Castle Connell Shooting

1921 April 17. 3 RIC men in civilian clothes were drinking in the Shannon View Hotel, 12 Auxiliaries in civilian clothes raided the hotel. There is some disagreement in the reports as to what actually happened. Pringle was shot apparently by one of the RIC men who fired out into the yard, and the RIC man was shot inside the bar itself. Three civilians ran out into the yard, the hotel owner and two of the RIC men. The Auxiliary commander says one then turned and ran back toward the hotel, and was hit (this was O'Donovan the hotel owner who was dead), the other two put their hands up and surrendered (the RIC men, one had been wounded).

The ADRIC patrol was commanded by DI2 WP Wood, 2nd in command of G Coy ADRIC. The Court of Inquiry says that the patrol consisted of two officers and twelve cadets in mufti, armed with revolvers, and one officer and twenty cadets in uniform, armed with rifles and two Lewis guns. The total strength of the party was therefore thirty-five.

The orders were that the plain clothes party were to split into small groups (one group under DI2 WP Wood and the other under DI3 JE Workman, enter the bar casually and ask for drinks, see who was there, and, if they suspected any persons, hold them up and search them. The remainder of the force in uniform were to wait outside the town for fifteen minutes, and then enter and hold up and search all men in the streets. It appears that the orders given to the plain clothes party were not completely understood, as the first four who entered the bar, instead of mixing with the occupants and ordering drinks at once produced revolvers and ordered them to put their hands up. They were met with a blaze of revolver fire, driven out of the bar, and the door slammed against them. The rest of the plain clothes party then surrounded the bar, firing through the doors and window, and it was at this point that Cadet Pringle was killed, as he was firing into the bar through the window. The uniform party had by this time heard the firing and driven up with more men and the Lewis guns.

The official side comes through the Inquiry (pages in full)

 

Surprisingly for those times the circumstances of the killings were raised in the House of Lords. Lord Parmour, father of the future Labour Chancellor Stafford Cripps, had been on an angling holiday on the Shannon at the time and witnessed the gruesome aftermath, although he did not see the actual shootings..

1921 April 26 (from Hansard)

Lord Parmoor rose to call attention to the attack on the hotel at Castleconnell on Sunday evening, April 17. He explains perhaps that his brother is between seventy and eighty years of age, and that he was there with his wife. He has gone to Castleconnell for the fishing for some thirty or forty years. His brother and sister-in-law, were the only two visitors at the hotel and Parmoor adds that his brother does not agree with him generally as regards Irish matters, and has always been strongly in favour of the Government's policy. Parmoor then says he will read three letters received from his brother

I much want to see you about a terrible affair that took place at our little hotel at Castleconnell last Sunday evening. Our landlord, a perfectly innocent, honourable and much-beloved man, was killed almost before our eyes. ... Both my wife and I were held up by revolvers pointed dead at our breasts... Besides O'Donovan, the proprietor, two others were shot dead in the hotel, and the whole place was shot to pieces by a machine-gun placed inside the hotel. It was the most wicked attack you can imagine, and, to my horror, perpetrated by the Black and Tans Auxiliary Forces, some sixty in number... Over 1,000 shots must have been fired, the Auxiliaries behaving like demented Red Indians. Of course, we thought it an attack by Sinn Feiners.

Having received that letter I went to see my brother in order to corroborate the facts, and I found that on the same morning on which the outrage had occurred he had written a letter to his daughter. It goes into rather greater detail. I will not read the whole of the letter, because that is not necessary

