On Easter Saturday 26 March 1921 at about 3pm, a bullet tore through the head of a 15 year-old girl standing near the window of her home at 17 Findlater Place, Dublin. Her elder sister witnessed the horrific event – “…I heard a noise [outside like] a bomb exploding…. I was crossing the room to draw her away from the window when she fell back wounded into my arms. There was firing taking place at [that] moment”.

Taken to nearby Jervis Street Hospital, the mortally wounded teen amazingly remained conscious for some time. Two days later surgeons removed a piece of metal from her brain but she died that night.

Many wounded1 Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921She had been hit during an ambush on an RAF car and Crossley tender from Baldonnel heading east on Parnell Street near The Rotunda. ‘Traffic dislocation’ slowed the vehicles.

A wounded survivor of the tender’s crew Aircraftman C. H. Smith said later they were ordered to halt by a civilian with a revolver and then 4 or 5 armed men opened fire. The driver, 19 year-old A/cman Alfred Walter Browning, was immediately hit twice and badly wounded (he died in hospital later). The tender lurched and Smith was thrown out onto the road. Then grenades were thrown, the concussion from one knocking Smith unconscious. The third crewman , also wounded, managed to halt the vehicle in O’Connell Street, where the attackers had followed and continued firing. Then they dispersed.

There was pandemonium on the streets – pedestrians scattered, some lay down, others fell. Horses bolted and street dealers’ stalls were overturned. In the incident several civilians were wounded on the footpaths and in McInally’s butcher shop at the scene of the initial attack.

P Sex pic Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Irish Independent

One was Patrick Sex, serving meat to a customer there. He received a flesh wound in the thigh from a large grenade fragment and was sent to Jervis Street hospital where it was removed. However, tetanus set in and he died on 6 April. Patrick was aged 41 and married with 10 children.

Official reports stated the RAF party was unarmed and going to collect foodstuffs at Findlater’s stores; and fire was not returned. Some local witnesses disputed that, one saying “about 100” shots were fired in all. He may have exaggerated, but 2 or 3 grenades were used and multiple volleys were fired.

The military inquiries decided the young female had been killed by a ricochet bullet; and that Patrick Sex had died from an infection due to a bomb fragment. Verdict – “willful murders by unknown civilians”.

Two Dublin family tragedies. Two innocent collateral fatalities – all too common – in an IRA ambush in the city during the urban battles of the Tan War. And, of course in Britain a family was also left grieving for a teenage son serving the crown in Ireland.

Annie Pic Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Irish Independent

The girl who died far too young was named as Annie Seville, a bead worker and one of four daughters of Richard Seville and his wife Kathleen née Plunkett, both Dubs. Her family’s flat was on the third floor of their building on a street off the location of the shootings . Nowhere seemed safe from bullet or bomb in those dangerous days.

Innocent Annie was also the little sister of two IRA men.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Annie is 2nd from left with her mam and sisters c1915 (Courtesy Noel Murtagh)

On 1st April following Requiem Mass in the Pro-Cathedral, the cortege proceeded to Glasnevin Cemetery. A newspaper reported “the attendance included many girl friends of the deceased”.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

The 2nd pall-bearer from left is a Seville in-law, Mr King (info – Noel Murtagh). Irish Independent. 

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Two very young future IRA men in 1901 – Jim at back and Dick on left. With mam Kate and sis Kathleen in a charming studio portrait (Courtesy Noel Murtagh).

Jim Seville, a 1916 Man.

When Annie died her eldest brother Jim (James Joseph, born 1896) was an internee in Rath Camp, the Curragh and was paroled for her sad funeral.

Jim had joined The Irish National Guard, a rival or off-shoot of Na Fianna Eireann (see also here) in 1912 or 1913 and then Sluagh Emmet of Na Fianna in 1914. He would have met many of the 1916 leaders such as Sean MacDiarmada and Thomas MacDonagh during lectures and debates in their scout halls; and his captain was Seán Heuston.

During the Rising he was with F Coy, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Reporting to the GPO on the Monday he was sent to the Fairview Manure (Fertiliser) Works at Annesley Bridge. The following day Jim Seville and his comrades withdrew back to the GPO, bringing a captured British officer with them. At the Surrender he evaded arrest by hiding under debris in a cellar in Moore Street before going home to wash off the dirt, which, he said, took him about 3 hours! He then went on the run for some months.

Jim’s War of Independence activities with the Volunteers are unclear, but may have involved some low-level intelligence work. He was arrested on suspicion of membership of an illegal organisation in a raid on his home after curfew on 25 February 1921 and interned. As mentioned, he was given parole (approved by his IRA O/C – “one outside is worth 20 inside”) for the funeral of his little sis; and on returning to the Curragh afterwards was unconditionally released.

Jim Seville was later awarded 4 years service for military pension purposes in respect of Easter Week 1916 only. He also received the 1916 medal and Tan War medal (without bar, based on his own request). He seems to have been mostly unemployed later but for a time worked as a Casual Labourer in the Department of Posts & Telegraphs during The Emergency.

James Seville grave Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

James Joseph Seville of Ferns Road, Kimmage, a married man whose occupation was recorded as Boilerman, died aged 65 in St Kevin’s Hospital, Dublin in 1961. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Dick Seville – Custom House Man

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Dick in later life (Courtesy Noel Murtagh)

The second Seville Volunteer Richard Joseph, known as Dick, was born on 25 July 1900 in Dublin’s Rotunda Maternity Hospital and named after his father, a Butcher’s Shopman. The family then lived at 40 Upper Gloucester (now Sean MacDermott) Street before moving to Marlborough Street and later to Findlater Place (off the street since named for Cathal Brugha). Dick, Jim and Annie were among the six surviving Seville children from nine born.

Like his older brother, Dick was also in Na Fianna or The National Guard from 1912. He was only 15 when the Rising occurred but later followed Jim into Volunteer F Coy, 1st Battalion. He transferred to A (Cyclist) Coy, 2nd Battalion where he was a Section Leader under Capt Cyril Daly. He worked as a Grocer’s Assistant in the early stages but was later out of work and as good as a full-time Volunteer. One of his comrades said Seville “was to be got at any time when required for active service”.  He took part in most of his Coy’s engagements in the War of Independence, including raids for arms and other useful materiel; the attempted ambushes at Seville Place and Drumcondra; and enforcing the Belfast Boycott. Cyril Daly‘s reference on Seville’s Military Pension file gives more details.

Violent Death of the People’s Chemist

One particular event Dick Seville mentions in his Military Pension application is the shooting of ‘Dunne, a chemist’, in discharge of his IRA duty.

This actually relates to the killing of sixty five year old Robert Duggan in his chemist’s shop at 49 Summerhill Parade, Dublin City on 10 May 1921 during a raid by two men. According to the victim’s son, two undisguised men were served with the shop’s full stock of black enamel. They went to leave without paying, one saying it was being commandeered in the name of the IRA and he would give a receipt later. The elderly owner then came out from behind the counter and was shot in the head by one of the men. Both then ran away. A neighbour of the Duggans claimed he pursued them all the way to Ossory Road on the far side of North Strand before they were joined by two others and he lost sight of them. This man described the raiders as “low sized young men about 21 or 22, in overcoats”.

Robert Duggan died on the way to Jervis Street Hospital. He was well known and liked in the Summerhill neighbourhood, known to poorer folk as ‘Dr Duggan’, the chemist who had provided pharmacy services to ‘all classes of people for almost 40 years’. There was a large turnout of locals as his funeral cortege passed through Summerhill on its way from his residence in Clontarf for burial in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross.

In Dick Seville’s account, he had to fire because the chemist made a blow with a hammer at his comrade who was in danger of being knocked unconscious. Dick may have forgotten his victim’s name, but he it appears he held deep memories of that shooting.

A line being searched- Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Might Dick Seville be one of the “low size men” in this photo of suspects being searched at the Custom House? All 8 civilians – IRA volunteers – shown were arrested and jailed.

