The Centenary of the murders of Patrick Tierney and Sean O’Carroll

I originally posted this some time ago but, as tomorrow marks 100 years since the event, I thought to post it again with some new conclusions as to who were responsible for the murders and why was Patrick singled out for the brutal way he was killed.Since the mid -1950s, on the last Sunday in November, a large crowd, accompanied by a Colour Party, gathers at the memorial statue to honour and commemorate Sean O’Carroll and Patrick Tierney, who were murdered in Ardee by Crown Forces/ black and tans on the night of the 30th November 1920.

Initially, the Colour Party was accompanied by a Firing Party who conducted a gun salute for the two murdered men.The monument itself was initially unveiled with great ceremony in September 1955 when it was originally erected opposite the old church of Saint Johns in John Street and was later moved to its present position on the Drogheda Road beside the boys National School, to facilitate the building of the new church. The statue commemorated the memory of Captain Sean O’Carroll and Quarter Master Patrick Tierney who, on the night of 30th November 1920, were taken out of their houses and shot by Crown Forces who had been stationed in Gormanstown Camp.O’ Carroll was a native of Kildare and came to Ardee to teach Irish for the Gaelic League. He lodged in the Lynch family home in Castle Street. Patrick Tierney was a native to the town and he lived with his parents and siblings in what was then called Tisdale Street (now called Tierney Street in his honour).The unveiling event drew huge crowds with people from all parts of Ireland in attendance.

Special Buses were also commissioned to take the many people from Belfast who were present that September morning. Sean O’Carroll had moved to Belfast from his native Kildare a few years earlier, where he became very active in the Volunteer movement.The events of that day, as reported in the press, commenced with a large parade that begun at the Fair Green. The parade was led up through the town by the Ardee Brass and Reed Band and the Colours were carried by Daniel McCarthy who was flanked by members of the Dundalk Old IRA who provided the colour and the firing party for the salute that day.There was great pomp and ceremony around the statue that day and, when the parade reached it, an unveiling ceremony was performed followed by a decade of the rosary.

The Old IRA Firing Party then discharged their gun salute for the two fallen men. This was followed by the band playing ‘A Nation Once Again’ and such was the ferocity of the singing from the assembled crowds that it must have been heard for miles around.Mr Patrick Kearney, from Dundalk, then read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. His presence was poignant that day because he, himself, was in Ardee that faithful November night in 1920 and was the third intended target of the Crown Forces who had come to his home in search of him that evening.

Before closing the proceedings, the Master of Ceremonies that day, remarked that Patrick Kearney ‘did not oblige the Black and Tans by being in the evening that Sean O’Carroll and Patsy Tierney were taken out and shot. Otherwise, his name, no doubt, would have also been inscribed on the memorial’.The Colour Party, along with the gun salute were continued at each Anniversary for many a year thereafter when the people of Ardee gathered to remember the two murdered men. I can recall from my childhood eagerly awaiting the volley of shots where children, myself included, scrambled to pick up the expended shells that had been discharged from the rifles of the Firing Party.

Who were these men and why are they been so honoured each year? To get a better understanding of this let me bring you back in time to Ardee on the early morning of the 30th November 1920. On that night the 25 year old O’Carroll was taking out of his lodgings in Castle Street and brought around the corner where he was brutally shot. Whereas he had come to Ardee to teach the Irish Language he was also the Officer Commanding D Company of the Belfast Battalion. Minutes later the 26 year old Patrick Tierney was taken out of his parent’s house in Tisdale Street and was killed in an even more brutal manner.

Eye Witness Accounts

We are fortunate that the events that unfolded that night can be recalled by statements given by eye witnesses, shortly thereafter, and another account that was left to us when, in 1991, aged over 90, Delia Spillane, Patrick Tierney’s step sister, recorded the events that unfolded that night. I will let them speak from the past to continue the story of what happened on the streets of Ardee on 30th November 1920.A Military Court of Enquiry (I use that term loosely), was quickly convened in Ardee Castle and was actually held the same day that the two men had been shot. Their remit was to enquire ‘into the circumstances under which Patrick Tierney and John O’Carroll, both of Ardee, met their deaths on the morning of the 30th November at Ardee’.

