A Tale of Two Families: the Cashla Killings

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"Egan's of Cashla" courtsey of Patsy O'Brien


This Article by Mairéad O’Brien was first published in JOTS18 (Journal of the Old Tuam Society), pp 15-25. 

 In 1920, two brutal killings took place within yards of each other in Cashla, Athenry. Tom Egan, my husband’s great-grandfather and Frank Manley Shawe-Taylor, a local landholder, were the victims. Tom’s people were Roman Catholic, tenant farmers whereas Frank’s were Church of Ireland, Anglo-Irish landed gentry. Their lives were so different that neither one could possibly have imagined how the other one lived. Their deaths, which were inextricably linked, bore striking similarities.

The Shawe-Taylors

East Galway was home to many families, who owned vast estates. The Shawe-Taylors were one such family. In 1667, Walter Taylor was granted almost one thousand acres in Ardrahan. In 1825, four generations later, Albinia Taylor married Francis Manley Shawe. Shawe succeeded to Castle Taylor in 1844 and assumed by Royal Licence the name of Taylor so that the family would henceforth be known as Shawe-Taylor.

Francis had the responsibility of the estate during the ‘famine’ years and spent over £5,000 in helping his tenants during those dark days. The Gorta Mór (1845-1852) sounded the death knell for the landed gentry and the ‘Big House’ and almost wiped out the labouring class. During this period of famine distress and mass emigration, many landlords had difficulty in collecting rents while others, having evicted their tenants for non-payment of rents, went bankrupt due to lack of rentals. Some became indebted by helping their impoverished tenants, through famine relief employment schemes. At the same time, there was a steep rise in estate expenditure.

The Encumbered Estates Court was established in 1849 to facilitate the sale of estates where owners were found to be in financial distress.  In East Galway, much of this land was taken by graziers who either purchased it or leased it under the ‘eleven-month’ system.  In time, graziers were perceived to be beneficiaries of the famine.  Small farmers felt that these ‘land grabbers’ were denying them the opportunity to purchase land, thus forcing them onto small, uneconomical holdings.

In 1864, Walter Nugent Shawe-Taylor, son of Francis married Elizabeth Persse of Roxborough House, Kilchreest.  Walter was also a popular and considerate landlord who was particularly generous in financially supporting the education of the children of his tenants.  During the Gorta Beag of 1879, he reduced the rents by twenty-five per cent.  In 1870, his wife’s sister, Frances married James William Lane.  Their son Hugh established Dublin’s Municipal Gallery of Modern Art – The Hugh Lane Gallery, which was the first known public gallery of modern art in the world.   Another sister, Isabella Auguste married Sir William Henry Gregory to become Lady Gregory, the renowned dramatist and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre.

Fig. 1 Castle Taylor (1998) (Courtesy of Anne Ridge, my sister-in-law)

Walter and Elizabeth Shawe-Taylor had three children. John and Frances were born in 1866 and 1868, respectively. Francis (Frank) Manley Shawe-Taylor, who was born in April 1869 lived in the twenty-seven-roomed mansion on the Castle Taylor estate until he was forty-three years old.   Being the second son, he had no expectations of inheriting Castle Taylor.  While his elder brother John pursued a military career, Frank put his great energy and organisational skills into running the estate for his father on the understanding that Walter would bequeath him £5,000 (€600,000) (1) in his will.  In 1892, five hundred and eighty-eight-acres in Castlelambert and over six hundred and eleven acres in Moor became available.  The acquisition of these lands by Frank Shawe-Taylor was greatly resented by local farmers who had hoped to benefit from the sale of this estate.

In April 1901, Frank married Agnes M. E. Ussher.  They had three children, Vera Cecelia (1903), Desmond (1907) and Brian Newton (1915).  Frank was an energetic and enterprising gentleman; as well as being a landowner he worked as an auctioneer, a valuator and a land, livestock and insurance agent.  A keen fox-hunter, he regularly rode out with the iconic Galway Blazers. He often organised game-shooting parties and frequently picked up prizes at the Galway Gun Club.  After his untimely death, he was described as an affable gentleman who was an agreeable talker and companion.  He was held in high regard throughout the county and was ranked as one of the most successful farmers in the country.

