Bloody Sunday: Fifteen minutes that shook an empire
The assassination of 14 British agents in Dublin led to civilian slaughter on Bloody Sunday 100 years ago this month. It would turn the tide in the Irish War of Independence
Political Editor, Daniel McConnell
e have murder by the throat,” was the bold claim of British prime minister David Lloyd George on November 9, 1920, in a speech to the Guildhall in London about his armed forces’ standing in Ireland at the time.What Lloyd George did not know was that Michael Collins and his men had terror on their minds and would bring a wickedly murderous plan to fruition just days later.
Collins had been preparing detailed dossiers on suspected members of the so-called Cairo gang, an elite group of British Intelligence Officers operating in Dublin. The Cairo moniker derived from their fondness of socialising at Cafe Cairo in the city. One of Collins’ sources identified the members of the gang and suggested to the ‘Big Fellow’ that the coming Sunday morning was the best to strike.
That Sunday was November 21 or what would become known as ‘Bloody Sunday’. Collins wrote to the head of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA, Dick McKee on November 17 and said: “Arrangements should now be made about the matter," saying the 21st was a “suitable date and day I think.” The night before, as detailed by T Ryle Dwyer, Collins met with Brugha, Mulcahy, McKee, Clancy and Sean Russell, the quartermaster general of the IRA at the headquarters of the printer’s union at 35 Lower Gardiner Street. Russell selected the men to head the various assassinations teams.“He put a member of the Squad in charge of each. Brugha authorised their killings along with over 30 others,” Dwyer writes. “It’s to be done exactly at nine," Collins insisted. “Neither before not after. These whores, the British, have got to learn that Irishmen can turn up on time,” he asserted.
The killings were to be a joint operation of the Squad and the Dublin brigade, under the command of Dick McKee.“Reliable men” from various battalions of the Dublin Brigade were informed throughout the previous week.
British soldiers harassing men on the streets of Dublin around Bloody Sunday 1920
1921: Sinn Fein leader and Commander-In-Chief of the Irish Free State Army Michael Collins (1890 - 1922) throwing in the ball to start a hurling match at Croke Park, Dublin.
As Anne Dolan of Trinity College Dublin wrote in her definitive account of the day 'Killing and Bloody Sunday November 1920' most of the men involved, the men sent to do the shooting, knew nothing of spies or executions until the night before, when even then the numbers to be shot still fluctuated to an alarming extent.“
A little over 12 hours before the shooting, most of the men involved still really knew nothing of what was to be done. They had that night to think about shooting a man in cold blood; a man they knew only as a name, maybe even an assumed name at that, at a certain address somewhere in the city,” Dolan wrote.
Harry Colley in an interview with the 1947 Bureau of Military History said: “It is well to place on record that Sean Russell, the O/C, explained to them that the men to be shot were members of a new secret service which the enemy had brought into this country; that if any man had moral scruples about going on this operation he was at full liberty to withdraw and no one would think any the worse of him; that he wanted every man to be satisfied in his conscience that he could properly take part in this operation.”
Many were agitated. "Frank Saurin checked the location one more time. James Carrigan charged and recharged the battery for the car he was meant to drive. Larry Nugent slept in the same bed with Eamon Fleming. Both knowing the next day would be important but neither saying more than a few words Matty MacDonald knew it would be a big job so he played a game of cards and had a drink,” Dolan wrote.Todd Andrews went to mass, played football and read a book.
Charlie Dalton on the right, pictured with his brother Emmet, both in National Army uniform. Bloody Sunday
It was only in the morning that Andrews began to feel unease. He was, as he said, “unattuned to assassination. He was “very excited” by the assignment but the prospect of killing a man in cold blood was alien to our ideas of how a war should be conducted. Charles Dalton, a teenage member of Collins’ Squad opined in his memoir of the feeling he had the night before. “I was wrought up, thinking of what we had to do the next morning, and I could feel the other men were the same … Outwardly we were calm and collected, even jesting with each other. But inwardly I felt that the others were as I was – palpitating with anxiety,” he said.
