Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

John Dunne 1899-1921 

John Dunne was born around 1899. His parents John and Kate Dunne farmed three acres at Fartamore, Foxhall outside Tuam. 

John Dunne junior joined the RIC in 1918 and was stationed at Birr. 

Through the War of Independence, republicans worked to undermine the basic instruments of British administration and replace them with their own. This was especially true with regards to the legal system, with ‘Sinn Féin ’ or ‘Dail ’ courts established and a boycott of the pre-existing Assizes rigorously enforced.  

To maintain their own courts, the British authorities needed to impanel juries. As the conflict escalated, the RIC men tasked with serving summonses on prospective jurors became vulnerable to attack.  

Early in in May 1920, the south Offaly IRA had formed a small active service unit to operate in the 3rd Battalion area covering, Killoughey, Kilcormac, Kinnitty and Drumcullen. On 16 May a member of the Birr Cumann na mBan was informed by a Black and Tan that a police party were scheduled to issue summonses in Cadamstown the following day. This information was conveyed to 3rd Battalion column in Killoughey and its leader Joseph Connolly hastily deployed the unit for an ambush at Kinnitty.   

On 17 May 1920 John Dunne was one of a seven-man cycle patrol tasked with delivering summonses. They passed through Kinnitty before the arrival of the IRA and after conducting their business at Cadamstown set out on their return journey to Birr. On reaching Kinnitty, the detail spilt in two, with three policeman continuing along main street, while Dunne along with constables Connors, Doran and Fitzgerald, took the Kilcormac road. 

As the second group travelled through the village, Joseph Connolly and Michael Carroll began shooting from the burnt-out ruins of the abandoned RIC barrack, while Michael Cordial, Michael Seery and another volunteer opened fire from the grounds of the catholic church. All four policemen men were wounded, and Dunne died almost instantly.  

In the aftermath the attackers withdrew back to Killoughey. The police contingent on the Birr Road were unharmed and returned to barracks from where a military lorry was dispatched to collect Dunne and his injured comrades. Constable Doran died at Birr some days later. Ambush participant, Michael Cordial credited the intervention of local priest Fr. Houlihan with preventing reprisals in the aftermath of the attack. 

At a later compensation hearing District Inspector Dougan stated… 

‘Constable Dunne was the most efficient member of the force he had ever met and would have been promoted very quickly. He was a man of splendid character and was always most temperate’ (1)

Dunne’s remains were returned to Galway for burial. In Birr his cortege received military honours and his coffin covered in the Union Jack was lead through the town by the band of the Leinster Regiment playing Beethoven’s death march and an escort under Captain Acton. Procession contained contingents of RIC men from Birr, Banagher and Shinrone. At Chesterfield on the Tullamore Road the Last Post was sounded. 

John Dunne was buried at Kilconly graveyard outside Tuam. A day after his internment several wreaths were removed from his grave, broken up and strewn on the roadside. 


Military Service Pension Collection. Joseph Connolly 24SP2719. Michael Coridal 24SP11688. Michael Seery MSP34REF19821. Search online at  

Bureau of Military History Statements. Joe Connolly (Witness 1599). Michael Cordial (Witness 1712). Search online at 1921/bmhsearch/  

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at 

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

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

Paddy Heaney. At the foot of the Slieve Blooms. (Kilcormac) 2006.  

Daniel Murray “‘Tinkering with the honour of the nation’: The Second Offaly Brigade in the War of Independence, 1920-21.” Online at

Tom Nolan. The War of Independence in Offaly in Journal of the Old Athlone Society volume 9. (Athlone) 2015, available online at _the_war_of_independence_in_offaly.pdf

Leinster Reporter. 28 May 1921. 8 October 1921. 

(1) Leinster Reporter. 8 October 1921. 

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