In 1900, having contracted enteric fever, while fighting in the Boer War, Frank’s brother Captain John Shawe-Taylor was invalided home to an enthusiastic reception by his tenants.  Although he himself belonged to the landed gentry, he held very progressive views regarding land ownership. In September 1902, he invited some prominent landlord and tenant representatives to attend a land conference in Dublin. The conference report, which was presented on January 3rd, 1903, recommended an extensive scheme of land purchase, with Treasury loans being made available to tenants to enable them to buy out landlords.

In August 1903, the Wyndham Land Act followed the recommendations of the land conference, providing a major land purchase scheme. (2) The implementation of this Act would prove to be notoriously contentious in East Galway and particularly in the Athenry area.   Along with each subsequent Land Act, increasing landlord insolvency paved the way for a change of ownership; landlordism as a way of life would be extinct within fifty years.  Even as land was changing hands, cattle grazing remained a controversial issue.  Over the next few years, Galway became one of the most heavily policed counties.  According to the census returns for 1911, ninety-six  members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) (3) were stationed within a seven and a half miles radius of Cashla.  They were mainly Roman Catholics from all over Ireland and were only identified by their initials on the census form.  Their occupations were unrecorded or recorded as ‘farmer’s son’.

Over the next few years, local farmers appealed to Shawe-Taylor to surrender some of his land, but he obstinately refused to sell. Consequently, he found himself on the receiving end of a campaign of boycotting, intimidation and menacing letters which often contained death threats.  The locals were reluctant to work for him and even though his workers were placed under police protection, they were frequently terrorized.

In 1905, two brothers, who occupied both the herd’s cottage and the caretaker’s cottage at Castlelambert, refused to carry out their duties and were subsequently evicted.  Shortly afterwards, Mr and Mrs Shawe-Taylor were attacked as they returned home from a foxhunting meet.  Shots were fired at them, narrowly missing them but killing their horse. They were thrown from their trap but escaped serious injury. Four men were remanded at Ardrahan but were acquitted as the evidence against them was deemed to be purely circumstantial and inconclusive.  As Shawe-Taylor had hitherto been popular in the area, it was felt that the outrage was committed in retaliation for the earlier evictions.

In January 1906, shots were fired into the home of John Moran, Newtown who was employed as a herd by Shawe-Taylor. In April of that year, William Broderick, another herd employed by Shawe-Taylor, was shot at while under the escort of a constable.  Broderick, who was the recipient of threatening letters, escaped unscathed but the constable received pellet wounds to the leg. Towards the end of that year, saplings growing on Shawe-Taylor’s land were maliciously damaged.  A man from Ballinloughan was charged and convicted.

In 1907, livestock belonging to Shawe-Taylor was driven off his land.  The ‘cattle drive’ was another form of intimidation used to deter people from letting grazing farms.  It was very disruptive as cattle had to be rounded up and fences had to be repaired.

In 1909, shots were fired into the house of a labourer named Harte who was engaged in the erection of a protection post at Moor Park.  In that same year, two constables, from the North of Ireland, who were stationed at Moorpark to protect Shawe-Taylor, were discovered helping him with the farm work.  It was felt that these men were undermining the campaign against him.  Later that year four hundred and sixty acres of Shawe-Taylor’s lands in Castlelambert had been inspected for purchase by the Land Commission.  Shawe-Taylor refused to sell because the price offered was £400 short of his asking price.  That same year he refused to meet a deputation appointed to discuss the sale of his lands at Kiltulla.

In 1910, fifty bullocks were driven off his father’s land in Roveagh, Kilcolgan.   The local branch of the Land League had applied to buy this land but was met with an emphatic refusal.  Later that year Mrs Frank Shawe-Taylor offered to purchase and equip a sanatorium for consumptives at Ryehill, Monivea which would have a capacity for one hundred and fifty patients. The Land Commission passed a resolution calling on Galway County Council to reject this ‘endeavour to kill land agitation with kindness,’ unless her husband sold the grazing lands at Castlelambert that he had ‘grabbed’. In December of the following year, it caused great resentment when Shawe-Taylor placed a dangerous bull in a field through which a public right-of-way had existed for years.  The locals had used the entrance to Castlelambert to take a shortcut to Athenry and were now greatly inconvenienced.  In time this dispute was resolved.

