Skip to main content


Volunteer Battalion Commandant Walter Leo Murphy

Volunteer Battalion Commandant Walter Leo Murphy (aged about 19) of Ballincollig (Waterfall near Ballincollig)

Date of incident: 27 June 1921

Sources: CE, 29 June, 4 July 1921; FJ, 29 June 1921; CCE, 9 July 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/155B/31 (TNA); WS 810 of Tim Herlihy et al., 14, 28, 36 (BMH); Michael O’Regan’s WS 1524, 8-9; Roll of Honour, Cork No. 1 Brigade (Cork Public Museum, Fitzgerald Park, Cork); Last Post (1976), 89; ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 6, 125-26; Borgonovo (2006), 15, 25, 28; (17 Sept. 2015); Volunteer Leo Murphy Memorial, Waterfall (Celtic cross about 50 metres east of O’Shea’s pub).


Note: While acting as Commandant of the Third (Ovens) Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade (in succession to the captured Tim Herlihy), Walter Leo Murphy was shot dead by crown forces under Lieutenant Frank Egbert Vining, the new intelligence officer of the 1st Manchester Regiment, during a military raid on a crowded public house at Waterfall on 27 June 1921. Vining had succeeded Captain Joseph Thompson, the previous intelligence officer of the 1st Manchesters, who was killed by the IRA in 1920. Joining Vining in this raid were Lieutenant W. K. Evans and at least four other British officers. See (accessed 17 Sept. 2015);

‘Apparently,’ according to Tim Herlihy and seven of his IRA comrades, ‘Vining was acting on information supplied him about Leo Murphy’s movements, for he and about five other British officers drove up in a car to Donovan’s public house at Waterfall one evening and surrounded the house. There were about forty-four in all in the pub, the great majority of whom were elderly men who had been attending a bowling match in the locality. Of all the crowd, there were only a few Volunteers. [There was an IRA ‘Company Council’ meeting in the pub at the time of the raid.] Two of them escaped, but Leo Murphy, who tried to shoot his way out, was shot dead. [Murphy may have been wounded while trying to escape, but then captured and later killed in the lorry that brought him to Ballincollig.] Another Volunteer, Charlie Daly, who was unarmed, was taken away by Captain Vining and his party, and his dead body was found at Douglas the next morning. He had been shot. Daly belonged to the 2nd Battalion (Cork city).’ See WS 810 of Tim Herlihy et al., 14 (BMH). 

British officials issued a different story. According to a Dublin Castle report, Murphy was ‘an important officer in the Mid-Cork Brigade, I.R.A.’; he was supposedly presiding over an IRA meeting in the public house when crown forces surprised him and his comrades. Murphy, stated the author of this official report, ‘was shot dead after dashing from the premises [Mrs M. J. Donovan’s pub] to avoid being arrested. The crown forces had surrounded the building. Murphy rushed out and had run about 100 yards when fire was opened on him and he fell dead. While running, he threw away a Mauser automatic pistol. He was “wanted” by the authorities in connection with the deaths of several military officers, a police sergeant, and a civilian. The captured men include 23 active members of the I.R.A.’ See CE, 29 June 1921. The Sixth Division of the British army also claimed to have captured two rifles and three handguns during the raid, which was carried out by six officers in mufti. See ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 125-26.

The British military blamed Murphy for the killings of Captain Joseph Thompson of the 1st Manchester Regiment on 21 November 1920 and of RIC Sergeant Bloxham on 21 January 1921; he was also wanted for the kidnapping of British officers Watts, Chambers, and Green, and for the murder of the ‘half-witted civilian’ Daniel McCarthy. According to evidence given at a later military inquest, Lieutenant W. K. Evans of the 1st Manchester Regiment had shot and killed Murphy at about 10:30 p.m. on 27 June 1921. See Military Inquests, WO 35/155B/31 (TNA); FJ, 29 June 1921.

Walter Leo Murphy was in 1911 one of the five living children (seven born) of the Ballincollig mason Walter Murphy and his wife Kate, a National School teacher. All five children (three sons and two daughters ranging in age from 5 to 17) co-resided with their parents in that year. Walter Leo Murphy (then aged 9) was the middle or third child. Prior to the War of Independence Leo Murphy had worked as a draper’s assistant in a tiny shop on North Main Street in Cork city, alongside future IRA leader Florrie O’Donoghue. The two friends had joined the IRA together in late 1916.   

During the ‘sensational trial’ at Victoria Barracks beginning on 1 July 1921 of twenty-two IRA suspects taken into custody by crown forces at the so-called ‘Waterfall Round-Up’ on 27 June, a British military officer testified: ‘They arrived at the [Waterfall] public-house [of vintner Mrs M. J. Donovan] at about 10:30 p.m. Witness went to the front door; there were two doors before a person could reach the bar. Witness saw a great crowd. One of the men [inside] dashed past him and knocked him against the door and rushed down the road. Witness pursued him and shouted at him to stop. He failed to do so, and witness fired at him and hit him. The man fell, and later witness saw the man, whom he knew now to be Walter Leo Murphy. The other men came out of the house with their hands up and were lined up. . . . He sent for an escort to Ballincollig, and on their arrival he examined the prisoners, released some of them, retaining in custody 23; of these, 22 were brought before the court.’ The Widow Donovan’s pub at Waterfall was so crowded that night because the drinking had been preceded by a well-attended bowling match (‘score of bowls’), and because it was the only licensed premises in the district. When the soldiers arrived that night, said the Widow Donovan in court, ‘Someone shouted, “Black and Tans”, and they rushed in all directions.’ The twenty-two prisoners before the court stood ‘charged (1) with being in possession of arms and ammunition and (2) with consorting with rebels’. Two of the prisoners were acquitted at the end of the trial on 4 July 1921, while judgment was reserved in the cases of the other twenty—not exactly a resounding official vindication of the original British military action. See CCE, 9 July 1921.

An eyewitness IRA account of the killing of Leo Murphy given by Michael O’Regan, quartermaster of Ovens Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, contradicted the Dublin Castle covering story: Two Ford cars ‘full of men dressed in civilian clothes—all military officers—suddenly appeared’ and soon ‘surrounded the pub where [Leo] Murphy and his companions were located. When Murphy saw he was trapped, he rushed for a rifle and forced his way past a guard on the door; in a second or two he was shot dead through the head.’ Quickly reinforced, the British officers made numerous arrests of Volunteers and civilians. ‘An R.I.C. man named Sullivan identified Leo Murphy’s body, after which each of the prisoners was made to walk on the body as they were being loaded into the lorries. Some of the civilians were released next day. The Volunteers were detained in Ballincollig [Military Barracks] for about a week and were later sent to internment camps.’ A few days after the incident Murphy’s remains were interred in the Republican Plot in St Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork.

O’Regan was certain that a spy had betrayed Murphy, and he was almost equally certain that this was a Ballincollig butcher named Ned Magner, who lived directly opposite the local RIC barracks, held a contract for the supply of meat to the military barracks, and had spent much of the fatal day in company with Murphy and other Volunteers. O’Regan succeeded Murphy as O/C of the Ovens Battalion. About two weeks after the Truce, O’Regan joined two city Volunteers in shooting and badly wounding Constable Sullivan (who had identified Murphy’s body) and another RIC man on Washington Street in Cork. See Michael O’Regan’s WS 1524, 8-10 (BMH).

The Irish Revolution Project

Scoil na Staire /Tíreolaíocht

University College Cork, Cork,