Sordid murder of hurling brothers still resonates in south Galway

The Loughnanes from Shanaglish, who hurled for Beagh, lost their lives 100 years ago

"Sometimes I've had dreams about the Loughnane brothers," says Martina Blackwell, standing in the gentle glow of the turf fire in the stone-cut Loughnane forge in Shanaglish.

It's a faithfully restored museum piece on the edge of the village in the deep-set interior of south Galway. The place is only a few miles from Gort but it feels decades removed, too.

Step outside the door of the forge and turn left and you immediately see the former Loughnane house, a sturdy, unyielding home set into the hill and facing the church. The census of 1901 had 11 occupants living there: Michael and Katie, their six boys and three girls. A century later, not one Loughnane remains in the village. But in a way, the family has never left.

Thursday, November 26th marked the 100th anniversary of the winter's day that two of the Loughnane boys, Pat, then 29, and Henry (Harry, 22) were plucked from the field where they were working by an arriving lorry of Auxiliaries from Galway's notorious D company of the RIC.


Both the Loughnanes were prominent hurlers for Beagh, the parish club; Pat a stern and imposing full back and his younger brother behind him in goal. And both were in the IRA.

The crown forces were on the move that day, searching for suspects involved in an October ambush in Castledaly during which a policeman had been killed. The Loughnanes were using the thresher, squeezing the last light out of a temperate November afternoon and failed to hear the soldiers’ trucks approaching.

They were lifted. They vanished. Officially, they were reported to have escaped from the barracks. Their mother Katie, a widow by 1920, was distraught. Nora, their sister, led a search which was concerted and troubling and her enquiries were met with blank indifference from the authorities.

It’s half a miracle that the Loughnanes were ever found and their discovery has become one of the bleaker folk tales of these borderlands. A cousin, Michael ‘Tully’ Loughnane, had a vision that they were lying in a pond he knew of.

He told the others he saw them there in a dream. And he cycled over to Umbriste, near Kinvara. And there his cousins lay, submerged in water upon which oil had been spilled in order to obscure them. It was only when the bodies were retrieved that the full horror became apparent.

"I was about 12 when I first heard about it," says Paddy Joe Roseingrave.

“I would hear my dad talking about it. We had an Irish teacher who would talk about those times. I am 87 now and I will tell you; it would never leave your mind. Once you learn the history of what happened. I knew Hugh, their brother, who came home from London to look after the farm afterwards. But I never heard him speak about it. Even up in the shop and lads would have a few drinks and bring down subjects they wouldn’t normally bring down until there would be a few drinks. He never spoke about it. A delicate subject. What happened was . . . terrible.”

Nationalistic seam

In 1920, Ireland was shrouded in fear and resentment and episodes of horrendous violence. And that November was wild in Galway. On the first of the month Eileen Quinn, a young woman from Kiltartan near Gort, was shot outside her house holding her infant: it was essentially a drive-by shooting. She died hours later.

On November 14th Fr Michael Griffin was taken from his home on Montpellier Terrace in Galway city for questioning on his republican sympathies. His body was found in a bog in Barna a week later.

The events of Bloody Sunday had happened just five days before the Loughnanes were taken. And there was a strong nationalistic seam running through this part of the county. Hurling had a rich history in the area: the earliest Beagh hurler recorded was William O’Shaughnessy, dating back to the 17th century.

The arrival of Michael Cusack as a teacher in Lough Cutra national school helped to deepen his interest in hurling: he was present for the earliest recorded account of a hurling game in the community, between Beagh and Kilbeacanty in 1870, played in Peggy's field.

"I think because of the level of violence and because they were prominent hurlers, it was remembered

The Clare Journal records Cusack applauding enthusiastically and declaring at the interval: “I hope you will see the day when the young men of Ireland will carry rifles on their shoulders instead of hurleys.”

There was a Beagh contingent among the Galway selection in Dublin to play an inter-county game against a north Tipperary selection organised by Cusack to publicise the fledgling GAA in 1886.

But it wasn’t until the 1910s that hurling in Beagh fully took root. In September 1920, the Beagh team were due to play Craughwell in Ardrahan. Pat Loughnane was captain. They arrived to find several homes had been burnt out by the Black and Tans. The game was suspended and the teams returned home; as it turned out, it was the Loughnanes’ last involvement with the club.

“The brothers might have been a bit better known because of hurling and they weren’t as cute as some of the others who went on the run,” says historian and author Dr Conor McNamara, who gave the annual memorial talk at the forge in 2019.

“Someone was going to get caught at some stage and they happened to be the unlucky ones.”

Pat, in particular, stood out as a force of nature. In Brian Greaney’s account of the killings, written in 1955, the older brother is described as “tall, handsome and powerfully built and as fine a hurler as could be found in Galway or Clare, and of such a winning personality that he was unanimously selected as the leader of every activity in the parish”.

Macabre image

It’s clear the Auxiliaries knew who they were looking for that afternoon.

Fourteen neighbours were helping the Loughnanes with the threshing.

Robert Glynn, who owned the machine, fled through the fields but recalls in Beagh: A History and Heritage (edited by Marie McNamara and Maura Madden) his brother Pete telling him: "They lined us all up against a wall and a policeman who had been stationed in Tubber went around us with the auxies and picked out Pat and Harry Loughnane. Once they had them they didn't bother with anyone else and didn't go into the house."

It was the night of December 4th when Tully Loughnane had his dream and he made his discovery the following morning, a Sunday. By the time the brothers’ bodies had been transported back to Shanaglish, it was apparent that they put through unimaginable bouts of torture by their captors.

They were tied behind the truck and made to run until exhausted, after which they were dragged. Fingers were missing. They had been shot. Their limbs were smashed. Grenades had been placed in their mouths and detonated. Their bodies were burnt. The initials IV (Irish Volunteers) had been cut into their charred skin. Tomás O’hEighin, a local Irish teacher, got hold of a camera and took the photographs of their brothers in the coffins and captured what is surely the most disturbing and macabre image of the entire War of Independence.

“What happened to the Loughnanes is redolent of psychotic violence on the part of the people who did it,” says Conor McNamara.

“ Other people were killed during that time and completely forgotten. It is a recurring theme. There are only a small few that are remembered. But the Loughnanes are. And I think that is because of the extent of the horror but also, I am convinced the photograph had a lot to do with it. Because without it, historians would be quick to dismiss the evidence as folklore.

“The coroner submitted the death certificate seven months later and doesn’t mention the burning of the bodies or chopping off the fingers. So [that was] the level of collaboration going on with the crown forces putting pressure on the doctors involved.”

By the time of the funeral, very few local mourners were aware of the barbaric nature of their deaths. Fr John Nagle, the parish priest who had served with the British forces in the Boer War, was determined that the truth of what had happened be known and having recited his prayers, he laid out the details in unflinching language. Nothing he had seen in service, he said, remotely compared to this.

“The three guys that I narrowed down as responsible from the Auxiliaries: they are all promoted,” says McNamara.

“One dies later in Iraq serving in Mesopotamia, as it was. The other guy retires to South Africa and dies in Durban. The other guy is a Welsh speaker and dies in north Wales. The guy in charge was promoted to the depot in Dublin.

"I think because of the level of violence and because they were prominent hurlers, it was remembered. When you put anything out about it, it's surprising how many people know of this. For instance, Dan Barry of the New York Times has mentioned it; his parents were from that part of the world and he said he grew up hearing stories about the Loughnane brothers."

More vivid

When Tony Diviney was a boy, he remembers being impressed by the show of the Tulla pipe band that would parade through the village during the annual remembrance for the brothers. Most of the family had dispersed by then: Nora left schoolteaching and became a nun and worked abroad. Tully Loughnane left for America.

Diviney is a local historian and led the effort to restore the forge, which had fallen into disrepair in the later decades of the 20th century. The strange thing about the Loughnane atrocity is that time seems to have made it more vivid rather than cause it to fade out.

