Civil War in Connaught

Now with added theme song (27th November 2011) – For more about this song see this post.

Every so often, a friend, friend of a friend, client, passer-by or, in one case, our regular courier, will drop in and present us with a remarkable find and ask us what they should do with it. It always causes great excitement – despite what people think archaeologists don’t find ‘gold’ all the time (and we don’t all work in Egypt or the Middle East, or have a whip and lead incredibly interesting lives being chased by evil geniuses bent on world domination – although we have met some people who think they are Indiana Jones, and emulate that fictional character in dress and style).

In fact, some of us have never found anything of value.

We’ve had people come in to us with everything from prehistoric axe heads, coins and brooches to early belt buckles. A colleague was even presented with a nineteenth century Zulu spear, bizarrely found in a drainage ditch in the foothills of a remote mountain in the North West! How it got there we’ll never know, but it had been there for some time. The stories of these artefacts and their discoveries are sometimes as interesting as the artefacts themselves. There’s a great display in the National Museum on this topic, well worth viewing. Our advice is always the same – in most cases these objects must be given to the museum.

Recently a friend, a returned Yank, John Monaghan, while renovating the cottage he was moving into, found an old letter taped to the back of a kitchen cabinet and upon reading it was shocked and moved by his discovery. Johnny has a huge interest in the local history of his area and began researching the letter and its writer. His findings and the scan of the letter are presented below.

The letter was written by Francis (Frank) Cunnane of Headford to his Mother on the eve of his execution along with 5 others in 1923. As an artefact of a tragic time in Irish history, it’s an important document and we felt it deserved to be reproduced here. After the scan of the letter, you can read a transcript version of it. We’ve also presented a timeline from the War of Independence through the Civil War to put the letter in context, with a more detailed account of the events leading to Frank’s execution. John has since tracked down and returned the letter to Frank’s descendents. The timeline is derived from Seamus Fox’s very useful website and the more detailed account was derived from Nollaig Ó Gadhra‘s book, Civil War in Connaught, 1922-1923 in which the letter is also reproduced. We’re not sure where Nollaig found the letter, but obviously it must have been returned to hiding afterwards.

In the Reception Ward

Galway Gaol, 1923

My Dearest Mother,

You are aware perhaps by now that I am one of the destined by God, to swell the roll of that martyred band who died for Ireland. As I go to my Maker I die as I as I lived believing that I have done the best for my Country and I trust that my sacrifice will suffice atone for anything that has remained undone by me; that I have conscientiously done everything for the better interests of my country, according to my rights.

I do not doubt, therefore it is with composure I accept my sentence, bearing no malice or hatred against any living soul. To all my friends too numerous to mention, give them my best and sincerest for their many kindnesses during and after my intercourses with them. I am more than grateful and I trust that God will in some way repay them as I intended doing, but now that I am leaving them for a ‘Happier Exchange’, I am debarred from fulfilling my desires in this ‘World of Sorrows’.

Well Mother dear, I know my death will shock you and all home, but my dying wish is that no grief or sorrow be unnecessarily displayed by any of you for the end must come some time and it is now as welcome as at any other future time, when perhaps I should be half as well prepared to meet ‘Him’ who sent me and know that he will accept my sacrifice for any forgotten faults which I may have committed during my lifetime. The death is a glorious one of which I am unworthy.

There may be some who may look upon our line of action as being a hopeless and foolish one but the voices of Pearse and Plunkett and those who died for the same cause in 1916 inspired me to follow in their footsteps and I feel confident the vindication of this “Sacred Cause” will come in some generation or another. Cheer up, Mother dear, I shall meet you in Heaven in the near future, though I hope your life upon this earth will be long and happy so much so that you will be recompensed in some small measure for all trouble in earlier life.

