Laois, Easter 1916: ‘He was fond of the booze’ – IRA man who fired first shot sacked over drinking

The Revolution Files: IRA officer Patrick Ramsbottom also led the column which carried out the first military operation of the insurrection told pensions committee: 'I was drinking at the time, that is about the size of it'

County: Laois
Incident: A shooting at Colt Wood, Portlaoise
Date: Easter Sunday, 1916

The man generally credited with firing the first shot of the Easter Rising surrendered his command because of his drinking.

Patrick Ramsbottom fired a warning shot at a man who had disturbed their plans to sabotage the railway link between Waterford and Dublin in order to prevent troop reinforcements arriving from Rosslare.

The action happened at 7pm on Easter Sunday, 1916, near Colt Wood outside Portlaoise. It was carried out by men from the Portlaoise company of the Irish Volunteers, who removed 60 yards of tracks, derailing an oncoming train.


In his witness statement to the military pensions bureau, Ramsbottom stated: “I claim that I fired the first shot in the Easter week insurrection and also that I was o/c [officer commanding] of the column which carried out the first military operation of the insurrection.”

During the War of Independence Ramsbottom was on protection duty for Kevin O'Higgins, from Stradbally, who was Dáil Éireann loan director.

At the time, Ramsbottom was also officer commanding of the Leix (Laois) Brigade of the IRA and was involved in the burning of several RIC barracks in the county.

He stopped being officer commanding in August 1920. “I was drinking at the time, that is about the size of it,” he told the committee adjudicating on his pension claim.

A witness statement from Thomas Brady, the vice commandant of the Laois Brigade, confirmed that Ramsbottom had been sacked because he was drinking too much. "He was a bit fond of the booze," he revealed.

In 1936, Ramsbottom, who became a garda, pleaded with the advisory committee to issue him a pension saying he needed to buy a home for himself and his family. He did not receive a pension until 1949, when he was granted an award of £53.1/11 a year.

The county was relatively quiet during the War of Independence. Much activity there centred on its geographical status, especially as the main rail and road links from Dublin to Cork and Limerick pass through what was then known as Queen’s County.

The 1st battalion of the Laois brigade recorded that during the war the “upkeep of lines of communications was all-important”.

As the main roads to the south passed through the area, “all companies were continuously engaged during the whole of the above period in demolishing every bridge possible and in trenching all main roads and block them with fallen trees, rendering them at times impassible”.

See also: