10 August 1922 – Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan
Ireland nowadays seems a world away from the militant days, during which the lives of many Irish and English alike were sacrificed.
Two such men were Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, (English by birth) who were hanged on this day in 1922 for assassinating Sir Henry Wilson.
They were members of the original Irish Republican Army (IRA), a band of Irish nationals, whose main aim was to secure Home Rule – an independent self-governing state for Ireland. So passionate was this band of volunteers that they were committed to securing a victory by any means necessary.
Home Rule had been a theme of British politics since the 1860s and the IRA had made some headway by the early 1910s, but a brief respite was imposed amid the outbreak of World War I in 1914. While widely accepted, some found this frustrating so things came to a head mid-War with the Easter Rising – roughly 1,000 militants took hold of Dublin initially against just 400 British troops.
Despite the world war, the British army retaliated by sending over around 20,000 men and while the IRA drummed up another 1,600 men the odds seemed stacked heavily against the Irish. However, they only lost 64 men during the entire week-long campaign, while the Brits lost around 400 men.
The Irish were eventually forced to surrender due to heavy shelling – much of Dublin was destroyed and more importantly many civilians were dying in the crossfire.
On the other hand, the real kick in the teeth for the Brits was that the Irish had turned to Germany for arms – the arms never reached their destination because troops had intercepted them, but it illustrated the depth of emotions caught up with the situation.
The uprising was followed by the War of Independence, which was born out of unrest as a result of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and both events saw the emergence of Michael Collins as an Irish tour de force, which brings us nicely to the reason behind the assassination of Wilson.
Wilson was a key military man – of Irish birth, the field marshal had played a key role in the Second Boer War and later the First World War and as a high-ranking official he was a prime target for the incensed Irish who felt the Treaty had emasculated their plans for self-government.
According to one of Collins’ henchmen, Joe Dolan, he confessed 30 years afterwards that Collins had ordered the killing, because many Roman Catholics had died in Ulster, according to Wikipedia.
As a result, Wilson was gunned down by Dunne and O’Sullivan while on his way back from unveiling a war memorial in Liverpool Street. Both killers were key players in the English-based faction of the IRA.
An angry mob stopped O’Sullivan, 25, in his tracks while Dunne, 24, returned to help his mate and was eventually caught following a gun battle with the police. They were found guilty of murder and sentenced to die at Wandsworth Prison just a month and a half after the assassination.