The Killings of RIC Constables Jones and Mugan in Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim
Introduction from Chronology
An RIC man (Constable Wilfred Jones) is shot dead when he is out walking with a woman friend in Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim.
Later, Constable Thomas Mugan is shot in Ballinamore RIC barracks and dies two days later in King George V Hospital in Dublin. Various accounts are given of these two killings especially the killing of Constable Mugan.
Constable Wilfred Jones was from Acton in London. According to his RIC service record, he enlisted in the RIC on November 9th 1920 and was posted to Co Leitrim. His service record also states that he died on April 8th 1921 “murdered by armed men”. However, the date of death on his service record is incorrect. According to the civil record of his death, Constable Wilfred Jones died on April 15th 1921 in Ballinamore. He was aged 35 years of age, he was a bachelor and his cause of death was given as “Foully murdered”. Certificate was received from Military Court of Inquiry held April 16th 1921. The civil record of Constable Jones’ death is available here: https://civilrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/images/deaths_returns/deaths_1921/05095/4399367.pdf
Constable Jones’s killing led to the death of another RIC constable - Constable Thomas Mugan. According to Abbott, he died on April 18th 1921 and he was “Accidently shot by his own rifle in Ballinamore Barracks, Co. Leitrim” (Abbott (2019), pg 410). According to his RIC service record, Constable Mugan was from Castlebar, Co. Mayo. After an earlier short stint in the RIC in 1916, he re-enlisted in the RIC on May 1st 1917 and was posted to Co. Leitrim. Also, according to his RIC record, he died on April 18th 1921 from "bullet wounds accidental discharge of comrade's rifle". Again, the date of death on the service record is incorrect. According to the civil record, Constable Mugan died on April 17th 1921 in King George V Hospital in Dublin. He was aged 23 years of age, he was a bachelor and the cause of death was given as “Shock and haemorrhage following gunshot wounds. Manslaughter.” Certificate received from Military Court of Inquiry held April 19th 921. The civil record of Constable Mugan’s death is available here: https://civilrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/images/deaths_returns/deaths_1921/05096/4400167.pdf
So according to his service record, Constable Mugan died from "bullet wounds - accidental discharge of comrade's rifle" whereas, according to the Military Court of Inquiry (held in lieu of an inquest), he dies due to “Shock and haemorrhage following gunshot wounds. Manslaughter.” Was it accidental or manslaughter? Before this question is addressed, the killing of Constable Jones will be reviewed in detail.
Who Shot Constable Jones?
In his Bureau of Military History (BMH) statement (available here: www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1194.pdf ), Bernard Sweeney said “About the 1st April a Black & Tan from the Ballinamore garrison fell to courting a girl whom he used to meet out on the Swanlinbar side of the town. Charles McGoohan … went to the spot and, after an exchange of shots, killed the Tan and took his gun. The Tans were practically mad in the town of Ballinamore. They beat up every man they could lay their hands on. They nearly killed my brother and also Jack Quinn.”
In his BMH statement, (available here: www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1146.pdf ) Eugene Kilkenny says “An Auxiliary policeman, stationed in Ballinamore, was keeping company with a girl at Drumshambo. Charles McGoohan, who was then O/C of the Column, met this Auxie on the road and opened fire on him with an automatic pistol. After an exchange of shots, the Auxiliary was killed.”
In his BMH statement (available here: http://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1266.pdf ) Hugh Brady says “In April, 1921, a Black and Tan was shot dead near the railway station in Ballinamore. This man was in the habit of going alone to the station to meet a girl, who was a Protestant, and so was easily got. I was with eight or nine members of the Edentenny Company, guarding the southern end of the town. We heard the shots from the railway station, but none of the garrison made any attempt to come out of barracks or to send up distress signals. It was hoped that on hearing the shooting at the station which they must have heard, they would come out of the barracks and that we could have a crack at them as they merged. But it was no good; they did not move or send up any distress signals. Strange also was the fact that they did not carry out any reprisals for this shooting.”
