‘Tipperary Tragedy’ – the Soloheadbeg shootings inquest report 100 years on

Irish Independent account of the ‘first shots’ of the War of Independence – Irish Independent 24th. January 2019

IN connection with the shooting of Constables McDonnell and O’Connell at Soloheadbeg, Tipperary, Patrick Gorman, labourer, Churchfield, Donohill, about four miles from Tipperary, was arrested yesterday evening. Another man was arrested at Dundrum, but his name has not transpired.

A sensational story of the occurrence was that by Patrick Flynn, a workman in the employment of the Co Council, and Edmond Godfrey, at an inquest held in the military barracks in Tipperary yesterday afternoon by Dr PT Morrissey, Coroner.

From the evidence it was quite apparent that the attacking party must have been numbered at least eight men, but whether the constables were shot dead from behind a ditch or attempted to use their rifles when the masked men jumped out on the road and shouted “hands up” was not explained.

The statement of the two witnesses were of the most confusing character and threw very little light on the tragedy.

Both of them seemed to be in a dazed condition. When pressed to explain how the attack took place, and the men left after the shooting, the witness Flynn fainted and had to be medically attended.

Widespread indignation

It is no exaggeration to say that the shooting of the two constables has aroused widespread indignation in the town and district of Tipperary.

Both constables were popular, and neither was connected with any recent political prosecutions in the county. It is feared that the full rigours of martial law will be enforced at any moment, paralysing business and upsetting fairs and markets. Military and police reinforcements are expected in Tipperary during the next few days.

The remains of Constable O’Connell were removed last evening by motor to his native place at Coachford, Co Cork. The internment of Constable O’Connell, who leaves five young children, will take place in Tipperary tomorrow.

The jury at yesterday’s inquest, of which Mr Matthew O’Dwyer was foreman, found that the two constables were shot dead by masked men at Soloheadbeg. The first witness called was Patrick Flynn. He told how the previous day about 10 o’clock he called at the military barracks in Tipperary, accompanied by Edmond Godfrey. The two constables acted as an escort, and were armed with carbines, which were loaded. They were given 160lbs of gelignite and 30 electric detonators. They placed the gelignite, which was in three packages, and the detonators in the car. The gelignite was to be used at Soloheadbeg Quarry.

About 150 yards from the quarry, at Ryan’s Gate Constable McDonnell got off the car and witness then walked between the two constables behind the car, McDonnell being on his left and O’Connell on his right. They walked in this way for 20 or 30 yards until they came to another gateway on the left-hand side of the road.

The shooting

“At this point a crowd of masked men – I cannot say where they came from – rushed on to the road and shouted ‘hands up’. They had revolvers in their hand and their faces were covered in cloth. I took a couple of paces to the right of the car in front of Constable O’Connell. I then heard a report of shots, but I don’t know whether it came from the rifles or revolvers. I cannot say how many reports, but they all seemed to come together.”

“Had you your hands up?” asked the Coroner. “I could not say,” was the answer. “The whole thing was confusing. When I looked around the two constables were lying on the ground on the side of the road. One of the masked men then led the horse away.”

The Coroner- Did they do anything to you. -No

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