Civilian Major George Bernard O’Connor, J.P.

Civilian Major George Bernard O’Connor, J.P. (aged 67) of Illane Row, Hop Island in Rochestown district (near Rochestown railway station)

Date of incident: 10 July 1921 (ex-soldier kidnapped and killed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CE, 12, 13 July 1921; II, 12 July 1921; CC, 13 July 1921; CCE, 16 July 1921; Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA); Interview with Florrie O’Donoghue, Ernie O’Malley Notebooks, P17b/96 (UCDA); Pension Documentation for Josephine Marchment Brown (O’Donoghue), NLI MS 31, 127, Florence O’Donoghue Papers; Michael Murphy’s WS 1547, 36 (BMH); Walker (1978), 344; O’Mahony (1986), 104; Borgonovo (2006), 84, 120, 123 (note 14);  Borgonovo (2007), 69, 83-84, 88, 97-98 (note 27), 104, 148, 179; Murphy (2010), 41, 89-90; O’Mahony (2011), 379; Ó Ruairc (2016), 88-90, 122.


Note: A retired British army officer, a magistrate, and a Protestant who was originally a unionist, O’Connor was taken from his house ‘about midnight’ on Sunday, 10 July 1921, by the IRA. He was found by his wife early the next morning lying ‘on the public road midway between his house and the railway station at Rochestown’. He had been shot in the head and near the heart. He was a well-known politician. He had ‘figured for many years [as a J.P.] at Douglas sessions’. He had run unsuccessfully as a unionist candidate for the Dublin (College Green) constituency in the general election of January 1910, losing badly to the nationalist candidate J. P. Nannetti, and he had been nominated for a Cork city parliamentary seat in the 1918 election but did not go forward to the poll. He had been a recruiting officer during the First World War, but his political views had shifted somewhat since 1910, and at the time of his death he was prominently identified with Sir Horace Plunkett’s Dominion Home Rule League. See CE, 12 July 1921.

According to a Dublin Castle report, ‘A label was attached to the body bearing the words—“Convicted spy”’. See CE, 13 July 1921. Two months earlier, he had given evidence against the prisoners taken into custody after the IRA’s Clonmult disaster. See Borgonovo (2007), 88. O’Connor had also criticised the government’s failure to sufficiently guard the rail system after a series of IRA mail raids on trains at Rochestown earlier in 1921, in one of which a horse and trap commandeered from him was used to steal British military supplies  In February of that year he had been travelling through Cork city in a pony and trap with his fellow magistrate Alfred Reilly when Volunteers from the Cork No. 1 Brigade got into the trap, forced Reilly to drive to his Rochestown home, and shot him dead outside his own gate; they pinned a label to his coat declaring him a spy. In the view of the senior IRA intelligence officer Florence O’Donoghue, O’Connor was one of the two most clear cut cases of informing he encountered in the War of Independence.  O’Connor, apparently wrote to Captain Kelly, the British Army’s 6th Division intelligence officer in Victoria Barracks, Cork, revealing that prominent IRA fugitives were passing through the outskirts of Cork city each night before curfew.  This document was intercepted by Josephine Marchment Brown, a secretary in the British Army headquarters at Victoria Barracks, and passed onto her husband, Florence O’Donoghue.  This evidence ultimately sealed O’Connor’s fate.  See Murphy (2010), 89; Ó Ruairc (2016), 88-90. See Interview with Florrie O’Donoghue, Ernie O’Malley Notebooks, P17b/96 (UCDA); Pension Documentation for Josephine Marchment Brown (O’Donoghue); Borgonovo (2006), 84, 120, 123 (note 14); Ó Ruairc (2016), 90.

Major O’Connor and his wife Elizabeth Anna (aged 57 and 54 respectively in 1911) then occupied a large house of fourteen rooms, with a groom, a cook, and a third servant (all three Catholic), at 1 Hop Island (Douglas) in the district of Passage West and parish of Carrigaline, where they had lived for twenty years. The O’Connors were childless. He noted for the 1911 census that he was retired from the Sixth Dragoons (a British regiment), and that he was a political and historical writer besides serving as a J.P. The O’Connors were adherents of the Church of Ireland. He was buried in the graveyard in front of St Luke’s Church of Ireland in Douglas. The name of George B. O’Connor appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 10 July 1921, with the notation that British liability was accepted, and with a note that compensation of £5,000 was awarded. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA). This sum was granted to his wife at the Cork quarter sessions on 14 October 1921. See O Mahony (2011), 379.

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