Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Phillip Ahern 1862-1918

Phillip Ahern was born in Limerick in 1862 into a family from the labouring class. After joining the R.I.C, he spent most of his policing career in Tullamore and at the time of his retirement was probably the towns longest serving officer.

In the summer of 1914, he played an important role in investigating the murder of Patrick Raleigh at Cappincur. Later that year at Geashill, large crowds clashed with police under Inspector Crane during a cattle drive on the Digby estate. At one stage during the drive shots were fired. At a resulting court case Ahern recounted his experiences …

‘On Ballydownan farm. There were about 600 people assembled, and they were engaged in driving the cattle off when the police stopped them. He dispersed the cattle and was then attacked by four men. He was struck two or three times on the head and knocked down, and when he got up, he was struck again.’ (1)

The drive had drawn support from across the nationalist spectrum and among those imprisoned in its aftermath were the Home Rule parliamentary candidate Paddy Adams and Irish Volunteers officer Peader Bracken.

As the Great War progressed tensions developed in Tullamore between those with family members serving in the British forces and groups like the Irish Volunteers who opposed the British war effort. In March 1916 a hostile crowd surrounded the Sinn Féin rooms in Tullamore. Shots were fired from the building to disperse the crowd and as a result, the RIC lead by County Inspector Crane entered the hall. The volunteer officers Peader Bracken, Seamus O’Brennan and Joe Wrater refused to comply with police instructions and a melee ensued, during which Ahern was shot by Peader Bracken.

Ahern was removed to hospital and require several months of recuperation. Several Tullamore volunteers were arrested following the affray, but Bracken and Brennan escaped, only to be captured in the aftermath of the Easter Rising.

In June 1916 the charges against the Tullamore men were withdrawn and the prisoners released.

Most went on to re-join the volunteer movement. A year later Peader Bracken was appointed Commandant of the new Offaly Brigade and elected to the national executive of the re-organised Irish Volunteers.

Ahern retired from the RIC and found employment with D.E. Williams for whom he worked as a timekeeper at the Banagher maltings. In May of 1918 he was killed in an accident involving a lorry while cycling in Banagher.


Sources:

(The author wishes to acknowledge the existing work on Phillip Ahern carried out by Michael Byrne)

Michael Byrne. Tullamore and 1916.The making of the Tullamore Incident. (Tullamore) 2016.

Paul Hughes. Prelude to rebellion: the 1916 ‘Tullamore Affray’ in context. In Offaly Heritage 9 edited by Ciaran Reilly. (Tullamore) 2016.

Brendan Ryan. Policing in west Offaly1814-1922. (Tullamore) 2009.

Kings County Chronicle/Leinster Reporter 11 May 1918.

Freemans Journal. 17 November 1914. 5 December1914.

(1) Freemans Journal. 17 November 1914.

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