Volunteer John McSweeney

Volunteer John McSweeney (aged 15 or 16) of Lismeelcunnin near Kanturk (Allensbridge near Kanturk)

Date of incident: 4 Jan. 1921

Sources: Death Certificate (Kanturk District, Union of Kanturk), 6 Jan. 1921; II, 6, 7, 11 Jan. 1921; CC, 7, 10 Jan. 1921; CWN, 15 Jan. 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/154/75 (TNA); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, NAI); MSPC/RO/61 (Military Archives); John Jones’s WS 759, 7-8 (BMH); Daniel Browne’s WS 785, 2 (BMH); Thomas Roche’s WS 1222, 12 (BMH); O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 130.


Note: Just a boy, McSweeney was mortally wounded by British forces at Allensbridge when he refused to heed an order to halt. He died of his wounds at Kanturk District Hospital on 6 January 1921. His death was the subject of a subsequent military court of inquiry at Kanturk. Evidence presented there indicated that a body of soldiers going to the relief of crown forces under attack at Meelin had opened fire on ‘a party of civilians [who] were noticed running across the fields at Allensbridge’. After the shooting a head constable of police ‘went to the place where the men [the ‘civilians’] were seen. He met two men named Archdeacon and Dennehy with their hands up. He also found the wounded boy, to whom he rendered first aid.’ James Archdeacon testified at the inquiry into McSweeney’s death that he had been at the local creamery with just a few others—Dennehy, McSweeney, and McSweeney’s little brother. On their way home they heard the firing and turned into the dyke on the roadside and put up their hands. McSweeney and his little brother, on the other hand, ran into the adjacent field, and though ordered to halt by crown forces, they tried to run away ‘because they were frightened’. The younger McSweeney died of a bullet wound in the abdomen that, in a doctor’s opinion, entered his body from the rear. See II, 11 Jan. 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/154/75 (TNA).

O’Donoghue gave a different account of what had occurred. On 3 January 1921 the Newmarket Battalion of the Cork No. 2 Brigade under Seán Moylan carried out an unsuccessful attack on British troops at Meelin. ‘The following day British troops visited Meelin, burned a half dozen houses, and treated the inhabitants with that brutality now becoming a regular feature of their activities. They shot an inoffensive youth, Morgan Sweeney [sic]. He died on the following day.’ See O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 130.

The houses burned in the British reprisals at or near Meelin were those of Quinlan, Murphy, Brown, and four others on two successive days. British forces reportedly suffered some casualties in these encounters, but none apparently were fatal. See Thomas Roche’s WS 1222, 12 (BMH). ‘The place [Meelin village] was such after these reprisals’, recalled former local Volunteer Daniel Browne, ‘that Madam Gonne McBride and several other members of the White Cross arrived on the scene a few days after, and photos of the burning[s] appeared on the press later.’ See Daniel Browne’s WS 785, 2 (BMH).

John McSweeney was in 1911 one of the ten living children (twelve born) of the Lismeelcunnin agricultural labourer Morgan McSweeney and his wife Julia. In that year four sons (including John McSweeney) and three daughters co-resided with their parents. To judge from the IRA company roll, the McSweeneys appear to have been a republican family. John McSweeney as well as his brothers Eugene, Cornelius, and Denis were on the membership roll of H Company of the Fourth Battalion of the Cork No. 4 Brigade; this roll was compiled in connection with applications for IRA pensions. See MSPC/RO/61 (Military Archives). John McSweeney, as previously noted, was described as an ‘inoffensive youth’ by Florrie O’Donoghue, which implies that he was not a Volunteer. He may have run away with his elder brothers from the arriving crown forces because they were Volunteers. He may not have been a Volunteer at the time of his death, but his inclusion on the roll was possibly a recognition of his family’s commitment and loss. He is not commemorated on the Kanturk IRA Memorial.

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