Christopher Thomas Kilmurry has been almost forgotten as a Custom House Man. So much so that this writer has omitted to add his biography to this site despite listing him – twice – many months ago! He was born in Ireland but died in New England, USA seven decades later. Hopefully this belated effort at his story will reduce his obscurity to a small extent.
Origin and Background
Christopher Thomas Kilmurry was a policeman’s son born on 28 February 1902 in Newcastle, Co. Limerick. His father Patrick, originally from Kildare, was in the RIC and married to Offaly woman Sarah Young. The lad grew up as the fifth in a clatter of kids born in Limerick. Their father was pensioned from the police in 1909 and moved the whole family to Dublin where two more children arrived (making twelve in all).
In the 1911 census, the family were living on Ravensdale Road, East Wall and Thomas was a nine-year-old schoolboy.
IRA or Not?
Almost nothing is known of his teenage years, other than that after leaving school he worked as a Brush Maker. It is not clear if he was a member of the Volunteers or IRA before his arrest at the Custom House on 25 May 1921. The British recorded him as Thomas Killmurray of 3 Luke Street. The building is long gone but was located almost at the junction with the south Liffey quays opposite the Custom House.
More interestingly, according to Patrick McHugh an IRA Munitions Fitter with Dublin Brigade, he worked in a munitions factory at 2 Luke Street (BMH.WS0664). That premises and the adjoining house were owned by a “Mr. Kilmurray”, an RIC pensioner. The building was ideal, an added attraction being the owner’s status as an ex-policeman and supposedly above suspicion by crown forces. The landlord was none other than Thomas’s father, who seems to have invested his RIC pension wisely in property. With such a large family, he probably needed to!
On 25 May 1921 young Thomas was rounded up with the other prisoners and taken to Arbour Hill. After a few weeks under investigation he found himself interned in Kilmainham Gaol with the Custom House Fire Brigade. Presumably he was not released until 8 December 1921. He did not sign any autograph book known to this writer and is not identified in photos taken of the IRA prisoners. Thomas Kilmurry’s name is not on the IRA Membership lists; there is no mention of him in any Witness Statement; nor is there a military pension file for him online.
Perhaps the IRA’s use of his father’s premises was a total coincidence. After all, the IRA man who told about it never mentioned a son of the landlord being active. Then again, Volunteers rarely needed to know the men serving in other units unless working with them on jobs. So, it is just possible Thomas was an unsung and overlooked Dublin Brigade man.
It seems we would never know if he was a Volunteer or an unlucky civilian. But, after publishing this piece, the writer made contact with ancestry member DK GEN. He turned out to be a cousin of Thomas who has many family stories which have been passed down about Thomas’s experiences in the Old IRA.
“He was active in the IRA, after 1916, and during the Civil War. The Black and Tans raided his home, and put him against a wall to shoot him. His sister, Alice (only a child), put herself in the way, and they threatened to blow her brains out. She said to do so, and Tom lifted her in his arms. Alice herself told me that, when I met her in her retirement home, on the March 1st 1996. Muriel Galvin-Joiner also told me that same story.
He spent nine months in Arbour Hill prison, for membership of the IRA during the Civil War. During a police raid on his family home, his revolver was found under a floor. Another account was that the Tans found ammunition there, but I think that if the latter were true, they would have taken him outside and shot him (which is what they did to the grandfather of friends of mine, and to many others).
His father sent him to join his brother Henry (Edward Henry) in the USA, in 1921, to keep him out of trouble. In the US he reversed his baptism names to Thomas Christopher.
He was said to have been in a mass escape from prison. I could not find evidence of that. My informants were: Muriel Galvin-Joiner, niece; his sister, Alice herself, March 1st 1996, in Orwell Home, Rathgar; his son, Thomas (a real gentleman), whom I met in Bewley’s Oriental Cafe, Dublin (November 1998), when he visited Ireland with his daughter, Cathy (a lovely, gentle lady).
Regarding the prison escape, I found newspaper reports of one in March 1919, of 20-27 IRA prisoners from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. While his name was not given, he could have been one of the escapees, but there were at least three other escapes, Kilkenny and Spike Island in Nov 1921 and Curragh Camp in Sep 1921. Further research is needed.
DKGEN, 13 May 2023.”
So, the mystery is solved at last. While there is no listing of Thomas in the IRA Membership lists, his wider family has kept the reality alive and we are delighted to get their contribution.
A New Direction
The next appearance of Thomas in records occurs little more than a year after his arrest. He emigrated to the USA on 3 September 1922 on board the RMS Cedric, bound from Liverpool to New York. He said his last residence was with his brother Patrick, 3 Luke Street, Dublin. Thomas was described as 5 foot 7 inches in height with a fair complexion, brown hair and grey eyes. His US contact was another brother Henry, in the Bronx since 1920, who had paid for the transatlantic ticket. Thomas himself had $25 in his pocket.
Life in America, Deaths in Dublin
He settled in the Bronx and found work as a Pipe Fitter with the NYC Transit subway line. Thomas met an American woman named Mary Josephine Kelly originally from Rutland, Vermont. They were married in September 1926. Two years later in Dublin his father died at 3 Luke Street and his widow Sarah later moved to Crumlin, Dublin.
In 1935 Thomas and Mary had their first son named Thomas. Three more – James, John and Joseph – were to follow. In the 1940s the family lived on Coddington Avenue, Bronx. Thomas senior enlisted in the New York Guard, Company G, 5th Regiment in 1941. Four years later in Dublin his mother passed away.
Thomas senior had applied for Naturalization in 1936. From the paperwork we have his only known photo.
The 1950 Federal Census shows the Kilmurrys in Westchester, Yonkers and Thomas’ occupation was Mechanical Maintenance with the NYC Transit system. He continued to work there until retirement in 1962.
The family moved to his wife Mary’s New England hometown of Rutland, Vermont in 1971 and lived at 53 Evergreen Avenue. The second-least populous state in the Union with vastly more trees than people must have been a huge change – and hopefully a pleasant one – from the City That Never Sleeps.
Sadly Christopher Thomas (known as Thomas C. in US records) Kilmurry did not get to enjoy a long retirement. He passed away after a short illness in The Rutland Hospital on 28 May 1973 aged 71. After funeral mass in St. Peter’s Church, he was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Rutland. His death certificate says he was a veteran of a war but does not specify which (presumably WW2). An obituary in the Rutland Daily Herald named his parents, said he was born in Ireland and was a US Army veteran but made no mention of any past IRA association.
He was survived by his widow Mary, their four sons, nine grandchildren and two sisters in Ireland. Mary moved to Portage, Indiana to live with her eldest son but died there in 1977. She was interred with her late husband and the couple have since been joined in the grave by three of their sons, who had successful careers and raised families. The Kilmurrys have left descendants in several American states as well as here in Ireland.
For his association with the Custom House Burning, we are glad to remember Thomas Kilmurry, 100 years after he left these shores.