Recognising the contribution of police who fell in the 1916 fighting

17 policemen were killed in Ireland in 1916 and, for the first time, they have been collectively remembered in a national memorial.

By Jim Herlihy


Jim Herlihy with a wreath for Police killed in the Easter Rising at the memorial wall in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

The inclusion of 17 policemen killed at Easter 1916 on the new Remembrance Wall at Glasnevin Cemetery goes a long way to recognising their contribution.


It is the first time they have been collectively remembered in a national memorial.

The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) was the armed police force of the island of Ireland under British rule from 1814 until 1922 and incorporated the Peace Preservation Force from 1814 to 1922, the County Constabulary from 1822 to 1836, and the Irish Constabulary from 1836 until 1867, when it was granted the prefix ‘Royal’ in 1867 for the successful suppression of the Fenian Rising.

A separate unarmed civic police force, the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) controlled the capital and its environs, and the cities of Belfast and Derry originally had their own police forces which were incorporated into the RIC.

Between 1836 and 1925 a total of 21 members of the DMP were killed on duty, three of whom were killed during the Easter Rising. During the War of Independence in 1919 to 1921, 535 members of the RIC and 10 members of the DMP were killed on duty.


RIC Police


Of the 17 policemen killed inIreland in 1916, four were killed in Dublin, including the following unarmed members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police:

  • Constable James O’Brien, born in Co Limerick, 1868. Shot dead on Easter Monday, April 24, at the Cork Hill entrance to Dublin Castle by Sean Connolly, Irish Citizen Army;
  • Constable Michael Lahiff, born in Co Clare, 1887. Shot three times in St Stephen’s Green on Easter Monday, April 24, and died in Meath hospital. He is believed to have been shot by Constance Markievicz, Irish Citizen Army, but the evidence of this has been contested;
  • Constable William Frith, born in Co Offaly, 1877. Wounded in the head on Thursday, April 27, in a bedroom at Store Street police station and died on Friday, April 28;
  • Constable Christopher Millar, born in Co Limerick, 1886. He was the only RIC casualty to die in Dublin. He was stationed in Belfast but was undergoing a course of instruction at Portobello Barracks, Dublin. He was shot dead during a military assault on the rebel post of the South Dublin Union on Thursday, April 27.


Outside of Dublin the biggest engagement with the police was on Friday, April 28, 1916, in an ambush by Irish Volunteers at Ashbourne, Co Meath, which resulted in the deaths of the following eight members of the RIC:

  • District Inspector Harry Smyth, born 1874, Hertfordshire. He was posthumously awarded the Constabulary Medal (Ireland), which is the equivalent of a police Victoria Cross. [Photo of headstone – poor quality] ;
  • Sergeant John Shanagher, born 1868, Co Roscommon;
  • Sergeant John Young, born 1873, Co Cavan;
  • Constable James Cleary, born 1888, Co Galway;
  • Constable James Gormley, born 1891, Co Sligo;
  • Constable James Hickey, born 1867, Co Kilkenny;
  • Constable Richard McHale, born 1894, Co Galway;
  • County Inspector Alexander Gray, born 1858, Co Tyrone. He was the most senior police officer casualty. He was severely wounded at Ashbourne and died of his wounds on May 10, 1916, at Navan Hospital.


The other incidents resulting in the loss of police lives were in counties Louth, Galway, Tipperary, and Cork:

  • Constable Charles McGee, born 1892, Co Donegal, was shot dead on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, in Castlebellingham, Co Louth, after being captured by the rebels;
  • Constable Patrick Whelan, born 1882, Co Kilkenny. Fatally shot in an exchange of fire between an RIC patrol and Irish Volunteers rebels on Wednesday, April 26, at Carnmore Cross, Co Galway;
  • On April 26, Constable John Hurley, born 1892, Co Cork, was shot dead and Sergeant Thomas Felix Rourke, born 1873, Co Cork, was wounded, and died of his wounds on Thursday, April 27. They were shot by Irish Volunteer Michael O’Callaghan (1887-1962) when they surrounded a house at Kilross, Lisvernane, Co Tipperary;
  • Head Constable William N Rowe, born 1867, Co Wexford. Shot dead on May 2, 1916 in exchange of gunfire at Bawnard House, Coole Lower, Castlelyons, Co Cork, while attempting to arrest Irish Volunteer brothers Thomas and Richard Kent. This incident also resulted in the death of Richard Kent, when he tried to escape, and the execution of Thomas Kent, being the only execution in Ireland outside of Dublin. Thomas Kent was given a State funeral in September 2015 and reburied in the family grave in Castlelyons, Co. Cork.


Collectively, no memorial exists to the memory of policemen killed in the island of Ireland before the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922.


The Irish Police and Constabulary Recognition Fund in 1917 provided funding for the provision of headstones for the following Easter Rising police casualties: DMP Constables James O’Brien (in Kilfergus, Co. Limerick), Michael Lahiff (Glasnevin, Dublin), William Frith (Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross Dublin) and Christopher Millar (St. John’s Hospital Cemetery, Kilmainham, Dublin).

RIC Head Constable William N. Rowe (Castlehyde Church of Ireland Cemetery, Co. Cork), Sergeant Thomas Felix Rourke (Clonbeg Church of Ireland Cemetery, Glen of Aherlow), Constables Charles McGee (Gortahork, Co. Donegal), Patrick Whelan (Bohermore, Galway), John Hurley (St. Finian’s, Castletownbere, Co. Cork), Sergeant John Young and Constables James Gormley, James Hickey, and Richard McHale (all four in St. Mary’s, Navan).

RIC Sgt John Shanagher is buried in an unmarked family grave in Killine, Co Roscommon. Constable James Cleary is buried in an unmarked grave in Tuam, Co Galway. District Inspector Harry Smyth is buried in the family plot in Ardbraccan Cemetery, Navan, Co. Meath.

County Inspector Alexander Gray is buried in Esker Cemetery, Lucan, Co. Dublin. A widower at the time of his death and without children may be the reason his grave is unattended with an almost indecipherable, deeply moving inscription. It reads: “In loving memory of Madge, the beautiful sweet loving wife of A. Gray, DI RIC, who fell asleep 30 April 1901, aged 26 years, ‘Sweet promptness unto kindest deeds were in her very look, we read her face as one who reads a true and holy book,’ also the above named Alexander Gray, CI RIC, aged 57 years, who died on May 10th, 1916 from wounds received in the Ashbourne fight.”


Upcoming Irish police-related commemorations:

Sunday, April 24: At the Cork Hill entrance of Dublin Castle, a wreath will be laid in memory of DMP Constable James O’Brien, killed there on the same date, Easter Monday, in 1916.

Tuesday, April 26, 10am: At Carnmore Cross, Co Galway, a commemorative stone will be unveiled at the site of the engagement of the Castlegar and Claregalway Volunteers and the RIC, which resulted in the death of Constable Patrick Whelan on the same date in 1916. It will be followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of Patrick Whelan in Bohermore Cemetery, Galway.


Jim Herlihy is a retired garda, founder member of The Garda Siochána Historical Society, and the Harp (Historical & Reconciliatory Police), founded in 2013 with the main objective of having a national memorial erected in remembrance of all RIC & DMP men killed on duty — A revised and updated edition of Jim Herlihy’s The Royal Irish Constabulary: A short history and genealogical guide is due from Four Courts Press in June

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