Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Sean Joseph Liddy 1890-1965

Sean Liddy was born in 1890, his parents John and Margaret Liddy farmed at Dagananella, Cooraclare, County Clare. His sister Cissy acted as O.C. of the West Clare Cumann na mBan throughout the War of Independence.

Sean helped to establish the Cooraclare Company of the Irish Volunteers in early 1917. Imprisoned in 1918, he took take in the Mountjoy hunger strikes and was released under the cat and mouse act. By 1920 he had risen to commandant of the West Clare Brigade of the IRA. In April 1921, Liddy cooperated with Michael Brennan of the East Clare IRA to launch a large- scale assault on British Army, Royal Marine and RIC forces stationed in Kilrush. During the operation, RIC sergeant John McFadden was shot dead. In the aftermath of the attack, Liddy’s family home was burned.

Elected unopposed to the Dáil in the 1921, he voted in favour of the Treaty and was re-elected in the pact election. During the Spring of 1922, fellow Clare TD Patrick Brennan helped promote recruitment into the Civic Guard. Along with Brennan, Liddy was one of several IRA men from the county to join the new force.

In May 1922, police recruits dissatisfied with conditions and the appointment of former RIC officers to prominent positions in the force staged the so-called ‘Civic Guard Munity’. In June, a subsection among the mutineers facilitated the capture of the forces arsenal by the anti-treaty Four Courts garrison.

Liddy witnessed the seven week Munity first hand and was involved in the efforts to resolve it. Continuing to base himself in the same Kildare barracks as the mutineers, sharing some of their concerns and among those who were in line to benefit from promotions made possible through the dismissal of former RIC men, Liddy’s relationship with senior officials in the government including Michael Collins deteriorated.

Commissioner Michael Staines and his fellow Mayo man, Asst Commissioner Joe Ring held that senior officers from Clare centred around Patrick Brennan were at least partially responsible for the Munity. For his part the Liddy stressed that he was attempting to maintain order and end the dispute amicably. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, the Munity was resolved after a commission of enquiry suggested that the police force be unarmed and depoliticised. Commissioner Michael Staines stepped down and several senior officers including Joe Ring and Patrick Brennan left the Civic Guard to fight with the National Army in the Civil War, but Liddy remained in the force and later wrote an account of the Munity.

In September 1922, he married Ann Nan Breen in November at a ceremony attended by Staines replacement as Commissioner, Eoin O’Duffy. The Breen family had been heavily involved in republican activity at Cooraclare. Ann was had qualified as Ireland’s first female dentist having studied in Liverpool and had operated as a Cumman na mBan courier.

In line with the policy of de-politicalisation, Liddy resigned his Dáil seat and was tasked with establishing stations at Birr, Tullamore, Edenderry, Banagher, Shannonbridge, Clara, Daingean, Shinrone, Kilcormac and Ferbane. Living at Birr from late 1922, he was soon promoted to the rank of Superintendent.

Throughout 1923 prosecuted a series of cases ranging from murder, the looting of Birr military barracks, infringement of the licencing laws, and asked the district court to deal severely with dog licence evaders.

In August 1923 Liddy was transferred to Longford to help establish the new force in that county. On his departure police headquarters for Offaly moved from Birr to Tullamore.

He later served in Donegal, Baltinglass, Drogheda and Sligo. Retiring as a Chief Superintendent in 1953, he helped to establish the Garda Pensioners Association. The Liddy Medal is presented to retired Gardai who have been injured in the course of their duties.

Settling in Mount Merrion, Dublin Liddy died at Loughlinstown Hospital; having been struck by a car on the Kilmacud Road in March 1965. His funeral to Cooraclare was attended by the Garda Commissioner, his War of Independence comrade Thomas Merrian delivered the graveside oration.

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing works of Thomás Mac Conmara on the War of Independence in Clare and Brian McCarthy on the Civic Guard Mutiny.


Sources:

Military Service Pension Files. Sean Liddy (24SP13678) search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/search-the-collection

Bureau of Military History Statements. Michael Brennan Witness 1068. Martin Chamber Witness 1251. Search online at https://militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921

Thomás Mac Conmara. ‘The Kilrush Ambush’ (1921) Clare Champion and online at Acadmia.edu

Brian McCarthy. The Civic Guard Mutiny. (Cork) 2012.

Shane MacEllhatton ‘Policing the Revolution: Order from Chaos’ RTE online at https://www.rte.ie/news/2022/0219/1280949-civic-guards/

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

Clare Champion 3 April 1965. 21 May 1966.

Evening Herald. 23 September 1980.

Freemans Journal. 5 October 1922.

Irish Press. 8 October 1949. 3 April 1965.

Leinster Reporter. 4 November 1922. 27 January 1923. 2 June 1923. 16 June 1923. 11 August 1923.

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