shot dead by the IRA in the course of a robbery carried out by the Republican IRA (often then called the Irregulars to distinguish them from the Free State’s National Army). Sometimes these events are called ‘daring raids but in this case and for three months previously there were no RIC policemen and the town of Tullamore was in July under the control of the Republican IRA. The Four Courts had been evacuated on 30 June and the battle for Dublin would soon be determined in favour of the Free State army. By 20 July Tullamore would be under the control of the Free State, but with pockets of Republican forces still in the countryside including in some of the bigger houses such as Rathrobin, near Mountbolus. A report of the Mitchell shooting by way of the inquest was published on 8 July by the Offaly Independent which was based in what was by then Free State territory. The issue of the Midland Tribune for 8 July is not available and both it and the Offaly Chronicle were published in Birr in the heart of Republican army territory. Both papers were censored and afraid to offend.
The Offaly Chronicle 20 July 1922
The Offaly Independent issues of early July were burned by the Republicans in Tullamore. The Independent had been a fearless supporter of Sinn Féin from 1916 to its destruction by the British military in November 1920. It reappeared in February 1922, but its owner Thomas Chapman was unwell and died in April 1922. It was now staunchly Free State whereas the Midland Tribune sought to have unity under its editor James Pike, also a staunch Sinn Féin supporter. The Chronicle after the death of John Wright in 1915 lost any unionist gusto it had and would have been afraid to be outspoken from the time of the Truce and the departure of the British in March 1922. July 1922 was a time when wise counsel was to remain silent. The Christian Brothers used to say it was a trait ingrained in Offaly people!
The old Ulster Bank house in High Street. To the right is Adams, Bank of Ireland, Ulster and J.A. Kilroy hardware.
Dr Meagher, deputy coroner and the inquest
A report of the Mitchell inquest was published in the Offaly Independent for 8 July 1922. The coroner was Dr Timothy Meagher, who was the infirmary surgeon from 1906 to 1921 when the county infirmary was closed by the Sinn Féin dominated county council. Meagher was a decorated War 1 veteran, was from a strong nationalist family and was a son-in-law of the Tullamore draper Malachy Scally. He was no friend to the Republican forces, but then few of his class were. His solicitor colleague Tom Conway, the principal coroner had already clashed with the Republicans over court procedure.
Thomas Mitchell about 1914
The inquest was told that a number of armed men had arrived in Tullamore on Monday afternoon, 3 July, and entered the bank. The manager, who was standing outside the counter at the time, observing them enter, and knowing the object of their visit, turned round and proceeded to his desk on which lay a revolver. The leader called to him to put up his hands, but deceased grasped the revolver, and, turning round, bravely faced the raiders some of whom were stated to have carried rifles. On his refusing to put up his hands, a shot was fired at close range, and Mr Mitchell fell to the floor of the office mortally wounded. The cashier and other officials of the bank got the order, “Hands up,” with which they at once complied. Dr Moorhead, who lived across the street in what is now one of the Direct Provision houses, was quickly in attendance. He examined the body on the floor and found life ebbing fast, death supervening within two minutes. The body was subsequently carried upstairs [where he resided] by the bank janitor and the bank officials. Meanwhile the raiders carried out a systematic search of the bank, blew open the strong room containing a large safe, which was said to have contained between £3,000 and £4,000. They were unable to open the safe, the keys not being available, and it was subsequently levered out on the street, lifted into a lorry which was convenient, and taken away to Crinkill. The party’s engineer a Mr McMunn had not been able to blow up the safe on site.
According to the Brigade Area Report (Military Archives and online) compiled by Peadar Bracken and ors about 1940 those in attendance that day were from the 3rd Southern Division who were based at Crinkill and included ‘Michael Galvin, Edward Brennan, Patrick Egan, with John Hughes, Christy Tyrrell and James Whelan (now U.S.A.) as outposts’ among others.The Birr Barracks at Crinkill was destroyed by the IRA on 14 July and that at Tullamore on 20 July.
Said to be Thomas Mitchell’s spectacles. Courtesy of Nat West Bank
Hundreds of people witnessed the raid
The Tullamore raid lasted from 3 o’clock to 5 o’clock, from a distance, the raiders keeping the street, within the vicinity of the bank, clear. During the progress of the raid, armed men were posted in the post office and on the bridges at the approaches to the town to guard against surprise. The news of the death of Mr Mitchell caused a profound sensation in Tullamore. Mitchell was a native of County Tyrone, and for over 30 years was connected with the Ulster Bank in Tullamore. [The bank branch in Tullamore was opened on 26 April 1892] Mitchell was 59 years of age and was a widower. A little over a year earlier he had frustrated an attempt to raid the bank, and on that occasion was slightly wounded in the arm by a revolver bullet.
