Civilian Thomas Downing

Civilian Thomas Downing (aged about 39) of Castleview Terrace, Lower Road, Cork (The Rea near Knockraha)

Date of incident: 23 Nov. 1920 (ex-soldier abducted, executed, and disappeared as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CE, 25 Sept., 15 April 1919, 27 Nov. 1920; IT, 22 Aug. 1921; Executions by IRA in 1920 (Military Archives, A/0535); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA); Hart (1998), 299; Borgonovo (2007), 28, 100 (note 71); Murphy (2010), 41, 91-93; Ó Ruairc (2016), 119. 


Note: Ex-soldier and chairman (in 1919) of the Cork branch of the Discharged and Demobilized Soldiers and Sailors Federation.  The Cork Examiner reported Downing ‘was kidnapped while going to a Discharged Soldiers’ and Sailors’ meeting on last Tuesday [23 November 1920]’. Immediately after his disappearance the following notice was circulated in Cork: ‘KIDNAPPING IN CORK. NOTICE. If Mr Downey [sic] is not returned to his home within 56 hours, Cork citizens prepare, especially Sinn Feiners. Black and Tans.’ The anti-IRA notices that circulated about Downing in Cork city after his abduction suggest that he did have a connection with the police. The same issue of the Cork Examiner that reported his kidnapping and the threat of reprisal also contained accounts of a second big bomb explosion in the city (killing two and wounding one) and a further series of fires and explosions in the early hours of 27 November 1920—‘the fifth outbreak of fire’ that week. The reporter noted: ‘Residents around the centre of the city had to go through a terrible ordeal. The frequent explosions reverberated with an appalling message.’ See CE, 27 Nov. 1920. The Auxiliaries and the city IRA were escalating their deadly  conflict. Although Downing’s name was to appear nine months later on a list of ‘missing persons’, he was executed as a suspected spy by city Volunteers on 28 November 1920. He worked as a civilian telegrapher or ‘telegraphonist’ for the Royal Engineers at Victoria Barracks—a position that could have brought him under suspicion by the IRA. See Executions by IRA in 1920 (Military Archives, A/0535); Borgonovo (2007), 100 (note 71); Murphy (2010), 91-93; Hart (1998), 299.

Downing was listed in the 1911 census as a ‘telegraphist’ at the Post Office in Cork city. He was then one of the boarders in a large house at 6 Wellington Terrace in Cork city. The boarding house was operated by the railway policeman William Sharpe and his wife Mary. The members of the Sharpe family belonged to the Church of Ireland, but Thomas Downing was a Catholic. His name appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 24 November 1920, with the notation that British liability was accepted. His wife Bridget (Bride) Downing was awarded compensation of £750 for her husband’s death, and the children were awarded £1,250, or a total of £2,000 altogether. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA).

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