Guns in the Water: Quilty’s Car, Spindler’s Aud, and the First Casualties of the Easter Rising of 1916

Author: Eoin Shanahan (Hibernia College)

John Joe Quilty's Briscoe (Image Courtesy of Australian Jesuit Archive, Melbourne)

On Easter Monday of 1916, as Seán McDermott and Joseph Plunkett moved through the streets of Dublin for a date with destiny, The Freeman’s Journal reached the newsstands with reports from Kerry of two sensational events. In Killorglin, the bodies of two men had been recovered from the River Laune after their car had driven off Ballykissane Pier on Good Friday night. Each of the men had been in possession of a revolver, some ammunition, and a Sinn Féin badge. The second report brought news of the discovery of a collapsible boat on a Kerry beach, a large quantity of arms and ammunition, and the arrest of “[…] a stranger of unknown nationality who refused to divulge his identity.”[1] If McDermott and Plunkett had been aware of the reports, the causal relationship of the two events would have been immediately known to them.

The stranger on the beach was Sir Roger Casement and the ill-fated occupants of the car had been chosen to play a small but central role in his plan to land from the Aud 20,000 German guns and a million rounds of ammunition at Fenit on the Kerry coast. The car itself was a c. 1915 Briscoe Model B Deluxe Touring. Aptly named The Cyclops, it had only one headlamp—something that was illegal in some states[2] and which may have contributed to its subsequent fate.

Seán McDermott and Joseph Plunkett, with some input from Michael Collins,[3] had decided to seize some transmitting equipment to facilitate communication with the Aud—an impossibility, because the Aud was not wireless enabled[4]—and to distract British naval vessels that were in the area. They had identified a number of men who had the expertise to make it all happen. They were Dinny Daly, Con Keating (age twenty-two), Charlie Monaghan (thirty-seven), Dan Sheehan (thirty), and Colm Ó Lochlainn.[5] Keating’s experience as a wireless operator, together with his local knowledge made him an obvious choice for the mission. He had trained in his native Cahirciveen at Maurice Fitzgerald’s Atlantic College and it was he, together with Daly, that proposed breaking in to Fitzgerald’s school to get the necessary apparatus.[6] The college was closed for Easter, Fitzgerald was out of town, and they would have a choice of two Marconi transmitters, each of which was capable of operating on battery power. The lighter of the two weighed one hundredweight without its batteries and had a range of one hundred miles, so it is likely that they would choose this one ahead of the other, which weighed up to six hundredweight without its batteries.[7]

On Holy Thursday evening, Seán McDermott briefed the men on their mission at 44 Mountjoy Street, Dublin. All five would travel by train to Killarney, where they would be met by two cars that would drive them to Cahirciveen via Killorglin. At Killarney, all but one of the men would walk to an agreed meeting point outside the town. The man who remained at the station would approach the drivers and ask, “Are you from Michael?” to which the drivers would respond, “Yes. Who are you?” The reply was “I am from William.” By way of final confirmation of their bona fides, the drivers would each open a clenched fist to reveal a clump of grass.[8] All would proceed to pick up the other four for the drive to Cahirciveen. Having procured the Marconi from Atlantic College, they would deliver it to a group of Tralee volunteers before first light on Easter Saturday. Sheehan, Keating, and Monaghan would remain with the equipment, which would be put into operation at the home of J.P. O’Donnell in Ballyard, Tralee.[9]

Meanwhile, in Limerick, John Joe Quilty, the owner of the Briscoe, was chosen to drive one of the two cars but a family issue got in the way and he arranged for Sam Windrim (who worked in J. P. Evans Munitions Works on Catherine Street) to take his place.[10] The second driver would be Tommy McInerney, who ran a garage nearby. After Windrim had taken the IRB oath, the two drivers were briefed by “father of the battalion” Jim Leddin and Con Collins. McInerney filled a number of drums of petrol and he drove to Rosbrien with Windrim. From there, McInerney drove Quilty’s Briscoe and Windrim drove McInerney’s Maxwell. The drivers agreed that if they were stopped they would say that they were en route to Killarney to pick up a Colonel Warwick and his party.[11] Earlier, Quilty had changed the Briscoe’s registration number.[12] It was after the registration numbers had been recorded at an RIC checkpoint in Newcastle West that Windrim noted that the numerical closeness of the registrations of the two cars might arouse suspicion, since the Briscoe was new and the Maxwell was more than a year old.[13]