From the above, it can be said that Charles McGoohan shot Constable Jones. However, at least two questions arise from the above. One, who was the girl with Constable Jones and was she working with the IRA to lure Constable Jones into a trap? Two, if she was not, how did the IRA know enough about their meeting to know where and when they would meet and had this information/intelligence in sufficient time to organise an ambush of the RIC? The IRA obviously hoped that, on hearing the shooting, the RIC would leave their barracks to investigate and this would afford the IRA the opportunity to “have a crack at them”.
Reporting on the shooting of Constable Jones, the Freeman’s Journal on the April 18th said “Constable Jones, R.I.C., an Englishman, was shot near Ballinamore Railway Station, Co. Leitrim, on Friday night while accompanying a lady friend, Miss Sadlier, of the local post office, to her home. He returned fire but was shot through the heart and Miss Sadlier was dangerously wounded. When news reached the barracks some constables were engaged in loading rifles one of which went off and seriously wounded Constable Muffin [Mugan]”.
According to her birth certificate (available here: https://civilrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/images/birth_returns/births_1904/01837/1717088.pdf ) Miss Sadlier’s first names were Maggie Jane. She was born in November 1903 so seventeen years old in April 1921. The 1911 census for the Sadlier family (available here: http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1911/Leitrim/Garadice/Lahard/646320/ ) has her aged seven and living in Number 5, Lahard, Garadice, Co Leitrim with her parents, two sisters, one brother and grandmother. (Lahard is just outside Ballinamore.) The family were Church of Ireland.
More information on the shooting of Constable Jones emerges from the Military Court of Inquiry which was held on April 16th in Ballinamore. (Military Courts of Inquiry had been held in Ireland since September 1920 instead of the normal coroner’s inquests – See Aug-02-20/2.) Proceedings of the Military Inquiry into the death of Constable Jones is available from UK National Archives, Easter Rising and Ireland under Martial Law, WO 35/162.
Head Constable D. Black, RIC Barracks Ballinamore, gave evidence to the Military Inquiry as follows: “about 21.45 on 15th April 1921, Margaret Sadlier called at the Barracks & reported to me that Constable Jones of the R.I.C. stationed at Ballinamore was lying wounded near the Railway Station & that she herself was wounded in the hinch [newspapers report thigh]. In company with a number of Police I visited the scene of the tragedy. I found that Constable Jones was lying on the footpath on his back with his feet to the wall & his head on the kerb. He was delirious & when asked what was wrong, he kept saying “I am all right, there is nothing wrong with me”. I produce revolver which I found lying by his side – It was six chambers and his own property. There were 3 expended and 3 live rounds in the cylinder – I placed him on a farming cart & had him conveyed to the Barracks. He appeared dead on arrival. A chemist was procured to render first aid as no doctor was available. Dr Redahan of Mohill – he examined the body of Constable Jones & pronounced life extinct.”
Dr Redahan gave evidence that he viewed Constable Jones’s body at 5.00am on April 16th and determined that death was due to a gunshot wound ‘through his heart or the severing of the aortic artery’.
Maggie Jane (referred to as Margaret or Marguerete in the proceedings) Sadlier also gave evidence. However, her evidence was somewhat confusing. She said that she and Constable Jones met by appointment at the Railway Station at about 21.10 hours. They walked as far as the Creamery, about half a mile away, then returned to the Railway station and stayed there talking. She heard footsteps and Constable Jones asked her who was there and she replied that it was somebody on his way into town. “Then about twenty yards from us, the man stopped & fired three shots – one of the shots struck me in the foot, the second in the Hinching [reported in newspapers as thigh] & the third I am unable to say where it went to – I dropped on the road & heard a considerable amount of firing, presumably between Constable Jones & his assassin. [Note: In his evidence, Head Constable Black referred to three shots had been fired from Constable Jones’s gun]. Immediately the firing ceased, Constable Jones came running up to me & said “I have shot him”. Constable Jones never said anything concerning himself. I then bade him “Goodnight” & proceeded to the station in order to get on to my own road home but found the station gate locked. I then returned & heard moans & coughing a few yards down the road. I found Constable Jones lying partly on the footpath & road – I lifted his head & he opened his eyes & closed them, but did not move. I guessed that he had been wounded & informed the police at once. After I had done this, I walked home with difficulty, 2 more shots being fired at me from behind a hedge while on my way. These did not take effect.”
