Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Denis Patrick Maguire/McGuire 1875-1920 

Denis Maguire was born around 1875. Many reports state that Maguire was born in Kilyon, Kings County, but he listed Galway as a birthplace on census returns. After duty in Kilkenny, he was transfered to Kings County, serving at Birr and Moneygall. In 1914 he was posted to Shannonbridge as Sergeant.

During his time at Shannonbridge, the surrounding area was the focus of intensive land agitation, with cattle drives at Derryholmes, Moystown, Hunston and across the Shannon at Moore in County Roscommon. Maguires policing style drew the ire of the Shannonbridge based Home Rule MP and land agitator Michael Reddy. At Westminster in March 1917 Reddy asked…

 ‘the Chief Secretary for Ireland, whether orders have been given to Sergeant Maguire, of Shannon-bridge, King’s County, to stand in the gateway of the chapel every Sunday armed with a stick and obstruct the congregation on their way out from mass; if so, by whom have such orders been given; and, if no such orders have been given, can the district inspector find a sphere of activity more suited to Sergeant Maguire’s activities on Sundays?’  (1)

During the spring and summer of 1920, the Offaly IRA burned abandoned police barracks at Cloghan and Ferbane; as a result, Shannonbridge’s policing area expanded. Meanwhile a detachment of British military occupied Hunston House. 

In September 1920, Maguire lead a joint force of police and soldiers in an early morning raid at Ferbane. While visiting the premises of Jimmy Claffey, the sergeant was shot and severely wounded. 

Maguire had been talking to Claffey on the street outside the Ferbane man’s home, when a single shot was fired from the rear of the building, passing through two window panes before striking the policeman in the head. After receiving attention from the local doctor and clergy, the sergeant was removed to the county infirmary in Tullamore where he died a week later. Addressing jurors at the Inquest, the coroner Thomas Conway said that Maguire was… 

‘ a married man and leaves a widow and six children, and I think so far as his duty was concerned, he always performed it in an inoffensive manner and was very popular in Shannonbridge where he had been stationed for six years, I had met him on several occasions and found him very civil and decent. I regret that this incident has happened in our county, and I hope it will be one of the last.’ (2) 

At the inquest held into Maguire’s death, members of the police and military swore that none of their party had discharged a round on the night in question. Medical witnesses were questioned extensively on the range from which the fatal shot had been made.  

There were no reprisals in the aftermath of the incident, but the politically uninvolved James Claffey was sentenced to three months imprisonment for failing to keep up to date logs for his hackney business.  

Various theories emerged as to the shooting. Officially the RIC suggested that Maguire was the victim of an IRA sniper.  Locally the sniper theory was largely discounted and it was popularly believed that soldiers at the rear of Claffey’s house had fired a shot through the building which accidentally hit Maguire, before covering up their complicity in the shooting. 

During the 1970’s and 80’s Padraig Heavin conducted a series of interviews with republican veterans from west Offaly. In 2015 Heavin published ‘On the banks of the three rivers’ in which he recounted a story told to him during these interviews.

In this account, unbeknownst to its owner an ‘on the run’ IRA man John Laurence  ‘Lowry’ Feeney had been staying in the workman’s quarters of Claffey’s property. Fleeing from raiding party, Feeney had fired a shot from his revolver while making his escape through the rear yard and that this shot was responsible for Maguire’s death.  

Denis Maguire was buried at Clominch Cemetery, Tullamore. On the request of friends of the deceased, arrangements for a military funeral were cancelled. A large number of mourners attended the burial including police dressed in civilian clothing. His coffin was carried by uniformed honour guard consisting of six fellow Sergeants. Cronin, Gibson, Flynn, Small, Howard and Collins. On the conclusion of prayers, the pall bears filled in the grave. A month later Sergeant Cronin was shot dead at Tullamore. 

The author wishes to acknowledge the longstanding work carried out on the Maguire shooting in particular by Brendan Ryan and Padraig Heavin. 

 


Sources

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/ 

Hansard online at https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1917-03-08/debates/10a6714c-0a9e-4d1f-8e16-e6bea8877fa5/ShannonbridgePoliceSergeant  

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

Padraig Heavin ‘On the banks of three rivers: Stories from West Offaly’ (Cork) 2015. 

Brendan Ryan. ‘Policing West Offaly:1814-1922’ (Tullamore) 2009. 

Leinster Reporter. 9 October 1920. 

Westmeath Independent. 21 August 1915. 2 October 1920. 

(1) Hansard online at https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1917-03-08/debates/10a6714c-0a9e-4d1f-8e16-e6bea8877fa5/ShannonbridgePoliceSergeant 

(2) Leinster Reporter. 9 October 1920. 

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