On Saturday 30 October 1920, one hundred years ago today, a group of IRA volunteers ambushed an RIC bicycle patrol near St Teresa’s R.C. Church, Castledaly in south Galway, killing Constable Timothy Horan, who left behind a widow and three children. He was one of five policemen killed as a result of IRA attacks in Co. Galway between July and December 1920. Two days later, a young expectant mother was mortally wounded when a party of Auxiliaries shot her from a passing lorry.
Born at Kilnabrack, Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry on New Year’s Day 1880, Timothy Horan was the son of Timothy Senior, a farmer, and his wife, Kate (née Sullivan). Timothy’s father died when he was just seven years old and his mother subsequently remarried. At the time of the 1901 Census, Timothy was working as a farm labourer and living in a three-roomed cottage at Kilnabrack with his mother, step-father, four siblings and four stepsiblings. The following year, on 3 March 1902, he joined the RIC.
In June 1911, while stationed at Tuckey Street RIC Barracks in Cork City, he married Margaret Horan from Doorish in Co. Tipperary. Her father, Patrick “Pad” Horan, was a farmer and renowned bonesetter, who treated humans and animals upon request and without charge. As a young man, Pad had joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and taken part in the Fenian Rising of 1867. He was also evicted from his farm in 1874 and was subsequently active in the Land War.
Timothy and Margaret had four children: Timothy Joseph was born in Cork in 1912 and his younger siblings, Patrick Finbar (1912), John Berchman (1915) and Eileen (1917), were all born in Ahascragh, Co. Galway. For safety, Constable Horan lived in the RIC barracks during the War of Independence, and Margaret and her children moved to Rossbeigh, Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry. It is telling that she did not move to her native Tipperary – an old Fenian, her father was a supporter of Sinn Féin, so perhaps he didn’t approve of her marriage to an RIC constable. From March 1920 onwards, Constable Horan was stationed at Kilchreest, about 6kms east of Loughrea, Co. Galway. Margaret would later recall that he was “a most affectionate husband and father” who was “in the habit of sending her money and clothing which amounted to about £20 a month”. Sadly, their second child died from influenza in May 1920, aged just 5.
Around midday on Saturday 30 October, Timothy Horan and four colleagues – Sergeant O’Driscoll and constables Keane, Dunne, and Gilmartin – were on a routine cycle patrol between Peterswell and Kilchreest in south Galway. An ambush party of 25 to 30 volunteers, armed with shotguns and rifles and under the command of Thomas McInerney, lay in wait on a heavily-wooded stretch of road between the gate lodge of Castle Daly and Castledaly Church. As the patrol cycled past, the volunteers opened fire. Perceiving the danger, Sergeant O’Driscoll threw himself on the ground when he spied the shotguns pointed over the walls. Constable Horan was shot but managed to make his way into the church grounds; according to Volunteer Daniel Ryan, the parish priest, Fr. Michael Corcoran, administered the last rites to Horan before he died of his injuries. Constables Gilmartin and Dunne fled and were pursued across the fields but escaped. Constable Keane was seriously injured in the chest and right arm, but managed to make his way to nearby Roxborough House (the childhood home of Lady Gregory); the following day, Keane was admitted to Dr Steevens’ Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, where he spent seven weeks before being treated in a convalescent home for wounded police at Gormanstown. The volunteers captured the five abandoned bicycles and three or four of their carbine rifles. Margaret Horan, who had last seen her husband alive the previous August, identified the body, which was returned for burial to Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry. In the various newspaper reports that followed, Horan was described as a “quiet, inoffensive man”, “a very strong man” and “a very competent constable” who “had been recommended for promotion”.
