The Munster and Leinster Bank Robbery of 1923 by Ronan Killeen

The year was 1923 when the Munster and Leinster Bank was robbed by two men Joseph O’Rourke, a servant boy from Ardrahan and Michael Murphy, Garragh, Gort a farmers son (Authors note: Murphy's address seems to have conflicting accounts in the newspapers of the time)  who had been with the Irregular IRA at the Renmore Depot, Galway before it was burned. The two men  were subsequently captured wit ha sum of £687 on them.
O’Rourke; Murphy and another accomplice hired a car off  Mr. J. Cunniffee who worked for W. P. Higgins stating that the car was being hired to bring two girls to Loughrea. [1]
It was 3.30pm when O’Rourke and Murphy entered the Munster and Leinster Bank and ordered for the bank manager Joseph O’Kelly Lynch to to ‘Put his hands up’. O’Kelly Lynch who was shaking in fear replied to the raiders ‘I have no firearms so you can take down that thing’.[2]
One of the raiders guarded  J. Lynch while the other raider partner went behind the counter to get the bags. The bags contained  £700 in notes. J. Lynch was severely warned by the raiders that ‘If he gave the alarm within half and hour he would be shot and there was a man watching outside’.
After the robbery the the raiders quickly disappeared down the street. [3]
A shopkeeper Miss McLoughlin was after finishing her dinner next door and had seen the raiders enter the bank. She soon realised that the door between the shop and bank had been locked against her, and the two raiders escaped.
The hired car was standing nearby while the driver Cunniffe was having refreshments with the other one of the raiders. Miss McLoughlin warned Cunniffe that the bank had been robbed and  when Cunniffe saw the two raiders approach  he became suspicious and asked where were the two girls? This irritated the two raiders making them unable to get away. Cunniffe then cautioned the two robbers that ‘If they do not leave me quickly you will be caught!’J. Lynch had by means of signals of succeeding of attracting the attention of Mrs. Jordan; Stephen Jordan’s wife  who saw J.Lynch with his hands up. Mrs. Jordan rushed to the scene and was followed by Reverend T. Lynch. Reverend Lynch reported the robbery to the Civic Guards and the military.
One of the raiders had been held up by the civic guards at the Post office but the raider coolly declared he was attached to the military was allowed to pass because he said he was attached to the military.[4]
The Guards and Captain Curran soon arrived including about 25 military turned out to catch the raiders. Captain Curran divided them into small parties and sent them in search of the fugitives.
That evening about six o’clock accompanied by Sergeant Major Hargrave was returning to Athenry when he left his car about three miles from the town decided to cross the field near the Mulpit river..[5]
There were two men spotted walking along the river banks of the river who had aroused suspicion. The two men were called to halt when but as they started to double back  Captain Curran and Sergeant Hargrave closed in on them and it was alleged they found £687 on them and two revolvers excellent condition, and containing four and three live cartridges. However, the authorities were still on the look out for a third raider. The raiders were then handcuffed on Wednesday in the Tuam Barracks, and were court-martialled on  Thursday. [6]The prisoners were then lodged in Athenry Barracks on the Tuesday night and then removed to Tuam Wednesday morning.[7]
They found money and revolvers in On the 31st May 1923  the Freeman’s Journal reported that; ‘Michael Murphy, Ardrahan, Co. Galway and Joseph O’Rourke, Coxtown, Ardrahan, Co. Galway were tried before a military tribunal at Tuam on 24th Day of May 1923. On charge of taking part in an armed robbery, in that they did, on 22nd May 1923 stole from the Munster and Leinster Bank, Athenry, Co. Galway.. in Tuam Military Barracks.’
The condemned men admitted their guilt but had stated that it was of no political significance and they were forced agents of combination in connection with the land trouble. The night before their execution  Rev. Father Cunningham, Adm who was the army Chaplin stayed with the prisoners and the following morning attended Mass and received Communion . On the 31st May 1923 the prisoners were blindfolded when executed 8.a.m. that morning. [8]



[1] Tuam Herald 26/05/1923
[2] Irish Independent 24/05/1923
[3] Tuam Herald 26/05/1923
[4] Southern Star 26/05/1923
[5] Ibid
[6] Freeman’s Journal 31/05/1923
[7] Ibid
[8] Freeman’s Journal 31/05/1923

Comments