Civilian Bridget Noble (née Neill)

 

Civilian Bridget Noble (née Neill), (aged about 45) of Ardgroom Inward near Castletownbere (Eyeries district)

Date of incident: 4 March 1921 (abducted, executed, and disappeared as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: IT, 22 Aug. 1921; Richard Mulcahy Papers, P7/A/26 (UCDA); Report for Cork No. 5 Brigade HQ, sent to IRA GHQ, Dublin, dated 21 Oct. 1921, IRA Executions in 1921 (Military Archives, A/0649); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA); O’Halpin (2012), 154, 157 n. 30; Ó Ruairc (2016), 120.

 

Note: A resident of Kilcatherine parish in the Eyeries district, Noble was abducted and remained missing as of late August 1922. Her husband Alexander Noble of Grimsby (a cooper by trade) claimed compensation for her presumed death, which occurred under mysterious circumstances. Born in Scotland but settled by 1911 with his wife’s farming family in far West Cork, he was a British supporter. In a letter sent to Eamon de Valera and dated 8 September 1921, Alexander Noble stated that his wife Bridget had been ‘kidnapped between the village of Ardgroom and Castletownbere on the 4th day of March last’. He pointed out that he had been obliged to go to England in order to support her, and he bitterly complained, ‘It is not clean work to take away my lone defenceless wife.’ See Richard Mulcahy Papers, P7/A/26 (UCDA). Bridget Noble’s disappearance caused embarrassment to the IRA GHQ in Dublin, as there was an unwritten but fairly rigid IRA rule against killing women. The reasons for her trial and execution by the IRA became clear only later.

 

In response to a request from IRA GHQ in Dublin, the leaders of Cork No. 5 Brigade drafted a report dated 21 October 1921. This report pointed out that Bridget Noble had been seen by some of the men of C Company of the Castletownbere Battalion going into the local police barracks on four or five occasions and had been seen in conversation with a police sergeant in a private house on two occasions. At one point, after she had returned from a hospital visit, her hair was ‘bobbed’ or shorn, as a punishment ordered by the local IRA battalion. Subsequently, her house was searched (after a military raid) by order of the captain of the Ardgroom Volunteer Company, and in this search part of a letter from the RIC head constable in Castletownbere was found, along with five half-torn letters from other RIC members and two photographs of RIC men. The IRA had also received information that she had told the RIC that Liam Dwyer and Patrick Crowley were the men who had shot and mortally wounded William Lehane (alias William Lyons) as a land grabber on the night of 7-8 May 1920. After Bridget Noble had suffered the public indignity of the IRA’s bobbing of her hair, she went with her complaint into the local police barracks with another girl, Nora Sullivan.  When the IRA questioned Sullivan later, she revealed that Noble had submitted a letter to the local RIC head constable containing the names of seven Volunteers and stating that they had cut off her hair. On 4 March 1921, in another raid on her house, the IRA found a letter from the RIC head constable asking her to meet him in Castletownbere that evening. The IRA arrested Noble on the way to that meeting. The date of her arrest is given in the report as 4 March 1921; the date of her trial by the IRA as 13 March; and the date of her execution as 15 March. One of the men whose names had been revealed by Bridget Noble—Michael Sullivan—was arrested in May 1921 and interned by British forces. Another man, John Dwyer, who had been involved in bobbing Noble’s hair, had been arrested on 4 March 1921 and was later sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. According to the IRA report, Bridget Noble admitted that she was guilty of all charges; she was allegedly ‘fortified’ by the rites of the church before her execution. See Report for Cork No. 5 Brigade HQ, sent to IRA GHQ, Dublin, dated 21 Oct. 1921, IRA Executions in 1921 (Military Archives, A/0649).

 

Like her father (a farmer) and mother—John and Mary Neill of Ardgroom Inward (both aged 73 in 1911)—Bridget Noble was Catholic; so too was her husband Alexander. Bridget Noble and her husband may have inherited her father’s farm by 1921. The name of Brigid Noble appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 4 March 1921, with the notation ‘British supporter’, and with a note that compensation of £1,500 was awarded. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA).


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