Volunteer Daniel O’Brien

Volunteer Daniel O’Brien (aged about 30) of Knockardbane (Cork Military Detention Barracks)

Date of incident: 16 May 1921 (executed by crown forces)

Sources: CE, 27, 28, 30 April, 17, 18 May 1921; II, 17 May 1921; FJ, 18 May 1921; CCE, 21 May 1921; Nenagh News, 21 May 1921; Patrick O’Brien’s WS 764, 45-48 (BMH); Seán Moylan’s WS 838, 243-44 (BMH); O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 169-70; Macardle (1968), 913; Ó Cainte (1990), 9-11; O’Connell (1991), 20-21; Meagher (2004), 54-57; ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 147; Sheehan (2011), 107; IRA Monuments, Charleville and Liscarroll; UCC IRA Memorial; www.irishwarmemorials.iehttp://irishvolunteers.org/cork-county-gaol-ira-volunteers-executed-memorial/ (accessed 3 Nov. 2015).


Note: O’Brien was found guilty by a drumhead court-martial at Victoria Barracks on a charge of possessing weapons and ammunition. He was promptly executed at Cork Military Detention Barracks on 16 May 1921. (He was the last of ten County Cork prisoners to be executed.) He had been captured at O’Donnell’s of Aughrim near Liscarroll on the morning of 11 May 1921. He was there with his brother Paddy, the Vice O/C of the Cork No. 2 Brigade, and John (Jack) O’Regan, quartermaster of the Charleville Battalion. Finding to their great surprise and consternation that British soldiers of the South Lancashire Regiment had surrounded the house, they raced to the back and made a run for it, but shots were fired at them, and Jack O’Regan fell wounded. Dan O’Brien stayed with his wounded comrade but urged Paddy to keep going, and Paddy managed to escape. Dan and Jack were captured. See O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 169-70.

‘The charge against the prisoner [Dan O’Brien] at his trial on Saturday afternoon [14 May 1921] was the possession of a revolver and twelve rounds of ammunition, one of which had the top of the bullet cut off and slit. The evidence for the prosecution was that [the] accused was caught in a round-up on May 11, and when searched, the arms were found on him. When asked to plead, he said: “I have no defence; I was caught as a soldier, and you can try me.”’ See Nenagh News, 21 May 1921.

On the morning of his execution he was attended by the prison chaplain Father W. O’Brien, who celebrated Mass at the Cork Detention Barracks, administered Holy Communion to Dan O’Brien, led him in the Stations of the Cross and a decade of the Rosary, and ‘imparted the Papal Benediction’. Dan O’Brien ‘walked to the end of the journey unaccompanied, continuing to say the Hail Mary’, which had been interrupted by the final call, ‘and met his death bravely’. See CE, 17 May 1921. His execution could be deemed a matter of national significance. When the Dublin Corporation met the next day, one of its members ‘moved a vote of sympathy with the relatives of Daniel O’Brien’, and ‘the resolution was passed in silence, [with] the members standing’. See CE, 18 May 1921.

Jack O’Regan, captured along with Dan O’Brien, ‘was unable to be brought to the trial owing to the severity of his wound[s]—he had ten wounds in various parts of the body. He was released late in 1921 during the Truce.’ Immediately after the execution of Dan O’Brien, according to his brother Paddy, the Charleville Battalion ‘decided that soldiers, armed or unarmed, from thence forward would be shot whenever possible. Four soldiers were shot dead in Charleville within the following fortnight.’ See Patrick O’Brien’s WS 764, 45-49 (BMH). Conclusive evidence to confirm the killing of four soldiers in the Charleville district in late May 1921 has not been found.

Volunteer Dan O’Brien was one of the eight children of the Knockardbane farmer and widow Mary O’Brien (aged 50 in 1911). She had the assistance of two of her sons—Daniel (then aged 20) and James (aged 10); her daughter Hannah; and a farm servant named Patrick Nagle. She was the matriarch of a fiercely dedicated republican family. Five of her sons appear to have become Volunteers.

Dan O’Brien had been born at Knockardbane on 21 December 1891. He had joined the Volunteers in 1917, becoming a member of the Liscarroll Company of the Charleville Battalion of the Cork No. 2 Brigade. He took a prominent role in Volunteer work both inside and outside his company area. He participated in the raid on Kilmallock RIC barracks in April 1920, and in May he joined in the ambush of an RIC patrol in Charlevlle. In August of that year he was briefly deported to England, but he soon resumed his Volunteer activities. In September 1920 he joined the Flying Column of the Cork No. 2 Brigade, and in that capacity he was part of the large Volunteer contingent that inflicted serious casualties on 5 March 1921 on British forces at Cloonbannin, where Brigadier General Hanway Cumming was killed. See www.irishwarmemorials.iehttp://irishvolunteers.org/cork-county-gaol-ira-volunteers-executed-memorial/ (accessed 3 Nov. 2015). O’Brien’s comrades swore to avenge his execution on 16 May. He was interred in the former grounds of the Cork County Gaol. His name appears among the executed prisoners listed on the bronze plaque on the outer wall of what once was the Cork County Gaol at www.irishwarmemorials.ie

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