Civilian John Joseph O’Connell
Civilian John Joseph O’Connell (aged 59) of Carrignafoy Town Park, Queenstown/Cobh (Harbour Row, Cobh)
Date of incident: 29 May 1921
Sources: Death Certificate, 29 May 1921; FJ, 31 May 1921; II, 31 May 1921; CE, 2 June 1921; Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15); Michael Leahy’s WS 1421, 28-29 (BMH); Michael J. Burke’s WS 1424, 19-20 (BMH); Sheehan (2011), 43-44; Midleton IRA Memorial, Main Street, Midleton.
Note: A blacksmith by trade and the president of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Queenstown, O’Connell was reportedly shot at Harbour Row on a Sunday night, 29 May 1921, by three soldiers of the Cameron Highlanders when he refused to salute them on demand. He died in hospital soon thereafter. He was the owner of a forge by the quarry in Queenstown. The story behind this death was more complicated than most reports indicated. In late August 1920 the Cobh Volunteer Company under Michael Burke ‘brought off a coup at a place known as “The Quarry” on the eastern outskirts of Cobh’. Emerging suddenly from positions in and around a forge outside the quarry ground, six or eight Volunteers surprised and disarmed about a dozen soldiers who were dismantling a hut used by ex-British servicemen. One of the soldiers (Private Joseph Young of the Cameron Highlanders Regiment) was mortally wounded after resisting the arms raiders. Their captured guns were speedily removed by motorcar and hidden.
Former Cobh Volunteer officer Michael Leahy later recalled an unexpected consequence of this incident: ‘A tragic feature of the matter was that about a year following the event, the owner of the forge in the quarry—a man named O’Connell—well over 60 years of age, was walking along the seafront at Cobh when a patrol of the Cameron Highlanders came along. Gordon Duff, the captain, saw O’Connell and recognised him as being the owner of the forge. The officer drew his revolver and shot dead poor O’Connell. The man (O’Connell) had no part at all in the attack on the Camerons at the quarry. The savage action of the British officer was obviously done by way of getting his own back for the shame brought on his regiment by the coup brought off by the Cobh Volunteers a year previously.’ See Michael Leahy’s WS 1421, 29 (BMH). Leahy was C/O of the Fourth Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade and served for a time as vice-commandant of the brigade. See also the entry for the death of Private Young in August 1920.
Carrignafoy blacksmith John O’Connell (aged 49 in 1911) and his wife Ellen had three children (two sons and daughter) co-residing with them at the time of the 1911 census. The name of John O’Connell appears on the Midleton IRA Memorial at the north end of Main Street in Midleton.
John O’Connell was very popular in Queenstown/Cobh, which was reflected in the local funeral rites for him. When his remains were removed from the Cove General Hospital on the evening of 31 May 1921 to the mortuary chapel of St Colman’s Cathedral, they ‘were accompanied there by a large assemblage of the inhabitants, computed to number at least two thousand. At noon yesterday [1 June], the funeral took place from the cathedral to North Churchtown, where interment took place. Taking part in the funeral procession were all the clergymen attached to the cathedral, many Brothers of the Presentation Order, and a large representative gathering of the inhabitants of the town. . . .’ Connell had especially endeared himself to his fellow citzens by his close identification with a long succession of local hurling and football teams that he had been instrumental in organising and supporting. ‘Year after year for more than two decades’, Connell had been ‘unanimously elected . . . president of the local branch of the Gaelic Athletic Association.’ See CE, 2 June 1921.