Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Alan Bell 1858-1919

Alan Bell was born in Banagher in 1858 to Reverend James Adamson and Elizabeth Bell (Nee Tyrell).

Both the Bell and Tyrell families had provided many of the county’s church of Ireland clergy. The Bell family is best known for the marriage of the Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls to Charlotte Bronte in 1854.

A former Trinity moderator, in addition to his religious duties James A. Bell served as headmaster to the Banagher Royal School and was later secretary of the ‘London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews’. Alan’s uncle R.Y. Tyrell was a senior fellow at Trinity College. 

Alan’s brother, James Bell is credited with saving the lives of republican prisoners while serving as a doctor at Gloucester Gaol during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

Joining the RIC as a cadet in 1879, Alan Bell served a senior officer across Ireland during the Land War. In 1882 he arrested the world-famous American journalist, economist, and land reform advocate Henry George at Athenry. Later in the decade he provided information to the special commission investigating accusations in the The Times newspaper  linking Charles Stewart Parnell’s with support for violence. Parnell was ultimately vindicated when, Richard Piggott the source of many of the allegations confessed to forging letters to frame the nationalist leader.

On his retirement from police work, Bell served as a resident magistrate and had settled in Armagh when the War of Independence started.

Bell’s experiences of investigating the Land League were diverse and early in the war he was called to Dublin to improve British Intelligence capabilities. T Ryle Dywer states that Bell was a member of a special security committee which advised Lord Lieutenant French in late 1919 …

‘We are inclined to think that the shooting of a few would-be assassins would have an excellent effect.’ (1)

By March 1920 the Freemans Journal while reporting on Bell’s efforts to target Sinn Fein’s finances drew attention to his own history…

‘The official who has been thrust into the light of publicity by the attempt of the castle to invest him with the powers of a grand inquisitor into the bank business of every man in Ireland who has a private or commercial trading account. The publication of this true story will awaken memories in the minds of veterans of the Land League campaign which freed Ireland from the rule of landlordism. Our correspondent writes: Mr Alan Bell, who is holding the Star Chamber into the confidential relations existing between Irish bankers and their customers, has considerable experience in obtaining evidence for the police.’ (2)

IRA intelligence learned that Bell commuted to the city centre from his home in Monkstown and sourced a photo from the files of the Irish Independent.

On the morning 26 March, members of Michael Collins’s Squad took Bell from a crowded tram at Simmons court road, Ballsbridge where he was shot by Liam Tobin and Michael McDonnell.

Speaking in the commons the chief secretary of Ireland Ian MacPherson commented…

‘Mr. Bell was not at the particular time of his assassination under direct police protection in the ordinary sense of being guarded by officers in immediate attendance. He repeatedly refused to avail himself of the offer. The Chief Commissioner of Police repeatedly pressed upon him after the venomous attacks in a certain section of the Dublin Press, as he felt as an old and experienced police officer himself that any ostentatious protection would defeat its own object. I should like to take this opportunity of testifying publicly to Mr. Bell’s courage and loyalty, and to the great service which throughout his long and distinguished career he rendered to the Crown.’ (3)

Lord French sent the following message to his wife Ellen…

‘Please accept my deep and heartfelt sympathy with you. Your gallant and distinguished husband has crowned a life of devoted and valuable service to Ireland by a noble death in fighting the cause of his country.’ (4)

Alan Bell was buried at Deansgrange cemetery Dublin after a private funeral.

The Author wishes to acknowledge the existing work by T Ryle Dywer and Patrick Long

Sources:

Daithí O Corráin and Eunan O’Halpin. The dead of the Irish Revolution. (Yale) 2020. P 127.

T. Ryle Dwyer. The Squad: and the intelligence operations of Michael Collins. (Cork) 2005.

Patrick Long, RIA Dictionary of Irish profile of Alan Bell online at https://www.dib.ie/biography/bell-alan-a0544

Bureau of Military History Statements: Josephine MacNeill (303). Joseph Leonard (witness 547). Joseph Dolan (witness 663). Michael Noyk (witness 707)

Clonmel Commercial 7 November 1888.

Kings County Chronicle/Leinster Reporter 14 January 1911.

Offaly Independent. 29 1994.

The Graphic. 17 November 1888.

 (1) T. Ryle Dwyer. The Squad: and the intelligence operations of Michael Collins. (Cork) 2005. p70.

(2) Freemans Journal 11 March 1920

(3) Hansard online at https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1920/mar/30/murder-of-mr-alan-bell

(4) Belfast Newsletter. 27 March 1920.

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