In June 1911, Frank’s elder brother, John passed away at the age of forty-six.  He left everything to his wife Amy and appointed her guardian of his infant children.   Less than a year later his father passed away. In his will of 1905, Walter bequeathed the bulk of his estate to his eldest son John, ‘his heirs, executors, administrators and assigns’.  This will, when taken in conjunction with John’s will, placed Amy in the position of being Walter’s main beneficiary.  His total effects amounted to over £15,109.  Frank, who had been expecting to receive £5,000, was left Consols (4) to the value of £1,148.  He also inherited eight hundred and sixty-seven acres at Ballymabilla, Kilconnell.   His wife Agnes received the sum of £100.

Letters, which passed between Frank and his sister-in-law Amy, record his bitter dissatisfaction with the terms of Walter’s will which were ‘manifestly unjust and unfair’ to him.  Frank felt that he had wasted the best years of his life living in ‘a fool’s paradise’, doing his duty to his father, often under very trying circumstances.  His father promised to leave him financially independent so that when he left Castle Taylor, he would have a few thousand pounds with which to stock his lands after paying off his debts.  Frank’s will, which was drawn up in 1901, refers to £5,000 which was ‘appointed’ to him by his father.  There is no record of such a bequest in Walter’s will.  After John’s death, Walter had written to his solicitor with a view to updating his will but had decided to wait until probate had been granted on his son’s will before doing so.  Frank had expectations that a revised will would be more generous to him.  Perhaps he had hopes of inheriting the Castle Taylor estate, now that he was the only surviving son.   Unfortunately, Walter died without altering his will, thus inadvertently leaving the estate to Amy.  Putting aside his bitter disappointment, Frank removed himself to Moorpark and continued to manage Castle Taylor on Amy’s ­­­behalf.

In 1912, shortly after the death of his father, Frank Shawe-Taylor attended a game shoot in Tiaquin Demesne.  Locals were employed as beaters to flush out the game.  The beaters objected to Shawe-Taylor’s presence and refused to carry out their duties.  After some hesitation and much embarrassment, Frank departed, and the sport was resumed. In March 1913, a deputation of local farmers met with Shawe-Taylor to negotiate the purchase of the Castlelambert estate.  A second police hut was planned for Castlelambert to provide further protection for Shawe-Taylor, his family and workmen.  It was considered that if Shawe-Taylor sold them the land, there would be no need for the extra police.  He consented to surrender two hundred and forty-nine acres, but this offer was unacceptable as the tenants wanted him to sell the whole estate.  A few days later, one of his workmen was badly beaten. Later that year spikes were placed in the ground when mowing was in operation, causing damage to his machinery.

Fig. 5.  Graves of Vera and Frank Shawe-Taylor at St. Mary’s Graveyard, Athenry.  Frank’s headstone bears the words ‘Thou art a God ready to pardon, Gracious and Merciful’

In November 1913, the Shawe-Taylors suffered their own personal tragedy when, at the age of eleven, their only daughter Vera was fatally injured in a riding accident. Her pony, when startled by a sow, took flight, unseated her but dragged her along for some considerable distance.  She is laid to rest beside her father in St. Mary’s graveyard, Athenry

In June 1914, Frank Shawe Taylor was awarded just over £623 in compensation for the malicious burning of out-houses, cattle, farming implements, harnesses, hay, straw and documents.  In 1915, Frank, who was also a Justice of the Peace, was sworn in as High Sheriff of County Galway.  In March of that year, Thomas Duggan, an employee of Shawe-Taylor, suffered a serious assault. A young man from Lisheenkyle was convicted of the assault and sentenced to six months imprisonment. A few months later, William Broderick was once again assaulted.  This time he was dealt a severe blow on the head with a hurley at a hurling match at Backlawn, Athenry.  The blow stunned, felled and concussed him leaving a gaping wound which was two inches in length and penetrated to the bone.  Although the incident took place in full view of spectators, nobody attempted to apprehend the assailant.  Broderick was able to identify the culprit, but no witness could be found to corroborate his story, so the accused was released.

In December 1919, Canon Canton, PP Athenry, sent a letter to Shawe-Taylor appealing to him to surrender some of his lands at Castlelambert.  Enclosed was a letter from local farmers also urging him to relinquish some of his lands, particularly at Lysheenkyle.  This letter was returned to the farmers. Just a month before his death a deputation from these farmers met with him at Moorpark.  Shawe-Taylor received them cordially but failed to reach an agreement, loftily announcing, “You’ll never get a perch of my land.”