The Custom House and its Legacy for Dick

At the Custom House, Dick Seville was arrested by the Auxies – “implicated in the outrage”. He was aged just 18 and told his captors he was working as grocer’s assistant. Luckily for him they did not know he was a full-time Volunteer, but as we will see later, he did not escape unscathed in detention. Seville spent the next 6 months in Kilmainham Gaol until the Custom House prisoners there were released.

IRE-WO35-85-00477 (RJ Seville) Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Arrest report made out by an Auxy officer in respect of Dick Seville.

Like the majority of his Battalion he went pro-Treaty and joined the new Irish Army on 23 February 1922, becoming a Company Sergeant in the Dublin Guards. He was serving at Beggar’s Bush Barracks when the Army census was taken that November. In January 1924 he was discharged as time-expired at the rank of Barrack Quartermaster Sergeant, ‘conduct very good’.

After the Army Seville became an insurance agent or broker for the Irish National Insurance Co. He married May Duggan, a Carpenter’s daughter and fellow Dub of Russell Avenue, in St Agatha’s Church on 6 July 1931 and went to live in Drumcondra. They began a family and had two sons and three daughters but suffered the loss of one lad, Dermot, as a baby in 1935. That was not the last hard knock Dick would suffer.

In 1924 his former Captain, Cyril Daly had concluded Seville’s reference for a military pension by writing “Applicant was an especially good volunteer and deserves the highest consideration”. You have to wonder if he was treated all that well by the state later on when he needed help.

He had been awarded a military pension based on 6 years service – £30 annually, eventually rising to £45 a year. He also had an income from his work.

However, by 1953 he was losing the sight in his one good eye which had been damaged in 1921. He revealed he’d been blinded in the other eye as a result of a kick to his head during a savage beating in Dublin Castle after his arrest at the Custom House. He added he had not claimed for a wound/disability pension while he had been capable of working but was now facing complete blindness and forced to seek financial assistance. He had undergone two eye operations and was considered by his doctor incapable of work.

Unfortunately his claim was rejected as it was made beyond the cut-off date (1942); and he was advised to seek a special allowance. That was subsequently refused – on a means test basis his income exceeded the set limit.

RJ Seville Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

The Seville Family plot in Glasnevin, St Patrick’s XK100

Dick’s health declined and less than 2 years later, in January 1955, he died at his home on Fleming Road, Drumcondra at the early age of 54. After funeral mass in Corpus Christi Church on Home Farm Road, Richard Joseph Seville was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery with full military honours.

Among the mourners reported were his old A Coy comrades Cyril Daly and Bill Donegan, fellow Custom House prisoners. There was also a large turn-out from his colleagues in the insurance and allied business sectors.

Dick’s widow May and her family remained living in Drumcondra and she eventually received a military widow’s pension in 1971. After surviving her husband by fully 33 years, she was laid to rest in the same grave as he, her baby son and some of her in-laws. Annie is buried elsewhere in the graveyard but remembered here. The family headstone makes no mention of how Annie met her end or of Dick’s Old IRA service.

It was such a sad irony that Annie, an innocent non-combatant, became the only Seville fatality in the 1916-1923 period. Even sadder, the teen had almost certainly been killed by a stray or ricochet bullet fired by an IRA comrade of her brothers on that March afternoon in Dublin. We do know Mick Dunne and Jackie Foy were involved in that ambush by ASU Section 1; and possibly Tom Flood as well.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Dick is marked in this group, possibly at some reunion, date uncertain (Courtesy Noel Murtagh)

We can imagine the loss of his kid sister would have given Dick even more resolve (if he needed any) to keep up the fight to rid their city and country of those ultimately responsible for the war and Annie’s death. The unwanted British crown whose politicians had allowed its military forces act savagely – with impunity and immunity from sanction – in Ireland.

He also showed great bravery and strength of character in enduring his savage mistreatment at the Castle; and dealing with his resulting disability himself for as long as he could. Richard Seville is yet another example of the quality of the remarkable Men who burned the Custom House.

Des White