Non-Combat Casualties in the West Mayo Brigade Area

Dr. Myles MacEvilly

While the accidental deaths of James Duffy and Patrick Marley are relatively well known, less so are the stories of those other Volunteers of the West Mayo Brigade who experienced life altering injuries in non-combat situations during Ireland’s War of Independence and later.  0f the other casualties three were associated with premature explosions,  four involved accidental discharge of small arms, one with an accidental discharge of a shotgun while another sustained an accidental leg injury with ultimately a fatal outcome. What is apparent is that these accidents did not always relate to the training or lack of training of those involved or indeed to their seniority in the Brigade. Moreover it should be stated that similar events were not unknown in other Brigade areas.

Deaths of James Duffy and Patrick Marley

In the period leading up to the Truce two fatal firearm events occurred in the West Mayo Brigade area, that of Volunteer James (Jim) Duffy from Prospect, Westport, then aged 22 years and of Adjutant Patrick Marley from Glenhest.

While weapons were being cleaned Jim Duffy was accidentally shot through the heart while billeted in the house of Austin Hastings at Rockfield on the 7April 1921 by the discharge of a Parabellum semi-automatic pistol belonging to Thomas Heavey by a senior ASU member. The sad news was conveyed to his family at Prospect by Ned Moane. Brigade Vice OC Broddie Malone made a rudimentary coffin, the body having been prepared by Jim Duffy’s comrades Johnny Duffy, Joe Ring and Joe Baker. That night Jim Duffy was buried on a little hill, in the ‘Infant’s Graveyard’ in Cushinsheeaun townland, the local families of Butlers, Maguire’s and Kerrigan’s helping to carry him along the railway line to his temporary resting place. Later, after his exhumation in the presence of two medical men he was reburied in Aughavale Cemetery on the 15February 1922.

On the morning of the 13May 1921, Adjutant Patrick Marley who was only 21 years old and from Gortnaheltia, Glenhest was killed at Ardygommon, Westport, having sustained an accidental discharge of a firearm to his face resulting in his immediate death. As described by Richard Joyce (MOTW PI70) a firearm was discharged in the yard outside, the rifle-round passing through the window. A unit of the Column was billeted in the Costello home and the fatal injury occurred as Patrick was shaving having returned to the safe house in the early morning, after inspecting those Volunteers on sentry duties, as they monitored activities at the Westport /Ballinrobe and Aghagower crossroad. His body was laid out on a cart in an outhouse and buried that night in the same Infant’s Graveyard beside his comrade Jim Duffy who had been temporarily buried there four weeks earlier. Pat Marley was later reburied in Annagh Cemetery, Glenhest on 2  March 1922 during the Truce, in the presence of many of his former comrades.

Appropriate obsequies were carried out in both cases by local families under the direction of Brigade members. No coroner’s inquests were held as inquests were banned by the British military authorities from September 1920, a device used by them to shield Crown forces from liability.  Regular inquests were replaced by military inquiries at the time. Joe Baker from the Westport Battalion later described how traumatised the men of the Column were at these deaths.

A symbolic gathering of the Brigade, fronted by their officers, occurred in the grounds of Westport House Demesne at the occasion of the funeral of Jim Duffy on the 15February 1922, prior to his interment in Westport. The widespread opinion at the time was that the Truce was only temporary, so the thinking behind this public parade of the Brigade then is hard to understand. It may have been a demonstration to show a united front when divisions in the local IRA on the Treaty were becoming obvious

