Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Eric Steadman. D 1921

‘Eric Steadman’ was one of the roughly 184 civilians shot dead as suspected spies by the IRA during the War of Independence. Information on ‘Steadman’ is quite limited, and his correct name has never been fully verified.

On his death in July 1920,  described as  ‘About 40 years of age, about 5ft 9’’ in height, long brownish thin hair, brown moustache, slightly hooked nose, complexion sallow, features. He was slightly built and poor clad’.

By the spring of 1921, thousands of republicans were interned in camps at the Curragh County Kildare and Ballykilinar, County Down, while sentenced prisoners were imprisoned at jails across Britain and Ireland. Confrontations between Crown Forces and Republicans had escalated, with death tolls rising on both sides. IRA units across Ireland began to intensify the targeting of those they suspected of spying.

In 1920, Offaly IRA had executed and disappeared, Special Constable Hannon. During the Summer of 1921 the North Offaly Brigade killed several men whom they claimed to have identified as spies. In common with other localities, former British servicemen and outsiders such as tramps made up a high proportion of those executed.

On May 5th the body an ex-service man, Patrick Bermingham from Cappincur was found on the Canal banks outside Tullamore. On June 17th another former solider Patrick O’Connell was abducted while cutting turf, two days later his body was recovered at Killenmore. On July 5th, Samuel Lee described as a tramp, was shot dead outside Tyrellspass by members of the 2nd Battalion North Offaly IRA.

In early July an English tramp ‘Eric Steadman’ was detained outside Tullamore. His incarceration was overseen by IRA leader Sean McGuinness. In the preceding month McGuiness had taken part in the shooting dead of Head Constable James McEhill at Kilbeggan and the execution of Patrick O’Connell.  

McGuinness later told Ernie O’Malley that ‘Steadman’ was spotted disembarking from a police lorry and admitted under interrogation that he had gathered intelligence on republicans across Leinster, using visits to ascendancy country houses as a clearing house for his information.  

‘Steadman’ was held for several days in safe houses at Ballydaly outside Tullamore. While in captivity some of his gaolers suggested that he consider being baptised a Catholic. The Englishman agreed and when no priest arrived from Tullamore to carry out the sacrament, his captors improvised, and christened the suspected spy themselves.

Steadman was shot dead by a party lead by Sean McGuinness and his remains were transferred to Puttaghaun to prevent Crown Forces reprisals in the Ballydaly area. On the morning of July 10th, the Tullamore IRA burned the house of Michael Buckley at Puttaghaun, travelling to seek shelter at the home of his sister, Buckley came across ‘Steadmans’ body and reported its presence to the police. On the body a tag was found reading …

‘Convicted Spy, Eric Steadman, ex soldier Birmingham. tried, convicted and executed on 9 July 1921. Sooner or later, we get them. Beware of the IRA.’ (1)

In August and September 1921, the Birmingham police conducted a largescale investigation to locate the decease’s family. Advertisements were placed in local newspapers and all houses in the city where a Steadman was listed as living were visited, but no trace of the dead man was uncovered.

Without a positive identification, it remains difficult to discern the truth behind ‘Steadman’s’ life and death.   

During his captivity Steadman admitted to acting as an intelligence source, but the possibility remains that he was suggestable person or suffering psychological issues linked to service in the Great War. Unless further information comes to light, any profile of Steadman is at best fragmentary.

The Author wishes to acknowledge the existing work of Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc on suspected spies during the War of Independence in general and on Eric Steadman in particular.


Sources:

Military Service Pension Collection. Brigade Activity Report; Offaly No I. Sean McGuinness MSP34REF4688. Michael Killeavy MSP34REF25203. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923

National Archive WO 35/161B online at https://www.findmypast.ie/

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

 Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc ‘Spies and Informers Beware: IRA executions of alleged civilian spies during the War of Independence. History Ireland Online at https://www.historyireland.com/spies-informers-beware/ .

 Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc. ‘Truce Murder, Myth and the last days of the Irish War of Independence’. (Cork) 2016.

Bloody Sunday Blog online at http://www.bloodysunday.co.uk/shot-by-ira-as-spies/steadman-e/steadman-eric.html

Leinster Reporter. 16 July 1921

(1) National Archive WO 35/161B online at https://www.findmypast.ie/ 

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