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British officer tried for murder of three civilians in Dublin
Left: Mrs Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, the widow of Francis Sheehy Skeffington, on her way to the trial at Richmond Barracks. Right: Captain Bowen-Colthurst going into court. Photo: The Daily Sketch, 8 June 1916 (National Museum of Ireland)

British officer tried for murder of three civilians in Dublin

Dublin, 7 June 1916 - The court-martial of Captain J.C. Bowen-Colthurst has opened in Dublin. He is being tried in connection with the execution of three men during the recent rebellion.

Captain Bowen-Colthurst – an officer with the Royal Irish Rifles – shot dead Francis Sheehy Skeffington, Thomas Dickson and Patrick MacIntyre at Portobello Barracks on 26 April last.

A huge crowd turned up to the court-martial, which is taking place at Richmond Barracks. Indeed, so great was the crowd that admission to the courtroom was by ticket only.

The prisoner has pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ to charges of murder and manslaughter.

                                    Left: Captain Bowen-Cothurst (centre) faces charges of murder and manslauhgter in his court-martial, which is being conducted at Richmond Barracks. (Irish Life, June 1916. Full collection available at the National Library of Ireland); Right: Francis Sheehy Skeffington, the best known of the three men shot without trial upon Captain Bowen-Colthurst's orders. (Image: National Museum of Ireland)

The court-martial heard evidence of how the three men – all of whom were journalists and none of whom were involved in the Rising – were brought to Portobello Barracks where they were interrogated by Captain Bowen-Colthurst. Francis Sheehy Skeffington had earlier been asked whether he was a Sinn Féiner but he said that while he was in sympathy with the aims of the movement he did not believe in militarism. Captain Bowen-Colthurst was heard to say that the men should be shot. He ordered a firing squad to assemble. The men were placed against a wall after 10pm and shot.

Following the execution, Captain Bowen-Colthurst said that his reasons for the order were that he wished to prevent any possibility of escape and that he wished also to prevent the prospect of rescue by armed force. Captain Bowen-Colthurst then reported what he had done to the Commanding Officer of the Battalion, Major Rosborough.

The court-martial continues.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.