Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Matthew Kane 1888-1921

Matthew Kane was born in Tullamore around 1888. In his early childhood, Mathew’s mother died, and he was raised by his father John Kane Sr. The family were from the labouring class and lived in Ruddocks Lane. Two of his brothers served in the British army during the Great War and John Kane Jr., a veteran of the Boer War was killed in France in 1916.

Having joined the IRA, Kane and his nephew John Conroy were active members of the organisation’s Tullamore company. 

In the spring of 1921, the 1st Battalion of the north Offaly IRA devised a plan to carry out a series of coordinated attacks at Tullamore. The scenario envisaged four simultaneous attacks around the town on the evening of April 1st. Targets included policemen out walking with girls and others returning to their barracks. Ambush locations were situated at Hophill, Lavin’s Gate on Charleville Road, Spollenstown Lane and at Distillery Gate on Barrack Street.  In and around 9pm volunteers from Tullamore and Kilbeggan mobilised but met with stiff resistance and the police suffered no fatalities.

As part of the combined operation, Matthew Kane was one of a four-man unit which attempt to assassinate a policeman at Hophill. When IRA’s intended target returned fire, confusion set in. Kane’s nephew John Conroy was severely wounded and removed from the scene by the Brigade Quartermaster Seamus Kelly. The IRA fled the scene in different directions. In the days after the shootings Seamus Kelly and his brother Sean the Brigade O.C. were arrested while attempting to check on the injured Conroy.

On the morning of April 2nd, Peter Brazil was going to attend cattle outside the town when he came across the body of Matthew Kane at Riverside. It has never been established if Kane died from wounds received in the Hophill ambush or as some rumours suggested if he was shot dead after been captured and dumped at Riverside.

Two days after Kane’s body was discovered, a typed bill was posted in Tullamore…

Notice is here by given that anyone who is found loitering or standing at corners will be liable to be shot at sight. The same applies to anyone who is seen on the street of Tullamore with his hands in his pockets or acting in any suspicious manner whatsoever or interfering with or belittling or attempting to beset any member of his Majesty’s forces. We are out to end assassination and murder, and by hell we’ll do it.‘ (1)

After a court of inquiry, the crown forces transferred Matthew Kane’s remains for his funeral mass in the Church of the Assumption Tullamore. In 1948 a headstone was unveiled at his grave in Mucklagh Cemetery. A detachment from the FCA, an Army Band, the Clonnaheen, Clonaslee and St. Colmcille pipe bands, along with thousands of members of the public attended. Members of the Tullamore Old IRA under the command of James Clarke fired a volley of shots over the grave and an army bulger sounded the last post. The rosary was recited in Irish and oration given by the republican priest and former internee, Fr.Burbage. A metal cross situated at Riverside Tullamore acted for many years acted as a memorial to Kane. In 2016 a new monument was erected in Kane’s memory at Riverside. 

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing work of Dr.Philip McConway and Michael Byrne on Matthew Kane


Sources:

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

Military Service Pension Collection. Brigade Activity Reports. Matthew Kane DP24217. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923

Michael Byrne. Remembering Lieut Matthew Kane. Offaly History online at https://offalyhistoryblog.wordpress.com/2021/04/03/remembering-lieut-matthew-kane-tullamore-died-1-april-1921-in-the-service-of-his-country-by-offaly-history/

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

Leinster Reporter. 9 1921

Offaly Independent. 18 September 1948. 7 May 1966.

Weekly Freemans Journal. 9 April 1921

(1) Weekly Freemans Journal. 9 April 1921.

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