The killing fields of Cork

My great-granduncle William (John) Mulcahy was shot dead on Kyrls Quay, Cork, on November 8, 1920. He was returning from work around 10pm when he was shot after he, allegedly, refused to stop when asked to do so by British forces, the bullet entering his right shoulder and then his stomach.

I remember my grandmother telling me about his death. She was 12 when he died, and as the years rolled by I forgot the story. Reading Cork’s Revolutionary Dead 1916-1923 (Mercier Press, €35) by Barry Keane reminded me to check it out, so I contacted my mother who provided a name for me, and there on page 148 in six lines is the incident that led to Mulcahy’s death.

Of course, Mulcahy wasn’t the only person to die in those circumstances. Maurice Griffin, for example, was shot in the back when challenged by the police a month earlier. They were just two casualties of a war and subsequent Civil War examined in Keane’s fascinating book which focuses on over 700 people who died in Cork city and county, including some famous Corkmen who were killed in the conflicts elsewhere, such as Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney who died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison.

The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 provides a closer look at important incidents such as the Burning of Cork; the Kilmichael Ambush; the Clonmult shootout; the Kilmichael Ambush; and the massacre in West Cork, a series of killings of Protestants in the Bandon area. So far so familiar.

Part 2 is simply called The Dead and it is here where the minutiae of those bloody years are laid out in all their horror. Military, IRA, National Army and Anti-Treaty dead are listed, and the horror of atrocities, bloody reprisals, bombings and ambushes lurk on every page.

Keane also reveals the high civilian toll, starting on May 2, 1916, when police attempts to arrest four of the Kent family in Castlelyons ended in a shootout that left Head Constable William Rowe dead and Richard Kent mortally wounded. Thomas Kent was court-martialled and executed days later.

Just one other person died in Cork over the next two years, Abraham Graham, who was bayoneted during a demonstration. The six deaths in 1918 were either accidental shootings – Keane notes that in the case of a Cobh Na Fianna boy Joe Reid the gun may have been fired by his brother – flu, or the vicissitudes of imprisonment.

The first shooting of  a British soldier occurred on September 7, 1919, in Fermoy. A party of 15 British soldiers left their rifles outside while they attended a Methodist Church service. When a group of IRA men attempted to seize the rifles shots were exchanged and Private William Jones was killed. In what would become a regular tactic, almost 60 shops were wrecked and looted by members of the Shropshire Regiment in a reprisal attack.

I remember my grandmother also telling me about a woman shot dead by  the Black and Tans  across from where we lived in Dominick’s Terrace, and there on page 263 is the story of what led to the killing of seamstress Josie Scannell, who was shot through the window of her house on Frenches Quay.

Spies litter the accounts of shootings, especially during the War of Independence. The first to die was Timothy Quinlisk, at Pouladuff, Cork, on February 18, 1920. Another was William O’Sullivan who had been given several warnings to stop spying, but having failed to take them, his body was found in the city with a bullet wound in the head. Pinned to his clothes was a note: “A convicted spy. Penalty: Death. Let all spies and traitors beware.” That warning was not heeded by others who paid the price.

As in all conflicts, non-combatants suffered. Patrick Goggin was just seven years old when he was shot by British soldiers on his family’s farm at Carrigthomas, Ballinagree. Richard Morey was shot by a military patrol when a crowd gathered in Cork city during a curfew. He was 10 years old. The youngest victim was a baby (name unknown) who was trampled to death when an IRA group pursued Michael Walsh into his sister’s house. Walsh escaped, but a month later he was removed from a ward in the South Infirmary and shot dead on February 18, 1921.

Women did not escape either. Sarah Madaile suffered a heart attack during a police raid in Cork city. Nellie Carey, 19, was with her fiancé Private William Price in Fermoy when shots were fired at them. Both were wounded but Nellie didn’t survive. Members of the clergy weren’t spared either. Canon Thomas Magner was forced to the ground and shot dead at Ballyhalwick near Drimoleague by a cadet of ‘K’ Company Auxiliaries, while Rev James O’Callaghan was gunned down during an IRA raid in Sunday’s Well, Cork, on May 15, 1921.

During the Civil War, Keane notes “the most dangerous place in the National Army was anywhere near their own comrades with a rifle.” The numbers of deaths in Cork alone was very high. These reflected the lack of experience by an army that had grown substantially to take on the Anti-Treaty side.

Women again paid a high price: Eileen (Lily) Gallagher died from wounds caused by a grenade/bomb attack outside the Lee Boot Factory on October 23, 1922, while Katherine Feehely was killed in a bomb blast on St Patrick’s Street.

More poignant was the death of Eileen O’Driscoll. On November 13, 1922, a boy threw a bullet cartridge he had found in Riverstick on a fire and it exploded killing Eileen who was three years and three months old.

As in the War of Independence, spies or ‘collaborators’, were swiftly despatched. John (Patrick) Walsh was coming home from the pictures with his wife in Cork city when he was shot. Why? Apparently, he occasionally drove National troops. Solicitor Robert Baylor was murdered at Ballinrush, Kilworth, presumably because he acted for the Free State.

Keane, also includes other deaths that may be linked to the wars, plus seven others not listed in The Dead section as they were too late for inclusion in the chronological list.

Cork’s Revolutionary Dead is a comprehensive record of the Rebel County’s enormous contribution to winning independence and the resulting Civil War. It sheds much light on the circumstances of each death, and recognises the importance of every victim, which is as it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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