Civilian William Goff Beale


Civilian William Goff Beale (aged 52) of Elm Grove, St. Luke’s, Ballyhooly Road, Cork (Ballyhooly Road, Cork city)

Date of incident: 16 March 1923

Sources: Death Certificate (Cork Urban District No. 7, Union of Cork), 20 March 1923; CE, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 March 1923; FJ, 17, 19, 21, 22 March 1923; II, 17, 21 March 1923; Irish Times, 19 March 1923; Belfast Newsletter, 19, 21 March 1923; SS, 24 March 1923; Leinster Express, 24 March 1923; Western People, 24 March 1923; Bennett’s of Ballinacurra Diary, IE/CCCA/B609/9/A/43 (Cork City and County Archives); Murphy (2010), 172-73, 203-6, 249, Appendix 2, 338; Keane (2017), 353-54.


Note: William Goff Beale was seriously wounded shortly before 7 p.m. on 16 March 1923 by two armed men as he was returning to his residence at Elm Grove, St Luke’s, Ballyhooly Road, in Cork city. The shooting took place almost at his own gate and at point-blank range. He was shot thrice in the left arm or hand and once in the back, with an exit wound in the abdomen. His intestines were perforated in three places. After the shots were fired, one of the men declared that the deed was a ‘reprisal for the execution’ of republican William Healy three days earlier. A prominent Cork businessman, aged 52 and unmarried, Beale was a member of ‘the well-known firm of Harris and Beale’ on the Grand Parade. Harris and Beale was a large hardware and seed business. Members of his family had been familiar in Cork commercial life as stockbrokers and as merchants for many years. Quite a number of prominent Cork citizens were his relatives. It was said that he ‘took no part whatsoever in politics’. See CE, 17 March 1923. But Beale was an important member of the Cork city Y.M.C.A. and came from the most prominent family in that organisation, which republicans had considered a network of loyalist spies ever since 1920. He was perhaps the most well known member of the Cork city establishment to be killed during the entire revolutionary period (1919-23). See Murphy (2010), 172-73; Bennett’s of Ballinacurra Diary, IE/CCCA/B609/9/A/43 (Cork City and County Archives).

Beale died of heart failure resulting from the gunshot wounds at the South Infirmary on 20 March, mourned by his mother of eighty-plus years, his sister, and his financé, who had all been ‘in constant attendance on him’ ever since the shooting. See CE, 21 March 1923. His remains were interred at the Friends’ Burial Ground at Capwell on 22 March. See CE, 23 March 1923.

The killing of Beale was the kind of violence in the South that the Belfast Newsletter readily trumpeted. Under the headline ‘Well-known Quaker Shot in Cork’, the Newsletter reported: ‘While approaching his home on the north side of the city on Friday evening [16 March], Mr W. G. Beale, member of a well-known Cork firm and a cousin of the Right Hon[ourable] Mr Justice Pim, was attacked by two armed men, who fired point blank at him, saying this was a reprisal for the [seven recent] executions. One bullet entered Mr Beale’s back and found an exit in the abdomen, cutting the intestines in three places. He was wounded in two places in the arm. He was conveyed to the South Infirmary, where he is in a critical condition. Mr Beale is a member of the Society of Friends, aged 52, and unmarried.’ See Belfast Newsletter, 19 March 1923.   

As Barry Keane has stressed, William Goff Beale was a first cousin of Justice Jonathan Pim, who was a judge in the High Court of the Free State until forced to retire in 1924 by a new law. This relationship may provide the reason for Beale’s murder. See Keane (2017), 354. Pim had wielded emergency judicial powers in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising. On the other hand, Gerard Murphy has connected the killing of William Beale to persistent republican hostility to the Beale family, whose members the Cork city IRA linked to the Cork Y.M.C.A. and to a reputed spy network centred there that had allegedly aided the British military and police in the city prior to the Truce of July 1921. See Murphy (2010), 172-73, 203-6.

William Goff Beale was in 1901 one of two co-resident adult children of the retired Quaker merchant George Cotter Beale (then aged 74) and his wife Arabella (aged 61). William Goff Beale (aged 30) and his sister Alice Kathleen (aged 21) lived with their parents and numerous servants at house 2 in Cahergal in the north-east ward of Cork city. If one includes the cook, parlour maid, and kitchen maid, there were four domestic servants plus a gardener and the keeper of the gate lodge in the overall ‘household’.  

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