William Shanahan and Michael McNamara
William Shanahan and Michael McNamara



The story of two IRA men who were tortured and killed by British forces, 96 years ago this week, taken from ‘The Banner’ (1963).


William Shanahan, Brigade Chief of IRA Police, West Clare Brigade, was born at Ocean View, Doughmore, Doonbeg, on 28th October, 1896. He was the oldest of a family of nine - six boys and three girls. He received his early education at Clohanes National School and later attended the Kilrush Christian Brothers. During his early teens he developed a keen interest in all forms of outdoor sports and took part in many competitive events. He played football with the parish team, and on occasions his name appeared among those receiving honorable mention. He was an expert marksman and an outstanding figure in the field of Horsemanship. He won the respect and admiration of the people of West Clare for his skillful and daring performances in exhibition jumping.

In 1917, on the initiation of the Volunteer and Sinn Fein Movements, he became one of its earliest members. Fully realizing the ideals and confident of the success of the IRA objective, he worked with fervour in its ranks and earned the genuine appreciation of his comrade officers and men. From the beginning he held rank in the local Volunteer Company at Clohanes, and, due to his courage and initiative, he was soon called upon to fill more important positions.

Michael McNamara, Captain (Doonbeg Company), West Clare Brigade, was born at Mountrivers, Doonbeg, in July 1891, one of a family of 13 children. He attended Doonbeg National School for nine years, and then, having finished his schooling on 20th July, 1905, he went to work on his father’s farm.

When the Volunteer movement spread to Clare, he joined the Caherfeenick-Mountrivers unit under Dinnie McGrath. After his release from prison, Thomas Ashe addressed the Volunteers at the Sandhills, Doughmore. The words spoken on that occasion by the man who wrote the following lines must have made a deep impression on Mikie and those of his comrades who were present on that day:

Let me carry your Cross for Ireland, Lord!
For Ireland weak with tears,
For the aged man of the clouded brow,
And the child of tender years;
For the empty homes of her golden plains;
For the hopes of her future, too!
Let me carry your Cross for Ireland, Lord!
For the Cause of Roisin Dubh.

Later, Mikie took an active part in the formation of the Doonbeg company and became its first captain early in 1918. He worked quietly and effectively in training the manhood of his district in military discipline. He took part in the holding up and searching of trains for the purpose of obtaining information from British mailbags.

He was appointed Chief of the IRA Police for the third Batt. in early 1920. As a tribute to the efficiency with which he carried out the duties of this position, he was promoted to the rank of Brigade Chief of Police. In addition, he became a member of the Flying Column, formed in the summer of 1920. On 27th August, 1920, he participated in an attack on a Military Supply Corps at Burrane, Knock. The Military were relieved of their horses and their equipment was destroyed. The soldiers, however, were released unharmed.

On 14th September, 1920, the Column assembled at Drumdigus, Kilmurry MacMahon for a prearranged ambush of British Military. The main body of the Column, armed with shotguns, revolvers and hand grenades, occupied an elevated position on the east side of the road (Dan Haugh’s property). Willie Shanahan and Lieut. Paddy Hassett from Cooraclare (later Col. Hassett), both riflemen and two IRA men, Paddy Haugh and Joe Kelly, armed with hand grenades, were assigned to a position on the west side of the road. The Military, travelling south and arriving earlier than anticipated, were alerted to danger when they observed two IRA signalmen running to their positions.

They instantly halted their lorry (two hundred yards from the ambush site) directing fire on the signalmen and they began a circular movement. Willie Shanahan quickly realized the danger awaiting his comrades armed with shotguns. He and his partner Hassett, immediately opened rapid fire and kept the enemy under cover long enough to allow the main body of the Column to make a safe withdrawal. He and his partners then escaped and rejoined the Column at Mobilization Headquarters in Tullycrine (Simon O’Donnell’s).

In the summer of 1920, it was ascertained through IRA Intelligence that the Resident Magistrate, Captain Lendrum, serving West Clare was the Director of the Enemy Secret Service for the area. An order for his arrest was issued by the Brigade Commandant, and after many unsuccessful attempts, he was finally intercepted on 22nd September, at the Caherfeenic Railroad Crossing. He was fatally wounded when he tried to use his gun. He was then disarmed and his car was seized. One hour later Willie drove the car to Doolough lake area.

