On this day…26 April

On 26 April 1916 Francis Sheehy Skeffington was shot.

During the Easter Rising in April 1916, Francis Sheehy Skeffington was shot by a British Army officer who was later declared insane. Sheehy Skeffington and Joyce were close friends at university and Joyce’s first published work was a joint publication with Sheehy Skeffington.

Born in Cavan in 1878, Francis Skeffington married Hanna Sheehy, a daughter of the MP David Sheehy, in 1903 and added her name to his. As a journalist, Sheehy Skeffington pursued his interests in politics, women’s rights, pacifism, vegetarianism and antivivisectionism. His wife Hanna was a teacher.

Though he sympathised with the 1916 rebels, Sheehy Skeffington, as a pacifist, was not engaged in the rebellion itself. On the evening of Tuesday 25 April 1916 he had been trying to organise people to prevent the looting of shops and homes damaged in the rebellion. He was arrested by British Army officers at Portobello Bridge as an enemy sympathiser, and was later taken to Portobello Barracks. On the morning of 26 April, he was shot without trial on the orders of Captain JC Bowen Colthurst.

Major Francis Fletcher Vane, commanding officer at Portobello Barracks, suspected that Colthurst had had Sheehy Skeffington and two other men (Thomas Dickson and Patrick McIntyre) summarily executed, and Vane had him arrested pending a court-martial. However, Vane’s superiors ignored his request for Colthurst’s court-martial and instead relieved Vane of his command and released Colthurst.

Colthurst conducted a raid on Sheehy Skeffington’s home and tried to cover up what he had done. Meanwhile, Vane left for England and pursued his case with the authorities there. He was sacked from the British Army but, thanks to his efforts, the authorities were forced to court-martial Colthurst who was found guilty of murder but insane. Colthurst was sent to Broadmoor Criminal Asylum in England where he remained for a year before being released.

After the shooting, the bodies of Sheehy Skeffington and the other two men had been buried in the yard at Portobello Barracks on the night of 26 April. Sheehy Skeffington’s body was removed from there and reinterred in a grave at Glasnevin Cemetery on 8 May 1916. A Royal Commission of Enquiry was set up to examine the murders and Sheehy Skeffington’s wife was offered damages of £10,000 which she refused to accept.


Sources & Further Reading:

For more information on Sheehy Skeffington, visit the National Library of Ireland’s 1916 Online Exhibition:  click on ‘Casualties’ on the Contents list here.

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Levenson, Leah: With Wooden Sword – A Portrait of Francis Sheehy Skeffington, Militant Pacifist, Boston: Northeastern University Press, & Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1983.

Vane, Francis Patrick Fletcher: Agin the Governments – Memories and Adventures of Sir Francis Fletcher Vane, with a Foreword by AE [George Russell], London: S Low, Marston & Co., 1929.