A Mr Hamill, solicitor for the Tierney family, rose to address the inquiry but the President of the Court, Major R.J.R .Waller from the Battalion HQ in Belfast, instructed that the inquiry was to be held in camera and ordered the courtroom to be cleared. After much protestation, the court was eventually cleared including Mr Hamill who, even though he was there to represent the families, was escorted outside the Courthouse by the local Royal Irish Constabulary.Major Waller, assisted by Lieutenant D. H. Black of the Fifteenth Hussars and Lieutenant R.M. Carr of the Thirty Sixth Battery Division called their first witness, Dr Patrick Joseph Steen from Ardee who had attended to the men that night.

The following statements are taking from the minutes of that Court which are preserved in the Military Archives in Kew, Courts of Inquiry in lieu of inquest, WO35.160.0.356-360.

Witness: Doctor Steen

Dr Steen deposed that; ‘In consequence of what I was told, I went into Station Street, Ardee and there found, about 02.00 hours 30.11.20, a wounded man, John O’Carroll, lying in the street called Station Street, and Father Dolan was with him. I then carried O’Carroll, with the assistance of others, into my house. He was in such a state of collapse that I did not examine him until after his death which took place about 04.30 hours 30.11.20. The deceased had one bullet wound on the side of his chest about the fifth rib which I took to be an entrance wound, and the exit wound of that bullet was between the ninth and tenth rib two and a half inches from the spinal column. A second bullet must have entered just above the middle point of his right collar bone and the exit of that wound was just in the middle of his left shoulder blade. He had a third bullet wound through his right wrist. He died of shock and haemorrhage from the first two bullet wounds.

I produce two bullets which fell out of the deceased’s clothes when he was been undressed after death. These two bullets could have caused the wounds in the body of the deceased and death could have been caused by them’.

Dr Steen continued; ‘about 14.00 hours today (the 30.11.20) I viewed the body of Patrick Tierney which was in his father’s house in Tisdale Street, Ardee. On removing the bandages from his head I found practically the whole of the left half of his cranium blown away, and the brain removed and numerous fractures in the remainder of his skull. His lower jaw was fractured on both sides and he had an entrance and exit wounds on the back of the left forearm and the radius was broken. He had an entrance wound at one inch to the left of his spinal column between the 10th and 11th ribs. This wound must have been caused by a bullet which came out producing a hole about the size of a crown piece just below the tip of his breast bone in the abdomen. He had another wound in the left hiltrck an inch from the middle line. Death in this case was caused by shock and haemorrhage caused by gunshot wounds’.

Witness: John Tierney

The second witness to give evidence to this court was John Tierney who was Patrick’s father. He stated that; ‘I live in Tisdale Street Ardee with my wife and family. About 02.00 hours 30. 11. 20., someone knocked on my door which was then forced in by some men some of whom wore caps and some hats and some wore black overcoats and some knap cloth coats. Some of the men I saw had Khaki clothes. I cannot say who they were. They came into the house and got my two sons to come down. I now saw that some men had black caps like policemen’s caps but they were not policemen. I am sure they were not policemen.

Stone with Cross that marked the spot where Patrick Tierney died prior immediately after his death

They brought my son Patrick out into the street. I heard two or three shots. Some hours afterwards I went out and found my son lying dead on the street about fifty yards from my house. This was my son Patrick’.

Witness: Julia Lynch

The third witness was Julia Lynch whose house Sean O’Carroll lodged in. Julia was actually present at the erection of the memorial in 1955.Julia, being duly sworn, stated; ‘I reside in Market Street Ardee. John O’Carroll resided in my house as a lodger. About 01.15 hours on 30th November 1920 someone came to my house. They knocked and I opened the door and I saw about 20 men in uniform. One of the men asked if John O’Carroll was in the house and I then brought them, at their request, to his room. I think that he was dressed. I saw no more of what occurred as I was put into a room with my mother and sister.

I saw O’Carroll in about an hour and a half time afterwards. He was then in Doctor Steen’s house dying. John O’Carroll was about 24 years of age. The men who came to the house wore long black overcoats but I cannot say what kind of headgear they wore. I cannot say for certain whether the men wore belts or not’.

