Policeman Shot in Bunclody

On Saturday the 22nd of December 1920 RIC constable William Jones was shot dead in Bunclody, (then called Newtownbarry)

Background

Shortly before 8p.m. at night constable Jones made his way towards the RIC barracks in Bunclody from the ‘Laundry House’, where his wife and child lived. The latter was located a short distance from the barracks on the opposite side of the river Slaney. Bunclody RIC barracks, were Jones was stationed, was a two story building located on the eastern side of the market square and the last building passed before crossing the bridge over the Slaney.

1905 Ordinance Survey map of Bunclody with the barracks marked. A is ‘The Laundry’ and B ‘Kellys pub’

Shortly after 8p.m. constable Jones and another officer left the barracks and made their way to the licensed premises of Maurice Kellys, located a short distance away on the street corner. A third officer, whom remained in the barracks, was feeling unwell and the others had gone to get their sick comrade a ‘stimulant’. Unusually, considering the times, Jones and the other officer both left the barracks unarmed, perhaps because they felt safe in the town of Bunclody.

Early 1900s photo of Bunclody RIC Barracks (Very left building with porch). Notice the RIC crest above the pillars and the steel shutters with gun loops on the two side upstairs windows. (Credit: National Library of Ireland, Laurence Collection). Kellys corner pub is also visible further up.
The former RIC barracks Bunclody as it looks today

While walking between the barracks and Kelly’s pub the officers spotted three men passing O’ Neills corner, on the opposite end of the street from Kelly’s, heading in the direction of Enniscorthy. Being somewhat suspicious of the men Jones made a remark to the other officer, but they both continued undistracted towards Kellys. When they got inside they ordered a whiskey, to take home to their sick friend back at the barracks, and two drinks for themselves. The two officers and a barmaid were the only people in the pub at the time. They made their way to an inner room with a fire for comfort.

Early 1900s photo of Maurice Kellys licensed premised (right) where constable Jones was shot. (Credit: National Library of Ireland, Laurence Collection)
Mary Elizabeth Boutique now occupies the building that was once Maurice Kellys licensed premises.

While they were sitting comfortably at the fire the three men, which the officers had spotted earlier in the night, entered the pub. The officer accompanying Jones remarked that they looked like the men they had noticed earlier in the night. Being unfamiliar and suspicious of the three Jones decided to enquire as to who they were. He approached the men and spoke to them, when suddenly one raised his arm and fired a shot at his chest. The three men then quickly fled the pub. A Sergeant Torsney, upon hearing the shots from the barracks, arrived hastily on the scene, armed. But it was too late, as the strangers had made their escape. He found Jones lying in a pool of his own blood and the parish priest, Rev. A, Forrestal, was called and administered the last rites. A doctor arrived 15 minutes later, but by this time it was too late. The medical evidence showed Jones had been shot near the heart, rupturing a large blood vessel and would have died 60 seconds after being shot, which occurred at about 8:20p.m.

Constable Jones

Picture of constable William Jones in the Cork Examiner newspaper, 8th February 1921.

William Jones was a native of Castleconnell county Limerick and 35 years of age. He left behind a wife and three children, the youngest of which was 10 months. Newspaper reports refer to how he was known and got on well with the local community. He joined the RIC on the 1st of May 1907 and had been stationed in Enniscorthy before being transferred to Bunclody in 1918. Following the funeral he was interned in his native Castleconnell.

Circumstances surrounding the shooting.

Thomas Dwyer, in his witness statement to the bureau of military history, recalls how on the night of the incident the north Wexford brigade flying column was in Bunclody. They had no definitive plans, but were looking for a patrol of RIC within the town. After finding none they heard that Jones was drinking in Kellys pub. Two IRA men, Ned Murphy and Maurice Spillane, both armed, then went inside the premises. Jones, upon seeing the men enter the building, approached them when they opened fire and shot him dead. This suggests the shooting was opportunistic in nature, as they took the opportunity presented to them. They were looking for potential targets and Jones was in the wrong place at the wrong time. James O Toole in his witness statement states that the IRA had information that Jones had been providing intelligence to the RIC in Ballindaggin. This shows he was known to the IRA , and provides a possible motive for the killing.

The witness statement of Thomas Francis Meagher conflicts with that of Dwyer’s. He recalls how in preparation for an attack on Bunclody RIC barracks a party of men (including himself, Phil Lennon, Ned Murphy, Paddy Dwyer and Maurice Spillane) scouted the area, after which;

‘Having completed our reconnaissance, Ned Murphy went to Kelly’s public house, to see the local Intelligence Officer, who worked there, and to get information regarding the strength of the garrison, or any other information which might be of use to us. Constable Jones, R.I.C., was on the premises when Murphy entered. Jones approached Murphy, saying, “We are looking for you this long time”. Murphy fired at him and shot him dead. Phil and I heard the shooting and we ran towards the pub to see what was wrong. We met Ned coming out of the pub. He told us briefly what had happened. We made our way back to Cromogue and, with the rest of the Column, went to Tom Coady’s, Carrigeen.’ (p8)

Dwyer’s account suggests that Jones shooting was spontaneous, that they were unaware he was in Kelly’s pub and that Ned Kelly shot him in the heat of the moment.

The question posed from this discussion is whether the nature of Jones’ murder was opportunistic or instead spontaneous? Dwyer’s account suggests the first and James O Toole suggesting he was known to the IRA provides a possible motive. In contrast though Meagher suggests it was spontaneous in nature. The Enniscorthy Guardian in the opening few lines on the incident stated ‘The circumstances surrounding it are few and meagre. Judging by them the attack on the policeman’s life was not planned, but the act of a moments consideration.(p5). Conflicting accounts exist surrounding the exact details of that night and there is insufficient reliable evidence to ascertain the true nature of the incident. Some elements though hint that the shooting was spontaneous; the fact the shooter (or shooters) did not wear masks; that Jones was not shot until he approached them (or him); If they intended to kill Jones why not do so as he exited or approached the premises? The exact nature of the shooting of constable Jones in Bunclody 1920 may still remain unknown 100 years on from the event.

The site today

The RIC barracks in Bunclody is today a private residence but remains much the same as it did before. Maurice Kellys former premises is now a clothes shop and the building retains much of its original exterior appearance. No marker or memorial exists to commemorate the event.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, James O Toole #1257

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Dwyer #1198

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Meagher # 1156

Enniscorthy Guardian, 1st January 1921, p4-5

North Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

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