Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

George Adamson 1897-1922

George Adamson was born at Moate in 1897. His father Joseph Adamson was a shoemaker, and his mother Eliza (nee Downey) was a native of Bishopstown. His brother Joe served as a Brigadier in the Free State forces during the Civil War. Another brother William ‘Pepper’ Adamson was a well-known musician and His cousin William Fleming died fighting with the Royal Irish Rifles in 1918.

Serving as a lance corporal with the Machine Gun corps at Salonika, Egypt and Palestine during the Great War, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Along with fellow demobbed British soldiers, James Tormey and Christopher McKeon, he became a driving force in the south Westmeath IRA during the War of Independence. A founding member of Tormey’s column he took part in the Parkwood Ambush in October 1920. In December of that year he was one of a group of IRA men who shot dead an Athlone ex-servicemen known as ‘Slick Foot’ Maher on suspicion of spying.

He was present at Cornafulla, Co. Roscommon when Tormey was shot dead during an exchange with the RIC in February 1921. Seriously wounded in a shootout with Black and Tans at Athlone, Adamson was removed for treatment in Offaly, at Connors of Derrevane, Tumbeagh.

A supporter of the Treaty, Adamson was appointed a Brigadier in the pro- Treaty forces and hoisted the tricolour on Athlone castle following the British withdrawal. By April 1923 the pro-Treaty National Army in Athlone under Sean MacEoin controlled the former British installations in the town while an anti-Treaty garrison occupied the Royal Hoey Hotel.

On April 28th anti-Treaty officers from the South Offaly Brigade and 3rd Southern Division visited their comrades in the hotel. While the visitors were inside, a patrol under Adamson confiscated their car and removed it to Custume Barracks. Back at the barracks Adamson discovered that not all his detachment had returned from patrol, and he set out with his remaining party to locate the stragglers.

At Irishtown near the private residence of Sean MacEoin, Adamson and his contingent came across the some of the republicans who appear to have been searching for a replacement vehicle in which to return home. Finding Sean Robbins from Clara in a doorway Adamson called on him to raise his hands.

The soldiers were distracted by the appearance the Offaly man’s companions, including Tom Burke, Joseph Reddin and Tom Buckley. In the confusion Robbins disarmed a pro-Treaty solider and a firefight broke out during which Adamson was fatality wounded.

Adamson’s death in the period before the outbreak of the Civil War was a politically sensitive issue. It was not clear if the Brigadier had been shot by republicans or killed accidently in crossfire from his own troops. In the aftermath of the shooting, speculation was rife and both sides agreed to an inquiry in Dublin. The investigation was unable to identify who fired the fatal shots but found that the killing was not premediated.

George Adamson was buried at Mount Temple graveyard in the same plot as James Tormey and James’s brother Joseph who had been shot dead by a sentry in Ballykinlar internment camp during the War of Independence.

Athlone Castle was renamed Adamson Castle in his honour and he is listed on the republican monuments at Moate and Athlone.

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing work carried out on George Adamson by John Burke, Ian Kenneally, Daniel Murray and the Moate Soldiers of the Great War research group.


Sources:

Bureau of Military History Statements. Thomas Costello Witness 1296. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

Military Service Pension Collection. George Adamson F85;3MSRB298. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/search-the-collection

John Burke. Athlone 1900-1923: politics, revolution, and civil war (Dublin) 2015.

John Gibney. The killing of George Adamson, 25 1922. Online at https://www.westmeathcoco.ie/en/ourservices/planning/conservationheritage/decadeofcentenariesblog/thekillingofgeorgeadamson25april1922.html

Ian Kenneally ‘A Medium for Enemy Propaganda: the press, Westmeath, and the Civil War’, Journal of The Old Athlone Society, number 10, 2015.

Ciara Molloy. “Cumann na mBan in county Offaly, 1915-22” in Offaly History 9, 2016. Moate Soldiers of the Great War. (Moate) 2019.

Daniel Murray ‘A death in Athlone. The controversial case of George Adamson, 1922’ online at https://erinascendantwordpress.wordpress.com/2018/06/22/a-death-in-athlone-the-controversial-case-of-george-adamson-april-1922/

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

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