Friday, October 28, 2016

The Death of Patrick Waters


The Death of Patrick Waters


Galway RIC man
was killed in Kerry
– and a century on
his body has never
been found

On Halloween evening 1920, a young
RIC constable from Galway vanished
in Tralee and his body was
never recovered.
Those who killed him and disposed of his
body never informed his family – and Patrick
Waters became one of what became known
as ‘the disappeared’.
Patrick Waters or Pádraig Ó Tuairisg as he
was known locally, was born on 15 May 1896
in Lochán Beag near Indreabhán in Connemara.
He came from a family of eight children,
five sons and three girls. According to the 1911
census, which lists him as a sixteen-year-old
scholar, he had a number of younger siblings.
By the time he enlisted in the RIC his occupation
was given as farmer.
Farmers in South Connemara were not
that big and a job in the RIC would have provided
a steady income with a pension after 25
years and financial support for his family.
Waters had limited options if he did not
want to farm the land, go to America or join
the priesthood.
Thus he went into Galway and was recommended
by District Inspector Hildebrand.
According to the RIC register, the original
of which is kept in the Public Records Office,
Kew, Surrey, he was appointed constable
with the number 69079 on 17 April 1917.
No promotions or punishments are
recorded and Tralee was his first and only
The RIC – unlike the police in Britain – were
armed and essentially the eyes and ears of
the British government.
Most of the rank and file members were
Catholic while the officers were Protestant.
They never served in their home county or
even that of their wives.
Things changed however when on 11 April
1919 the Dáil announced a policy of ostracism
of RIC men. There were now seen as agents
of the crown and traitors.
The War of Independence itself began in
1919 with the killings of two RIC constables,
Patrick MacDonnell and James O'Connell,
when they were shot by Dan Breen at Soloheadbeg,
County Tipperary.
Recruitment dropped and resignations increased.
The infamous Black and Tans, former
British soldiers now filled their ranks.
Those who remained in the force did so
out of a sense of loyalty to duty and some,
such as Glenamaddy man Jeremiah Mee,
worked with the IRA providing them with
valuable information.
In the last of week of October 1920, the IRA
HQ in Dublin ordered attacks on Crown
forces across the country.
This was in reprisal for the death of Terence
MacSwiney who died on hunger strike
in Brixton prison on 25 October and also for
Kevin Barry who was due to hang on 1 November.
The RIC patrolled in large numbers and
Waters would have been safe in his barracks.
His Achilles heel however was that he single
man far away from home and probably looking
to find a wife.
According to Ryle Dwyer in his book Tans,
Terror and Troubles - Kerry’s Real Fighting
Story 1913-23, both he and Ernest Bright were
lured to a house in Strand Street by two local
women, believed to be in the Cumann na
The two men were confronted by IRA man
Paddy Paul Fitzgerald who was waiting at Gas
What happened next, I have pieced together
from different witness statements of
former IRA men, given to the Bureau of Military
History in the late 1940s and early 1950s
and made public in 2003.
As they were unarmed they had no choice
but to surrender. They were passed on to the
Strand Street company and according to IRA
man Michael Doyle, were shot later that night
at a spot at the end of the canal known as The
Point, on orders of Brigade staff
and Paddy Cahill as Brigade officer.
The RIC register for Waters states
that he died on 31 October and had been ‘kidnapped
and presumed murdered’.
The IRA never publically acknowledged
killing the two constables. All the Waters family
would learn is that their loved was sent to
Kerry where he was killed but they would
never have a body to mourn over.
When it became known that the constables
were missing, the Black and Tans unleashed
a reign of terror in Tralee in events which become
known as the Siege of Tralee which
lasted for nine days.
Several notices are put up around the town
declaring that unless the two RIC men were
returned by 10am on the 2 November terrible
reprisals would be unleashed.
A few days previously, two unarmed constables
in Ballylongford, James Coughlan and
William Muir had been taken by the IRA and
held for sixty hours until IRA HQ in Dublin
ordered their release.
The British authorities had threatened to
raze the town to the ground if they were not
released. Both were released though had
been severely beaten.
The RIC in Tralee were hopeful that by
threatening the local population, Waters and
Bright would also be released. They did not
know they were already dead and had been
secretly buried.
When the two constables never reappeared,
rumours began to circulate and it
was reported locally that the pair were
thrown alive into the furnace in Tralee Gas
Works, which was repeated in Richard Abbott’s
Police Casualties in Ireland 1919-1922,
written in 2000.
Another theory was that they were buried
in the canal near the house of the lockkeeper,
William O’Sullivan, who was a member of the
IRA Company involved in killing Waters.
His grandson told local historian Ryle
Dwyer in the mid-1990s that he believed that
the two constables were buried in the family
tomb at Clogherbrien graveyard just outside
Tralee on the road to Fenit.
When his grandmother died in 1926, his
grandfather was horrified at the idea of burying
her in with the two constables and she
was buried outside the tomb. This in my view
is the strongest theory of where Waters is
I went along to Clogherbrien graveyard
and discovered two O’Sullivan tombs. Beside
one was a cross corroborating this story
and the O’Sullivans were buried outside
their tomb since 1926. Jim
Herlihy, author of The Royal
Irish Constabulary - A Short
History and Genealogical
Guide believes that Waters
may be buried in Derravrin
bog in Lixnaw, close to Listowel.
Farmers Michael O'Connell
and Brendan Cronin
who want see the body
buried there given a
proper burial, claim it
is still located under a
crab tree.
Others such as
Helen O’Carroll, the director
of Kerry County
museum, with whom I
spoke, are sceptical of
this. Lixnaw is about 18
km from Tralee and to transport
a body such a distance
would have been very risky.
Clogherbrien on the other hand is in
close proximity to the canal.
In either event, the body of Waters is
one of the few never to have been recovered.
Patrick Waters was neither a nationalist
nor a unionist. He was a small farmer from
the rocky shores on Galway Bay trying to
make a living in difficult times and came
from a very similar background to those who
ended his life.
People get killed in wartime but it benefits
nobody to deny the family the corpse of their
loved one. I believe Patrick Waters is buried
at Clogherbrien – and maybe now, after
nearly a hundred years, it is finally time to
bring him back to Galway.

Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill, from Galway
city and living in Dublin, is the author of Gone
the Way of Truth - Historic Graves of Galway
published by the History Press.

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