Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Henry Cronin 1873?-1920

A native of Cork, Henry Cronin joined the RIC in 1894. After postings in Roscommon and Tullamore, Cronin was serving as a Sergeant in Moneygall in 1916, but transferred back to Tullamore following the wounding of Sergeant Phillip Ahern in fracas with Irish Volunteers at the Sinn Féin rooms.

Departing Moneygall, Cronin was described in the Nenagh Guardian as

‘Greatly esteemed for the impartial and courteous manner in which he performed a rather onerous duty, and he brings with him the to his new sphere of duty the good wishes of all the law-abiding people in Moneygall.’ (1)

Bad blood already existed between the police and republicans by the time Cronin returned to Tullamore. In the years before the War of Independence, he found himself central to series non-violent clashes between the sides. In September 1916 he arrested local republicans Peader Bracken and Joseph Wrafter on their way from a late-night meeting with two Kerry Gaelic Leaguers at Hayes Hotel. In 1917 he was central to the prosecution of James O’ Connor and Edward O’Carroll under the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) when a St. Patricks Day Concert they had organised in the Irish National Foresters Hall featured a poem about the Easter Rising entitled ‘Vengeance’. In 1919 he had warned the operators of the hall that they would be prosecuted under DORA if a speech by Fr Michael O’Flanagan contained seditious utterances. 

In early October 1920, Cronin helped to carry the coffin of his colleague Sergeant Denis Maguire after Maguire was shot dead in disputed circumstances at Ferbane. Later that month, following the death on hunger strike in Brixton prison  of Cork’S Lord Mayor Terence MacSweeney, IRA headquarters in Dublin ordered all local units to carry out reprisal killings.

At around 7:45 on Halloween night 1920, Cronin was as shot six times as he made his way from his family home to the RIC barrack. Cronin’s wife was among the first on the scene. Removed to the county infirmary he died early the next morning. Writing 69 years later his son Patrick observed…   

“The events of the night on which he was shot are vivid in my mind, as if it only happened yesterday. We had been playing games with my father as it was Hallowe’en evening. At about 9 p.m. he left us to return to the barracks, where he should have been before sunset. “But he was over-confident. He knew and was friendly with everyone on the way. “Almost as soon as he left our house there was a volley of gunfire and my mother said in alarm: `Do you hear that?’ and `My man has just gone out.’ She left in haste only to find my father almost at our doorstep lying in his blood. He was dying. (2)

In the aftermath of Cronin’s killing crown forces based at Tullamore carried out a series of reprisals over several nights. The Foresters Hall was destroyed, business premises and private homes of local republicans targeted, ex-Serviceman Leo White was shot in Clara some days later.

Local parish priest Fr Callary suggested the killing of Cronin had been committed by outsiders

who didn’t care a straw if the town of Tullamore was wiped out of existence’

and commented…

For many years the town of Tullamore had enjoyed the reputation of being remarkably quiet and peaceful, but now unfortunately… that record has been broken and Tullamore has acquired the unenviable notoriety of been classed amongst the places which have been stained with blood. (3)

Military service pension files suggest that Cronin was shot dead by local republicans Sean Barry and Sean Killeavy. Within days of the attack, Tullamore’s District Inspector Sheahan resigned from the RIC. Conscious of threats to Sheahan from crown forces, the IRA provided their former adversary with armed bodyguards. Amongst Sheahan’s protection detail was Michael Killeavy, Sean Killeavy’s brother. 

Henry Cronin’s funeral was held at the Church of Assumption to Clominch cemetery. The pall bears were his fellow sergeants Gibsons, Collins, Howard and Small. The union jack was placed on the coffin outside the church and a company of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry provided the military honours. The last post was sounded, and a firing party were present.

A Columban priest, Patrick Cronin later served as Archbishop of Cagayn de Oro in the Philippines. In his 1989 letter on the killing, he wrote…

‘I have forgiven those who shot him, even though they were our neighbours – but I can never forget. Today, I pray that the shooting and killing will come to an end in Northern Ireland ‘ (2)

The Author wishes to acknowledge the existing research carried out into Henry Cronin by Michael Byrne.


Sources:

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

Military Service Pension Collection. John Barry 24SP1944. Michael Killeavy MSP34REF25203. John Killeavy MSP34REF20939.  Brigade Activity Reports search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/search-the-collection

Richard Abbot. Police Casualties in Ireland 1919-1922. (Cork) 2019.

Michael Byrne. ‘ Brigade Activity Reports of the IRA, 1916-23 and Tullamore and Clara in the in the aftermath of the killing of RIC sergeant Cronin in October 1920 during the War of Independence’ Offaly History online at https://offalyhistoryblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/brigade-activity-reports-of-the-ira-1916-23-and-tullamore-and-clara-in-the-aftermath-of-the-killing-of-ric-sergeant-cronin-in-october-1920-during-the-war-of-independence-michael-byrne/

Michael Byrne. ‘Sean Barry: a volunteer who ‘was in any operation worthwhile in Offaly’, and three cheers for Mrs nurse Barry’ Offaly History online at https://www.offalyhistory.com/uncategorized/sean-barry-a-volunteer-who-was-in-any-operation-worthwhile-in-offaly-and-three-cheers-for-mrs-nurse-barry-by-michael-byrne

Michael Byrne. ‘The killing of sergeant Henry Cronin in Tullamore on Sunday October 31 1929 and the consequences for Tullamore and Clara’. Offaly History online at https://www.offalyhistory.com/uncategorized/the-killing-of-sergeant-henry-cronin-in-tullamore-on-sunday-31-october-1920-and-the-consequences-in-tullamore-and-clara-by-michael-byrne

Aisling Gallagher. ‘The Killing of Sergeant Henry Cronin, October 1920’ in History Ireland online at https://www.historyireland.com/schools-essay-competition-the-killing-of-ric-sergeant-henry-cronin-october-1920/

Irish Times. 2 September 2000.

Leinster Reporter. 28 April 1917. 22 February 1918. 13 November 1920.

Nenagh Guardian. 12 August 1916.

(1) Nenagh Guardian. 12 August 1916.

(2) Michael Byrne. ‘The killing of sergeant Henry Cronin in Tullamore on Sunday October 31 1929 and the consequences for Tullamore and Clara’. Offaly History online at https://www.offalyhistory.com/uncategorized/the-killing-of-sergeant-henry-cronin-in-tullamore-on-sunday-31-october-1920-and-the-consequences-in-tullamore-and-clara-by-michael-byrne

(3) Leinster Reporter. 13 November 1920.

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