Tuam Ransacked by Crown Forces, 19 July 1920: Inventory of Destruction

Revolution in County Galway, 1918-23

Dr Conor McNamara, Historian-in-Residence, 2022

"Police Terrorism in Tuam", how the Freeman's Journal newspaper covered the violence in Tuam.
Freeman's Journal, 22 July 1920
The Sunday Pictorial newspaper included photos of the wreckage in Tuam amongst a collage of images of destruction across Ireland in July.
Sunday Pictorial, 25 July 1920

In reprisal for the republican ambush at Gallagh Hill in which two RIC men were killed earlier that night, the crown forces burned premises and shot up streets in the town of Tuam, shooting wildly and assaulting civilians, on 19 July 1920. Premises and homes were looted and burned by police stationed in Vicar Street Barracks in the town, along with members of the Dragoon Guards stationed in Claremorris and police from Galway City, who rampaged through the streets. The Town Hall, previously used as a Sinn Féin courthouse, was among the more prominent buildings that were badly damaged, as well as the Mercy Convent School which was targeted by gunfire and riddled with bullets in wild shooting that lasted several hours.

Homes and premises at The Square, Shop Street, High Street, Dublin Road and Vicar Street, in particular, were badly damaged by incendiary bombs, shooting and destruction. The Tuam Herald subsequently lamented:

Never in its long and chequered history did this famous old town spring into such unfortunate prominence or was its usually calm life so disturbed as on Monday evening of this fearful week of horrors. Then some of the police, the custodians of the peace and guardians of public order, goaded by the dastardly murder of two of their comrades on the way home to Dunmore, three miles from town, and in which no man from Tuam we are sure had a part, rushed out into the usually quiet streets and committed great havoc on the property of the citizens.

The Town Hall, an ornament to the place, is a wreck, as is Mr Canney’s on the corner of Vicar Street, other houses are also in a condition of wretched ruin and the entire loss by fire must be very considerable.

We only ask the people in these trying circumstances to be patient and calm and to lay to heart the advice of their Archbishop. It is a terrible ordeal no doubt to have to pass through, but unhappily, things are generally in a very bad way in this country. At any moment an outbreak of civil war may occur, carrying with it the destruction of human life and those other destructive results consequent on such a state of things. God preserve us from the worst of all evils and keep poor Ireland from the devastation, destruction and ruin incidental to such a breakup of the forces of law and order.  

The Tuam Herald further provided an inventory of the destruction:

The Square

  • Home of Patrick Brown; forty or fifty bullet marks throughout shop windows and rooms; a tin teapot holder in shop window was peppered by shots presumably from a bomb or grenade; windows of shops smashed.
  • Patrick McHugh; shop windows broken.
  • Guy’s Hotel/Hosty and Company; windows smashed by rifles fire.
  • Town Hall; completely gutted but Town Clerk’s office did not catch fire and books were saved.

Shop Street

  • Fahy & Company; windows smashed by bombs and grenades, some stock destroyed; upper windows broken by rifles fire.
  • H. Burke/McNamara’s Medical Hall/McHugh’s Hotel/Mrs Egan’s; windows smashed.
  • Miss Begley’s; shutters pulled down and windows broken by rifles butts.
  • John Connelly’s; windows demolished and goods destroyed by fire.
  • Naughton’s/Arcade Drapery Company; glass-plated windows broken, door smashed in by rifle butts.
  • O’Connor’s Saddlery; attempts to set the place on fire and windows completely burned and upper rooms riddled.
  • Patrick Murphy’s/Cunningham’s/Lyon’s/’Rooney’s; windows broken.

High Street

  • Timothy Waldron’s; upper rooms burned and shop windows smashed.
  • O’Malley’s Brothers; shop windows damaged, buildings on this side saved by cutting roof adjoining Town Hall.
  • Keaveny’s; bullet fire into house.

Dublin Road

  • Canney Brothers; nothing saved.
  • Frank Keane/J.J. Quinn Solicitor; bullet marks on windows and glass smashed.
  • Mrs Nohilly’s; one window smashed and goods within accosted by fire; about 80 bullet marks in ceilings of rooms.
  • O’Brien’s; two bullet marks in shop window.
  • Burke’s; windows smashed and over 30 bullet marks in upper rooms; Mr Burke saved his own and Mr Nohilly’s premises from complete destruction by running up in the midst of the firing and throwing water and porter on the windows. The private house of Mr Burke two doors further up was riddled with bullets, one of which ricocheted across the road and penetrated the window of the room where the children of Mr E. Kenny, tailor, were sleeping, one of whom had a narrow escape.

Vicar Street

  • J. Lynch’s/P. Byrne’s/McTique & Company; windows broken by rifle fire.
  • Connacht Tribune Office/F. Stafford’s; windows destroyed, door badly burned.
  • McTigue’s Grocery; windows smashed.
  • Mrs Whyte’s; all windows broken and live bomb thrown into house which landed on feather bed and did not explode.

 

Primary Sources

Tuam Herald, 24 June 1920, p. 2.

 

Further Reading

Jarlath Deignan, Troubled Times: War and Rebellion in North Galway, 1913–23 (Jarlath Deignan, 2019).

William Henry, Blood for Blood: The Black and Tan War in Galway (Mercier Press, 2001).

Conor McNamara, War & Revolution in the West of Ireland: Galway 1913–22 (Irish Academic Press, 2018).

Conor McNamara, The Loughnane Brothers, Beagh and Terror in Galway, 1920–21 (Galway County Council, 2020).

Conor McNamara, The Independence Struggle in County Galway, 1918–21, A Research Guide (Galway County Council, 2021).

Cormac Ó Comhraí & K.H. O’Malley (eds), The Men Will Talk to Me, Galway Interviews by Ernie O’Malley (Mercier Press, 2015).

Cormac Ó Comhraí, Sa Bhearna Bhaoil: Gaillimh 1913–1923 (Cló Iar-Chonnacht, 2016).

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