On the 25th of May 1921 the body of James Morrissey, an auxiliary postman, was found lying in a ditch in Coolnahorna, 200 yards from the roadside. The victim had been shot in the head and a letter was found attached to the body, written on which were the words, ‘Spy and traitor, others beware, IRA.’ A rosary was also found wrapped around his hands, perhaps linked to a final act of contrition.
Morrissey was only 27 at the time of his death and had previously served in the British army for two years before being discharged due to ill health. For five years after he was secretary for the Enniscorthy ‘Discharged Soldier’s Federation’ and worked as a postman, covering an area near Marshalstown, not to far outside of Enniscorthy town. Regarding the circumstances surrounding his killing a Thomas Doyle, in his witness statement to the bureau of military history, recalled how the IRA had obtained a letter during a raid on a mail train, supposedly written by Morrisey, implicating him as a spy. Tom further recalled an occasion when Morrissey, together with other ex service members, entered Enniscorthy Courthouse and put on the uniforms of real soldiers. He then proceeded to lead them around the town to ‘paint it red’, vandalizing shop premises and abusing the town’s inhabitants. Further to Thomas Doyle’s version the witness statement of a Thomas Balfe claims Morrisey was a known spy and had ignored previous warnings. No further detail is given regarding the nature of these warnings but it can be assumed that they were most likely verbal in nature.
Further discussing the topic Tom Doyle recalls how it was decided to set a trap for Morrissey. A letter was purposefully held back at the post office which should have been delivered by the postman on duty just before Morrissey. The duty then fell for Morrissey to deliver the letter, the address of which sent him outside of his normal delivery route and down a long lane were men were waiting for him and from where he was then taken and executed. Edward Balfe claims that he heard from a reliable source how Morrissey told his mother that he didn’t expect to be home again before he left that morning. In the book ‘The Dead of the Irish Revoloution’ those involved in the killing are named as James Whelan, Frank Gibbons, Thomas Roche and William Kavanagh.
When he failed to return home that evening his mother raised the alarm and a search party of police and military discovered his body and brought it back to Enniscorthy. He was given a military funeral and laid to rest in St. Johns graveyard, often referred to as Carrig graveyard, located just south of Enniscorthy town on the western side of the Slaney River. All shops in the town were ordered to shut for the funeral and its alleged a British captain named ‘Yeo’ beat up prisoners’ in Enniscorthy courthouse as a reprisal. The Enniscorthy guardian reported how owing to the fear of reprisals the town was deserted the night after Morrissey’s body was found. Several premises had their shutters and windows broken including that of Mr J. Murphy, boat merchant, Main St; Mr S. Roche, saddler, templeshannon; Mr J. Whelan, Vinegar Hill Hotel, Rafter Street; Mr P. Rafter, Publican, the bridge; Mr Sam Walsh, painter and decorator, Court Street. The following night a bomb was also thrown through a fanlight into the premises of Mr John Whelan, Weafter Street, causing considerable damage to the interior. Another bomb was also thrown through the fanlight of a J. Murphy but fortunately failed to explode.
Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Doyle #1040
Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Balfe #1373
Enniscorthy Guardian 28th May 1921, p5
E.O’ Halpin and D. Ó Corráin (2020) ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’, Yale University Press, p443