History

The Braggart British Colonel whose mouth was his Death Sentence

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A DAY IN IRISH HISTORY: 17 July 1920 – The IRA executes English Army officer Colonel Gerald Bryce Ferguson Smyth in Cork. 

The IRA executes English Army officer Colonel Gerald Bryce Ferguson Smyth in Cork. While all British Army personnel were deemed legitimate targets, Smyth’s fate was sealed when he spoke in quite a brutal fashion about how Irish citizens were to be treated. At a meeting in Listowel, Co Kerry on 19th June, English Army officer Colonel Gerald Bryce Ferguson reportedly told RIC officers:

A picture of the Smyth brothers: Osbert Smyth (left) and Gerald Smyth (right)

‘Police and military will patrol the country roads at least five nights a week. They are not to confine themselves to the main roads but make across the country, lie in ambush, take cover behind fences near roads, and when civilians are seen approaching shout: ‘Hands up!’

Should the order be not obeyed, shoot, and shoot with effect. If the persons approaching carry their hands in their pockets or are in any way suspicious-looking, shoot them down.

You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped and you are bound to get the right persons sometimes. The more you shoot the better I will like you, and I assure you that no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man and I will guarantee that your names will not be given at the inquest.’

One officer, Constable Jeremiah Mee, put his gun on the table and called Smyth a murderer. Smyth ordered his arrest but the RIC men present refused. He and 13 others resigned, most joining or assisting the Irish Republican Army. Mee became a confidant and ally of Michael Collins.

Colonel Smyth’s order marked him for attention from the IRA. He subsequently returned to Cork and took lodgings at the Cork Camp; County Club, an Anglo-Irish social club.

Black & Tans attack Sinead (Orla Fitzgerald)

On the evening of 17 July 1920, he was in the smoking-room when a six-man IRA team led by Dan ‘Sandow’ O’Donovan entered and said to him, ‘Colonel, were not your orders to shoot on sight? Well, you are in sight now, so prepare.’

Colonel Smyth jumped to his feet before being riddled with bullets. Despite being shot twice in the head, once through the heart and twice through the chest, the Colonel staggered to the passage where he dropped dead. He was 34 years old.

Colonel Gerald Smyth was buried at Banbridge, Co Down on 20 July 1920. His funeral was followed by a three-day pogrom against local Roman Catholic homes and businesses. One Protestant man was shot and killed and three Irish nationalists were convicted of firearms offences.
Smyth’s brother, George Osbert Smyth, allegedly became a member of the Cairo Gang, an elite group of British intelligence officers in Dublin sent specially to spy on and eliminate leading IRA figures, in order to avenge his brother’s death.

Osbert Smyth was shot dead in October 1920 while trying to arrest IRA suspects Dan Breen and Sean Treacy at a house in Drumcondra. Most of the other Cairo Gang members were shot dead early in the morning of Bloody Sunday, 21 November 1920, on the orders of Michael Collins.

Michael Walsh’s father, Patrick, was born in Donegal in 1902. At 18 years of age, Patrick then a member of a fugitive IRA brigade, had a reward placed on his head by the British Army.

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From 1920-1922, Patrick fought in the Irish War of Independence. Later, as an American citizen, Michael’s father fought in the fiercest frontline battles of the Spanish Civil war. He ended his martial career as a Flight Engineer 1st Class in the RAF.

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