Author Colm Wallace recounts the tragic tale of Gda Timothy O’Sullivan, one of several Irish gardaí killed in the line of duty
TIMOTHY (Tadhg) O’Sullivan was born in November 1896 in Skibbereen. As a young man, he spent several years in the IRA, becoming the first captain of the local company founded in 1917.
After the truce, O’Sullivan secured employment as a local magistrate but when the civil war, began he enlisted in the National Army.
In March 1925 he joined the detective division of An Garda Síochána, ultimately being transferred to the West Clare village of Kilmihil in 1928. The small village had seen its fair share of outrages throughout the troubled 1920s, the local IRA playing a part in various instances of land agitation. A number of detectives, including O’Sullivan, were drafted in to deal with the outrages, an act that unsurprisingly proved unpopular amongst local republicans.
At 8pm on Tuesday, June 11th 1929 a colleague of Det O’Sullivan, Sherkin Island native Det John O’Driscoll, opened a letter that had been addressed to him at Knock Garda Station, seven miles from Kilmihil.
It was anonymous but described finding a box of ammunition and papers in a butt of hay in a nearby field. The detective immediately made his way out to the field and after some searching eventually discovered the wooden box.
He decided against opening it, however. Instead he put it under his overcoat and cycled a mile-and-a-half to his colleague, Garda Cusack. As they were discussing the mysterious box, Det Timothy O’Sullivan arrived at the scene from duty in Kilrush. O’Sullivan brazenly suggested ‘We had better open it and see what is inside.’
The other men agreed. The gardaí still had their suspicions, however. They walked in behind a gate near the garda hut and laid the box on the ground, deciding that they would open it using a rough test in an attempt to retrieve the so-called ‘treasonous documents’, without actually standing directly beside the box.
The men removed five yards of strong barbed wire from a fence which they attached to the hasp by which the box was fastened. From some distance away, and behind the partial safety of the mud hut, they then attempted to manoeuvre the wire to open the hasp. They tried repeatedly in the hope of either setting off the trap or opening the box but succeeded only in knocking it over onto its side several times. The men realised that this mechanism would not work and O’Sullivan was reportedly assuaged by the fact that a bomb had not gone off, despite the rough handling of the object. He came to the conclusion that he could now safely open the box. O’Driscoll and Cusack came out from behind the hut while O’Sullivan approached the box before going down on his right knee and using both his hands to force open the clasp. A large explosion followed which flung his body yards away, to fall a dead mass of human flesh.
Timothy O’Sullivan would be killed by the blast, although his two colleagues would survive.
The brazen attack on a garda would cause national outrage and lead to the government clamping down on the area in an attempt to detect those who had planted the deadly explosive. A controversial garda investigation would follow in which a number of suspects would come to light.
• The above is an extract from Colm Wallace’s book ‘The Fallen: Gardaí Killed in Service 1922-1949’ about 21 gardaí killed in the line of duty in the lifetime of the Irish Free State. It is available in all good bookshops and on amazon.com. See also colmwallaceauthor on Facebook.