Though Willie Shanahan was not directly involved in the capture and his participation in this affair had no connection with the death of Captain Lendrum, he was accused by the enemy as the real perpetrator of the crime. Night terror raids were carried out in his home and the homes of friends. During one particular raid, his parents were subjected to violence and threats of destruction to their residence. They were informed by the Commanding Officer that they had come to butcher Willie. Failing to find him, however, they chose another member of the family, and threatening him with the same fate, placed him under arrest. After a lengthy deliberation between the Military and the RIC Sgt. (formerly stationed in the next parish, Mullagh), they abandoned the idea. Before leaving, the Commanding Officer issued a grim warning to the parents that unless Willie surrendered, they would return to carry out their reprisals.

Still a free man, he scorned their threats and continued his activities with greater determination. One of his most serious encounters with the enemy occurred in October 1920, at Cloonagarnane, Craggaknock, during a session of the Sinn Fein Appeals Court. The court venue was a closely guarded secret because of the important nature of the cases and the required presence of men on the run, however, information was passed to the enemy by a disgruntled person involved in a court action. The Court was not long in session when a large force of Black and Tans and RIC suddenly arrived. Due to an excellent signal arrangement, some precious minutes were availed of to allow the removal of valuable documents, also providing a reasonable opportunity of escape to the wanted men. Willie fought a running engagement with the enemy and miraculously avoided capture. Unfortunately, some civilians attending the Court session became confused by the terrific shooting and attempted to flee the area. Enemy fire was then directed on them, fatally wounding Thomas Curtin (farmer from Craggaknock) and critically wounding Michael Crotty (business man from Kilrush).

Comrades’ Capture and Death

Willie and Mikie successfully evaded arrest until 17th December, 1920, when they were betrayed. They were surrounded and captured while sleeping at the home of Mrs. Reidy, located about three quarters of a mile southeast of Doonbeg.

Both men were brutally beaten with rifle and revolver butts and accused of killing Captain Lendrum.

They were taken to Kilrush Military Barracks, and on arrival, they were again tortured and beaten. Willie was confronted by members of the garrison who identified him as a participant in the Burrane Ambush.

On 22nd December, 1920 they were transferred to Ennis under a heavy Military escort. Before reaching their destination, Mikie was taken from the lorry and murdered. His body, badly mangled after being dragged for several yards by the lorry, bore the marks of three severe bayonet thrusts and one bullet wound.

After witnessing this inhuman crime, Willie was taken to the Military Barracks where his captors continued their brutal methods of interrogation for six hours. Failure on their part to break his morale or to extract any information from him concerning the IRA resulted in his death about midnight. Attempting to conceal this gruesome crime, his executioners removed his body from the Military Barracks to the other end of town and tossed it into the grounds of the County Infirmary. He was discovered next morning with his hands and feet bound, part of the back of his head blown off by an explosive bullet, and his body severely mutilated.

On Christmas Day 1920, Willie and Mikie - their coffins draped with the Tricolour - were buried side by side with IRA Military Honours in the Republican Plot of Doonbeg.

A magnificent Celtic Cross erected to the memory of Shanahan and McNamara was unveiled in this plot on Easter Sunday 1926.

After Willie’s death, the following citation was presented to his family:

West Clare Brigade
24th December, 1920

To Mr. & Mrs. Shanahan & Family:

We, the Officers and Men of the West Clare Brigade, through our Commandant, tender to Mr. & Mrs. Shanahan and Family our heartfelt sympathy in your sad bereavement on the loss of so heroic, noble-minded patriotic and beloved a son and brother who was so foully murdered under such brutal circumstances by the agents of a Foreign Murder Gang.

Within the Brigade, he was loved and esteemed by his Brother Officers and Men. He was a most intelligent, efficient and courageous Officer in the discharge of his duty which earned for him the esteem which he bore.

His name will never be forgotten by the Officers and Men of the West Clare Brigade and will be handed down by them for generations to come as the heroic, patriotic, Child-Officer of the West who willingly laid down his life for the noble principles he so fearlessly advocated.

(Signed) Brigade Commandant

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