The Town Hall, Tuam, Co. Galway
The Town Hall in Tuam dates from 1884 and is constructed from limestone. It retains a prominent position in the centre of the town, reflecting the importance of local governance in the town at this time.
The building is still in good physical condition but is no longer used for court or other functions. Instead, local groups sometimes meet there and local craft exhibitions are held there during the year.
In July 1920 the Freeman newspaper, reported the following 'tale of terror' as the town hall was wrecked:
Fully armed they marched into the streets, smashed public houses, and it is alleged looted their contents freely, dragged young men out of bed, and threatened to shoot them then and there, set fire to some of the most valuable properties in the township, and only retired to their quarters after they had become satisfied with a regular orgy of destruction. The breaking of glass and the shooting was intermingled with the dull thuds of hand grenades. Terror—stricken inhabitants, who had pre—supposed an attack upon the police barrack, were speedily disillusioned, for whenever a face appeared at a window there was a sharp command, "Get back or you'll be shot," followed in most instances by a discharge of musketry through glass. Women and children screamed, and some fainted. Most of them huddled together on the stairs or in the back portions of the houses and recited the Rosary. The streets remained in undisputed possession of the police, for no one dared venture abroad.
Soon a new terror was added to the shooting, for fires sprang out in various parts of the town, and cheers broke out from the rioters when the quaint old Town Hall, in which a most successful district Sinn Fein Court had been opened to the public last week, caught fire. On the opposite shoulder of the cross, between Vicar Street and Dublin road, stood the palatial drapery warehouse of Messrs. Canney Bros., recently renovated at considerable expense and probably one of the finest houses of its kind in the Irish provinces. Mr. and Mrs. Canney and their family of little children were sleeping in the premises when the shooting started. Soon the shop under their rooms were found to be in flames. Clad only in such scanty apparel as they had time to collect they fought their way down a stairs licked by the onrushing — flames to the front door only to find escape barred by loaded rifles.
Dashing back, they clambered on to the roof, and after a perilous climb, escaped over the top of a neighbors house. When the shooting ceased they were given clothes and succor by neighbors, and Mrs. Canney was taken to her home in Sligo by motor, suffering severely from the terrible ordeal. The stock and fittings in the shop were worth well over £20,000. The grocery and provision stores of Mr. John Burke, and Mr. James Nohilly, higher up on the Dublin road, were set ablaze, and the former came out on the street under fire and endeavored to allay the flames with a Minnimax extinguisher. An incendiary bomb is alleged to have been thrown into Burke's. Practically all the business premises in Shop Street, including that of Mr. Patrick Murphy, who recently refused as a member of the Waterworks Committee, to sign the declaration pledging allegiances to the Dáil Éireann, was wrecked.
As the rioters marched along they smashed in the glass with rifle butts and discharged shots indiscriminately at upper windows. The most sensational stories told are of the arrest of local Sinn Feiners, who were threatened to be shot, a threat which the victims believe would have been carried out but for the intervention of Constable Colleran, a popular policeman, who has been stationed in the district for some years, and Head—Constable Bowles. Jack Neville, a young electrician, staying at Mrs. Starr's, High Street, which is out of the track of the wrecked buildings, said that shortly after five o'clock armed police knocked up his landlady, and demanded admission, with threats. Dressing hurriedly, he came to the front door, and found himself looking down the barrels of 15 rifles. "Pull the heart out of the devil," shouted one raider.
"No," said another, "we will give him more mercy than some of them showed our comrades here." As they were about to fire Constable Colleran went in front with uplifted hand and begged them to desist. Thereupon a group of policemen marched Neville to the barracks, while their comrades discharged a volley of shots over their heads. In the station the men had a dispute as to what they would do with their prisoner. Ultimately wiser counsels prevailed, and they threw him into the Bridewell, where he remained in a dazed condition, until Head constable Bowles came, and, remarking that it was a shame the way he had been treated, released him. The police also raided the houses of James Moloney, but he was not at home, his terrified mother informed them. They rushed up to his empty bed, which bears bayonet marks as a grim evidence of their visit. Shots were discharged at the house.
Afterwards, in a letter to General Sir Nevil MacCready, the Archbishop , Most Rev. Dr. Gilmartin wrote that:
"Two policemen were shot dead yesterday evening, about three miles from Tuam, on their way to Dunmore where they were stationed. This was a dastardly crime which we deplore and condemn. It is the first of this kind in the district. And I am satisfied the good people of Tuam do reprobate this deed, but the sequel is calculated to seriously imperil the peace and good order of the town. The sequel is that about 5 a.m. this morning, in revenge for the deaths of their comrades, the police raided the town almost from end to end. They burned our beautiful town hall to the ground, they set fire to one large shop which is now completely demolished; they tried to set fire to at least four other shops, and they ruthlessly broke plate glass windows. Shops were fired into several houses and a bomb was thrown into an upper room of at least one house. I heard bombing and firing from 5 am to about 5.45am.
I have just visited the whole scene of destruction. I have interviewed the police authorities who tried to put the blame on the police who came from Galway under the county inspector. One man, Carey, alleges that it was the Tuam head constable who kept him from being shot by other police. You may imagine the state of terror and indignation that exists to day in what was yesterday a peaceful and prosperous town where the relations between police and people were as cordial as could be expected.
I hope that you will see that a sworn inquiry is opened immediately with a view to bringing all the culprits to justice and making reparation to the town as far as such is possible".