Mitchell was fool hardy in his attempt to frighten off the raiders. He could have been described as a ‘stout Ulsterman’ and perhaps thought he could emulate his colleague Mr W.S. Corry and his wife of the Ferbane branch of the bank. There twelve men had attacked the bank but got away with only £10 mainly because they had been interrupted by republican [read Free State] police. Soon after one of the men on that raid was brought before a republican court, charged and returned for trial to the circuit court. The Republicans made up for that failure by a second robbery at Ferbane soon after the Tullamore raid.
The inquest jury and verdict
An inquest was held on Tuesday afternoon 4 July by Dr Timothy Meagher and the jury was compised of: – W. C. Graham (foreman), Ernest Dann, W. J. Rafter, D. Larkin, John Kelly, John Brazel, MI. McGinn, John Phelan, Geo. N. Welsh, MI. Rochford, John Byrne, and R. Nugent. Almost half the jury were Protestants and the foreman was a Patrick Street merchant who has also served as foreman in the Sgt Cronin inquest in November 1920.The cashier in the bank, gave evidence of identification.
I was in the office when some men walked in between 2 and 2.30. I can’t say the number, some had rifles. When Mr. Mitchell who was standing outside the counter, saw them, he walked to his desk and took a revolver in his hand. The next thing I heard was a rifle shot, and Mr. Mitchell fell. The other members of the staff, along with myself, were ordered to get out, which we did. Coroner-Was this before or after the shot? Witness-After the shot. Coroner-You did not see what happened after? Witness – I did not see anything further with regard to what the men were doing inside. I was called back to help to carry Mr. Mitchell upstairs. Coroner – Did deceased fire a shot? – I have no proof of that, but I only heard one shot in the bank and one outside on the street. Coroner – Did any of these men address any remark to you-did they tell you to put your hands up
When they went in? Did they say why they did it?
Witness- They said, “Put up your hands, and get out.” Witness-Did they ask Mr. Mitchell to put his hands up? Witness – Not that I remember. Coroner – Were there some of these people who came into the bank in uniform? Witness – Not that I remember. They had overcoats on them. In the excitement I could not possibly tell. Dr. Geo. A. Moorhead deposed he was medical advisor to the late Mr. Mitchell. ‘
Evidence of Dr G.A. Moorhead
Shortly after 2 o’clock I got an urgent call to go his house, and I went across immediately. I found Mr. Mitchell lying on the floor of his office, partially on his back and side. His head was being supported by some of the attendants. He was dying very fast, and death supervened within two minutes from my arrival. He was quite unconscious; never spoke. He seemed to be in no pain whatever. On examination I found a small gunshot wound on the left side beneath the heart, and on the right side of the back a wound corresponding to the exit of the bullet. The course of the bullet must have passed through some very vital organs –the lung, liver, and part of the stomach. Death, in my opinion, was due to shock and internal haemorrhage from the severing of blood vessels by the bullet. Coroner There is a difficulty about the procedure to be adopted. The Police Officer may have some further evidence as to who did it, and I suggest that the inquiry be adjourned for a month to give him an opportunity of making inquiries.
The Officer in charge of the Police was called and sworn. In reply to questions by the Coroner, he stated that no report was made to him about the shooting. He made inquiries after the deceased was shot. Coroner – Was there any police officer on duty during the day? Witness –I do not think so. Coroner – From the inquiries you made have you any idea of where those people who raided the bank came from? Witness- From inquiries I made, they came from Birr. The Coroner and Pressmen having retired to allow the jury to consider the suggestion of an adjournment, after a short consultation the jury found the verdict stated, and added a rider expressing sympathy with the relatives of the deceased.
It may well be that this report was censored by the Republicans. The Chronicle was poor on the report but did carry a photograph of the street. The Tribune was well censored and was carrying lots of Republican news.
Funeral of Mr Mitchell well attended by both Protestants and Catholics
The remains of the late Mr. Thomas Mitchell, manager of the Ulster Bank, Tullamore, who was shot dead during a raid on the bank on Monday afternoon, 3rd inst., were interred in Clonminch Cemetery on Wednesday last. [ Mitchell was a widower without children.] The funeral, which took place from the Ulster Bank premises, was largely attended by all the residents of the town and district, by whom the deceased was held in the highest esteem, and who by their presence in such large numbers showed their abhorrence of the crime. Rev. R. S. Craig officiated, and the attendance included- Dr. Moorhead, Dr. Meagher, Dr. J. MacMichael, Dr. J. M. P. Kennedy, Messrs. P. J. Egan, W. C. Graham, D. Williams, C. Duggan, M. Scally, Thos. English, E. J. Tynan, J. A. Kilroy, John Moran, Thos, Thos. Clear, J. Digan, J. Champ, Ernest Browne, J. S. McCann, V.S.; P. Smyth, R. Nugent, A. Colton, F. J. Egan. Joseph Kearney, P. Power, M. Killeavey, Peter McMahon, T.J. Kelly, Clerk of the Union; James Morris, M.A. O’Carroll, J. A. Lumley, etc., etc.