It was raining heavily in Killarney when the two drivers picked up their passengers. Windrim led the way with Daly (a native of Castleisland) and Ó Lochlainn. McInerney followed in the Briscoe with Keating, Sheehan, and Monaghan. As they drew close to Killorglin, the two cars became separated when the drivers took different approach roads to the town. Windrim and his crew proceeded slowly to Cahirciveen where they were again stopped and questioned by an RIC patrol.[14]

McInerney arrived in Killorglin via the Beaufort road at about 9:30 p.m. Seventeen-year-old Lily Taylor answered the door to his front seat passenger at her mother’s Private Hotel on Lower Bridge Street. The inquirer asked where the road ahead would lead him, and Lily responded that if he continued a short distance and turned left at the chapel gate the road would bring them to Carragh Lake Hotel.[15] The car proceeded, but instead of taking a left turn at the church it continued straight towards Ballykissane Quay.

The night was pitch black and peripheral vision was surely limited due to the fact that the Briscoe had only one centrally located headlamp. On the approach road to the pier, McInerney suggested that they stop and ask for directions, but Keating assured him that they were on the right road and that the walls they could see were the walls of the bridge. As the car continued along the pier, it was reassuring to see the lights of houses to their left. They were not to know that the buildings were some miles away and that the river Laune flowed between.[16] McInerney noted that the road was “shingly.”  By the time he got to apply the brake it was too late. The front wheels left the pier, leaving the car balanced on the edge and the collective effort to get out destabilized it, plunging the car and its occupants into sixteen feet of water.[17]

Tim O’Sullivan was sitting by the fire at about 9:45 p.m. when he heard the Briscoe pass by. He went outside and he knew that something was amiss when he heard some splashing and a man’s cry for help. Fetching a candle, he hurried to the shore and called out repeatedly to indicate the way to safety.[18] McInerney eventually scrambled ashore, breathless and bleeding from a deep calf-wound that was probably sustained when he caught his leg in the door of the car as he exited. When he came to, he told O’Sullivan that there had been three passengers. Con Keating had swum with him for some distance before succumbing with the words “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”[19] They watched and listened for some time but there was no sound and the only sighting was of something shining in the water where the car had sunk. They entered O’Sullivan’s home after McInerney had draped his overcoat across a fence. On reporting the accident at the RIC station, McInerney was given a policeman’s uniform in place of his wet clothes.[20]

Word spread quickly, and crowds flocked to the scene. O’Sullivan’s near neighbor, Patsy Begley, arrived with some lamps. McInerney’s overcoat was brought into the house, and when a loaded revolver was found in the coat pocket, Begley realized that this was no hackney man driving bank clerks around Kerry as McInerney had claimed. The quick-thinking Begley sat on the revolver when four policemen arrived to investigate. McInerney stuck to his story that he had been engaged to drive the men around the ring of Kerry and that there was no predetermined itinerary. Searches continued through the night and some items were found on the shore—a cap, an oxford lunch cake wrapped in silver foil, a notebook, a petrol tin, and some oranges.

Máirín Cregan (later to marry Dr. Jim Ryan, TD) had just arrived in town under cover in the guard’s van of a cattle train from Tralee. She had earlier traveled from Dublin with a violin case of revolvers and some written instructions for Austin Stack from Seán McDermott. Cregan instinctively knew that there was more to the unfolding saga at Ballykissane than McInerney was letting on. She arranged for his leg wound to be dressed and found him a place to stay for the night where he dozed fitfully on a chair. In the morning he called to Begley’s house and, against Begley’s better judgment, reclaimed his gun.[21]

Meanwhile, the search for the bodies of the missing three men began in earnest. The tide had gone out and the hood of the empty car was visible. The car was hauled from the water using a chain supplied by Begley,[22] and it was brought to the yard of hardware merchants T & R Stephens.[23] The trawl for the bodies was led by Pat and Terence Flynn of the Dodd and Power Fishery. After some unproductive searches close to the pier, the body of Dan Sheehan was found over eighty yards away. The police investigation took a different slant when two revolvers and some cartridges were found in his pockets.[24] The mystery deepened when locals failed to recognize Sheehan, whose body was taken in a cart to the courthouse, where it was laid on some straw. Presently, Keating’s body was taken from the water and laid on the gravel as the rain poured down. Máirín Cregan offered to cover it out of respect, but an observer noted that it would not make much difference to the poor lad.[25]

