Civilian Thomas Collins

Civilian Thomas Collins (aged 25) of Water Lane, Youghal (Green’s Quay, Youghal)

Date of incident: 7 May 1921 (ex-soldier shot as suspected spy and/or collaborator by IRA)

Sources: CE, 9, 11, 13 May 1921; CCE, 14 May 1921; CWN, 14 May 1921; FJ, 3 June 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/147A/92 (TNA); RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork City and East Riding, May 1921 (CO 904/115, TNA); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA); Malicious Injury Claims, Box 16/78, Cork County Secretary Files (CCCA); ‘IRA Intelligence Reports on Civilians Accused of Giving Information to and Associating with British Forces during War of Independence in Counties Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and Limerick’, ca. 1921, CP/4/40 (Military Archives); Applications of Frances and Esther Sheehan to Irish Grants Committee (CO 762/90/2/1472-73); Hart (1998), 298-99; ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 147.


Note: Three ex-British soldiers and two young girls were fired on by masked IRA men while returning from a dance at the British military barracks at Youghal in the early morning hours of 7 May. The Catholic ex-soldier Collins died, and three others, sisters Esther and Frances Sheehan and Patrick Lynass, were wounded. Collins, who had part of his leg blown away, was mortally wounded at Green’s Quay; he had lived at Water Lane. A former private in the Cheshire Regiment, he left a widow and three young children. Tensions were high between British troops in Youghal and local republicans at the time. On the afternoon of 7 May the military had ordered all strangers out of town and all shops closed. Some residents of Green’s Quay had left their homes for fear of possible military reprisals, which were not long in coming. ‘The military were active raiding and searching in the evening.’ A party of ‘unknown men’ began smashing windows of houses and shops. Much looting followed. ‘There appeared to be no discrimination regarding the houses attacked, [with] only a very few escaping, including the post office. Many Unionist houses suffered heavily. . . . The town presented a pitiable appearance this morning [Saturday, 7 May], with hardly a pane of glass intact from end to end in its main thoroughfare. The flagway and road were strewn with broken bottles, glass, and wrappings of looted goods, and droppings of blood were also visible.’ See CE, 9 May 1921. It was later claimed that ‘the only motive . . . was to murder these ex-service men for attending a military dance. All three were carrying their drums at the time of the attack and were unarmed.’ See CE, 13 May 1921. Collins was described as a ‘loyal man’ in the inquest evidence. See Military Inquests, WO 35/147A/92 (TNA). 

The name of Thomas Collins appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 7 May 1921, with the notation that liability was split 50/50, and with a note that £2,250 was awarded. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA).

Given the nature of the attack on the entire party, it seems likely that Collins was not being singled out from the rest. Moreover, the fact that the compensation evidence indicates that the British did not accept full liability in this particular instance implies that Collins is unlikely to have been a spy or informer. He was probably killed for closely associating with the forces of the crown. Patrick Lynass, an ex-soldier residing on Nile Street in Youghal, who was wounded in this incident, appeared on an IRA list of suspects as a person who was always in the company of ‘Black and Tans’. It is possible that Lynass was the main IRA target, but that since the IRA attackers were unable to identify him, they took aim at the whole group. See ‘IRA Intelligence Reports on Civilians Accused of Giving Information to and Associating with British Forces during War of Independence in Counties Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and Limerick’, ca. 1921, CP/4/40 (Military Archives).  

The funeral of Thomas Collins on Monday, 9 May, ‘was a remarkably large and representative demonstration. It was headed by a party of the Cameron Highlanders, after whom came the police and coastguards. Immediately preceding the coffin were the officiating clergymen, Rev. Fathers Aherne, Roche, Fox, and Duane. The remains were draped with the Union Jack, in which was the drum he [Collins], as one of the Comrades Band, played at the dance on the night previous to his death. . . . The sad procession was brought up by one of the largest gatherings of the general public ever seen at a local funeral. The longest route to the North Abbey Cemetery was selected, and the coffin was borne all the way on the shoulders of his fellow comrades. Passing through the wrecked Main Street, rain fell heavily, but all remained in the ranks till the cemetery was reached.’ See CE, 11 May 1921. Thomas Collins was Catholic.  

There appears to have been more destruction, however, following the funeral: ‘The state of terror prevailing amongst the people [of Youghal] while the destruction was going on baffles description. At the north end of the town especially, it being their second night of it, the cries of women and children could be heard mingled with the crashing and breaking of glass and the shouting and cheering of the wreckers.’ The reporter also stated: ‘Between shops and private houses some 153 must have sustained broken windows.’ See CE, 13 May 1921.  

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