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‘Willful Murder’ of Galway Civilians, 11 May 1921

In the early hours of 11 May 1921, masked men deliberately shot dead seventeen-year-old Christy Folan and injured his brother, Joe, while searching their family home at Woodquay, Galway for their brother, James. A short time later, nearby, a railway foreman named Hubert Tully was shot and killed at his lodgings off Prospect Hill. The apparent motive for the killings was that the men supported the Irish Republican movement.

In November 1920, Jimmy Folan, aged 20, of O’Donoghue’s Terrace, Woodquay was sentenced by court-martial to six months imprisonment with hard labour for acting as a Republican policeman and possessing seditious documents – one of which blamed the local Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) for the September killings of volunteers James Quirke and John Mulvoy. Having served his time at Galway Gaol, Folan was released on 10 May 1921. That evening, a benevolent RIC sergeant warned a local volunteer, Thomas Hynes, to “tell Jimmy not to be at home tonight”. It was clear that something dangerous was afoot.

In the early hours of the following morning, shortly before 1am, three armed men “with blackened faces and wearing goggles, waterproofs and civilian caps” arrived at the Folan family home looking for Jimmy. His brother, Patrick, who had a wooden leg, answered the door and told the men that Jimmy was not at home. The men proceeded to search the property thoroughly, but to no avail. They then entered a bedroom, where two of Jimmy’s brothers – Christy, aged 17, and Joe, aged 23 – had been sleeping. They fired several fatal shots at Christy and left. Minutes later, they returned to the bedroom, where Joseph was holding a lamp over his younger brother to see if he was dead or alive. They again opened fire, wounding Joe in the neck and shoulders. When the intruders departed, Joe was rushed to the nearby County Infirmary, where he remained for three weeks.

Christy Folan, who had been employed as a labourer at the Galway Woollen Mills, was buried at New Cemetery, Bohermore just days before his eighteenth birthday. On the day of the funeral all shops in Galway remained closed and a large cortege followed the coffin, which was wrapped in an Irish tricolour flag, from the Old-Pro Cathedral on Middle Street to the graveyard. During the burial, members of the Crown forces arrived in a motor car and took the flag from the graveside.

That same night, around 1.30am, a number of masked men called to the house of railway worker Thomas Carew, at 35 St Bridget’s Terrace, off Prospect Hill in Galway city centre. Carew answered the door and was told “it is Tully we want”, referring to his work colleague and lodger, Hubert (or Hugh) Tully. Carew got a lighted candle and went upstairs to wake Tully, accompanied by one of the intruders who “had a red handkerchief or cloth over the lower part of his face, and wore goggles, a bright tweed cap, and grey civilian overcoat”. Tully asked if he should get dressed and was told that it wasn’t necessary. He went downstairs in his nightshirt and, on reaching the foot of the stairs, was met by three or four men with their revolvers drawn. Tully was asked to confirm his name and, as soon as he did, was shot a number of times. As Tully lay injured, groaning, one of the men walked towards him and fired two or three more shots, killing him. The intruders then left.

A native of Moneyboy, between Tulsk and Strokestown in Co. Roscommon, Tully had moved to Galway in October 1919 and worked as a foreman in the goods store of Galway railway station, having previously worked for five years in a similar position at Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. Tully was friendly with a prominent local Irish Republican Army (IRA) officer named Seán Broderick, with whose family he lodged for a period, and had quietly facilitated the movement of arms through Galway station. The Irish Independent described him as “a man of superior type, a weekly Communicant, and a member of the Sodalities,” who “was not a member of any political organization, though holding strong Republican sympathies”. Despite his Republican outlook, reports of the time stated that Tully was on friendly terms with the police. He was buried at Kilcooney Cemetery, near Tulsk, and is remembered on the republican memorial at Shankill Cross, outside Elphin, Co. Roscommon.

Others had lucky escapes that night. The house of Malachy Fitzpatrick, a painter, on Bohermore was raided shortly before 2am by four armed men. He escaped, dressed only in his nightshirt with his trousers wrapped around his neck.

