Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Thomas Gibson 1897-1923

Thomas Gibson was born in 1897, to Michael and Anne Gibson of Cloneygowan, who lived with Michael’s father William. Michael was described in the 1901 census as a labourer.

Thomas’ cousin Kate Gibson was a leading member of the Cloneygowan Cumann na mBan. Kate’s brother Patrick served in the IRA during the War of Independence and the National Army in the Civil War.

During the Great War, Thomas enlisted in the Irish Guards. His older brother William was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 and is listed on the Tyne Cot Memorial. Several accounts suggest that Thomas suffered from shell shock resulting from his military service. On his return to Ireland, he worked as a farm labourer.

During the Civil War, Gibson joined the National Army and was stationed at Maryborough (Portlaoise). In November 1922, he defected to Republican forces taking with him five rifles and a hand grenade.

In January 1923, the Freemans Journal reported on the capture of Gibson and Laois republicans Frank and Tom Dunne…

‘The three men were caught asleep in the room in Foyles house at Cullenagh and in the room were found 4 rifles, 200 rounds of ammunition, 3 grenades and other stuff.’ (1)

On 18 January Gibson was convicted of treachery at a court marital in Roscrea and sentenced to death. In late 1922, the Provisional Government carried out a series of executions around Dublin. In early 1923 following recommendations from minister Kevin O’Higgins, policy of executions spread nationwide.

Throughout January, 34 men were executed while in Free State custody. These included five National Army soldiers captured after defecting to an anti-treaty column in Kildare.  On January 26th three young Tullamore men were shot dead at Birr Castle. A day later Joe Byrne and Patrick Geraghty officers in the Offaly IRA were executed at Maryborough /Portlaoise Prison.

In late January, imprisoned anti-treaty leader Liam Deasy issued an appeal calling for a ceasefire. While IRA chief of staff Liam Lynch rejected Deasy’s peace initiative, for a period, there was the possibility that hostilities might subside. In that context the Free State administration suspended executions temporary.

On 26 March, Thomas Gibson was executed by firing squad at Maryborough Barracks. Before his death Gibson wrote to his mother …

‘You know I’m writing to old friends just to pass the time away. Also to keep smiling over old adventures. You would think I was going to a dance or an amusement. Well you will remember poor William didn’t get one minute to prepare. Well I must say I am well looked after. I have no enemies anyhow. I never did anything to anyone IY. I am taken (sic) the responsibility myself & am well able to do it’ (2)

Gibson’s execution was the first in almost a month. After his death there was another lull in executions until the 13 March. In ‘The Irish Civil War: Law, Execution and Atrocity‘ Sean Enright suggests that senior figures in the National Army took the decision to execute Gibson after the failure to hold any republican to account for the death of Kevin O’Higgins’ father Dr Thomas Higgins, who had been shot dead at Stradbally on 11 February.

Republican priest Fr. Thomas Burbage condemned the execution, suggesting that both Gibson and mother had been suffered from a mental illness, and arguing that the government execution policy was …

‘Altogether opposed to the traditions of our people – that even Cromwell’s soldiers were not executed when they fell into the hands of the Irish troops’ (3)

In November 1924 the remains of Peter Geraghty, Joe Byrne and Thomas Gibson were exhumed and released to their families for reburial. Their tri-colour draped coffins of were escorted through Maryborough by two bands and a guard of honour from the Laois IRA.

After Gibson’s funeral in the Church of St Peter and Paul, his cortege travelled to Raheen where the last post was sounded, Fr. Burbage recited the graveside prayers and P.J Gorry gave an oration.

In 1945, Brian O’Higgins unveiled a memorial erected by Laois National Graves Association at Gibson’s graveside.

 

The author wishes to acknowledge the substantial existing research on Offaly’s Civil War dead by Philip McConway and by PJ Goode into Cloneygowan in the revolutionary period.

Sources:

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at https://www.nationalarchives.ie/

Commonwealth War Graves Commission online at https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/casualty-details/839864/william-gibson/

Military Service Pension Collection. Thomas Gibson DP1720. Kate Dunne MSP34REF63830. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923

Military Service Pension Collection Blog online at https://militarypensions.wordpress.com/2023/02/24/civil-war-executions-february-1923/

Thomas Gibson letters. National Library of Ireland. Online at https://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000852981 and https://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000852983

Sean Enright. ‘The Irish Civil War: Law, Execution and Atrocity’ (Dublin) 2019.

P.J Goode. ‘The Troubles in Cloneygowan’ online at https://offalyhistoryblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/07/the-troubles-in-cloneygowan-1920-23-by-p-j-goode/

Michael Hopkinson. Green against Green, the Irish Civil War (Dublin) 1988.

Phillip McConway. Offaly and the Civil War Executions in “Offaly Heritage 5” edited by Rory Masterson. Tullamore 2008.

Philip McConway. The Civil War in Offaly- Part 2. In the Midland Tribune 2 January 2008 online at https://www.offalyhistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/6_civil_war_2.pdf

Eve Morrison. ‘Making Peace: How people on all sides tried to end the Civil War’ online at https://www.rte.ie/history/liam-deasy/2022/1206/1340285-civil-war-peace-moves/

Margret Mulligan White. Fr Thomas Burbage. In “Offaly Heritage 11” edited by Ciaran Reilly.(Tullamore) 2020.

Mike Rafter. The Quiet County, towards a history of the Laois Brigade IRA and revolutionary activity in county 1913 – 1923. (Portlaoise) 2016.

‘Dan Keating obituary’ The Kingdom. 9 October, 2007 online at https://www.hoganstand.com/Kerry/Article/Index/88250

Freemans Journal. 20 January 1920. 9 February 1923.

Irish Independent. 27 February 1923.

Leinster Leader. 8 November 1924.

The Nationalist. 15 September 1945.

Westmeath Independent. 1 November 1924.

(1) Freemans Journal. 20 January 1920.

(2) Thomas Gibson letter. National Library of Ireland. Online at https://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000852983

(3) Philip McConway. The Civil War in Offaly- Part 2. In the Midland Tribune 2 January 2008 online at https://www.offalyhistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/6_civil_war_2.pdf

 

 

 

Scroll to Top