President condemns IRA War of Independence execution

Execution of Mary Lindsay and her driver was an act of “exceptional cruelty”

President Michael D Higgins described the shooting of an elderly woman during the War of Independence by the IRA as an act of “exceptional cruelty”. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins has said the shooting of an elderly woman during the War of Independence by the IRA was an act of "exceptional cruelty".

Mary Lindsay (60) and her chauffeur James Clarke (50) were executed by the IRA in March 1921 and buried in an unmarked grave. Their bodies were never recovered.

Mrs Lindsay's crime in the eyes of the local IRA was informing on a planned IRA ambush at Godfrey's Cross, between the villages of Coachford and Dripsey.

She had heard about the proposed ambush from a local grocer who told her not to take the road through Dripsey to Ballincollig because a company of IRA men were hiding out in anticipation of the military passing that way on the morning of January 28th, 1921.


She not only informed the military in Ballincollig Barracks, but also told the local parish priest Fr Ned Shinnick, who had made an enemy of himself among local republicans by repeatedly denouncing the IRA from the altar.

Shinnick in turn informed the local IRA commander Frank Busteed, but his warning was not heeded.

Consequently the ambush party were taken by surprise when a detachment from the Manchester Regiment arrived on the scene as darkness was falling on the afternoon of January 28th.

Eight IRA men were captured. Five of them were executed – Daniel O’Callaghan, Patrick O’Mahony, Timothy McCarthy, and Thomas O’Brien.

In revenge Lindsay and Clarke were executed, most likely by Busteed himself.

Speaking during the third and final of his Machnamh series of lectures , President Higgins said it was “important it is to be unequivocal in condemnation of such horrific violence, of not allowing a particle or any strut of heroism to be attached to such a perpetration of not only the ending of a life, but the doing so in a way of exceptional cruelty, one that included the denial of a place of burial”.

The third in the Machnamh series, entitled Recovering Imagined Futures, is discussing the issues of social class, land and the role of women, as they relate to the events of 100 years ago.

In his address, Land, Social Class, Gender and the Sources of Violence, President Higgins praised the work of many historians who had been writing about violence against women in the revolutionary period.

He said the early Irish State ignored the feminist rhetoric of the early revolution and left women as “second-class citizens”.

The present generation of women have experienced some gains in terms of rights, but previous one were subject to an “often cruel and frequently harsh” struggle.

“Gradations of such violence included the control of women over their bodies, the legacy of which lingered on shamefully into modern times, manifesting in the form of Mother and Baby Homes, forced adoptions, ‘marriage bars’ and unequal participation in many aspects of society, including participation in juries in the courts,” President Higgins added.

Speaking at the conference, Professor Linda Connolly said there were multiple examples of violence against women, which included rape, sexual assault and the practice of hair shorning, but they were excised from Irish history for decades.

The number of women who died in the revolution was far fewer than men, but many bore lifelong physical and mental scars of being attacked.

“The more common outcome for women severely impacted by the violence of the Irish revolution, however, was life altering, rather than life taking, through death by combat,” she said.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times