The Killing of Michael Walsh, 19 October 1920

Home/The Killing of Michael Walsh, 19 October 1920

On the evening of 19 October 1920, one hundred years ago today, Michael Walsh – an urban councillor and proprietor of the Old Malt House at High Street, Galway – was taken from his premises by Crown forces, marched to the Long Walk and shot dead. His body was recovered from the River Corrib the following morning.

Michael Walsh (Micheál Breathnach) was born in Headford, Co. Galway on 20 September 1881 to Michael Walsh, a shopkeeper, and his wife, Bridget (née Creaven). Along with his brothers, Michael worked as an assistant at his father’s shop in Headford before moving into Galway City, where he took over a shop and public house – the Old Malt House – that once belonged to the family of Pádraic Ó Conaire, the Irish-language writer.

 

In November 1907, Walsh married Agnes Cotter of An Bhánrainn Bhán (Banraghbaun) at the chapel of Knock, near An Spidéal and they had eight children between 1908 and 1919: Michael Joe, Edward, Patrick, William, John, James, Mary Rose and Fursa.

Walsh was a popular and successful businessman. In December 1911, the “Connacht Tribune” reported that “The Old Malt House, like the Town Hall or the Courthouse, has become one of the institutions of Galway. It has been the popular venue of many a learned discussion on matters municipal and national; and it remains a widely patronised and well-equipped emporium, where groceries, ever fresh and of the widest range, are always kept in stock. Mr. Michael Walsh, the present popular proprietor, served his time in Galway, and is almost as well-known as the Old Malt House itself, the traditions of which he maintains with honour and credit to himself and advantage to his customers”.

Though not – as stated in some sources – a member of the Irish Volunteers or the Irish Republican Army, Walsh was a strong and prominent supporter of the republican movement and the Old Malt House was a rendezvous for local republicans. Walsh was persuaded to contest the East Ward in the municipal election of January 1920, and was one of ten Sinn Féin candidates elected to the Galway Urban District Council. Before long, Walsh and his fellow Sinn Féin councillors rescinded a series of Council resolutions, passed in 1916, which condemned the Easter Rising “organised by the Sinn Fein organisation, and at the same time tendered to the naval and military and police authorities the Council’s best thanks for the services rendered by them as a result of which the City had been saved from disturbance”.

Walsh also made his resources available to the republican movement. He had purchased a farm with a large farmhouse at Lavaddy, near Clarinbridge in 1918, which was afterwards made available to the Irish Republican Army (acting as the executive arm of the Sinn Féin Courts) for use as a jail. It is believed that one escaped prisoner led the ‘Black and Tans’ back to the farmhouse and they subsequently made the connection to Walsh.

Walsh had been the subject of a number of death threats and, in the early hours of 22 September 1920, the Old Malt House was raided by Crown forces. Michael Walsh was absent from the premises, but the assailants terrorised his wife and young children and caused £1000 worth of damage to the property. In the aftermath, Agnes Walsh spoke with a “Connacht Tribune” representative about her ordeal: “about 1.20am a score of men, who boasted they were the “Black and Tans,” some in uniforms and some wearing civilian clothes […] prized open the shutters of the shop windows, entered and smashed the glass door from the shop to the taproom. They then rushed upstairs to where she and her children slept […] The entire building was searched for arms, revolver shots were fired, and hand grenades thrown.” Walsh’s oldest child, 12-year-old Michael Joe, went down on his knees before one of the intruders and said “don’t shoot!” – the reply was “No, kiddie, I will not shoot you if you promise to be loyal to the King!”. When Michael Walsh arrived the following morning, “the front windows of the shop were found shattered, all the glass cases were broken, and a considerable quantity of the stock had disappeared. Coats and wearing apparel were missing, and an attempt had been made to remove the safe, which would not go through the door. […] the safe and shop generally bore many bullet marks. All the cash in the till was missing, together with beer, stout, cigarettes, tobaccos, corn-flour, sardines, and groceries” (Connacht Tribune, 25 September 1920).

Walsh was unnerved by the incident and was advised by a fellow Sinn Féin councillor, Dr. Thomas Walsh, to leave the house and move to the country for a while, but he refused as he “thought that the Black and Tans had done all they meant to do.” After the raid, however, his wife and children stayed elsewhere.

The Old Malt House was targeted again just four weeks later – this time Michael Walsh was present and working alongside his 17-year-old assistant, Martin Meenaghan. Shortly before 10pm, five men wearing civilian clothing and carrying revolvers entered the premises. Speaking with English accents, they ordered the customers out, closing the doors after them. Claiming to be English secret service men, they raided the till and cash-box and took cigarettes and other goods. When Meenaghan poured a glass of rum for his employer, the intruders warned: “it is only going to waste: you will be dead within an hour”. When Walsh asked for a priest, he was told “the priests are worse than yourself; you will not get a priest”. They then accused Walsh of shooting policemen before leading him down Quay Street in the direction of the Spanish Arch.

The following morning a blood-stained hat was discovered on the Long Walk; nearby were two large pools of blood and a spent cartridge. Walsh’s remains were then discovered beneath the surface of the Corrib. He had been shot once in the temple. IRA Volunteer Martin King (who would later win an All-Ireland senior hurling title with Galway in 1923) and his brother, John King, recovered the body from the river, along with Michael Healy and Tim Lally.