Question by the Court: When you said “Goodnight” to Constable Jones, did he appear as if he had been shot?
Answer: No – He seemed quite natural in his manner
Question by the Court: Did you hear any shots from the time you said “Goodnight” to Constable Jones until the time you found him lying on the road & pavement?
Answer: No – I heard no shots
Question by the Court: How long did it take you to walk up to the station gate & return to the spot where you found Constable Jones?
Answer: About three Minutes
As was customary, a copy of the proceedings of the Military Court of Inquiry was sent to GHQ in Dublin of the Irish Command of the British Army. A copy was also sent to the O/C of the 13th Brigade based in Athlone on April 24th. The 13th Brigade was one of the three brigades of the British Army’s 5th Division in Ireland. The 5th Division basically had responsibility for all of Connaught and Leinster except Dublin and Meath – See Townshend (1975), pg 144. The 13th Brigade was made up of three battalions – one of which had its battalion HQ in Boyle, Co. Roscommon. It was officers from this battalion who undertook the Military Court of Inquiry.
The Commander of the 13th Brigade was not satisfied with a number of aspects of the conduct of the Inquiry. In a letter dated April 26th 1921 to Officer Commanding in Boyle, on behalf of the Brigade Commander, a Staff Captain outlines a number of issues with the proceedings. The two most important are, one, “The medical evidence is unsatisfactory. Dr. Redahan should have been asked whether the wound he found would cause immediate death or whether Jones could have ‘run up’ to Margaret Sadler, talked to her and then have walked away after being wounded, without apparently [her] noticing the wound” and, two, “Sadler’s story reads badly. Does she mean that after she was twice wounded, Jones simply left her and walked off?”.
With regards the first issue, Dr Redahan was asked to respond. He replied on May 5th 1921 as follows: “With reference to question whether wound found would cause immediate death or whether Constable Jones could have run up to the girl Margaret Sadlier talked to her and then walked away. I consider this possible and walked away – but the matter could not be fairly stated without post mortem.”
With regards Ms Sadlier’s evidence, the officer who was the President of the Inquiry responded, also on May 5th, as follows: “As regards the point it was difficult to get a coherent reply due to the excitement of Sadlier. It is understood she left him as her home was in the opposite direction to that of the Police Barracks and she for private reasons also decided to go home alone & she did not consider her wounds bad enough at the time to over rule these points.”
With regards Sadlier’s evidence, it is not difficult to see why Brigade HQ was not satisfied with her evidence. She would seem to be saying that, after the firing stopped, Constable Jones was uninjured (he apparently came running up to her and said nothing considering himself) and, even though she was shot twice, Constable Jones let her go home on her own. As evidenced by Dr. Redahan, he had been shot through the heart. Would Ms Sadlier not have noticed a wound on his chest? Also, she said that, when she came back from the gates of the railway station, without any more shots being fired, Constable Jones was lying on the road and she “guessed” that he was injured. How could this have happened when no more shots were fired? In addition, even though wounded herself, she then went to the RIC Barracks to report on Constable Jones. Despite the improbability of her evidence, it would seem that nobody went back to Sadlier to question her further. (Some time after the shooting of Constable Jones, it would seem that Sadlier moved to Mullingar. She emigrated to the United States in 1926.)
