Sympathy for Mr. Collins | The Assassination of Captain Percival Lea Wilson

In the aftermath of the 1916 Rising there was an incident which left an impact on the imprisoned rebels, most notably a young Michael Collins.

When the week long insurrection ended, the rebels who had fought in the Four Courts and the GPO were marched to the Rotunda Hospital where they were kept in its grounds over night under a sky of stars and the glare of British troops. Among those detained there were leaders of the rebellion such as Sean MacDiarmada and Thomas Clarke. The old Fenian Thomas Clarke was singled out and subjected to public humiliation by a 28 year old British army Captain called Percival Lea Wilson.

Captain Lea Wilson and his soldiers walked amongst the captured rebels who were crammed into the Rotunda grounds and he picked out 58 year old Thomas Clarke. He marched Clarke to the steps of the hospital where he ordered soldiers to strip him bare as nurses looked on in horror from the windows above.

Clarke was beaten and left there over night in his tattered clothes but one of the prisoners, Michael Collins,  who had witnessed  Clarke’s mistreatment at the hands of the British captain vowed vengeance  and it would transpire 4 years later in Wexford.

Percival Lea Wilson was born in Kensington London and was educated at Oxford but his route into the British army began with a stint as an RIC constable in Charleville County Cork in the early 20th century.

When the first world war broke out in 1914 Lea Wilson joined the British army where he reached the rank of captain in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. An injury during the war saw him forced back to Ireland where he was stationed in Dublin, just in time for the Easter Rising in 1916.

In the years after the Easter Rising, Lea Wilson settled in Wexford where he attained the role of RIC  district inspector. On June 15 1920  shortly before 10am, Lea Wilson was walking back home after paying a visit to the RIC barracks in Gorey. Dressed in his civilian clothes, Lea Wilson stopped at the local railway station where he bought a newspaper and met Constable Alexander O’Donnell who accompanied him on part of his walk home.
O’Donnell and Lea Wilson parted company at the railway bridge on Ballycanew Road while further up that very same stretch of road there were a number of men standing around a parked car with its bonnet up.

Michael Collins had sent Liam Tobin and Frank Thornton from Dublin to meet with Joe McMahon, Michael McGrath and Michael Sinnott in Enniscorthy. They were then driven by Jack Whelan to Ballycanew Road to carry out the assassination of Lea Wilson.

Unaware of his assassins lying in wait , Lea Wilson was reading his paper while strolling along the road. The men by the parked car pulled out revolvers when their target came into range and two bullets struck him down. Lea Wilson somehow managed to quickly get back on his feet and make a dash for it but his 6 assassins ran after him and finally brought him down in a hail of bullets. Later a coroner’s report would state Lea Wilson was shot 7 times.

When the shooting ended, one of Lea Wilson’s executioner’s calmly walked up to the body to make sure it’s life was extinct. He then picked up his newspaper from the ground and took it with him. Later that evening Michael Collins was in the Wicklow Hotel in Dublin city when word reached him from Wexford of the shooting dead of Percival Lea Wilson. Collins greeted the news with glee and mentioned to one of his comrades: ” Well we finally got him!”

Lea Wilson was buried in Putney Vale cemetery in West London. His grave is marked by a plaque which mentions his assassination in Gorey in 1920, a death which had its roots in the Easter Rising 4 years previously.

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