Civilian Patrick John Sheehan

Civilian Patrick John Sheehan (aged about 31) of Main Street, Charleville (Coolasmuttane near Charleville)

Date of incident: 29 June 1921 (ex-soldier executed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CE, 30 June, 1 July 1921; CCE, 2 July 1921; CC, 5 July 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/163 (TNA); RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork City and East Riding, June 1921 (CO 904/115/942, TNA); Michael Geary and Richard Smith’s WS 754, 25-27 (BMH); Maurice Noonan’s WS 1098, 8-9 (BMH); John D. Crimmins’s WS 1039, 9-10 (BMH); Timothy D. Crimmins’s WS 1051, 10-11 (BMH); Application of Mary Sheehan to Irish Grants Committee (CO 762/127/2); Hart (1998), 300.


Note: Sheehan ‘was kidnapped last evening [28 June 1921] by a party of armed men at Clonmore while carting goods to Ballygran Creamery. His horse and car were found this evening [29 June] in a field near the scene of the tragedy.’ The IRA executed him as a suspected spy along with John Sullivan. Sheehan ‘was apparently shot at close range as the hair was singed near the temple’. Aged about 31, Sheehan too was a native of Charleville. See CE, 30 June 1921. His mother Mary Sheehan explained to the Irish Grants Committee that her dead son was alleged to have given information ‘to the British military as to the movements of the Republican Army then operating in the vicinity of this town’. She added that ‘my late son always took the part of the British. Also, all my sons and male relations served with the British army during the Great War.’ See Application of Mary Sheehan to Irish Grants Committee (CO 762/127/2).

Patrick John Sheehan was in 1911 one of the eight living children (ten born) of the shopkeeper and widow Mary Sheehan (then aged 60) of 112 Main Street in Charleville. Four of her eight children (three sons and a daughter) co-resided with her in that year. Patrick (then aged 21) was probably the youngest of her children and was certainly the youngest still living at home. He was employed as a carter. The Sheehans were Catholic.    

The IRA’s evidence against Sheehan and O’Sullivan was detailed in the joint BMH witness statement of Michael Geary and Richard Smith: ‘Sometime about May 1921 two locals named Patrick J. Sheehan and John O’Sullivan (nicknamed “Slag”) came under grave suspicion of giving information to the enemy and were acting as spies, and had been used by the enemy as “stool-pigeons” by being placed in with I.R.A. prisoners in Tipperary town and Kildorney [Kildorrery?]. The first information we obtained concerning them was from a Johnny White (since dead), who was catching a pony one night in a field at the rear of the R.I.C. barracks and saw Sheehan and Sullivan getting out very furtively over the barrack wall. The following day a Corporal Pepper, who was one of the [British] garrison intelligence staff and who was practically always dressed in “civvies”, warned White to keep his mouth shut regarding Sheehan and Sullivan [sic] coming from the barracks. Subsequently, when the R.I.C. shifted quarters to another part of the town, a Volunteer named Joe Nagle, who had a harness shop near the barracks, saw the two boyos coming from the barracks. On another occasion Mick Geary and a Johnny Higgins saw them coming from the barracks. Confirmation was also obtained about them being used as “stool-pigeons”, and in fact information was obtained from one of our lads working on the railway that Sheehan actually travelled from Charleville to Tipperary on an enemy rail warrant. Furthermore, in one of our raids on the mails a money order . . . was caught addressed to a Mrs Murphy in town, and we were satisfied that this was for Sheehan, as he was a frequent visitor to her house.’ The Charleville IRA arrested O’Sullivan in ‘about mid June’ and Sheehan within the next fortnight. ‘They were both tried by courtmartial, at which the Battalion O.C. (Jim Brislane) presided, and the Brigade O.C. (Liam Lynch), who happened to be in our area at the time, was present at the trial. Mick Geary and Tom Lyons of Buttevant gave evidence at the trial, and both the accused were sentenced to death, which sentence was duly carried out on June 29th, 1921. They were attended by a priest immediately prior to the execution.’ See Michael Geary and Richard Smith’s WS 754, 25-27 (BMH). Geary was captain of the Charleville Company, while Smith was assistant adjutant of the Third Battalion of the Cork No. 2 (later 4) Brigade.

There is a strong possibility, however, that the two Charleville victims were innocent. RIC officials understood that the IRA had killed Sheehan and Sullivan because they were giving information to the police, but the police reported that such was not the case. See RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork City and East Riding, June 1921 (CO 904/115/942, TNA); Hart (1998), 300.

The Irish Revolution Project

Scoil na Staire /Tíreolaíocht

University College Cork, Cork,