Civilian John Cathcart

Civilian John Cathcart (aged 52) of Pearse’s Square, Youghal (Pearse’s Square)

Date of incident: 25 March 1921 (killed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CE, 24 May 1920, 26, 29 March 1921; CC, 26 March 1921; FJ, 28 March 1921; CWN, 2 April 1921; II, 5 July 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/147B/8 (TNA); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA); Borgonovo (2007), 173, 179; Ó Ruairc (2016), 120. 


Note: Cathcart was managing director of Paisley and Co., Ltd. He had been identified as the head of ‘a ring of spies called Anti-Sinn Féin’ by the headquarters staff of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, which issued an order to Volunteer Paddy O’Reilly of the Youghal Battalion to shoot Cathcart as the ringleader and to tell two of Cathcart’s associates to leave the country. Armed IRA men went to his residence on Pearse’s Square in Youghal on 25 March 1921, which was both Good Friday and Lady Day, forcibly entered it, and shot him several times at close range (four gunshot wounds in the back). Near the body they left an envelope with the words: ‘Convicted spy.—Spies and informers, beware.—I.R.A.’ That Cathcart was helping the British seems likely: ‘A few hours later [i.e., after the killing], Auxiliary cadets hung a board inscribed with the word “Revenge” on a tree in his garden to warn locals to expect reprisals for Cath[c]art’s killing. A body of police dressed in mufti subsequently marched in his funeral procession. Both these acts indicate a police connection to Cath[c]art, which adds to suspicion that he was in fact a civilian spy.’ See Borgonovo (2007), 173.

Originally from Glasgow and then County Tyrone, Cathcart was a Methodist; he had recently lost his wife and left behind three young children and an elderly mother (aged about 75). His funeral procession on Easter Sunday, 27 March 1921, ‘was joined in by a large and representative gathering of the general public and all creeds and classes, including Catholic and Protestant clergymen, professional and business men, etc. . . .’ His killing was ‘strongly condemned’ by priests at all the Masses in Youghal on Easter Sunday. See CE, 29 March 1921. The Recorder of Cork awarded £8,500 in July 1921 to ‘the representatives’ of the victim John Cathcart. This sum included £2,500 for each of his three orphaned children and another £1,000 for his elderly mother. See II, 5 July 1921. Cathcart’s wife, Harriett Elizabeth Cathcart, had died prematurely at 1 Devonshire Square in Youghal on 22 May 1920, ‘deeply regretted by her husband and children’, but, it was said in her death notice, ‘With Christ, which is far better’. See CE, 24 May 1920. The name of John Cathcart appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 25 March 1921, with the notation that British liability was accepted, and with a note that £8,500 in compensation was awarded. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA).   

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