Volunteer and Lord Mayor of Cork Tomás MacCurtain

Volunteer and Lord Mayor of Cork Tomás MacCurtain (aged 36) of Thomas Davis Street (Thomas Davis Street, Cork)

Date of incident: 20 March 1920

Sources: CE, 22, 23, 24 March, 19 April 1920; Michael J. Feeley’s WS 68, 1-7 (BMH); WS 719 of Maurice Ford et al., 5 (BMH); Seán Culhane’s WS 746, 7-14; (BMH); Seán Healy’s WS 1479, 9-10 (BMH); Michael Murphy’s WS 1547, 18 (BMH); Michael Murphy’s WS 1547, 18-19 (BMH); Timothy Sexton’s WS 1565, 6 (BMH); Peg Duggan’s WS 1576, 9-10 (BMH); Patrick Murray’s WS 1584, 12 (BMH); Seán Healy’s WS 1643, 4 (BMH); Seán O’Connell’s WS 1706, 2 (BMH); Rebel Cork’s FS, 55-68; O’Donoghue (1971), 167-68; Last Post (1976), 68; Costello (1995), 114-19; Leeson (2011), 10-11, 189; ‘Assassination of Detective Inspector Oswald Ross Swanzy’, http://www.lisburn.com/History/memories/memories-2004/swanzy.html (accessed 10 July 2015).    


Note: The first republican Lord Mayor of Cork and commandant of the Cork No. 1 Brigade of the IRA, MacCurtain was shot by crown forces at his home on Thomas Davis Street at about 1:15 a.m. on 20 March 1920. This sensational assassination outraged Irish nationalists of all stripes throughout the country; MacCurtain’s funeral clearly exhibited marks of the enormous impact of his death: ‘The funeral of the murdered lord mayor of Cork took place yesterday [22 March] amidst scenes of intense popular grief. Requiem High Mass was celebrated at 11 o’clock by his lordship the bishop [Daniel Cohalan]. There was a very large attendance of the clergy. At one o’clock the cortege left the cathedral for St Finbarr’s Cemetery. Thousands of citizens, headed by a number of M.P.’s and Irish mayors, representatives of the professions, Sinn Fein, and other national organisations, as well as all the leading public bodies in the South, walked in the procession, while there were vast crowds of respectful onlookers.’ See CE, 23 March 1920.

The inquest into the killing was conducted under the auspices of Coroner James J. McCabe. The coroner’s jury heard testimony from 97 witnesses, of whom 64 were policemen, 31 were civilians, and 2 were soldiers. Before ‘a densely packed audience’ in the City Hall on 17 April 1920, the coroner slowly read the unanimous verdict. When he came to the part of the verdict stating that ‘the murder was organised and carried out by the Royal Irish Constabulary’, McCabe was forced to stop because ‘there was such a burst of spontaneous applause. . .’. See Rebel Cork’s FS, 68. The jury returned a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ against British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the Viceroy Lord French, former Irish Chief Secretary Ian Macpherson, Acting RIC Inspector-General T. J. Smith, RIC Divisional Commissioner Edward Myles Clayton, RIC District Inspector Oswald Ross Swanzy, and ‘some unknown members of the R.I.C.’. See CE, 19 April 1920. In Cork republican circles from the outset, Swanzy was viewed as the chief culprit, though hardly the only one. 

Shortly after the assassination of MacCurtain, Swanzy was transferred to Lisburn, Co. Armagh, where he was tracked down and killed by Cork Volunteers on Sunday, 22 August 1920. IRA leaders in Cork city and Dublin (including Michael Collins) had quickly reached the decision that Swanzy must pay with his life for his leading part in the killing of MacCurtain. The two Cork Volunteers who carried out the killing were Seán Culhane, a young intelligence officer of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, and Dick Murphy, the captain of G Company of the First Battalion in that brigade. Three other Cork Volunteers who had initially been selected to participate with Culhane and Murphy in the killing were sent back to the city, as Culhane and others decided that it was ‘a two-man job’. Assisting Culhane and Murphy were Seán Leonard, who worked in a Belfast taxi garage and drove the get-away car, Lisburn IRA men Tom Fox and Roger McCorley, who acted as scouts, and Joseph McKelvey, later the O/C of the Third Northern Division of the IRA.

The killing of Swanzy prompted a major outburst of bitter sectarian rioting in Lisburn, which resulted in the destruction of scores of Catholic homes and temporarily drove much of the Catholic population from the town. See ‘Assassination of Detective Inspector Oswald Ross Swanzy’, http://www.lisburn.com/History/memories/memories-2004/swanzy.html (accessed 10 July 2015). This account grossly inflates the number of Catholics killed in the rioting. Only one Catholic appears to have died.   

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