Volunteer Michael O’Callaghan ‘saved name of Tipperary’ in 1916

ONE of the more obscure incidents of the Easter Rising took place near Galbally on the Tipperary/Limerick border.

Volunteer Michael O’Callaghan ‘saved name of Tipperary’ in 1916

Volunteer Michael O’Callaghan, aged 29, of Garryspillane, shot dead Thomas F Rourke (a police sergeant) and John Hurley (a constable) when they entered the house in which he was staying while endeavouring to arrest him.

The police were searching for O’Callaghan, after he pulled a revolver on a group of separation women who were threatening him after news of the Rising reached Tipperary Town.

‘Separation women’ was the term used to describe the wives of soldiers fighting at the front.

For most of these families the small weekly allowance paid from soldiers’ wages was vital as the price of ordinary foodstuffs rose during the war and profiteering in basic commodities was common.

O’Callaghan was captain of the local Irish Volunteers company and encountered the women as they awaited the delivery of their weekly separation allowance at the post office on Tuesday, April 25.

Due to the outbreak of the rebellion in Dublin, however, allowances were late, plunging many families into immediate financial hardship.

A combination of the anger of the separation women and O’Callaghan’s contempt for the women’s plight led to a heated argument that spilled over into a fracas on the streets of Tipperary town.

In fear for his life, O’Callaghan drew his revolver and fired several shots, dispersing the group and raising the alarm of the RIC.

The police subsequently attempted to arrest O’Callaghan later that night, however, O’Callaghan would not come quietly and shot his way out of his home, seriously wounding one policeman, Patrick Ryan, in the leg.

Realising that he would be tried for attempted murder by an unsympathetic court, O’Callaghan fled the town to seek the refuge of his comrades in the countryside. He travelled to Galbally, where he found refuge in the home of Peter Hennessey of Monour.

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The RIC somehow got wind of his arrival, however, and on the evening of Wednesday, April 26, two policemen entered the house to arrest him. O’Callaghan shot Sergeant Thomas Rourke as he entered the house, prompting his colleague, Constable John Hurley, to flee in fear for his life.

O’Callaghan pursued the fleeing Hurley through the garden, shooting him in the back of the head at point blank range.

WITH a double-murder charge on his head, O’Callaghan escaped to the United States with the help of the republican movement, after months on the run in various parts of Ireland.

O’Callaghan became a minor celebrity among Irish republicans in New York and was close to fellow ‘refugees’ Liam Mellows and Patrick McCartan.

With Larry De Lacy of Wexford, he was involved in an ill–fated attempt to ship guns to the Volunteers at home and was jailed pending extradition from November 1917 until January 1918, when the charges against him were unexpectedly dropped.

O’Callaghan was 32 years of age when the killings took place in 1916, and he returned to Ireland in 1923, becoming a District Court clerk and subsequently a creamery manager.

Volunteer leader Dan Breen later told the Military Service Pensions Board that O’Callaghan had “saved the name of Tipperary by his actions during that famous week”, and “I only wish we had some more like O’Callaghan, if we had, 1916 would not have faded out as it did”.

Conor McNamara is 1916 Scholar in Residence at NUI Galway in 2016, his books include Easter 1916: A New Illustrated History (Collins Press, 2015)

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