A Bank Robbery in the 1930's


SEAMUS SEERY & JOSEPH SEERY

Today, robberies of banks and building societies have unfortunately, become common place. They no longer warrant front page newspaper headlines and reports of these familiar events are often confined to small paragraphs on the inside pages. Such was not always the case. The bank robbery which took place in Taghmon in the gentler days of 1934 was a highly unusual occurrence. It was nationally reported and made the front pages of all the major newspapers of the day. The robbery, the hunt for the perpetrators and their eventual capture continued to make national news for many months.

THE VILLAGE IN 1934

Taghmon was, by the 1930's, a sizeable village of some several hundred inhabitants. Though not prosperous, its agricultural hinterland suffering the effects of the economic war with Britain, it did, nonetheless, manage to support a branch of the National Bank. Village merchants deposited their takings there, although the savings of local farmers and landowners were reduced as the economic war began to bite and agricultural prices fell.

The National Bank was situated on the Foulksmills Road, at the edge of the village, where the fine old building still stands to this day. The manager in 1934 was a Mr. Love, who lived with his wife and children in the bank building itself. The bank's cashier, Mr. Conry lived in lodgings in the central square of the village, some 200 yards from the bank.

Friday was, traditionally, the bank's busiest day. In the morning farmers and other employers withdrew cash to pay their workers. In the afternoon merchants lodged their takings, swollen by housewives shopping for the weekend groceries. On Friday morning, 2 Feb. 1934, the amount of cash at the bank was further inflated by lodgements which had taken place after the fair, which had been held in the village on the previous day.

THE ROBBERY

Armed with this knowledge, three men raided the bank on that Friday and succeeded in stealing 796 - a sizeable sum of money in those days.

The raid took place in the early hours of the morning when the three men, armed with firearms, gained entrance to the bank building, having forced open a window in the dining room. They immediately went to Mr. Love's bedroom where they demanded the key to the safe, only to be told that the safe could only be opened if the manger's key was used in conjunction with the cashier's key. While one of the raiders was left guarding Mrs. Love, the other two forced Mr. Love, attired in pyjamas and overcoat, to go to the lodgings of the cashier, Mr. Conry, to fetch the other key. They knocked loudly on the front door. Mr. Love was ordered to stand at the edge of the footpath, while the two raiders, to avoid being seen, stood against the wall of the house. Mr. Conry, looked out of the upstairs window, saw Mr. Love and came downstairs to open the hall door. On seeing the raiders, he attempted to close the door, but one of them jammed his boot in the doorway and threatened to shoot through the door if it was shut. The manager and cashier, the latter dressed only in pyjamas and dressing gown, were marched back to the bank. The safe was opened, the money was taken and the raiders fled.

THE INVESTIGATION BEGINS

Patrick Sweeney, in whose house Mr. Conry lodged, decided to investigate the strange happening surrounding Mr. Conry's disappearance from his lodgings. He went to the bank, but seeing nobody there he went straight to the Garda station and informed the Gardai of what had happened.

Sergeant McNamee and Garda Stack headed straight for the bank, but on their way they were met by the bank manager and cashier who recounted their story. Garda headquarters in Wexford was informed. Chief Supt. Lynch, accompanied by detectives and other Gardai, travelled to Taghmon to assist in the investigation. A search of the village and surroundings area began immediately. Within hours, a mask and the tracks of a motor vehicle were found in a lane way outside the village. The tracks were those of Goodrich tyres, all badly worn.

Left to Right: (unknown); Mr Conry; (unknown); (unknown); Mr. Love; Harry Compton (a Wexford dectective)

Taghmon in 1934 - the era of the robbery at The National Bank (the reg. no. of the car is HI 1678)

News of the crime quickly spread throughout Co. Wexford. Newspapers carried the story as headline news with graphic details of the robbery.

VITAL CLUES LEAD TO BORRIS

Within days, Frank Doyle, a garage proprietor from New Ross, informed the Gardai that he had recently sold some old Goodrich tyres to the owner of an old Saloon Glyno car. The owner was a John Doyle of Carrig-On-Bannow. Gardai, immediately went to Carrig- On-Bannow to interview Mr. Doyle, only to find that he had been evicted by his landlord for non-payment of rent. Further investigation revealed that the name, John Doyle, was actually an alias. The car was, in fact, owned by James Kiely of Kilcloney, Borris, Co. Carlow, who had been living in the area under the name of John Doyle.

The following day, 13 February, Inspector O'Neill from Wexford went to the home of James Kiely, accompanied by two detectives and several Gardai. In a search of the house and out-houses, a Saloon Glyno car was discovered in a shed. The tyres bore a strong resemblance to the tracks found in the lane way near Taghmon. In the house a half-sovereign was also found. On it was a red substance which compared closely to the sealing wax used at the bank in Taghmon.

THREE MEN ARE ARRESTED

James Kiely was taken to Borris Garda station for questioning. On the following day he was taken to Wexford, where he was charged with the robbery. It was decided that a new search of the Kiely homestead, led by Supt. O'Brien of Borris, would be initiated.