Timeline of Accidental Injuries in West Mayo Brigade Area

NameDate and Place of InjuryNature of InjuryCause of InjuryOutcomeRank
Tom KitterickOctober 1920 WestportPatellar (knee) entry woundAccidental discharge of personal automatic.RecoveredQuartermaster West Mayo Brigade
Paddy Duffy26 December 1920 Aghagower, WestportInjury to Left handAccidental discharge of personal 0.45 revolver.Chronic DisabilityMember of Active Service Unit West Mayo Brigade
Andrew Harney15 April 1921, Furrigal LouisburghSuperficial abdominal injuryAccidental discharge of 0.45 revolver.RecoveredVice O/C Louisburgh Battalion
P.J. KellyAs aboveBullet embedded in wristAccidental discharge of 0.45 revolver.Bullet removed in a Dublin hospitalO/C of Louisburgh Battalion
Mark KillileaMay  1921 at Letter, Islandeadyloss of two toes on right footaccidental injury caused by a comrade ‘Tricking with his shotgun’Nine operations up to 1951, 20% lifelong loss of functionVice O/C of Castlebar Battalion
William (Rick) Joyce22 March 1922 on Westport / Achill Railway viaductHead injury with coma lasting 21 days. Paralysis of arm.Premature explosion of grenade during training exercise.Two months in St Vincent’s Hospital Dublin. Emigrated to USA died  aged 98Director of Engineering Westport Battalion
John Berry22 March 1922 on Westport / Achill Railway viaductSevere facial injuries with loss of one eye and part of mandible.Premature explosion of grenade during training exercise.Treated in Castlebar Infirmary. Emigrated to USA later.Vice O/C Westport Battalion
Patrick McNultyAugust 1922 at Glendahurk, NewportExtensive shrapnel injuries to shoulder and lower body.Premature detonation of a grenade while transporting same.Treated locally,  gradual deterioration died 12 December 1923Volunteer  F coy. 2nd Battalion, Newport
John B. Gibbons24 November 1922 and 6 January 1923Accidental leg injuries on two occasions.Leg amputatedDeveloped a chronic chest condition. Died 2 September 1923.Adjutant

Tom Kitterick

In preparation for the formation of the Flying Column in February 1921 OC Michael Kilroy requested P.J. (Paddy) Kelly and Tom Kitterick, Column Quartermaster to acquire supplies in Westport, despite a heavy presence of RIC and British Army in the town. Shanley’s, a drapery shop on Bridge Street was used as a clearing house for despatches courtesy of Jim Rush, a clerk there. On arrival Tom Kitterick noticed two soldiers on the street outside and so kept his hand on his American 0.45 Colt automatic which he carried ‘at full cock’ with the safety catch on, as he spoke with Jim Rush. He surmised later that the safety catch became released in his pocket, possibly having been caught in the lining of his coat. Then, putting his finger on the trigger the pistol immediately discharged. Paddy Kelly said that the bullet went under Tom’s kneecap and exited through the ‘shin bone’. Tom Kitterick himself said that the bullet ‘split’ his kneecap or patella only. He was treated by Dr. Gill in the local ‘Union’ Hospital and then convalesced for a week under the care of two English ladies in Rosbeg with daily dressing changes by a local nurse, all of which probably saved his leg if not his life. After the Kilmeena Ambush in May 1921 he was so weakened by his knee injury and a recent bout of pleurisy that he had to be evacuated by horseback from the area.

Later, noticing that he was lame on a visit to Dublin, Michael Collins ordered him into the Mater Hospital incognito where Tom Kitterick begged the surgeons not to amputate his lower leg, a common and often lifesaving manoeuvre in pre-antibiotic times. lt transpired that his knee had become swollen and painful due to a collection of fluid in the lining of the knee joint (synovitis) which was drained successfully. Subsequently his weapon of choice was a German Mauser automatic pistol (a ‘Peter the Painter’). His ongoing adventures with weapons led, on another occasion, to two young boys appearing in court after they stole a revolver from his car in Mullingar as he journeyed from the West (Mayo News 4 March 1922).

Paddy Duffy.

Around St. Stephens Day 1920 Volunteer Paddy Duffy from Cloonskill, Aughagower accidentally shot himself in the palm of the hand while he and his brother Johnny, OC Aughagower Company, and Tommy Heavey were cleaning their revolvers. A soft nosed bullet was removed from his hand by a local doctor but he apparently received no other treatment for his hand wound at the time. This did not deter him and his brother Johnny from taking part in the Carrowkennedy Ambush 2 June 1921 implying that the wound had healed by then. However, Tommy Heavey in his Witness Statement 1 said that Paddy Duffy experienced great trouble for years with his hand wound.

Andrew Harney and Pat Kelly.