Witness: Meredith Egan

The fourth witness was Meredith Egan a District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary based out of Drogheda.‘In consequence of instructions received I visited Ardee at midnight 29th to 30th November 1920 as I feared an attack on Ardee Police Barracks. Previous to my arrival a military party had come to Ardee and left. I had a party of three officers and about 30 men from Gormanstown camp. The officers and party were under my command and they did not leave the vicinity of the Police Barracks while we were in Ardee. I left Ardee at 02.30 hours this morning for Drogheda No incident of any sort took place up to the time I left Ardee except that one man, James Murphy, was arrested. He lives ten yards from the Police Barracks’.

Court Conclusion

The Court then concluded with the following opinion;‘The Court having viewed the dead bodies and, having carefully considered the above evidence, are of opinion that Patrick Tierney and John O’Carroll, both of Ardee in the County of Louth, met their deaths between the hours of 02.00 hours and 04.30 hours on the morning of 30th November; and that death in both cases was due to shock and haemorrhage caused by bullet wounds inflicted by some person or persons unknown’.A shocking but not unsurprising deliberation from the enquiry whose aim was clearly to whitewash the events that occurred in the town that very night.

The first three witness’s statements seems to have been discarded in favour of the District Inspector who succeeded in covering up the events by indicating that his men did not leave the vicinity of the Police Station in Irish Street until they departed the town that night.The reason the Crown Forces were in Ardee that night were later made clear when a local volunteer, Joseph O’Higgins, leader of the South Louth IRA Brigade, made a statement to the Bureau of Military History in 1951. (Bureau of Military History WS 507 page 9).‘In about September 1920 attempts were made to capture Ardee R.I.C Barracks.

A Volunteer named Sean O’Carroll, who then lived in Ardee, was in touch with a friendly R.I.C. man stationed in the Barracks called Grant who expressed his willingness to assist the Volunteers in the attempt to raid the Barracks. On the day fixed for the attempt on the barracks the operation was called off by the Battalion OC. This fiasco had a demoralising effect on the Volunteers in both Ardee and Drogheda. I was later informed that a leakage of information about the proposed attack on the Ardee Barracks took place which connected Sean O’Carroll with the affair. Sean O Carroll and a Michael (sic) Tierney were taken from their lodgings in October (sic) 1920 and murdered by Crown Forces’.Perhaps the intended raid on the Police Barracks was not the only reason that the Crown Forces went in search of Patrick Tierney that night.

Later Findings

When his brother Michael later made an application to have a Service (1917-1921) Medal awarded to Patrick the subsequent investigation throws up an interesting statement made by Owen O’Doherty, one of Patrick’s Commanding Officers in Ardee, who deposed ‘it was … alleged that he (Patrick) took part in the shooting of enemy spies in Dublin on Bloody Sunday’.This particular Bloody Sunday was so called after Crown Forces entered Croke Park, during a GAA match, and opened fire on the crowd with machine guns from an Armoured Car. They had done so in retaliation for events earlier that day when Michael Collins sent out a squad, known as the ‘Twelve Apostles’, to execute a number of British Intelligence Officers who had been sent over to Dublin to locate Collins. Whereas Patrick was not a member of Collin’s hit squad he may have acted in a supporting role. I cannot.

However, find any further proof that Patrick took part in those actions in Dublin, a few days before he was murdered. But there may, however, be some substance to this claim because his particular file in the Military Archives is still marked as ‘partly closed’ under the data protection act.Patrick’s service was later examined and certified by the newly established Irish Government and, as he was ‘found to have ‘met his death at the hands of Crown Forces’, a medal with Bar was issued posthumously to his mother, Bridget Tierney on 31st March 1954’.

Bridget later applied for a pension under the Army Pensions Act of 1932 but this was denied to her because she had previously received compensation by a decree under the Criminal Injuries (Ireland) Act, 1919 -1920 from Louth County Council. A second reason cited at the time was because she was Patrick’s Step-Mother and, therefore, not entitled to claim as a dependant.Similarly Ellen O’Carroll Smith, Sean O’Carroll’s mother, from 12 Gibson Street, Belfast made an application for a military pension. She too was denied the pension on the grounds that she had already received £288 pounds compensation from Louth County Council on 19th December 1923.

