Civilian Gerald Oswald Pring

Civilian Gerald Oswald Pring (aged about 34) of Main Street, Midleton (Washington Street, Cork city)

Date of incident: 15 Jan. 1921 (killed accidentally by IRA)

Sources: FJ, 17 Jan. 1921; II, 17, 18, 19, 29 Jan., 16 March 1921; CWN, 22 Jan. 1921; CE, 29 Jan. 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/157A/77 (TNA); Application of Mary Ellen Pring to Irish Grants Committee (CO 762/134/6). 


Note: A customs and excise officer in Cork city, Pring at first seemed to have been the victim of careless firing by British forces maddened by an IRA attack on the RIC. Sergeant Mailiff and Constable Ryan of the Cork city detective force were shot as they were returning from a rugby match at UCC (Munster vs Leinster on the UCC grounds at the Mardyke). They were shot just as they passed the County Courthouse. Both were seriously wounded; each reached safety in a different pub nearby. (Ryan had been kidnapped about two months previously, but he had been released after twenty-four hours.) A number of civilians were also wounded during the attack itself or in its aftermath, when troops in lorries were firing around the city. Four civilians were wounded and one (Pring) was shot dead. Though a court of military inquiry found that no blame attached to the military, the circumstances created a strong suspicion that the fatal rifle shot to the back of his head (with a wound near the left eye) came from one of the lorries. See FJ, 17 Jan. 1921; II, 17, 18, 19, 29 Jan., 16 March 1921; CWN, 22 Jan. 1921; CE, 29 Jan. 1921.

The circumstances in which Pring died were disputed. ‘Allegations of wholesale firing at the crown forces in Cork on Saturday evening [15 January 1921] were made by one of the witnesses at the inquiry concerning the death of Mr Gerald O. Pring, excise officer, who was shot dead on the Western Rd that evening.’ But at the same inquiry Pring’s brother testified that ‘they [i.e., he and Gerald Pring and their sister] had just passed Mr Breen’s shop on the Western Road when 2 lorries passed. When [the lorries were] about 100 yards away, a shot was fired and his brother was struck and collapsed on the pavement. He died in a few minutes.’ See II, 19 Jan. 1921.

The chief military witness, however, insisted that ‘he could not find that any shot had been fired by any of his men’. After Sergeant Mailiff and Constable Ryan were wounded in Washington Street earlier on the day of Pring’s death, one military or police witness ‘escorted the Corporation ambulance conveying Sergt. Mailiff to the Mercy Hospital, and on the way several shots were fired at them from the left side of the streets, from buildings, and from side streets. More shots were fired at them from the streets converging on the Mercy Hospital.’ The witness’s men returned the fire ‘whenever they saw flashes’. He denied that there had been any indiscriminate fire: ‘Orders had been given to the patrol against it.’ Asked if his men had been maddened by the sergeant’s death, he replied that ‘Sergeant Mailiff was a very popular man. Witness’s men were not unduly excited. They might have had drink but were all perfectly sober, otherwise they would not be allowed out on patrol.’ But this witness also acknowledged: ‘Men on lorries . . . sit with their fingers on the triggers, which is the only safe thing at present.’ Though admittedly ‘it was possible, but not probable, that a shot would go off accidentally’, the police evidence was all to the effect that ‘no shot was fired from the cars when deceased was struck’. See II, 19 Jan. 1921.

Gerald Pring’s brother was ‘well known in rugby football circles, having played with Cork Constitution and Cork County’. Gerald Pring himself had been educated at the Presentation Brothers’ College; he was killed ‘within a few yards’ of the spot where he was educated. See II, 18 Jan. 1921.

Gerald Pring was one of the four adult children (two sons and two daughters) of the widow Ellen Pring of Gillabbey in Bishopstown. His younger brother Harold Crawford Pring had been born in Wales; Gerald Pring and his two younger sisters had been born in England. Their mother was a native of County Cork.

His sister Mary Ellen Pring later sought compensation for the death of her brother Gerald, partly on the gounds that he had supported her with part of his pay while he was alive and working; she claimed that he had given her £15 to £20 a month. She was unmarried, jobless, and unable to support herself. She placed the blame for her brother’s death on the IRA. In her application to the Irish Grants Committee for compensation of £5,000, she stated: ‘On 15th January [1921] applicant [Mary Ellen Pring] with deceased [Gerald Pring] and another brother [Harold Pring] were walking towards the residence of applicant [at Endsleigh Cottage, Douglas Road, Cork]. Two lorries containing a number of R.I.C. returning from the direction of the Cork Female Prison passed. After the lorries had passed, a shot rang out. A bullet hit the deceased, killing him instantly (copy certificate of death herewith).’ But she added: ‘Deceased [Gerald Pring] was an officer of the crown and was killed in the course of an attack on British crown forces by members of the I.R.A.’ See Application of Mary Ellen Pring to Irish Grants Committee, 5 April 1927 (CO 762/134/6).

Mary Ellen Pring’s allegation of IRA responsibility for the death of her brother Gerald is less convincing than the evidence presented at the military inquest. The victim’s brother Harold Pring, who was with him at the time of the shooting, directly connected it with two vehicles of the Crossley type that had just passed them and were about 100 yards off when Pring was shot. Other evidence indicated that the fatal shot was a high-velocity bullet. The findings of the military inquest made no mention of the IRA even possibly having been involved. This possibility would have been explored even if it had been a remote one. Instead it appears that there was insufficient evidence to implicate the RIC. On balance it looks as if there was an official coverup, and the killing seems to have been the responsibility of the RIC.

The Irish Revolution Project

Scoil na Staire /Tíreolaíocht

University College Cork, Cork,