Civilian/Private Michael Finbarr O’Sullivan

Civilian/Private Michael Finbarr O’Sullivan (aged about 23) of 121 High Street, Cork city (along Douglas River near Ballinlough)

Date of incident: ca. 1 Feb. 1921 (ex-soldier killed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CE, 22, 23 Feb., 3 June 1921; FJ, 23 Feb. 1921; Nenagh Guardian, 26 Feb. 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/157A/51 (TNA); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA); Michael Murphy’s WS 1547, 37 (BMH); Jerome Coughlan’s WS 1568, 10 (BMH); Laurence Neville’s WS 1639, 8 (BMH); Robert C. Ahern’s WS 1676, 8 (BMH); William Barry’s WS 1708, 7 (BMH); Hart (1998), 298; Borgonovo (2007), 44, 57, 60, 76-77, 100 (note 71), 179; Murphy (2010), 41 Ó Ruairc (2016), 120;         

http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/o-sullivan/o-sullivan.htmlhttp://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/list-1921.html (accessed 1 Aug. 2014).


Note: A tailor and World War I veteran residing at 121 High Street in Cork city, O’Sullivan had links with the military, like numerous others (especially ex-soldiers) identified as suspected spies by the IRA. The O/C of the Second Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade issued an order for his arrest and execution. ‘He was taken into custody by William (“Sailor”) Barry, a member of “D” Company, and brought at night to my home in Ballinlough’, recalled Volunteer captain Laurence Neville. ‘He was then taken down to the riverside [the Douglas River] and shot by a revolver party comprising three men and myself.’ The victim was ‘well-known to me from boyhood’, remarked Neville. See Laurence Neville’s WS 1639, 8 (BMH).

The victim’s father Jeremiah O’Sullivan clarified matters in testimony he provided to the military inquest (shortly before his own death). He stated: ‘My son had told people that he was going to join the Black and Tans, but he changed his mind on Monday, 31st January 1921, and actually enlisted for the Royal Field Artillery and should have gone away [the] Tuesday following.’ His son had been unemployed since leaving the army and before re-enlisting in the RFA. See Military Inquests, WO 35/157A/51 (TNA).  

O’Sullivan’s body was found on 20 February 1921 in a stream near Douglas with bullet wounds in the abdomen, neck, and elbow. He had been missing for three weeks. The conclusion was that his death was due to these wounds rather than to drowning. Two IRA men involved in his execution reported wrongly that he had been killed on 21 or 22 February. O’Sullivan had served with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) during the Great War. He had been discharged from the RAMC in February 1919 as unfit for war service and suffering from shell shock, though he re-enlisted briefly before being discharged again in June 1919. According to a British War Office record, and as previously noted, he was at home on 31 January 1921, just prior to his abduction, having enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). See Military Inquests, WO 35/157A/51 (TNA). Volunteer William Barry of D Company (Second Battalion), who had abducted the victim for questioning, also considered O’Sullivan ‘a member of the British army home on leave’, who had also been ‘reported by our intelligence service to be joining the Black & Tans’. See William Barry’s WS 1708, 7 (BMH).   

Certain other significant details, sometimes conflicting, emerged when early in June 1921 O’Sullivan’s mother Kate ‘sought compensation for the death of her son Michael Finbar [sic] O’Sullivan on some date between 31st Jan. and 24th Feb. last. Evidence showed that applicant’s son joined the army on the outbreak of the war in the R.A.M.C. and served in Egypt and France, and upon demobilisation got a disability pension. He went to London, where he obtained employment, allowing his mother to draw his disability pension of 24s. a week. At last Christmas he returned home on holidays. About 31st January [1921] he told his mother he was about to join the R.A.S.C. [Royal Army Service Corps]. He went out after dinner and was never seen alive again, and his body was taken out of the Douglas River at the brickyard on 24th Feb. blindfolded. There was a compound wound in the thigh exposing the bone and a bullet wound in the hand. The father received such a shock at the son’s fate that he died three days after the funeral. The Recorder awarded £2,000 [to Kate O’Sullivan] to be levied off the county at large.’ See CE, 3 June 1921.

At the time of the 1911 census Kate or Catherine O’Sullivan and her husband Jeremiah (a tailor then aged 44) lived at house 121 in High Street in Cork city. She and her husband were then the parents of five living children (six born), all of whom co-resided with their parents. Michael Finbarr O’Sullivan (then aged 13) was the middle child, with two older brothers and two younger sisters. The eldest child Timothy (aged 17) was a tailor like his father Jeremiah. The discovery of his son Michael’s body after his execution by the IRA precipitated Jeremiah O’Sullivan’s death within days at the end of February 1921. He was then only about 54 years old.

The name of Michael O’Sullivan appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 20 February 1921, with the notation that British liability was accepted, and with a note that compensation of £2,000 was awarded. It was assumed that he been killed sometime between 30 January and 21 February 1921. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA). Michael Finbarr O’Sullivan and all the members of his immediate family were Catholics.         

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