Republican News · Thursday 29 January 1998

[An Phoblacht]

Mysterious death of `20s Volunteer

By Aengus O Snodaigh

On a dark frosty January evening in Dublin 70 years ago an IRA Volunteer was gunned down in mysterious circumstances by Free State agents.

The political atmosphere at the time was very tense with memories the Civil War still fresh.

The amalgamation of Oriel House CID with Dublin Metropolitan Police and subsequent amalgamation into the Gardaí Síochána in 1925 did nothing to curb the illegal activities and torture of suspects by David Neligan and his mob.

The undercover police became known as the Special Branch. Republicans were hounded - few jobs were open to them and they were arrested on any pretext.

Timothy Coughlan was 22 at the time of his death, but was an experienced Volunteer with the Dublin Brigade. The second eldest in a family of nine, he lived with his parents in Inchicore.

Despite his youth he played a role in both the Tan War and the Civil War. Interned for much of the latter, he re-immersed himself in republican activities upon his release. Along with Archie Doyle and Bill Gannon he assassinated the anti-republican Free State Justice Minister Kevin O'Higgins on 10 July 1927.

A target for much police harassment, he was not deterred, and with another Volunteer, possibly Archie Doyle, he was preparing to execute a Free State agent.

Sean Harling, a one time republican who served on the First Dáil Secretariat and was interned for his republican sympathies during the Civil War, had become an agent provocateur in the war against republicans. He was responsible for the discovery of IRA arms dumps; setting up splinter groups; and carrying out actions which would discredit republicans.

He even managed to get himself a position within Fianna Fáil to further enhance his usefulness to the state. His handler was the infamous David Neligan who was involved in directing the campaign of state murders in Kerry during the Civil War.

Harling's account of what occurred that fateful day left many unanswered questions. He said that he was returning home from work at around 6.35pm, earlier than usual having got a lift home, when he noticed two men watching him from the other side of the road.

On entering the driveway of his home, Woodpark Lodge he was fired on by the two who were running towards him. Returning fire he retreated into his house to emerge later to find one of them mortally wounded. He identified the man, Timothy Coughlan, from the Fianna Fáil membership card he was carrying.

The findings of a governmental tribunal into the shooting were a foregone conclusion - Harling was exonerated. That he was a state agent or that the IRA were planning to kill him there is no argument, but several discrepancies arise between his testimony and the findings of the doctor who carried out the post mortem.

Harling had failed to mention that his lift home was in a police car. He never mentioned that he was not alone in the vicinity of his house. His brother-in-law was Thomas Redican, also a former republican and ex-internee, whose upturn in personal fortunes coincided with Harling's work with the state. He was in military uniform on the grounds of Woodpark Lodge at the time of the shooting.

The post mortem of Dr Wilfred Lane highlighted evidence that pointed to Coughlan being caught unawares and executed.

There were the remains of a cigarette butt between his lips. This does not match Harling's description of a man chasing him at speed. Coughlan was also shot in the back of the head.

More damning was evidence of ``an independent horizontal fracture'' of the skull, which the doctor suggested was caused by a violent blow.

In all probability the IRA had sent Volunteers to gather more information or to confirm their suspicions of Harling and that both Coughlan and Doyle were on a fact-finding operation when they were bushwhacked.

The location they chose to observe their target was not an ideal area to assassinate Harling, if that was their purpose that day. Many other sites on the same side as Harling's house would have allowed much more cover.

Other discrepancies remained unchallenged: witness reports of police cars in the vicinity; the number of shots fired; the exact sequence of events; the deficiencies in police logs; or reports of pools of blood on Dartry Road were not investigated.

Harling was under greater threat after Coughlan's killing and, having outlived his usefulness, David Neligan relocated him in the USA with expenses.

Though blocked for a time, he returned to Ireland several years later and was given a job in the Revenue Commissioners. He lived on New Grange Road, Cabra unil his death in 1977.

Volunteer Timothy Coughlan was gunned down 70 years ago this week, on 28 January 1928.

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