Civilian Thomas Bradfield

Civilian Thomas Bradfield (aged 65) of Carhoon West near Bandon (near Carhoon—about 3 miles from his residence)

Date of incident: 22 Jan. 1921 (killed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CC, 25 Jan. 1921; II, 25, 26 Jan. 1921; FJ, 25 Jan. 1921; SS, 25 June 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/146A/26 (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); Denis Lordan’s WS 470, 14 (BMH); William Desmond’s WS 832, 28-29 (BMH); Michael Coleman’s WS 1254, 10-11 (BMH); William Foley’s WS 1560, 7 (BMH); Charles O’Donoghue’s WS 1607, 6 (BMH); Daniel Canty’s WS 1619, 23-24 (BMH); Michael Riordan’s WS 1638, 19 (BMH); Barry (1949, 1989), 109-10; Dolan (2011), 29; Fitzgerald (2012), 186; Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Ó Ruairc (2015), 170-71, 176-77; Ó Ruairc (2016), 119. 


Note: This was the first of two Thomas Bradfields to be executed by the IRA. He was found dead near his home at Carhue or Carhoon in the Bandon district (4 miles north of the town) on Sunday morning, 23 January 1921. ‘There was a card attached to his clothing with the words “Convicted Spy”.’ See II, 25 Jan. 1921. He had been shot through the brain at about 10:30 p.m. on 22 January. See Daniel Canty’s WS 1619, 23 (BMH). A report from Dublin Castle stated: ‘A note was pinned to his clothing stating that he had been shot after conviction by a court martial held on the night of Jan. 23, for intending to inform the enemy of the presence and movements of republican troops.’ See II, 26 Jan. 1921.

As the resident of one of the houses where members of the Flying Column of the West Cork Brigade were billeted, Bradfield ‘mistook the [IRA] party for British Auxiliaries and after a short conversation started to give very complete information as to the movements of local members of the I.R.A., even to the extent of a minute description of a “dug out” in the district in which some local men slept and kept their arms, and detailed instructions as to the best means and time of approaching the “dug out” so as to capture these men. He also arranged to give further information later on through his local clergyman [the Rev. John C. Lord of Kilbrogan] and pressed very hard for the immediate capture and execution of certain local boys who were members of the I.R.A. This farmer was placed under arrest and later tried for espionage and found guilty. He was executed that night.’ See Denis Lordan’s WS 470, 14 (BMH).

Bradfield may also have been fooled by the Scottish accent of Flying Column member Peter Monahan, as suggested in the somewhat confused tale told years later by Florry Begley of Bandon to Ernie O’Malley: ‘When Florrie O’Donoghue brought back the 2 children from England, he also brought back a lad from Glasgow who wanted to fight here. [The ‘lad from Glasgow’ was apparently the explosives expert Peter Monahan, a Scot who had deserted from the British army, though he did not come back to Ireland with O’Donoghue.] He [i.e., Monahan] was one of those who went with [John] Lordon to hold up a Protestant farmer by pretending they were Auxies, and when the farmer saw them, he thought they were Auxies, and only then, by a signal from the Scotsman whose accent would give the others significance, did the other IRA [men] understand that they had to play the part of Auxies. “It’s time you came,” the farmer said, “why didn’t you shoot so and so and so and so”, mentioning names of active men whom he wanted got rid of. The lads later dressed up, went to visit his brother [a mistake for a cousin], and he said, “What a fool my brother was to think that those fellows who visited him were Auxiliaries”, and convinced they were Auxies [on this occasion], he gave away his information. And he was shot as well.’ See Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Ó Ruairc (2015), 176-77. The victim’s cousin, Thomas Bradfield of Knockmacool House, was executed by the IRA on 1 February 1921. His body was found on 2 February about three miles from his house with ‘a label bearing the words “Convicted Spy” attached to his corpse.’ See SS, 25 June 1921.

At the time of the 1911 census Thomas Bradfield (then aged 55 and single) of Carhoon West in Kilbrogan parish lived with his sister Mary (aged 56 and also single) and a Catholic servant named Eliza Donovan (aged 26); he and his sister were adherents of the Church of Ireland. The name of Thomas Bradfield appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 23 January 1921, with the notation ‘British supporter’, and with a note that compensation of £5,000 was awarded. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA)

It is possible that Thomas Bradfield of Carhoon may have reported IRA activity to his local Protestant minister, Rev. John C. Lord. And it appears almost certain that Rev. Lord, the rector of Kilbrogan, was in regular touch with British military intelligence in Bandon. Some light is thrown on these secret matters by what Florry Begley of Bandon later told Ernie O’Malley. According to Begley, the Cork No. 3 Brigade Commandant Charlie Hurley and a comrade had pressed a Protestant farmer identified as ‘B’ as to his links with the Essex Regiment, but ‘B’ was reluctant to talk: ‘B . . . would not give any information, and all they got out of him was that at the meetings after the weekly service on Sundays the men remained behind for a chat, and then they would swap stories or tell what had happened in their neighbourhood during the week in a gossipy way, but J . . . [another farmer suspected of spying] did not explain how [Major Edward] Percival [the Essex intelligence officer in Bandon] knew that the [Essex] rifles had been left in J’s shed for a night. Next day J . . . was gone and we never heard of him again. His farm was confiscated [the normal IRA practice in the case of fleeing spies]. The minister from Bandon [the Rev. Lord] was evidently the local contact, and he would be next on the [IRA] list, so Percival sent word that if he was shot or a hair of his head touched, the P.P., a nephew (or a brother) of the bishop, would be shot. [Canon Jeremiah Cohalan, P.P. of Bandon, who was sympathetic to republicans, was the brother of Bishop Daniel Cohalan of Cork, whose hostility to republicans was well known.] Even then, he [the Rev. Lord] was in danger, for one night he heard sounds in his house, and he started up to find men bending over him who were armed with revolvers.’ See Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Ó Ruairc (2015), 170-71.

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