Civilian James Gordon or O’Gorman

Civilian James Gordon or O’Gorman (The Rea near Knockraha)

Date of incident: [?] late July or early Aug. 1920 (ex-soldier and ex-RIC man abducted, executed, and disappeared as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: II, 5 March 1920; FJ, 5, 31 March, 1 April, 15 July 1920; CE, 12 March, 5 April, 15 July 1920; Nenagh News, 17 July 1920; WS 719 of Maurice Forde et al., 6-7 (BMH); Joseph O’Shea’s WS 1675, 12 (BMH); Outrages and Reprisals (Military Archives, A/0530); MSP34/REF27648 (Military Archives); Murphy (2010), 34, 40, 64; Ó Ruairc (2016), 119; Audiotapes of Martin Corry, Denny Lynch, et al., Tape 6, OH/MC (CCCA); http://www.rubiconheritage.com/2014/10/29/mapping-archaeology-irelands-war-independence-case-study-knockraha-cork/ (accessed 28 March 2016).


Note: A member of the RIC before 1914 and an ex-soldier who had been wounded in the Great War, the Catholic and County Leitrim native Gordon reportedly had renewed his association with the RIC and in 1919-20 had been moving from one RIC station to another. It had been noted that after his arrival in different areas supporters of ‘the national movement’ had been shot. Having recently come to Cork city from County Tipperary, Gordon was picked up while drunk on the Cork quays after being reported to Volunteers of E Company of the First Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade by the proprietress of a public house in the vicinity. Gordon was taken into their custody, placed in a cab, and brought to the Pike, north of the city, where he was detained. An incriminating notebook found in his possession led ‘the brigadier’ of Cork No. 1 to sanction his execution, which was later carried out elsewhere. Before he was shot, a priest by arrangement heard his last confession. Neither the date nor the place of his execution was indicated. See WS 719 of Maurice Forde et al., 6-7 (BMH). Gordon was probably a civilian even though republican sources thought otherwise.

Volunteer Joseph O’Shea of E Company, one of the IRA gunmen who shot Gordan or O’Gorman, recalled the circumstances many years later: ‘In July 1920 I received information that a Black and Tan named James O’Gorman was in Cork city. This man was suspected of complicity in the murder [on 28 March 1920] of two I.R.A. men named Dwyer of The Ragg, near Thurles, Co. Tipperary, and it was understood that he was leaving Cork for England by boat. I received instructions to watch for this man and take him prisoner. On an evening in July, following receipt of a report from our intelligence service, I went with five others from E Company to Penrose Quay, Cork. In due course O’Gorman came along, obviously going to the Cork Steampacket Company’s boat, which was sailing for England that same evening. I held him up and, with the others, put him into a motor car which we had ready nearby. He was brought to the Kilcully district north of the city, where he was kept in a house under armed guard for a few days. He was then taken by car to Knockraha in East Cork where he was executed.’ See Joseph O’Shea’s WS 1675, 12 (BMH).

In his IRA pension claim Edward Maloney of Knockraha, who described himself as the ‘governor’ of the local ‘Sing Sing’ prison, stated that a captured Black and Tan prisoner had been brought from Cork city by IRA men and held at Knockraha for three weeks before his execution. Maloney asserted that he had witnessed the execution of this captive, whom he claimed was the first member of the crown forces and first spy to be executed at ‘Sing Sing’. In the same file with Maloney’s pension claim there is a document submitted by prominent IRA member Martin Corry of Knockraha (dated 9 May 1941), briefly noting that in 1920 ‘Gordon [was] executed’. See MSP34/REF27648 (Military Archives); http://www.rubiconheritage.com/2014/10/29/mapping-archaeology-irelands-war-independence-case-study-knockraha-cork/ (accessed 28 March 2016). Martin Corry also mentioned the execution of Gordon at Knockraha in the audiotapes of Martin Corry, Denny Lynch, et al., Tape 6, OH/MC (CCCA).

Gordon is likely to have been the Knockraha prisoner discussed in the context of allowing some of the inmates of ‘Sing Sing’ to get exercise since, as they were to be executed, they would not later be able to give away the location of the prison. According to James Fitzgerald, the historian of Knockraha, ‘Dave Savage of Ballinakilla was involved in exercising one prisoner who was in Sing Sing. This prisoner was an ex-member of the RIC who was involved in some of the murders after the ambush of Solohead[beg] in South Tipperary. They would allow him out in the field in the vicinity of Sing Sing to give himself some exercise.’ See Fitzgerald (1977, 2005), 88.

Some Cork republican activists, as previously noted, connected Gordon with the military reprisals carried out by British forces leading to the deaths of Volunteers James McCarthy and Thomas Dwyer at The Ragg/Bouladuff and at the Mall in Thurles in Tipperary on 27 and 29 March 1920 respectively. These Cork city Volunteers understood the victims to have been ‘the Dwyer brothers’, but the John Dwyer killed at Annesgrove near Drumbane in the Thurles district on 14 July 1920 was not related in any way to the death of Thomas Dwyer. See Outrages and Reprisals (Military Archives, A/0530); CE, 15 July 1920; FJ, 15 July 1920; Nenagh News, 17 July 1920; James Leahy’s WS 1454, 27-29 (BMH).

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