So was Maggie Jane Sadlier working with the IRA? The evidence does not conclusively answer this question but it would seem to be highly unlikely given that none of the three IRA men who gave statements to the BMH indicated that she was aligned with them. In addition, there is her age and religious background – neither of which makes her a likely accomplice of the local IRA. (As Peter Hart said in his essay on the Social Structure of the IRA: “Republican women were numerous; Protestant republicans of either sex were very rare” (Hart (2003), pg 122)). Her improbable evidence to the Military Court of Inquiry is likely to have other reasons – not least of which were shock and trauma. (The Military Court of Inquiry was held on April 16th i.e. very soon after the shooting of Constable Jones. No time of day was given for the start of the court but, given that Constable Jones was shot around 9.30pm on the 15th April, the Court of Inquiry would have started within hours of the shooting. On top of the very short time given to Sadlier to recover from her ordeal, she was also suffering from two wounds)
So, if the information did not come from Sadlier, how did the IRA find out that Constable Jones had arranged to meet Sadlier on the evening of the shooting? The three IRA men who gave statements to the BMH did not address this issue. The IRA could have found out from one of Sadlier’s colleagues in the Post Office or they could have been spotted meeting on Friday evenings on previous occasions. (Constable Jones had been in Ballinamore since the previous November.) However, it should be pointed out that this is speculation. Nevertheless, there is an interesting comment in another BMH statement which hints at another possible source. Charles Pinkman was Intelligence Office (I/O) of the South Leitrim Brigade of the IRA. It is not clear from his BMH statement (available here: www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1263.pdf ) if he was I/O at the time of the shooting of Constable Jones but, when talking about where he got his information on Crown Forces, he said the following: “I also had a few contacts in the R.I.C. - one in Mohill, one in Ballinamore and one in Carrick-on-Shannon.” Could the information on Constable Jones’ assignation with Ms Sadlier have come from inside the RIC barracks in Ballinamore?
Who Shot Constable Mugan?
As noted above, according to Constable Mugan’s service record he died on the April 18th 1921 from "bullet wounds accidental discharge of comrade's rifle". A number of newspapers at the time also gave this as cause of death. For example, in Constable Mugan’s obituary in the Connaught Telegraph on the April 30th, it says that he was “accidently shot in the leg by the discharge of a comrade’s rifle”. However, according to the civil record, Constable Mugan died on April 17th 1921 in King George V Hospital in Dublin with the stated cause of death being “Shock and haemorrhage following gunshot wounds. Manslaughter.” So was it an accident or was it manslaughter?
The proceedings of the Military Court of Inquiry into Constable Mugan’s death give considerable insight into who shot Mugan and how he was shot. (Proceedings of the Military Inquiry available from UK National Archives, Easter Rising and Ireland under Martial Law, WO 35/155B/22.) The Military Court of Inquiry opened on April 19th in King George V Hospital in Dublin.
The first witness was Constable Mugan’s father and he identified the body. The second witness was a member of the RAMC who said that he had seen Constable Mugan on the evening of April 16th and that he had a bad gunshot fracture of the left thigh. He died early the following morning with the cause of death being shock and haemorrhage resulting from the gunshot wound.
The Inquiry recessed until April 26th in the RIC Depot in Dublin. The third witness was Sergeant Henry Carey of the RIC Barracks in Ballinamore. He said that in the early morning of April 16th, around 1.40am in the Ballinamore Barracks, he was informed that Constable A. D. Young was threatening to kill someone. He said he ordered Constable Young to hand over his rifle but Constable Young refused to do so. Sergeant Carey said that he caught the top of his rifle and put his hand on Constable Young’s shoulder. He continued that Constable Mullin then came to his assistance and, in the scuffle, the rifle went off hitting Constable Mugan in the thigh and Constable Young in the leg. He went on to say that Constable Young was best friends with Constable Jones (who had been killed the previous evening and whose body was lying in the next room). He finished by saying that Constable Young probably had drink taken.