Earlier that fateful day, RIC Constable Jack Kelly warned a nineteen-year-old volunteer named James Traynor of Prospect Hill not to stay at home that night, advising him that the safest place to be was in the attic of the constable’s home. Though initially suspicious, Traynor took him up on his offer. Late that night, following the murders of Folan and Tully, members of the Crown forces called on Constable Kelly and stayed drinking in his kitchen, little realising that he was harbouring an IRA volunteer overhead.

In the aftermath of the killings, a military court of inquiry was held in Galway, which returned a verdict of willful murder by ‘persons unknown’. Strangely, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the RIC County Inspector attempted to blame Republicans for the murders, stating that the Folan brothers were shot because the Sinn Féin party was afraid that James Folan might turn informer and that Tully “was on good terms with the police and was probably suspected of giving information”. It was a poor attempt at deflection and one that was widely disbelieved.

When the matter was raised in the House of Commons in London, the Attorney General for Ireland, MP Denis Henry replied “no clue has yet been obtained to the perpetrators of these murders, and I know of no ground for the suggestion that they were committed by members of the Crown forces”. In reference to Henry’s reply, the London correspondent of the Freeman’s Journal wrote that “the failure of the Government to bring to justice any of the murderers of civilians suspected of Sinn Fein sympathies is one of the most damaging indictments that can be made against the present regime in Ireland. The people of Ireland have long since formed their opinions as to the identity of the culprits, and this opinion could be tested if the Government held a public investigation in which the Irish people had any confidence, but the Prime Minister or the Chief Secretary will not run any risks”.

As Director of Intelligence, Michael Collins himself ordered investigations into those responsible for the shootings. The local IRA was unable to identify anyone connected to the killing of Tully but in relation to Folan they concluded that he was shot “by a party of R.I.C. under D.I. McGlynn , the only one identified”. One volunteer, however, claimed that an RIC sergeant stationed at Dominick Street Barracks was in charge of the men who killed Folan and Tully. Whatever the truth, it is clear that Republicans blamed senior members of the RIC for the murders. Interestingly, both of those identified as being responsible for the killings were Irishmen rather than English recruits, who were often blamed for such atrocities.

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. Special thanks to Maura Folan and William Henry for sharing the photographs. If you have any information, stories or photographs relating to the War of Independence in Galway, please contact Brendan by email at


Register of Births, Deaths & Marriages; Census of Ireland, 1901 & 1911; Bureau of Military History, Witness Statements (Seán Broderick, BMH.WS1677; Thomas Hynes, BMH.WS0714 & Joseph Togher, BMH.WS1729; ), Military Archives, Dublin; RIC County Inspector Monthly Report (May 1921), The National Archives, London; Courts of Inquiry in lieu of Inquest: Register of Cases (1921), The National Archives, London.

William Henry (2012) Blood for Blood: The Black & Tan War in Galway; D. M. Leeson (2013) The Black and Tans: British Police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence; Conor McNamara (2018) War and Revolution in the West of Ireland: Galway, 1913-22; Eunan O’Halpin & Daithí Ó Corráin (2020) The Dead of the Irish Revolution

‘Sentences: Results of Recent Courts-Martial at Galway’, Connacht Tribune, 27 November; ‘Two Young Galway Men Shot Dead’, Irish Independent, 12 May 1921; ‘Dark Deeds in Galway’, Freeman’s Journal, 12 May 1921; ‘The Galway Tragedies’, Irish Independent, 13 May 1921 ; ‘Galway Double Tragedy’, Irish Independent, 14 May 1921; ‘London Letter’, Freeman’s Journal, 14 May 1921; ‘Railway Man’s Awful Fate in Galway’, Westmeath Examiner, 14 May 1921; ‘Auxiliaries Seize Tri-Colour’, Leinster Leader, 21 May 1921; ‘Unprovoked Murder. Story of a Night of Stark Horror’, Connacht Tribune, 4 February 1922




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