Updated: 10/07/17 : 05:11:17
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Killing of local TD in election recalled in new book

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

A SITTING local TD was shot dead during a general election in Sligo, Leitrim. 

Apart from local newspaper archives,  the incident (too) seldom features in local political histories.....in detail anyway.

But the incident and aftermath is recalled in great detail and merits a full chapter in a major new book, ''The Fallen.''

The book, written by Colm Wallace, recalls the details of all Gardai killed in service in the years from 1922 to 1949.

The relevance is that an armed Garda, Detective Patrick McGeehan, also died in the same incident as the TD.

Sligo Jail

Sligo Jail was used to hold the shooter before he was transferred to Mountjoy for his trial on murder charges.

Coming to Sligo, the shooter had asked that uniformed Garda rather than armed detectives escort him. This was refused.

The new book goes into detail on the shootings, the lead-up and the trial in which no punches were pulled about the sordid nature of election campaigns in these parts.

Dynasty Doubled

The slain TD in Sligo/Leitrim was Patrick Reynolds and in the election, delayed for two week in these parts, his widow Mary became a TD overnight with 5,000 votes.

She served in four separate decades and was only once defeated, serving in the Seanad for that term.

Over subsequent decades, the dynasty has doubled and it is both the largest and longest-serving in Dáil politics in these parts.

European Commissioner

The dead man's son, Pat Joe and his grandson Gerry were also both elected as TDs.

Indeed Gerry Reynolds was chosen as the Fine Gael candidate for the 1989 by election when Raymond MacSharry went to Brussels as Ireland's Commissioner.

That by election was never held as Charles Haughey called a snap election in June 1989 .....in which Gerry Reynolds topped the poll. 

The dead man's son became Chair of the Seanad in the 1980s having previously served as a Parliamentary Secretary (junior Minister) in the mid 1970s.

Pat Joe Reynolds, whose base was Roscommon/Leitrim, remains the most recent Council of State member from this region.

The Council, which includes retired Taoisigh and ex Presidents, advises the President -- when asked -- before he/she signs legislation into law.

Australian Interest

The double killing in February 1932 double evoked worldwide interest and coverage included the Sydney Morning Herald, a premier newspaper in Australia.

Some years ago I discussed this case in detail with a noted Irish reporter who covered the original 1932 trial. 

The late EB (Ned) Murphy of the Independent newspapers was steeped in Fine Gael politics and also a personal friend of the Cosgraves, WT and Liam.

Murphy's version is 100% borne out in Colm Wallace's excellent new book.

Also examined in the book are eighteen Garda deaths in the first three decades of the State, including Detective McGeehan -- the first such violent death in Connacht.

His blow-by-blow account of the killing of the TD and the local detective during the Sligo, Leitrim general election is the best chapter in a great book.

Narrative Shifted

In recent decades some of the narrative in the re-telling of the Sligo/Leitrim tragedy has shifted.

This new book presents a much more even-keeled recall of that double shooting. 

It hugely re-shifts and re-balances what has become a too one-sided narrative. 

Gun Smoking

Equally clear from the new book is that the killing of the TD especially and its immediate aftermath was callous, cruel.

The most vivid image is that the shooter, with gun still smoking, ignored the TD pleas for help in calling out the Christian name of his one-time friend and pub patron.

Earthy stuff in the book is the account of Sligo/Leitrim election incidents during that campaign which were related during the trial of the defendant. 

Schooled Evidence

The conduct of some Gardai in Ballinamore before and after that double tragedy is unearthed in this latest research.

The beatings of prisoners and the civil unrest it had already caused in the town may offer a context to some of the later politics of Sligo and Leitrim.

Says the book: ''Republicans accused Gardai of overseeing a reign of terror.'' 

Lawyers during the trial of the shooter repeated the same charge and also claimed some witnesses had been schooled in their evidence.  

Other chapters recall episodes in parts of (our) Ireland in which the police service engaged in questionable acts, including the use of guns and shootings.

That said, the book is dedicated in Irish and English to Gardai who gave their lives ''in defence of Ireland and its people.''

Greatest Leniency

Meanwhile, Sligo Jail was used to hold the suspect Joe Leddy for some time before his transfer to Mountjoy and his trial in Dublin.

That trial took place within weeks of the general election shooting which happened exactly eighty five years ago.

Leddy pleaded not guilty to wilful murder. He was convicted of manslaughter by a Dublin jury which also said there had been provocation. He got 12 months.

Long Argued

The jury had asked for the ''lightest sentence possible'' and when the judge concurred Leddy also pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of the detective.

The presiding judge said he would write to the incoming government and ask them not to cancel the pension.

The shooter was himself a former police officer who had served both North and South, whose brother had been killed in the line of duty.

He later showed the IRA how to use guns  and the book recalls that the TD he shot dead had got him a small pension for his police service.

The fateful row started over that pension and Reynolds' dislike of Leddy's decision to canvass for another candidate in the 1932 Sligo, Leitrim general election which brought Dev to power.

That independent candidate was Mick Carter whose 1925 resignation from the forerunner of Fine Gael caused the first ever Dail by election in Sligo/Leitrim.

Carter later lived in Longford and his late son Frank became a TD who backed the 1966 bid by George Colley to become Fianna Fáil leader.

The author, Colm Wallace, is a national school teacher in Galway, and has written the definitive account of a long-argued event in politics in these parts.

His research notes are top class; he examined local newspapers in Longford, Leitrim and Fermanagh but surprisingly not Sligo or Cavan in the Reynolds case.

Civil Claim

Later, the slain TD's widow Mary Reynolds won over £1,000 pounds compensation in a civil claim for damages against Leddy.

However, the family of the Garda detective failed in a similar claim. 

Wallace's previous book ''Sentenced to Death'' looked at the cases of thirty men and women who had the death penalty imposed on them in Ireland. Both recommended.

See also www.facebook.com/colmwallaceauthor