During all of her 89 years Nora O’Brien (nee Egan) has seen and experienced very much. She has witnessed extreme brutality and lived in a climate of fear during one of lreland’s darkest and most divisive periods.
Nora Egan was born on the 10th of November, I906 in Egan’s Pub in Coshla. She had a large family of three brothers and sisters, all of whom are now dead (two died in infancy), except herself. Her father was Tom Egan and in 1901 he opened a public house on the Galway- Monivea road. According to Nora, their pub soon had the highest record of Guinness sales in Galway, which was no surprise when you consider it was only 2d for a pint. During all their time, she proudly recalls, their licence was never endorsed as they never received one conviction. Incidentally, Nora has been a pioneer for over 70 years.
Her early childhood was almost idyllic. Everyone had their jobs to do and did them with no backchat. In the evenings they played the accordion and danced around the kitchen. However, this was all against a political backdrop of violence and turmoil which would soon have drastic personal repercussions for the whole family, when their father was shot dead in front of them by the Black and Tans.
Nora believes that her father’s murder in October 1920 was a reprisal shooting for the assassination of the landlord Shaw-Taylor, the previous March. She says that her father’s killers mistakenly took the fact that Shaw-Taylor had been shot near their pub as an indication that the IRA were using it as a meeting place. Shaw-Taylor, Nora Says, came from Ardrahan and bought Moorpark and Castle Lambert estates. He was a young man with a wife and three small children who lived in Moorpark House.
Apparently, some of the locals wanted land from him and a deputation went to meet him to discuss it. His refusal was not appreciated and while he was travelling to the Galway Fair his killers placed an ass-cart across the road and shot him as he passed. While Shaw-Taylor was drawing his last breaths lying on the road, he was beaten to death with ash-plants.
Later that day, as the investigation started, the District Inspector said that he couldn’t understand why Tom Egan did not know more about the death because two men were seen entering the pub late the previous night. In fact, says Nora, these two men had come to ask her father to help them to fill a form regarding a prize-winning bull.
Soon after Shaw-Taylor’s murder Nora saw his children being brought for a walk by their governess and playing around her house. By this time, Moorpark House had been abandoned and looted and Mrs Shaw-Taylor received constant police protection. Later, that October a man came to speak to her father to warn him that the Black and Tans were in the area. A young Sonny Egan also told him that he could see about twenty men “on the run” hiding across the road and suggested that his father should go too, but Tom replied that he could not abandon his family. Almost all the neighbours would not come to the pub as they were so afraid of meeting the ‘Tans.
At 10:30 p.m. the children were getting ready for bed when the youngest one, Jim, woke because of a knock on the door. Tom Egan, who was 47 years old, went downstairs with his wife to answer it and four Black and Tans entered. The Sergeant, (Nora can remember the three stripes on his arm) stood with two other men in the corner of the bar while a fourth stood at the foot of the stairs. Suddenly a shot was fired, missing Tom Egan and hitting the wall. The next shots found their mark, hitting him in the head and throat. Like Shaw-Taylor he did not die instantly and Nora can still remember vividly, and will never forget, the sight and sound of her father breathing heavily on the floor during the final moments of his life. Nora can also remember her mother mopping up the huge pool of blood which had collected beside her father. Needless to say, this event had a great effect on all of them.
For the next three nights before the funeral Mrs Egan did not know just who would open the door if there was a knock at it as she was so worried that they would all be shot. Her mother, who cried herself to sleep for a long time afterwards was the strongest one but others in the family, especially her brother, Jim, never got over it.
Although this event took place almost 76 years ago, today we are at a very sensitive time in our country’s history where we must ask ourselves whether we want to learn from our past and prevent other families on this island from suffering the same. If we changed the place and time of this story I’m sure that it would be indistinguishable from many we have heard over the news in the past twenty seven years. ls this what we wish to return to?
Written by Paul McNamara
Published here 03 Jan 2023 and originally published August 1996