The murders of Pat & Harry Loughnane
By Cormac O Comhrai
County Galway saw its share of controversial incidents during the War of Independence. Most, but not all, of these incidents were carried out by the Crown Forces and specifically the R.I C. police force and a new force, the Auxiliaries, which was created in order to help the R.I.C. in dealing with militant republicanism. These incidents attracted condemnation and press attention locally, nationally and internationally. Several of these controversial incidents occurred in November 1920 a month during which the Crown Forces killed a pregnant woman and a Catholic priest in Galway. It was a controversial and bloody month at a national level as well with the killings of Republican prisoners in Dublin Castle and the shootings in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday, the execution of Kevin Barry and the Kilmichael Ambush in Cork. In the same month two brothers disappeared after being arrested by Auxiliaries based in Drumharsna Castle near Ardrahan in South Galway. The names of these brothers were Pat and Harry Loughnane. We have no way of knowing what kind of person Harry was from the scant evidence that remains but we can guess at Pat’s personality. He was loyal to and protective of his family. He was confident and assured. He was a leader. He was a hard worker. He was physically brave. Politically they were both republicans and they were both members of republican organisations. They were, however, on balance neither extraordinary nor leaders of note. They were similar to thousands of young men of their age and background in Ireland at the time. It is not their arrest nor even their murder that makes their case different and significant but the manner in which they were treated in the hours before their deaths, how they met their deaths and the manner in which an attempt to cover these events up that makes their case of interest to historians of the period.
The last census that occurred under British rule took place in 1911. We learn a certain amount and we can infer other things from the information contained in the form that was returned by Loughnane family. This census shows that the Loughnanes lived and farmed in the townland of Derry, in the parish of Beagh, near Gort in the barony of Kiltartan in south county Galway. Like all the other households of the townland the Loughnanes were Catholic. Kate, the mother, is described in that census as being married rather than widowed. By 1920 she was certainly widowed. (This was stated by her daughter Norah in an interview conducted by Ernie O`Malley). She was fifty six in 1911. She was able to read and write and was listed as a speaker of Irish as well as of English. It is safe to assume that given her age and the area in which she lived that she was a native speaker. It is also safe to assume that English was the language that she spoke to her children. Only one of the four children at home on the night of the census was also able to speak Irish. That was Norah who was a school monitress at the time and would go on to become a teacher in Corrandulla. She was sixteen at that time.
The others were Pat who was twenty, Hugh who was nineteen and had emigrated to England by 1920 and Harry who was fourteen. Harry later spent a year in De la Salle College in Waterford preparing to be a primary teacher but had to drop out for health reasons. Katie, another sister, was also teaching in Corofin by 1920. The Loughnanes were one of sixteen households in the townland. Their house was comfortably ranked in the middle tier of the townland’s houses. It was a four room house, three windows in the front with three outhouses: a cowhouse, a stable and a piggery. Only five of the other households had more outhouses with two others also having three. Kate Loughnane’s literacy and Norah’s educational ambition also support this idea of a family comfortable if not wealthy. This was backed up by report at the time of their murder and afterwards. By 1920, as well as their own farm of twenty five acres and taking outside tillage, the Loughnanes had bought another farm from money that Pat had saved. Like many families whose lot in life was slowly improving during the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century it seems to have been a political household or at least Pat and Harry were both interested in the events that were unfolding around them. Pat had previously been a member of the UIL. The UIL was an organisation that sought change in the lives of those who farmed the land. But it was a broad church and included both conservative and radical elements. In December 1923 the anti-Treaty T.D. Louis O’Dea who was based in Galway City and probably didn’t know the Loughnanes described this period of Pat’s life as Pat: “worked for the uplifting of the poor and the division of the grass lands, to replace the cattle by the people.” As well as communal agitation Galway had been rife with violent agrarian trouble for several generations and some prominent republicans in the county were also involved in agrarian agitation. In 1919 Pat Loughnane was one of twelve Beagh men who served terms of imprisonment for a riot triggered by a dispute over the grazing of cattle where it was felt that a local farmer had been grazing cattle outside his own land. It seems that Loughnane’s involvement was over stated and the defence focused on securing his release rather than the other defendants. It seems that after Pat became radicalised by the Easter Rising that he regretted the UIL affiliation but the desire for change did not evaporate, however.
