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Michael Fay (1899-1921)

Memorial to Michael Fay, Rathvilly, erected in 2021. “From Flanders plain across the Main, There came a soldier bold, who changed his mind, a place to find, Beneath the Green and Gold, In England’s war he fought till it was o’er, And his name was Michael Fay By Barrow banks he joined the ranks, The ranks of the IRA.’ [1]

On Sunday 18 April, 2021, I had the honour of unveiling a plaque to the memory of Michael Fay, who had been killed in an ambush at Ballymurphy, County Carlow, precisely 100 years earlier. The kind invitation came my way after I submitted the following report to the Kevin Barry Memorial Committee in Rathvilly. This is a continually updated version of that report, based on the new information that is constantly coming in.



Michael Joseph Fay was born at 72 Prussia Street, Dublin, on 27 February 1899. His baptismal record spells his surname as ‘Fahy’ and details his parents as Thomas Fay (aka Fahy or Fahie), a Prussia Street cattle dealer, and his wife, Margaret, a daughter of John Day, chemist.[2] Thomas and Margaret already had two sons, both born at 72 Prussia Street, namely John Joseph Fahy (born 22 January 1895 but died a week later) and Thomas Fay (born on 24 April 1897).[3]

The older Thomas died at 72 Prussia Street, aged about forty, on 28 December 1899, when Michael was ten months old. Michael and his older brother Thomas appear to have been staying at The Sisters of Faith School in Kilcoole, County Wicklow, at the time of the 1901 Census.

Baptism record of Michael Joseph Fay aka Fahy, 1899


Civil Birth record of Michael Joseph Fay, 1899


Michael may be the 12-year-old boy at the St. Vincent De Paul Orphanage, Prospect Road, Glasnevin, Dublin, at the time of the 1911 census.[4] Children were not only sent to orphanages because they were parentless; they often went simply because their parents, or parent, just couldn’t cope at that time.

On 17 July 1915, Michael’s widowed mother, Margaret, was married at the Registrar’s Office in Dublin to Thomas Henry Jebb (1884-1957), a private with the 17th Lancers, who were stationed at the Curragh Camp at this time.[5] He was born in Kenwick, Shropshire, on 3 October 1884 to parents Thomas Jebb, a gardener and nurseryman, and Frances Elizabeth Whitfield.[6] In 1901 he lied about his age in order to join the Corps of Hussars of the Line, knocking a year off, but was found out and discharged 50 days after joining. He joined the 17th Lancers as a private (No. L647) on 8 November 1914, won both the Mons Star and the Victory Star and was discharged on 7 October 1919.

At the time of her second marriage in 1915, Margaret recorded her address as 53 Rathmines Road, Dublin. Given that she had her first known child in 1895, she may have been in her mid-late thirties by then.  The newlyweds moved to Lancashire after the wedding.  On 13 February 1916, Margaret gave birth to another baby boy, Thomas Henry Jebb, at 39 Chorley Road, Walton-le-dale, Lancashire, which appears to have been her husband’s hometown. She gave her father-in-law’s address when filling out the child’s birth certificate; her husband was probably serving in the war at the time. The baby was born just seven months after their marriage, which may explain her departure from Ireland. An article published in the newspaper at the time of Michael’s death recorded that he had moved with his parents from Dublin to Ballyoliver, County Carlow, a few years before his death. Did the Jebbs return to Ireland following the birth of Thomas Henry Jebb jr, and then return to England following Michael’s death?

Record of the second marriage of Margaret Fay née Day, mother of Michael Joseph Fay aka Fahy, in 1915.

Daniel Murray, author of ‘Bushwhacked: The Loss of the Carlow Flying Column, April 1921’ (The Irish Story, 2014), adds that Fay ‘served in the British army for three and a half years [during World War One], as part of which he had seen action in the trenches of France.’ Elsewhere it is said that he served in the Royal Army Service Corps. Given that he was only fifteen when the war began in 1914, he would not strictly have been eligible for service until his 18th birthday in February 1917. Of course, he may have pretended to be older in order to join up before he was of age. He reputedly served with the Motor Transport Unit, which explains his later career as a chauffeur.

Mr Murray adds that Michael Fay ‘lived with his parents in Rathvilly, Co Carlow, for some years after moving there from Dublin, and was described by the article as “very popular in the district.”’ He is believed to have lived at Ballyoliver prior to his death. The house was the scene of a grizzly crime in May 1919 when its occupant John Bramble, a herdsman to Lord Rathdonnell, attempted to strangle his own niece (sometimes described as his sister-in-law) as per the report here and here. Perhaps Michael Fay moved in after Bramble was dispatched to a lunatic asylum.

