MacCurtain inquest: "You are dying for Ireland and die like a soldier"

As part of our series to mark the 100th anniversary of the murder of Tomás MacCurtain, the Irish Examiner are publishing extracts from his inquest.

The Jury of MacCurtain's inquest
The Jury of MacCurtain's inquest

Following the murder of Tomás MacCurtain, the inquest laid bare the true scale of the RIC collusion and cover-up.

Over 15 days, more than 90 witnesses took to the stand to help piece together the key hours before and after the lord mayor’s death.

For the first time, the full transcript of the inquest, from the ‘Irish Examiner’ archives, has been reproduced in a new book ‘Witness to Murder’.

In this exclusive extract, Mrs Eilís MacCurtain (referred to here as 'Elizabeth') the lady mayoress, gives and eye witness account of events on the evening her husband was killed.

'There was heaven in his countenance, when he saw me alive.'

Mrs Elizabeth MacCurtain, the lady mayoress, was called by Mr Lynch. Before swearing her, the coroner expressed his sympathy with her. In reply to Mr Lynch, she said she had lived for some years at 40 Thomas Davis Street, and had five children living, of whom the youngest was 10 months.

In addition to her late husband, her three sisters, brother, two nieces, and a nephew lived in the house.

She revealed how she went to bed at 8.30 last Friday night, but she could not say when her husband retired.

Sometime during the night she heard a tapping as with a man’s fingers at the door, and sometime after that she heard the door being broken in.

After she heard the tapping, and before it was being broken in, she looked out of the window and asked who was there, and those below said, ‘Come down’.

She asked, when they were breaking in the door, if they would give her time to dress. But she got no reply. I had a candle lighting in the bedroom, she said.

Elizabeth MacCurtain: My husband got up out of bed and said, ‘Lizzi, I will go down myself’.

Mr Lynch: Did you go down, yourself?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: I did.

Mr Lynch: How far down did you go?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: I went to the door.

Mr Lynch: Did you open it, or was it broken in?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: I opened it. I had a candle in my hand.

Mr Lynch: Now, what did you see?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: When I opened the door, a man rushed in with a black face and with eyes shining like a demon.

One man outside the door then asked where was Curtain and I said that he was upstairs.

Six men rushed in the hall – four tall men and two small men – the two small men were about my own height and carried rifles, which they held against their side.

I don’t know what the tall men had; they may have had rifles, but I didn’t see them.

Mr Lynch: Did they go past you quickly?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes. One gave orders to hold that one, meaning me and the second tall man turned round and caught me and shoved me towards the door, but didn’t say a word.

Mr Lynch: Would you describe that man to the coroner and jury?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: He wore a big overcoat and cap.

Portrait of Eili­s sent to Tomás while in jail, 1916.      -Tomas MacCurtain 100-
Portrait of Eili­s sent to Tomás while in jail, 1916. -Tomas MacCurtain 100-

Mr Lynch: Was there anything peculiar about his face?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: His face was blackened, and he turned it from me immediately.

Mr Lynch: Did you see the colour of his hair?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: He had fair foxy hair.

Mr Lynch: Was he slight or stout?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: He was a well-built man.

Mr Lynch: What was the general appearance of the six men?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Four of them were tall men like policemen and two rather smaller men.

Mr Lynch: Where did they go after coming to the hall?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: They immediately went upstairs with the exception of one who stood beside me at the door.

Mr Lynch: When you came downstairs and brought down the light, did you leave any light in your husband’s bedroom?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes. I left a candle lighting then.

Mr Lynch: What did you hear happen when they went upstairs?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: I didn’t think they were up two steps of the stair when I heard the firing of rifles or revolvers – I couldn’t say which.

Mr Lynch: Did you hear anything that was said upstairs?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: No, I didn’t.

Mr Lynch: Did these men show any hesitation in getting to your husband’s bedroom?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: They seemed to know the house better than I did myself.

Mr Lynch: Is it a narrow stairs with a turn leading from the shop to the room?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes, with a difficult turn at the top.

Mr Lynch: Did you go up at all until they came down?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: No.

Mr Lynch: Did they leave the house before you went up?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: They did. I was kept downstairs all the time by the man at the door. When they were upstairs the baby that was in our bedroom cried.

I called out ‘you have mothers, and I am a mother; for God’s sake let me bring down the baby’.

Mr Lynch: Did you get any answer to that?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: The man at the door turned his head, and made some noise, but didn’t reply.

Mr Lynch: Was that before or after the shots?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: It was immediately before, for the baby stopped crying when the shots were fired. When the crying stopped, I thought the baby had been shot.

Mr Lynch: On this landing where your bedroom is, are there other bedrooms?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes, one occupied by my mother, who is an invalid.

Mr Lynch: Now these men you describe left the house, and you didn’t see them again?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: When they were leaving the house, they shoved me out before them on the street, and when I got to the street I cried for help and asked if anyone would go for the priest, that my husband was shot.

Mr Lynch: Did you see the men go away?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: The reply I got when I said that was to hear one man say, ‘Fire again’.

There were 10 or 15 men on the road outside the door then. The six men who had been in our house were part of that group, I believe.

In reply to a Juror - The order to fire was the reply that was given to my cry for help.

Mr Lynch: Was there any firing after the order was given?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: My brother was also calling out for a priest from a top window, and after the order to fire was given the body of men faced the door and fired up towards the windows.