Give to all my neighbours and companions of my childhood my dying wishes (and to my loyal comrades a fond farewell) and let no act of vengeance mar the Cause for which I die. Let that sanctified flag be borne aloft unstained with the son of Cain, so that the world can see that we are not waging a war of Bolshevism of which the IRA is accused. I am sending you a few souvenirs including a pair of beads I got from Cissie during the B and T regime. In them find consolation and do not worry.

Now I must finish finally and eternally on this side of the grave so I send you, Father, Bertie, Tessie, Cissie, Gerard, Willie, John, Tommie, Martin, Charles, Joe and Vincent my blessing and good wishes. May God bless you all and may we all meet in Heaven, is the sincere wish of your dutiful son.


Frank Cunnane, along with five other men, was executed on April 11, 1923. Although the letter appears to have been written in Galway, the execution was carried out in Tuam. John tells us that he has heard that Frank was not one of the six men initially selected for execution and that he voluntarily replaced a married man with children.

The full story of the War of Independence is well recounted in many books. Here, we have simply listed a few critical events in the area around Headford as well as some events elsewhere, to provide a flavour of the period.


In May, 1920 Seamus Murphy led an IRA attack on the RIC barracks at Loughgeorge, Co. Galway. In July a car with four RIC men was ambushed at Aughle, near Tuam. Two RIC men were killed (Con James Burke and Con Patrick Carey). An RIC reprisal involved burning the Town Hall in Tuam and further destruction to property in the town. In October of the same year, John O’Hanlon from Lackagh, Co. Galway was shot dead by Black and Tans in the presence of his family. In November Kevin Barry was hanged in Mountjoy Jail. In Galway, in one of the great outrages of the period, a young mother, Ellen Quinn, was shot through the stomach by the RIC as she sat cradling her child by the roadside in Kiltartan, Co. Galway. A military inquiry found that the firing was “a precautionary measure”.

A Galway priest, Fr Michael Griffin, was arrested by the RIC on Sea Road, Galway – his body was found on 20 November buried in a boggy field near Barna. In March 1921, the flying column of the West Galway (Connemara) Brigade led by Peter (Petie) Joe McDonnell ambushed a four-man RIC patrol in Clifden, Co. Galway resulting in the death of two RIC men (Con Charles O’M Reynolds and Con Thomas Sweeney). The RIC set fire to a number of buildings in Clifden in retaliation.

The West Cork IRA, led by Tom Barry, carried out a large-scale ambush at Crossbarry, Co Cork, also in March 1921. They were nearly surrounded but managed to escape.This engagement was one of the largest encounters of the War of Independence. One of the British Army casualties was notorious Capt Hotblack.

Louis Darcy, O/C Headford Battalion, IRA was arrested at Oranmore. His body was later found in Galway and, it is alleged that he was dragged behind a military vehicle from Oranmore to Galway. A five-man RIC cycle patrol from Maam, Co. Galway was attacked near Oughterard resulting in the death of one RIC man (Con William Pearson).in April 1921, a 14-man RIC cycle patrol was ambushed at Kilmilkin, 5 miles from Maam by the 24-man strong flying column of the West Galway Brigade under Peter Joe McDonnell resulting in the death of one RIC man (Con John Boylan) and the wounding of another. The body of a chemist, Thomas McEver, was found at Dunmore with a label saying “Convicted Spy – Executed by IRA”. It is alleged that he was killed by Crown Forces.

In May of the same year, the flying column of the South Mayo Brigade, led by Brigade O/C Tom Maguire, ambushed an RIC supply patrol in Tourmakeady – four RIC men (Con Christopher O’Regan, Con Herbert Oates, Con William Power, Con John Regan) were killed. In a subsequent wide-scale search by the British Army, Tom Maguire was wounded and his Brigade adjutant, Michael O’Brien (from Neale) was killed. In addition, an IRA scout (Padraic Feeney) was captured and later killed.

In June an RIC patrol was ambushed near Milltown, Co. Galway resulting in the death of two policemen (Sgt James Murren and Con Edgar Day). Sgt Murren was to have retired on pension a week before but due to some delay, his papers had not come through.

