Volunteer John (Seán) O’Connell

Volunteer John (Seán) O’Connell of Kanturk (aged about 26), (near Kanturk)

Date of incident: 16 Aug. 1920

Sources: Death Certificate, 16 Aug. 1920; CE, 16, 17, 18, 19 Aug. 1920; CWN, 17, 21 Aug. 1920; II, 27 Dec. 1920; RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork West Riding, Aug. 1920 (CO 904/112, TNA); WS 744 of Jeremiah Murphy, Michael Courtney, and Denis Mulchinock, 7-9 (BMH); Denny Mullane’s WS 789, 4 (BMH); Seán Moylan’s WS 838, 97-98 (BMH); John Winters’s WS 948, 2 (BMH); Patrick McCarthy’s WS 1163, 10-11 (BMH); Michael O’Connell’s WS 1428, 7 (BMH); Lynch (1970), 354; Last Post (1976), 70; Moylan (2004), 56; Derrygallon IRA Memorial; Kanturk IRA Memorial.


Note: Following the IRA attack on a downed British military aeroplane at Drominagh in which a British soldier was killed, a military search party in the Kanturk district (a detachment of the Machine Gun Corps) shot and killed Volunteer John O’Connell and mortally wounded Volunteer Patrick Clancy while they fled from Connell’s house. The deaths were possibly military executions. This news was accompanied by a report that a jury could not be assembled to hold an inquest on the death of Private Nunn, who had been shot and killed near Cloonbannin two days earlier. According to the military account, O’Connell and Clancy had refused to halt when ordered; instead they sought to flee, and in doing so, they had fired on the troops who shot them. They were both allegedly found to be in possession of arms when killed. See RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork West Riding, Aug. 1920 (CO 904/112, TNA).

Former Volunteer Jeremiah Murphy and two Kanturk comrades, however, later offered a partly different account in their combined BMH witness statement: ‘When the troops found his body [i.e., O’Connell’s], some of them used their bayonets on it. Both the bodies were badly ripped up, and from the proceedings of an enquiry, the details of which were published later in the ‘Cork Examiner’, it was stated that dum-dum ammunition had been used by the enemy that morning [when shooting O’Connell and Clancy].’ See WS 744 of Jeremiah Murphy, Michael Courtney, and Denis Mulchinock, 7-9 (BMH).

A draper’s assistant by occupation, O’Connell had already ‘suffered a term of imprisonment for his fearless espousal of the Sinn Fein policy’. He was commandant of the Kanturk Battalion of the Cork No. 2 Brigade. See CE, 19 Aug. 1920. At the time of the 1911 census O’Connell (a draper’s assistant then aged 17) lived in a boarding house at 11 Market Square in Kanturk with six other drapers’ assistants.

The deaths of O’Connell and Clancy ‘shocked the community, where both young men were so well known and so very popular’. There were thousands of mourners at their funerals. All places of business in Kanturk were closed on 17 August 1920 and all the blinds were drawn ‘as a manifestation of the deep sorrow felt by all classes’ over the deaths of Clancy and O’Connell at the hands of the military two days earlier. ‘Hundreds visited Mrs O’Connell’s residence, where the remains of the two young men were laid out, to render their heartfelt condolence and to offer their prayers at the bedside of the deceased men.’ When the remains were transferred to the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Kanturk three miles away, they were ‘accompanied by an immense body of mourners. At the head of the cortege were Rev. Father White, P.P., and Rev. Father Keane, C.C. The two coffins were draped in the republican colours, and on each coffin rested the cap and other insignia of the deceased officers. A guard of honour was supplied by the local battalion of the I.R.A., and an immense procession followed. Over five hundred members of the Volunteer corps were present, marching in companies, led by their respective commanders. Cyclists and the general public in immense numbers followed, and a long line of cars. The whole procession was most impressive and solemn. The young ladies of Cumann na mBan recited the Rosary en route. At the church the Rev. Father Keane also recited the Rosary, which was devoutly responded to.’ See CE, 18 Aug. 1920. O’Connell was buried at Dromtariffe, with Liam Lynch, George Power, and many other IRA officers in attendance.

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