Fig. 6. Frank Shawe-Taylor’s final route from Moorpark to Egan’s (Griffith’s Valuation)

The morning of March 3rd, 1920 dawned cold and misty.  At 5.50 am, Shawe-Taylor departed from Moorpark to attend a fair in Galway city.  Although he was accompanied by his chauffeur, James Barrett, he drove the motor himself.  At the gates of his estate, he took a left turn in the direction of Galway and another left again at the Galway-Monivea junction.   He then proceeded up the gentle slope to the village of Cashla, with Egan’s public-house situated about twenty yards off the road to the right.  As they approached the public-house they noticed that an obstruction had been placed across the road, about forty yards beyond it.  A cart and a wooden gate, which had been taken from a nearby cottage, were used to block the road.  Shawe-Taylor stopped his motor within a couple of yards of the barricade to allow Barrett to clear the road.

Barrett had just lifted a wheel when a volley of shots rang out from behind the nearby wall. He immediately returned to the motor to ask Shawe-Taylor if he had been wounded. Shawe-Taylor attempted to reply but slumped­­ across the front seat with blood pouring from his face.  As Barrett ran around to the front of the car, he received five pellets in the jaw and instantly took cover under the front mudguard.  Another volley rang out, to be followed by the sound of retreating footsteps.  Barrett fell to the grass on the side of the road.   After a couple of minutes, he was assisted to his feet and asked if he was hurt.  He was then told to keep walking and not to look around.   For fear of his life, Barrett complied with this command and found himself at the house of Broderick, Shawe-Taylor’s herd. A messenger was despatched to Moorpark to inform Shawe-Taylor’s widow of her husband’s murder.  She bravely set off on her own to the scene of the shooting where she found her husband lying in a pool of his own blood, and not a soul within sight.  Barrett, who later received £100 compensation, had his face washed and then returned to the scene with Broderick, to find Mrs. Shawe-Taylor at the motor.  He got into the driving seat beside the corpse.  With Mrs. Shawe-Taylor standing on the step of the motor on the far side, holding her dead husband, the chauffeur drove swiftly back to Moorpark.

Shawe-Taylor was shot at such a close range that part of his face was burnt black, and the gun wad was embedded in his head. It was estimated that about eight masked men took part in the ambush and the presence of fifteen gun-cartridges tallied with the report of two volleys.  There was a pool of blood on the front seat of the motor and one of Shawe-Taylor’s teeth was blown out of his mouth.  The assailants had covered their boots with canvas to help avoid detection.  Evidence pointed to the fact that they had lain in wait for some time for Shawe-Taylor to approach the ambush.

In the aftermath of the murder, many of the locals were questioned. The occupants of the nearby cottage said that they had heard the shots. When questioned, the Egan’s stated that they had heard nothing of the morning’s events.  As the murder happened within forty yards of their home, this was unlikely.

The inquest, which was held in Moorpark, returned the verdict that Frank Shawe-Taylor had died from shock and haemorrhage, caused by gunshot wounds inflicted by some person or persons unknown.  There was evidence of external marks of violence from the lower abdomen downwards.  These were in keeping with local stories that Shawe-Taylor had been beaten with ash plants.

Shawe-Taylor was an uncompromising individual who refused to be intimidated by the threats that he received through the post.  Some of these letters forewarned his death but he was not afraid to travel without a police escort.  He was known to have slept with a revolver under his pillow. By all accounts, he was tireless, industrious and genial.  Perhaps his arrogant dismissal of the farmers at the previous meeting was the final straw for them.  Maybe they realised that Shawe-Taylor would never voluntarily surrender his land and decided that desperate measures were required.  Shawe-Taylor’s father and grandfather were renowned for their ‘honest, sympathetic and fair dealings with their tenants’.  His brother John was of paramount importance in the delivery of a solution to the ‘land question’. It seems uncharacteristic of the Shawe-Taylor family that Frank was murdered because of a disagreement with local tenants. The crux of the matter was that they were desperate to buy his land and he stubbornly refused to sell it to them. Many of the people of the area disapproved of the shameful deed, believing that Shawe-Taylor was an honourable gentleman who did not deserve such a brutal death.   Fr. Lynch CC, Athenry, denounced the murder from the pulpit the following Sunday, saying that he ‘was not going to associate any particular district with this foul inhuman crime’. He expressed pity for the murderer who was ‘branded with such infamy’.

