On 24 November 1920, three Auxiliaries were tasked with transferring Michael Moran – Commandant of the IRA’s Tuam Battalion – the short distance from Eglinton Street RIC barracks to a military detention camp on Earl’s Island. Shortly before they arrived, Moran was shot and mortally wounded, allegedly, while “attempting to escape” – a euphemism often used by the British authorities to cover up an extrajudicial killing.
Michael Moran was born on 4 December 1890 at Carrowmoneen, near Tuam, Co. Galway the eldest child of Patrick Moran and his wife, Margaret Heaney, who hailed from Garrymore in south Mayo. He and his four younger siblings – Mary Anne, Bridget or Delia, Sabina and John – were raised on a comfortable farm situated off the old Dublin Road. When Patrick Moran died, in March 1915, the Tuam Herald described him as a “good natured, kindly disposed man, well known and respected in Tuam and neighbourhood”. Afterwards Michael, as the eldest son, took over the responsibility of running the family farm along with his widowed mother and younger brother.
In the aftermath of the Easter Rising, Moran became one of the principal Sinn Féin organisers in the nearby parish of Killererin and an active member of the Barnaderg Company of the Irish Volunteers. Described as “fine determined type of man”, Moran was involved in the local anti-conscription campaign in 1918. Later that same year, he and his fellow volunteers canvassed for Dr Brian Cusack, the Sinn Féin candidate for the North Galway constituency, in the general election. On polling day, Moran was informed that republican voters in the “Redmondite stronghold” of Caherlistrane were being intimidated by those who opposed Sinn Féin. He immediately made for Caherlistrane, travelling by sidecar with a party of volunteers, in order to nullify the threat. Ultimately, Dr Cusack triumphed in north Galway, with 68.99 per cent of the vote, and Sinn Féin won 73 of the 105 available seats in a landslide victory.
In January 1919, Moran – along with two other local Sinn Feiners – was arrested and held at Tuam RIC barracks, and there he remained while the Sinn Féin MPs formed an independent Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann, in Dublin. In the War of Independence that followed, Moran came to the fore as a leader. He was actively involved in fundraising and procuring arms for the Irish Volunteers, now increasingly known as the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In the first half of 1920, as the IRA stepped up its campaign against the RIC – whom de Valera called “the eyes and ears of our enemy” – Moran oversaw attacks on occupied barracks and the destruction of evacuated barracks, at Castlehacket, Castlegrove and Barnaderg. When the IRA’s North Galway Brigade was formed, Moran was appointed Commandant of the Tuam Battalion, which included ten companies: Abbeyknockmoy, Barnaderg, Bellmount, Corofin, Cortoon, Gardenfield, Kilconly, Milltown, Sylane and Tuam.
Moran was also behind the IRA ambush at Gallagh, near Tuam on 21 July 1920, during which two RIC Constables, James Burke from Limerick and Patrick Carey from Skibbereen, were killed. That night, the RIC sacked the town of Tuam and riddled Moran’s house with bullets as reprisals for the killing of their comrades. In the aftermath of the ambush, Moran became an especially marked man. His family, too, were to become targets for Crown forces.
Towards the end of September 1920, three lorry loads of Crown forces raided the Moran home, but Michael happened to be away that night. According to the Irish Independent, his 22-year-old brother, John, was “was taken from bed, driven around the country in a lorry to give information about local Sinn Feiners. He declined to do so and his captors, in wrath, stripped him naked, beat him with slings of rifles, boxed him in the face and kicked him. He was put up against a wall and several shots fired close to him.”
Around the same time, a party of Auxiliaries raided the house of Michael’s sister, Mary Anne, and her husband, Martin Dolan, at Barnaderg. Michael had been helping out on their farm and when he returned that night the house was surrounded and he was captured. After six weeks in detention, Moran was released without charge.
Moran was rearrested at his home on 22 November 1920, handed over to the military at Tuam Workhouse and transported to Galway. Two days later, he was taken by armed escort from Eglinton Street RIC barracks to the nearby Earl’s Island military camp, home to the 17th Lancers cavalry regiment. His escorts were three member of the D Company of the Auxiliaries, stationed at Lenaboy Castle, Taylor’s Hill: Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick H. W. Guard, a war veteran who had served in West Africa, France and North Russia, and lieutenants Tom Simmonds and John Lowe. It was a dark but moonlit night as they undertook the journey on foot by the courthouse, over Salmon Weir Bridge, past Galway jail and onto University Road.
In his testimony, Guard’s stated that: “just before arrival at the entrance to Earl’s Island from the main road I saw from 10 to 15 civilians congregated under the University walls on the right hand side of the road. I hurried forward to disperse them […] I had only proceeded a few yards when I recognised the voices of the escort shouting “Halt”. I immediately turned and saw the prisoner making a dash for liberty towards a low wall on the left of the road, he evidently having taken advantage of my absence and the crowd being there to attempt to escape. As he ignored the challenge, we are [sic] fired, the prisoner dropping to the road”. Moran was mortally wounded and, according to the Auxiliaries, died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. The medical examiner, however, testified that he had died about three hours after he was wounded.
