Michael Kilroy (14 September 1884 – 23 December 1962) was an Irish politician and guerrilla leader. He was an Irish Republican Army (IRA) officer in his native County Mayo during the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War. Subsequently, he was a Sinn Féin and later Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Mayo South.
Michael Kilroy was born in Derrylahan townland, Newport, County Mayo on 14 September 1884. He was the son of Edward and Matilda Kilroy and one of ten in the family. He was a carpenter and coachbuilder and learned his trade in Claremorris when he was 16 years and lodged with the Stratford Family in Mount Street, Claremorris. He was married to Ann Leonard of Crossmolina and they had eight in family. As a child he was raised with his maternal grandmother who was also Kilroy in the townland of Carrickaneady, Newport and went to school in Culmore in the 1890s where he was greatly influenced by the nationalistically minded Martin Casey, the Head Master. Mr. Casey instilled in his pupils a great love of Irish history that would remain with Kilroy all his life.
A booklet on the life of Michael Kilroy was published in 2008, Michael Kilroy – A Life 1884 – 1962 and is available in Mayo County Libraries.
The IRA in West Mayo was relatively quiet until January 1921, when Michael Kilroy, who was described as, "a puritanical and ascetic blacksmith" took over command of the brigade after the previous leader Thomas Derrig was arrested by the British.
There were four Battalions in the West Mayo Brigade, The First Battalion was in Castlebar, the Second Battalion was in Newport, the Third Battalion was in Westport and the Fourth Battalion was in Louisburgh. In his earlier career with the Movement for Independence, Kilroy had been an organiser for the IRB in the west and had been one of the founder members of the Volunteer Company in Newport in February 1914 and was the O/C and also Quarter Master of the Mayo Brigade of the Irish Volunteers.
Kilroy formed a flying column of 40–50 men to carry out attacks on British forces in the area. On 6 May 1921, they suffered a reverse at Islandeady, when a British patrol came upon the IRA men cutting a road, 3 IRA members were killed and 2 captured.
Another setback was to follow; at the Kilmeena ambush on 19 May 1921, 6 IRA men were killed and 7 wounded. One Royal Irish Constabulary and one Black and Tans policemen were also killed in the action. After the ambush at Kilmeena the column retreated to the hill country of Skirdagh to the north east of Newport where they were forced to retreat when a patrol from Newport came into the village the gallant men of the West Mayo Brigade held them off and the wounded were got away to safety. This was on 23 May 1921 and the column was hidden in the hills of the Nephin range and in the Glenisland area until the RIC, Tans and the Border regiment lifted the cordon. One volunteer Jim Browne from Drumgarve, Kilmeena was killed at Skirdagh and a number of the RIC including a District Inspector was killed. It was a crucial week in the survival of the column because they were attacked from the rear at Kilmeena and could have been wiped out during this action.
The Crown forces burned houses including the home of Michael Kilroy on 20 May 1921 and the same would happen after the Carrowkennedy Ambush in June 1921. The south west Mayo area suffered greatly during these months of 1921 due to the ambushes.
On 2 June 1921 in an action at Carrowkennedy, they killed 8 Tans and captured 16 members of the RIC along with a Lewis Machine gun and rifles and ammunition. The ambush began after the convoy or patrol left Darby Hastings pub at Carrowkennedy and one of the column fired early hitting the driver of the first vehicle and after a protracted period of firing in which a number of Tans were killed, an explosion in one of the lorries brought an end to the firing. Two of the wounded Tans died later. The 16 RIC referred to earlier surrendered in a nearby cottage. The Column went on the run for the next six weeks until the Truce. The first casualty in the ambush was District Inspector Stevenson.
He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 and sided with the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Civil War with the Irish Free State forces in 1922–23. He served on the Army Executive of the IRA in this period. In October 1922 he was appointed O/C of the 4th Western Division and later the Western Command in September 1922, the 4th Western Division covered North Mayo, West Mayo and West Connemara.
In the early months of the Civil War, he and his men dominated the West Mayo area and successfully ambushed Free State Army troops on several occasions. The Government forces also had to evacuate their garrison at Newport and carried out a successful attack on Clifden, capturing the Army post there on 29 October 1922. They also captured Ballina in September 1922. They fought a battle at Glenamoy on 16 September 1922 where 6 Free State Troops were killed and five wounded, one Republican Officer was wounded.
However the Free State then sent an expedition to the North Mayo/Connemara area, which succeeded after some fighting, in capturing Michael Kilroy and many of his men at Carrowbeg House on 23 November 1922. Kilroy was badly wounded and interned at Athlone and Mountjoy where he went on Hunger Strike and would escape in late 1923 when the Civil War was over.
Kilroy entered politics in August 1923 while still in jail. He was elected for the Republicans for South Mayo but due to the Oath of Allegiance he did not take his seat.
Michael Kilroy was elected for Fianna Fáil in South Mayo in June 1927 and would be TD for South Mayo until 1937 when he lost his seat when contesting the General election in North Mayo. He did not take his seat in the 4th Dáil due to Sinn Féin's abstentionist policy.
He was the Chairman of Mayo County Council from 1934 to 1945, the longest-serving member in this position in the history of the Council. He retired from politics in 1945. From 1945 until his death on 23 December 1962 he was a Member of the Hospitals Commission. His funeral was one of the largest seen in Newport and along with many politicians, the then President Éamon de Valera was present. The graveside oration was given by his comrade and fellow TD Edward Moane from Westport.
The Fianna Fáil Cumann in Newport is named in his honour and his son Peadar also was in local politics as a member of Mayo County Council.