At the time of her husband’s shooting, Mrs Shawe-Taylor was under police protection.  When the protection was removed, she began to receive the attention of armed raiders.  One night ten tons of hay, valued at £70, was burnt.  On another night a number of people surrounded the house and created such pandemonium by shouting that Mrs Shawe-Taylor and her servants were in a state of terror the whole night.  Her servants received threatening letters and her farm manager was warned not to work for her.  In her desperation, she, ironically, asked some of the local IRA to protect her.  Two members of the local unit volunteered their services and the harassment ceased.  Concerned for the safety of their sister and nephews, Agnes’s brothers Harry and Arland Ussher arranged to meet her at the Railway Hotel in Athenry. With great difficulty, they persuaded her to leave her home to live in Brackenstown, Dublin, with Harry, leaving just one servant in the house at Moorpark.

In June 1922, at the beginning of the Civil War, a band of Irregulars (anti-Treaty forces) took possession of Moorpark house for six weeks.  After they left, Mrs Shawe-Taylor received £848 in compensation for the looting of her property and the theft of sheep and cattle. In time she moved to Halford, England with her two young sons to be close to her sister Alison. Eventually, in 1929, she sold her lands to the Land Commission who subsequently divided it among the local farmers.

The Egan family

In 1868, Timothy Egan (1834-1884), peasant farmer, married Honor Cavanagh, the daughter of Patrick Cavanagh and Eleanor Hynes from Carnmore.  In 1855, Timothy was recorded in Griffith’s Valuation as a lessee of Walter Lambert.  Thomas (Tom), who was named after his paternal grandfather, was born in 1869.  He was the eldest of seven children; Patrick, Mary, John, Ellen, Michael and Bridget.  When Tom was fifteen years old and Bridget, the youngest, was eight months old their father Timothy was struck by fever and died shortly afterwards.  He wished to be buried in the nearby graveyard in Moor, to enable him to be close to his family.   The graveyard is situated on the grounds of an old Cistercian abbey.  Barely fifteen, Tom was now the man of the house.  In time, all of Tom’s siblings emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts.

Fig.7. Tom Egan with wife Margaret (Courtesy of Patsy O’Brien, grandson of Tom and Margaret Egan)

In September 1900, Tom married Margaret Sherlock, daughter of Margaret Glynn and James  Sherlock, a timber carrier, from Carheenlea, Turloughmore.  Tom and Margaret first met at the fair in Turloughmore.  When Margaret caught Tom’s eye, a Pat Egan (no relation) was given the job of making the match.  Margaret’s initial response was not encouraging but Tom eventually won her around.  He enjoyed writing poetry through the medium of both English and Irish, so perhaps it was his way with words that eventually persuaded her to marry him.

For most of the tenant class in East Galway, it was a daily struggle to provide food, clothing and shelter for one’s self and one’s family.   Labouring jobs were seasonal and uncertain.  Shortly after they got married Tom and Margaret opened a shop in their home and in November 1901 Tom successfully applied for a Spirit Licence.  Local shops often functioned as both a shop and a publichouse.  Margaret’s people were business people so the idea of running a business would not have been totally alien to her.  In 1905, Tom had availed of a Land Purchase (LAP) scheme to buy his house and land.  By 1911 Tom and Margaret had extended their home and were living in a slated four-roomed house with six windows to the front.

Fig. 8:  Margaret with Tom’s sister, Bridget outside Egan’s pub, the early 1900s, (Courtesy of Patsy O’Brien)

Nine children, eight of whom survived to adulthood, were born to Tom and Margaret; Honor (1901) died in infancy; Mary Jane (1903) married Tommie Dunleavy; Thaddeus (Sonny) (1904) married Delia McGrath; Margaret (1905) married Peter Lally; Nora (1906) married John O’Brien; Bridget (1908) married Mattie McNamara; Ellen (1910) married Patrick Reilly; Catherine (1911)  married Tommie McNamara; James (1913) remained single. The Egan children grew up during one of the most turbulent periods in the history of East Galway. Their public-house was frequented by both Republicans and members of the RIC.  In September 1920 the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans arrived in the area and became customers of Egans (5) also customers. It didn’t take long for people to realise that some of the new arrivals had few if any, moral qualms.   Tensions ran high and civilians were terrified.  Local patrols often consisted of members of all three branches and were collectively known as the Black and Tans.

Following Shawe-Taylor’s murder, the District Inspector of the local R.I.C. was reported to have traced footprints which led him from the scene of the murder to Lisheenkyle and Barrettspark.  On foot of that, five men were brutally interrogated, arrested and imprisoned but due to lack of evidence were subsequently acquitted.  Shawe-Taylor’s attackers, who were known locally, were never brought to justice.