I am telling you of our terrible experience at Castleconnell on Sunday evening last. …Almost at the moment I sat down there came a sudden crash. …For two or three minutes there was a regular roar of shots, far too rapid to be counted; some hundreds any way. At this moment…two rough-looking men rushed into the room, not in uniform, each holding a heavy revolver in each hand. They at once covered us at a distance of two feet. Here they stood for three or four minutes, not speaking... The door was now open the two men being still inside. At this moment some dozen or so men rushed along the passage and up the staircase, yelling like Red Indians and firing as rapidly as possible. There was no kind of order, each man firing right and left, and we could hear them overhead firing into the rooms, even into the bathroom.…The doors were riddled with shot holes. At this moment I could see out of the window a large number of men in the street, firing up and down, and the inhabitants standing with their arms over their heads. I should mention that in the middle of the firing there came a sudden deadly rattle of louder sound. This was from a machine gun brought into the passage and fired point blank, smashing the bar room door to splinters... The total number of men was about fifty to sixty, mostly in rough civilian clothes. …the affair lasted about half-an-hour. The men then got into four large military lorries, one being armoured and loop holed. I saw two bodies taken out and put into the lorry, and then they drove off in the Limerick direction...During the whole of the time we, of course, thought they were Sinn Feiners, and then, after they had gone, to our horror we found they were Government Auxiliary Black and Tans. I did not see the actual death of poor Mr. O'Donovan…

I have one other letter to read. I regret to have to refer to it, but I must do so, and I have been directed to do so by my brother. 1 got this letter late last night, and I went to see him this morning in order that I might make no mistake in referring to it. In a letter to me my brother says:

I forgot to mention to you I have a bullet in its cartridge ease picked up by me on Sunday the 17th, the cap dented by the striker but unexploded. The bullet has been reversed, thus converting it into an expanding bullet of the most deadly character. Such bullets inflict the most terrible wounds, and were prohibited in the late war. My brother was, of course, a great surgeon in his day. Here is the dum-dum bullet. It is not suggested that anyone fired in that hotel except the Government Auxiliaries. I do not, know whether any of your Lordships would wish to see this bullet. I have shown it to two or three people who say that it is undoubtedly a dum-dum bullet, and the way by which it has been made such is by the familiar system of turning the point in the reverse direction.

1921 May 5. House of Lords Statement by Lord Chancellor (from Hansard)

The facts, as shown by the evidence, are as follows:—Information was received by the Officer Commanding the local company of the Auxiliary Division, Royal Irish Constabulary, that an ambush was being prepared in the locality, and that suspicious characters were frequenting the bar of the Shannon Hotel at Castreconnell. This information was borne out by the fact that, for three successive nights the telephone wires from Castleconnell were blocked, and on one occasion were cut. He, therefore, determined to carry out a patrol. The patrol consisted of two officers and twelve cadets in mufti, armed with revolvers, and one officer and twenty cadets in uniform, armed with rifles and two Lewis guns. The total strength of the party was therefore thirty-five. The orders were that the plain clothes party were to split into small groups, enter the bar casually and 'ask for drinks, see who was there, and, if they suspected any persons, hold them up and search them. The remainder of the force in uniform were to wait outside the town for fifteen minutes, and then enter and hold up and search all men in the streets.

It appears that, unfortunately, the orders given to the plain clothes party were not completely understood, as the first four who entered the bar, instead of mixing with the occupants and ordering drinks at once produced revolvers and ordered them to put their hands up. They were met with a blaze of revolver fire, driven out of the bar, and the door slammed against them. The rest of the plain clothes party then surrounded the bar, firing through the doors and window, and it was at this point that Cadet Pringle was killed, as he was firing into the bar through the window. The uniform party had by this time heard the firing and driven up. A Lewis gun was then brought to bear on the door and a party of cadets stationed in the yard to resist any attempt by the occupants of the bar to break out at the back. After a minute or two, two men rushed out of the door at the back, and ran straight through the party in the yard, making for a toolhouse in the corner. They were fired at both as they were approaching the party and after they had run through them. One of the two fell wounded just as he reached the men who were firing at him, the other, who was O'Donovan, fell after he had passed through them and was half-way to the hen house. It was subsequently found that he had been struck by six bullets, three of which entered from the front, one from the right side, and two front the back. These two were followed by a third man, who came out with his hands up and stopped still immediately on coming out of the bar.

