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The Trial of Civilians by Military Courts: Ireland 1921


Seán Enright

When Martial Law was declared by Westminster in 1920, the courts and civil authorities came under military control. This book details many of the trials that took place under these conditions.


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ISBN: 9780716531333 Categories: ,


In December 1920 the Irish War of Independence hung in the balance.

The response of the government at Westminster was a declaration of Martial Law in the south and west of the country, placing the courts and civil authorities under the control of the army and converting a number of non-capital charges into offences punishable by death.

The army then set up its own courts to bring to trial and punish those who contravened martial law.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Part I
2. Martial Law – History and Law
3. Ireland 1920
4. The First Trial, Vernon Hart, Auxiliary Division, RIC
5. The Military Court – the set up – the officers who ran it – the regulations governing the military courts

Part II
6. Cornelius Murphy – the first execution.
7. John Allen – the legal challenge begins.
8. Dripsey Ambush – the trial – the legal challenge in Allen fails – six executions follow.
9. Mourne Abbey Ambush – the trial – the legal challenge.
10. Clonmult – the siege – 8 men captured – the trial – the legal challenge fails – 4 executions follow.
11. Patrick Casey (Ballybricken County Limerick) captured on 1st May. Tried and executed the next day.
12. Daniel O’Brien – captured on 11th May – tried on 14th May – executed on 16th May.
13. Clifford and Sullivan – capture and trial – a new legal challenge – the case goes to the Court of Appeal.
14. Thomas Keane – capture – trial and execution – the last execution following trial by military court – the executions stop at this point while the Lords decide the Clifford and Sullivan case.
15. JJ Egan – capture, trial and death sentence – a new legal challenge.
16. Egan v Macready – the House of Lords rule against the prisoners in Clifford and Sullivan but the decision of the Master of the Rolls favours the two prisoners in another case – Egan v Macready – a stand off between the High Court who order the release of the prisoners and the army who refuse to release – the Cabinet step in and order the release of the two prisoners – the two prisoners are released.

Part III – Trials not resulting in a concluded High Court challenge
17. Thomas Malone.
18. Gabbett and Fenton.
19. Rahanisky House – the trial of twelve men and one woman form Cork.
20. John McBride.
21. Kelleher and Keogh.
22. Denis Murphy – sentence to death commuted.
23. Patrick Coakley.
24. Laurence Medlar.
25. William MacNamara, John Hassett, John Coote and John Kearney.
26. John Duane.
27. Cunningham and Dennehy.
28. Michael Casey (Newmarket-on-Fergus).
29. Edward Punch and Timothy Murphy – both sentenced to death.
30. John O’Sullivan.
31. Jack Shine.
32. O’Connell and Cregan.
33. Mallow Barracks – six men tried for the murder of Sergeant Gibbs – five of the men sentenced to death.
34. John Moylan.
35. Patrick Loughlin.
36. Patrick Cronin – sentenced to death.
37. William Daly, Tim Keohane, Cornelius Driscoll & John Driscoll – all four sentenced to death.
38. Garyricken House – four men tried for levying war.
39. James O’Connell.
40. Patrick Higgins – sentenced to death.
41. Patrick Casey (Milford, County Cork) – sentenced to death.
42. Adam Jones.
43. Thomas Looby – sentenced to death.
44. Michael Purcell.
45. Michael O’Callaghan June 30th.
46. Waterfall – 23 men captured – one shot trying to escape – another shot the next day – the trial of the remaining – 22 men from Cork – one sentenced to death
47. Denis Driscoll – sentenced to death.
48. Frank Morgan, Thomas O’Connor, John O’Connor and Peter O’Connor – all four sentenced to death.
49. William Ryan.
50. Lieutenant Hanley Hunt, RNVR.
51. Father Noonan, Ballina.

Part IV
52. Analysis of trials by Military Court.
52. Postscript – the army plan a radical extension of the military courts if the truce fails – the Dail agree to the peace terms – the prisoners are released in the new year of 1922.

Appendix 1 – Proclamation of Martial Law 10th December 1920
Appendix 2 – Proclamation Number 1, 12th December 1920
Appendix 3 – Military Court Trials not traced


About the Author

Seán Enright is a Circuit Judge and the co-author, with James Morton, of Taking Liberties: The Jury in the 1990s (1991).


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