The 1916 Rising and, more importantly, the mishandling of the Rising by British Forces, the issues of partition and conscription changed the political landscape not totally but hugely in the period between the Easter Rising and the founding of Dáil Éireann in 1919. Galway, as one of the few areas outside of Dublin City that saw a mobilisation and a limited uprising saw hundreds of men, some not actually involved in the uprising itself, arrested, imprisoned or interned. 322 men with Galway addresses were interned in Frongoch Internment Camp alone including men from Gort, Kilcolgan, Ardrahan, Kinvarra, Peterswell, Loughrea8 all in the same general area as the Loughnanes came from. The Loughnanes must have known some of these men or their families through relations, fairs, business or hurling however casual this connection may have been. Both Pat and Harry got swept up in the radicalisation of nationalist opinion in the years 1916-1918. Pat is supposed to have said: “It grieves me to think that we stood by while others suffered. If I only got the least inkling of the Rising and what Sinn Féin stood for, I too, would have done my part.”9 On the first anniversary of the 1916 Rising Beagh was named in the Connacht Tribune as one of seven places in county Galway where republican flags were hung up to commemorate the events of Easter Week. Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers spread throughout the country but their spread was as dramatic in the West as it was anywhere. Cumainn and companies sprang up all over County Galway. The Loughnanes were to the forefront of this development in their own locality. Pat became the President of the local Sinn Féin cumann and Harry became its secretary. According to the South Galway Roll of Honour Pat and Harry both joined the Volunteers in 1917. Pat organised the Volunteers in Beagh Parish and was the commanding officer there. Pat, at least, was to go on to become an active Volunteer. Harry seems to have life long health problems which may have contributed to a lack of activity. The effects of this sickness are perhaps overstated as Harry was strong enough to be the goalkeeper of his club hurling team. Pat was the team’s full back. But his health was poor enough for him to have dropped out of education.
Support for republicanism was very strong in South Galway. The 1918 general election was a straight contest between a stalwarth of the Home Rule Party and a 1916 veteran standing for Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin took 86% of the vote. Despite this there was very little I.R.A. activity in the area until the summer of 1921. This was a pattern replicated in many other areas in Galway and in the West. Basically all of the violence used in 1919 in South Galway was directed at large landowners and their workers as well as as a result of neighbours’ disputes over land rather than being directed at the police. The only violence directed at the R.I.C. was a shot being fired at Tubber barracks in August. If the start date of the War of Independence is taken as the 21st of January 1919 with the killing of two policemen in Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary the shot fired at Tubber Barracks can be described as being the first shot of the War of Independence in Galway. Even this action could easily be over land agitation. It wasn’t until January 1920 that the War of Independence could be said to have begun in Galway however. Meanwhile in 1919 the violence over land continued in South Galway. In April and May there were three woundings in Gort including that of a JP and landowner. In June a herd’s house was fired over also in Gort. In October there was a wounding in Kinvara and a house was fired into at Beagh and in November there was another attack at Kinvara when a merchant was shot and wounded. In December a farmer’s son was wounded near Loughrea. The most significant incident of 1919 in South Galway and the only killing occurred in the summer and that was described by the police as a land dispute.18An ex-policeman named John Carr was killed in a fight outside his home in Tierneevin not far from where the Loughnanes lived. A local man, John Quinn, was arrested, charged with and pleaded guilty to manslaughter rather than murder. Quinn was accused of the assault on his father by Francis Carr, a son of the victim. According to Pádraig Ó Fathaigh, an I.R.A. Intelligence Officer in South Galway, the man responsible for the death of Carr was Pat Loughnane who he also named as the captain of the Beagh Company of the I.R.A. This rank may be incorrect as Loughnane was described as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Beagh Company in another republican source. Ó Fathaigh also went on to claim that a son of the ex-R.I.C. sergeant joined the Auxiliaries and came home looking for revenge. He claims that Loughnane and an I.R.A. lieutenant disarmed the vengeful son and raided his home for arms. This arms raid can be dated to July of 1920 when he was described as being home on leave from the Army. In this report he was called William. Tom McInerney the I.R.A. O/C in South West Galway when the Loughnanes were arrested also linked their killings with that of John Carr. According to him Pat Loughnane raided the Carr home looking for a pistol. McInerney thought that Loughnane’s weak voice led to his identification. McInerney also claimed that Carr’s son (whom he also calls William) was there when the Loughnanes were murdered.
