Civilian William McGrath

Civilian William McGrath of 12 Coach Street, Cork city (North Gate Bridge, Cork)

Date of incident: 18 July 1920 (ex-soldier killed by crown forces)

Sources: CE, 19, 26 July, 2 Aug. 1920, 11 May 1921; CC, 26 July, 3 Aug. 1920; CWN, 31 July 1920; Kerry Weekly Reporter, 31 July 1920; CC, 2 Aug. 1920; Borgonovo (2007), 82, 99; Borgonovo in White and O’Shea (2010), 581; Sheehan (2011), 39; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/cork-jul-21/cork-executions.html (accessed 14 April 2016)

Note: An ex-soldier with the Leinster Regiment, McGrath was shot and mortally wounded by a British soldier under disputed circumstances. Street clashes erupted between demobilised men or ex-soldiers and policemen and British troops, with the ex-soldiers having been ‘irritated by the death of [James] Bourke, their comrade. It is only right to note that when men in [police] uniform were being made the object of unfriendly demonstration, they were rescued by Volunteer pickets. Shortly afterwards the military arrived with an armoured car and fired volleys, severely injuring several persons.’ But it was the contention of the military, in a letter of explanation and correction to the Cork Examiner, that on the night of 17-18 July two lorries and an armoured car (with 6 officers and 62 men) had been patrolling the principal streets of the city when they were repeatedly fired on by civilians; it was stated that these patrols had returned fire, ‘in many cases with effect’. The total number of rounds fired was 148 (rifle and revolver). In one specific case of conflict between soldiers and civilians, the military officer reported that a civilian had shot ‘a private soldier’ [that is, one of the Volunteers], and that soon afterwards a member of a military picket shot and killed a civilian who had persisted in trying to seize his rifle. See CE, 20 July 1920.

McGrath was reportedly shot dead by machine-gun bullets fired from a British military armoured car shortly after he had rescued a young girl huddled in Angel Lane off North Main Street in Cork city, who had been frozen in place by firing from the armoured car. He scooped up the girl, dropped her at a neighbour’s house, and was struck when he re-emerged in the street. A shipyard worker, McGrath was a 34-year-old father of three who had lost his arm in war service with the Leinster Regiment. See Borgonovo in White and O’Shea (2010), 581.    

The jury at the coroner’s inquest found that McGrath’s death on Sunday night, 18 July 1920, was the result of ‘fatal wounds . . . wilfully inflicted by the military in their indiscriminate firing in the city without any provocation whatsoever. The jury recommended the deceased’s widow and orphans to the consideration of the military authorities.’ See CE, 2 Aug. 1920. Eventually, his widow Mary McGrath of Coach Street was awarded £1,500 in compensation, and each of the children was to receive £300. See CE, 11 May 1921.

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