With Keating’s body were found a revolver, multiple cartridges, a two-foot ruler, a pliers, and some rubber tube. On hearing this news, Patsy Begley again pleaded with McInerney to part with his gun—which he did reluctantly and with minutes to spare before he was arrested and lodged in Tralee Gaol.[26]

At the courthouse, Dr. W.H. Dodd, medical officer for the area, confirmed the cause of death as drowning, and the subsequent inquests found accordingly. Friends of Keating gathered by the corpse to lament his passing with the heartrending cry of a traditional Irish caoin.[27] He was buried in the family plot at Killovarnogue, Cahirciveen. A native of Ballintubrid, Newcastle West, Sheehan had worked at Geary’s biscuit factory. His family, not wishing to give any further leads to the investigating authorities, waited some months before acknowledging his identity. Killorglin police refused to have his remains buried with Keating, and he was interred in nearby Dromavalla. At his inquest a juror named Lyne proposed that some of the three pounds and nine shillings that were found in his pockets would be used to pay for “[…] a decent shroud and coffin, as he was an Irishman, and the money found by the police on his body was his own earnings.”[28]

Police investigations quickly linked the events at Ballykissane to Casement’s attempt to import arms. Both Quilty and Windrim thought it best to stick to the explanations that they had already rehearsed with McInerney. Windrim and McInerney had agreed on the story that McInerney had received a wire seeking the hire of two cars, with drivers, to collect a Colonel Warwick and his party at Killarney.[29] In the event that McInerney would sell his Maxwell in Killarney to a Captain Jameson, he would return to Limerick in the Briscoe.

When, on his return to Limerick, Windrim visited McInerney’s brother Jimmy on Easter Saturday, Jimmy had just received a wire that read: “Car gone. Passengers drowned. Tommy safe.” Windrim was later questioned by two G-men and he made a statement in accordance with what he had agreed with Tommy McInerney. Windrim would spend much of Easter Sunday at Quilty’s house in Rosbrien, where they rehearsed their accounts of recent events.[30] On returning to his home late that night, Windrim was arrested by two G men, Walsh and O’Sullivan “for aiding and abetting gun-runners in the counties of Kerry and Limerick […].” During questioning, Walsh put it to Windrim that McInerney “knew all about Good Friday’s business.” Windrim responded, “If he knew all about it I was not aware of it.” When his statement was read out in court the following day, the eagle-eyed Windrim noticed that the “If” had been omitted, thereby incriminating both himself and McInerney. On his insistence, the word was inserted.[31] Windrim spent some days in Limerick Jail before being brought to Richmond Barracks in Dublin, where he was lodged in the gymnasium. After the executions, he was transported on a cattle boat to Wakefield Prison, from where he was released shortly afterwards.[32]

Tommy McInerney would serve his sentence in Loft 3 of Frongoch internment camp.[33] He would be parted from his gun until Good Friday 1918 when Begley’s son returned it to him at McInerney’s Limerick home.[34] McInerney would die from injuries sustained in a firearms accident in Annacarty ten months after the truce.[35]

Quilty was arrested three times in the aftermath of the events of Good Friday and he stuck to the story that he had agreed upon with McInerney. As in the case of Windrim, efforts were made to doctor his statement but Quilty resisted all efforts to put words in his mouth. When a Detective O’Mahoney put it to Quilty that he had not reported the loss of his car and that he had not made enquiries of Tommy McInerney’s family, Quilty responded that he had actually gone “to the nearest authoritative source, namely, Sir Anthony Weldon, commander of the forces […].” He avoided jail, but his movements were closely monitored for some considerable time.[36]

