Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Michael/Mike Reilly d.1921

Michael Reilly is believed to have been a native of Dublin. Enlisting in the British Army he fought in both the Boer and Great Wars. In 1921 he was living at Cloghan with his wife Mary and the couples four children, who were all under 10 years of age.

The victim of a gas attack during the war, Reilly was an army pensioner. Mary was employed washing laundry for the military garrison stationed at Hunston House situated between Cloghan and Shannonbridge. The Reilly’s maintained good relations with the army detachment and his wife later testified that he had been assaulted by ‘Sinn Feiners’ unhappy with the association.

Tom Burke O.C. of the Offaly IRA No.II Brigade reported to Dublin that Reilly had been warned on two occasions to cease contact with the military.

In June 1921, Burke oversaw an investigation into suspected spies operating in the 2rd Battalion area which covered Banagher, Cloghan, Shannonbridge, Ferbane, Doon and Belmont/Moystown. The probe focused on those with a record of antagonism to republicans and friendly terms with the police or military.

On 12 June 1921, a court of inquiry held into spying in the district and sentenced several men to death. On 14 June the IRA burned the home of William White at Derrica Ferbane. A gamekeeper on the King Estate, White had given evidence against two men convicted of holding up a British Army vehicle at Ballylin.

 Shortly before midnight on 17 June, a group of masked men arrived at Michael Reilly’s home and dragged him outside from under his bed where he had been hiding. His wife heard Reilly said he would be the first to fight for his county if it was a fair fight…if you shoot me you shoot an innocent man’ before he was shot dead.

A few hours later the IRA men shot dead another ex-serviceman Thomas Cunningham at Cush East in similar circumstances.

On the morning of 18 June, an unsuccessful attempt was made to shoot Dudley Ensor on his way to work in Perrys mills Belmont.

At the court of inquiry held into Reilly’s death Constable Duffy commented…

I knew Mike Reilly, he was a law abiding, man, a loyalist and an ex-solider. He was very friendly with the military and police. I am aware he belonged to no political organisation. I testify that the body in Hunston house is that of Mike Reilly. I cannot say who committed the crime but am confident that this is a murder committed by local men.’ (1 )

Mary Reilly later suggested that her husband had been targeted because notes related to officers’ laundry had been delivered to Reilly home. In the aftermath of the shooting, Mary and her sons moved to live at Hunston and efforts were made to enlist two of the Reilly boys in the Hibernian Military Academy, a boarding school focused on caring for the orphans of British soldiers.

Michael Reilly was one of the first bodies buried at the new cemetery Banagher. A number of prisoners held at Hunston on suspicion of firing at Dudley Ensor were brought to dig the grave and it was later filled in by British military.

In May 1923 it was reported…

An extraordinary crux has arisen in connection with the new cemetery at Banagher where it is stated the people of the district have declined to bury their dead owing to an alleged spy, who had been shot during the Black and Tan war, having been interred there. The graveyard has been boycotted and the matter is causing “much worry” to the Birr No.1District Council, whose finances are suffering owing to the non-use.’ (1)

After an application to exhume the body was refused, a rumour developed that an explosive mine had been planted with the coffin.


1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at

Court of Inquiry in lieu of Inquest. WO 35/157B. 157 B. Online at

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

Padraig Heavin ‘On the banks of three rivers: Stories from West Offaly’ (Cork) 2015.

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

Freemans Journal. 10 April 1923.

Leinster Reporter. 15 October 1921.

(1) Court of Inquiry in lieu of Inquest. WO 35/157B. 157 B. Online at 

(2) Freemans Journal. 10 April 1923.

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