Denis Crowley


A man was shot at Moanroe, near Newcastle West, Limerick in late March 1920.

"The Men Will Talk to Me" by Ernie O'Malley and "The War of Independence in Limerick" by Thomas Toomey both cite first hand accounts from IRA men that Denis Crowley was executed in 26 March 1920 at Moanroe near Broadford in West Limerick 1920 Mar 26. Crowley, who was described as a Cork man who had joined the Munster Fusiliers during the war, had appeared as a spy in Kerry & Limerick from late 1919

He infiltrated the Castleisland IRA , claiming to be Peadar Clancy, Vice-Commandant of Dublin IRA. He spent 2 or 3 weeks living with them in November 1919. He was in Feb 1920 part of the IRA attack on Scartaglin Barracks. He went back to Castleisland, and was soon arrested there when his army tattoos were noticed by the Cordal Company of the IRA, and sent as a captive to Co Limerick, where he was court-martialed and executed

It has been impossible to find Crowley's birth as the name is too common, and his age too vague. All we know is that he was 25 to 30 roughly when executed, giving a birth between 1890 and 1895. And as he married in 1913, he is unlikely to have been born after 1895. His father is given as "John" which does not help either.

So the first reference to him is when he married in November 1913 . His first child was child was 2 months old when he married, and a second child was born in 1914. I assume Crowley went off to the war soon after this. His wife had not heard from him since Jul 1919. Cowley disappeared in Jul 1919, and his wife in Cappoquin read about the unknown body in Newcastle West, and had it exhumed. It is unclear why she thought that it might have been him of the many bodies found in Ireland. She travelled to Limerick, saw the body and said it was not her husband. Although it would appear that it was his body.

It is strange that she might have thought that a distant body might have been him, unless she knew that he was on spy work in that area. It is also strange that his Pension Card gives his date of death as 25 Mar 1920 if his body had not been identified. And it is also strange that Alice should have got a widow's pension when he was a deserter according to army records.

If one puts it all together, my feeling is that Crowley was an agent put in by Basil Thomson . Thomson is believed to have sent about 60 agents to Ireland. They were under deep cover, and tended to be ordinary ex-soldiers, rather than officers By running them from London, and not from Ireland, Thomson believed that it was more difficult for the IRA to discover them. I suspect that Thomson got him out of the deserters arrest in Jul 1919, and arranged his escape to Ireland to spy. I suspect that his wife knew what he was doing, and when she reported back to the British that the body was Crowley, then she got her pension


1895 Approx date of birth from Death Cert. But given he married in 1913 (of full age) and that his wife was born circa 1885, then I suspect that he was born closer to 1885 than 1895

1913 Sep 16 Kate Crowley born

1913 Nov 12. Married Alice Merrigan (b1885) at Cappoquin


1914 Sep 6. Son John Born


Crowley is believed by the IRA , to have enlisted in RMF. But I cannot find any evidence for that. He did however enlist in ASC

His ASC Service number implies that he joined the ASC in mid to late Feb 1915. This does not preclude him from having transferred from RMF, neither does it show in any way that he did transfer

1915 Apr 12 Landed in France with ASC

1918 Oct 11 Deserted ASC

Then enlisted in South Wales Borderers while still a deserter. And then deserted the SW Borderers

He was arrested by Civil Police and handed to the army

1919 Jul 20 Deserted again before a trial could take place

1919 Jul. His wife says that she never hears from him after this date. The Ira report him in Kerry and Limerick posing as Paedar Clancy, in late 1919 and early 1920, until his cover is blown, and he is tried and shot by the IRA as a spy

1920 Mar 26 Executed by IRA

At this point there are two completely different press reports on whether Mrs Crowly could identify the body or not

Limerick Chronicle, May, 1920. West Limerick Mystery. A Lismore message says;--Alice Crowley, Barrack Street, Cappoquin, wife of Private Denis Joseph Crowley, and mother of two children, visited Newcastle West two weeks ago with reference to the tragedy enacted there on 26th March, regarding the mystery man. From particulars seen in the Press, and information obtained there in police circles, Mrs Crowley believes it is no other than her husband. Interviewed by a Press representative, she produced a photograph of the body as it lay in the coffin, and is actually convinced if she had an opportunity of seeing it in the flesh she would have no doubt in proving it was that of her husband. Prior to the outbreak of war he was a farm labourer. At the time of the tragedy, she states, she had a presentment, in which her husband figured prominently. From a collection of circumstances she is actually positive that the body is none other than that of her husband. Crowley was a native of the Queenstown district. Those intimately associated with Crowley state there was a striking resemblance of him in the outline of the features produced in the photograph of the dead man placed in the coffin. Still no one was forthcoming who would swear it was Denis Crowley. Altogether the affair is wrapt in mystery, and is the subject of much local gossip.

1935 Jan 28, His wife dies as a "widow", and has not re-married


Shot by IRA as British spies