Letter: Violent end of an Irish pacifist

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The Independent Online
IN HIS profile of Conor Cruise O'Brien ('Damn and be damned', 6 March) Laurence Marks writes: 'One uncle, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, was close to the Rising leaders and was shot by the British Army in 1916. Another was killed in the same year fighting in that army on the Somme.'

This was presumably written to contrast one as a rebel with the other as a British loyalist, but it is a travesty of the true character and fate of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, an amiable, good-humoured journalist and notable eccentric. He sympathised with Sinn Fein (and many other underdog causes of the time, such as the suffragettes) but was a pacifist and was not involved in the Rising.

On the Easter Monday he was on Portobello Bridge in Dublin attempting to organise public action to prevent looting when he was arrested by the British Army. That evening he came into the hands of Captain Bowen-Colthurst, who went on to arrest two more journalists in a pub and shot dead a 17-year- old boy returning from church. The captain spent that night in prayer and the next morning had all three shot by firing squad. Sheehy-Skeffington had to be shot again by a second firing squad before he died.

Bowen-Colthurst carried out two more callous and unjustified killings before Major Sir Francis Vane decided that he should be confined. The captain was later declared insane and so did not stand trial. The tardy response of the British authorities to his rampage and the avoidance of a trial were not helpful in keeping Irish opinion sympathetic to British rule. Captain Bowen-Colthurst was only sent to Broadmoor after the intervention of the Prime Minister, Lord Asquith.

J L Boswell

London N4

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