Saturday, March 19, 2005

March 20th, 1920 - Lord Mayor of Cork Tomás MacCurtain is Murdered by Black and Tans

March 20th, 1920 - Lord Mayor of Cork Tomás MacCurtain is murdered in his home by the newly-arrived Black and Tans.

Tomás MacCurtain pictured with his wife and young family
in March, 1920, just a few days before his murder.

Tomás McCurtain was born on the March 20th, 1884 in a farmhouse in the village of Ballyknockane in County Cork. He was the 12th and last child of Patrick Curtin and Julia Sheehan. In school, he showed a keen interest in Irish history, poetry, music and archeology. When he was 13, Tomás moved to Cork City to live with his sister and attend the Christian Brothers North Monastery where he became an enthusiastic student of the Irish language.
When the struggle for Irish freedom began to gain momentum, Tomás didn't hesitate to get involved. By 1911, he was involved in Na Fianna Éireann, and in 1914 he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers. During the Easter Rising, MacCurtain was in command of the Volunteers in Cork, and although no fighting occurred in Cork during the Rising, he was arrested and imprisoned in England through 1917.
Upon his release, Tomás returned to Cork where, through mutual participation in the Gaelic League, he met Eilish Walsh. They married in June of 1918, settled in the Blackpool area of Cork City, and had six children, the first not surviving infancy.
In January of 1920, local elections were held in Cork and MacCurtain, running as a Sinn Féin candidate, succeeded in being elected Lord Mayor, becoming the first Republican to hold the office. The election did not sit well with everyone, however. On the 16th of March, MacCurtain received a letter in the post. It bore a cross with a cryptic message written beneath it: "Thomas MacCuratin - Prepare for Death. You are doomed."
In the early morning hours of March 20th, the Black and Tans, which had arrived in Ireland earlier that month, made good on this threat. Several men with blackened faces burst into the MacCurtain home. Two of the murderers rushed up the stairs and shot Tomás multiple times in his bed. As the killers fled, Mrs. MacCurtain ran out into the street, calling for help and for a priest. Tomás died after receiving the Last Rites.
The public was outraged by the murder, and the enormous turn-out at the funeral was testament to both the esteem in which Tomás was held by the community, and the anger and disgust that community felt towards his killers. On the 22nd of March, he was laid to rest at Finbarr's Church graveyard in a plot facing the main gate.

A memorial to Tomas MacCurtain outside Cork's City Hall.


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