The fourth witness was Constable M. Mullin. He told the court of inquiry that, he was in the hallway of the Barracks in Ballinamore around 1.40am of April 16th, when he heard the scuffle in the Mess room. He went in and saw Sergeant Carey trying to disarm Constable Young so he went to Sergeant Carey’s assistance. He took hold of the rifle and, as he did this, it suddenly went off wounding Constable Mugan and Constable Young. Constable Mullin said that he had not seen Constable Mugan when he entered the Mess room but “saw him lying wounded directly after the shot went off”. He finished by saying that Constable Young probably had drink taken.
The fifth witness was Constable Bernard Mulloy. He said that he was sitting in the Mess room in Ballinamore Barracks around 1.40am on April 16th when Constable Young and a number of other men entered. He said that Constable Young appeared to be very excited and, for this reason, Sergeant Carey “was getting him out of the way. Const. Mullin went to Sergt. Carey’s assistance to take the rifle away from Const. Young. There was a scuffle and the rifle went off injuring Const. Young and Const. Mugan.” Constable Mulloy added “There were two Civilian prisoners locked up in the cells. One of them had been arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the murder of Const. Jones” the previous evening. He finished by saying that Constable Young probably had drink taken.
The sixth and final witness was Constable A. D. Young. He said that about 1.30am on April 16th, he returned to the Barracks from patrol duty and went to the mess room to get a cup of cocoa. “I was talking to some other Constables there when the accident happened. As to how it happened I cannot say … I don’t remember having refused to give up my rifle to Sergt. Carey. Then I fell on the ground wounded … I was quite sober at the time, but very excited. I had only taken two whiskies from the time of coming off patrol at some time between 0030 hours and 0100 hours … The reason I was excited was owing to the fact that my good friend Constable Jones had been murdered a few hours previously … I joined the R.I.C. the same day as Const. Jones and we came over from England together.”
Having heard all the evidence, the Court said that it was of the opinion that the struggle [in the Mess room] was contingent upon Constable Young refusing to give up his rifle when ordered by his superior officer to do so. The Court was further of the opinion that Constable Young was guilty of manslaughter.
It is clear from the above that the answer to the question of who shot Constable Mugan is Constable Young. A question remains as to how accidental was this shooting. In his evidence to the Court of Inquiry into the death of Constable Mugan, Sergeant Carey says that the reason that he was attempting to disarm Constable Young was that he was threatening to shoot someone. Who was he trying to shoot? The most obvious person would seem to be one of the two civilians locked up in the cells mentioned by Constable Mulloy who “had been arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the murder of Const. Jones”. However, Constable Mulloy mentions this person almost in passing and does not say directly that this civilian was the person who Constable Young was threatening to shoot. Similarly, Sergeant Carey simply says that he was informed that Constable Young was threatening to kill someone but does not identify who he was threatening to shoot.
Also, the timeline gives rise to questions. Sergeant Carey (in his evidence to the Military Court of Inquiry into the death of Constable Jones) says that Sadlier came to the barracks at 9.45pm. It would seem likely from Hugh Brady’s BMH statement that the RIC did not respond immediately to hearing the shooting or Sadlier’s information (perhaps suspecting – correctly? – a trap). When they did come out of the barracks, they would have had to go to Constable Jones, check on him and arrange for him to be brought back to the barracks on a farming cart. This would have taken up to an hour? They then would have had to arrest the civilian who, according to Constable Mulloy, “had been arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the murder of Const. Jones”. This person would have had to be arrested, brought back to the barracks, probably interrogated and then placed in the cells. This would all have to be done by 1.40am when Sergeant Carey, Constable Mullin and Constable Mulloy all said that Constable Young was being disarmed. It is a possible timeline but it is very tight.
Rather than threatening to kill a prisoner locked up in the cells, could Constable Young have been threatening to shoot a fellow RIC constable who he knew or suspected to be giving information to the IRA and, specifically, information on Constable Jones’ movements? Again, this is speculation but it is also a possibility.
