Tomás Mac Curtain

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Tomás Mac Curtain
Born(1884-03-20)20 March 1884
Mourne Abbey, Ireland
Died20 March 1920(1920-03-20) (aged 36)
Cork, Ireland
OccupationLord Mayor of Cork
Known forSinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork (assassinated)

Tomás Mac Curtain (20 March 1884 – 20 March 1920) was an Irish Sinn Féin politician who served as the Lord Mayor of Cork until he was assassinated by the Royal Irish Constabulary. He was elected in January 1920.


Tomás Mac Curtain was born at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey, County Cork, on 20 March 1884, the son of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan.[1] He attended Burnfort National School. In 1897 the family moved to Cork City, where he attended the North Monastery School.[2]

Mac Curtain, as he would later be known, was active in a number of cultural and political movements beginning around the turn of the 20th century. He joined the Blackpool, Cork branch of Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League), becoming its secretary in 1902.[3] He had interests in music, poetry, history, archaeology and Irish history.[citation needed] He worked as a clerk in his early career and taught Irish in his free time. In 1911 he joined Fianna Éireann, and was a member of the Irish Volunteers.[3]

He met Elizabeth Walsh (Eibhlís Breathnach) at a Gaelic League meeting and they married on 28 June 1908.[4] They had six children, five of whom survived into adulthood. The family lived over number 40 Thomas Davis Street, where Mac Curtain ran a small clothing and rainwear factory.[citation needed]

Easter Rising and military career[edit]

In April 1916, at the outset of the Easter Rising, Mac Curtain commanded a force of up to 1,000 men of the Irish Volunteers who assembled at various locations around County Cork. From the volunteer headquarters at Sheares Street in the city, Mac Curtain and his officers awaited orders from the volunteer leadership in Dublin. Conflicting instructions and confusion prevailed and, as a result, the Cork volunteers never entered the fray. A tense stand-off developed when British forces surrounded the volunteer hall and it continued for a week until an agreement was negotiated with Captain F. W. Dickie, aide-de-camp to Brigadier General W. F. H. Stafford, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) in Cork,[5][6] led to the surrender of the volunteers' arms to the then Lord Mayor of Cork, Thomas C. Butterfield, on the understanding that they would be returned at a later date. This did not happen, however, and Mac Curtain was jailed in Wakefield, in the former Frongoch Prisoner of War camp in Wales and in Reading.[7]

After the general amnesty of participants in the Rising 18 months later, Mac Curtain returned to active duty a local commandant of what was now the Irish Republican Army in County Cork.[8]

In early 1919 GHQ carried out a radical restructuring by creating three brigades with set boundaries. Frank Hynes' battalion was an example of a whole unit being dissolved to be divided into smaller ranks, as two staffs were elected.[9] During the Conscription Crisis in the autumn of 1918, Mac Curtain actively encouraged the hiring of the women of Cumann na mBan to cater for Volunteers.[10] He was personally involved with The Squad that, with a Cork battalion, attempted to assassinate Lord French, whose car was missed as the convoy passed through the ambush positions.[citation needed] He remained brigadier of No. 1 Cork when he became Lord Mayor of Cork. He was elected in the January 1920 council elections as the Sinn Féin councillor for NW Ward No. 3 of Cork and was chosen by his fellow councillors to be lord mayor. He began a process of political reform within the city.[11]

A memorial outside Cork City Hall which reads 'Tomás Mac Curtain 1884-1920 Ardmhéara Chorcaí 30 Eanáir- 20 Márta 1920'


On 20 March 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain was shot dead,[12] in front of his wife and son, by a group of men with blackened faces, who were found, by the official inquest into the event, to be members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).[13] In the wake of the killing, Mac Curtain's house in Blackpool was ransacked.[citation needed]

The killing caused widespread public outrage.[14] The coroner's inquest passed a verdict of wilful murder against British Prime Minister Lloyd George and against certain members of the RIC.[13] Michael Collins later ordered his squad of assassins to uncover and assassinate the police officers involved in the attack. On 22 August 1920, RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the attack, was fatally shot with Mac Curtain's own revolver, while leaving a Protestant church in Lisburn, County Antrim, sparking what was described by Tim Pat Coogan as a "pogrom" against the Catholic residents of the town (see The Troubles in Northern Ireland (1920–1922)).[15][16] Mac Curtain is buried in St. Finbarr's Cemetery, Cork.[citation needed]