Full Account by Patrick Tierney’s Sister, Delia

It is perhaps fitting to leave the final words to Patrick Tierney’s sister Delia who, on 30th July 1991, aged 90, wrote down this Memoir at the instigation of an eminent Ardonian, the late Senator Bernard Markey. It was signed Delia Spillane (nee Tierney), Tierney Street, Ardee. 30th July 1991.Delia deposed that

‘Around midnight on the 30th November 1920, the whole family was in bed in the house where I now live in Tierney Street (then Tisdale Street). We heard a loud banging on the front door and almost immediately the door was broken down and several Black and Tans rushed in and searched all the rooms in the house. After a short while they took my brothers Pat and Martin outside the front door. Then they put Martin back into the house and told us not to come outside or we would be shot dead.Soon afterwards we heard shots outside and when my father went out sometime later he found my brother Pat dead a short distance away on the far side of the road.

He had been shot through the head. His arms and legs were broken and his stomach had been ripped open with a bayonet. His brains were scattered on the grass margin and my father had to use a large spoon to put them in a biscuit tin so that they could be put into the coffin to be buried with him.

The first two persons to come on the scene were Kate Smith and Mickey Callan. Then came Joe Dolan and Andy McEntee. Cannon Lyons, who heard the shooting in the Parochial House across the river from us, came next. Doctor Steen and Nurse Cummins (a member of Cuman na mBan) came and cleaned him and patched him up and laid him out on his bed.The Tans were all drunk and we found several empty whiskey and rum bottles in the hedge across the road.Doctor Moore held a post-mortem on the body.

The cause of death was certified by a Military Court of Enquiry as shock and haemorrhage from gunshot wounds. Pat was 26 years old.Pat was buried in Ballapousta in the same grave as his ancestors dating back to 1858.

Sean O’Carroll; an Irish teacher, was murdered the same night in Railway Street. Jimmy Farrelly, who was deported to Frongoch Jail in Wales after the Easter Week 1916 Rising, escaped out the back of his house in Railway Street as the Tans were at the front door and took refuge down the railway line.Before the Tans went off they said they would come back and burn the house over our heads.

Shortly after my brother was murdered by the Black and Tans I joined Cuman na mBan. There were sixteen or seventeen single girls and married women who joined up with me at the time. We organised concerts, dances, plays and raffles to make money to help the boys on the run.I cycled with dispatches to the Examiner office in Dundalk, to Morgans at the pump in Dunleer and to Eugene Kavanagh, Ballapousta, who was commanding officer of the IRA in the Ardee area.I also attended Cumann na mBan meetings in Drumconrath, Lobinstown and at Nurse Cummins’s house on Dundalk Road, Ardee, where she gave us lecturers in first aid and also at Keenan’s house, Bridge Street, Ardee.I attended an all-Ireland meeting of Cumann na mBan in the Mansion House, Dublin, called after the Treaty was signed in 1921.I was invited to the opening of the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square, Dublin, in 1970, where I met some of my old comrades. There was a reception in Dublin Castle the night before, with dancing in the Great Hall to the music of the Garda Band.

I am now 90 years of age, and to the best of my knowledge, I am the only person left of old Cumann na mBan or Old IRA in Ardee’. (Delia Spillane nee Tierney’s unpublished memoir, 30th July 1991).

Cumann na mBan

For her service to her country it was recognised that Delia was a member of the Ardee Company of Cumann na mBan, attached to the Third Battalion of the South Louth Brigade. Her commanding officers in Ardee were Eugene Kavanagh and Mrs T. Lynch. On 6th November 1963 Delia, like her slain brother Patrick, was awarded a Service (1917-1921) Medal. (Military Archives, Defence Forces Ireland, Ireland Military, Pensions and Medals, MD12710)

Delia also told other people in Ardee many things about that night and the one that stands out the most for me is that when Patrick was been taken outside his step mother offered him his overcoat as it was cold that night. One of the murder squad replied ‘he wont need it where he is going’.

List of Six to be murdered that night

The men that came to Ardee that night had a list containing 6 people they were to murder but they only got 2. The others were Eugene Kavanagh OC, Jimmy Farrelly, Patrick Kearney and Richard Murphy.Jimmy Farrelly was in Dublin during the 1916 rising. He was imprisoned In Dublin and later Wormwood Scrubs in UK before being interned. He got out in 1917 and took part in many of the raids with Sean and Patrick. Both Patrick and Sean were active members of the Ardee IRA. They had taken part in many operations attacking police barracks, burning income tax papers and raiding for arms.

