Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

William Harding Wilson 1864-1920

William Wilson was born at Ballycumber in 1864 and joined the RIC in 1882. While many senior policemen of the time joined the force as cadets, Wilson was a rank-and-file officer who was promoted to District Inspector in 1910. In 1917, his son Eccles Wilson was severely wounded while serving the Royal Irish Regiment on the Western Front.

Throughout 1917 and 1918 relations in Tipperary between some members of RIC and the Irish Volunteers descended into outright hostility. Serving in Templemore, William Wilson along with his fellow D.I. Michael Hunt of Thurles, became Béte noires for local republicans. In June 1919, a unit of the Mid-Tipperary Tipperary IRA shot D.I. Hunt dead in Liberty Square, Thurles.

Wilson represented the RIC at Hunt’s inquest and temporarily took charge of the Thurles district.

In July 1920 Wilson lead an RIC patrol which shot dead IRA Captain Michael Small at Shevry near Upperchurch. Following Small’s death, the IRA increased its efforts to kill Wilson, deploying a unit assembled by Mid-Tipperary O.C. Jimmy Leahy. The group was comprised of many of those who had taken part in the earlier shooting of D.I. Hunt.

William Wilson was shot dead by Jim Stapleton on Patrick Street Templemore at 6:45pm on 16 August 1920. Following the shooting the RIC and military instigated a series of reprisals. Three creameries were burned in Castleiney, Killen and Loughmore. In Templemore the businesses of both nationalists and unionists were wrecked, with the Town Hall burned. During these reprisals Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Herbert Beattie and Lance Corporal Hebert John Fuggle of the Northamptonshire Regiment were injured and killed.

In the weeks after Wilson’s shooting, Templemore was the centre of massive public interest, when a farm labourer named James Walsh claimed to have experienced a Marian apparition and statues of the Virgin Mary were seen to bleed. Some in Templemore credited the intervention of the Virgin Mary with saving lives during the outbreak of reprisals.

As vast numbers of pilgrims descended on the town, the IRA took over policing duties in the area and financed its activities through a levy on cars visiting the area. As the ‘Templemore Miracles’ continued, some IRA officers began to fear that generous tips from pilgrims were encouraging indiscipline and intemperance among their subordinates. After an investigation, republicans concluded that Walsh was either a rogue or a dupe of others and that the bleeding statues had been constructed using alarm clocks, fountain pen inserts and a solution containing sheep’s blood. The resumption of political violence around Templemore in September ended the towns short career as a place of pilgrimage.

A Methodist, William Wilson’s remains were buried in the church yard of St Mary’s Church of Ireland Templemore. His coffin covered in the Union Jack was carried through the town on a gun carriage and escorted by the Regimental Band playing the death march. The funeral party contained a company of the Northamptonshire Regiment and a large contingent of RIC. The epitaph on his gravestone reads…

His life for his country His soul to God

The author wishes to acknowledge the work of Sean Hogan on north Tipperary in the revolutionary period and John Reynolds on the Templemore Apparitions

 

Sources:

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

Bureau of Military History Statements. James Leahy Witness 1454. Patrick Kinnane Witness 1475. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

Military Service Pension Collection. James Stapleton MSP34REF1529. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/search-the-collection

Daithí O Corráin and Eunan O’Halpin. The dead of the Irish Revolution. (Yale) 2020. P 127. Richard Abbott. Police Casualties in Ireland 1919-1922 (Cork) 2019.

Sean Hogan. The Black and Tans in north Tipperary: Poling, revolution and war 1913-1922. (Tipperary) 2013.

Irish Independent 13 September 1918.

History Ireland January 2009: The Templemore Miracles online at https://www.historyireland.com/the-templemore-miracles/

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