The officer in charge at once ordered "Cease fire," and no more firing occurred. The man who had fallen wounded in the yard then got up, and he and the unwounded man who had surrendered were placed side by side facing the wall with their hands Up, guarded by a cadet with a revolver. It will be obvious that this is the most convenient and the safest way of keeping men for a short time in custody with a single guard, as if they desire to attack the guard they have not only to lower their hands but also to turn round before doing so, thus giving the guard a moment's additional time in which to resist attack. Having placed his prisoners under guard the officer in charge of the cadets then searched the bar, and found a dead body which afterwards turned out to be that of Sergeant Hughes. After having searched the bar, the officer took his two prisoners to the lorry. As soon as firing had ceased and they had seen the uniforms of the cadets in the yard, both had stated that they were police, but they were not believed; and it was not until one of them was recognised by the driver of the lorry that their identity was established.

The evidence of the two survivors of the three police who were inside the bar is to the effect that they were stationed at Westport and had three hours' leave, which they spent in cycling to Killaloe and Castleconnell. They were, of course, in plain clothes, as it would be impossible for three police to go out alone in uniform; equally, of course, they were armed with revolvers in case they should be recognised as police and attacked. At Castleconnell they went into the bar of the Shannon Hotel for a drink. They were standing in the bar chatting to O'Donovan when three or four men in plain clothes entered the bar, drew revolvers, and ordered them to put up their hands. They naturally assumed that their assailants were members of the Irish Republican Army, who had spotted them as policeman, and at once opened fire. In all the circumstances their action was perfectly correct; indeed, throughout the whole affair these three policemen behaved with the greatest courage and determination., and worthily upheld the traditions of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Subsequently to this their evidence corresponds with that of the cadets who were attacking the bar.

The above is a summary of the evidence given by members of the Crown Forces on both sides. There are, of course, the inevitable discrepancies which must arise when a number of people, who at the time of the occurrences which they are describing were labouring under great and natural excitement, are relating the same occurrence from different points of view; but the story which they relate is consistent and bears every appearance of proof. In addition to the evidence given by the members of the Crown Forces evidence was given by Mrs. O'Donovan, by a niece of Mr. O'Donovan's, and by the housemaid.

The housemaid states positively that she saw through the kitchen window the unwounded prisoner and Mr. O'Donovan walking across the yard to the wall with their hands up, and that afterwards she heard shots and saw O'Donovan lying dead. She had previously heard cries of "Bring him out," and as the prisoners went up to the wall she heard an officer whom she identified, say "Face the wall." The officer in question admitted that while the firing was still going on, and before the three men ran out of the bar, he had shouted, "Bring them out," or "Fetch them out"; and also that he had subsequently ordered the unwounded prisoner and the wounded prisoner to be brought up to the wall as already described and had ordered them to face it.

Evidence was given that Mr. O'Donovan was about 5 ft. 10 in. in height and of stout build, and that the wounded constable was 5 ft. 9½ in. in height and of stout build. Both the wounded and the unwounded constable each stated positively that each of them was placed against the wall side by side with the other and not with Mr. O'Donovan, and it is indeed quite clear from their evidence, and from that of the others present in the yard, and from the nature and direction of the wounds which O'Donovan received, that, he cannot have been shot in the back against the wall, but that he was shot, as stated, while running towards, through, and away from the party of cadets who were guarding the back entrance to the bar. In these circumstances the Court came to the conclusion that the housemaid was honestly mistaken in stating that she saw O'Donovan placed against the wall with the unwounded prisoner; and that what she saw, in fact, was the wounded prisoner, who was of very similar height and build to O'Donovan, placed against the wall with the unwounded prisoner. Neither Mrs. O'Donovan nor her niece saw anything of what took place in the yard. Their evidence related mainly to the finding of his body and was in no way inconsistent with the evidence of the Crown Forces.