In late October of that year, a retired member of the local RIC sent a constable to warn Tom Egan that the Black and Tans were coming for him. He was advised to ‘go on the run’ for a while.  Because he was an innocent man, he refused to flee.  On Sunday, October 24th, Tom’s son Sonny brought the news that the Black and Tans were on a drunken rampage.  As a precaution, the sixteen-year old youngster was sent into hiding.  Tom refused to abandon his wife and children to the mercy of the Black and Tans.   At 10.30pm that night, as they were getting ready for bed, his daughters Mary Jane, Nora and Maggie could hear voices coming across the fields from the direction of Moorpark.  Shortly afterwards there was a knock on the door of the bar.   As it was a Sunday, the public-house was closed to the public. Margaret opened the door and admitted a man who was wearing a policeman’s uniform and brandishing a revolver.  He also wore a policeman’s cape and cap except that the cap did not have a peak.  He pointed the revolver at Margaret and asked her who was on the premises.  She replied that there was nobody apart from themselves.  Three other uniformed men, one of whom held a rifle, barged in. One man positioned himself at the foot of the stairs to prevent those upstairs from coming down. The others followed Margaret through the shop and into the kitchen where Tom was sitting by the fire reading a newspaper.

Two of the men rushed at Tom and attempted to drag him out through the back door.   Margaret ran to the door and succeeded in locking it.  She feared that if they got him outside, they would shoot him while ‘trying to escape’.  John O’Hanlon, a young man from Turloughmore had been shot a few weeks previously under similar circumstances. Margaret, attempting to shield Tom from the onslaught, was now positioned between her husband and the man with the revolver who was a tall heavy man with a dark moustache.  He fired two shots over Margaret’s shoulder at Tom, hitting him in the temple and the throat.  Tom fell to the ground, mortally wounded.   The man with the rifle also fired two shots, leaving a hole in the wall and another in a dresser. Margaret was so close to the rifle as it was being discharged that she was enveloped in smoke.  One of the men pulled her away and threw her aside.  Her eye caught the Sacred Heart picture up on the wall and she offered a quick prayer to protect her family.

As the men were leaving, Margaret, seeing the blood on Tom’s head, shouted up to her children that their father had been shot.  One of the men imitated her cry as he was departing. Nora came running downstairs to find her mother whispering an Act of Contrition into her father’s ear as he lay bleeding to death and gasping for breath.  He passed away within twenty minutes.   Margaret then attempted to mop up the blood which was flowing out the door.  Seven-year-old James, who had been asleep in the settle bed in the kitchen, witnessed the execution of his father.

The Egan’s were too petrified to run for help and the neighbours were too terrified to leave their homes.  Margaret spent a long night in the company of her distressed children while the Black and Tans were shouting outside and shooting into the night.  The next morning a female neighbour made her way to Egan’s; those men of the village, who were not ‘on the run’, were still too afraid to venture out.  It was not permitted to bring the remains to the church, so Fr. Lynch offered Mass in the house on Tuesday morning.  On Wednesday evening at around 4.00pm the funeral party made its way to Moorpark graveyard.   The cortege passed a group of Black and Tans who were in the furze in Moorpark.  They immediately began to fire off their guns in all directions in a menacing show of disrespect.  Margaret and her children were terrified and even more so, as they made their way back home in the dark.

A military inquiry (6) was carried out in Athenry. It found that Tom Egan’s death was caused by laceration of the brain and haemorrhage caused by a bullet wilfully inflicted by some person or persons unknown.  Although Margaret stated that the men who shot her husband wore policemen’s uniforms, complete with capes, the Crown Forces denied any involvement in Tom’s murder.  Margaret stated that she did not recognise any of the men who came to her home.  Under the circumstances, it would have been unwise to publicly identify her husband’s murderer. The County Inspector’s report for October states that Tom was killed by locals who believed that he knew the identities of the killers of Shawe-Taylor and would betray them to the authorities. Yet, according to this report, at least one of the raiders spoke with an English accent.  The allegation that Tom was an informer was never given credence locally.  To add substance to their allegation the authorities claimed that four police capes had been stolen from the back of Lackagh Church, some three months previously, while their owners attended Mass.

