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

We extend huge thanks to JCC volunteer Ita Jackson for her work on the story of Sergeant Thomas Armstrong.
Ballina’s first fatality in the War of Independence, Thomas Robert Armstrong, born in Cavan in February 1899. In 1920, he was serving as a policeman in Ballina, married to Mary, with eleven children and residing in Dillon Terrace.
On the evening of the July 21st 1920, as Sergeant Armstrong, accompanied by Constables Regan, Barnes and Nangle, made their way down Knox Street, now Pearse Street, en route to their barracks after a night patrol, a number of armed and masked men “dashed out of one of the lanes in the vicinity of the Moy Hotel, levelling revolvers” (Western People, July 24th 1920)
In its report the Western People stated that Constable Barnes, a Black and Tan, drew his revolver and in the exchange of fire that followed, Sergeant Armstrong was killed, Constable Regan wounded, Constable Nangle surrounded and Constable Barnes escaped. Three revolvers were taken.
With the RIC Barracks less than two hundred yards away in Charles Street, now Walsh Street, a number of constables rushed out, brought the two men inside the barracks and used aerial lights to search for the attackers.
Rev. Mr. J. Nash and Rev. D. O’Connor, CC administered the last rites to Sergeant Armstrong and Constable Regan, respectively. Members of the Sergeant’s family, who lived close by, were by his side before he died and it was reported that he said “I did not think any Ballina man would do this to me”.
The Sergeant had been shot in the chest with the bullet exiting through his back. An inquest to be held on the Thursday at Ballina Courthouse, attended by Dr. McHale, Coroner for North Mayo and RIC Head Constable Dwyer, did not proceed as a number of jurors failed to appear. However, the Coroner stated that Sergeant Armstrong was a “A diligent and inoffensive officer”.
The fatal shooting of Sergeant Armstrong resulted in an increased security presence in the town. The Freeman’s Journal, July 24th reported on the arrival of an aeroplane on July 23rd that “hovered over the town for some time” and the Irish Independent stated that on the same date armed forces and police “raided the drapery premises of Messrs Shanley, Knox Street, even searching the ladies”.
The Western People expressed the view that the fatal shooting of Sergeant Armstrong was not “a premeditated act” and that the purpose of the ambush had been to obtain weapons. Stephen Donnelly and Patrick Coleman, North Mayo Brigade, both participants in the ambush, reiterated this view, with Donnelly recalling that the ambush had been planned at a meeting attended by his O/C Tom Ruane, with P.J. Ruttledge providing intelligence on RIC patrols. He also stated that “… the sergeant made an attempt to pull his gun. I immediately fired and he fell.” (Witness Statement 1548, Bureau of Military History)
The funeral service of Sergeant Armstrong was held in St. Michael’s, Church of Ireland, with burial in the adjoining cemetery. His coffin was carried by members of the RIC with the Military marching behind. Constable Barnes was at the front of the funeral procession, carrying a wreath. There were also wreaths from his wife Mary and children: Louie, Lottie, Violet, Tommy, Jack, Elsie, Leslie, Walter, Cecil, George and Baby Mabel.
Three months after the killing of Sergeant Armstrong, his widow Mary, was awarded £4,500 with costs and expenses, to be levied on the county at large. She informed the Ballina Quarter Sessions that had her husband lived he would have retired on the 31st July, ten days after the shooting.

The Jackie Collection Logo


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.