As he came to Rathvilly to work as a gardener / chauffeur, it was thought he was employed by Lord Rathdonnell of the nearby Big House at Lisnavagh. However, his name has not yet appeared in the Lisnavagh archives and it now appears that he worked as a coachman / chauffeur at Altamont House, near Tullow, although I am not sure who was living at Altamont then. Braddell, possibly, but not yet Lecky-Watson. When I chanced to meet Pat Nolan, grandson of the head gardener at Altamont, in July 2022, he recalled a mug they used to drink out of in his childhood known as ‘Fay’s Mug’ because Michael Fay had often been over for coffee. He said he didn’t think Fay, a war veteran, regarded the local talent very highly in terms of their military abilities.

At the enquiry into his death, his mother stated his occupation as ‘chauffeur’ and told how his driving permit was taken from him by the police, aka the Royal Irish Constabulary, over the course of Christmas 1920.

He subsequently joined the Irish Republican Army and was assigned to the Carlow Brigade’s Active Service Unit, operating in Ballon. In April 1921, they moved to the townland of Mullaghnagaun, near Ballymurphy, County Carlow, which Carlow historian Seamus Murphy writes, was ‘considered a very safe area as the unit had not posted any sentries when they were preparing for an inspection by Simon Donnelly, an officer from G.H.Q. Unfortunately for them, acting on information supplied by a stranger to the locality, British Forces surprised them.’

An official statement was issued by General HQ in Dublin the following Tuesday and stated that a patrol came across the unit drilling in a field on 18 April 1921, and that they were ‘bearing arms’.

“A patrol of Crown forces surprised a party of civilians drilling near Ballymurphy, Carlow, on Monday evening. An engagement ensued, resulting in some (believed five) of the rebels being killed and six unwounded been captured. 11 rifles, one shot-gun, several revolvers, a quantity of rifle and dum-dum revolver ammunition, and some equipment, were also captured. There were no casualties to the Crown forces.” [7]

Civil Death Record for Michael Joseph Fay, 1921.

However, Seamus Murphy disputes the report that the I.R.A. men were armed and writes: ‘They had left their arms in the various premises where they were stopping, as they would not be required for the inspection. The British forces opened fire on the assembled men, who attempted to avoid capture and likely death by dispersing. When the firing ceased four men were dead, two were wounded, six were prisoners and three had escaped capture.’[8] Among those captured was William ‘Willie’ McKenna, who would name one of his sons Fay McKenna in honour of Michael Fay. Willie McKenna lived into his nineties. Two of Willie McKenna’s brothers served in the British Army during the First World War, but were killed in action. Willie’s sister Annie would bandage Michael Fay’s body all too soon. Willie’s eldest daughter Minnie was grandmother to Claire Coffey, née Regan.

Three of the dead were local men.  One was an elderly man, Michael Ryan. The other two were Michael Farrell and his brother Patrick Farrell, sons of Timothy Farrell, a local farmer. The Farrells were sowing oats when the patrol opened fire, at which point they ran for their lives. No arms were found on their bodies. They were buried in Ballymurphy graveyard. Timothy Farrell died in 1932, having never recovered from the loss of his sons.

Michael Fay, aged 22, was the only A.S.U. man killed in the Ballymurphy attack. Lieutenant John Edward Grundy, MC, commander of the patrol, claimed he was carrying a fully loaded rifle at the time he was shot. It is said that he was savagely bayoneted afterwards, perhaps by a man named Sergeant Farrelly and perhaps because of his former service in the Crown forces. How the patrol deduced his connection is unclear; perhaps Farrelly or someone else recognized him. As Shay Kinsella noted in his account:

‘Evidence at the trial of the prisoners suggested that there were three deep bayonet wounds on the wrist, elbow and upper section of his right arm. According to one report, “several parts of his hands and his teeth were scattered around”.

His body was brought by lorry to Carlow Military Barracks (now the Betany House and Crosbie Place housing estate) that evening. His remains were removed to the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow on Wednesday evening. He was bandaged for his coffin by Annie McKenna, sister of Willie, who was a 2nd Lieutenant in Cumann na mBan, Carlow Branch. At 22, she was the same age as him. Her husband Ned Quigley was also in the Carlow Brigade. According to Thérèse Quigley, Annie’s youngest daughter, the only time Annie spoke about the War of Independence was to tell of the time she had bandaged Michael Fay. She died in 1992, aged 93. Cathy Dalton, Annie’s granddaughter, wrote a beautiful poem in memory of the moment.

Suantraí Micheál Fay – Michael Fay’s Lullaby

Carefully she bends, and dips the cloth
To wash away the clay and streaks of green
That mark his brow
From where he fell down earlier in the field
Tends to him with utmost silent care
As if for fear her touch might waken him.
She takes his hands in hers, and folds them in
Like angel wings upon his chest to sleep
Leans in again to twine around the beads.
Crossing herself she murmurs in the dark
A prayer at nightfall on this April day.
The decades slip between her busy hands
Joyful, sorrowful, year on year she tells
Each off without complaint, and tends
Now to her children and her land.
Her lips are sealed, her life an open book.
Just once she speaks those mysteries to her girls
Of how she held his face and bound his wounds
To give him back in death some semblance
Of the man he was. And after that
She spoke no more, and the like the country round her
Held her peace.


