THE very final victim of Ireland’s War of Independence was a 48-year-old waitress who had stepped onto the street outside the Killarney hotel in which she worked and was fatally wounded by a stray bullet fired by an unidentified RIC officer.
Hannah Carey died when the policeman accidentally discharged his revolver as he drove through the streets of the town and shortly after an IRA attack on two British soldiers near the town centre.
Hannah was standing at the door of the Imperial Hotel on College Square when she sustained a bullet wound to the neck just a few minutes before noon on Monday, 11 July 1921, when the agreed cessation of hostilities was to come into effect. The centenary of her death occurs on Sunday next.
According to research by Kerry historian, Owen O’Shea, Carey lay dying for two hours on the floor of the hotel on College Street, where she worked as a waitress, before succumbing to her injury and despite the intervention of two local doctors. As she stumbled off the street after being shot, she mumbled to her employer, ‘I am done’ before collapsing to the ground.
The unmarried native of Killarney died a short time after the shooting of two British soldiers at High Street and as the Crown Forces and the IRA continued to exchange fire as the clock ticked down to the official ceasefire at noon on 11 July.
“Hannah Carey has been a minor footnote in the history of the War of Independence for so long that I felt her story deserved more attention,” said O’Shea, who has examined the report of the official enquiry into her death.
“Behind all of the military casualties on both sides of the conflict are so many ordinary civilians who were caught in the crossfire and Hannah Carey – described as ‘a most harmless woman’ – tragically holds the unenviable honour of being the last person to die during the War of Independence,” he added.
Just minutes before Carey was shot, the local IRA launched their final attack on the Crown Forces in Kerry. Sergeants Edward Mears and FG Clarke of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers were attacked on High Street on the orders of IRA leaders, John Joe Rice and Humphrey Murphy. Mears later died of his injuries.
“Official reports and several newspapers suggested Hannah died during the attack on Mears and Clarke but this was not true,” said Owen O’Shea.
“Instead, she met her fate as an RIC lorry travelled along College Street in the aftermath of that incident. The unidentified driver of the Crossley Tender lorry later told the inquest that he was driving the truck with his loaded revolver in his hand.
As he “gripped the wheel tighter,” the revolver went off. He didn’t realise anyone had been shot, telling a fellow officer, “it went off by mistake.”’
In her statement to the Court of Inquiry which followed three days later, 45-year-old hotel proprietor, Marie Slattery, recounted how Hannah Carey ran in from the door and collapsed into her arms.
“I saw a bullet fall on the floor… the deceased spoke a few words and said ‘I am done’,”
The hotel cook described how he loosened Hannah’s clothes to discover the bullet wound in her neck. Two doctors administered aid but she died two hours later and was buried the following day.
The inquiry concluded that Hannah Carey died of asphyxia, following [a] gunshot wound in [the] thorax and that she died about two hours after. The only rebuke from the Court of Inquiry for the unnamed RIC officer who killed her was that he had ‘contravened all instructions on the subject of handling and using arms.’
At its meeting the following week, the members of Killarney Urban District Council passed a vote of sympathy to the family of ‘Miss Hannah Carey of Killarney.’
- There is no known photograph of Hannah Carey and author and historian Owen O’Shea has been unable to trace any descendants. Anyone that might be descended from Hannah Carey or who might have a photograph of her can contact Owen by email on [email protected]
- In his book on the Truce, Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc refers to Carey as being the last person killed in the war as does T Ryle Dwyer in Tans, Terror and Troubles and she is also listed in the recently published Dead of the Irish Revolution by Dáithí Ó Corráin and Eunan O’Halpin.
- The Imperial Hotel was located on the site where the Killarney Towers Hotel now stands