The question still remains as to who were the men who carried out these murders and why was Patrick subjected to a particularly cruel death in having his brains blown out. The latter can be answered in that two days earlier in Kilmichael in County Cork, Tom Barry’s IRA column ambushed a patrol of Auxilaries (the Auxies were recruited in England exclusively from ex British Army officers and were the brain child of Winston Churchill. The were called RIC cadets and given the rank of Sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabularly. Whereas they were seen as policemen they were, in reality, a military force disguised as policemen as the British Government wanted to portray to the world that the Irish problem was been sorted by policemen and not soldiers).

The ambush at Kilmichael was reported in the press as being particularly brutal and it was said that the IRA finished off wounded Auxies by bashing their brains out with blunt instruments. The Auxies, who came to Ardee that night, inflicted similar wounds to Patrick perhaps in retaliation for the events at Kilmichael.It remains to be answered who were the men responsible. Without a shadow of a doubt it was a company of Auxilaries who District Inspector Meredith Egan led to Ardee that night. He unknowingly implicates himself in the statement he made to the ‘Court of Enquiry’. He ‘led a party of 30 men from Gormanstown’ to Ardee. Gormanstown was the supply depot for arriving Auxilaries from England. There were no RIC stationed there.

He said, previous to his arrival in Ardee, there had been a ‘military party’ in the town but that they had left. According to official Government policies, there were no military being used in Ireland only police so was he describing the men he brought to Ardee?Finally, he claims the force he led to Ardee stayed in Irish Street all the time and saw or heard nothing. The other witnesses at the Court of Enquiry clearly indicated what was going on so it would have been impossible not to see or hear anything. It must also be said that Egan was an expert at lying to ‘Courts of Enquiry’ as he clearly made false statements about the burning of Trim and other atrocities carried out by the Auxies.

District Inspector Meredith Egan moved originally to Liverpool in 1922 but things there did not go to plan as it would be difficult to hide who he was among the large Irish communities in the city. In 1927 he and his family sailed for Canada onboard the Cunard ship Letitia. He eventually settled in Waterford Ontario where he used his pension to purchase a fruit farm. He was not a farmer but it took three farms later before he moved to Brantford Ontario where he found employment with the local government. He died there in the 1960s taking his secrets and past to the grave with him

Return to Home page

War of Independence Archives

You May Also Like

Patrick Tierney’s Medal

Joe Dolan (1872 – 1930)

Service Medal 1917-1921

Bloody Sunday 1920 in Croke Park

4 thoughts on “The Centenary of the murders of Patrick Tierney and Sean O’Carroll”

  1. Thank you for the informative remembrance of the murders of Patrick Tierney and Sean O’Carroll. Especially the words of my Grandfather John Tierney & aunt Delia.
    There was a pencil written note, written in haste by Delia, and sent to my dad informing him of the death of Patrick.
    One hundred years and my family in the U.S. still honor Patrick. I was named in honor of him. Thank you again.
    Maureen Patrick Tierney

    1. Hi Maureen,
      My father, James Patrick Tierney, is also named after his great uncle, Patrick Tierney. I am the great grand daughter of Patrick’s older brother John who immigrated to New York in 1900-ish. John’s only son James is my grandfather. John went back to Ardee only once right after Patrick’s death and brought my grandfather who was about 11 years old at the time.
      Can share more information with me about your grandfather and his children?
      I too was born in Brooklyn, NY like father and grandfather, but now I live in Colorado. I would love to follow up with you.

      Tracy Jean Tierney

  2. As the granddaughter of Martin Tierney, it was gratifying to see these accounts. As children we were told about the events that occurred that terrible night. It was in fact, Martin Tierney who escaped to the railway line that fateful night. He broke loose from the Black and Tans as he was being brought outside. He ran back into the house, through the back door as some of them chased him along the railway line. My grandfather said it was a full moon that night, that saved his life. Having got a head start he hid down between the lines so his shadow could not be seen. I remember him talking about his relatives in America, and I remember parcels that used to arrive from them, filled with sweets.

  3. My name is patsy o’carroll, i am sean o’carrolls great nephew, i was born in gibson street, falls rd belfast where sean and the family resided. I am very proud of my family name and will always try to do it and sean the honour they deserve. Sean and patsy tierney RIP were two of irelands heroes, the British are gone in part of ireland because of their, and other heroes actions against them, the north will be free soon, and then we will have a nation once again, the nation that these two heroes died striving for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *