Published in the 'Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook. Easter, 1916.' compiled by the "Weekly Irish Times," Dublin.
A Courtmartial assembled on Friday, 9th June, at Richmond Barracks, Dublin, for the purpose of trying four young men on a charge of killing a police constable of the R.I.C. at Castlebellingham on Easter Monday, and attempting to kill a military officer. Major General Lord Cheylesmore, K.C.V.O., presided, and the Court consisted of twelve other officers. Mr. Kenneth Marshall acted as Judge Advocate.
The accused were:
John McEntee, electrical engineer. Belfast.
Frank Martin, house painter, Dublin.
Denis Leahy, labourer, Dundalk.
James Sally, coach painter, Dundalk.
The first charge against them was: "Doing an act of such a nature as to be calculated to be prejudicial to the public safety and the Defence of the Realm, with the intention of, and for the purpose of, assisting the enemy, in that they, near Castlebellingham, Co. Louth, on the 24th April, 1916, whilst engaged in armed rebellion and the waging of war against His Majesty the King, feloniously and of their malice aforethought, did kill and murder Constable McGee of the Royal Irish Constabulary." The second charge against them was: "Doing an act of such a nature as to be calculated to be prejudicial to the public safety and the Defence of the Realm, with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy, in that they, on the 24th April, near Castlebellingham, whilst engaged in armed rebellion, and waging war against the King, did attempt to kill and murder Lieutenant Robert Dunville, Grenadier Guards"; and the third charge was "the doing of an act prejudicial to the public safety and Defence of the Realm, with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy, in that they took part in an armed rebellion in Ireland and the waging of war against the King."
Major Kimber, D.S.O., conducted the case for the prosecution. Mr. T. M. Healy, K.C., M.P., and Mr. Cecil Lavery (instructed by Mr. Hamill, Dundalk) appeared for the accused, with the exception of McEntee, who was defended by Mr. Hanna, K.C., and Mr. McGrath (instructed by Mr. John Gore).
The Prosecutor (Major Kimber) briefly stated the facts of the case. He said on Sunday morning, April 23rd, a party of 73 men set out from Dundalk at ten o'clock in the morning. Nineteen of them were armed, and they went to Ardee. On the way they were met by a man in a motor car, in which there were rifles. These rifles were distributed to the men, who adopted military formations. McEntee was in charge of the party. They stayed at Ardee that night, and early on the morning of the 24th they started back towards Castlebellingham. At six in the evening they were at Lurgan Green, the party having been reduced to about 50. A man named Patrick McCormack, a farmer, came towards Sergeant Wymes, who had been following the party throughout, and accused McEntee of having wounded him in the hand with a revolver, and asked him to arrest him. McEntee replied "I did it as a matter of duty. Ireland is proclaimed a Republic, and you must stand or fall by that fact." Sergeant Wymes, whom they knew well, and two other constables, were made prisoners, and placed under an armed guard. Several motor cars passed on the road, and every vehicle passing was stopped and searched. That continued until 6.30, when the rebels went to Castlebellingham. About seven o'clock a party arrived at Castlebellingham and pulled up on the middle of the road, near the police barrack. McEntee and Martin came up and covered the three policemen with revolvers. They were taken and placed with their backs against a railings. Martin was put in charge of them, and he said to them that if they stirred they would be shot. Whilst this was going on Constable McGee came up, riding a bicycle. McEntee ordered him to dismount and to deliver what despatches he had to him. The constable was searched, and his despatches taken from him. McGee was placed against the rail, and about twenty armed Volunteers were addressed by McEntee, who said: "See that your revolvers are properly loaded, and be ready to obey me." Then Lieutenant Dunville in his motor car came on the scene. He was stopped and ordered out of his car, and he and his chauffeur were put with the three men with their backs to the railings. The prisoner Leahy pointed his rifle at Lieutenant Dunville and then McEntee gave an order. The rebels got back to their cars, and shots were heard. Lieutenant Dunville was hit, and the charge went through his lung. Almost immediately Constable McGee was hit. He fell, and died in a couple of hours.
Sergeant M. Wymes, R.I.C., Dundalk, said that on Sunday, April 23rd, at 10 o'clock in the morning, he saw a body of twenty men, leaving a hall in the town. Nineteen of them were armed with rifles, double and single barrels, and they went on towards Ardee, accompanied by five cars. At Ardee he saw the prisoners, and he saw ammunition being handed out. They arrived at Slane about 8 o'clock, and stayed on the road till 12 o'clock at night, where they encamped. At a quarter to three in the morning they proceeded towards Collon. He traced their movements during the day to Castlebellingham. The part, numbered fifty at Lurgan Green, mostly armed. That was at 6 p.m. Patrick McCormack, a farmer, came along with McEntee, and McCormack said that McEntee had shot him in the hand, and the latter said he did it as a matter of duty: that Ireland was proclaimed a Republic, and that he was prepared to stand or fall by his acts. He made witness a prisoner. Two Constables then came up, and they and he were searched and placed under an armed guard. The cars that passed were all commandeered and taken possession of by the Sinn Feiners. Witness was there for an hour and a half altogether under an armed guard. The main party of Sinn Feiners went away. He was allowed eventually to go away, and was given the password "Limerick," by which he was enabled to pass the rest of the rebels. He saw three of the accused, Martin, McEntee, and Sally bearing arms. He did not see Leahy there at all.
Acting Sergeant Patrick Kiernan, Castlebellingham, stated that on Easter Monday he saw a party of armed men passing through the village between 4.30 and 5 p.m., going towards Dundalk. They were on foot. There were a couple of vehicles behind them. Some of them came back about 6.45 three cars and eleven armed men came back. They had shot guns and rifles. Witness did not recognise them as being in the first party. About fifteen minutes later about fifty men came from the Dundalk direction, armed with rifles, shot guns, and revolvers. The cars stopped near the end of the village, the last car being about 120 yards from the barracks. Witness took a constable with him down after the cars. As he approached McEntee, Martin and two others presented revolvers at them, and ordered them to stand by the railing. McEntee said if they stirred one way or the other they would be shot dead. While standing there, Constable McGee came up on his bicycle, and McEntee and several others went towards him and ordered him to dismount. He got off, and they told him to stand with his back to the railings. McEntee asked him had be arms, and he said not, and McEntee ordered him to deliver up all papers on him, otherwise he would be shot. Constable McGee then handed what witness believed to be two despatches to McEntee. The constable was then searched for arms. After the search McEntee came down, and stood about a yard in front of witness, facing him. There would be about twenty others present, just behind the last motor car, all armed. McEntee said: "Now, men, keep your rifles at proper load, and be able to obey me when I give the order." Martin was then present. Lieutenant Dunville then came up in a motor car, and was stopped by McEntee and several others with revolvers and rifles. They pointed their weapons towards Lieutenant Dunville, who was taken out of the car and put standing by the railings. Witness saw the accused, Denis Leahy, standing about three yards away. Witness also saw James Sally present. The chauffeur was also ordered to leave the motor car. There were about twenty men at least covering witness and the other four men with rifles and revolvers. He then heard a shot from the direction of the first motor car. Lieutenant Dunville said, "I am shot," and commenced to fall back against the railings. Witness did not then see where he was shot, but afterwards found he was shot through the body. Another shot followed, and witness and Constable Donovan ran into a house. Two shots were fired as they crossed the road. Witness and the other policeman went out backwards and got to the barracks. He returned to the scene immediately, and found Constable McGee shot. The. constable died within a few hours. All the cars went away, except one which broke down. That car contained a large amount of ammunition for rifles, revolvers, and shot guns.
The President said the rifle cartridges were American ammunition. The shotgun ammunition was a mixture of buckshot and ordinary shot.
Constable Patrick Donovan, R.I.C., stationed at Castlebellingham, answering Major Kimber, said he remembered going before the rebels' cars to stop them on Easter Monday about 7 p.m. As he got in front of the cars he was "halted" by four men, of whom two were the accused, McEntee and Martin, both being armed with revolvers. McEntee placed him beside the railing, and put Martin in charge of him, with directions that if he did anything he should be shot. The police were in uniform, but they had no arms. He saw McEntee stop Constable McGee with a revolver pointed at him. McEntee told him that if he resisted he would be shot. There were a lot of rebels round about, and they were all armed. He saw Lieutenant Dunville and his chauffeur ordered out of their car by McEntee, who covered them with his revolver. Witness asked the men who placed them against the railing not to shoot them.
Second Lieutenant Robert Dunville, of the Grenadier Guards, said he was travelling by motor car from Belfast to Kingstown on Easter Monday, accompanied by his chauffeur. They arrived at Castlebellingham about ten minutes to seven. When he entered the village he saw three policemen on the left hand side of the road near the railings. He also saw a considerable number of men in motor cars, and some on the road all armed, some with revolvers, some had automatic pistols, others carbines and ordinary rifles. As he could not get through he pulled his car up, and a man whom he identified as the accused, Leahy, came up and pointed a rifle at him. Then McEntee came up and presented a pistol at him. Witness asked them what it was all about, told him that he wanted to catch the boat from Kingstown, and to let him pass. His chauffeur and himself were placed with the police at the railings. Then a man got out of one of the cars, and aimed a long rifle at him. He heard a report, and somebody at his right hand side shouted, and he found that he himself had been shot; that the bullet passed through his breast from left to right. He saw a rifle still pointed at him after he was hit. After that he fell, and he was removed to his car. Besides McEntee, who seemed to be in command, he saw Leahy and Martin. He could recognise the man who pointed the long rifle, but he was not one of the accused.
Dr. Patrick J. O'Hagan, Castlebellingham, described the nature of Constable McGee's injuries. He was suffering from four bullet wounds, two in the left arm, and two in the body. Witness was present at the post-mortem and attributed death to shock and hemorrhage, resulting from bullet wounds. Witness also attended Lieutenant Dunville, and found two wounds on the chest, one on the left, being apparently the wound of entry.
Sergt. Chr. Sheridan, R.I.C., stationed at Dundalk, said he searched McEntee's lodgings in Anne street, Dundalk, on May 17th, and found a number of papers and documents, and a book in which the following was written:
Proposed and seconded, that a meeting he held in the Town Hall on Easter Sunday. First. Ireland to reach independence in two ways (1) by the development of limited autonomy; (2) at one stroke by her own unaided exertion, or by the aid of a foreign power the latter the more feasible. Should she gain it by the first ipso she would be strong enough to hold it, and by the second we will consider.
The other documents composed copies of Sinn Fein newspapers, such as the Spark and the Volunteer, and a manuscript in which was entered some dates in history, as far back as the fifteenth century, at which rebellions took place, not only in Ireland, but on the Continent. Then there were books of military instruction, and a pamphlet on Sinn Fein policy. One of the letters found was a reply from the War Office authorities to an application of McEntee's for a commission in His Majesty's Army.
Cross-examined by Mr. Healy Was there a Government in Ireland while all this was going on? Were the police in Dundalk? Yes.
Did you allow all these young men to be brigaded, drilled, organised, armed, and pro-Germanised without taking any steps to stop it? We did not interfere.
Did you ever caution them? No.
Head Constable Donnelly, Dundalk, told the Court that on the 28th April last he opened the desk which McEntee had at the power house, Dundalk, and found a quantity of papers and letters, among the latter being a letter from the late P. H. Pearse, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the rebels, recommending McEntee to push on the work and complete their equipment and training. He also produced a book containing what he took to be a list of names of the Volunteers in Dundalk, and a circular from Cumann na Bhan relating to a drawing for the distribution of arms to be held on the 8th April
Head Constable Kinahan proved a statement made by Leahy on April 27 to District Inspector Smith before that officer was killed in which he stated that on the previous Sunday they walked into Ardee, where they got rifles there from a strange car. They then went to Collon, and from that to Slane, where they stopped till 3 o'clock next morning. They walked through Dunleer into Castlebellingham, and on to Lurgangreen, where they met a strange man on a car, who said he came from Dublin, and that fighting was going on there. "So," continues the statement, "we were all taken together to get our guns ready. We were told that if we moved we would be shot. All the motor cars that were coming in from the races were held up with revolvers, and the cars were taken possession of. We went on to Dunshaughlin, and as the motor cars ran short of petrol we had all to get out and walk. A few of us got together, and said we would not go. So we had to hand up our rifles and ammunition. We had to leave them and walk where we were arrested."
Percy Alfred Spalding, Engineer, and Manager of the Electricity Works, Dundalk, under whom the accused, McEntee, had been employed, gave him an excellent character from the personal point of view, as well as from the professional. Testimonials from officials in Belfast were also read. The witness said that McEntee had left on the Thursday before Easter for his holiday, promising to be back at his work on Monday morning.
This closed the evidence for the prosecution.
Mr. Healy opened the case for the defence of his clients.
Thomas Harty, car driver, Dundalk, examined by Mr. Lavery, deposed to having driven a party of Volunteers on the Sunday and Easter Monday through the country, and that he was with Sally at Lurgangreen when the constable was shot at Castlebellingham.
