Civilian John H. N. Begley

Civilian John H. N. Begley of 1 Rock Cottages, North Mall, Cork (near Douglas)

Date of incident: 11 July 1921 (ex-soldier kidnapped, killed, and disappeared as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CE, 17 Nov. 1915IT, 22 Aug. 1921; Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15); Seán O’Connell’s WS 1706, 9 (BMH); William Barry’s WS 1708, 11 (BMH); Borgonovo (2007), 69; Murphy (2010), 41; Ó Ruairc (2016), 81, 93-95; (Collins Papers, A/07360AMilitary Archives).


Note: Begley was kidnapped as a suspected informer by the Cork city IRA on the very day of the Truce (five minutes before it came into effect, according to one recent account) and executed soon after. See Ó Ruairc (2016), 81. Led by their captain Seán O’Connell, members of G Company of the First Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade ‘received instructions to arrest another ex-British soldier [Begley] who was alleged to be an enemy agent. We watched for him and at about noon one day, Tad[h]g Twohig and I [O’Connell] tracked him up Patrick Street. We were “covered” by four or five men from “G” Company, all of whom were armed with revolvers. We arrested Begley and took him out of the city. He was detained for a day or so in a house and on instructions from the brigade he was executed by shooting.’ See Seán O’Connell’s WS 1706, 9 (BMH). Caught by the IRA outside Douglas, Begley had been interrogated closely. According to leading city Volunteer Connie Neenan, Begley broke down and confessed that ‘it was Shields who got him into this mess’. Daniel Shields (or Shiels) was ‘a former North Cork Volunteer who had given information that almost resulted in the capture of Cork No. 2 Brigade flying columns at Mourne Abbey and Nadd. After becoming a British informer, Shields apparently recruited other spies for service in Cork [city]’, one of whom was Begley. See Borgonovo (2007), 69. Begley appeared on the list of ‘missing persons’ published in the Irish Times of 22 August 1921. There the date of his kidnapping was given as 11 July 1921.  In November 1915, Begley was serving in France with the Irish Guards. See CE, 17 Nov. 1915. [Thanks to Jean Prendergast for this reference.]

It was apparently Begley to whom city Volunteer leader William Barry of D Company referred when he recalled that in mid-June 1921 Connie Neenan, O/C of the Second Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, had instructed him ‘to capture a civilian who worked in the Douglas district’. (Barry could not remember this civilian’s name in 1957.) This man ‘was alleged to have given information to the enemy in connection with the Mourne Abbey ambush, North Cork, in which a number of I.R.A. men were killed in action’. Barry ‘contacted’ and interrogated the suspected spy, who conceded that ‘a friend of his named Sanders [sic] had given information to the military as to the whereabouts of the I.R.A. party at Mourne Abbey’. Barry and his comrades were nevertheless convinced ‘as a result of our questioning’ that the suspected spy ‘was one of the guilty ones. He was shot on instructions of the brigade and buried in the Douglas district, Cork.’ See William Barry’s WS 1708, 11 (BMH). Begley’s death occurred shortly after the Truce.

In his pension evidence the IRA gaoler Edward Moloney, the so-called ‘governor’ of ‘Sing Sing’ prison at Knockraha, stated: ‘The day of the Truce there was three [prisoners] came [to Sing Sing] that day, and they were taken off again that night. It was closed up then.’ It is possible that Moloney was referring to William Nolan and John Begley, who had been abducted by the IRA earlier that day and were never seen again. See MSP34/REF27648 (Military Archives).  However, Barry’s evidence cited above suggests that Douglas was the more likely location for his killing and burial, which would follow the pattern of those abducted and killed by the Second Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade. The case was later investigated by a National Army intelligence officer.  On the basis of his report, Mrs Annie Begley [his mother] was informed in a letter dated 17/11/1922 that: ‘John Begley was taken by armed men on July 11th 1921 and as far as I can ascertain, shot unofficially, as a spy. I have been unable to trace his burial place.’ (MA A/07360).

The Irish Revolution Project

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