Mr Lynch: Are the marks of some of the bullets on the front of your house, and on the signboard over the door?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: I haven’t seen them, as I have not examined them.

Mr Lynch: After they discharged those shots, did they clear away?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Immediately, I closed the door and saw no more of them.

A Juror: Was it with rifles or revolvers they fired?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: I cannot say.

[Continuing, she said that about an hour afterwards she heard a tap again at the door.

In the interval her husband’s body had been taken from the floor and placed in the bed.

She remained downstairs for some time after the men left as she telephoned for a priest to the North Presbytery, and there was some difficulty in getting communication.

She, however, succeeded in getting the priest.]

Before the priest arrived, she continued:

I went upstairs and addressed my husband by his Christian name, and he opened his eyes. There was heaven in his countenance, when he saw me alive.

Mr Lynch: Was he alive when the priest arrived?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: I thought he was dead, but I addressed him and said: ‘Cheer up, boy; the priest will be soon here; you are dying for Ireland and die like a soldier’.

Mr Lynch: Did the priest arrive shortly afterwards?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes and my brother met him. My husband had been moaning, but when he saw me upstairs he stopped moaning immediately. I then telephoned again for the priest, the ambulance, and the doctor.

Mr Lynch: And had they come and gone before the military arrived?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes. The priest arrived first and heard his Confession and administered the Rites of the Church, but he was dead when the doctor arrived.

Mr Lynch: Now, were you downstairs with the baby in the shop when the second visit was paid to your house that morning?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes, that was about an hour after the first visit.

Official RIC report on the murder. -Tomas MacCurtain 100-
Official RIC report on the murder. -Tomas MacCurtain 100-

Mr Lynch: What notice or signal was given by the second lot of visitors?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: There was a tap at the door, and I asked ‘Who is there?’ and the answer was: ‘Military, open’.

Mr Lynch: Did you open the door?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: I opened the door, and when I opened it I was met with four bayonets to my face I asked: ‘In the name of God, what do you want now?’ and I got no answer.

I then said: ‘Didn’t ye tear the heart out of him with bullets, and do you want to get my brother, now?’

Mr Lynch: What reply did you get to that?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: No reply. They walked upstairs.

Mr Lynch: Who walked upstairs?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: One man gave the order, ‘Get in’, and about six soldiers went into the house with fixed bayonets and four remained outside the door, and two at the at the outside.

Mr Lynch: Did you go out?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes. I went out, and I saw three policemen outside.

Mr Lynch: Was the appearance of any one of them familiar to you?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes, he was stationed at Blackpool, but I was not acquainted with the appearance of the other two.

Mr Lynch: Did you say anything to the police?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: I think one of them asked. ‘Who shot him?’ and I said, ‘That’s best known to yourself’.

Mr Lynch: Now, this house of yours faces Blackpool Bridge, and have you a view of the police barrack across the bridge to the left?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes.

Mr Lynch: Now did you follow the soldiers into the house?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: I remained in the street till they went away, and don’t know what occurred while they were there. I was standing near Mr Carey’s door when they left, and they could see me.

Mr Lynch: Did the officer speak to you when he was leaving?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: I don’t remember his paying any remark to me.

Mr Lynch: Would you remember if he expressed any regret to you?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: No, the officer didn’t say anything.

Mr Lynch: Now, you told the coroner and the jury that these men who first visited the house went up rapidly to where your husband was?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes, they seemed acquainted with the house.

Mr Lynch: Has your house been frequently raided by police?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes, since 1916 they have visited the house about 20 times, and they arrested my husband several times.

Mr Lynch: On charges connected with political matters?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: For loving his country.

The Foreman: Was there anything peculiar or distinctive about the voice of the men who asked you to come down and open the door?

Elizabeth MacCurtain: Yes, it was the usual policeman voice; he had an Irish accent and spoke like the policemen who came to the house on various occasions.

In reply to another juror, it was the first time the military called to her house, but they may have been with the police on previous occasions without her seeing them.

***

Mrs MacCurtain then signed her deposition.

Mr Lynch said he did not propose to call any further evidence that night and suggested that his lordship the bishop might kindly intimate to the people to go away quietly.

The jury took less than two hours to return a verdict of wilful murder. -Tomas MacCurtain 100-
The jury took less than two hours to return a verdict of wilful murder. -Tomas MacCurtain 100-

The coroner said it was 10 o’clock. He thought Wednesday was a half holiday. They could hold the inquiry at 3 o’clock.

The foreman said they would like to consider the hour for holding the adjourned inquest, as some of them might not be able to attend at 3 o’clock.

The coroner said his lordship thought it a wise course to take.

Most Rev Dr Cohalan said the proceedings had gone on in a wonderfully orderly manner. It was an awfully tragic situation, and he was sure that the inquiry would go on in an orderly way.

He appealed to those present when they left the hall to observe the same excellent orderliness they had observed in the chamber, and not by word or action to give any reproach to Cork.

The jury then retired to consider the question of the most suitable hour for holding the inquest on Wednesday and those present during the proceedings, quietly left the hall.

After a short absence the jury returned and informed the coroner that they could not agree to the suggestion to hold the inquest at 3pm, and that 7pm would be the most suitable hour for them.

Mr Wolfe said he was carrying out his instructions, and he was willing to facilitate in every way possible, if it was conducted in the daytime. He could not absolutely leave the city unprotected by bringing there large numbers of police.

The inquest was then adjourned until 7pm the following evening in the council chamber.

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