Volunteer Matthew Donovan

Volunteer Matthew Donovan (aged about 32) of Quarry’s Cross near Crookstown (Quarry’s Cross)

Date of incident: 10 June 1921

Sources: CE, 13 June 1921; FJ, 13 June 1921; CWN, 18 June 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/149A/30 (TNA); Charles Browne’s WS 873, 49 (BMH); Charles O’Donoghue’s WS 1607, 10 (BMH); Maurice Donovan’s WS 1736, 7 (BMH); Rebel Cork’s FS, 207; Barry (1949, 1989), 217, 237; Barry (1974), 55; Charles and Nora Browne (2007), 78.


Note: In the course of a military roundup in the Béal na mBláth district, about 7 miles north of Bandon, Donovan (a labourer’s son aged 32) was shot dead as he was proceeding along the road near his home at Quarry’s Cross. In Tom Barry’s words, he was ‘executed on the roadside. The Essex officer who murdered him got hysterical and ran to a nearby labourer’s cottage, shouting “Water, water. God forgive me, I have just murdered an innocent prisoner.” He sat on a chair in the kitchen, crying out at intervals for God’s forgiveness, until led away by some of his ruffian comrades.’ Two priests from Newcestown administered the last rites to Donovan before he died. See Barry (1949, 1989), 217.

Maurice Donovan, the brother of the victim, and captain of the Quarry’s Cross Volunteer Company, later recorded what was for him and his family an especially tragic affair: ‘About mid-June 1921 Major Percival’s column from Bandon surrounded the company area and remained in the district for three days. During this period they captured and shot my brother—Matthew Donovan—about two hundred yards from his home and left his body on the roadside. The enemy forces continued to raid the company area continuously up to the Truce on July 11th, 1921.’ See Maurice Donovan’s WS 1736, 7 (BMH). 

Macroom Volunteer leader Charlie Browne, who had just been captured by British forces, and who was being taken to Bandon via Newcestown and Quarry’s Cross, also later recalled Donovan’s death as a murder: ‘When passing by Quarry Cross, one of [Major Arthur] Percival’s officers interrogated a cottier named Mat Donovan and shot him dead.’ See Charles Browne’s WS 873, 49 (BMH). Volunteer Matthew Donovan was buried in Templemartin Graveyard near Bandon.

Soldiers testifying at a later military inquest asserted that they had shot and killed Donovan because he had refused their order to halt; they further explained that ‘the mobile column being on the march, it was impossible to bring [the] deceased in; no report of death was subsequently made by the relatives, and it is not known to where the body had been taken’. See Military Inquests, WO 35/149A/30 (TNA). These statements at the inquest all appear to have been untrue.

Volunteer Maurice Donovan, the victim’s younger brother (aged about 24 in 1921), told the Bureau of Military History about his background and early Volunteer activity: ‘I was born at my present address [Quarry’s Cross, Crookstown] in June 1897. My parents were farmers. I was educated at Mount Pleasant national school until I reached the age of fifteen, when I left school to go to work on my parents’ farm. I joined Quarry’s Cross Company, Bandon Battalion, Cork III Brigade, when it was organised in early 1919. The prime movers in the organisation of the company were Batt. Fahey, Tim O’Mahoney, Dan O’Callaghan, and myself. The strength of the company was about forty.’ See Maurice Donovan’s WS 1736, 1 (BMH).

In 1901 Mathew and Maurice Donovan were two of the five co-resident children (three daughters and two sons) of the Mossgrove (Templemartin) farm labourer Owen Donovan and his wife Nora. Matthew (aged 13) was then the oldest child, while Maurice (aged 4) was the youngest. Over the next decade the size of the family increased remarkably, as in the 1911 census Owen and Nora Donovan reported having nine living children (ten born), of whom Matthew was now the eldest child (then aged 22) living at home. His brother Maurice was then working as a labourer for the neighbouring Protestant farmer William Buttimer of Mossgrove. In neither the 1901 nor the 1911 census is there any evidence that the later Volunteers Maurice or Matthew Donovan or their father Owen Donovan was a farmer; all three were listed as labourers in the 1911 census—indeed, Maurice as a farm ‘servant’.

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