The Tourmakeady Ambush

Maguire (who was also brigade O/C) broke his men into three sections placed around the village. The first section was commanded by Maguire; the second under Michael O’Brien and the third under Paddy May. He had about 60 men (with about 25 of them Column men) armed with 6 to 8 rifles and a number of shotguns. The supply patrol consisted of a car and a Crossley tender. The four men in the car were killed but the men in the Crossley dismounted and took up position in an hotel. Maguire ordered his men to withdraw up the Party Mountains but they were followed by a large force converging on them from different directions and they had to take up a defense position until nightfall. When darkness came they got away to safety bringing their wounded commander. Michael Kilroy had got word that the South Mayo men were surrounded and brought his West Mayo column towards Tourmakeady but, by the time they arrived, the South Mayo Column had already escaped the encircling troops.

Dec-06, 1921 Treaty signed at 2.10am

Jan-07, 1921The Dáil approves the Treaty by 64 votes to 57


Between January and June 1921, the British Government supplied the Provisional Government with 11,900 rifles, 79 Lewis machine guns, 4,200 revolvers and 3,504 grenades. The Pro-Treaty forces amounted to (approx) 8,000 men while a Provisional Government source estimated that the anti-Treaty IRA had 12,900 men and 6,780 rifles but it is difficult to know how many of their men were active. Whether Frank Cunnane was involved in any of the actions listed below is unknown.

In July 1922, the Pro-Treaty forces take Galway. In August, Michael Collins, Commander-in-Chief of the National Army, is shot dead at an ambush at Béal na mBláth, Co Cork. In October, Tom Maguire, a divisional O/C of the Anti-Treaty army in Mayo is captured as is Tom Powell and the Ballinrobe column. A raid in late October by Anti-Treaty forces from Connemara and Mayo was carried out on Clifden and after a long fight they took it.

In November, the first executions under the Public Safety Bill took place. In Kilmainham Jail, four Anti-Treaty Volunteers were executed for possession of revolvers. They were Peter Cassidy (7 Usher St., Dublin); James Fisher (Eckland St., Dublin); John Gaffney (3 Usher St., Dublin) and Richard Twohig (1 O’Connor Buildings, Dublin). Tom Johnson protests in the Dáil but Mulcahy says that he knows that people will be shocked and saddened by the executions but stern measures had to be taken or ‘assassins and wreckers’ would destroy the country. Also in November, Erskine Childers was executed in Beggars Bush barracks by Pro-Treaty forces.

In the west, Michael Kilroy – Commandant of the Western Command of the Anti-Treaty IRA – was wounded and captured during a massive sweep of west and south Mayo. The Pro-Treaty officer in charge said that five of his troops and 11 Anti-Treaty men were killed during this operation. In December, the British king signed the proclamation announcing the adoption of the constitution and the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) officially came into being. At a meeting of the Dáil, Cosgrave was elected President of the Executive Council. Shortly after this date, the remaining British troops left Dublin with the last ones leaving on Dec 17. Northern Ireland voted itself out of the Free State by the stipulation that permitted this in the Treaty

Rory O’Connor (Monkstown, Co. Dublin); Liam Mellows (Wexford and Galway); Joe McKelvey (Stewardstown, Co. Tyrone) and Richard (Dick) Barrett (Ballineen, Co. Cork) were executed in December by Pro-Treaty forces in Mountjoy after the cabinet had explicitly ordered the executions as a reprisal for shootings the previous day. These executions were extra-judicial in that they were not carried out under the Public Safety Act (all four had been in custody since the attack on the Four Courts).The news appeared in the evening paper along with an announcement that there was an assassination conspiracy. The executions were condemned by Labour and others in the Dáil. However, in a division that followed the debate on the executions, the government won by 39 votes to 14.

