On Tuesday 7 June 1921, three men were executed at Dublin’s Mountjoy Gaol. The event may have passed off as being relatively unremarkable at the time, as executions were coming thick and fast during the Irish War of Independence. All those executed thus far had been Republicans, as indeed were two of the men put to death on 7 June; Patrick Maher and Edmond Foley. On this day however, the third man to take the short walk through the red door of the hang house and into eternity was not a Republican. Thirty-three year old William Mitchell was a temporary constable in the Royal Irish Constabulary – a Black and Tan. Few books written about the conflict make mention of Mitchell. The few which do mention him describe him, wrongly, as English. However, Mitchell was Irish. In her novel, DJ Kelly describes the background and the fate of this forgotten man, and reveals the political expediency which led to his execution, in the dying days of the British Administration in Ireland.
It is a well written and entertaining story of an individual whose life can be described as bad luck. It is somewhat sad in some respects. DJ Kelly shows us a human side to a Force that is usually only described in an almost scientific military way, and rarely complimentary.
Mitchell was born in Dublin in to a relatively poor family. He involved himself in petty crime at an early age. He joined the British army and served in India and also on the western front, and upon leaving the army he quickly rejoined his criminal pals in their various unlawful activities, mainly theft. From there he eventually joined the Black and Tans. What happened after that can be said to be the last of his many mistakes. An enjoyable read.
- William Mitchell, portrayed ‘in uniform’
- The Dixon house, where the murder occurred on 2 Feb 1921 (these are the images which appear in the book)
The RIC Barracks in Dunlavin, where Mitchell was stationed at the time of the incident (now the Garda station)
- Author and book