Based on Guard’s version of events and contemporary newspaper accounts, Moran appears to have been shot on University Road, close to where Ward’s Corner Shop is today, as he attempted to run southwards along the Eglinton Canal.
Galway had endured much bloodshed in the autumn of 1920 and the killing of Moran greatly added to the sense of despair across the city and county. “Apparently the murder of Michael Walsh and Father Griffin has not yet satiated the blood lust in Galway”, wrote the Tuam Herald, before describing Moran as “a fine, stalwart type of young Irishman, standing nearly 6 feet in height, gentle as a child, withal brave as a lion, and one whom no terrorism could subdue”.
Guard, Lowe and Simmonds gave evidence at the military inquiry into the Moran’s death, which concluded that “the Court is of opinion that the escort were fully justified in firing at the deceased”. After all, were Crown forces not justified in firing at any person, deemed treasonous, who attempted to escape from custody or evade arrest? There was no independent witness to corroborate the story or otherwise.
In the months that followed, the shooting of “escaping” prisoners was to become a more regular occurrence. On 2 December 1920, the Chief Secretary for Ireland was asked as to the number of prisoners who, according to police reports, had been shot while trying to escape since 1 January 1920; the Attorney General for Ireland, MP Denis Henry stated that nine people had been shot and killed. When the same question was asked five months later, the figure had increased dramatically to 47.
In the aftermath, Moran’s remains were taken to Tuam Cathedral in a coffin draped with an Irish tricolor. At the funeral mass, the Archbishop of Tuam articulated what many people were thinking about the official line: “The cold official verdict of a secret court states that he was shot because he attempted to escape from custody […] It is strange that he did not try to escape when he was free, and when his friends urged him to take this course; but it is stranger still that he would try to escape when escape was impossible. He had no reason to expect death for he was charged with no crime. The responsibility for his death rests on the British Government, and it is a terrible responsibility”. He asked that the mourners “while praying for Michael Moran and also for our own dear country, also pray that those who shot him may get a more merciful death than they inflicted.” As the funeral cortege made its way to the graveyard, there were clashes between British military and unarmed IRA volunteers.
A contemporary account, in the Connacht Tribune, described Moran as “one of the outstanding figures of the Volunteer movement in north Galway”. Years later, one of his former comrades would recall that “all the Volunteers of the Tuam Battalion mourned the loss of Michael Moran […] we had great confidence in his leadership and we felt that we had lost a very brave and capable leader”. He is buried at New Cemetery, Tuam.
Above Left: The jute bag factory, Earl’s Island, with University College Galway in the distance. Courtesy of Chetham’s Library, Manchester
The 17th Lancers cavalry regiment of the British Army arrived in Galway in November 1920 and was stationed at Earl’s Island, making use of the buildings of the former jute bag factory – today, the O’Donoghue Centre at NUI, Galway. The military camp was also used to house republican prisoners. One former captive referred to it as “the Earl’s Island death trap”.
Above Right: Lieutenants Simmonds and Lowe of the D Company of the Auxiliaries at Lenaboy Castle, Taylor’s Hill. Courtesy of Irish Military Archives. Lieutenant Simmonds is second row, fourth from left. Lieutenant Lowe is fifth row, second from the right. Four months after Moran’s death, Lowe was involved in the killing of Louis Darcy, Commandant of the IRA’s Headford Battalion, who was dubbed ‘the Michael Collins of the West’. Like Moran, Darcy was shot while being escorted by the Auxiliaries, supposedly while trying to escape.
This post is part of a series researched and written by Brendan McGowan, Education Officer at Galway City Museum, to mark the Decade of Centenaries. Thanks to John Courtney and Dr Jarlath Deignan for their assistance. If you have any information, stories or photographs relating to the War of Independence in Galway, please contact Brendan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Register of Births, Deaths & Marriages; Census of Ireland, 1901 & 1911; Bureau of Military History, Witness Statements; Military Court of Inquiry (Michael Moran); D. M. Leeson (2013) “The Black & Tans: British Police & Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence”; Dr Conor McNamara (2018) “War and Revolution in the West of Ireland: Galway, 1913–1922”; Colm Campbell (1994) “Emergency Law in Ireland, 1918-1925”; ‘Death of Mr Patrick Moran, Carramoneen, Tuam, ‘Tuam Herald, 20 Mar 1915; ‘Arrests in Tuam’, Cork Examiner, 18 Jan 1919; ‘Stripped and Beaten’, Irish Independent, 23 Sept 1920; ‘Tuam Terror’. Connacht Tribune, 2 Oct 1920; ‘The Galway Tragedy’, Freeman’s Journal, 26 Nov 1920; ‘Tuam Volunteers Tragic Fate’, Irish Independent, 26 Nov 1920; ‘Prisoner Shot’, 27 Nov 1920; ‘Truce of God’, Sunday Independent, 28 Nov 1920; ‘Obsequies of the Late Michael Moran’, Tuam Herald, 4 Dec 1920; ‘The Shooting of Michael Moran’, Tuam Herald, 4 Dec 1920; ‘Nine Prisoners Killed in 11 Months’, Lancashire Evening Post, 2 Dec 1920; ‘Shot While Trying to Escape’, Larne Times & Weekly Telegraph, 7 May 1921.