Civilian Robert Finbarr Tobin


Civilian Robert Finbarr Tobin (aged about 32) of St. Mary’s Villas, Western Road, Cork (Courthouse Street and Washington Street, Cork city)

Date of incident: 5 Jan. 1923

Sources: Death Certificate (Cork Urban District No. 6, Union of Cork), 5 Jan. 1923; CE, 6, 9 Jan. 1923; Evening Herald, 6 Jan. 1923; SS, 7 Jan. 1923; Belfast Newsletter, 8 Jan. 1923; FJ, 9 Jan. 1923; Application of Mrs Josephine Dillon (formerly Tobin) to Irish Grants Committee, 20 April 1928 (CO 762/23/12, TNA); Murphy (2010), Appendix 2, 338; Keane (2016), 346-47, 421.


Note: Ex-soldier Robert Finbarr Tobin was riddled with bullets by three men armed with revolvers as he was walking near the County Courthouse in Cork city with his wife Josephine shortly after 10 p.m. on 5 January 1923. No fewer than eight bullet wounds were found on the body after it was removed to the Mercy Hospital. The shooting occurred in Courthouse Street, the thoroughfare connecting Washington Street with Sheares Street. See CE, 6 Jan. 1923. 

At the court of military inquiry held on 8 January 1923, the victim’s wife disclosed that shortly before the shooting she and apparently her deceased husband had called at the offices of ‘the Legion’ on the South Mall—presumably the Legion of [British] Ex-Servicemen. Before they took up residence in Cork city in about 1919, her husband had served in the British army during the Great War; after returning home from the war, he had secured employment in the Ministry of Pensions and had held this position for about a year before his death. He also served in the transport section of the National Army in Cork city, but for only about five weeks according to his wife—from early November into mid-December 1922. He was an employee of the Cork City Pensions Office at the time of his death. No motive was immediately suggested for his murder. But his associations with ex-British servicemen of the Cork branch of the Legion, with the transport of National Army soldiers, and perhaps with the ‘British’ pensions office probably inspired animosity towards him among the anti-Treaty IRA of Cork city. The military court, however, did not blame for IRA for his murder. See CE, 9 Jan. 1923.

The medical evidence at inquiry ‘was that death must have been instantaneous. There were eight wounds in the body, six entrance and two exit. It was calculated that six shots were fired. Death was due to shock and haemorrhage. The bullet that hit [the] deceased and passed through was produced, and the expert evidence was that the nozzle of the bullet had been deliberately cut off, and so it was more serious than a dum dum [bullet].’  The court expressed its regret that ‘of the many persons who saw the parties who committed the outrage, not one has since had the civic duty sufficiently developed to come forward and help the authorities in tracing the perpetrators of these crimes, and who were a menace to the welfare even of the most well-disposed citizens.’ See FJ, 9 Jan. 1923.  

In April 1928 the woman who had been his wife (she had since remarried) applied to the Irish Grants Committee for compensation in the matter of Tobin’s death. She blamed his killing on his service with the National Army and on his prominence as an ex-British soldier. She claimed that Tobin had joined the National Army in September 1922—quite a bit earlier than what she had told the military court investigating his murder in January 1923. See Application of Mrs Josephine Dillon (formerly Tobin) to Irish Grants Committee, 20 April 1928 (CO 762/23/12, TNA).

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