His successor to the position of Lord Mayor, Terence MacSwiney, died while on hunger strike in Brixton prison, London.[17]

MacCurtain Street in the centre of Cork City is named after him.[18]

Tomás Óg Mac Curtain[edit]

Mac Curtain's son, Tomás Óg (junior) (1915–1994), later became a leading republican and member of the IRA Executive, the main purpose of which was to elect the Chief of Staff of the IRA.[19] In 1935, while armed, he was arrested by an unarmed Garda Síochána Patrick Malone, who received the Silver Scott Medal for bravery.[20] In 1940, Tomás Óg was sentenced to death for shooting Garda Síochána Detective John Roche, who subsequently died. However, he was granted clemency and released after seven years. He later served on the IRA Executive during the Border Campaign.[21]


  1. ^ "General Registrar's Office". Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  2. ^ "Council celebrates 200th anniversary of North Monastery school's founding". Irish Times. 7 April 2011. Archived from the original on 24 August 2017. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b R F Foster (2014). Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923. Penguin. ISBN 9780241954249.
  4. ^ "General Registrar's Office". Archived from the original on 22 September 2021. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  5. ^ White, Gerry; O’Shea, Brendan (2007). "Easter 1916 in Cork – Order, Counter-Order, and Disorder" (PDF). Defence Forces Review: 63–64. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 June 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  6. ^ White, Gerry (21 March 2016). "The standoff on Sheares St: Cork's 'Pain of Easter Week'". Irish Examiner. Archived from the original on 4 July 2020. Retrieved 4 July 2020.
  7. ^ "Tomas MacCURTAIN ©". Archived from the original on 27 November 2006. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  8. ^ "Exhibitions at Cork Public Museum 2006 - 1916 Exhibition". Cork City Council. Archived from the original on 7 March 2012.
  9. ^ Bureau of Military History WS 446 (Frank Hynes). F. O'Donoghue, "Guerrilla Warfare in Ireland 1919-1921", An Cosantóir XXIII (May 1963), pg. 294.
  10. ^ National Library of Ireland, # MS 31198.
  11. ^ C Townshend, "The Republic: The Fight For Irish Independence", (London 2014), pp. 179, 193.
  12. ^ "General Registrar's Office". Archived from the original on 22 September 2021. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  13. ^ a b Coogan, Tim Pat (1991). Michael Collins. Arrow Books. pp. 123–24. ISBN 0-09-968580-9.
  14. ^ O'Sullivan, Donal J. (1999). The Irish constabularies, 1822-1922: a century of policing in Ireland. Brandon. p. 303. ISBN 978-0-86322-257-3. Archived from the original on 22 September 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  15. ^ Coogan, p. 149.
  16. ^ O'Kelly, Emer (24 August 2008). "When the killing starts do you defend God or family?". Irish Independent. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. Retrieved 15 December 2009.
  17. ^ Coogan, p. 155.
  18. ^ "Sráid Mhic Curtáin/MacCurtain Street".
  19. ^ Cronin, Seán. Frank Ryan, pg. 178, Repsol-Skellig, 1980; ISBN 0-86064-018-3
  20. ^ "The Scott Medal for Bravery". Irish Medals. Archived from the original on 2 February 2023. Retrieved 28 February 2023.
  21. ^ Burke, Edward (1 September 2018). An Army of Tribes: British Army Cohesion, Deviancy and Murder in Northern Ireland. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9781786948632. Archived from the original on 22 September 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2020 – via Google Books.


  • Fitzpatrick, David, Harry Boland's Irish Revolution (Cork 2003)
  • Harrington, Michael, The Munster Republic: The Civil War in North Cork (Cork 2009)
  • Irish Labour and Trade Union Congress, Who burnt Cork City? A Tale of Arson, Loot and Murder: The Evidence of over seventy Witnesses (Dublin 1921)
Civic offices
Preceded by
William F. O'Connor
Lord Mayor of Cork
Succeeded by