National Army Soldier (Sergeant Major) Thomas McCann


National Army Soldier (Sergeant Major) Thomas McCann (aged 47) of 2 Francis Street, Dublin (White’s Cross, Ballyvolane, near Cork city)

Date of incident: 24 Nov. 1922

Sources: CE, 25, 28 Nov., 1 Dec. 1922, 24 Nov. 1923; II, 1 Dec. 1922; FJ, 1 Dec. 1922; SS, 2 Dec. 1922; FSS Cork Civil War Deaths; MSPC/2D351 (Military Archives); O’Farrell, Who’s Who, 207; Boyne (2015), 198; Keane (2017), 328, 419; http://www.irishmedals.ie/National-Army-Killed.php (accessed 28 July 2017).   


Note: A member of the Curragh Reserve, Sergeant Major Thomas McCann died when a mine that he and other National Army Soldiers were removing at White’s Cross in the Ballyvolane district exploded ‘with terrific force’. Two other National Army Soldiers were wounded in this explosion, one of them very seriously. The device that killed McCann was another so-called trap mine: ‘The mine was . . . so arranged that while the mine was being displaced, the bomb beneath automatically came into action.’ Fortunately, the suspicious officer in charge of the thirty soldiers sent to remove the device had taken the precaution of ordering most of his men to stand at a safe distance from the spot of the mine. Several attempts were made to explode the mine remotely. Machine-gun fire was directed at it from an elevation. Three bombs were also fired at it. At that point, according to a witness at a court of military inquiry, McCann shouted, ‘It’s a dud’, procured a shovel, and began to unearth the mine. When the explosion occurred, McCann ‘received dreadful injuries, the body being almost unrecognisable’. See CE, 25 Nov. 1922. His remains were transferred by steamer to Dublin, where he was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery with full military honors on 27 November. See CE, 28 Nov., 1 Dec. 1922; FSS Cork Civil War Deaths.

Sergeant McCann had earlier served in the British army with the North Lancashire Regiment, the Dublin Fusiliers, and the King’s Liverpool Regiment (with the rank of company sergeant major in the last-named regiment) during the Great War, where he had seen action at Gallipoli in Turkey. See http://www.irishmedals.ie/National-Army-Killed.php (accessed 28 July 2017). He had been a labourer in civilian life, earning £4 a week. He left a wife (Mary Ellen McCann) and three children living in one room in the tenement house at 2 Francis Street in Dublin. The Civic Guard reported on 18 May 1924 that this widow had pawned ‘most of her furniture and effects’ in order ‘to keep the home going’. She was eventually awarded an allowance of 17s. 6d. per week during her widowhood and an additional allowance for the three children. When she remarried later, she received a remarriage gratuity of £45 10s. See MSPC/2D351 (Military Archives).

Commandant General Emmet Dalton ‘was outraged by the explosion of yet another bobby trap bomb explosion, this time at Ballyvolane near Cork city, which killed one of his men and injured two other soldiers. It was reported that body parts of Sergeant Major McCann were found in a field some distance away. Dalton issued a proclamation in the Cork Examiner on 25 November stating that his soldiers had been the victims of a “diabolical death trap”. He announced [that] every time a road mine was found, he would use [republican] prisoners to clear it from the road. Dalton declared that the men killed or wounded were doing their duty to the people, “a duty of extreme peril”. He went on: “The ‘trap’ mine is an improvement on the German ‘Booby Trap’ which was decried by the civilized world—its victims have scarcely a chance—and casualties are mangled beyond recognition. Methods such as this would not be countenanced by any man claiming for himself the title of soldier.”’ See Boyne (2015), 198.

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