Civilian William Edward Parsons

Civilian William Edward Parsons (aged about 15) of 30 High Street, Cork (possibly Ballycoreen near Kinsale Road)

Date of incident: 23 March 1922 (executed by IRA and disappeared)

Sources: CC, 25 March 1922; Letter from J. Parsons dated 29 April 1923 (Taoiseach’s Department, S/3033, NAI); Letter from Ministry of Defence dated 18 July 1923 (Department of Defence Series, A/7431, Military Archives); Letter from Colonel Murphy (Cork Command) dated 14 July 1923 (Department of Defence Series, A/7431, Military Archives); Interview with Mick Murphy (Ernie O’Malley Notebooks, P17b/111, UCDA); Jeremiah Keating’s WS 1657, 8 (BMH); Borgonovo (2007), 30-31, 32, 170-71, 174, 176; Murphy (2010), 176-80; Keane (2017), 291-92, 416. 

The teenager William Edward Parsons went missing on 23 March 1922, according to a notice of his disappearance published in the Cork Constitution on 25 March 1922. The notice provided a physical description and mentioned what he had been wearing when he disappeared; his parents urgently sought information about him. See CC, 25 March 1922. See also Letter from J. Parsons dated 29 April 1923 (Taoiseach’s Department, S/3033, NAI).  


Note: Parsons figured largely in a interview given years later to former GHQ organizer Ernie O’Malley by Mick Murphy, IRA commander of the Second Battalion in Cork city and a leading participant in the execution there of numerous spies or suspected spies: ‘There was a young lad Parsons who was 15 years old and he had been watching my house. He was the son of an Englishman. He was captured by Tad[h]g Sullivan, who saw him touting around, and he told me where the young lad was, so I questioned him. . . . This young lad Parsons . . . admitted quite freely that he was watching my house and that he was employed by the police. And furthermore he said he’d been tracking Tommy MacCurtain before Tomás was murdered. Swanzy, the [RIC] District Inspector, made use of him. . . . He said there was a junior and a senior secret service attached to the Y.M.C.A. and they held meetings in Marlborough Street, Cork. . . . Then we killed them one by one. Parsons was shot. He was the most open-spoken young fellow that I ever met in my life. He gave us all their names and he told us their meeting place, the Y.M.C.A. And he told us they used to meet in a house in Rockboro Road [recte Rockboro Terrace] and that a Mrs Brown lived next door. [Mrs Brown was an IRA spy in Victoria Barracks and the wife of Florrie O’Donoghue, intelligence officer for the Cork No. 1 Brigade.] It was Blemens’ house they met in. . . . Mrs Brown was in touch with Florrie O’Donoghue, and she told Florrie about them. We got into the back [of the Blemens’ house] and we saw them and we heard them. And they were shot, one by one, and in groups.’ See Interview with Mick Murphy, Ernie O’Malley Notebooks (P17b/111, UCDA). John Borgonovo has found other evidence to support the general reliability of Mick Murphy’s account. See Borgonovo (2007), 30-31, 170-71.

The father of Parsons left the country and went to Bristol in September 1922. For the previous eighteen years the father had worked for the electric-power station in Cork city. By the time of the departure for Bristol his wife’s health was shattered. Young Parsons was a suspected informer for the British—a junior member of the city Y.M.C.A. and Boys’ Brigade. He was arrested by the IRA on 23 March 1922, promptly tried, and found guilty of espionage. This sentence was confirmed by the brigade staff of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, and Parsons was executed on 27 March 1922. He had been abducted and executed by members of C Company of the Second Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade. He was buried between Ballygarvan and Lehanagh near the Kinsale Road. According to Gerard Murphy, Parsons was allegedly taken to Knockraha and killed there by Martin Corry. See Murphy (2010), 176-80. But this account is based on Corry’s unreliable testimony alone, and it is contradicted by more contemporary sources from which the information in the above paragraph is drawn. See Letter from Ministry of Defense dated 18 July 1923 (Department of Defense Series, A/7431, Military Archives); Letter from Colonel Murphy (Cork Command) dated 14 July 1923 (Department of Defence Series, A/7431, Military Archives). It is possible that he is buried at one corner of a field in Ballycoreen on the edge of the what is now the Alderbrook estate but was then part of the Bainbridge estate. Three young boys from the High Street area were reputedly buried here by the IRA. Roycroft is possibly one of them. This information came from Jeremiah Welsh, who lived in a cottage nearby and passed on this to Colman Ryan (Frankfield House) in the 1980s, at which time Jeremiah worked there.

In 1911 Edward Parsons (aged 4) was one of the three sons of the electrical-cable joiner or jointer Joseph Parsons Sr (aged 44), who resided with his sons Joseph Jr, Stanley, and Edward at 27 High Street in Cork city. The sons then ranged in age from 4 to 10. Edward Parsons was thus the youngest of his father’s three sons. Joseph Parsons Sr listed himself as married, but his wife was not resident in the household when the census was taken. Joseph Parsons Sr and his sons belonged to the Church of Ireland.

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