Civilian James (Seámus) Coleman

Civilian James (Seámus) Coleman (aged 45) of 13 North Mall, Cork city (13 North Mall, Cork)

Date of incident: 18 Nov. 1920

Sources: Death Certificate, 18 Nov. 1920; II, 19, 22 Nov. 1920; CE, 19, 20, 27 Nov. 1920; CCE, 20 Nov. 1920; CC, 26 Nov. 1920; Kerryman, 27 Nov. 1920; CWN, 27 Nov., 4 Dec. 1920; Military Inquests, WO 35/147A/86 (TNA); Who Burnt Cork? (1921), 68; George Hurley’s WS 1630, 4 (BMH); Hart (1998), 1-18; Last Post (1976), 74, 122; Borgonovo (2007), 107; Leeson (2011), 66, 187, 189; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014).


Note: A Dublin Castle report dubiously asserted that Coleman, a publican and mineral-water manufacturer, had been shot dead (at about 3:15 a.m. on 18 November 1920) at his own door by ‘4 or 5 civilians in overcoats, with their caps drawn over their faces’; the report also claimed that Coleman ‘was a great friend of and very popular with the police. He had from time to time supplied them with refreshments. About six weeks ago he was cautioned by Sinn Feiners to cease doing so, but he ignored the order.’ See CWN, 27 Nov. 1920. The ‘same unknown men’ were also said by Dublin Castle propagandists to have shot Patrick Hanley, Eugene O’Connell, and Charles O’Brien. A ‘uniformed man’ who entered the house ten minutes later declared to Mrs Coleman, ‘We didn’t do it’, and suggested to her, ‘Perhaps it was Sinn Feiners dressed in our uniforms.’ See II, 19 Nov. 1920. 

But she rejected this version of events. She testified that when her husband opened the door, he was confronted by a man ‘wearing a policeman’s cap and a heavy raincoat’. The man asked her husband, ‘Are you Coleman?’ and when he answered yes, his assailant fired two shots into him at point-blank range. As the gunman turned to leave, he fired two or three more shots into Coleman’s body. See CE, 19 Nov. 1920. A coroner’s certificate was issued confirming that James Coleman of 13 North Mall had died almost instantly on 18 November of shock and haemorrhage owing to gunshot wounds inflicted by some unknown person who was guilty of wilful murder. This was also the conclusion of a court of military court of inquiry (held in lieu of an inquest) at Victoria Barracks on 19-22 and 25 November. The victim’s family dismissed out of hand the Dublin Castle version of events: ‘Mr Coleman’s relatives ‘deeply resent the statement in the official report attributing his death to armed civilians’. See II, 22 Nov. 1922.

Coleman was ‘an esteemed citizen’; he was a member of the Cork Chamber of Commerce and the honorary treasurer of the Cork Industrial Development Association. Aged about 42, he ‘was extensively engaged in business and was never identified with politics’. See II, 19 Nov. 1920. Coleman was the owner of the Franciscan Well Mineral Water Company and of a wine and spirits business in the North Mall, next door to his residence; he was also a licensed vintner in Cook Street. See CE, 19 Nov. 1920.

At his funeral on Saturday morning, 20 November, after a Requiem Mass in the cathedral, the cortege proceeded to St Finbarr’s Cemetery. It was limited by military order to a hundred persons, and a force of soldiers in two lorries and an armoured car were there to enforce it. Attending were Bishop Daniel Coholan of Cork and ‘priests from nearly all the city churches as well as . . . representatives of the city commercial and professional life. Members of the public walked along the footpaths, so far conniving with the order of the military, who did not interfere.’ See II, 22 Nov. 1922. In the records of St Finbarr’s Cemetery, Coleman is recorded under the forename of Seámus (aged 43) of North Mall, Riverview, ‘murdered by army of occupation’.

His death certificate and the results of a court of military inquiry at Victoria Military Barracks on 19-22 and 25 November indicate that James Coleman of 13 North Mall (aged 45 and married) died on 18 November of shock and haemorrhage owing to gunshot wounds inflicted by some unknown person, and that his practically instantaneous death was a case of wilful murder. See Death Certificate, 18 Nov. 1920. The name of James Coleman appears on the IRA ‘Roll of Honour’, but he was not a Volunteer.

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