In April 1921, having been summoned from Tir an Fhia in Connemara where he was staying with his brother the curate to join the newly formed West Mayo Brigade ASU, a member of A Company, Castlebar Battalion.  Seamus Mac Evilly joined the Louisburgh Battalion for a short while. While staying in a townland called Furrigal and when examining his revolver he accidentally caused it to discharge. According to Joe Baker 2 the 0.45 bullet entered Vice OC Andy Harney’s abdomen, albeit superficially as discovered later only for it to fetch-up in the wrist of Louisburgh OC Pat Kelly. Dr. O’ Grady from Louisburgh was summoned and treated both wounds but he was unable to locate the lead bullet in Pat Kelly’s wrist. This was removed in a Dublin hospital during the Truce. Failure to find and remove the bullet from the wrist would have led in time to a chronic infection or an osteomyelitis (infection) of bone. Andy Harney was subsequently none the worse afterwards from his abdominal injury. Later, home to see his father at the time of the big ‘sweep’ in search of the infamous ‘Murder Gang” following the Carrowkennedy Ambush 2 June 1921, he was arrested and later released. Two weeks earlier on 19 May 1921 Seamus MacEvilly had been killed in the Kilmeena Ambush.

Mark Killilea.

Fearing arrest by the RIC in Wexford for Volunteer activities Mark Killilea came to Castlebar. He joined the Castlebar Battalion on arrival while lodging with the MacEvilly family in Thomas Street. He was appointed Quarter Master in early 1921. Nine weeks prior to the Truce when resting in a ditch in Letter, Islandeady before moving into position for an ambush he was shot in the foot by a comrade ” tricking with his gun ” (a shotgun). ln his pension application he said he was ‘knocked out’. Operated on by Dr. Madden and Dr. McBride in a local private house he was later admitted to Castlebar Infirmary for a number of weeks and then nursed by Cumann na mBan member Nora Chambers (nee Mullarkey, Cloggernagh, Glenhest) in her house for three weeks until the Truce. He required nine operations on his foot up to 1951 and was considered to have a 20% lifelong disability with chronic recurrent abscess formation due to retained shotgun pellets. However, Michael Hughes of the Castlebar No. 1 Battalion has a different account. In this, written in the 1930’s, he states that while repairing a shotgun with a defective ejector Mark Killilea accidentally blew the toes off his foot (MOTW p142) having previously loaded the shotgun with a live cartridge.

William (Rick) Joyce.

While training with live explosives at the Westport/Achill Railway Viaduct near Altamont Street in Westport, William Joyce was severely injured when a grenade, possibly a homemade one, exploded prematurely. He incurred a head injury with paralysis of an arm (most likely due to the head injury) and was in a coma for 21 days. The paralysis lasted for several months during which he convalesced with his cousins the Lyons family in the Cuilmore area of Newport. He later emigrated to America and despite the appalling injuries experienced in his early life he lived until 2001, dying in Chicago at 98 years, the last surviving member of the West Mayo Brigade.

John Berry.

John Berry was also injured in the same Westport/Achill Railway Viaduct explosion incurring severe facial injuries with the loss of one eye and part of his mandible. After initial triage by Dr. O’Rourke a local doctor, both he and William Joyce were transferred to the Castlebar Infirmary. John Berry also emigrated to the United States. A number of other Volunteers received less severe injuries in the same Railway Viaduct explosion.

Patrick McNulty.

Patrick ‘Broddie ‘McNulty came from Glendahurk, Carrowbeg, Westport. He was a member of the 2nd Newport Battalion and had worked in the bomb-making foundry in Castlebar Barracks with Michael Kilroy at the start of the Civil War, which began on 28 June 1922. ln August 1922 while removing home-made bombs from a dump to his anti -Treaty men on active service, a bomb exploded prematurely causing devastating injuries to his shoulder and lower body. His Company Captain Laurence McGovern found him in a dazed condition and bleeding profusely. He was attended to immediately by Dr. Madden. It seems in the early stage of his injuries his condition was too critical to move him to a hospital so Dr. Lee from Newport and Dr. Madden attended to his wounds in a local house and attempted to remove the many shrapnel fragments from his body which were an ongoing focus of infection. After a long period of pain and illness he was barely able to walk and, on the advice of the Divisional Medical Officer, Patrick was moved to Rosturk Castle, then the Brigade Field Hospital, for treatment. Later in the middle of winter when there was a big push by the National Army Patrick was sequestered in a cave in the mountains for a week. After this he was minded by friends. In March 1923, he was smuggled to a Convalescent Home (Beaumont) in Dublin for a week of extra care. By now his physical condition had continued to deteriorate and he died on the 28  December 1923. His former Company Captain Laurence McGovern later described him as an exceptional Volunteer and soldier prior to the explosion.

