Civilian Michael O’Brien (alias Ahern)
Civilian Michael O’Brien (alias Ahern) of 16 Reeds Avenue, Cork city (in or near Cork city)
Date of incident: 11 April 1921 (ex-solder executed and disappeared as suspected spy by IRA)
Sources: IRA Executions in 1921 (Collins Papers, A/0649, Military Archives); British Army World War I Service Records, 1914-20 (Microfilm Publication WO 363, TNA); ‘IRA Intelligence Reports on Civilians Accused of Giving Information to and Associating with British Forces during War of Independence in Counties Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and Limerick’, ca. 1921, CP/4/40 (Military Archives); Murphy (2010), 41.
Note: An ex-soldier whom the IRA found to be guilty of espionage, O’Brien was executed on 11 April 1921. His name—Michael O’Brien (alias Ahern), Cork city—appears under the date of 11 April on a list of executions carried out by the IRA in 1921. O’Brien had joined the Royal Irish Regiment during the Great War in 1917, had deserted, and then had re-enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) under his mother’s maiden name. He was discharged from the RASC on 14 January 1921. His mother Mrs B. O’Brien of 16 Reeds Avenue (off Barrack Street) in Cork city later wrote to the Free State Minister of Defence asking for information about the fate of her son. She stated that her son Michael had had in his possession at the time of his disappearance his ‘Pensions Ring Paper’ and his unemployment card. She indicated that he had been a private in the RASC, with the Regimental Number m/35.0212. She described him as about 5 feet, 6 inches in height, with fair hair and blue eyes, and wearing a Martin Henry suit, black lace boots, and a light cap. Responding to her enquiry on 14 March 1922, an official of the Defence Ministry revealed that ‘records go to show that your son was arrested on a charge of espionage, court-martialled by a duly authorised authority, found guilty, and executed on the 11th April 1921’. The IRA seems to have secretly buried O’Brien’s body. See IRA Executions in 1921 (Collins Papers, A/0649, Military Archives).
Before he was shot as a suspected spy on 11 April, O’Brien had allegedly revealed to the IRA the names of two other ex-soldiers, residents of Feather Bed Lane in the same neighbourhood of Cork city, who were reputedly acting as informers. Their names were given as Gould and Hornibrook. See ‘IRA Intelligence Reports on Civilians Accused of Giving Information to and Associating with British Forces during War of Independence in Counties Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and Limerick’, ca. 1921, CP/4/40 (Military Archives).
British military records indicate that Michael O’Brien first enlisted at the age of 18 with the Royal Munster Fusiliers (RMF) by attestation at Cork on 6 June 1914. He had been living with his mother Bridget O’Brien at 16 Reeds Avenue, Bandon Road, Cork. He gave his occupation as that of a carter earning 24 shillings a week and reported that he was unmarried. He subsequently engaged in various kinds of misconduct noted in his records, including ‘creating a disturbance’ and ‘breaking out of hospital when a patient’. On 18 June 1917 he transferred from the RMF (3rd Battalion) to the Royal Irish Regiment (4th Battalion). After this transfer he was branded as a deserter on 21 December 1917. Earlier, his record contained several notations about absence without leave. As previously noted, his last period of British military service was as a private in the RASC ending on 14 January 1921. His records indicate that he was a Catholic. See British Army World War I Service Records, 1914-20 (Microfilm Publication WO 363, TNA).