The historically significant Irish 1916 Easter Rising “Battle of Ashbourne” 28th April 1916 Royal Irish Constabulary casualty group awarded to Sergeant C.J. Shanagher, Royal Irish Constabulary, a County Roscommon man, who originally joined the Constabulary in 1891, was present for the Royal Visit to Ireland in 1900, 1903 and 1911, and as a member of a motorised flying column which acted in response to an engagement with the Fingal Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, ‘was shot right between the eyes as he left the car and slumped into a small depression on the side of the road’ in one of the few successful engagement’s for which the Irish Volunteer’s gained the upper hand in the Dublin area during that fateful Easter Week of April 1916. Eight members of the Royal Irish Constabulary lost their lives in the this incident, along with a further two civilians, during a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and about 37 Irish Volunteers. It was one of the few engagements outside of the city centre and was, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one. It was also an example of the guerilla warfare that became a normal method of operation during the War of Independence.
Group of 3: Visit to Ireland Medal 1900, complete with shamrock top bar; (C: J. SHANAGHER. R.I.C.); Visit to Ireland Medal 1903, complete with shamrock top bar; (C. J. SHANAGHER. R.I.C.); Visit to Ireland Medal 1911, unnamed as issued.
Condition: light contact wear, Good Very Fine.
John Shanagher came from Roscommon, and then enlisted as a Constable (No.54677) into the Royal Irish Constabulary on 15th January 1891, when aged 23, following the recommendation of Head-Constable McBrien who was serving at Portadown during 1890 to 1891. He was of Catholic denomination.
Initially stationed at Meath, Shanagher was present for, and involved in the security and policing put on for, the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1900, and receiving one of 2285 awards of the Visit to Ireland Medal 1900. Transferred to the Police Reserve at Sligo on 4th July 1901, by 10th September 1902 he was back on service at Meath, and was then present on duty for the visit of King Edward VII to Ireland in July 1903, being one of 7757 recipients of the Visit to Ireland Medal 1903.
On 1st October 1905 Shanagher was appointed to Acting Sergeant. On August 1907 he transferred to the Galway Reserve, and on 1st August 1909 was posted to the Royal Irish Constabulary Depot. Shanagher was one of 2477 recipients of the Visit to Ireland Medal 1911, awarded for the visit of King George V to Ireland between 7th to 12th July 1900.
Subsequently seeing service at Meath as of 20th February 1912, he was serving there on the outbreak of the Great War, and with troubles brewing in Ireland, then found himself part of an R.I.C motorised flying column, being on duty on the occasion of the 1916 Easter Rising, and then unfortunately a victim of the Battle of Ashbourne on 28th April 1916, when ambushed by the 5th Battalion of the Irish Volunteers - the Fingal Brigade, which was led by Thomas Ashe and was centred around Swords and the north of the county.
The Ashbourne engagement on Friday 28 April 1916 has become known as the Battle of Ashbourne with men wounded on both sides and a number of fatalities before the RIC surrendered. Those that lost their lives either at the scene or later from injuries they sustained included eight RIC men (County Inspector Alexander Gray, District Inspector Henry Smyth, Sergeant John Shanagher, Sergeant John Young, Constable James Hickey, Constable James Gormley, Constable Richard McHale and Constable James Cleary) and 2 volunteers (John Crenigan and Thomas Rafferty).
The Battle of Ashbourne was a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and about 37 Irish Volunteers. It was one of the few engagements outside of the city centre and was, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one. It was also an example of the guerilla warfare that became a normal method of operation during the War of Independence.
James O’Connor, an Irish Volunteer with St Margaret’s Company, Dublin, took part in the battle and recounted the events to the Bureau of Military History in 1948. After his battalion, which was headed by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy, was mobilized on Easter Sunday they were split into smaller groups, or flying columns, and sent north of Dublin city towards Ashbourne. Their mission was to destroy the railway line near Batterstown and disrupt the movement of British troops into the city. They set out by bicycle, armed mostly with shotguns, and after raiding a number of barracks in the area, cutting communications and collecting rifles, they reached the Cross of the Rath at Ashbourne. There they were met with a barricade that had been hastily erected by the RIC from the barracks situated there. The constables quickly surrendered and were sent to the barracks to order a full surrender. They did not return, and the Volunteers took positions across the road while O’Connor and Ashe tried to break in the door. The constables began firing from the upper windows of the building, and a gun battle broke out. The fighting intensified as RIC reinforcements arrived from Navan, Dunboyne and Slane, and O’Connor saw many falling as they were hit. Two Volunteers, John Crennigan and Thomas Rafferty were also fatally wounded. When District Inspector Gray was killed, the constables surrendered and were taken prisoner. The Volunteers gathered their arms and ammunition while Ashe warned the constables that they would be shot if they took arms against the Irish people again. Their victory was short lived, as at 2pm the next day Ashe received word of the surrender in Dublin and demobilised the battalion, sending the men home. Many, including O’Connor, were arrested within days and interned in Wakefield and Frongoch.
John Austen, a postal worker and native of Ashbourne, was an eye-witness to the event. His account of the start of the battle differs a little from O’Connor’s in that he states that the constable at the barricade did not surrender, but ran and was captured (finally being dragged out from underneath a bed), and that Ashe went to the barracks to order the surrender. Austen watched the battle from the nearby Lime-kiln Hill, and returned to the road when the shooting had stopped. In total, fourteen people were killed in the battle, two Volunteers, eight RIC members, two civilians driving the RIC cars, and two civilians who were passing through the area. Many more were injured. Austen was asked to take the dead men off the road, and loaded the bodies of eight men into a cart with the help of two constables. The two Inspectors had already been removed, and the bodies of Crennigan and Rafferty had been taken away by the Volunteers. Austen described seeing Sergeant Shanagher – ‘He was shot right between the eyes as he left the car and slumped into a small depression on the side of the road. The road that evening was a terrible sight with blood and bandages strewn on it’.
As noted in John Austen’s account, Sergeant Shanagher, was shot right between the eyes as he left the car and slumped into a small depression on the side of the road. Shanagher was 48 years old at the time, and had served for 25 years and 3 months with the Royal Irish Constabulary. Shanagher’s body was repatriated to Roscommon after his death, and he was interred in Saint Mary’s Church in Killina, County Roscommon.