Inspector John Mills became the first crown forces fatality since the Easter Rising after he was struck with a hurley by a member of Na Fianna Éireann outside the burnt out shell of Liberty Hall on 10 June 1917.
Born in 1866, Millis from Dysart, Co. Westmeath, joined the Dublin Metropolitan Police at the age of 20. He was promoted to Sergeant in 1901 to Station Sergeant in 1908 and finally to Inspector in 1916. In 1911, the family were living at 47 Leinster Street just off the Phibsboro Road as you come to Cross Guns Bridge (formerly Westmoreland Bridge). John and his Kilkenny-born wife Margaret lived with their three children – Florence (13), Ralph (8) and Hilda (6) – who were all in school. Teresa Gangan (22), a Book Keeper from Meath, and Donnchadh O’Duighneáin (29), a Civil Servant from Cork, were boarders in the Mills home. (It is interesting to note that this Protestant DMP Inspector was happy to let a boarder stay in his house who was a fluent Irish speaker and who spelt his name in Gaelic) On 10 June 1917, Cathal Brugha and Count Plunkett led a group of around 2,000 Sinn Féin supporters into Beresford Place for a meeting called to protest against the detention and treatment of Easter Rising volunteers in Lewes Jail in East Essex, England. As Brugha began to address the crowd, Inspector John Mills and a detail of officers approached and declared the meeting illegal. Brugha and Plunkett ignored the order and scuffles broke out. The police attacked the crowd with batons and the two speakers were arrested.
As Mills was escorting Brugha and Plunket to nearby Store Street Police Station, sections of the crowd tried to break the men free. In the struggle, Mills was hit over the head with a hurley. This one blow proved fatal and he later died from his wounds in hospital. A number of Bureau of Military History (BMH) Witness Statements (WS) refer to the assailant as a member of Na Fianna Éireann and of the so-called Surrey House clique. This was the term given to a number of Fianna boys who used to meet regularly at Countess Markievicz’s house in Leinster Road, Rathmines. Seamus Pounch of Na Fianna Éireann who fought in Jacobs Biscuit Factory during the Easter Rising and was later Brigade Adjutant of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA was there on that day in Beresford Place. He wrote in his Witness Statement (no. 294) that:
The escape of the striker was covered by a companion who had an automatic to keep the police at a safe distance; one policeman who was gaining on them in Abbey Street would have met a serious accident only he fell at the sight of the gun and it had jammed.
The bloody conflict of the 1913 lockout that occurred only four years previously was still on the mind of Seamus Pounch when he wrote his account in the late 1940s:
This (action) avenged the death of our comrade killed by by a blow of a police baton in the 1913 strike riots. This lad was kept in hiding amongst the clique and defied all attempts of arrest, and even big police rewards posted around the country had no results.
A number of female Republicans were asked to help the hide the boy from the authorities. Maeve Cavanagh of the Irish Citizen Army recalls in her Witness Statement (no. 258) that she was
asked to take charge of a wanted man, and bring him to another house. We did all we could do to alter his appearance and I brought him safely to the house. He was never got. Of course murder was never intended at all. It was a blow struck in the heat of a fight.
Others recalled that the boy’s blow was not meant to kill. Rose McNamara of Cumann na mBan in Witness Statement (no. 482) said:
We knew the lad who dealt the blow. He had no intention of killing the Inspector and we prayed hard that he would not be caught and he was not.
Another woman who helped the boy get safely to America was Aine Ceant (widow of Eamon) of Sinn Fein and Cumann na mBan. She wrote in her Witness Statement (no. 264) that her:
… sister Lily arrived home and told me about the incident. She had scarcely taken her tea when a message came that she was wanted to take charge of the Fianna boy who did this deed, and that she was to bring him to a place of safety. Lily O’Brennan went, took charge of the Fianna boy, linked him along and discovered to her horror that she was well acquainted with him, which would have put her in an awkward position, had she been called to give evidence of the incident. The boy was subsequently got away to America.
Garry Holohan (WS no. 336) names the boy who struck Inspector Mills as ‘Eamon Murray’. I thought initially that this was the same person known as ‘Ernie Murray’, listed as Company Commander of No. 3 Company (Inchicore area) of Na Fianna in the August 1915 to April 1916 period, but I don’t think this is the case now. See below for more details. Seamus Reader (IRB and Na Fianna Glasgow) recalled in his Witness Statement (no. 627) that Eamon Murray came over to Scotland with a number of Dublin Na Fianna boys in late 1915 to help their counterparts over there organise some a raid. In January 1916, Murray and Seamus Reader (no. 1767) traveled to Glasgow on a gun-running trip. They returned to Dublin via Belfast with 10 revolvers, 100 rounds of ammuntion 100 detonators, 20 feet of fuse and 7 lbs. of explosives. During the Easter Rising, Murray was one of 30-40 people who took part in the Magazine Fort attack. After the killing of Mills in June 1917 and before he was sent to America, Murray was hid briefly in Countess Markievicz’s house in Leinster Road, Rathmines.
When she was arrested, he was taken into the care of Miss Dulcibella Barton (no. 936) at her house in Annamoe, County Wicklow. Here, he slept in “a summer house in the Garden as the house was full”. However he got appendicitis but recovered to full health and then was able to make his way to America. Murray was sheltered in America until the Truce in 1921 . He then returned to Ireland and fought with the anti-Treaty IRA during the Civil War. Garry Holohan states that he then joined the “Civic Guards” (Garda Síochána) which seems odd as only a few years had passed since he had killed a police officer. I assume a number of Inspector Mill’s colleague’s would been in the ranks of the Garda Síochána at this stage which would have certainly made things awkward. Murray then “lost his reason” according to Holohan and at the time of writing his statement in 1950, he noted that Murray was currently a patient of Grangegorman Hospital. This is where the trail ends. During my research, I did come across a journalist named Ernie Murray who was involved in the Na Fianna and died in 1973. See obituary below:
This doesn’t sound like a man who suffered some sort of mental brekadown sometime in the 1930s or 1940s and was an inmate of St. Brendan’s psychiatric hospital in Grangegorman. by 1950. So it looks likely in fact that Eamon Murray and Ernie Murray were both separate volunteers with Na Fianna in Dublin in the same period. If you have anymore information on Eamon Murray or photographs of either himself or Inspector John Mills, please get in touch.