Volunteer Lieutenant Michael Tobin

Volunteer Lieutenant Michael Tobin (aged about 28) of 15 Bachelor’s Quay, Cork, and from Ballineen (33 Grattan Street, Cork)

Date of incident: 28 April 1919 (died of his wounds on 20 May 1919)

Sources: II, 29, 30 April, 21, 22 May 1919; CE, 30 April, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 20, 21 (death), 22 May (inquest) 1919; CWN, 3, 10, 24 May 1919; Matthew O’Callaghan’s WS 561, 1 (BMH); Seán O’Connell’s WS 1706, 3-4 (BMH); Leo Buckley’s WS 1714, 1-2 (BMH); List of Deceased Volunteers of Cork No. 1 Brigade (G. 1226, Cork Public Museum, Fitzgerald Park, Cork); O’Donoghue (1971), 154-55; Hart (1998), 69; Sheehan (2011), 126.

Note: An officer of G Company of the First Battalion in the Cork No. 1 Brigade, Tobin was mortally wounded (with severe burns to his face, hands, and legs) by an accidental explosion when he and a number of Volunteer comrades were working with some twenty-eight pounds of black gunpowder. The accident occurred at a bomb factory established earlier in 1919 at 33 Grattan Street in Cork city, the location of a three-story tenement house and of shoemaker Andrew Ahern’s boot shop on the front ground floor. (Ahern’s residence had a Blarney Street address, and the explosion took place in the kitchen, located immediately behind the boot shop. Mrs McMahon, who occupied the apartment overhead and was engaged at a washtub, ‘was hurled across the apartment and was picked up in the yard in a practically unconscious condition’, suffering ‘from some ugly scalp wounds and an injured knee’.) See II, 30 April 1919.

Peter Hart claimed that when the secret bomb factory blew up, two Volunteers were killed and three others wounded. See Hart (1998), 69. But the former city Volunteer Matthew O’Callaghan later reported that only Tobin had been killed, while four other Volunteers (members of G Company of the First Battalion) and a member of Cumann na mBan had been wounded in the explosion but had recovered from their injuries. The wounded Volunteers were Captain Richard Murphy, Quartermaster Seán O’Connell, P. Varian, and Jeremiah Downey. Miss C. (Bessie) Moore of Anne Street was the wounded Cumann na mBan member. At this facility haversacks were made, gunpowder was ground, and bombs were assembled. See Matthew O’Callaghan’s WS 561, 1 (BMH). Tobin died on 20 May 1919; the inquest was held on the following day at the Mercy Hospital in Cork city. At the inquest Cornelius Tobin testified that his deceased brother Michael was an unmarried draper’s assistant, aged about 28, and a resident of 15 Bachelor’s Quay in Cork city. See CE, 22 May 1919; CWN, 24 May 1919.

At the time of Tobin’s death the British authorities announced that ‘between 200 and 300 bombs were discovered in barrels in the ground under the flooring of the house in which the explosion occurred’. See II, 21 May 1919. When Tobin’s remains were removed from the Mercy Hospital to a city church on 21 May, ‘there was an imposing Sinn Fein demonstration’. See II, 22 May 1919.

‘The remains were accompanied to the church [SS. Peter and Paul’s Church] by large numbers of Volunteers, Fianna Boy Scouts, Citizen Army Boy and Girl Scouts, Cumann na mBan, and Clan na nGaedheal Girl Scouts, as well as members of the general public, and the imposing character of the cortege attracted a considerable amount of attention along the different streets. It was evident that the death of Mr Tobin under such tragic circumstances evoked widespread regret, and many evidences of the grief caused were forthcoming. The route followed was Western Road, Great George’s Street, Grand Parade, South Mall, Winthrop Street, Pembroke Street, and Patrick Street. Large crowds lined these thoroughfares and paid their marks of respect to the memory of the deceased. The procession was headed by a few companies of Volunteers, followed by the Irish Volunteers’ Pipers Band playing music appropriate to the occasion, and [they] were followed by the hearse containing the coffin, which was covered with the Republican flag and attended by pall-bearers. Next in order came companies of Volunteers walking four deep, and without uniform, and they were followed by the Girl and Boy Scouts and Cumann na mBan, the majority of whose members wore uniforms. It was a remarkably large and most imposing spectacle and was witnessed by thousands of people along the route.’ Tobin was interred in the family burial ground at or near Ballineen. See CE, 22 May 1919.  

Many years later, former Volunteer Seán O’Connell, one of the wounded, recalled the explosion and its aftermath: ‘One evening we received word that the police were prowling around in the vicinity of Grattan Street. Fearing our arsenal would be discovered and captured, we decided to remove it to a place of safety. On the night in question Dick Murphy, our company captain, Miceál Tobin, and myself went into Hearn’s [Andrew Ahern’s] and proceeded to empty the tins of powder into linen bags outside of which was a coarser type of bag. Dick and Miceál were holding a bag and I was emptying one of the tins into it when all of a sudden a terrific explosion occurred. I was blown clean through a window of the room and was badly burned on the face and back. Dick Murphy also received serious burns, as did Miceál Tobin. Two other men of our company with a Mrs Hegarty were just about to enter the room when the explosion occurred. They were extremely fortunate to escape serious injury. Dick Murphy was removed to the North Infirmary, where he was treated and subsequently recovered. Miceál Tobin and I were taken to the hospital of the Sisters of Mercy, where poor Tobin died.’ See Seán O’Connell’s WS 1706, 3-4 (BMH). 

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