His killing shocked and outraged Galwegians of all political persuasions. Large crowds lined the streets of Galway on the day of the funeral. As a mark of respect, all work in the city was suspended and all shops were closed. Military and police were stationed at the Pro-Cathedral and at various points throughout the town. In a show of force, a squadron of mounted Dragoon Guards, with their sabres drawn, lined the route to the cemetery at Bohermore, and an armoured car followed the funeral procession. Fearing trouble, the military and police prevented sympathisers from going any further towards the cemetery than Eyre Square.

When questioned in the House of Commons about the killing, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Hamar Greenwood, stated: “I have no information, and I do not accept as true the allegation that the murder of this man [Walsh] was committed by uniformed men. There is no such force as the auxiliary police in Galway or elsewhere in Ireland. There are members of the auxiliary division of the Royal Irish Constabulary. These men are all ex-officers, and I will not accept, except on the clearest and most conclusive proof, the allegation that any of these ex-officers now serving in the auxiliary division are guilty of murder” (HC Debate, 21 October 1920). In the aftermath, a military court of inquiry into the death of Michael Walsh took place at Renmore Barracks; its findings were not made public. In 1921, Michael Collins instructed the Galway Brigade IRA to try to identify those involved in the killing of Michael Walsh and others; in relation to Walsh, they ascertained that it was carried out by a Black and Tan named Miller, along with two others who were unidentified.

Michael Walsh is still remembered in Galway. Every year since 1921, an anniversary mass takes place for him at the Augustinian Church on Middle Street. A memorial plaque to him was unveiled on the Long Walk on 22 October 1967; it was replaced by another in November 2005, following the construction of the Dun Aengus complex on the Long Walk.

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. If you have any information, stories or photographs relating to the War of Independence in Galway, please contact Brendan by email at museum@galwaycity.ie

Image Credits in order of appearance from left to right:
  1. Michael Walsh (Micheál Breathnach, 1881-1920) from “Mise” by Colm Ó Gaora
  2. Agnes Walsh, widow of Michael, and her eight children, late 1920. Courtesy of Margaret Henderson (granddaughter of Michael Walsh)
  3. Michael Walsh outside the Old Malt House on High Street, Galway. “The Old Malt House, like the Town Hall or the Courthouse, has become one of the institutions of Galway. It has been the popular venue of many a learned discussion on matters municipal and national; and it remains a widely patronised and well-equipped emporium, where groceries, ever fresh and of the widest range, are always kept in stock. Mr. Michael Walsh, the present popular proprietor, served his time in Galway, and is almost as well-known as the Old Malt House itself, the traditions of which he maintains with honour and credit to himself and advantage to his customers” (“Connacht Tribune”, 16 December 1911). Courtesy of Dr Jim Higgins, City Heritage Officer
  4. Walsh’s Old Malt House is today Ó Máille’s Original House of Style
  5. Advertisement for Walsh’s Old Malt House in the “Connacht Tribune”, 29 May 1909
  6. Letter on headed paper written by Michael Walsh, dated 21 September 1920, in which he writes: “I would have written yesterday but was a bit up sit [upset] over a visit from the Black & Tans”. Courtesy of Joan Power, Cork (niece of James Quirk)
  7. Headstone of Micheál Breathnach (Michael Walsh), Bohermore Cemetery, 19 October 2020. In the row behind and to the right is the resting place of the Irish-language writer Pádraic Ó Conaire who, as a boy, also lived over the premises known as the Old Malt House.
  8. Memorial print of Michael Walsh, surrounded by shamrock and with a ruined abbey in the background (perhaps Ross Errilly, near his native Headford), with the words “Erin Macusla Macree” – an anglicisation of the Irish mo chuisle, no chroí (my pulse, my heart). Courtesy of Margaret Henderson (granddaughter of Michael Walsh)
  9. Memorial plaque commissioned by Michael ‘Tiny’ Walsh (son of William and grandson of Michael) and unveiled at Long Walk in November 2005. Funded by O’Malley Construction, which built the Dun Aengus complex at Long Walk, it was engraved by stonemason Pat Bracken. In English, it reads: “In Memory of Michael Walsh of the ‘Old Malt House’ High Street who was murdered at the spot by the Black and Tans on the 19th October 1920. R.I.P.”
  10. Sons of Michael Walsh – William, Fursa, John, Michael Joe, Edward (Éamon) and James (Séamus) – at the unveiling of a plaque to the memory of their father at Long Walk, Galway on 22 October 1967. The plaque was unveiled by Seán Turke, Galway Old IRA. Canon James O’Dea, parish priest of Clarinbridge, presided and Thomas Tierney, Mayor of Galway, attended on behalf of the Council. Courtesy of Margaret Henderson, granddaughter of Michael Walsh. It read: “CUIR PAIDIR LE NANAM AN FÍORGAEIL MICHÁL BREATHNACH A DUNMHARAÍODH AG DUBH-CHRÓNAIGH SHASANA. LAIMH LEIS AN LATHAIR SEO SAN OÍCHE 19 X 1920. SOLAS NA BHFLAITHEAS DA ANAM. PRAY FOR THE SOUL OF MICHAEL WALSH SHOT BY THE BLACK & TANS NEAR TO THIS SPOT”. Courtesy of Margaret Henderson, (granddaughter of Michael Walsh)
SOURCES 
  1. Albert Coyle [Official Reporter to the Commission] (1921) Evidence on Conditions in Ireland
  2. Bureau of Military History Witness Statement
  3. Civil Registration of Births, Deaths & Marriages
  4. ‘Havoc in Galway’, Connacht Tribune, 25 September 1920
  5. Military Service Pension Records, Military Archives
  6. 1901 & 1911 Census of Ireland, National Archives

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