John B. Gibbons.

John B. Gibbons served as an Irish Volunteer from 1917, achieving the rank of Adjutant. On 24  November 1922 he injured his leg while carrying a comrade Anthony Keane to safety during a National Army roundup. He damaged the same leg again on 6January 1923 while disrupting the Mulranny to Newport railway line. At some stage it was decided to amputate the leg, after which his physical condition continued to deteriorate and he died on the 2September 1923. In a pension application on behalf of his mother Margaret in 1939 the Pension Board were of the opinion that, ‘John B. Gibbons died from a disease attributable to post Truce military service in Oglaigh na hEireann


What these cases of non-battle casualties in the West Mayo Brigade Area demonstrate is the care given to them by the different Cumann na mBan members and many others at considerable risk to themselves, up to and including the Civil War.

Non battle injury (NBI) is defined as any injury not directly attributable to hostile action or terrorist activity including unintentional and or self-inflicted injuries. It can have different causes and outcomes depending on the conflict under consideration. In a smaller fighting force the loss of a key person may be critical thus reducing the unit’s operational efficiency and mission capability as well as having an effect on morale, as mentioned by Joe Baker in his monograph. In a highly mobile unit finding appropriate medical assistance can be difficult as also providing intermediate to long term medical care for the more seriously injured patient as happened with Patrick ‘Broddie’ McNulty. It is clear that the early management of his extensive injuries was compromised by the extent of his injuries and the initial severe blood loss and later by local events during the Civil War.

Without the benefit of weapons training in what was a ‘people’s war’ and certainly in the early phase of operations when simply acquiring weapons was a priority formal guidance in weapons handling for the Volunteers was often overlooked. Essentially each IRA Company had to arm and train themselves. As guerrilla fighting escalated the need for Training Officers was appreciated but not always available. Having an ex-serviceman in the Column such as Jimmy Flaherty (Westport) was an advantage. He was a former British Army gunner who had joined the Volunteers in September 1919. Likewise Paddy Horkan from Castlebar a decorated British Army soldier was appointed as an Arms Instructor and would ultimately attain the rank of Captain in the Brigade.

While rifles were in short supply, small arm such as revolvers and even the Mauser 1896 pistol and the later 1912 model (both models known as ‘Peter the Painter) were relatively available. According to Lar Joye4 this was the first effective military automatic pistol in having a powerful 7.63 mm bullet and a 10 round magazine. lt had proven itself well at the Battle of Mount Street Bridge during Easter Week 1916. An attachable wooden stock converted it into a carbine when its effective range was up to 50 metres. lt was Tom Kitterick’s weapon of choice at the Kilmeena Ambush on the 19  May 1921. Indeed, after 1920 the Volunteers were faced with the new standard rifle, the Lee-Enfield, issued to the

RIC which replaced their old single shot Martini-Henry carbines. Small arms such as the Mauser with its detachable stock had the advantage of being readily concealable in a jacket or trench- coat but in an emergency they could be accidentally misfired causing injury or worse.

General Headquarters

GHQ in Dublin was not unaware of the necessity for the appropriate care and maintenance of weapons although their first directives arrived somewhat late, September 1920. An tOglach (1914 to 1916 and then 1918 to 1933) described as the official journal of the Volunteers, carried comprehensive advice in this regard from time to time.

Hints on the Automatic Pistol, 15 Sept 1920, Vol.11, 19, p 2.

Notes on Pistol and Revolver Shooting, 1 March 1921 Vol. ll NO.24 p4.

The Revolver, 8 July 1921 vol. 111, No. 16 3.

Better Pistol Shooting (idem) p 4

The Revolver 21 Oct.1921 Vol. lll, No. 31, p 3,

(Incorporating Training Memo No. 5.)

Training Memo No. 18 ‘Care, Cleaning and use of the Revolver’ 23 Nov. 1921.