Fig. 9. The original headstone erected at the time of his death was replaced at a later stage by a new one which proclaimed that Tom was ‘shot by the Black and Tans’.   (Courtesy of Patsy O’Brien)

Tom Egan was assassinated in front of his wife and young son and within earshot of his daughters.  It is not clear why. Some sources cite Tom Egan as being a member of the IRA, but family members are adamant that he was not.  There is no record of an IRA pension for his widow nor is there evidence of IRA medals received by Tom.  After his death, he was described as a quiet, inoffensive and popular man.  Tom Egan’s murder was considered locally to be a reprisal for the murder of Frank Shawe-Taylor, which had taken place eight months previously.  This time-lag was unusual as Crown Force reprisals were carried out immediately after an incident.  The Egan’s had stated that they had not heard the shots that killed Shawe-Taylor, even though the murder had occurred right on their doorstep.  Knowing that they must have heard the gunfire, the authorities may have reckoned that Tom Egan was either involved in the murder or at least knew the identity of Shawe-Taylor’s killers.  Yet Tom’s shooting bore all the hallmarks of a planned execution rather than that of a botched interrogation.   Perhaps the Black and Tans decided to make an example of Egan, a well-known publican whose establishment was frequented by Republicans and land-agitators.  As in the case of Shawe-Taylor, nobody was ever brought to justice for Tom Egan’s murder.  The finger of suspicion was quickly pointed at an Irish born member of the RIC.

Fig. 10:  Nora, Bridget and Maggie (1921) (Courtesy of Patsy O’Brien)

The Aftermath

In 1921, Margaret Egan successfully applied to transfer the Spirit Licence from her husband’s name to that of her own.  The months following her husband’s death were full of anxiety.  The Black and Tans called to the public-house at all hours and had to be admitted. When they were on the premises, the children were under orders from their mother to remain upstairs.  They were not allowed to sleep in the room above the bar for fear of being shot by a stray bullet discharged from below.

Some members of the local IRA insisted on avenging Tom’s death even though Margaret wanted to let the dead rest in peace while she set about rearing her family.  An attempt to burn down Castlelambert House and the nearby steward’s house failed because of the use of diluted petrol. Mrs Shawe-Taylor was granted a total of £5511 in compensation for the damage caused.

For the two widows, a period of financial insecurity followed the deaths of their respective husbands.  At the time of his death, Shawe-Taylor was a wealthy gentleman.   He held just under two and a half thousand acres of land at several locations in East Galway and leased a further thousand acres, under the ‘eleven-month system. (7)  His 2,200 head of cattle were valued at £22,400.   Livestock purchases were funded by means of a bank overdraft of £15,700.   His average yearly income, which was very largely dependent on his own exertions, was around £7,950.  For Revenue purposes, the gross value of his personal estate was valued at £18,700.  It was claimed that he maintained a modest lifestyle, keeping only two hunters and holidaying for just one month in the year.

Having unsuccessfully sued the Galway Union for the sum of £80,000, Agnes Shawe-Taylor subsequently sued Galway County Council for the same amount and received £15,500.  At the time of her death in 1939, she was living in Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire.  Her effects, which amounted to over £7,303, were left to her sons, Desmond and Brian.  Desmond was a writer and a successful music critic for The New Statesman, The New Yorker and The Sunday Times.   The Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) was bestowed upon him in 1965 in recognition of his contribution to musical criticism.  Brian was an accomplished racing driver, whose career was interrupted by the Second World War and was abruptly terminated following a serious collision on the racetrack in 1951.   Both brothers served in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War.  Brian’s son Desmond was appointed in 2005 as Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, to which is attached the curatorial responsibility of the Royal Collection which comprises over seven thousand oil paintings and three thousand miniatures.

Margaret Egan was now a widow with eight children between the ages of seven and seventeen.  Like his father before him, Sonny Egan became the man of the house in his mid-teens.  At the time of his death, Tom Egan owned his home and business premises, held twenty acres of land and had £225 on deposit in the Bank.  Household goods, clothing etc., stock in trade, livestock and implements of husbandry were valued at £233.