Matty MacDonald remembered that Dalton couldn’t sleep that night of Bloody Sunday. “He thought he could hear the gurgling of the officers’ blood and he kept awake all night until we told him a tap was running somewhere,” he said.
At 9am on the morning of Sunday, November 21, IRA units under orders from Collins “entered about a dozen boarding houses and hotels seeking guests they suspected of being British intelligence officers. Some on their list were out or managed to escape. At eight premises, they found their quarry. Nineteen men were shot in their bedrooms, hallways and gardens. Fourteen were killed on the spot and a fifteenth died of wounds weeks later,” wrote Jane Leonard in her piece 'English Dogs or Poor Devils – Dead of Bloody Sunday Morning'. All within 15 minutes.
At 38 Upper Mount Street, Vinny Byrne asked to see Lieutenant Peter Ames and Lieutenant George and was allowed enter. “As I opened the folding-doors, the officer, who was in bed, was in the act of going for his gun under his pillow. Doyle and myself dashed into the room, at the same time ordering him to put up his hands, which he did. "I marched my officer down to the back room where the other officer was. He was standing up in the bed, facing the wall. I ordered mine to do likewise. When the two of them were together I thought to myself ‘The Lord have mercy on your souls!' I then opened fire. They both fell dead,” Byrne told the Bureau of Military History.
Dalton met Paddy Flannagan at five minutes to nine as they had arranged the night before as they approached 28 Upper Pembroke Street.“I was with Flannagan and two fellows and we went up the left-hand stairs to the third flight. The two lads were in bed in pyjamas and Paddy Flannagan said for us and they got up rather startled and I thought this was the [time?] and I wanted the papers. "They were against the wall when Paddy fired. The fellows fell and they made a gurgling sound. The other fellows brought their men to the hallway. They had the men in pyjamas and they had their hands up. The[y] were lined up. They were held up on the staircase to the cellars. I saw one hit the floor and [fall] down the stairs,” Dalton later told historian Ernie O’Malley in a series of interviews conducted with volunteers.
“The two lads in the pyjamas were Major C. M. C. Dowling and Captain Leonard Price. It was not Montgomery as Dalton suspected. Paddy Flannagan shot Dowling twice and Price once and Flannagan was an accurate shot. The bullets to the chest killed both. Montgomery was the one who later died,” Dolan wrote.
There was panic and confusion in Pembroke Street, especially when British officers seemed to be emerging from every door. And this was not to mention all the pushing past scratching, struggling, screaming wives, Dolan reported.
At 28 Earlsfort Terrace, the maid answered the door. The IRA raider asked for a Mr Fitzpatrick and she replied there was no Fitzpatrick living here, just a Captain John Fitzgerald. “I next heard Capt. Fitzgerald scream and three shots in quick succession. The party then left the house and walked away quietly,” she recounted later.
At 92 Lower Baggot Street, a dozen or so men burst in. William Stapleton asked for Captain W. F. Newbury. “After some hammering on the door, it was opened a little. The occupant of the room was very cautious and suspicious because he tried to close the door again, but we jammed our feet in it. We fired some shots through the door and burst our way in.
"He was in his pyjamas, and as he was attempting to escape by the window he was shot a number of times. One of our party on guard outside fired at him from outside. The man’s wife was standing in the corner of the room and was in a terrified and hysterical condition. The operation lasted about fifteen minutes,” Stapleton told the Bureau of Military History.“Captain Newbury was shot seven times; his body left hanging from the window, where as Stapleton said, he had tried to escape. His heavily pregnant wife could only cover him with a blanket,” Dolan detailed.
At 119 Lower Baggot Street, Matty MacDonald knocked at the front door a maid came along. He said he had a letter from the Castle for Captain Baggally. McDonald told Ernie O’Malley: “The maid pointing and in we went in. We tapped at the door, opened it and walked in. There were three of us. Bagelly [sic] was in bed. I was kind of scared. He was in pyjamas. [Sean] Lemass and Jimmy and I fired two in the head from the three guns. "I heard maids screaming afterwards but I was told she was alright. On the ground floor was Jack Foley. A fellow came out with a towel in pyjamas for a bath and Jack stuck him up and he was balls naked.” An examination of the body found that Captain G. T. Baggally had been shot on the top of the head, through the left eye and twice in the chest.