Other than small arms advice there were instructions on explosives, use of petrolmusketry, and treatment of accidents. From this it can be deduced that there was no shortage of advice, with the revolver recommended for the less experienced Volunteer.

Other Brigade Areas

By comparison accidents were not unknown in other Brigade areas. John Joe Keleghan, age 26, was the first Volunteer to die in Mayo on 28 July 1920 after suffering extensive burns, in an arson attack on the RIC station in Shrule twelve days earlier. While too much petrol may have been used in the attack it is thought that an explosion also had occurred possibly due to a booby trap after the RIC had abandoned the building months earlier. A fellow Volunteer, Jim Murphy, also experienced severe injuries at the time leaving him with a lifelong disability

Prior to the formation of the four Mayo Brigades on 18 September 1920, Commdt Pat Kenny from the Ballyhaunis Battalion was seriously wounded by cross-fire in the Holywell Ambush near Bekan, Ballyhaunis on 2 August 1920. In a fighting retreat he was shot in the face and left arm by the discharge of a shotgun from a member of his own Company. He was initially treated by Dr. Smyth, Battn. Medical Officer and brought to Castlebar Infirmary under the care of Surgeon McBride. To protect his identity his treatment continued in the local Castlebar Union Workhouse where local Cumann na mBan members had a secret ‘Casualty Ward’. This was run by Mrs Bridget Ryan, a trained nurse who was assisted by a local doctor, Dr. Hopkins. Despite repeated searches of the Castlebar Workhouse by the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries this secret ward remained undiscovered throughout the whole period of the War of Independence. Subsequently Comdt.  Kenny was transferred to the Galway Hospital under Surgeon O’Maille for five weeks and then convalesced in Connemara in the home of TD Padraic O’Maille for four months before returning to Ballyhaunis in April 1921. Likewise, Volunteer Willie Connelly in the West Connemara Brigade area, in April 1921 was on guard duty, when bending down to add turf to the fire his revolver, a Bulldog 0.45 mm fell from his belt and discharged seriously damaging his ‘shin bone’. Further afield, on 31 May 1922 Margaret McAnaney, a young Cumann na mBan member was accidentally shot dead by an IRA Volunteer at Burnfoot, Co. Donegal.


In modern warfare as in the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars with their greater variety of weapons and technology, non-battle injuries were consistently at about 30% of total casualties5 similar to the 26% accidental or friendly fire casualties incurred by the British Military in Ireland between 1919 and 19216. O’Halpin surmised that for the same period the incidence of accidental IRA casualties was significantly lower at 9 % because “the Volunteers rarely possessed their own large calibre weapons except when going on an operation”. Accidents and even deaths occurred most often when cleaning weapons or manhandling explosives, notwithstanding the rank or experience of those involved. New recruits were particularly at risk due to inadequate training whether with small arms or with conventional rifles or shotguns. Thus, inappropriate discharge of weapons and other accidents were an occurrence in all Brigade areas and at all levels among the Volunteers.

As Dominick O’Grady wrote when referring to the Volunteers “Warfare was new to them.

Guns and all that was a new experience for them” .7


RU…..Remember Us

MOTW…..Men of the West

NBI….Non Battle Injury


(1) T. Heavey, Bureau of Military History – WS 1668

(2) J. Baker, (1988) ‘My Stand for Freedom’ Ed. Jarlath Duffy. Westport Historical Society p 22.

(3) E. Horkan, (2021), ‘The Triangle of Violence’. Vol. l.

(4) L. Joye, Weapons of the 1916 Rising. National Museum of Ireland.

(5) J.W. Sanders et al (2005) Impact of illness and noncombat injury during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Am. J. Trop. Med. Hygiene. Oct.: 73 (4) p 713-9.

(6)  E. O’Halpin (2012) Counting Terror: Bloody Sunday and the dead of the Irish Revolution. In ‘ Terror in Ireland 1916-1923’, David Fitzpatrick Ed.

(7) D. O’Grady, (2018) Remember Us: The People’s War, Newport Area, Mayo 1914 – 1924 p 255/256

Grateful thanks to Sean Cadden, Westport for suggestions relating to this article.

June 2022.