Civilian Denis O’Donnell

Civilian Denis O’Donnell (aged about 37), (Meadstown near Kildorrery)

Date of incident: night of 23-24 Nov. 1920

Sources: CE, 26, 30 Nov. 1920; II, 26 Nov. 1920; CWN, 4 Dec. 1920; Irish Bulletin, 4:1 (3 Jan. 1921); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15); Military Inquests, WO 35/157B/2 (TNA); Thomas Barry’s WS 430, 7-9 (BMH); Seámus O’Mahony’s WS 730, 6-7 (BMH); William C. Regan’s WS 1069, 3 (BMH); Patrick J. Luddy’s WS 1151, 11 (BMH); Rebel Cork’s FS, 263; Ó Coilean (2007), 87-90; Leeson (2011), 208-9.


Note: Described as ‘a quiet, inoffensive man’ who lived adjacent to the local creamery, Denis O’Donnell (aged about 37 and unmarried) was killed late on the night of 23-24 November 1920 at Meadstown near Kildorrery, with his death occurring (according to one report) at about 1:45 a.m. On the previous night his cottage had been raided by crown forces, but he was not at home. He apparently took refuge on the night of his death in the house of a neighbour named Kennedy, to which he and Kennedy were pursued. Though Kennedy somehow managed to escape, O’Donnell’s body was found ‘riddled with bullets’ on the morning of 24 November. See CE, 26 Nov. 1920.

The proceedings at a subsequent military court of inquiry revealed that his killers were drunken policemen. Unusually, three RIC constables involved (Wood, Coe, and Gray) were cross-examined by a civilian solicitor at this court. He extracted the information that the constables had been drinking not only earlier on the day of the killing but also during their patrol that night. It was confirmed at the inquiry that O’Donnell was indeed ‘a quiet, inoffensive man and did not belong to the Volunteers’. He had gone to Kennedy’s house because his own cottage had been raided so many times. See CE, 30 Nov. 1920; Leeson (2011), 208.

The killing of O’Donnell seems to have been a British reprisal for the IRA ambush at Kildorrery on 7 August. O’Donnell’s neighbour Kennedy had been one of three men working in a field adjacent to the site of the ambush in which the IRA had killed an RIC constable on 7 August. ‘On our instructions’, recalled Thomas Barry, O/C of the Castletownroche Battalion, Kennedy and the two others ‘kept working until we gave them the signal and they retired behind the fence until the ambush was over. . . . Early in November a Tan named Woods returned for Kennedy as a reprisal for the ambush, and although they had him surrounded in the house, he escaped. About 23rd November [1920] they visited the same house again, and they murdered a lad named O’Donnell.’ See Thomas Barry’s WS 430, 8-9 (BMH).

In the IRA ambush on 7 August 1920, the Volunteers succeeded in killing Constable Ernest Watkins and in wounding another constable named Woods or Wood. After Woods had recovered from his wounds at the Fermoy Military Hospital, he returned to the Kildorrery district seeking revenge with two of his comrades; they surrounded Kennedy’s cottage. Denis O’Donnell had reportedly been staying in Kennedy’s cottage at Scart, where Woods had previously been held captive after the ambush. In this revenge attack O’Donnell was shot repeatedly outside the cottage door, with nine bullets later found in his body; Kennedy, a judge in a local Sinn Féin court, managed to escape. See Ó Coilean (2007), 87-90.

O’Donnell was one of the eight children (three sons and five daughters) of the Kildorrery tailor and widower Daniel O’Donnell, who resided at 4 Limerick Road in Kildorrery. All three sons including Denis were in fact listed as tailors in the 1911 census. 

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