Military and victims' friends in the grounds of Jervis Street Hospital during the Military enquiry into the Croke Park shootings on November 24 1920. Image courtesy of National Library of Ireland
At 22 Lower Mount Street, the IRA arrived looking for Lieutenant H. McMahon. They discovered the man, whose real name was Angliss, in bed with a man later to be known as ‘Mr C’. “I was awakened about 9am by someone shouting ‘hands up’ when I opened my eyes. I saw five men standing at the end of my bed covering me with revolvers. One of the men who appeared to be acting as leader gave the order to keep McMahon and myself covered and he proceeded to search the room." I then heard firing which seemed to come from the street and I heard a noise as if someone was trying to smash in the front door. The five men in the room then turned as if to rush out, they went a little way down the room then halted and the man who had been doing the searching raised his revolver – pointed it at the bed and fired.” Angliss was shot three times in the chest and once in the buttock.
Outside some passing Auxiliaries had been alerted by the screaming of the maids. At 117 Morehampton Road, the front door was opened by the 10-year-old boy of the house. His father Thomas Smith was the homeowner. At the later inquiry, his wife recounted: “I saw some men coming up the stairs, who appeared to number about 20, with revolvers in their hands. They then told me to put my hands up and my husband came out on the landing and asked for a little time to put on some clothes, which they granted. "I then asked if I could go into my baby in the next room and they pushed me roughly into it. I then heard about eight shots. I then came out and saw John Caldow [lodger] in [the] entrance to the room, lying on his back wounded.
"I passed him and saw my husband lying very badly wounded and Mr MacClean [Intelligence Officer] dead. My husband had no regular occupation and owned property. His age was 47. He did not take part in politics, but was very friendly with Captain MacClean who had just resigned from the army." Caldow survived but Smith died later from the wounds to his chin, chest, buttock, and hip. These men were shot in a spare room at the front of the house when MacClean begged not to be killed in front of his wife.
At the same time all of this violence was occurring on the southside of the city, Captain P. McCormack was having breakfast in bed and reading 'The Irish Field' in his room at the Gresham Hotel. “He was shot through the head, in the neck, in the wrist, and in the groin.
The racing paper was still in his hand; the blankets were singed from the closeness of the firing,” his inquest in London later heard. Up one floor, a Mr Leonard Wilde was found lying face down on the floor of his room. The medical examiner noted that he “was lying in a pool of blood and there was part of his brain lying in front of his head”. There was another bullet in the back of his right leg. His only other testimony was that the dead man seemed well-nourished and appeared to be about thirty-five.The amount of blood in the rooms at the Gresham Hotel was said to be particularly shocking.
An admission ticket to the Tipperary v Dublin match on Bloody Sunday in Croke Park Stadium
In Dublin Castle panic reigned. For the next week, the gates were choked with incoming traffic all military, their wives and agents, according to David Neligan, Collins’ main double agent inside the Castle. “One distraught agent, whose pals had been killed, shot and killed himself and was buried with the others in England, where they were given a state funeral, with services at Westminster Abbey,” Ryle Dwyer described. Reprisals followed in Croke Park that afternoon, where Auxiliaries fired on a crowd of Gaelic football supporters, killing 12 and injuring 60. That evening three prisoners were also killed: Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy were both heavily involved in the planning of the morning’s executions, but Conor Clune, visiting Dublin from Co. Clare, was said at the time, and since, to be just an innocent abroad in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shot while trying to escape from Dublin Castle was the euphemistic explanation of their fate.
But contrary to much of what has been written about Bloody Sunday, “their deaths did not cripple British intelligence in Ireland,” as Dolan asserted as proved conclusively by British records and reports released since. Reacting, Lloyd George declared dismissively that the fourteen dead “got what they deserved, beaten by counterjumpers”.
