On 26th August 1922, during the Irish Civil War, two senior Fianna Eireann officers, 19 year old Sean Cole, Commandant of the 2nd Battalion – North East (Dublin Brigade) and 21 year old Alfred Colley, newly promoted to Vice-Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, previously Commandant of the 1st Battalion – North West (Dublin Brigade) were arrested by intelligence members of the National Army at Newcomen Bridge on the North Strand and taken to Yellow Road, Whitehall in North Dublin and shot dead. It was believed to be an act of reprisal for the shooting of Michael Collins, which took place four days previously.
Senior Fianna officer Frank Sherwin recalled hearing about his fellow officers and friends deaths “I made contact with some of my Fianna comrades, when Alfred Colley and Sean Cole, two Fianna officers, were murdered in a lane at Whitehall, near Dublin On the same day, another IRA man was found riddled with bullets at Raheny. They were all murdered by the Free State murder gang. They were the first to be murdered. These three men were shot while Collins body lay in state at City Hall, Dublin; the date was 26th August 1922. Cole and Colley were engaged in trying to reorganise the Fianna when they were shot.”
An inquest into their deaths recorded that “the dead body of Colley contained one bullet wound in the head, another in the spine, and two others in the body. Death was instantaneous. Cole had four bullets wounds, one in the head and three in the body.”
A letter from Fianna Adjutant General Barney Mellows to Sean Cole’s family was read out at the inquest by Mr Comyn, Kings Counsel, appearing for both next of kin and G.H.Q Fianna Eireann. It read:
The G.H.Q. Fianna Eireann offer their deep sympathy on the loss that you have sustained by the murder of your son Sean. He had been for a long time a steady worker in the Fianna and had been promoted from time to time, his last post being that of commandant, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade. The staff have investigated as far as is possible the circumstances of the deaths and find that Sean and his comrade, Alf Colley, attended on the 26th August at an ordinary parade of the Northern city section of the Dublin Fianna fixed for 3pm, the place being Charlemont House, Marino. At the conclusion of the meeting Sean and Alf Colley were picked up by armed men in the vicinity of Newcomen Bridge, taken near “The Thatch’ and there without an preliminary, were foully and callously murdered……………. The fight for the Republic is not waged on the basis of the assassination in cold blood of mere unarmed boys. Sean Cole and Alf Colley owe their deaths as Republicans soldiers to the enemies of the Republic. Le Meas, B. Mellows, Adjutant- General.
The inquest returned a verdict that both men died from wounds described in the above medical testimony and that the killing of the deceased was considered as wilful murder. The jury at the inquest tendered their sincere sympathy to the relatives of the deceased.
Their deaths were a terrible blow for the Fianna Eireann organization at a time when the tide was rapidly turning against them. Many senior officers, including those on the GHQ, were by now arrested and detained by the Free State government so the loss of such experienced and active members of the Fianna caused significant damage to both the moral and running of the organization.
Alfred Colley’s family requested a small private funeral and he was buried with a Fianna Guard of Honour. Sean Cole’s burial was a larger affair and he was given a full military funeral, with a firing party. Countess Markievicz delivered a graveside oration.
Today a plaque commemorates the spot where the two young men lost their lives.
Story and research by Eamon Murphy.
Photo credit: Dublin North East Eirigi