Galway Nights of Terror

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One of the darkest episodes in the long and turbulent history of Galway took place one hundred years ago tonight, as violence erupted on the streets resulting in a “night of terror” that left three young men dead.

On 8 September 1920, crowds assembled at Galway train station to await the arrival of the midnight mail train from Dublin which would bring copies of the evening papers and news of Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, who was on hunger strike in Brixton Prison, London; he had been arrested on 12 August 1920 while chairing a Sinn Féin court at Cork City Hall. Among the crowd were several IRA volunteers who were awaiting a consignment of arms that were to be used for an attack on the RIC barracks in Spiddal. Accounts vary, but a gun battle erupted on the platform which left two men dead, IRA volunteer John Mulvoy and Constable Edward Krumm. Mulvoy was a 20-year-old from College Road who worked as a shop assistant at Corbett and Co.’s on Williamsgate Street. Krumm, aged 24, was a Black-and-Tan lorry driver and veteran of the Great War from Middlesex, England.

Later that night, when news of the shooting of Krumm became known, the Crown forces went on the rampage in Galway, terrorising the residents of the town. The Broderick house on Prospect Hill was raided. John Broderick, a 20-year-old IRA volunteer, was taken to the train station and shot but survived by feigning death. His family home was doused in petrol and set alight, and his younger sister, Maggie, a member of Cumann na mBan, had her hair forcibly cut with a blunt scissors. The offices of the “Galway Express”, a republican newspaper, were also wrecked.

In an even more shocking incident, James Augustine Quirk was taken, half-dressed, from his lodgings on the docks by a number of uniformed men. Known as Seamus, Quirk was a 24-year-old watchmaker from Cork City who worked at Jeremiah O’Donovan’s jewellers on Williamsgate Street, and served as battalion adjutant of the local IRA. He was beaten and forced to stand under a lamppost at the end of the docks where he was shot repeatedly through the stomach. Despite his horrific injuries, he managed to return to his lodgings where, apologising to his landlady for all the trouble, he asked for a priest. Fr Michael Griffin came and administered the last rites; Fr Griffin would himself be shot dead two months later. The “Galway Express” reported that Quirk, “known and loved by all in Galway, was […] foully murdered by the hireling constabulary.”

In a tragic twist, Quirk’s mother was seriously ill in Cork at the time and he was due to have gone to see her that afternoon, but delayed the visit until the following day. His dying words were “What will my poor mother do?” Quirk’s death was doubly tragic as it seems that another IRA volunteer named Seán Turke may have been the intended target that night, but that in the melee the name Turke was misheard as Quirk.

It is estimated that as many as 10,000 people turned out on the streets of the Galway for the joint funeral of Mulvoy and Quirk. Mulvoy was buried in St James’s Cemetery in Mervue and Quirk was returned to his native Cork. He is buried in St Finbarr’s Cemetery, near the graves of two Lord Mayors of Cork, Tomás Mac Curtain (1884-1920), who was shot dead by members of the RIC, and Terence MacSwiney (1879-1920), who died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison.

In the aftermath, the military imposed a nightly curfew on Galway and “fifteen nights of unexampled terror followed”, according to the “Connacht Tribune”. To add insult to injury, Crown forces prevented a citizen’s inquiry into the atrocities in Galway, and Dublin Castle issued a statement denying that any RIC reprisals had taken place.

Galway City Museum’s “Revolution in Galway, 1913-1923” exhibition features a number of objects connected with the “night of terror” including a revolver belonging to Krumm, which was captured by the volunteers, and a brass cap from a petrol canister used to set alight the Broderick family home. Within the cap is a faded photograph of a young Maggie Broderick, with her hair shorn, looking defiantly into the camera’s lens – a powerful reminder of the role and suffering of women during the War of Independence.

Brendan McGowan
08 September 2020


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