Gerald Smyth

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Lieutenant-Colonel Gerald Bryce Ferguson Smyth, DSO and Bar, French Croix de Guerre and Belgian Croix de guerre (7 September 1885 – 17 July 1920) was a British Army officer and police officer who was at the centre of an alleged mutiny in the ranks of the Royal Irish Constabulary during the Irish War of Independence. He was shot and killed by the Irish Republican Army in Cork in 1920.

A picture of the Smyth brothers-Osbert Smyth (left) and Gerald Smyth (right)


Gerald Smyth was born at Phoenix Lodge, Dalhousie, Punjab, India, the eldest son of George Smyth and Helen Ferguson Smyth. His father was the British High Commissioner in the Punjab and his mother was the daughter of Thomas Ferguson of Banbridge, County Down, Ireland.[1] Smyth had one brother, George Osbert Smyth, who also served as a British Army officer. Both served in the First World War and in Ireland during the War of Independence.

Military service[edit]

A Woolwich graduate, Gerald Smyth was commissioned into the Royal Engineers as a young man and volunteered at the outbreak of World War I even though he had been offered a position as Professor of Mathematics at Chatham. He was sent to France where he was seriously injured on a number of occasions. One of his injuries restricted the use of his left arm. He was mentioned in despatches seven times.

In June 1920 Colonel Smyth was sent to Ireland at the height of the War of Independence. He was seconded to the RIC of which he was appointed Divisional Commissioner for the province of Munster.


On 19 June 1920 Smyth made a speech to the ranks of the Listowel RIC in which was reported to have said, "Police and military will patrol the country roads at least five nights a week. They are not to confine themselves to the main roads but make across the country, lie in ambush, take cover behind fences near roads, and when civilians are seen approaching shout: 'Hands up!' Should the order be not obeyed, shoot, and shoot with effect. If the persons approaching carry their hands in their pockets or are in any way suspicious looking, shoot them down. You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped and you are bound to get the right persons sometimes. The more you shoot the better I will like you; and I assure you that no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man and I will guarantee that your names will not be given at the inquest."[2]

One officer, Constable Jeremiah Mee, put his gun on the table and called Smyth a murderer. Smyth ordered his arrest but the RIC men present refused.[3] He and 13 others resigned, most joining or assisting the Irish Republican Army.[citation needed] Mee became a confidant and ally of Michael Collins.


Smyth's order marked him for attention from the IRA. He subsequently returned to Cork and took lodgings at the Cork & County Club, an Anglo-Irish social club. On the evening of 17 July 1920 he was in the smoking room when a six-man IRA team led by Dan "Sandow" O'Donovan entered and allegedly said to him, "Colonel, were not your orders to shoot on sight? Well you are in sight now, so prepare." Colonel Smyth jumped to his feet before being riddled with bullets. Despite being shot twice in the head, once through the heart and twice through the chest, the Colonel staggered to the passage where he dropped dead. He was 34 years old.[4][5]

Colonel Gerald Smyth was buried at Banbridge, County Down on 20 July 1920. His funeral was followed by a three-day pogrom against local Roman Catholic homes and businesses. One Protestant man was shot and killed and three Irish nationalists were convicted of firearms offences.[6]

Smyth's brother, George Osbert Smyth, allegedly became a member of the Cairo Gang, an elite group of British intelligence officers in Dublin sent specially to spy on and eliminate leading IRA figures, in order to avenge his brother's death. Osbert Smyth was shot dead in October 1920 while trying to arrest IRA suspects Dan Breen and Seán Treacy at a house in Drumcondra. Most of the other Cairo Gang members were shot dead early in the morning of "Bloody Sunday", 21 November 1920, on the orders of Michael Collins.[7]


  1. ^ Back
  2. ^ Ireland List – The Easter Week Series
  3. ^ Gaughan, J. Anthony (1974). "Listowel Police Mutiny". Retrieved 20 October 2009. 
  4. ^ Rebel Cork's Fighting Story, various writers, page 133, Mercier Press, Cork reprinted 2009
  5. ^ Irish Times, Dublin, 20 July 1920
  6. ^ Seanchas Ardmhacha: Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society 2006. p. 245
  7. ^ Departed Warriors: The Story of One Family in War by Jerry Murland (ISBN 978-1906510701), page 211

External links[edit]