In January 1923 11 Anti-Treaty prisoners including some Galwaymen were executed (two in Limerick, four in Tralee and five in Athlone).The men executed in Athlone were Martin Bourke (Caherlistrane, Co. Galway); Thomas Hughes (Athlone); Stephen Joyce (Derrymore, Caherlistrane, Co. Galway); Herbert Collins and Michael Walsh (from Derrymore, Caherlistrane, Co. Galway).

February 1923, marks the capture of Frank Cunnane. The following derives from Ó’Gadhra’s description of the events of the day. A stormy morning, Frank and his unit were sheltering in a small group of houses in Cluid. At 6am, 30 troops from Galway observed the men. They circled the building and issued a challenge. They were completely taken by surprise. After a brief gunfight, the men surrendered. As the cordon enveloped the men, one attempted to run. Despite a warning shot, he continued and was subsequently shot and mortally wounded. The remaining men, including Frank, were marched to Galway. The equipment captured included 15 Lee Enfield rifles. 3 Mauser rifles, a large land mine, a number of bombs, revolvers, new trench coats and leggings and Sam Brown belts.

In the beginning of March, 1923, at Ballyseedy, Co Kerry eight Anti-Treaty prisoners were blown up in one of the great atrocities of the Civil War. Nine prisoners had been taken from Ballymullen barracks in Tralee (including an ex-RIC man called Paddy Buckley) to Ballyseedy Cross in order to, according to Pro-Treaty people, clear a mine. However, according to Anti-Treaty people, the prisoners were tied to the mine and the mine was detonated. One prisoner (Stephen Fuller) escaped. In March, another attempt to get prisoners to clear a mine at Castlemaine was foiled when some of the prisoners escaped. At Countess Bridge, Killarney, four Anti-Treaty prisoners were blown up and killed but, as at Ballyseedy, one prisoner (Tadgh Coffey) escaped.

A Pro-Treaty army report from Claremorris, Co. Mayo dated March 31, 1923 states “despite their very considerable numbers, and ample equipment in Mayo, the Irregulars have not been inclined to indulge in military action. Extensive destruction of roads, raiding, looting, and the burning of the houses of supporters of the Government is the form their warfare continues to take.”

The following day, writing to the O/C of the fourth Western Division of the Anti-Treaty army, Christy Macken (O/C of second Western Division) says that Major-Gen Dan Hogan (O/C Pro-Treaty, Claremorris Command) had been rounding up his No. 2 Brigade for the past fortnight. He says that the tactics that Hogan has been using (of setting up small posts and scouring the surrounding districts) have been much more effective in capturing his men than Lawlor’s earlier use of forced marches.

On April 11, 4 Anti-Treatyites – Francis Cunnane (from Headford, Co. Galway); Michael Monaghan (from Clonmehan, Headford, Co. Galway); Martin Moylan or Nolan (from Farmistown, Annadown, Co. Galway); and John Maguire (the younger brother of Tom from Cross, Co. Mayo) were executed in Tuam. Two further executions took place in Tuam on the same day- the men executed were James (or John) Newell (from Galway) and James O’Malley (from Oughterard, Co. Galway).

On 24 May, 1923, Aiken published the order of cease-fire and ordered the dumping of arms. The Civil War is over less than a month after Franks execution. De Valera also issues a statement to the Anti-Treaty army which says that ‘Further sacrifice on your part would be now in vain and continuance of the struggle in arms unwise in the national interest. Military victory must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic’

On 30 May, Anti-Treatyites, Michael Murphy and Joseph O’Rourke (from Ardrahan, Co. Galway) were executed in Tuam. O’Farrell says that these were the final executions of the Civil War. However, they are not listed by Macardle in her 77 executions. O’Farrell does say that they were arrested for armed robbery in Athenry on 24 May and also says that accounts differ as to detail, date and affiliation (if any).O’Farrell also gives the date of 13 May for the execution of O’Rourke.