“People were bitter when they did talk about it,” says Diviney.

Hugh Loughnane lived in the family home until his death in the 1980s. After that, the family name was carried on through word of mouth. When Diviney and the others decided to restore the forge, they sought permission to do so.

“Their nearest relations are in America,” Diviney says.

“We wrote to them to ask if we could restore the forge because they still owned the land at that time. They gave us the right to be trustees. They do come back from time to time. One came back here to be married a few years ago. We showed them the forge and put down the fire here and we actually toasted them with a bottle of poitín . . . which is different.”

In the immediate aftermath of the atrocity, the hurling team in Beagh simply ceased to function. There was the practical fact of having suddenly lost both goalkeeper and full back. But the trauma of the knowledge of what had happened the brothers must have been a contributing factor. The absence of the Loughnanes would have taken whatever away whatever joy and fun was to be gleaned from those outings.

The residual power of the story meant that it travelled through generations even as other events of the 1920s receded. Eamon Healy is now a genealogist based in Dublin but grew up in Beagh in the 1990s and had written about the Loughnane brothers. The version passed down to his generation spared the worst of the horror; he was an adult before he ever saw the photograph.

“Something I didn’t realise at the time but there were a lot of atrocities in south Galway at the time. It was very much our story. People spoke about the younger brother Harry in a very sympathetic light because he had been quite sick as a child and wasn’t as involved in the nationalist cause as his older brother and there was almost an element that he was almost innocent.”

On the phone, our conversation turns to the enduring emotional attachment in the community to the Loughnane brothers and how, to an outsider, it might seem unusual.

“I think that they were both involved with the hurling club, both relatively young men coming into their prime and I suppose everyone going to mass passed the ancestral home place on a daily basis. So it was never going to be easily forgotten,” Healy points out.

“Hugh was involved in the forge and people were passing by where the brothers were abducted or taken. And the impact it had on the hurling club. It had a big impact on it. It does really speak to the impact it had on the psyche because it was 80 years after the event that I heard about it.”

Country communities

And maybe one of the reasons why Shanaglish continues to preserve the memory of their former hurlers is that what happened seems literally unbelievable. The shocking photographs are there to be seen but are hard to fathom. And in Shanaglish, the overwhelming atmosphere is of peacefulness. It’s not the kind of place you can imagine being visited by violence of this nature. It’s like a thousand other small country communities in Ireland; fastidious in its observations of courtesies and manners, customs that have changed little in 100 years.

As we stand in the forge, pleasantly warm now, Paddy Joe Roseingrave recites again the terrible hour leading up the arrest of the Loughnanes;ow the gang of workers was set to take a break and Mrs Loughnane suggested they work on for half an hour before light failed so they could enjoy their tea. We listen to his clear voice. Roseingrave was born just 13 years after the atrocity. And now his grandson is in school preparing an essay on the Loughnanes.

It is important to remember who the Loughnanes were – and how they suffered

The interest from local kids has been one of the most pleasing things for the local committee. And the more you listen to Tony and Martina and Paddy Joe speaking, the more it becomes clear that preserving their memory is a way of honouring the silent generation, their parents and grandparents who stoically absorbed the traumas of the violent years. It’s a theme Conor McNamara has encountered again and again in his studies: only the later generations can revisit the worst events of dramatic times.

“ My mother often said that her father knew the Loughnanes and he was active in those times,” Martina Blackwell says.

“But after that, he never spoke about it. He never told my mother anything . She heard about what happened from a local person who was visiting. And I would say there were many, many more like my grandfather who never spoke about it. But it is since coming here to the commemorations and hearing the speaking and the story being rehearsed and told each time, it hits home more and more. And now here we are, 100 years on. And I think it is important to remember who the Loughnanes were – and how they suffered.”

Outside the forge, Shanaglish is incredibly quiet; that intense country quietness amplified by lockdown. The local kids are still in school. There is no threshing machine going; you’d easily hear the engine of an approaching truck from a mile away.