Defending the killings later on, Collins during the Anglo-Irish Treaty talks in 1921 said: “My one intention was the destruction of the undesirables who continued to make miserable the lives of ordinary decent citizens. I have proof enough to assure myself of the atrocities which this gang of spies and informers have committed. Perjury and torture are words too easily known to them. If I had a second motive it was no more than a feeling such as I would have for a dangerous reptile. By their destruction the very air is made sweeter. That should be the future’s judgment on this particular event. For myself, my conscience is clear. There is no crime in detecting and destroying in war-time, the spy and the informer. They have destroyed without trial. I have paid them back in their own coin,” he wrote.
The Dublin team playing in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday 1920.
While what they did has been oft mythologised in print and on the big screen, the true impact of that day’s horrific assassination on the men who pulled the trigger has been woefully neglected, save for a few exceptions. The toll such grave actions had on the young men tasked with such wickedness has only quite recently come to light.
Dalton wrote in his memoir he “thought over our morning’s work, and offered up a prayer for the fallen”. “Others, of course, were exhilarated about the thought of their first kill, and were overheard discussing it as they rushed from the scene. Joe McGuinness was so frustrated that the man he was meant to shoot was not at home that he threw his gun in the canal,” Dolan revealed.
The behaviour of some IRA men was less than pleasant. “There were only women and children in the rest of the house but that did not prevent the pair from the squad behaving like Black and Tans,” Todd Andrews later revealed. Vinny Byrne later stated how he enjoyed “plugging” British soldiers. “Byrne was 19 when he went to that house in Upper Mount Street on Bloody Sunday morning. It was noted with astonishment ‘how quickly and with what devotion these young men got down to their jobs. Anything they lacked in age and experience, they made up in enthusiasm.”
Yet, for some, it was all too much. Liam Tobin had a nervous breakdown before Bloody Sunday could be carried out as he planned. He had become, according to one observer “gaunt, cynical, with tragic eyes, he looked like a man who had seen the inside of hell.” Bernard Byrne said drivers “became nerve cases as a result of their work.” As Dolan recounted, “others turned to drink to make things bearable enough. Harry Colley confirmed this, admitting that there was heavy drinking in Dublin. Charlie Dalton never drank till the truce. Reaction from strain.” Many never wanted to talk about the events of the day.
Future taoiseach Sean Lemass ended an inquiry into his role saying: “firing squads don’t have reunions.”
roke Park in the early afternoon of Sunday, 21 November 1920 did not bear the hallmarks of a city at war. A Dublin intermediate football championship match between Dunleary Commercials and Erin’s Hope was played out in the greyness of a damp November day. Elsewhere in the ground, a meeting of GAA administrators took place. And yet, in hindsight, there were harbingers that this would be a day like no other. Officers of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA came to Croke Park an hour before the match to advise that the afternoon’s big football match between Dublin and Tipperary should be called off.
They had heard whispers of a raid on Croke Park by British forces. But GAA officials determined to go ahead with the match. They considered that cancelling the fixture would suggest that the GAA was somehow implicated in the actions of the morning. There was also a fear that – with a large crowd already inside the ground – a cancellation would lead to panic and a rush to the gates that would create danger and even cause mayhem. And so the stiles were opened before 2pm, the stewards were in place and the ticket sellers were at work around the ground.
There were more than 5,000 people in Croke Park when the ball was thrown in at 3.15pm. It was a challenge match between two of the best football teams in the country and the proceeds of the game were to go to Republicans. Central to the organisation of the match was Jack Shouldice, an IRA man who had previously won an All-Ireland football championship with Dublin. Shouldice recalled: “The game had only started when trouble began. An aeroplane, rare at the time, flew over the grounds and returned, apparently to report or give some signal to the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. "We had not long to wait, for the game was not in progress more that 15 minutes when lorries of the raiders swooped down on the grounds and without any warning burst their way to the railings surrounding the playing pitch, opened fire on the people on the far side and on the players.”