Fig.11.  Margaret, Pat Kelly and two of Sonny’s children (Courtesy of Patsy O’Brien)

Margaret received £2,700 in compensation from Galway County Council; £700 for herself, £200 for each of the four older children and £300 for each of the four younger ones.    It’s a great testament to her courage and strength that Margaret kept the business going during those treacherous times.  In time, her children married and settled in the general area.  This allowed her to enjoy the company of her many grandchildren.   In 1964, at the age of ninety-two, forty-four years after the death of her husband, Margaret passed away and is buried with him in Moorpark.  Her son, Sonny took over the family business.  On his death, his daughter Nellie Egan Burke ran the business until her death in April 2018.    Tom Egan would be very proud to know that one hundred and eighteen years after he was granted his first Spirit Licence, Egan’s of Cashla is still trading as a public house under the same name.

Almost one hundred years after their deaths, we remember Tom Egan and Frank Shawe-Taylor who were both tragic casualties of the times in which they lived.

Fig. 12.   Margaret and daughter Bridget (McNamara) (Courtesy of Patsy O’Brien)

Fig. 13.  Margaret Egan and her extended family, 1933 (Courtesy of Patsy O’Brien)


Special thanks to the following:  Patsy O’Brien,  Fr. John Dunleavy and Tom Dunleavy (grandsons), Kathleen Holland (great-granddaughter) and her husband Kevin,  Gerry O’Brien (great-grandson), Finbarr O’Regan, (Athenry), Sally Sherlock (grand-daughter-in-law) and David Leeson (historian, author and Professor of History, Laurentian University, Canada).


1 £1 is equivalent to €120 today.       

2 The Government set aside £100 million for this scheme which was to be administered by the Land Commission.   Under the Wyndham Land Act (1903)  landlords received between eighteen and twenty-seven times the annual rent for a farm which was a higher price than they could have expected on the open market.   Tenants could avail of loans which they had to repay in annual annuities over sixty-eight years.  The long repayment period ensured that the annuities were lower than the old rent.   This Act offered landlords a bonus of twelve per cent following the sale of the whole estate.   Where the landlord agreed to sell, and seventy-five percent of the tenants agreed to buy, the Land Commission could take over the estate but there was no compulsion on the landlord to sell.  The Land Purchase Act (1909) allowed for the compulsory purchase of untenanted or grazing lands.

3 Thirty R.I.C. men were stationed in Athenry, fourteen at Moorpark, six in Cashla, six in Castlelambert, ten in Monivea, five in Ballygarraun West, three in Ballinloughaun, nine in Moyvilla, and a further thirteen in the Newford area.

4 Consols were Government bonds that only matured at the request of the Government.

5 A greater police presence was required during the War of Independence (1919-1921) but due to intimidation etc, there were insufficient Irish recruits and many resignations within the RIC.  In 1920, one hundred and sixty-seven thousand ex-servicemen were receiving unemployment benefit in Britain.   It made economic sense to recruit from this group of men and at 10/- per day, it was an attractive offer. The Special Reserves were ex-soldiers who were recruited to increase the strength of the RIC by acting as sentries, guards and escorts for Government agents. Because the Crown Forces were being boycotted, it was nearly impossible to get police uniforms tailored, thus the uniform of soldier khaki and dark green police tunics, which gave rise to the nickname, Black and Tan. The Auxiliaries (ADRIC), the paramilitary branch of the RIC, consisted of ex-army officers who were recruited to hunt down and destroy IRA units.  Their tactics were to counter the guerrilla warfare of the IRA with bloody reprisals on civilians and civilian property.  There were many examples of indiscriminate shooting at civilians rather than at Republicans.  Whereas most of these World War 1 veterans were British, some of them were Irish.

6 Due to a campaign of intimidation and violence against jurors and all officers involved in the administration of the Courts, the Court system was replaced by military inquiries.

7 Frank Shawe-Taylor held two hundred and sixty-two acres at Kiltulla, six hundred and twelve acres at Moorepark, eight hundred and sixty-seven acres at Ballymabilla, five hundred and eighty-eight acres at Castlelambert and one hundred and twenty acres at Pollinagroagh.  He also leased a thousand acres at Derrydonnell and Castle Taylor under the eleven-month system.


The Black and Tans: British Police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence, 1920-1921 By David Leeson

Post-famine Ireland: Ireland as it Really Was by Desmond Keenan

Ireland 1850-1920 by Desmond Keenan

War and Revolution in the West of Ireland by Conor McNamara


National Archives (Ireland)

James Hardiman Library, NUIG


The Castlelambert Tapes / O’Regan’s Athenry



Land Valuation Office, Irish Life Centre, Dublin 1

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About this record

Written by Mairéad OBrien

Published here 26 Apr 2024 and originally published 2018

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