Up to the Autumn of 1920 the I.R.A. in South Galway was involved in raiding private homes for arms, in destroying barracks that had been vacated by the R.I.C. and in a small number of, mostly low level, attacks on the R.I.C. Pat Loughnane is mentioned in relation to at least two of these incidents (one of them the disarming of Carr the Auxiliary) and it seems likely that he was involved in more of this activity. In fact it is distinctly implausible that he wasn’t involved in more of these actions. He was certainly involved in the destruction of Tubber R.I.C. barracks. He was criticised locally at the time for his perceived recklessness for breaking in the door in order to help destroy the empty station. It was feared that the building might have been mined by the retreating R.I.C. He also was involved in the guarding of a policeman, a local, who had come home on leave. The purpose of this was to persuade him to resign. This was unsuccessful. This refusal was then, of course, a security risk for the local I.R.A. but, despite this, the policeman wasn’t shot. This tactic had been successful in the same area. One policeman named Moran when home on leave went on to join the I.R.A. As the conflict escalated the level of violent activity that Volunteers were involved in and was directed at them spiraled. Graduating from previous activities Loughnane went on to take part in the Castledaly ambush near Gort on the 30th October 1920. The I.R.A. was under the command of Tom McInerney. During the Castledaly ambush an R.I.C. patrol consisting of a sergeant and four constables was attacked when it was about half way between Kilchreest and Peterswell. Constable Timothy Horan (60534) was killed and another policeman, Constable Keane, was seriously wounded. Constable Horan was forty years old and married with a young family. He had spent eighteen years in the R.I.C. He was a native of Kerry.
By the time of this ambush I.R.A. activity in Galway was being met by serious reprisals by members of the Crown Forces. These included burnings and the targeting of suspected republicans. In the sixteen weeks between the first instances of police reprisals in July 1920 and the reporting of the Castledaly ambush (inclusive) serious reprisals and breaches of discipline amongst Crown Forces in Galway were reported in twelve editions of the Connacht Tribune. The figure was likely to be higher as a result of the fear of what would happen if certain stories were followed too closely, a fear of attracting further negative police attention etc. A couple of days after the Castledaly ambush Mrs. Ellen Quinn, who was seven months pregnant and sitting outside the front of her house with a child on her lap, was shot in Kiltartan. She was shot from a passing police lorry. A messenger sent to fetch a doctor was also shot and wounded. Mrs. Quinn survived long enough to give a statement blaming the police for her death. The police responsible were defended by Sir Hamar Greenwood, the Chief Secretary, in the House of Commons: “it may be that the firing took place in anticipation of an ambush….the police and military had every right to anticipate ambushes and to prevent surprises.” As well as the murder of Ellen Quinn three houses were also burned to the ground near the ambush site as another unofficial reprisal.