Indeed, the first shots had been fired from outside the ground. Jeremiah O’Leary, a ten year old boy, was killed by a bullet that went through his head while he was sitting on a wall at the Canal End. He was one of three children murdered in the ground. As Shouldice noted, it was among the supporters on Ballybough side of the ground – basically, the location of the modern Cusack Stand – that the greatest mayhem was manifest.
Map of Croke Park used in the Bloody Sunday Military Court of Inquiry, showing the layout of the grounds and the locations where people were shot. © The National Archives.
He said that it was here that spectators were “murdered in cold blood”. “Hundreds were wounded or injured in the mad scramble that followed, trampled or torn with barbed wire on the walls". On the other side of the ground, people jumped to safety into gardens on Jones Road, some taking refuge in the houses. Thousands remained trapped in the ground. As Shouldice remembered, there were armed forces all around. "They were perched up on the old stand, on the railway walls and any position overlooking us. Rifles and machine guns were trained on us. The commands rung out: ‘Put up your hands and keep them up.’ The searching went on for an hour or more.”
Having been searched, spectators filed out through the main gate and along Jones’ Road. Shouldice was detained for a while under armed guard in the dressing room. It was late, by then, and he was one of the last to leave Croke Park. It was, he remembered, a day like no other; he was “like the thousands of others who came there to enjoy a football game, but who witnessed something entirely different.” Amid the various inquiries and the cover-up and the false statements issued by government in the wake of Bloody Sunday, a couple of essential facts were discernible. The first is that the events of the afternoon were a response to those of the morning. Those who led the raid on Croke Park undertaken by members of the British army and the police were looking for men who they believed might be responsible for what happened in the morning. The second is that the British forces who raided Croke Park were out of control. All the convincing evidence is that they shot first and that what ensued was 90 minutes of wanton carnage.
Croke Park on November 22 1920, the day after the massacre. Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland
Angliss, Henry J, 22 Lower Mount St, Intelligence Officer, IRA
Baggallay, Geoffrey T, 119 Lower Baggott St, Crown Military Officer, IRA
Dowling, C M Cholmeley, 28 Upper Pembroke St, Intelligence Officer IRA
Fitzgerald, John J28 Earlsfort Terrace RIC, IRA
Garniss, Frank, 16 Northumberland Rd, Auxiliary, IRA
MacCormack, Patrick J, Gresham Hotel, O'Connell St, Civilian, IRA
MacLean, Donald L, 117 Morehampton Rd, Intelligence Officer, IRA
Montgomery, Hugh F, 28 Upper Pembroke St, Admiralty, IRA
Moris, Cecil A, 16 Northumberland Rd, Auxiliary, IRA
Newberry, William F92 Lower Baggott St, Crown Military Officer, IRA
Price, Leonard, 28 Upper Pembroke St, Intelligence Officer, IRA
Smith, T. Herbert, 117 Morehampton Rd, Civilian IRA
Wilde, Leonard A, Gresham Hotel, O'Connell St, Uncertain, IRA
Barnett, W H, Mountjoy Square, CivilianCrown Forces
Clancy, Peadar, Dublin Castle, IRA, Crown Forces
Clune, Conor, Dublin Castle, Civilian Crown, Forces
Cullinane, William, Lincoln Place, Civilian, Crown Forces
McKee, Dick, Dublin Castle, IRA, Crown Forces
Powell, E W, Dublin Castle, Army, unknown
Spenle, Henry Emile, Dublin Castle, Auxiliary
Cowley, Austin Francis, Navan, Meath, Civilian, Crown Forces
Jays, Henry Clement Leap, Cork, RIC, IRA
Kearney, John Joseph, Newry, Down, RIC, IRA
Lyons, Thomas, Knappagh, Mayo, Civilian
Rea, Isaac James, Cappoquin, Waterford, RIC/IRA
Bennett, George F38 Upper Mount St, Intelligence Officer, IRA
Uachtarán CLG John Horan lights a candle at the Bloody Sunday memorial in Croke Park. In lieu of a larger commemorative event at Croke Park, the GAA is encouraging members, supporters and the wider public to light a candle at dusk this Saturday 21 November, remembering the 14 lives lost that day 100 years ago. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile