Civilian James N. Down


Civilian James N. Down (aged about 35) of Belmont, Gardiner’s Hill, Cork city (Patrick Street, Cork)

Date of incident: 1 Feb. 1919

Sources: CE, 12, 13, 19 Feb. 1919; II, 12, 14, 19 Feb. 1919; CWN, 15, 22 Feb. 1919; FJ, 20 Feb. 1919; RIC Monthly Report, Cork City and East Riding, Feb. 1919 (CO 904/108).

Note: Down and several other companions, including the joiner Michael Cotter, were badly assaulted on the evening of 1 February 1919 by four unknown men in Patrick Street in Cork city. Excessive drinking may have been a factor in the fracas on both sides. One of the four assailants was heard to remark later that night that he and his mates—all ex-soldiers—had had a row with Sinn Féiners. The ex-soldiers had been told of Down’s ‘respectability’ as a former chairman of the Cork County Board of the GAA, but if anything, that message seemed only to increase their animosity towards him, and he was collared, punched to the ground, and rendered senseless. As a result of complications from this severe beating, Down was admitted (according to Dr Abraham Sutton) to the North Fever Hospital in Cork city on Saturday evening, 2 February, ‘suffering from tetanus or lockjaw. In spite of all treatment he gradually got worse and succumbed rather suddenly on Tuesday evening, Feb. 11th. His condition was rather hopeless from soon after his admission, and he [Dr Sutton] had him spiritually attended the same evening. Death was caused by exhaustion and heart failure due to tetanus poisoning.’ See CE, 19 Feb. 1919.

As a preliminary to its report on the adjourned inquest, the Cork Examiner pronounced glowingly on Down’s background and reputation: ‘The deceased gentleman was one of the Assistant County Surveyors under the Cork County Council, and also an earnest and prominent member of the Cork County Board, G.A.A., of which he was chairman for a number of years, and it can therefore be readily understood that he was well and widely known. The late Mr Down had an extremely brilliant collegiate course, winning many distinctions at his examinations, and had Providence spared him, he would undoubtedly have advanced to the front rank of his profession [as an engineeer]. The fact has got to be added that, upright and genial, he lived in the esteem and respect of these and the other circles in which he moved. . . .’ Down left a bereaved wife and children, ‘respected relatives’, and numerous grieving friends. His brother John J. Down was Clerk of Works for Cork city. See CE, 13 Feb. 1919. In 1911 James Nicholas Down resided with two younger brothers and a younger sister in the home of his father, the widower and railway-station master William Samuel Down, in house 20 in Dunisky (Mashanaglass) in Cork city.  

The injured Michael Cotter told the subsequent inquest jury that on the night of 1-2 February 1919 he had pointed out the assailants to three policemen who came on the scene, and that he had asked the police to take their names and addresses for beating him up. But according to Cotter, the police had allowed the assailants to leave, and one policman had even told Cotter ‘to go home and wash his face’. (A head constable denied that the police had come into contact with the assailants that night. He also denied that the police knew anything directly about how Down had been assaulted or who had beaten him.) Coroner William Murphy stated at the inquest that the assaults on Down and Cotter had been ‘quite unprovoked’; Murphy added that James Down ‘was in no way quarrelsome with any of the four men who so brutally attacked him, and as a matter of fact, he [Down] was proceeding homewards with his friends when he was deliberately followed by the four men and subjected to terrible treatment. Mr Down and all his companions appeared to have been assaulted and very badly beaten.’ Coroner Murphy seriously faulted the conduct of the police on the occasion. The inquest jury simply found that Down had ‘died from tetanus poisoning caused as a result of injuries inflicted by four men unknown’. See CE, 19 Feb. 1919.

The police, on the other hand, considered the Sinn Féiner James Down to be a quarrelsome man when under the influence of drink, and thought that he had given offence to the four men who had attacked him. See RIC Monthly Report, Cork City and East Riding, Feb. 1919 (CO 904/108).



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