At 4.00 PM on Sunday, 18 February, Supt. O'Brien knocked on the door of the house. He heard a scuffling noise, but the door was not opened. He then burst down the door and found old Mrs. Kiely settling herself down on a seat in front of the fire. He removed her forcibly from the seat. Her grand children, who were present at the time, began to cry. Suddenly, he heard a man's muffled voice coming from behind the fireplace. He pulled away the seat beside the fire and some timbers around the fireplace came away with it, revealing a small chamber behind it. 'Come out with your hands up!' he shouted. 'I'm not coming out', a voice replied. The man was invited to come out a second time, but once again, he refused. Supt. O'Brien then reached in, caught hold of a hand and pulled the man out. The Supertindent then entered the dug-out where he found a quantity of firearms and some coins. The man identified himself as John Kiely, brother of James. He was arrested and charged in connection with the bank raid. A further search of the house resulted in the discovery of a large quantity of silver coins. On top of a wardrobe part of a Mills bomb and a live detonator were found.

During interrogation, the third member of the robbery gang was identified as a neighbour of the Kielys', James Treacy.

THE DEFENCE

The trial commenced at Wexford Circuit Court on 6 June 1934. In his defence, John Kiely claimed that he had been living in Rochdale, Lancashire since the middle of January 1934. Therefore, he could not be implicated in the crime. He became aware of the bank raid only when his wife wrote to him in the middle of February and informed him of the incident. James Kiely, in evidence, also disclaimed any involvement in the crime. He told the defence solicitor, Mr. Barry, that he did not know where the two stones of silver, discovered in the house, had come from. He did not know that it was there and it was not his. He claimed that a half-sovereign found in the house had been given to him as part payment for a heifer, which he had sold to a butcher some time previously. He was unable to provide an explanation to the prosecuting solicitor as to how tracks from his car were found in a lane way near Taghmon. He told the prosecution that the secret chamber, behind the fireplace in his home, had been constructed in 1919, when he was a member of the IRA, and that the firearms and ammunition, found in the house, dated from that period also.

THE PROSECUTION

The prosecution provided a telling witness, one Richard Coburn, a native of Bagnelstown, but now resident in Rochdale. Coburn stated that on 13 February, 1934, James Kiely, with whom he had been friendly in Ireland, arrived at his lodgings in Rochdale. He asked Coburn to 'do him a turn'. He explained that there had been a bank robbery in Co. Wexford and that he was implicated in it. He had decided, therefore, to come to England. He asked to be allowed to stay the night, which he did. In the morning he gave 2 (Irish) to Coburn.

This evidence contradicted Kiely's earlier evidence that he had arrived in Rochdale during the middle of the previous month.

Another prosecution witness, Frank Doyle, the garage proprietor from New Ross, identified James Kiely as the man who had purchased tyres for the Glyno Saloon prior to the bank robbery.

THE VERDICT

The jury retired and after two nights deliberation they found the three accused guilty on all counts. The judge sentenced John Kiely to seven years in prison, and his brother James, to five years imprisonment. In sentencing James Treacy, the judge said that he would take into account the fact that he was only twenty years of age and that he had been very co-operative with the Gardai during the enquiries into the crime. He was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.

THE APPEAL

In the court of criminal appeal at the Four Courts on Tuesday 31 July 1934, the three men appealed their sentences on the following grounds:
  1. The verdict of the jury was against the weight of evidence and was perverse.
  2. The jury was not properly directed on the evidence.
  3. The evidence was influenced by the prosecution.
  4. The sentence was harsh and unwarranted.

The Chief Justice of the court concluded that the jury was instructed sufficiently as to the amount of weight they should place on the evidence. In this case, apart from Treacy's evidence, there was a complete body of evidence built up to establish the guilt of the accused. The appeal was, thus, dismissed.

A FURTHER ARREST

On Tuesday, 20 November, 1934, Ellen Doyle, sister of John and James Kiely, pleaded guilty to having passed, on various dates, bank notes, knowing them to have been stolen. The defence solicitor stated that she had raised a considerable sum of money to cover the cost of her brothers' defence. She had negotiated a loan from the National Bank in New Ross. When they requested repayment she had gone to the bank with bank notes later identified as having being stolen during the robbery at the Taghmon branch of the same bank. Judge Devitt sentenced her to fifteen months imprisonment with hard labour, backdated to the date of her arrest, September 18 1934.

CONCLUSION

Thus ended the saga of Taghmon's bank robbery. It remained, for many years, a lively topic of conversation in the village and the county. Viewed from the vantage point of the 1990's it seems hard to believe that the occurrence could generate such excitement and publicity. These were however, more tranquil times. The pace of life was slower. The epidemic of the 1970/80's bank robberies was all in the future. The robbery and its aftermath became the 'High Noon' and the 'OK Corral' of those times and it took many years for the exciting memories of that February day in 1934 to wane and fade away.

SOURCES

The Free Press, Wexford

The People Newspaper, Wexford

The Enniscorthy Guardian, Enniscorthy

Mr. Willie Sidney, Taghmon.

The National Archives, Dublin

FOOTNOTES

  1. He was a lodger in the house of Mr. & Mrs. Patrick Sweeney. Willie Sidney, a nephew, occupies the house today and his reminiscences of the robbery were very helpful in the preparation of this article.
  2. This lane way was on the Foulksmills road, about 400 metres distant from the village, and is known as 'The Building Lane'. (Willie Sidney)