Remembering Thomas Mac Curtain
The Mayor of Cork was murdered by the RIC this day in 1920.
Thomas Curtin was born at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey, County Cork, on March 20th 1884, the son of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan. He attended Burnfort National School. In 1897 the family moved to Cork City, where he attended the North Monastery School.
Mac Curtain, as he would later be known, was active in many cultural and political movements beginning around the turn of the 20th century.
Mac Curtain joined the Blackpool, Cork branch of Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League), becoming its secretary in 1902. He had interests in music, poetry, history, archaeology and Irish history.
Mac Curtain worked in his early career as a clerk, and in his free time teaching Irish. In 1911 he joined Fianna Éireann and was a member of the Irish Volunteers.
He met Elizabeth Walsh (Eibhlís Breathnach) at a Gaelic League meeting, and they married on June 28th 1908. They had six children, five of whom survived into adulthood. The family lived over number 40 Thomas Davis Street, where Mac Curtain ran a small clothing and rainwear factory.
During the 1916 rising Mac Curtain commanded 1,000 men who assembled at various locations all around Cork waiting on instructions from their officers based in their HQ at Sheares Street in Cork City.
But because of conflicting reports coming from Dublin, the volunteers in Cork never entered the fray, and the British surrounded the HQ which resulted in a tense standoff lasting a week with a negotiated surrender of the volunteer arms.
The British unsurprisingly reneged on the agreement, and Mac Curtain was jailed in Wakefield, in the former Frongoch Prisoner of War camp in Wales, and Reading.
After the general amnesty of participants in the Rising eighteen months later Mac Curtain returned to active duty as a Commandant of what was now the Irish Republican Army.
By 1918 Mac Curtain was a brigade commander - the highest and most important rank in the IRA. GHQ carried out a radical restructuring. In County Cork, for example, three brigades were created with set boundaries.
In January 1919 the Tan war started, and Mac Curtain became an officer in the IRA. He was personally involved with Collins Squad that with a Cork battalion attempted to assassinate Lord French in Dublin, whose car was missed as the convoy passed through the ambush positions.
Mac Curtain was elected in the January 1920 council elections as the Sinn Féin councillor for NW Ward No. 3 of Cork and was chosen by his fellow councillors to be the Lord Mayor. He began a process of political reform within the city.
The crown forces began a campaign of targeting elected Republican officials, as Lord Mayor of Cork Mac Curtain was a prime target.
On March 20th 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain was shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of men with blackened faces, who were found to be members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by the official inquest into the event.
The coroner's inquest passed a verdict of willful murder against British Prime Minister Lloyd George and individual members of the RIC. Michael Collins later ordered his squad of assassins to uncover and assassinate the police officers involved in the attack.
RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the attack, was fatally shot, with Mac Curtain's revolver, while leaving a church in Lisburn, County Antrim on August 22nd 1920, sparking a pogrom against the Catholic residents of the town.
Mac Curtain was buried in St. Finbarr's Cemetery, Cork. His successor to the position of Lord Mayor, Terence MacSwiney, died while on hunger strike in Brixton prison, London.
Mac Curtain's son, Tomás Óg (junior) (1915–1994) later became a leading Republican and member of the IRA Executive. In 1940, he was sentenced to death by the De Valera government for shooting and wounding a Garda, but he was granted clemency and released after seven years.