With the release of the Witness Statements collected by the Bureau of Military History in the 1940s and 1950s the possibility of the Loughnanes being betrayed by an informer has arisen or has risen again. This suggestion has come from those statements collected from Clare rather than from Galway. There is no hint in the different statements in Galway as to who the informer was if there was such a person. The fact was that Pat was still sleeping at home, was obviously in touch with people outside of his immediate family to work at the threshing, must have borrowed or hired the threshing machine. He would have been extremely vulnerable to loose or malicious talk. It is also strange that the locating of an informer that had led to the brutal murder of two of its members would not be mentioned to the South Galway I.R.A. or that if it was mentioned that none of the I.R.A. men from South Galway interviewed by the Bureau would see fit to mention it. The man implicated and shot in Clare was an ex-soldier named John Reilly. He was, according to republican sources, a heavy drinker and a man who kept the company of the police. In Seán Murnane’s statement he states that Reilly was shot because he gave information leading to the murder of the Loughnanes but admits that he knew of no evidence against him and did not claim any intimate connection to the case. A local account of Reilly’s fate claims that he passed on information that the Loughnanes were to be home that he gleaned from a conversation with their father but their father seems to have been dead. It is possible this account made a mistake about the relation but that the rest of the story is accurate but it is also possible that the rest of the story is wrong or garbled. To be fair to the I.R.A. in East Clare they were far from trigger happy when it came to dealing with suspected informers. Only two were shot during the course of the conflict despite a large number being named as being suspected in a report from the post-truce period in the late summer of 1921. It also doesn’t imply a lack of contemporary evidence that the evidence hasn’t survived until the present day. The I.R.A. was a secret army, where much communication would have been carried out orally or where written communication would have been destroyed. The always limited evidence available from republican activists has to be viewed as a mixture of honesty, selective memories, mistakes, dishonesty and admirable discretion. Retrospectively, although the case against John Reilly seems implausible, it can’t be completely ruled out.
Before the raid on their farmstead Norah had had a vivid dream of Pat bleeding and battered. Despite being told of this Pat refused to leave. Rather than it being a case of being fool hardy or being lax in terms of his own personal security Pat seems to have been fully aware of the danger he, as an active I.R.A. man, was in. He refused to leave feeling that if he was absent that Harry would be in danger of being ill-treated. He also didn’t want to leave his mother alone. He may have felt that if he was absent that the family home would likely be burned but that if he was present that the Crown Forces would be more likely to direct any misbehaviour towards him. This seems possible but will never be known. If it is true it seems likely that his mother being a widow contributed to this decision. The raid itself that captured Pat and Harry occurred during the day. This may or may not be significant. It could have been a case of acting on a tip off and trying to arrest them while it was known where they were. It may also have been a case of raiding during the day on the assumption that as an active I.R.A. man Pat was likely to be sleeping away from home at night. It could also be the case that they just happened to raid at that time. On the day of the raid the Loughnanes were part of a meitheal threshing corn when a group of fourteen or fifteen Auxiliaries raided the farm. Tragically Pat had wanted to take a break but his mother had insisted on continuing with the work and finishing earlier. As a result of the noise of the machine the approach of the Auxiliaries lorry was not heard. Accompanying the Auxiliaries was a policeman, an old R.I.C. man, who had been stationed at Tubber. It was the policeman who picked the Loughnanes out. Pat was the first to be arrested and was taken to his house to get some clothes when he came out of the house his mother noticed that that there was blood on his jaw. They were asked were they Sinn Féiners or Volunteers which they confirmed. As well as taking away Pat and Harry a cousin of theirs named Healy was told to run for it by the Auxiliaries. When he did this they fired on him but he got away unscathed. When Pat was being led away one of the Auxiliaries told him to: “Bring with you the rifle you had at Castledaly.” After the Loughnanes were arrested the lorry then went to Tubber where a man named Carroll was arrested. Carroll was more fortunate than the Loughnanes. He was sent first to a temporary holding camp in Earl’s Island in Galway city. He was then sent on to Ballykinlar internment camp in County Down where he was to remain until just before Christmas 1921. The Loughnanes wouldn’t make it as far as Earl’s Island. They were taken to Gort R.I.C. barracks and taken from there to Drumharsna. Despite the intercession of a member of the R.I.C. named Doherty the Loughnanes were badly beaten while in custody. The Loughnane family were told that Harry and Pat had escaped out of the Auxiliary post at Drumharsna Castle along with other prisoners As part of this cover up the Loughnanes home was raided in order to search for the missing men. Despite the claims of