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
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
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.