It was some months before Quilty was allowed to reclaim the Briscoe. On arrival at the RIC barracks in Killorglin, he refused to make a statement and was escorted by a policeman to Stephens’s yard where the car had been stored. Quilty initially refused a demand of £20 for the salvage of the car, but he succumbed to the subliminal persuasion of a large group of men carrying pitchforks and sticks who had been rounded up by police.[37] In March 1966, Quilty’s son, Joe, presented the windscreen frame of the Briscoe to President Éamon De Valera at Áras an Uachtaráin. It was subsequently donated to the Kilmainham Jail Museum.[38]

In October 1916, a headless skeleton, believed to be that of Charlie Monaghan, was found on an island on the River Laune. He was buried without positive identification in Dromavalla cemetery. In keeping with protocols for those who died in active service during the 1916 Rising, Keating, Sheehan, and Monaghan were upgraded to the rank of officer.[39]

The story of the Ballykissane tragedy took on new significance when it was discovered that the timing of the planned operations was not synchronized. The German Admiralty had advised and John Devoy in New York had agreed that the Aud would land the arms at Fenit between the 20th and 23rd of April.[40] This was concomitant with Pearse’s communicated wishes.[41] But the Supreme Council of the Irish Volunteers in Dublin, in a revision of earlier plans, decided that no arms should be landed before the night of Easter Sunday, the 23rd, and urgent messages to that effect were dispatched to Berlin via Count Plunkett and his daughter Philomena. By the time Philomena got to New York, it was too late to get her clearly-worded message to the Aud via Berlin. Her father delivered his message via the German Ambassador to Switzerland and, while the timing was right, the wording was ambiguous, and the Germans saw no reason to deviate from their original schedule.[42]  From this time, land and sea operations were working with two different timeframes and both missions were doomed to fail.

Perceptions of the futility of the whole operation were not entirely based on the timing of landside and seaside engagements. Volunteer HQ in Dublin were clearly unaware that the Aud had no wireless capacity. Spindler’s instructions were that nocturnal communications would be with a pilot boat and that signaling would be facilitated by the intermittent flashing of two green lanterns; by day, one crewmember of both the Aud and of the pilot boat would simply wear a green sweater.[43] Subsequent revelations that the Aud had no capacity for wireless telegraphy meant that Con Keating’s signaling options would be limited to diverting British naval vessels that were in the area. And even that possibility would be compromised without the support of a suitable aerial.[44]

By the time Quilty’s Briscoe tumbled into the water at Ballykissane on the night of Good Friday, April 21st, Casement had been arrested and the Aud, having waited in vain near Fenit for twenty-four hours, was being escorted to Cork Harbour by a British naval vessel. And on the following day, as the bodies of the first casualties of the Easter Rebellion were taken from the water at Ballykissane, the Aud’s cargo of guns was sinking to the ocean floor as her captain scuttled his vessel off the coast of Cobh in Cork Harbour.


The author acknowledges the support of Liz Parker and Fr. Michael Head, Australian Jesuit Archives, Melbourne; and Tom Galvin, Paddy Waldron, and Brian Ó Conchubhair.


[1] Freeman’s Journal, 24 April 1916, 2.

[2] Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society,, accessed 05 July 2015.

[3] See Denis Daly, Bureau of Military History Witness Statements (BMH WS) 110, 1,  Con Collins disputed Michael Collins’s involvement in a letter to the Kerry Champion, dated 10 September 1929. See appendix to Mrs. Austin Stack, BMH WS 214, Colm Ó Lochlainn is quite specific about Collins’s involvement; see BMH WS 751, 2,

[4] Xander Clayton, Aud (Plymouth: George Alexander Clayton, 2007), 310.

[5] Denis Daly, BMH WS 110, 1. Dan Breen, in My Fight for Irish Freedom, wrote that the transmitters were to be used for the broadcast of news of the rebellion; see Breen, May Fight for Irish Freedom (Dublin: Talbot, 1926).

[6] Daly, BMH WS 110, 1. Colm Ó Lochlainn states that petrol was to be sprinkled and the building set alight; see BMH, WS 751, 3.