John McEntee, one of the accused, here read to the Court a statement which he had prepared since the trial began. At the outset he positively denied the charge of murder. In obedience to the order of his commander, he stopped the constable and searched him. He took from him one envelope, which he brought to his commander. The constable received no abuse from him, and he lamented his death; the constable was his fellow-countryman, discharging his duty. He saw Dunville sink to the ground, and would have gone to assist him but that their commander thought it imperative, from information which he had received, that they should no longer remain there. He was charged with having given assistance to the King's enemies. He absolutely denied that he had given, directly or indirectly, assistance to the King's enemies. Anything he did was done out of love for Ireland, and not to assist the King's enemies in any way. Such an idea never occurred to him. He admitted that for some months, up to April 24 he was an active and enthusiastic Volunteer; and he was a Volunteer, first of all, because, being an Irishman, he thought that the economic and industrial future of his country could only be assured by such government as was enjoyed by the Empire's free Dominions. He recognised that the Home Rule Act was such a measure, and he thought he saw in the promise of an Amending Bill a proposal whereby Ulster should be cut off and separated from the Ireland which he loved. He saw his hopes falsified by the promise of an Amending Bill, and he saw no protection against it but some such organisation as the Ulster Volunteer Force. He admitted that he took part in events which he afterwards discovered were a rebellion; but his sole aim and object was to resist the suppression of the organisation whose maintenance he regarded as a great safeguard against the repeal of Home Rule. Throughout the whole proceedings he had no idea or desire to assist the enemy. When General Parsons was raising the 16th Division he applied to him for a Commission, but owing to the difficulty of getting to Mallow the application fell through, and he then decided to devote himself to his profession. In conclusion, he said he was not aware of any of the plans for the late unfortunate insurrection.
Mr. T. Erskine Alexander, solicitor, Belfast, said he was motoring from Fairyhouse Races to Belfast, when he was stopped at Dromiskey by about thirty armed men. McEntee was there, and but for McEntee the other men would have behaved badly to him (witness) and the other persons whom they had stopped. His car had been taken from him, but it was returned later on.
The Prosecutor Do you agree with me that this was highway robbery of your car in broad daylight? Yes.
McEntee was apparently in authority? He was the only one that I identify. I don't remember having seen any of the others. The whole crowd surrounded us and pointed their revolvers at us.
Alderman John McGrath, Belfast, who travelled with Mr. Alexander, corroborated his evidence.
A chauffeur named Dickson, who drove another motor car going to Belfast, gave evidence of having been stopped by the rebels, who took possession of his car, after having turned out the owner. McEntee sat beside him as he drove back to Castlebellingham from Lurgan Green. There were five other rebels in the car sitting behind him, and one of them put his rifle to his left shoulder and fired at the police who were lined up against the railings at Castlebellingham. He heard the man say that he had got first blood. McEntee had only a little automatic pistol. McEntee gave him money to buy food.
Wm. Donnelly, another chauffeur, said that he heard McEntee refuse to give ammunition to those who demanded it.
Patrick Byrne, publican, Castlebellingham, said that he saw the five persons, including the three policemen, lined up against the railings, and he saw Constable Magee shot, but it was not done by McEntee.
Mr. Joseph Devlin, M.P.; Mr. Joseph Donnelly, Treasury Solicitor for Ireland, and Mr. T. Callan Macardle, Dundalk, gave evidence testifying to the respectability of McEntee.
The following result of the trial was subsequently issued:
John McEntee, Francis Martin, and Denis Leahy was sentenced to death; these sentences were confirmed by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, but commuted to penal servitude as under:
John McEntee Penal servitude for life.
Francis Martin Ten years' penal servitude.
Denis Leahy Ten years' penal servitude.
James Sally was sentenced to penal servitude for ten years, which was confirmed by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, with a remission of five years of the sentence awarded.
Second Lieutenant Robert Lambart Dunville and Constable Charles McGee were both twenty-three years old on the day of the shooting. Constable Charles McGee's headstone in the Gortahork Cemetery, County Donegal, reads 'R.I.P. Sacred to the memory of Constable Charles McGee who died on 24th April 1916 from wounds received whilst gallantly doing his duty as a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary Erected by his sorrowing parents and by the subscribers of the Irish Police and Constabulary Recognition Fund'.