Civilian Fr James O’Callaghan, C.C.

Civilian Fr James O’Callaghan, C.C. (aged 38), (Upper Janemount, Sunday’s Well, Cork)

Date of incident: 15 May 1921

Sources: CE, 16, 17, 18 May 1921; CWN, 28 May 1921; FJ, 31 May 1921; P. J. Murphy’s WS 869, 28 (BMH); Borgonovo (2007), 110-11; O’Donoghue (1967), 90, 95-98; Ó Murchadha (1976), 90-96; Borgonovo (2007), 111, 165.


Note: Fr O’Callaghan was shot dead by a party of drunken Black and Tans on the night of 15 May 1921 at Upper Janemount in the Sunday’s Well section of Cork city. A ‘brilliant’ scholar and a professor, he was renowned for the great interest he had taken in the revival of the Irish language. Fr O’Callaghan was a guest in the house of Liam De Róiste (Sinn Féin Alderman William Roche), who was himself on the run because of his fear that he was on a British ‘hit list’. He returned home right after Fr O’Callaghan had been shot and made the following record in his diary: ‘A D.I. [District Inspector, RIC] in plain clothes came in. In the usual authoritative official manner he began to say he came to see the place [where] “the clergyman” had been shot and to take any statement. My wife replied at once: “There is no statement to make except that Fr O’Callaghan was shot by police.”’ Alderman Roche himself declared to the District Inspector: ‘“All there is to be said . . . is that your police came here last night to murder me. I was not in and they murdered Father O’Callaghan instead.”’ Mrs De Roiste told the D.I. that she herself had seen the police commit the murder. According to De Roiste, after these sharp exchanges the D.I. and his men ‘left like whipped curs’. See Ó Murchadha (1976), 227. 

The killing of Fr O’Callaghan at the de Róiste residence had been preceded by the deaths of four policemen in the Blackpool area of Cork city on the previous day. An armed RIC patrol in O’Connell Street ‘had been carrying out a methodical house-to-house search. Four constables entered each house, and four remained outside. These latter were bombed by members of the IRA, who then escaped out the Commons Road.’ The cathedral priest Fr J. C. O’Flynn attended to the four dying constables—a Protestant and three Catholics. Early the following day, ‘between three and four o’clock on Pentecost Sunday morning, about twenty policemen and Black and Tans surrounded Mr de Roiste’s house’. The shooting of the priest was done by ‘a tall man in civilian clothes, [with] a scarf across the lower part of his face. . . . He had a revolver in his hands and was very drunk.’

Liam de Róiste ‘was a marked man, being a representative of the republican government in Cork. His home had been raided by the police several times, but luckily each time he was absent. On these occasions the police had met Father O’Callaghan and were perfectly aware that he was staying there as a guest’. Fr O’Callaghan had been appointed a curate to the ‘church of ease’ at Clogheen in October 1920, but there was no local accommodation for him. Alderman de Róiste and his wife had ‘offered him a room in their home in Upper Janemount’, which he gratefully accepted. The dying priest said that ‘he recognised his attacker as a Black and Tan policeman whom he had often seen near Shandon Barracks’. See O’Donoghue (1967), 90, 95-98.

Fr O’Callaghan had been ‘born at Laravoolta, Enniskean, in April 1883. He was educted at St Finbarr’s Seminary, Cork, and later went to Maynooth, where after a brilliant course he was ordained priest on Sunday, 21st June 1908. . . . He acted as professor in the Irish College in Ballingeary for some years and was then appointed chaplain to the Good Shepherd’s [Convent], Cork, and later curate in the Cathedral Parish, being put in charge of Clogheen district.’ At the special request of the people of Clogheen he was buried in Clogheen Churchyard. See CE, 17 May 1921.

At his funeral on 17 May, Bishop Daniel Cohalan of Cork presided over the Solemn Requiem Mass at the cathedral. ‘The attendance of the clergy of the diocese was remarkably large, whilst the Corporation, Harbour Board, County Council, and other various public bodies in the city were numerously represented.’ The public procession afterwards from the city to Clogheen (the burial place) constituted one of the largest funerals ever witnessed in Cork city or county during the entire War of Independence. Besides throngs of the laity, practically all the priests of the diocese turned out, to judge by the extremely lengthy list of their names appearing in the Cork Examiner the next day. See CE, 18 May 1921.

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