72 Responses to “Civil War in Connaught”

  1. Kevin G. Miles says:

    Mr. John Newell was my grandmother’s bother. Her name was Bridie Newell. Her married name was Walsh. She lived in NYC until her death in 1997. She spoke often of her brother and what had happened to him. But not until now have I understood exactly what transpired. My son is a senior in high school here in the Los Angeles, California metro area. He has a so-called “senior project” that he must do in order to graduate in June of next year. I have recommended to him that he research this incident in Tuam in 1923. He and I would be interested in any assistance from any of the participants on this site.

  2. Martin Breen says:

    Kevin, we are cousins and I may have some useful information for your son. Plus, I am right here in the L.A. area. Please send me an email so we can connect. “”

    John Newell

  3. Patrick says:

    @ Jack Fleming

    By chance saw your mention of Michael Monahan. Have you a Family Tree? I knew well Pat, John and dear Winnie. Through the previous generation there is a family connection.

  4. Cormac Ó Comhraí says:

    Hi all. Fascinating to see so many close relations of names I know well in one place. I`m working on several books on the general period 1913-23 in the west, I`d be delighted to hear from any relations of any of the men mentioned above (or others). Even if I can`t give you information myself, I might be able to point you in the right direction. I can be contacted at
    All the best
    Cormac Ó Comhraí

  5. Angela Stubbs says:

    In reponse to Colm Grogan, Angela Stubbs replies:

    My name is Angela Stubbs and my Father John Stubbs was a first cousin of
    Peter Cassidy. My Grandmother was a Bridget Cassidy from Kildare and was a sister of Thomas Cassidy, Father of Peter Cassidy. I have no further information about Peter Cassidy, but would very much like any other information which might be available. I live in Dublin.

  6. Colm Grogan says:

    In response to Angela Stubbs:

    Hello Angela,

    Peter Cassidy was a twin. His twin sister was Bridget also. His mother, also Bridget (nee Grogan in Kildare), was married to Thomas Cassidy, also from Kildare.
    I live in Kildare. Perhaps Declan can let me have contact details for you or vice versa and we could explore our links to Peter further.


  7. mick macnamara says:

    The book is Civil War in Connacht, not certainly Connaught.

    The writer is Ó Gadhra, not O’Gadhra.

  8. Sean Healy says:

    Hello, I wonder if any of your readers would have any information on a Laurance Queenan born in Galway around 1897 and any information of his time during 1916 to 1923 or connection with Michael Collins.
    Thank you.
    Sean Healy.

  9. Hello,
    My mam Josie Finlay was Tom Hughes’s sister. Tom was execuded in Custume Barracks Athlone on January 23rd 1923. I have some information and photographs. Would
    love to find more . Anyone? please.

  10. Maura Hawkins says:

    For Sean Healy Nov 2014 – Laurence Queenan was born in Loughrea, Co Galway in 1901. There was a notice in the Connacht Tribune on Thurs 5th March 2015 by a lady from New Zealand looking for information on that Queenan family, more specifically Laurence, as he was a friend of her family. According to her information Laurence emigrated to New Zealand and became a priest there. She mentioned a connection with Michael Collins as well and wondered if any of the family were around. Laurence’s mother was Hawkins but not related to me that I can see.

  11. eilish landers says:

    My Granduncle Michael Grealy ( Roscommon ) and his comrade Luke ( Leo ) burke of Keady, co Armagh were executed in Mullingar on 23/3/1923 in Mullingar Barracks .

  12. Grainne Garvey says:

    There was a picture in my Father`s home of the North Galway Brigade. He thinks it was from the Connacht Tribune and underneath it said something like,`They gave their lives for the Republic`. I cannot find any reference to this picture anywhere but as it held an important position in this home I wondered where I could get some information. My father is from Glenamaddy.

  13. Miriam Jones says:

    Eilish Landers:
    My grandmother was engaged to Luke Burke and I have been researching his story for some time – I have even visited ‘Mick’ Grealy’s grave along the way. Do you have any information on how they ended up fighting together?

