Civilian John Joseph Walsh

Civilian John Joseph Walsh (aged about 31) of Midleton (Ballyvodock near Midleton)

Date of incident: 7-8 June 1921 (ex-soldier abducted, executed, and disappeared as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CE, 17, 18, 19 Oct. 1927; Western Morning News, 18 Oct. 1927; Richard Mulcahy Papers, P7/A/23 (UCDA); Pre-Truce Absentees from British Troops in Ireland (Military Archives, A/07304); Application of Patrick Walsh to Irish Grants Committee (CO 762/155/3), 23 Feb. 1928; Murphy (2011), 167; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/walsh-j/walsh.html (accessed 11 Aug. 2014). 


Note: In mid-October 1927 workmen engaged in the draining of boggy land at Ahanesk [sic] near Midleton reportedly dug up the decomposed remains of a man who had been secretly buried. According to a report appearing in the Western Morning News of 18 October 1927, ‘The blue clothes which he had worn were in tatters, but his boots, of strong pattern and tightly laced, were in perfect condition. Rosary beads and a .45 revolver bullet case were also found.’ This report indicated that relatives had ‘identified the remains as those of John J. Walsh, a British army man shot by the I.R.A. in June 1920’. See  http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/walsh-j/walsh.html (accessed 11 Aug. 2014). This source, however, contained some inaccuracies and left important parts of the story untold. 

The Cork Examiner reported that Walsh’s badly decomposed body had been found on Saturday, 15 October 1927, in a bog at Ahanesk. Two days later, ‘a woman named Mrs Morrison of Midleton identified the belt and boots as the property of her nephew John J. Walsh, who disappeared in June 1920 [recte 1921]. Portion of the clothing attached to the body having been washed, Mrs [Bridget] Morrison declared that it corresponded with the suit worn by her nephew at the time of his disappearance. Walsh had been a member of the British army and in 1920 was on the reserve strength. He lived in Midleton and was 35 years of age. Since he disappeared, no information whatever had been received by his relatives as to his movements or his fate.’ See CE, 18 Oct. 1927.

Testimony given at the coroner’s inquest held at the Midleton courthouse on 18 October indicated that on 15 October a farm labourer named John Sinclair, who had been opening a drain at Ballyvodock near Midleton, had found a human skull above ground and then other human bones. He and the owner of the land initially covered up the bones, but on Sunday morning, 16 October, they reported their discovery to the Civic Guard, who quickly exhumed the remains and ‘found portions of clothing in a rotting condition. They also found a rosary beads attached to the clothes, the case of a revolver bullet, a comb, [and] a pair of boots, out of which the bones were protruding.’ The victim’s brother Timothy Walsh of Dickinson’s Lane, Midleton, also identified the clothing, belt, and boots (with rubber heels) as those of his brother John Joseph Walsh (a labourer aged ‘about 30’ at death), whom he had last seen (he said) on 7 or 8 June 1921, when his brother had disappeared from the Midleton house of his aunt Bridget Morrison. [Bridget Morrison and her husband Patrick resided at 3 Dickinson’s Lane in Midleton in 1911.] The coroner’s jury accepted the evidence of Timothy Walsh as accurate in identifying the deceased as John Joseph Walsh. See CE, 19 Oct. 1927.

An IRA source at the time (in June 1921) had noted the execution of Walsh and a second suspected spy. In the Diary of Activities of the Fourth (Midleton) Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade for June 1921, there appeared the following notation about B and D Companies of that battalion: ‘2 enemy spies, J. J. Walsh, Midleton, and M[ichae]l Callaghan, Carrigtwohill, shot. Latter believed to be of importance.’ See Richard Mulcahy Papers, P7/A/23 (UCDA). 

John Joseph Walsh is possibly the Private J. Walsh whose name appeared on a list of pre-Truce absentee British soldiers in Ireland held by the Irish Department of Defence; on this list J. Walsh was mistakenly returned as a Cameron Highlander who had gone missing in August 1920. Within the Walsh family there were conflicting dates of his disappearance, with an aunt dating it to June 1920 instead of June 1921—the date given at the 1927 inquest by his brother. See CE, 18, 19 Oct. 1927; Pre-Truce Absentees from British Troops in Ireland (Military Archives, A/07304). Evidently, Walsh did not end up at Knockraha, as suggested by Gerard Murphy (2011), 167.   

John Joseph Walsh (aged 21 in 1911) was one of the seven children and the oldest of the five sons of the labourer Richard Walsh and his deceased wife Mary of 78 Chapel Road in Midleton. They also had two daughters. By 1911 Richard Walsh had remarried Fanny (Kirby) Walsh. Living with them in 1911 were not only the seven children of Richard’s first marriage but also two stepsons and three stepdaughters named Kirby—twelve children altogether. Fanny (Kirby) Walsh had been married to Richard Walsh for only two years, and so the five ‘stepchildren’ were hers by a previous marriage. The combined families resided in a house with five rooms. The Walshes and Kirbys were Catholics.

In his application for financial relief to the Irish Grants Committee (IGC) in February 1928, Patrick Walsh (aged 24), of Dickinson’s Lane, Midleton, a brother of the victim, stated that John J. Walsh had ‘supported applicant and two [other] brothers who are not yet in employment [and] also an aunt [Bridget Morrison] who was living in the house [from which John J. Walsh had been abducted]. The aunt’s husband [Patrick Morrison] gets six months work in the year as corn store keeper in season at £2 a week; he is idle for remaining moiety. The deceased earned £3 a week as mal[s]ter in the local distillery, also 1/- [one shilling] a day [British military] reserve pay. He was residing with & supporting the [Morrison/Walsh] family.’ Patrick Walsh sought £250 from the IGC in relation to the killing of John J. Walsh in June 1921. See Application of Patrick Walsh to Irish Grants Committee (CO 762/155/3), 23 Feb. 1928.

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