Object: Bullet in brick
National Museum of Ireland
Physical Characteristics: Portion of a brick in which is embedded a bullet, fired by the firing party which executed Mr Francis Sheehy-Skeffington at Portobello Barracks, that passed through the body of the late Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. With authenticating letter signed by F. McL. Scannell, December 1935 (NMI Archives). Materials are brick and metal.
Background: Francis Sheehy-Skeffington’s execution raised many questions after the Rising, and saw a captain brought in front of a court-martial. A committed pacifist, when the rising broke out Francis Sheehy-Skeffington went to the city centre to appeal for calm and attempted to prevent looting taking place. On the evening of Tuesday 25 April, on his way home he was arrested and brought to Portobello Barracks. Captain Bowen-Colthurst of the Royal Irish Rifles had fought in the Boer War and afterwards served in India, and was attached to the 3rd Battalion stationed at Portobello Barracks when the Rising broke out.
It was Bowen-Colthurst who on Wednesday 26 April ordered for a firing squad of seven soldiers to shoot three civilians in the yard, one of whom was Sheehy-Skeffington, and the bodies hastily buried in the grounds. No information was given to Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington when she arrived to the Barracks looking for her husband on the Friday morning.
Due mainly to the intervention of a conscientious senior officer, Major Sir Francis Vane, Bowen-Colthurst was court-martialled. He was found guilty but insane. A royal commission of enquiry subsequently awarded monetary damages to Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington, which she refused to accept.
The significance of this object to our understanding of the events is that the murder (execution) of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington aroused considerable public revulsion. Generally regarded as an amiable eccentric and universally respected for his principles, the circumstances of his death greatly contributed to the shifting of public sympathy away from the side of the supposed upholders of law and order to that of the insurgents. The brick and indeed the letter with the brick indicating the foresight to remove the bricks by Colthurst brings to question if the judgement of insanity was correct.