• irishfamilydetective

The 'Taking' of Percival Lea Wilson


Figure 1: Percival Lea-Wilson.

On this day 100 years ago, Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) District Inspector Percival Lea-Wilson’s past caught up with him, when the Irish Volunteers exacted revenge for his treatment of Easter Rising prisoners. Four years earlier the witness statement of Major General Liam Tobin, Director of Intelligence, I.R.A. noted that ‘Lea-Wilson was responsible for having them [1916 Rebels] stripped as he was responsible for whatever ill-treatment was received there. I know that when he refused to allow me to stand up I looked at him and I registered a vow to myself that I would deal with him at some time in the future.’[1] ‘Revenge is a desert best served cold’, and that is exactly how Liam Tobin must have felt that fateful morning, 15 June 1920.


Born in London in 1877, Lea-Wilson was baptized on the 7 June in the parish of Saint Pauls, Onslow Square.[2]

Figure 2: Birth Certificate of Lea Wilson.

He was appointed a District Inspector in 1911 and was serving in Charleville, Cork at the outbreak of World War I. He joined the British army reaching the rank of captain in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. An injury forced him back to Ireland where he was initially stationed in Dublin, on temporary duty, just in time for the Easter Rising in 1916. Four years later, he had graduated to District Inspector and was based in Gorey, Co. Wexford.


Sean Whelan of the North Wexford Brigade how he was asked to accompany Frank Thornton and Liam Tobin of the G.H.Q. on a ‘special job’. Also involved were Brigade members Mick Sinnott and Joe McMahon. The group were aware that DI Lea-Wilson collected his own special mail bag from Gorey Station each morning from the 9.35 a.m. train. A creature of habit, the DI also got the morning paper usually reading the ‘as he walked to his house, a fairly big country house surrounded by trees and standing wail back from the road about a quarter of a mile on the south side of Gorey.’ [3]

Figure 3: Liam Tobin, arrest picture, 1916.


However, not everything went to plan, as some mornings it was observed that if the DI was suffering from a hangover he would send his Sergeant. Nevertheless, after a few fruitless mornings, three in fact, on ‘our date with death we were at our post on the bridge earlier than usual.’ The Volunteers positioned themselves on the bridge on Ballycanew Road. ‘The road slopes away on either side of the bridge for about two hundred yards. On one side there is a low wall and a footpath. It is along this path that the Inspector will walk on his way home.’


Frank Thornton and Sean Whelan had the bonnet of a car raised pretending to fix the engine. Tobin, Sinnott and McMahon were also in close proximity. As DI Percival Lea-Wilson passed the car, Thornton and Whelan opened fire. However, the DI dropped his newspaper and mail bag and started running in the direction of his house. The other three Volunteers also began shooting. ‘When the Inspector fell dead, about fifteen or twenty yards from our car, he must have been hit at least a dozen times, but just to make sure we hit him again as he lay stretched full length on the footpath. We left him, his mails and gun to show it was an execution and not a hold-up.’ Whelan kindly notes that the final newspaper Lea-Wilson read was the Irish Independent, although the Skibbereen Eagle reported that the paper in question was the Irish Times.[4] Percival Lea-Wilson’s body was brought back to England and he is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in southwest London.


The story however does not end there, however. Lea-Wilson married Marie Ryan in 1914 in Charleville, Cork.

Figure 4: Marriage certificate Lea Wilson and Marie Ryan.

After her husband’s death, Marie Lea-Wilson commissioned a stained-glass window. This was to be placed in the Church of Ireland parish church in Gorey. It was designed by Harry Clarke, who attended the dedication ceremony on 17 December 1922.[5] The window depicts Martyrdom of St Stephen.


Figure 5: Harry Clarke Window, Gorey.

Marie Lea-Wilson was a remarkable woman, widowed at a young age, she decided to study medicine and graduated in 1928 from Trinity College and specialised in paediatric medicine.[6]


Figure 5: Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital Resident Staff, 1929, including Marie Lea Wilson.

Some years after she became a doctor, Marie Lea-Wilson gave Jesuit priest, Father Finlay a painting in gratitude for his support in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination. The painting, which she purchased in Scotland in 1921, hung for many years in the Jesuits’ dining-room at 35 Lower Leeson Street. Sent for cleaning in 1990, the Gerrit van Honthorst version of Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ was discovered not to be a copy but the original. The painting is now on indefinite loan to the National Gallery of Ireland from the Jesuit Community.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio painting depicts a scene with an extraordinary sense of drama and curiously this must surely resonate with thee scene that unfolded on 15 June 1920 in Gorey, Wexford, ‘The Taking of Percival Lea-Wilson’.


Figure 7: The Taking of Christ.

[1] http://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1753.pdf

[2] London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1917 for Perceval Lea Wilson via Ancestry.

[3] http://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1085.pdf

[4] Skibbereen Eagle, 19 June 1920.

[5] https://fonsiemealy.ie/auctions/lot-5370289/

[6] http://rcpilibrary.blogspot.com/2010/07/sir-patrick-duns-hospitals-photographic.html

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