Volunteer Eugene O’Connell

Volunteer Eugene O’Connell (aged 28) of 17 Broad Lane, Cork city (17 Broad Lane, Cork)

Date of incident: night of 17-18 Nov. 1920

Sources: FJ, 18 Nov. 1920; II, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 27 Nov. 1920, 27 May 1921; CE, 19, 20, 24, 27 Nov. 1920, 27 May 1921; CC, 22 Nov. 1920; Kerryman, 27 Nov. 1920; CWN, 4 Dec. 1920; Weekly Summary of Outrages against the Police, Nov. 1920 (CO 904/148-50, TNA); Leo Buckley’s WS 1714, 6-7 (BMH); Last Post (1976), 74; Hart (1998), 1-18; Leeson (2011), 66, 189; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014).


Note: An ex-soldier and a labourer, O’Connell was gunned down in his home in Cork city in reprisal for the killing of Sergeant James O’Donoghue on the night of 17-18 November 1920. (See the previous entry.) O’Connell’s death took place either shortly before midnight on 17 November or early on the following morning. His dead body arrived at the Mercy Hospital at about 12:30 a.m. on Thursday, 18 November. According to a relative of O’Connell, the killer who broke open the door at 17 Broad Lane was ‘a man in uniform and wearing goggles. . . . He had a revolver in the right hand and a flash-lamp in the other. He rushed straight up the stairs.’ He shot O’Connell dead in his bedroom ‘in the presence of his wife’. The gunman then charged up another flight of stairs and shot Fianna Éireann scout Charles O’Brien (aged 16), with ‘a bullet passing through his mouth and jaw’. The tragedy at 17 Broad Lane reportedly occurred ‘a few minutes’ after the shooting of Patrick Hanley of Fianna Éireann and civilian Stephen Coleman at 2 Broad Street. See II, 19 Nov. 1920. Eugene O’Connell and Stephen Coleman were both ex-members of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, as was a third man named Collins, who was shot at but not injured in the same incident. See II, 20 Nov. 1920.

At the military court of inquiry Mrs O’Connell testified that the gunman who had killed her husband ‘wore a long overcoat, a policeman’s cap, and had a revolver in one hand and a flash lamp in the other’. She continued: ‘Her husband crawled into the room [after being wounded], the man still firing at him. She was in bed with her baby and the man raised the revolver at her, and she shouted for mercy for her baby’s sake.’ Eugene O’Connell was said by his father to be an ex-soldier ‘in receipt of a pension on account of wounds’ received, presumably during the Great War. See II, 25 Nov. 1920. Indeed, said his father, he himself and his two brothers, along with Eugene O’Connell and his two brothers, had ‘served the empire in the [British] army’. See CE, 24 Nov. 1920.

Volunteer O’Connell was buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery in Cork. The removal of O’Connell’s remains from Mercy Hospital to SS. Peter and Paul’s Church attracted many mourners. His coffin ‘was shouldered alternately by his brothers, brothers-in-law, and some near relatives. His father, a number of relatives, and a large crowd followed the cortege, and the thoroughfares on the line of [the] route were lined by people who showed unmistakable sympathy for the unfortunate victims [Patrick Hanley and Eugene O’Connell] and their parents. There were also present a large number of O’Connnell’s ex-service comrades.’ See CE, 20 Nov. 1920.  

Evidence surfaced as to the police perpetrators of reprisals: ‘A resident of Broad Lane, living nearly opposite 17 Broad Lane [the residence of Volunteer Eugene O’Connell and Fianna member Charles O’Brien], said she saw two men dressed as policemen going in. She heard the shots fired inside, evidently by one of the men, for the other merely waited in the hall.’ In the other murder case, ‘another resident stated that after the shooting at 2 Broad Street [the residence of Fianna member Patrick Hanley and Volunteer Stephen Coleman], she looked out of her window and saw a man in police uniform come out of 2 Broad Street and, accompanied by another, go down Broad Lane, stop outside 17, and start breaking in there.’ A witness also reported that ‘when the man in uniform was leaving, after killing Hanley and wounding Coleman, he flung a bomb on the ground floor, and it exploded in the hall. . .’.  See CE, 19 Nov. 1920. 

Months later, in late May 1921, the Irish Chief Secretary, Sir Hamar Greenwood, came under pressure in the House of Commons to explain why Eugene O’Connell’s widow had not received a pension or other compensation for the death of her husband at the hands of one or more policemen. Greenwood’s answer was bound to inflame republicans: ‘The widow stated in her evidence that the murderer wore policeman’s uniform, and this clue had been investigated, but without result. The fact that crimes were committed by men in police uniform did not warrant the assumption that the criminals were policemen, as quantities of uniform had been stolen by the rebels and used by them for their own illegal purposes. The question of a pension for the widow should be addressed to the Pensions Ministry.’ Quoted in II, 27 May 1921. 

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