While the Horan family were in mourning, the people of south Galway were also suffering as a result of the Castledaly Ambush. Five farmhouses in the Castledaly and Kilchreest district were burned in reprisal that evening and numerous houses were raided in an attempt to capture volunteers. And two days after the ambush, Eileen Quinn – a 24-year-old mother of three, who was heavily pregnant with a fourth – was shot and mortally wounded by passing Auxiliaries as she sat on a low wall outside her family home waiting for her husband to return from a fair in Gort. When the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Hamar Greenwood, was questioned about the killing in the House of Commons, he replied, “two police lorries were passing at the time, and it may be that the wounding resulted from a shot fired in anticipation of an ambush in the neighbourhood.” A white-wash inquiry followed, which concluded: “The court having considered the evidence, and the medical evidence, are of opinion that Mrs Eileen Quinn, of Corker, Gort, in the County of Galway, met her death, due to shock and haemorrhage, caused by a bullet wound in the groin fired by some occupant of a police car proceeding along the Gort and Ardrahan road on The 1st November, 1920. They are of opinion that the shot was one of the shots fired as a precautionary measure, and, in view of the facts, record a verdict ‘Death by Misadventure.’ Mrs Quinn had a baby in her arms when struck by the bullet.” W. B. Yeats, whose Thoor Ballylee Castle residence was but a short distance from the Quinn family home, alluded to the verdict in his poem “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen”: “A drunken soldiery, Can leave the mother, murdered at her door, To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free”.
In the aftermath of the Castledaly Ambush, two local men – Peter J. Moylan and Michael Callanan – were arrested and charged with the murder of Constable Horan, and incarcerated in Galway Jail for four months while awaiting court-martial. In an interview with the Boston Post, Moylan recalled “for eight weeks I had two companions in my cell – in this cell that was hardly big enough for one man […] the filth was the greatest hardship we had to put up with […] it was nauseating! During the whole time I was there my bedclothes were never changed. The odour was revolting, especially since there were two other men in the cell enduring the same horrors as myself.” Both Moylan and Callanan pleaded not guilty and were defended by the well-known Cork barrister and politician T. M. Healy. Following a court martial at Dublin City Hall in March 1921, both men were found not guilty and discharged. Moylan – an American citizen, who served in the US Navy during the Great War but returned to Galway in December 1919 – had a strong alibi; he was with his parents in Loughrea on the day of the ambush. Despite his innocence, Moylan was fearful of a reprisal from the Black and Tans and, having been advised by Frederick Dumont, the United States consul in Dublin, returned to Boston. Callanan, who was a member of the Ardrahan Company of the IRA, claimed to have been in the bog on the day of the attack; however, in his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History, Volunteer Martin Fahy later named him among the ambush party. That is not, of course, to say that Callanan was directly responsible for the killing.
Margaret Horan was afterwards awarded £1,000 compensation, plus £600 for each of her three children, which in total equated to eleven and a half years of Constable Horan’s basic salary at the time of his death. It was a significant award but, of course, no amount of money could ever offset the loss of a husband and father. The eldest son of Constable Horan, Timothy Joseph, had a long and distinguished career in the Irish Diplomatic Service, serving as Irish Ambassador to Spain and Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva; his youngest son, John, died of tuberculosis while in his 20s, while his only daughter, Eileen, became a national school teacher.
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. Brendan would like to express his particular thanks to Kevin Murray, grandson of Timothy Horan, for his 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
- Bureau of Military History Witness Statements
- 1901 Census of Ireland
- Civil Records of Birth, Deaths and Marriages
- M. Leeson (2013) “The Black & Tans: British Police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence”
- Conor McNamara (2018) “War and Revolution in the West of Ireland. Galway, 1913-1922”
- William Henry (2012) “Blood for Blood: The Black and Tan War in Galway”
- The Connacht Tribune
- The Freeman’s Journal
- ‘Relates Experiences in Irish Prison – Bostonian Freed of Murder Charge’, Boston Post, 17 April 1921
- ‘Pad Horan – The Tipperary Fenian’, Irish Press, 13 September 1933
- Eunan O’Halpan & Daithí Ó Corráin (2020) “The Dead of the Irish Revolution”
30 October 2020