Northern Ireland

Historian Eamon Phoenix amazed at discovering 100 year-old photograph of IRA shooting

The aftermath of a shooting incident on Little Donegall Street in July 1921
The aftermath of a shooting incident on Little Donegall Street in July 1921 The aftermath of a shooting incident on Little Donegall Street in July 1921

PROMINENT historian Dr Eamon Phoenix has spoken of his amazement on first seeing a photograph of an IRA shooting incident in Belfast a century ago.

The rare picture shows the fatal shooting of Constable Timothy Galvin in the city centre during the last days of the War of Independence.

The historian saw the photograph for the first time in The Irish News last month, accompanying an article by author Cormac Moore about partition.

The piece recounted the violence in the summer 1921, just ahead of the enactment of the truce between the IRA and British forces on July 11.

Dr Phoenix's attention was grabbed by the image of a crowd, photographed from above, in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Cons Galvin on July 6

It appeared at the time in The Illustrated London News, one of the few publications that used photographs 100 years ago.

An Irish News report into the dead RIC constable's inquest from the following month tells how the 27-year-old Co Limerick native died two days after being targeted in what it terms a "shooting affair in Union Street".

"An RIC witness stated that the deceased had come from Haulbowline, County Cork to Glenravel Street barracks where he had been stationed for fourteen months. He was a very quiet, inoffensive young man and appeared to have no enemies," the report states.

The witness told how when walking down Donegall Street at about 9.25 on the morning of July 6, he heard a number of shots being fired from the direction of Union Street.

"Looking round, he saw Galvin falling and ran forward to assist him but a civilian had caught the deceased and he was subsequently taken by a taxi-cab to the Mater Hospital."

A civilian witness told the inquest that ten minutes before he had been speaking to the deceased and a Constable Conway at the corner of Union Street and Little Donegall Street.

"Suddenly four or more men came from Donegall Street direction and shouted to the two policemen: ‘Up with them’ and several shots were fired," the witness recalled.

Another witness told how he saw the deceased constable fire his revolver to the men who had fired at him, before seeing Cons Galvin "staggering on the footpath after which he fell against a wall."

The jury found that Constable Galvin had died due to "gunshot wounds wilfully inflicted by some person unknown".

Dr Phoenix said he found the photo "truly breathtaking" and a "fantastic historical primary source".

"It must be remembered that news photographs were extremely rare at this time because they were so expensive and to have one that actually captures an incident of this kind is quite incredible," he said.

"After I saw the picture last month I walked that very ground, as the building on the right, what was formerly the Frames complex, is still there."

The historian speculates that the photographer was most likely positioned on the old Belfast Telegraph building, which is now earmarked as a future hotel.

"It captures brilliantly how the final days of the War of Independence were playing out close to the offices of The Irish News and Belfast's other daily papers," he said.

Some 70 years later in December 1991, the location recorded in the photograph was the scene of the murder of doorman Colm Mahon by the IPLO.