Captain James Osmund Airey or Airy

Captain James Osmund Airey or Airy (aged 36) of the 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment (Geata Bán on Ballyvourney/Macroom road)

Date of incident: 20 July 1920

Sources: CC, 22 July 1920; CE, 22, 24 July 1920; CCE, 24 July 1921; II, 1 Oct. 1920; Florence O’Donoghue Papers (NLI MS 31,301 [2]); Michael O’Sullivan’s WS 793, 9-10 (BMH); Patrick O’Sullivan’s WS 794, 6-8 (BMH); Patrick O’Sullivan’s WS 878, 13-14 (BMH); Daniel Harrington’s WS 1532, 7-8 (BMH); Patrick J. Lynch’s WS 1543, 9-10 (BMH); Ó Suílleabhaín (1965), 70-76; Ó hÉalaithe (2014), 51, 116-20; Commonwealth War Graves Commission; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/list-1921.htmlhttp://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/manchesters-macroom/airy/airy.htmlhttp://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/manchesters-macroom/macroom-manchesters.htm (accessed 1 Aug. 2014); http://www.tameside.gov.uk/museumsgalleries/mom/objectfocus/razor (17 Sept. 2015).


Note: Captain Airey of the Manchester Regiment was mortally wounded in an IRA ambush at Geata Bán on the road between Ballyvourney and Macroom on 20 July 1920; he died of his wounds on 21 July. Members of the Cork No. 2 Brigade carried out this attack. Among the members of the IRA party were apparently Pat O’Sullivan (commandant), his brother the author Michael O’Sullivan, Neilus O’Connell (known as Louth), Mick O’Connell (brother of Louth), and Patrick Cronin (known as Dowd), all members of the local company who gathered to discuss IRA business at Kilnamartyra Cross. Along with two added members of their company (Jerry O’Sullivan and Terry O’Connell, brother of Neilus and Mick), they joined with a section from B Company (Ballyvourney) to take up an ambush position on the main Macroom-Ballyvourney road at Gaeta Bán, close to Coolavokig school. After a long wait a Crossley tender carrying Captain Airey and a full complement of troops came within their ambush position on 15 July 1920, and the Volunteers opened fire, killing Airey and badly wounding the driver of his car in the arm and neck. Indeed, the Volunteers claimed to have wounded in some way ‘nearly every man in the lorry’. See Ó Suílleabhaín (1965), 70-76.

The Volunteers who killed Airey later discovered that this officer from the Fermoy garrison ‘had only come to Macroom the morning he was killed and had only come for the drive to Ballyvourney. A short time previous[ly], he had criminally assaulted a young girl as she was returning from school, and apparently the authorities were of the opinion that he had been killed by members of the Fermoy I.R.A. for this offence.’ See Patrick J. Lynch’s WS 1543, 9-10 (BMH). The coroner could not hold the usual inquest: ‘He was informed by the military and police that the body had been removed [from Ballyvourney Military Camp] in a military Red Cross ambulance last evening [22 July], according to instructions, and in the circumstances the inquest had to be abandoned.’ See CE, 24 July 1920. The British officer’s widow, Mrs Gladys Maud Airey of Ealing in London, later applied for £15,000 in compensation, but judgement was reserved on her application.

About a month after this ambush, ‘a photograph of Charlie Browne, adjutant of the Macroom Volunteers, was displayed in the hallway of Macroom Castle, with the words “Wanted for the murder of Captain Airy at Geata Bán” in large print. Charlie had not taken part in that particular ambush, but Eugie [Eugene] Sullivan had. Charlie and Eugie both had foxy heads of hair, and the retreating enemy noticed Eugie’s red head.’ A veteran of the Great War, Eugene Sullivan was a highly skilled machine-gunner. See Ó hÉalaithe (2014), 51.

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