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The life and death of Tomás Mac Curtain

When the Sinn Féin candidates had such a widespread victory in the 1918 General Election they immediately announced the setting up of Dáil Éireann. The War of Independence started on the day the Dáil first met and they set about organising their own system of local government.
The Local Government Elections in January 1920 saw similar results and most of the local authorities in the country were then in Republican control. One of those was Cork Corporation and, on January 31, Tomás Mac Curtain was elected Lord Mayor of Cork, the first republican to hold the post. His term of office, however, lasted less than two months.
Mac Curtain was born at Ballyknockane in 1884 and attended Burnfort National School. At the age of 13 the family moved to Cork City and lived in Blackpool – although he may have just moved to live with an older sister. He attended The North Monastery Christian Brothers Secondary School and, afterwards, worked as a clerk first with the City of Cork Steam Packet Company and later with Marks Mills.
Those were the days of the start of the Gaelic revival and Mac Curtain was an early member of Conradh na Gaeilge, later its secretary and then taught Irish. He joined Fianna Éireann and then was one of those who founded the Irish Volunteers in Cork City. Later, following his marriage in 1908 to Éibhlís Ní Bhreathnach, whom he met through Conradh na Gaeilge, he set up his own clothing business at Thomas Davis Street and lived over the premises.
During Easter 1916 he commanded the Cork Volunteers, who assembled in different locations around the city. They waited for orders from Dublin but with the confusion there was no action in the city. At the end of the week they negotiated the surrender of their arms to the then Lord Mayor and Mac Curtain was among those interned in Frongoch in Wales. On his release he became Commandant of the Irish Republican Army in Cork City.
In January 1920 he was elected Alderman of the Corporation and then, at its first meeting, Lord Mayor. A number of RIC officers had been shot in the previous 12 months and Mac Curtain was warned that if another RIC officer was shot in Cork that he was in danger of being shot in retaliation.
On the evening of March 19 Constable Murtagh was shot at Pope’s Quay in the city. Whether this led to the murder of Mac Curtain is a moot point as the authorities had already issued orders for Mac Curtain to be arrested.
Around 2am on the morning of March 20 – which was Mac Curtain’s 36th birthday armed men, disguised and with blackened faces, arrived at his house. While his wife was detained at the door others went upstairs and shot her husband and then ransacked the house.
The public outcry was huge and the inquest into his death returned a verdict of willful murder against Lloyd George and members of the RIC. The officer accused of ordering the killing, Inspector Oliver Swanzy, was shot in Lisburn, the following August, supposedly using Mac curtain’s own gun.
Tomás Mac Curtain, Lord Mayor of Cork was murdered on his 36th birthday on March 20, 1920 – 93 years ago this week.     
n Michael Torpey

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