the Auxiliaries eyewitnesses reported seeing men covered in blood stretched behind a lorry. It seems that they were made to run behind the lorry until they dropped and were then dragged. The bodies were partially burned and then dumped in a pond at Owenbristy near Ardrahan. The bodies of the Loughnanes were found on the 5th December. A cousin of the Loughnanes, Michael “Tully” Loughnane saw this in a dream. He saw Harry in a place that he recognised. Search parties had been out since it had been claimed that they had escaped. “Tully” and another man Michael O’Halloran went to the pond and found the remains. Accounts of their injuries vary with the more severe accounts of their injuries being recorded years later than at the time. While it is possible that with the passing of time that the damage done to the bodies became exaggerated in peoples minds. It is also possible that the extent of the injuries was underplayed at the time out of consideration for Mrs. Loughnane. Michael “Tully” Loughnane who found the bodies did describe Pat as so “battered, bruised and beaten that his face was not recognisable.” Which is severe enough but he downplayed the damage of the fire and claimed that Harry was recognisable and wasn’t as badly disfigured as Pat. The photographs of both bodies clearly show that there was no way that Harry was recognisable. The doctor who gave evidence also confirmed that the bodies were unrecognisable. He gave the cause of death as “laceration of the skull and the brain.” He also described the flesh hanging of the body of Pat and an injury to Harry’s arm. He described severe damage to their skull. Greaney alleged in his article that the letters IV were carved into the body and that Pats wrists and legs were broken. Another account states that Harry had lost two fingers, his right arm was broken and almost torn away from his body, nothing was left of his face except his chin and his lips. Pat was described as having diamond shaped carvings on his ribs and chest. Both of his arms were broken, his skull was fractured. Regardless of the specific injuries that they received the truth of the matter is that the Loughnanes were very brutally treated. Few atrocities of either the War of Independence or later the Civil War come close to matching the murders in terms of their sheer brutality.
After their discovery the bodies of the Loughnanes were moved to Dungora near Kinvara. There they were waked in a shed. The shed was owned by a republican family named Hynes. Two of this family, Michael and Willie, were active in the I.R.A. The Hynes family home had recently been burned. Photographs were taken of the bodies in their coffins. They are harrowing and are not easily forgotten. Not forgotten easily either are the horrified faces of the people around the coffins. The atmosphere in the shed while the bodies were being waked can only be guessed at. It was claimed afterwards that blood flowed from the wounds of the Loughnanes when they were taken out of the water, while they were being taken to be waked and while they were actually being waked. The bodies were then transferred to their home church of St. Anne’s, Shanaglish. There the coffins were draped with the tricolour and had the words I.R.A. on them. While the coffins were in the church there was a raid by two R.I.C. men, two Auxiliaries and two soldiers in the presence of a doctor. They opened the coffins and examined the bodies. The funeral took place. A two hundred yard long crowd followed the coffins to the local graveyard two hundred yards from the church. Three volleys of shots were fired over the graves. After the funerals a Military Inquiry was held in lieu of an inquest into the deaths of the Loughnanes. Mrs. Loughnane requested an adjournment until the family had employed a solicitor but this was refused. Apart from establishing an approximate time of death, about a week before the doctor examined them on December 7th the rest of the inquiry was an exercise in confirming the official version of their deaths in that they had escaped from the Auxiliary post in Ardrahan. Not surprisingly the Crown Forces never admitted their responsibility for the Loughnane murders.
The killings of Pat and Harry Loughnane were so vicious that it is hard to dismiss some sort of personal motive and Ó Fathaigh and McInerney may well be right to link their deaths with the killing of John Carr in the summer of 1919. It is also possible that the killing of the Loughnanes were the result of the actions of a sadist who was later transferred, dismissed, resigned or came under control and there may be no personal motive connected to the killings at all. There were elements of the Loughnane killings in other killings carried out by the Crown Forces in County Galway. In the killing of Father Michael Griffin his body was buried secretly.40 In the case of the killing of I.R.A. commandant Louis Darcy by Auxiliaries in March 1921 he was also dragged behind a lorry. I.R.A. commandant Michael Moran was tortured before being killed at Earl’s Island.
The killing of the Loughnanes was the only incident where all three elements were combined: severe ill-treatment in custody, dragging behind a lorry and the attempted disposal of the remains in order to cover up the crime. The fact that all elements were present makes these killings unique in a Galway context. The clumsy effort to dispose of the bodies may have been a protective measure to in order to protect the killers from internal discipline or from possible I.R.A. revenge attacks. Whatever the motives of the killers they were responsible for one of the most controversial incidents of County Galway during the entire revolutionary period 1916-1923.