RIC Sergeant Denis Garvey

RIC Sergeant Denis Garvey (aged 47) from County Kerry (Lower Glanmire Road, Cork city)

Date of incident: 11 May 1920

Sources: II, 12 May 1920; CE, 12, 13, 14, 15, 26 May, 10 June 1920; CCE, 15 May 1920; CWN, 15 May 1920; Weekly Summary of Outrages against the Police, May 1920 (CO 904/148-50, TNA); Seán Healy’s WS 1479, 16 (BMH); Patrick Murray’s WS 1584, 12-14 (BMH); Daniel Healy’s WS 1656, 6-7 (BMH); Abbott (2000), 76; Borgonovo (2006), 96; ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 135; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014).


Note: A sergeant and two constables were attacked soon after departing from their barracks at about 10:30 p.m. on the Lower Glanmire Road in Cork city. They boarded or were about to board a tram from Tivoli going to Pope’s Quay. IRA gunmen who had boarded the tram earlier approached the policemen with revolvers drawn and opened fire, killing Sergeant Garvey and Constable Daniel Harrington and seriously wounding another constable. Sergeant Garvey had played a conspicuous role in the lengthy inquest into the murder of Lord Mayor Tomás MacCurtain by disguised RIC men. Passengers on the tram ‘promptly alighted and joined the general stampede citywards’. It was stated that ‘the bodies of Sergeant Garvey and Constable Harrington present a gruesome picture as they lie side by side in the day room of the Lower Road police barracks. . . . The bullet-perforated and blood-sodden caps and tunics of the deceased lie near the bodies and afford tragic evidence of the terrible death they must have received.’ See CE, 13 May 1920.

At the adjourned inquest finally held on 9 June 1920, it was established that Garvey’s body had four bullet wounds and Harrington’s had eight. Constable Patrick Doyle declared at the adjourned inquest that the gunmen who had shot them were riding on the tram, near the seats; that Garvey and Harrington had both entered the tram; that he (Doyle) had been about to enter it (he had his hand on the bar of the tram) when shots rang out; and that he had run away for about 50 yards and had then been shot three times (in the head, left arm, and hip) when he turned back to look at the tram. He guessed from the number of shots that there had been four or five gunmen. See CE, 10 June 1920. The shooting of these policemen elicited condemnations from Catholic priests: ‘At all the Masses at St Patrick’s Church, Cork, yesterday [13 May 1920] the clergy denounced in strong terms the shooting of policemen on the Lower [Glanmire] Road.’ See CE, 14 May 1920.

The later testimony of Patrick Murray, head of the city ASU, makes clear that Garvey and Harrington were believed to have participated in the assassination of Lord Mayor Tomás MacCurtain and that they were targeted in reprisal: ‘The brigade intelligence officer Florrie O’Donoghue became aware about his time of the identity of two members of the murder gang who assassinated Tomás MacCurtain. These police were stationed in the Lower Road Barracks, and it was decided to attack them.’ See Patrick Murray’s WS 1584, 12-13 (BMH).

Daniel Healy, sometime O/C of the IRA Active Service Unit in Cork city, later provided an authoritative account of this carefully planned attack, in which he had taken a leading role. He noted that early in May 1920 he and his men had received instructions that Sergeant Garvey of the Lower Road Police Barracks ‘was to be shot at sight’. Healy suspected that the reason for targeting Garvey was ‘for his part in the murder of Tomás McCurtain, Lord Mayor of Cork,’ on 20 March of that year. On the night of 11 May ‘nine men from “E” Company, under the command of “Pa” Murray, went to the vicinity of the barracks at Lower Road armed with revolvers. It was known that at a certain hour each night three R.I.C. men left barracks, and Garvey was one of the three. The police then boarded a tram for the city at a tram stop on the opposite side of the road to the barracks. Our plans were that some of our men would take the tram to Tivoli, returning on the same tram with the intention of meeting the R.I.C. men as the latter boarded the tram at the Lower Road. Two more of our men, pretending to be lovers, stood at a blank wall opposite the barracks. These latter would join in the attack when the firing commenced. The remainder of us were here and there near the tram stop. Everything turned out according to plan. Garvey, accompanied by Constables Harrington and Doyle, left the barracks at the usual time and stood on the opposite side of the road waiting for a tram to the city. The tram duly came along, and as the policemen made to board it, revolver fire was opened on them by our party. Garvey and Harrington fell dead. Doyle was severely wounded.’ See Daniel Healy’s WS 1656, 6-7 (BMH).

Garvey’s body was taken to Aghadoe near Killarney for interment, but beforehand there was a funeral procession in Cork city along MacCurtain Street, Patrick Street, and Washington Street, with two companies of the Hampshire and the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiments and the bands of these regiments participating, along with ‘a large body of the city police’ headed by an RIC county inspector, two district inspectors, a county inspector-general, and a divisional commissioner. See CE, 15 May 1920. Garvey had twenty-five years of service with the RIC; before joining the force, he had been a labourer. He left ‘a widow and eight children to mourn his loss’. See CCE, 15 May 1920. 

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