It is also worth noting that, in his BMH statement, Hugh Brady says that Constable Mugan was shot by Black
and Tans while preventing them from leaving the barracks to carry out reprisals for the killing of Constable Jones. This is possible and was believed in the area. In fact, Ernie O’Malley said that Mugan’s death “saved a few houses and maybe some lives that night” (O’Malley (2017), pg 167). However, neither Brady or O’Malley were inside Ballinamore RIC barracks that night and, those who were, gave an alternative version of events at the military court of inquiry. A question remains on how reliable was that testimony?
Aftermath of the Killing of Constable Mugan
It would have been expected that, in the light of the findings of the Court of Inquiry, Constable Young would be charged with manslaughter before a court of law. However, this did not happen.
As was normal procedure, the British Army’s Dublin District commander sent a copy of the proceedings of the Court of Inquiry into the death of Constable Mugan to the GHQ of the British Army in Ireland. He did this on May 2nd. He also told GHQ that “One copy has been sent to Chief of Police [Major General Henry Tudor] for information and necessary action.” On May 7th, GHQ came back to Dublin District asking where this case now stands? On May 9th, Dublin District responded to GHQ saying “I presume that the Chief of Police will in due course submit an application for trial to the Under Secretary [of State in Dublin Castle who was John Anderson]”. GHQ also sent a copy of the proceedings directly to the Under Secretary on May 7th. Seemingly, having received no reply, GHQ wrote to the Under Secretary again on May 10th asking “Will you kindly inform me how this case stands, in regard to Const. A. D. Young who was found guilty of manslaughter”.
A reply does not come back from the Under Secretary’s office until July 5th (nearly eight weeks later) saying “this case has been submitted to the Law Officers, who are of the opinion that it is not one which the constable should be tried for manslaughter”. This response elicits a long letter on July 9th from the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in Ireland (General Neville Macready) directly to the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Hamar Greenwood). [Macready would have been directly involved, at this time, in the negotiations which led to the Truce. He would have met with Sinn Féin leaders on July 8th. At this meeting, it was agreed that the Truce would start on July 11th.] In his letter to the Chief Secretary, General Macready details the case against Constable Young, says that he agrees with the finding of the court and finishes his letter by saying “I am of opinion that in the interest of discipline in the R.I.C, Constable Young should be tried for manslaughter. If this man had been a soldier he would undoubtedly be tried for manslaughter”.
A response is sent to General Macready from the Under Secretary, John Anderson, on July 12th saying that “the decision that Constable Young should not be tried for manslaughter was made on the advice and by direction of the Attorney General for Ireland. It is not proposed to re-open the matter. It will be treated as one of discipline.” There was no further correspondence in the archive on the matter.
It should be noted that Constable Young’s RIC service record makes no reference to any disciplinary procedure. It simply notes that, after joining the RIC on November 9th 1920, he was posted to Leitrim on November 28th 1920 and, finally, he was posted to Limerick on September 1st 1921 and was disbanded on February 16th 1922.
Macready’s letter of July 9th was part of an on-going argument that he was having with Tudor since the previous August about discipline in the RIC. On August 17th 1920, Macready had issued a Special General Order warning that the severest disciplinary measures would be taken against any of his soldiers engaging in looting or retaliation. Tudor was supposed to issue a similar forceful order to the RIC but repeatedly stalled. Eventually, in November, he issued a much diluted memorandum to the RIC for ‘information and guidance’ on discipline (Full text of memorandum is given in Abbott (2019), pg 226.) By this time, reprisals by the RIC were common place throughout Ireland. These reprisals are described by Charles Townshend as “an explosion of police counter-terrorism” (Townshend (1975), pgs 112-113). Macready’s attempts to curb ‘unofficial’ reprisals by the RIC met with the little success.
Acknowledgement: I would like state my appreciation to Dr Kay MacKeogh for her great assistance in researching this article.