Was the Inspector’s murder in Gorey in June, 1920, revenge for how he had treated the 1916 insurgents after their surrender? Jim Rees investigates further.
Compared to some counties, such as Cork and Tipperary, Wexford had a relatively quiet War of Independence. One incident, however, stands out – the assassination of Percival Lea-Wilson in Gorey on 15th June, 1920.
All killing is abhorrent, but in times of war humanity is often left aside as differing factions pursue conflicting goals. Actions we condemn in normal times are condoned as lines of morality blur. It is the reason for the killing that determines if a particular action is ‘justified’ or ‘unjustified’.
So it is with the execution of Lea-Wilson. Was it carried out as military strategy, or was it simply an act of revenge?
At the time of his death, Lea-Wilson was the District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary for the Gorey area.
Originally named the Irish Constabulary, the R.I.C. had always been an armed paramilitary police force intent on maintaining British rule in Ireland. The ‘royal’ was added as a token of appreciation of its role in defeating the Fenian Rebellion in 1867.
Fifty years later in 1920, they were supported by the regular British army and Black and Tans to crush the I.R.A.’s War of Independence.
District Inspector Lea-Wilson was particularly enthusiastic in the task. Even among his fellow loyalists, he had a reputation for making each house raid a particularly traumatic experience. He required the flimsiest evidence to pursue suspects. His killing, therefore, can be seen as a logical military manoeuvre, but was that the reason he was killed? Was there a baser motive?
When the Easter Rising insurgents surrendered in 1916, many were assembled at the Rotunda in what is now Parnell Square in Dublin. Several of the British officers in charge humiliated them. Lea-Wilson was conspicuous in this.