Anti-Treaty Soldier (Commandant) Seán O’Donoghue


Anti-Treaty Soldier (Commandant) Seán O’Donoghue (aged about 25) of Gurteennaboul near Mitchelstown and 2 York Street, Cork (Dublin Hill area near Cork city)

Date of incident: 28 Sept. 1922

Sources: CE, 29 Sept., 23 Oct. 1922; Evening Herald, 30 Sept. 1922; Sunday Independent, 1 Oct. 1922; FJ, 2, 23 Oct. 1922; II, 23 Oct. 1922; SS, 28 Oct. 1922; MSPC/DP3627 (Military Archives); Rebel Cork’s Fighting Story, 25; O’Farrell, Who’s Who, 219; Cork One Brigade (1963), Roll of Honour; Last Post (1976 ed.), 98; Mitchell (1993), 63-64; Boyne (2015), 192-93, 199-200; Keane (2017), 310, 418; http://www.irishmedals.org/anti-treaty-killed.html (accessed 12 July 2017); http://irishvolunteers.org/commandant-sean-o-donoghue-cork-no-1-brigade-ira/ (accessed 6 Feb. 2018).   


Note: About a dozen IRA members ambushed a party of Free State troops (one officer and ten soldiers) who were returning to Cork city in a Lancia car and other vehicles from operations in the districts of Carrignavar, Whitechurch, and White’s Cross, where they had captured two motorcars belonging to anti-Treaty forces. The ambush took place at about 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, 28 September 1922, at ‘a point some two miles beyond Dublin Hill (Blackpool) and about a mile from the place [White’s Cross] where the motors were seized’. The National Army troops (by their own account) alighted from their cars, routed the attackers, and ‘pursued them across country for a considerable distance’. At least two of the attackers were seriously wounded, and one— Seán O’Donoghue—was killed. O’Donoghue was ‘the Acting O.C. of the Irregulars, 1st Cork Brigade. It is said that he was one of the prisoners who recently escaped from Cork Gaol. His body was brought to Cork by the troops.’ A brief note appended to this report indicated that one of the two seriously wounded IRA soldiers had just died. See CE, 29 Sept. 1922. It is doubtful, however, whether the National Army report on this ambush and its aftermath is accurate with respect to the circumstances under which O’Donoghue had been captured and killed.

Subsequently, at the urgent request of O’Donoghue’s next-of-kin, a military court of inquiry investigated O’Donoghue’s death and confronted the allegation that he had been killed after having been taken into custody. The medical evidence indicated that O’Donoghue had been shot in the face (‘one wound in the left cheek about an inch in front of his ear’). His next-of-kin maintained that O’Donoghue had been killed after he had surrendered and been placed in a military lorry. Their belief was confirmed by a witness and fellow captured prisoner named Seamus Collins, who testified that certain National soldiers and ‘a chap in civilian dress’ had threatened, beaten, and finally shot O’Donoghue and himself. After about six revolver shots were fired, Collins heard the shooter say, ‘That fellow is dead all right, but this fellow is not.’ Collins played dead but had been seriously wounded. (He had come from the Mercy Hospital to give his evidence to the military court of inquiry.) Collins had previously identified two soldiers among those who had been paraded before him—‘saying [that] one of them was the chap who struck him on the head with a revolver, and that the other man was the man who fired the shot’.  The court reached ‘the unanimous decision . . . that a prima facie case had been made out against certain members of the [National Army] patrol’ who had taken charge of O’Donoghue’s body. The court recommended that the two National Army Soldiers in question be placed under military arrest and tried by court-martial. See CE, 23 Oct. 1922. See also SS, 28 Oct. 1922; Mitchell (1993), 63-64. The brief entry for Seán O’Donoghue in The Last Post indicates that he was ‘murdered at Dublin Hill near Cork city’. See Last Post (1976 ed.), 98.

Born at Gurteennaboul in the Mitchelstown district in 1898, Seán O’Donoghue was educated locally and then went into employment with Messrs Dwyer in Cork city, living there with his aunt in Roche’s Buildings in the Richmond Hill district of the city. He joined a series of social, cultural, and political organisations, becoming a member of the Lee Rowing Club, the Lee GAA Club, the Gaelic League, and the Cork No. 1 Brigade (First Battalion) of the IRA. He joined A Company of the First Battalion in that brigade, serving as the company quartermaster and then as quartermaster of the First Battalion. He was promoted to the post of commander of the First Battalion at the outset of 1921. He took the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War. In late September 1922, while leaving the Delaney brothers’ house on Dublin Hill in Cork, he was captured by National Army Soldiers and was executed nearby in a glaring extrajudicial killing. See http://irishvolunteers.org/commandant-sean-o-donoghue-cork-no-1-brigade-ira/ (accessed 6 Feb. 2018).

In her application for a dependant’s allowance or gratuity under the Army Pensions Act of 1932, the victim’s mother Hanora O’Donoghue pointed out that her son, IRA Battalion Commanding Officer Seán O’Donoghue, had been killed after being taken prisoner by National Army forces near Dublin Hill on 28 September 1922. She asserted that the National troops involved had been operating under the command of a Captain Murphy, whom (she claimed) had later served as one of the bodyguards of President W. T.  Cosgrave. Unfortunately, Hanora O’Donoghue died on or about 10 March 1933 before her application could be completed. Material in the pension file, however, indicates that in 1924 the Free State Minister for Defence had made an ex-gratia payment of £300 to her following an application for compensation in the matter of her dead son. This payment was explicitly made without any admission of liability for Seán O’Donohue’s killing. See MSPC/DP3627 (Military Archives).

‘Allegations about the treatment of prisoners were to lead to Emmet Dalton and other senior National Army officers being placed on a death list by Ernie O’Malley. On 30 October [1922], O’Malley, as Acting Assistant Chief of Staff, sent a memorandum to Michael Carolan, Director of Intelligence for Northern and Eastern Command of the republican forces, instructing him to compile a list of all those Free State officers, NCOs, and men who had ill-treated prisoners or who had acted in the “murder gangs”. The list was to be compiled from all Officers Commanding of areas in the Command. The names would be circulated to all units in the Command, and personnel would be instructed that these men were to be “shot at sight”. The memo went on: “Included in the list will be McKeown [Seán MacEoin], Lalor [presumably a reference to Tony Lawlor], and Emmet Dalton.”’ See Boyne (2015), 192-93.       

John or Seán O’Donoghue was in 1911 one of the seven living children (eight born) of the Gurteennaboul farmer and widow Hanoria O’Donoghue. Six of these seven children (three daughters and three sons) co-resided with her on the family farm at Gurteennaboul near Mitchelstown. In managing the farm, she also had the assistance of two male live-in farm servants. In 1911 the six co-resident children ranged in age from 9 to 21. John O’Donoghue was then 14 years old.

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