  14. Miriam Jones says:

    Unfortunately, I don`t know how they ended up fighting together Michael mentions Luke in his farewell letters. As far as I know, they were both arrested after getting off a mail boat coming over from England.
    Email me at and I will forward copy of letters.

  15. Elizabeth Burke says:

    My grandfather, John Burke, from Glenbricken, Clifden was a part of this brigade. I also have the poster of the North Galway Brigade of IRA and the following men are pictured: Sean Maguire, Seamus O’Maille, Hubert Collins, Martin Burke, Thomas Hughes, Martin Moylan, Stephen Joyce, Sean Newell, Michael Monahan, J. Cunnane. I have a smoking pipe that one of these men gave to my grandfather before they were executed. Before each of five of the men were executed, he copied their letters down and kept copies, he said so that he would know what to write. He escaped the night before his execution, jumped over a wall, broke an ankle, made his way to an island where there was supposed to be a cache of weapons but they weren’t there, hid beneath a house around Maam Cross I think, and eventually was found and jailed again. He survived and emigrated to Boston and eventually settled in New York. My dad brought those letters into school to show one of his teachers. She asked if she could keep them for awhile to take a look at and she never gave them back. My dad said my grandfather didn’t make a fuss about it. She was a religious sister so he probably did not want to approach her. My dad was probably in 3rd or 4th grade so the family has been talking about these letters that would have been written by some of the men in this poster, for about 60 or 65 years. My dad is 80 now. I can send a copy of the poster if anyone wants to see.

  16. Elizabeth Burke says:

    That IRA poster I mentioned was in my great uncle’s house in Clifden and now I have it. We all assumed that the North Galway Brigade was my grandfather’s brigade. But, we could have assumed wrong. After reading some of the posts, I think I have more digging to do!

  17. john nixon says:

    i am looking for details re luke burke ready who along with michael greery was executed in mulling barraCKs march 1923. both men were captured after a bank robbery in oldcastle luke was from Keady in co armagh where he is also buried if anyone can supply details or signpost me in the right directions i would appreciate it
    john nixon armagh

  18. eilish landers says:

    Michael Greally ( he gave incorrect name when arrested ) was my granduncle. If you email me at, I will forward all documentation that I have.

  19. john nixon says:

    have sent you an email eilish thank you for any help le meas john nixon armagh

  20. Ann Kaczkowski says:

    Hi Elizabeth: Do you still have the RIA poster. I am related to both Martin Burke and J Cunnane. Our extended family would love to have a copy of it if possible. Thanks Ann

  21. John Morris says:

    Hello everybody who are descendants of the six young men executed at Tuam on 11th April 1923, namely Seamus O’Malley, Frank Cunnane, Michael Monahan, John Newell, John Maguire & Martin Moylan. I’m researching the six and have downloaded birth records, census records, Volunteer Roll Book records where their names appear, family pension applications from the 1930’s etc.

    I have also similar info gathered on the young Headford men Michael Walsh, Stephen Joyce, Martin Burke & Hubert Collins (plus Thomas Hughes from Athlone) who were all executed in Athlone on 20th January 23

    I can share whatever info I’ve gathered should any descendants wish to contact me directly at

    Note to Elizabeth Burke

    The Breakout from Galway Jail that you refer to is well described through an interview given subsequently by one of the Escapees Paddy Duffy, Westport to Ernie O’ Malley. Its within the Book “The Men will Talk to Me – Mayo Interviews” by Ernie O’ Malley. Your Grandfathers name John Burke is mentioned as one of those having escaped. The breakout actually occurred on 6th March 1923 four to five weeks before the executions. You may have seen this book. If not, I’ll photocopy the extract and send it to you. I also downloaded an extract from the Connaught Tribune Newspaper of 10th March ’23 with a report on the incident. I can share that with you also. I’d love to get a photo of the famous pipe! Which of the executed men did it belong to? please contact me at

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