Civilian William J. Nolan

Civilian William J. Nolan (aged about 17) of Annmount, Friar’s Walk, Cork (Cork city)

Date of incident: 11 July 1921 (abducted, killed, and disappeared as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CE, 14 July 1921; IT, 22 Aug. 1921; RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork City and East Riding, July 1921 (CO 904/116); Weekly Summary of Outrages against the Police (CO 904/150, TNA); Borgonovo (2007), 69, 100 (note 71), 76-77; Murphy (2010), 41, 154-55; Ó Ruairc (2016), 81, 92-93; White and O’Shea (2010), 382.


Note: Nolan was the son of a retired RIC constable who had recently ‘presented himself as a candidate’ for the RIC. His police links were certainly known to the IRA. He appeared on the list of ‘missing persons’ published in the Irish Times of 22 August 1921. According to the Cork Examiner of 14 July 1921, ‘A boy of about 17 years named Willie Nolan of Annmount, Friar’s Walk, Cork, has been missing since about 11:30 a.m. on Monday [11 July], at which time he left his residence to post a letter. Nothing has since been heard of him. His father was formerly a member of the R.I.C. and a brother of his is at present serving with that force.’ Another brother, Michael, was a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery and died on the Western Front in July 1917. 

According to MSPC Brigade Activity Reports for E Company, Second Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade Nolan was held up on Tory Top Lane by three member of E company.  They took a .45 revolver from him, and the report notes he was later executed.  As Ó Ruairc has recently noted, it is uncertain whether the IRA abducted and executed Nolan because of the connections of his father and older brother with the RIC and his own application to join the force, or because the IRA suspected him of spying. Both motives may have been involved. Nolan may have sought to join the RIC himself as a means of gaining protection against an assumption of his jeopardy. The Cork city IRA had earlier warned ‘“prospective recruits that they join the R.I.C. at their own peril. All nations are agreed as to the fate of traitors.’’’ The IRA secretly buried Nolan’s body. See Ó Ruairc (2016), 81. Nolan’s death occurred shortly after the Truce.

In his pension evidence the IRA gaoler Edward Moloney, the so-called ‘governor’ of ‘Sing Sing’ prison at Knockraha, stated: ‘The day of the Truce there was three [prisoners] came [to Sing Sing] that day, and they were taken off again that night. It was closed up then.’ It is possible that Moloney was referring to William Nolan and John Begley, who had been abducted by the IRA earlier that day and were never seen again. See MSP34/REF27648 and MSPC/A/1(E)2 (Military Archives).

The Irish Revolution Project

Scoil na Staire /Tíreolaíocht

University College Cork, Cork,