Michael Sheehy

Michael Sheehy, the man who led the Tonduff Ambush. 

BORN in London on December 12, 1895, Michael Joseph Sheehy  came of an Irish Nationalist family. His father, Robert Joseph, was a solicitor whose clients included the Irish MPs at Westminster. His mother was Catherine Grogan from Croghan, Rhode, Co. Offaly.

Michael's childhood was spent between Croghan and London. He was studying engineering at the College of Science in Dublin when his father died suddenly in 1913, leaving a wife and seven children. Michael had to leave college to help support the family.

In 1914, aged 18, he joined the IRA in London. During the Irish War of Independence, he was working at Wolfhill Colliery and became an active member of the Volunteers in Luggacurran as Quartermaster in D Company, 4th Battalion, Laois Brigade, IRA and secretary of the Sinn Fein courts in the Luggacurran District. He was interned in Ballykinlar Camp for a year.

After the truce, he took the Republican side, continuing to operate in the Laois area. In late July 1922 he was Officer in Command of a flying column captured during the Tonduff ambush. He was imprisoned in Portlaoise jail and a gallows was erected to hang him.

However appeals were made on his behalf to Michael Collins and he was interned at Tintown Camp on the Curragh.

After the Civil War, he returned to work at Wolfhill for a few years. From the early 1930s he worked for the Department of Local Government as a Housing Grants Inspector, based at Coolemount House, Rhode, Offaly. His work took him into people's houses all over the country, where he was very well known and liked.

In 1936 he married Biddens Harte from Killygordon, Co. Donegal. They had two daughters and two sons. While working, Michael resumed his engineering studies and qualified as a civil engineer. For a few years in the early 1950s, he worked for Westmeath County Council, in charge of house building by direct labour, but returned to Local Government about 1956. His territory then was Offaly, Laois and North Tipperary.

Around 1960, when Local Government Minister Niall Blaney introduced Group Water Schemes, Michael Sheehy was appointed to manage the schemes in his area. He threw himself into the new work with immense enthusiasm. The concept of community self-help, eliminating red tape, appealed to him enormously. He pioneered the amalgamation of small groups into bigger and bigger area schemes.

Michael Sheehy would not take the IRA Veteran's Pension, on the basis that the time he spent in the IRA was voluntary and he did not want to be paid for it. He requested instead to be allowed to continue working for Local Government on the Group Water schemes, which he did until he was 80.

In later life he said that the work he did for Local Government, improving the living standards of people in rural Ireland, was of much greater value than anything he did as a member of the IRA.

He died at his home in Coolemount in 1981 and was buried in Rhode, his coffin covered with the tricolour.

Reprinted from 'The Quiet County' by kind permission of  Michael Rafter.

Date of birth: Dec 12, 1895
Year of birth:
Birthplace: London
Rank: Officer
Date of death:
Year of death: 1981
Age on July 28, 1922: 27
Connection to Tonduff 22: One of the leaders of the Tonduff Ambush