In Memory of Annie McKenna, 2nd Lieutenant, Cumann na mBan, Carlow Branch.

Mass for the repose of Michael Fay’s soul was offered at 9am on Thursday morning. His funeral took place at 2pm that day, at which time all business ceased in Carlow.[9] The Nationalist and Leinster Times reported that his coffin was draped with the Republican colours and borne by Volunteers and ex-service men. Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, and ex-service men marched in the cortege to St. Mary’s Cemetery, where he was buried in the Republican Plot.

“Mrs. Fay”, his mother, was reported present at the 1st anniversary commemoration of his death although she was no longer Mrs. Fay at that time. Margaret and her husband Thomas Henry Jebb settled in Walton-le-dale, where he worked as a horseman in the public park, a profession that his military career as a Lancer had trained him well for. [10] Margaret died in 1951. Thomas survived her by six years, dying in 1957, aged 72, under rather sad circumstances when an extension tap from his gas oven came loose and asphyxiated him; the coroner ruled out suicide.

See other documents pertaining to Michael Fay, and the ambush, below.




With thanks to Maria O’Brien, Shay Kinsella, Sean Lawlor, Pat Nolan and Aine Lawlor.




Shay Kinsella, Bloodbath: Remembering the Ambush of the IRA in Ballymruphy, 1921, The Carlow Nationalist, 14 February 2021.  Part Two is here.




“Mullawnagown Author: N. Fleming Singer: Aileen Lambert,” From Carlow Streams,



[1] Seamus Murphy, ‘Ballads of County Carlow’, Carloviana 1994-1995, p. 25.

[2] The only John Day, chemist I see on the 1901 census for Ireland was born in Gloucestershire. He is also mentioned on the 1911 census here. However, this does not add up unless they literally wrote Margaret out of the records. Margaret may have been English. There was a John Fay, chemist, in Dewbury near Leeds.

[3] On young Thomas’s baptism, the name Fahy was stroked out and replaced with Fay.

[4] The lineage for Michael Fay proposed in this paper is believed correct. There was another Margaret Fay in the 1911 census who had many of the matching criteria – a link to Carlow as her place of birth, 3 children, the middle initial ‘J’ with both sons, just like Michael Joseph Fay, and the groom/motor mechanic thing does seem to link to horseman/chauffeur world. This Margaret is also in the 1901 Census (age 40) husbandless as Fahy at 45 Marlborough Road, Pembroke West, with those 2 sons Thomas J and James J but no Michael. However, a thorough investigation of this line concluded this is a different family.

[5] Thomas Henry Jebb was the name of a private in the 2nd Battalion Rifled Brigade who died back in 1867, possible relation. There were also Jebbs in County Monaghan, including a Thomas Henry Jebb, born in 1913 , who were perhaps related.

[6] Thomas Henry recorded his father was a Gardener on the 1915 marriage record.

[7] Kilkenny Moderator, Saturday 23rd of April 1921, page 5.

[8] Seamus Murphy, Carlow Brigade I.R.A. Roll of 1916-1924’, Carloviana 2003, p. 37.

[9] Many of the shops were apparently closed at the recommendation of Kate Geoghegan, Cumann na mBan (Carlow Brigade), who attended his funeral

[10] The Jebb family (Thomas Henry senior, junior and Margaret) were residing in Walton-le-dale at the time of the 1939 UK Census. There were Jebbs in Walton-le-dale from at least 1902, when an Albert Jebb was fined for being in ‘a beastly drunken condition.’ (Preston Herald, 20 December 1902). Thomas Jebb’s older brother was called Albert.

On the 1939 census, Thomas Snr was recorded as a ‘Public Park, Horseman’. However, Margaret Day’s date of birth on the 1939 census is recorded as 15th October, 1884 – if correct (and it may not be), she would thus have been 11 when she gave birth to John Joseph Fay, which is highly unlikely. Maybe she – like her husband in 1901 – lied about her age? The newspapers on TH Jebb’s death in 1957 referred to his grandson as Paul Jebb.


Birth of John Joseph Fahy, brother of Michael Joseph Fay aka Fahy, 1895.


Birth of Thomas Fay, aka Fahy, brother of Michael Joseph Fay, 1897.


Death of Thomas Fahy aka Fay, father of Michael Joseph Fay, aka Fahy, 1899.


Mrs Fay, aka Margaret Jebb nee Day, mother of Michael Joseph Fay, in The Nationalist, 22 April 1922.

3rd Anniversary of Michael Fay-The Nationalist-Sat 21 April 1924

Possession of Michael Fays Revolver, the Nationalist, Sat 6 October 1928

11th Anniversary of Michael Fay-The Nationalist, 16 April 1932.