Civilian Michael (or Denis) Dwyer

Civilian Michael (or Denis) Dwyer (aged 23) of Castletown-Kinneigh (Farranalough, Murragh parish)

Date of incident: 21 Jan. 1921 (ex-soldier killed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: II, 24, 26 Jan. 1921; FJ, 24, 26 Jan. 1921; CCE, 16 April 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/149A/70 (TNA); RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork West Riding, Jan. 1921 (CO 904/114, TNA); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA); MSPC/RO/56 (Military Archives); Denis Lordan’s WS 470, 13 (BMH); William Norris’s WS 595, 5 (BMH); Denis Collins’s WS 827, 9-10 (BMH); William Desmond’s WS 832, 28 (BMH); Michael Coleman’s WS 1254, 10-11 (BMH); William McCarthy’s WS 1255, 1 (BMH); Seán Murphy’s WS 1445, 10 (BMH); William Foley’s WS 1560, 7 (BMH); Charles O’Donoghue’s WS 1607, 6 (BMH); Daniel Canty’s WS 1619, 23 (BMH); Michael Riordan’s WS 1638, 19 (BMH); Barry (1949, 1989), 107-9; Fitzgerald (2012), 185-86; Ó Ruairc (2016), 119.         


Note: Dwyer’s body was found at Farranalough, about 4 miles north-west of Bandon. He had been executed, with two bullet holes in the head. ‘Pinned on his clothes was a label bearing the words “Convicted Spy”.’ See II, 24 Jan. 1921. He was 23 years old, a resident of Castletown-Kinneigh, and an ex-soldier. He had been wounded while serving as a British soldier [attached to the Labour Corps] in the Great War and suffered from a withered arm, an affliction that aided the authorities in the identification of his body.  He had initially enlisted with the Munster Fusiliers in 1916 and was discharged in 1917 [thanks to Jean Prendergast for checking his military record].  After his discharge he re-enlisted with the Labour Corps, which commonly accommodated injured or disabled soldiers.  See Military Inquests, WO 35/149A/70 (TNA). 

An eyewitness account of the Dwyer’s unmasking survives in the BMH witness statement of Denis Lordan, quartermaster of the Flying Column of the West Cork Brigade: ‘At a point on the Bandon-Dunmanway Road near Pallas-Ann, the . . . [IRA] officers came on an individual who apparently was waiting on the roadside for someone. On seeing them, this man approached, and on being questioned by the officer commanding the column, it became evident that he mistook the party for British Auxiliaries, for whom he apparently had been waiting. He started to give information in connection with the movements of certain I.R.A. officers and of the times and places where they could be most easily captured, and promised further information and assistance in return for money. At this stage the Brigade Adjutant [Liam Deasy], who was known by sight to the individual, was brought over as if a prisoner, and as soon as the spy recognised him, he suggested that he, the Brigade Adjutant, should be shot at once. . . .  At this stage the spy was informed that he was under arrest. On the following day he was courtmartialled, found guilty of espionage, and sentenced to be shot. A clergyman was procured to give spiritual aid to the spy before his execution. From previous occurrences it was evident that this [man], whose name was Denis Dywer of Castletownkenna and who was a British ex-soldier, had been a source of much information to the British. After his execution certain districts in the Castletownkenna area, which had been previously subject to intensive raids whenever I.R.A. officers were in the vicinity, were rarely or ever visited by British forces.’ See Denis Lordan’s WS 470, 13 (BMH). In his IRA pension claim former Volunteer Daniel Hourihan of Girlough claimed to have been involved in the execution of a spy at Ballineen—probably Dwyer. See MSPC/RO/56 (Military Archives).

Michael (or Denis) Dwyer was in 1911 the youngest of the three sons of the Castletown-Kinneigh agricultural labourer Patrick Dwyer and his wife Bridget. The Dwyers were Catholic. The name of Michael Dwyer appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 21 January 1921, with the notation that British liability was accepted, and with a note that compensation of £1,600 was awarded. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA). 

In the compensation case heard in mid-April 1921 the victim’s mother and father Bridget and Patrick Dwyer sought £2,000 for the death of their son Michael Dwyer on 21 January 1921 at Farranalough near Newcestown. His father noted that Michael Dwyer enjoyed a pension of £2 17s. 6d. per week as an ex-soldier in the British army who had “only one arm.” He had gone to Bandon on 20 January 1921 to collect his pension as usual, but he did not return home, and his parents received word of his death four days later. His mother Bridget testified in court that her son Michael had been ‘taken out of bed one night about twelve months ago and returned in about an hour. He told her afterwards it was owing to something he said to the other parties. There was a kind of trial in an outhouse. On Thursday, 20th January last [1921], he left home to come to Bandon for his pension, and she did not see him till the following Monday [24 January] in the military barracks at Bandon when he was dead. He was shot at the back of the ear, and on a label on the body was written—“Convicted spy.”’ The court reportedly awarded compensation of £1,000 in the case. See CCE, 16 April 1921. [Thanks to Jean Prendergast for  her assistance with this reference.]

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