I add the actual findings of the Court because I think your Lordships would be desirous of hearing them. They were received only this afternoon, and the apology which I have already offered to the noble Marquess for the delay may be repeated, but he will, I think, be very willing to accept it when I tell him that it was founded upon the extreme urgency and pressure upon those responsible for the work. The findings of the Court were as follows—

  1. That the detachment of G. Company, Auxiliary Division, Royal Irish Constabulary, was engaged in a legitimate and properly organised operation.
  2. That the orders issued by Captain and 2 /DI W. P. Wood were so framed as to show the intention of avoiding unnecessary bloodshed.
  3. That the first shot was fired by the police.
  4. That the two civilians who were first captured and also Constable Talbot were not ill-treated.
  5. That considerable excitement prevailed; that the fact that Constable Talbot, who remained with the party in the passage who had accepted his surrender, was not injured shows that there was no intention of any unauthorised shooting. That there were other Auxiliaries in the yard who had not seen what had occurred in the passage and who fired not knowing the circumstances, and that Mr. O'Donovan and Constable Morrison were wounded by this firing.
  6. That Captain and 2/D.I. Wood gave the orders to cease fire as soon as he knew that Constable Talbot had surrendered, and that this order was obeyed.
  7. That proper precautions were taken to protect Mr. and Mrs. O'Donovan and the female employees of the hotel.
  8. That the Court are of opinion that whilst the evidence of Miss Margaret Wade was given in good faith she can only have had a partial view of what occurred and was mistaken in saying that she saw Mr. O'Donovan and Constable Talbot together. On this point the evidence of the two constables is conclusive.
  9. That the statement which appeared in the Press to the effect that the Auxiliaries returned, accused Mr. O'Donovan of harbouring rebels,' took him out and shot him, was incorrect and was entirely unjustified, and is further disproved by the position of the wounds.
  10. The Court find—
    1. That the deceased Denis O'Donovan, male, aged 46, married, agent for Murphy's Brewery, was residing at the Shannon Hotel, Castleconnell, at the time of his death. That the deceased Donald Pringle, male, aged 31, single, cadet, Auxiliary Division, Royal Irish Constabulary, was residing at Lakeside Hotel, Killaloe, at the time of his death. That the deceased William John Hughes, male, aged about forty-five, married, Sergeant, Royal Irish Constabulary, was residing at the police barracks, Newport, at the time of his death.
    2. That all the deceased died at about 20.00 hours on the 17th April, 1921, at Castleconnell, County Limerick.
    3. That the cause of death in each case was shock and haemorrhage following gunshot wounds. That the deceased died after receiving the wounds.
    4. That the shots which caused the wounds were fired in the case of Denis O'Donovan and William John Hughes by a party of 'G' Company, Auxiliary Division, Royal Irish Constabulary, and in the case of Donald Pringle, by a party of Royal Irish Constabulary; that the shots were fired during an encounter between two parties of Crown Forces at Castleconnell, County Limerick, on April 17, 1921. That the encounter occurred through each party mistaking the others for armed civilians."
The constitution of the Court which dealt with this matter has not been, and indeed could not have been, impugned.

The care with which they devoted themselves to the Inquiry will equally, I think, not be questioned. The proceedings of the Court and its findings were very carefully reviewed both by Colonel Cameron in command of the forces in the Limerick area and also by General Macready. It has never been suggested that either of these officers is lenient towards indiscipline, but neither of them finds in this case any cause to suggest that there was any lack of discipline on the part of the Forces concerned. On the contrary, all the evidence tends to show that, notwithstanding the very great excitement which naturally prevailed, the cadets were under complete control and ceased fire the moment that they were ordered to do so.

As regards the statement in the letter from the brother of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, it does not appear from the tenor of that letter that he was an eye-witness of any of the material incidents. The only material evidence, that of the housemaid, who was an eyewitness, and of Mrs. O'Donovan and her niece, has been fully heard. It does not appear necessary to ask Lord Parmoor's brother to return to Ireland to give evidence and to re-open the. Court for the purpose of hearing such evidence. The Government could not, in considering the points put to them, consent to the taking of his evidence on commission in England, with the result. that no opportunity of asking any questions in the face of the Court would be afforded. The extracts from his letter which Lord Parmoor read show that, as is not unnatural in the case of a man of peace suddenly and unexpectedly introduced into a terrible scene of war, his observation and judgment are by no means to be implicitly relied on, and it would be unfair to the Court to ask them to receive in evidence without an opportunity of checking it themselves by cross-examination.

Incidents