Volunteer Michael John Kelleher or Kelliher

Volunteer Michael John Kelleher or Kelliher (aged 16 or 17) of Knocknagree (Knocknagree)

Date of incident: 6 Feb. 1921

Sources: CE, 8, 16 Feb. 1921; FJ, 8 Feb. 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/152/61 (TNA); MSPC/RO/59 (Military Archives); Seán Moylan’s WS 838, 186-87 (BMH); Pat Lynch, Rebel Cork’s FS, 131; Carroll (2010), 90.


Note: Michael Kelleher, a carpenter’s apprentice, and the two Herlihy brothers were playing hurley in a field on 6 February 1921 when they were all shot. A military patrol had allegedly engaged ‘armed civilians’ in Knocknagree. A military inquest concluded that ‘there was no evidence to show whether the shot was fired by the military or by the armed civilians’. See CE, 16 Feb. 1921. In the days following the notorious ambush at Tureengarriffe on 28 January 1921, the RIC sought vengeance: ‘Children playing ball in a field near Knocknagree were brutally machine-gunned. A boy named Kelliher [sic] . . . was killed, and two others, aged nine and eleven, were wounded. . . . In Ballydesmond, police bombed and burned the houses of Timothy Vaughan and William McAuliffe, and the homes and business premises of T. O’Sullivan and M. J. Cronin.’ See Rebel Cork’s FS, 131.

Seán Moylan vivdly recalled this tragic incident. A military party returning to Buttevant from Kerry travelled through Sneevegulla to Knocknagree. ‘In a field beside Knocknagree village a hurling match was in progress between a number of small boys. These little lads had no anticipation of danger and stood in groups about the playing pitch to watch the approaching lorries. Two bursts of machine gun fire directed towards them was the first indication they had of any danger. Some of the boys rushed southwards, the others lay on the fields and beside the fences. The British soldiers advanced, pouring volley after volley on the fleeing boys and on the playing pitch. When the firing ceased, the boys on the playing pitch were rounded up. It was then found that Michael J. Kelleher, aged seventeen, had been shot through the head; Michael Herlihy, aged thirteen, was shot through the thigh, and Donal Herlihy, his brother, was shot through the lung. The Herlihy boys recovered. As I write, one of them is the Rev. D. J. Herlihy, D.D., L.S.S., All Hallows, Dublin, the other the Rev. M. J. Herlihy, C.C., Tralee, Co. Kerry. The body of young Kelleher was taken to Rathmore R.I.C. barrack. The R.I.C. sergeant there refused to be associated with the dirty work of the military. The military then returned to Knocknagree and handed over the body to the boy’s father.’ As Moylan acidly noted, the official report appearing in the Irish Independent of 8 February 1921 falsely claimed: ‘A military patrol saw a body of armed civilians in a field near Knocknagree. Fire was opened and replied to, resulting in the death of one youth and the wounding of two others.’ See Seán Moylan’s WS 838, 186-87 (BMH).

Pension records indicate, however, that Michael John Kelleher was counted as a Volunteer. His name appears in IRA pension records as a member of J Company (Knocknagree) of the Second Battalion of the Cork No. 4 Brigade; the notation there beside his name is ‘RIP shot dead on 6th Feb. 1921’. See MSPC/RO/59 (Military Archives).

In 1911 Volunteer Michael John Kelliher (so spelled in the census) was one of the seven children (thirteen born) of the Knocknagree carpenter Michael Kelliher and his wife Maryanne. In that year six of the seven children (five daughters and one son—Michael John) were co-resident with their parents at house 4 in Knocknagree village. Aged 7 in 1911, Michael John Kelliher was thus 16 or 17 at the time of his death.   

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