#OnThisDay 1920 Captain Percival Lea-Wilson RIC District Inspector was shot dead by Michael Collins’ Squad in Gorey, Wexford.
“Tom Keogh, Pat McCrae, Tom Cullen and other Wicklow men were picked to carry out his execution,” according to Paddy O’Daly, one of the leaders of The Squad. “Men who knew the country were sent because they would have to take to the hills.”
Wilson was shot five times as he was walking home with the daily newspaper between nine and ten o’clock in the morning. From the shots heard and bloodstains found, it would seem he was felled initially by two shots but got up and ran for about 15 yards. There were bullet marks on the wall at the side of the footpath. When he went down again, he was shot repeatedly on the ground and died at the scene.
It’s said that Wilson was shot because he was the officer who strip searched and humiliated (and urinated on) Tom Clarke when the rebels surrendered after the Rising. The story goes as follows:
Joe Sweeney happened to be in the bar of the Wicklow Hotel that evening when Collins stomped in. “We got the bugger, Joe.”
“What are you taking about?”
“Do you remember that first night outside the Rotunda – Lea Wilson?”
“I’ll never forget it,” Sweeney replied.
“Well,” said Collins, “we got him today in Gorey.”
Others say that Lea-Wilson was targeted for being a high ranking police official in the county.
“Captain Lea Wilson was not shot because he had ill-treated Seán McDermott and other prisoners in 1916 because there were other British officers just as bad as he had been and no attempt was made to shoot them,” O’Daly argued.
“I believe he was shot because of the position he held at the time, and for no other reason. I am satisfied from my long experience with The Squad that no man was shot merely for revenge and that any execution sanctioned by Michael Collins was perfectly justified.”
There had, however, been no rebel activity around Gorey. Nobody has ever suggested any other specific reason for the killing.
“The town has been one of the quietest, if not the quietest, in all Ireland,” the Irish Times noted the day after the killing. “Up to the present nothing has occurred.”