Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Patrick Reilly/O’Reilly 1872-1920 

Patrick Reilly was born at the Fivealley, Eglish around 1872 and joined the RIC in 1894.  At the time of the 1911 census, Reilly was living in Rathfarnham with his wife Annie and their two children.

Following his promotion to sergeant in 1914, Reilly took charge of Swords RIC Barracks. On the outbreak of the Great War, he played a prominent role in the arrest of Hans Heinsen of Skidoo House after the horse buyer cum pig farmer came under suspicion of spying. Initially fined £5 for possession of a pistol, Heinsen was later interned in Templemore with other German nationals.  

Throughout Easter Week 1916, the Fingal battalion of the Irish Volunteers under Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy carried out a successful guerilla campaign across north county Dublin and south Meath. On Wednesday Swords RIC barracks was overrun, but the captured police detachment were released unharmed. The following Saturday, Reilly was responsible for delivering the news of Pearse’s surrender order to Ashe and Mulcahy. 

In his statement to the Bureau of Military History, Swords republican Joseph Lawless commented that…   

‘While, perhaps, the attitude of Sergeant Reilly towards
the resurgent national movement was not typical of the R.I.C.
as a whole, yet I believe there were a good many of them like him
They had a secret sympathy with the national ideals, but felt
that the fulfilment of these ideals was impractical. They were
economically tied to the careers they had taken up, but hated
the duty of political espionage and coercive action which such
career imposed upon them.‘ (1)  

Moving to Kildare, Reilly served at Clane and when RIC management ordered the town’s barracks  abandoned, he transferred to Kill 

Throughout the War of Independence, police were regularly deployed from Kill to act as a protection detail on the home of County Inspector Supple in Naas. The IRA decided to exploit this pattern in RIC movements and hatched a plan to ambush the policemen on their routine journey to Nass. 

On the night of 21 August 1920, Reilly, along with constables Michael Flanagan, Andrew Flaherty and Patrick Haverty left Kill Barracks to carry out their customary guard duty. Just outside the village the four-man cycle column was ambushed by the local IRA company under the command of Tom Harris and Tom Domican. Constable Haverty was killed almost instantly, and Sergeant Reilly had received four bullet wounds.

Constable Flanagan later told inquest proceedings that… 

‘At about 11 o’clock we were at Greenhills, which is nearly a mile from Kill. We heard a voice saying “Hands up” from the left-hand side of the road, in the wood. Immediately a volley of shots was fired from the side from which I heard the voice. Sergt. Reilly was leading, Constable Haverty was second. I was third and Constable Flaherty was last. We were cycling in single file. When the volley was fired Sergt Reilly and Constable Haverty fell off their bicycles. We were cycling in the middle of the road at the time. I dismounted and a number of men rushed towards me from the wood on the left-hand side of the road and immediately covered me with revolvers.’ (2)

Speaking to the Bureau of Military History, IRA participant James Dunne recounted … 

We let the last R.I.C. man pass and closed up at about 100 yards behind. When the first R.I.C. man, a Sergeant, neared the end of the main body, he was called on to halt. He said, “All right, men”. When Tom and Pat Domican jumped from behind the ditch, he opened fire on them. General firing broke out along the main body of Volunteers. At the time, I, with Sullivan, was close up to the rear of police. Two of them attempted to escape back to barracks and were captured by myself and Sullivan. P. Brady. although unarmed, rushed in and disarmed the two police, whom we took prisoners. ‘ (3)

Flanagan and Flaherty were released by their captors, but both are reported to have left the RIC with a month of the ambush. The wounded Sergeant Reilly was removed by ambulance to hospital in Dublin.

Haverty’s body was transferred by train to Banagher, where his coffin was received by his relatives from Lawrencetown and removed to Fahy, Eyrecourt for funeral mass and burial.

Five days after the attack, crown forces burned Boushells leather goods shop in Naas in an act of reprisal. 

Patrick Reilly died of septic pneumonia at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital on 31 August. He had planned to retire in September and had ordered a civilian suit to mark the occasion.

After an official inquest, Sergeant Reilly’s remains were were conveyed to Birr accompanied by his immediate family. It is probable that his burial took place at Eglish churchyard. In deference to his families wishes, military honours were not accorded.      

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing work of James Durney on the revolutionary period in Kildare.  


Bureau of Military History Statements. Joseph Lawless Witness 1043. James Dunne Witness 1571 . Search online at 

Military Service Pension Collection. Thomas Harris MSP34REF16113. Search online at 

 1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at 

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

James Durney. The Kill Ambush August 21, 1921. Online at

James Durney. Black and Tan Terror in Nass and Kill. Online at

Evening Herald. 29 August 1914. 23 September 1914.

Galway Observer. 26 September 1914.

Irish Times. 1 September 1920.

Kildare Observer. August 28 1920. 4 September 1920.

Leinster Reporter. 11 September 1920.

(1) Bureau of Military History Statements. Joseph Lawless Witness 1043 . Search online at 

(2) Kildare Observer. August 28 1920. 

(3) Bureau of Military History Statements. James Dunne Witness 1571 . Search online at 

Scroll to Top