The Tullamore Cricket Club c. 1914. The club grounds were at Spollanstown, Tullamore and were temporarily taken over by the Tullamore G.A.A. when the British army left Tullamore in March 1922. The grounds subsequently became the soccer and rugby grounds and after 1970 exclusively the Tullamore Rugby Club.
Front row, l to r: A.V. Ashe, town surveyor, Rev. Cecil Rennison curate, Hamilton Browne, estate agent, Thomas Mitchell, manager of Ulster Bank, John D. McMichael, pharmacist.
Second row: Dennis Behan, Cormac Street, groundsman, Mr C. Bourchier, assistant estate agent, ——, ——– . Third row: Dr P. Kennedy, Kenneth Kennedy, professional, Gerald Egan, —– The man in the front row with the straw hat was Thomas Mitchell, Manager of the Ulster Bank in Tullamore. He had foiled an IRA robbery in May 1921 and was shot dead in a second robbery by the republican IRA in July 1922. Hundreds of people witnessed the raid but as there was no police force, there was no one to interfere with the raiders. Mr Mitchell was a native of County Tyrone and had been with the Ulster Bank in Tullamore for thirty years. Mitchell had attempted to defend himself and the Bank by obtaining a revolver at his desk and was shot in the process.
From the Belfast Newsletter, 6 July 1922
Mitchell’s death condemned at Tullamore masses
At all the Masses in Tullamore on Sunday the following reference was made to the tragedy: – “We do not like to refer at length to the painful episode which took place last Monday in the town. The callous crime of bloodshed and robbery, committed in broad daylight, shocked and shamed every member of the community. For the present we should make no comment on the perpetrators of the horrible crime, or its aiders or abettors. It is enough to leave each individual concerned to the judgement of his conscience, and to the just God, before Whom a soul had sent without a moment’s notice. To-day, and during the week, we would ask the people of the parish to pray earnestly that the God may soon put an end to the terrible orgy of crime which now disgraces the country, and that Irishmen and Catholics may regain the love and respect which they ought to have for one another, and for their neighbours’ property and life.”
The earlier raid on Tullamore’s Ulster Bank in May 1921
Probably Mitchell was emboldened by his success in beating off a raid in May 1921 and for which the Bank directors gave him £250 and three-months holidays. That time he had taken a bullet but recovered. In Ferbane in May 1922 his colleague W.S. Corry with the help of his wife had seen off raiders. The difference was that things were now more serious. Already Offaly men were said to have been involved in the death of the Free State’s Brigadier Adamson in Athlone in April, Francis Donlon had died of a bullet wound (accidental) in Ferbane and men were dying in Dublin to defend the Republican ideal. Mitchell had no chance once he reached for his gun Yet in law it was murder as the priests confirmed at mass the following Sunday. So too did solicitor Lewis Goodbody when he told Judge Fleming at the February 1924 quarter sessions that ‘poor Mr Mitchell was murdered in cold blood’ at a time ‘when the Irregulars were in charge of the town’. Goodbody was that day representing many Protestants who had suffered damage by way of theft and commandeering. A few had lost their ‘Big Houses’ including Toler of Durrow, Biddulph of Rathrobin, the O’Connor Morrises and Hamilton Browne at Brookfield.
Mr Corry takes over
After the death of Mitchell his colleague in Ferbane W. S. Corry became manager of Ulster Bank, Tullamore. Old Mitchell’s choice bits of furniture were auctioned off in August. His bank claimed £4,500 in compensation. Corry had come to Tullamore about 1903 and was now back in 1922 as manager to succeed his old friend. Corry had married in 1911 a daughter of Mr W R Duggan, and at the time of his departure from Tullamore in 1931 for Downpatrick was presented with an address by Tullamore Golf Club. He had been associated with the game for twenty years and practically all that time he was a member of the committee; for ten years he was hon treasurer and hon sec from 1923. Corry was lucky, so was the golf club, Mitchell was not.
Es la vida.
Next week: The burning of Tullamore barracks, jail and courthouse
 Offaly Independent, 27 May 1922, 3 June 1922.
 Offaly Independent, 8 July and 15 July 1922.
 Ibid., 28 Mar. 1931.