The IRA conducted one of the first political assassinations of Ireland's War of Independence in Co Mayo

Resident Magistrate John Charles Milling was one of the first political assassinations during Ireland's War of Independence. He was killed at the hands of the IRA in Co Mayo 100 years ago.

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In 1914, Milling was appointed Resident Magistrate to Mayo, the county of his birth. Both his father and grandfather had served as RIC County Inspectors in Mayo and before his move back to his native county, Milling served as District Inspector in Belfast.

1919 was a year which saw the foundation of Ireland's parliament, Dail Eireann, by elected members of Sinn Fein, but the democratic mandate of Sinn Fein was refused by the British government. In turn, the British response was to crack down hard on all forms of nationalism, in sport, culture, and politics.

In the west of Ireland, a growing sense of militancy was taking hold among those who wished for an Ireland free from British rule, and by 1919 the Republican movement had swelled in places like Mayo, a county which suffered from a long harrowing history of colonial rule.

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Resident Magistrate Milling sent many a Republican activist to jail, including the editor of The Mayo News P.J Doris. Milling's stance to strictly uphold the rule of British law in Mayo was met with resistance. His yacht was burned at Westport Quay and numerous threats were delivered to his country home in Rosmailley. He decided to move into Westport town thinking the authorities could give him better protection in an urban environment.

Milling continued to crack down on any Republicans who came before his court and for this, he continued to receive threats to his life. Milling eventually gave in and requested a transfer to Ballymena in what is now Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately for Milling, he never got to Ballymena.

The plan of assassination was a tight secret, apparently on the instructions from Michael Collins in Dublin, and known only to a select few in the West of Ireland IRB.

Michael Collins

Michael Collins

Thomas Hevey, Brigade Adjutant West Mayo Brigade IRA, shed some light on the assassination in his witness statement for the Bureau of military history: "Milling was shot as a result of an indiscreet remark he himself made in the bar of the Railway Hotel."

Hevey goes on to describe an incident which saw the RIC arrest Volunteer Joe Ring at a meeting in Westport. According to Hevey, "Milling remarked Joe will get a good long rest and the remark was related to Joe's friends....."

Hevey states "the deed was probably decided upon by the IRB. We never talked much about it."

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Four IRA Volunteers, Joe Walsh, Joe Ring, Joe Ruddy, and Joe Gill, are reputed to have played the role of Milling's assassins. On the night of March 29th, 1919 a snow storm blew through Westport and four men, (the four Joes) waited in the dark outside as Milling entered the front room of his house on Newport Road to wind the clock on the mantlepiece before retiring to bed.

Bullets smashed through the window and Milling was left in a pool of blood on the floor.

Milling did not die instantly. He lingered throughout the night and into the following day. A specialist surgeon was called from Dublin but, even with top medical care, the 46-year-old Magistrate passed away on March 30th. Milling was buried in Holy Trinity Cemetery in Westport.

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The Milling family lodged for compensation and got £6,000 which was paid from local ratepayers, it became known for years after in Mayo as 'Milling Tax.'

Milling's assassination was denounced from the pulpit at St Mary's Church in Westport and an inquest resulted in a split jury.

Following Milling's death, martial law was imposed on Mayo and even though the authorities spent a lot of time trying to catch the assassins they failed to do so, such was the oath of secrecy which had veiled over Mayo.

The assumption that the assassins were 'The four Joes' can only be considered just that and not solid fact. The four Joes fought in and survived the War of Independence. Unfortunately Joe Ring, Joe Walsh, and Joe Ruddy perished in the Civil War fighting with Free State forces. Joe Gill, who survived both conflicts, left Ireland and joined the French foreign legion, never to be heard from again.

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The assassination of Magistrate Milling in Mayo 100 years ago would not be the last political assassination in Ireland as the fight for independence would bring much more bloodshed in the months and years that followed.

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