[8] Sam Windrim, “From the driver of No. 2 Car,” in James A. Gubbins, BMH WS 765, appendix,

[9] Daly, BMH, WS 110, 2. See also William Mullins, “Kerry was prepared and ready” in Brian Ó Conchubhair, ed., Kerry’s Fighting Story 1916-21: As Told by the Men who Made It (Cork: Mercier Press, 2009), 72. Paddy Cahill stated in a letter to the Military Pensions Board that the wireless station was to be erected in the home of a relative of a Dr. Quinlan at Ballyard; see Máirín Cregan, BMH WS 416, Appendix B,

[10] See John Joe Quilty, BMH WS 516, Willie Gleeson claims that Tommy Guerin had been chosen to drive one of the cars and that Guerin, having been instructed to report to the O/C East Limerick Battalion, had arranged for Sam Windrim to take his place; see Gleeson, The Limerick Leader, 15 April 1967.

[11] Sam Windrim in BMH WS 765.

[12] In Aud, Xander Clayton, states that the number of the Maxwell was changed from TI 404 to IK 724. Clayton’s version is probably the most credible since a Maxwell five-seater, classed as for “Hire Work” with the registration number TI 404, was registered in the name of Thomas McInerney & Co, Catherine Street on 26 June 1915; see L/MT/1/4 7 April 1915 – 9 September 1919 “Registration of Motor Vehicles, 1904-1982,”, John Joe Quilty states that he had changed the number plate of the Briscoe from TI 174 to IK 174; see Quilty, BMH WS 516, 8. Windrim’s BMH statement records the number of the Maxwell as IK 1724 and the altered number of the Briscoe as IK 1742. Mannix Joyce, in “The Story of Limerick and Kerry in 1916,” states that the (altered) number of the Briscoe was TI 174 and that the number of the Maxwell was TI 172; see Joyce, “The Story of Limerick and Kerry in 1916,” Capuchin Annual (1966), 349, Apart from TI 404, none of the above numbers appear to have been registered to McInerney or to Quilty. However, Quilty’s car was new and there may have been some arrangement with the garage pending registration.

[13] Sam Windrim in BMH WS 765.

[14] Ibid.

[15] See “Kerry Tragedy—Motorists in Sea,” Nenagh News, 29 April 1916, 3; and “The Road to Death,” Kerryman, 29 April 1916, 3.

[16] See the inquest report, “Killorglin Drowning Fatality. Body of One of the Victims Identified,” Kerryman, 29 April 1916, 3.

[17] See Máirín Cregan, The Irish Press, 24 April 1933. Máirín Cregan refers readers of her BMH witness statement to this article as an accurate account of events.

[18] “Killorglin Drowning Fatality,” Kerryman, 3.

[19] See Quilty, BMH, WS 516.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Wee Cregan, BMH, WS 416.

[22] “First Casualties in 1916,” Kerryman, 15 April 1939, 5.

[23] Ibid.; see also “Kerry Motor Tragedy. Bodies Recovered,” Kerry Sentinel, 26 April 1916, 2.

[24] See “Kerry Tragedy—Motorists in Sea,” Nenagh News, 3.

[25] Cregan, The Irish Press.

[26] Ibid.

[27] See “Kerry Tragedy—Motorists in Sea,” Nenagh News, 3.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Sam Windrim in BMH WS 765.

[30] Ibid. Quilty’s account differs on the timing of Windrim’s visit, stating that it happened on Easter Saturday; see Quilty BMH WS 516.

[31] Sam Windrim in BMH WS 765, 11, 12.

[34] See The Irish Press, 24 April 1933.

[35] See “In Death He was Forgotten,” Limerick Leader, 15 April 1967, 11.

[36] Quilty BMH WS 516, 9.

[37] See Quilty, BMH WS 516.

[38] The Irish Press, 1 April 1966, 5.

[39] Saorstát Éireann, Ministry of Defence, Army Pensions Office, I/D/418.

[40] See Clayton, Aud, 172.

[41] Joseph McGarrity, memorandum by McGarrity on 1916, MS 17,550, National Library of Ireland.

[42] See Clayton, Aud, 173-75. Clayton reproduces the wording of both messages. Philomena Plunkett arrived in New York on April 14th with instructions from Dublin not to land arms before Easter Sunday night April 23rd. Her father’s instructions were not to land arms later than dawn of Easter Monday. 

[43] Ibid, 55.

[44] Fitzgerald, BMH WS 326, 2.

[43] Ibid, 55.

[44] Fitzgerald, BMH WS 326, 2.