The Jackie Clarke Collection | Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10am - 5pm | Free Admission

We continue with our exhibition Cogadh na Saoirse - War of Independence - The Ballina Perspective with the story of Thomas Howley. We extend sincere thanks to Jackie Clarke Collection volunteer Frank Fagan who has put huge research into this story along with many other topics from the Decade of Centenaries.
Tom Howley was born ten miles from Ballina in Enniscrone Co. Sligo in 1903. He was one of seven children born to Annie and Edward Howley and grew up on tales of the Land War during the 1880s. Aged only fifteen years, Tom joined the Volunteers in 1918, a year before the outbreak of the Irish War of Independence on 21st of January 1919.
In Enniscrone on the 26th of August 1920, one of the largest operations carried out by the North Mayo Brigade of the IRA during the War of Independence took place. Upwards of one hundred and fifty men and women captured and destroyed the Coastguard Station which had a garrison of Crown Forces. All the arms, ammunition, and explosives stored within the station were safely removed before the building’s destruction. There were no casualties on either side.
In 1921 Tom and several comrades from the North Mayo Brigade were ordered to kill Royal Irish Constabulary District Inspector William Eugene White. District Inspector White, a Catholic from Strokestown Co. Roscommon, had enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery on 1st Jan 1916 in Athlone and served in WW1. He joined the RIC in 1920 and was assigned to Ballina.
District Inspector White was a regular visitor to the house of George O’Malley Ormsby who was a Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff of County Mayo. On the 24th of May 1921, District Inspector White accompanied by his wife visited the Ormsby home in Ballina. The local Volunteers, including Tom, set up for attack. The car exited and faced Tom’s group. They opened fire on White, who returned fire and managed to escape with minor injuries, as did his wife.
In a witness statement submitted in 1956 to the Irish Bureau of Military History by Stephen Donnelly, who took part in the attack, notes:
“We cleared away across the fields to Quignashee, it was then after curfew time and as Howley and Byrnon couldn’t return to Ballina, we decided to go to Quinn’s of Bunree and remain there for the night. In the early hours of the morning, the house was surrounded by the RIC. They hammered the front door and ordered us to come out with our hands up. We burst out the back door firing. When we were nearly on the Ballina road, Howley was shot. I took his gun and Healy and I continued to fire until we got around the corner at Bunree bridge.”
Extracts from a report in the Western People of the 4th of June 1921 contain the following: Tom had been taken to Athlone Military Barracks by Crown Forces and died of his wounds the on the 28th of May.
The train to Ballina carrying his body arrived after the 10pm curfew.
Only a few immediate relatives and his employer Mr. T. Kearney were permitted by the British military to remain on the platform to receive his remains.
His coffin was immediately taken by car to Enniscrone church, where even though the hour was late, a large crowd had gathered.
A Volunteer guard of honour stayed with his coffin during the night. There was a large congregation present for the mass at 11am. Immediately after the mass the funeral took place to Kilglass graveyard. The coffin draped in the Sinn Fein colours was carried to the cemetery by the Volunteers. Immediately following was a large company of Cumann na mBan.
Tom Howley was laid to rest in a quiet corner of the graveyard beside his father Edward who had died some years before.
A century on from his death Tom Howley is remembered in both Enniscrone and Ballina. In Enniscrone, a large decorative headstone was erected in the local cemetery, and in Ballina a street was named in his honour. Tom’s name is also included on the monument in the Republican Plot in Leigue cemetery Ballina.

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Specialist tours can be booked in advance by emailing or by phoning (096) 73508.


The Jackie Clarke Collection
Pearse Street, Ballina, Co. Mayo, Ireland

T: + 353 (0)96 73508

Opening Times

Tuesday to Saturday: 10am to 5pm
Entrance is located at the side of the building on Walsh Street.