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Centenary of Museum Staff member killed in the Civil War

Wrought Iron Museum Sign above the entrance to the National Museum of Ireland- Archaeology

The Irish Civil War remains one of the bitterest conflicts in Irish history, the effects of which are still felt in Irish society today. While doing some informal research on the period, Simon Ó Donnabháin and Kieran Dowdall from the Front of House team in the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks came across a remarkable incident involving a member of staff, a fellow attendant in fact, who was caught up in some of the initial clashes of the fight.

Thomas Daly, a museum attendant for the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, was 45 years of age when he was struck by a stray bullet and killed while looking out a window from his home on 17 Eden Quay on June 29, 1922.  His wife also received a bullet wound in the arm, but luckily the wound was not fatal. This incident which took place on that day was one of the early engagements in what became known as “The Battle of Dublin” and just one day after the bombardment of the Four Courts had begun. 

A report in the Irish Independent, July 4 1922, states that “his life was already extinct by the time he reached Jervis Street hospital”. At the inquest into the deaths that had taken place over the previous days, a Dr. Power stated that the bullet had passed through the heart and lungs of Thomas Daly, and that his death was instantaneous.

A further bit of research uncovered that he was also a caretaker of the premises of Messrs. Palgrave & Co, a very famous shipping firm of the day. The building still stands to this day, and was also the headquarters of the Dublin Steam Packet Company.

After his death, Bridget applied to get compensation for the loss of her husband. The Evening Herald, August 5 1922, lists compensation claims put to the Provisional Government, with Bridget receiving £3,651, which was a huge sum for its time. After this it is very hard to find any further records of what became of Bridget after the tragic loss of her husband.

Thomas’s career with the museum was relatively short. The museum has on file records relating to the start of his employment here in 1919, including a letter of recommendation, and another on the vacancy of his position after his death in 1922. It states that Thomas was employed as a Pensioner attendant, a position normally given to ex-soldiers who had completed their full army service. We are currently in the process of discovering his past as a soldier through British military records, and hopefully this can add another element to this man’s remarkable story.

When researching information on Mr. Daly, we found that this was not the first time he had come face to face with historical events in the city. It is on record that the premises where he lived and had been caretaker was also looted during Easter Week, 1916. Thomas and Bridget also put in a claim then, and were compensated. The Claim amounted £15, 5 shillings, and 6p, and included a claim for jewellery, furnishings, and other household items.

They had been ordered out of the house by the military at the start of the week and returned to find their door open and a sentry on duty there. Also, as the couple lived close to the Customs House, they possibly would have seen the burning of the building in 1921, and the subsequent aftermath.

Through researching burial records, it was discovered that his body lies unmarked in Glasnevin cemetery, and after further contact with the cemetery administration, we have been able to roughly locate the coordinates where he is buried. We plan to make a trip in the coming days to honor a fallen member of staff.

We see this story as an amazing connection to one of the saddest and often times most overlooked parts of Irish history. It also shows that as the Museum is one of the oldest cultural institutions in Ireland, we have so many connections to some of the most pivotal events in our recent history, and this shows how the civil war touched the museum. We feel that it highlights and honours the memory of all the ordinary innocent people who tragically lost their life during the conflict, and as the Decade of Centenaries comes to a close we believe this is a great opportunity to present a hugely interesting story in which an innocent person lost their life.

This article was written by Simon Ó Donnabháin and Kieran Dowdall, two Visitor Service Officers who work in the National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks. Between them they have many years’ experience working in the Museum, and during this time have taken a personal interest in history and the history of the Museum in particular.  The connection to Thomas Daly caught their attention, and they collaborated in researching and documenting Thomas’s story. This is the first chapter in his interesting and varied life.

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