Civilian John Buttimer

Civilian John Buttimer of (aged about 59) Caher near Ballineen

Date of incident: 28 April 1922

Sources: Evening Herald, 1 May 1922; CE, 2 May 1922; II, 2 May 1922; FJ, 2 May 1922; Belfast News Letter, 3 May 1922; SS, 6 May 1922; CCE, 6 May 1922 (inquest); Notebook of Entries Made by the Intelligence Officer of K Company of the British Auxiliaries, 1920-21, CD 31 (Military Archives); Application of Frances Marian Buttimer to Irish Grants Committee, 27 Dec. 1926 (CO 762/129/7, TNA); Application of William John Buttimer to Irish Grants Committee, 13 July 1927 (CO 762/129/8/TNA); MSP34/REF26441 (Military Archives); Hart (1998), 273-92; Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Donnelly (2014), 25-32; Keane (2014), 143-73; Keane (2017), 85-89, 285. 


Note: At an inquest held at Caher the coroner Richard Neville conducted inquiries into the deaths of the farmer John Buttimer and his labourer James Greenfield, a man who was ‘said to be of weak intellect’. Caher (in the parish of Kinneigh) was the location of the Buttimer farm where the killings of John Buttimer and James Greenfield had taken place early on the morning of 28 April 1922. Ballineen lies roughly 15 kilometers or 9 miles north-west of Bandon.

The principal witness was Frances (Fannie) Buttimer, the widow of the murdered farmer. Her testimony went as follows: ‘On Friday morning [28 April 1922] about 2 o’clock she heard some noise and shots and next heard the smashing of the windows. Her son jumped out and said, “We’re attacked.” Her husband got out of bed, and (witness continued), “I got a weakness in the room. I got alright in a short time and came out on the landing. I met my husband and said, “For God’s sake get out,” and he said, “Sure, I can’t.” The deceased Greenfield was calling on me to stay with him. I went into his room. I then came downstairs and met a man at the bottom. I said, “Where are you going [?],” and he replied, “Where are the men?” I said, “I do not know. What do you want them for?” I asked him to take my horse and money and myself and spare the men. I put my two hands to his chest to keep him back, and he called my husband in a most blasphemous manner to come down. He then went upstairs, and another man threw me into the dining-room. I then went into the kitchen. Another man put me out in the yard, and I went to a neighbour’s field. I came back in a very short time, and I met a man and I said, “You have killed them, but you cannot kill their souls.” When I came into the house, I got a light and went through the rooms. I found my husband dead in a sitting position in the boy’s room—that is Greenfield’s—and I found Greenfield dead in the bed.” Dr Fehily testified that John Buttimer had one bullet wound in the left cheekbone and another bullet wound near the forehead on the left side, with an exit wound on the right side of the head. There was yet a third bullet wound on the right side of the chest. Greenfield had only one wound, which had travelled downwards from behind the left ear and through both the left lung and the heart. He had been shot from behind as he lay in bed. See CCE, 6 May 1922.

It is notable that the widow Fannie Buttimer appears to have said that no more than two men had been present in her house for the killing of her husband and James Greenfield, and that here at Caher, as elsewhere on that night, the raiders had used the ruse of harnessing a horse or a donkey to a cart as a means of getting the male victims to leave their houses in order to kill them outside. This scenario implies that the same small group of IRA men carried out multiple killings in the Ballineen and Castletown areas.

The IRA had threatened John Buttimer in November 1920 for refusing to pay the arms levy of £5 imposed by the Cork No. 3 Brigade. According to his mother, the IRA had kidnapped her son William John Buttimer on 10 May 1921 and held him to ransom; he ‘was to be executed unless payment of £200 [was] forthcoming immediately’. Two days later, the ransom was paid and her son was released. She sought £2,500 from the Irish Grants Committee in December 1926 for the murder of her husband on 27 April 1922. She had previously applied to the Cork County Court for £6,000, but had been awarded only £600. See Application of Frances Marian Buttimer to Irish Grants Committee, 27 Dec. 1926 (CO 762/129/7, TNA). See also Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Donnelly (2014), 28; Cork’s War of Independence Fatality Register, ./1921-276/ (accessed 15 March 2018).          

The son who had been ransomed in May 1921—William John Buttimer—had another close call at the time of his father’s killing, as he explained to the Irish Grants Committee in July 1927: ‘My father, the late John Buttimer of Ballineen, Co. Cork, was shot dead by rebels in our home on the night of 27th April 1922. I escaped through a skylight and arrived in South Wales almost naked. I stayed there for a year and three months. I returned once to Ireland during that time to see my mother but was warned to go away immediately. I finally returned home to Ireland on 26th August 1923.’ See Application of William John Buttimer to Irish Grants Committee, 13 July 1927 (CO 762/129/8/TNA).

There is another potential reason why the Buttimer household at Caher near Ballineen was attacked in the early morning hours of 28 April 1922. In the so-called ‘Black and Tan Diary’ there is an entry sparsely noting, ‘Sunlodge Buttimer information Manch by Blackwater Bridge’. This location lies very close to the Buttimer farmhouse at Caher. The brief passage appears in a notebook of entries made by the intelligence officer of K Company of the British Auxiliaries, 1920-21, a copy of which was later presented by Florence Begley to the Irish Military Archives. See Notebook of Entries Made by the Intelligence Officer of K Company of the British Auxiliaries, 1920-21, CD 31 (Military Archives). The IRA found this document in a building formerly occupied by the Auxiliaries following their departure from Dunmanway workhouse early in 1922.

A possibly significant source of intelligence for the IRA in the Ballineen/Enniskeane area during the War of Independence, the Truce period, and part of the Civil War was the postman Patrick Carroll. The postal areas covered by Carroll extended from Ballineen/Enniskeane to Ballynacarriga and Rossmore. He submitted a pension claim in which he maintained that he had served as intelligence officer with the Ballineen Company of the Fourth Battalion of the Cork No. 3 Brigade since 1918. ‘I was suited for that job,’ he told the Advisory Committee to the Army Pensions Board in a sworn statement dated 2 November 1936. His claim to having formally been an IRA intelligence officer was not accepted, largely because his name never appeared in that capacity in the relevant IRA membership rolls. But the Army Pensions Board did recognise that Carroll was deserving of a military pension (originally set at £50 a year) for the intelligence services that he did perform for the IRA over the period from 1 April 1920 to 30 September 1923. For about seven months before the end of the Civil War, Carroll contributed nothing to anti-Treaty IRA intelligence-gathering since he was behind bars. He was arrested by Free State forces early in November 1922 and imprisoned in Cork Gaol. He was subsequently transferred to the Curragh Internment Camp in County Kildare and held there until 23 May 1923. But there is no doubt that over the years 1920-22 Carroll combined his duties as postman with the collection and submission of intelligence data relating to suspected enemies of the IRA during the War of Independence and the Truce period, and that during part of the Civil War (before November 1922) he did the same for the anti-Treaty IRA in its contests with Free State forces.

According to his own account (the sworn statement of 2 November 1936) covering the War of Independence and the Truce period, Carroll reputedly contributed the intelligence that had led the IRA to kill the master baker Alfred James Cotter ‘at his own house’ in Ballineen as a spy on the night of 25 February 1921. Carroll claimed to have caught Cotter ‘red-handed with the [Black and] Tans’. There were, he stated, nine such spies executed altogether, while another three fled to England before they could be captured and killed. See Patrick Carroll’s Sworn Statement, 2 Nov. 1936, in MSP34/REF26441 (Military Archives).      

These assertions formed part of Carroll’s larger claim to have been ‘instrumental in breaking up the anti-sinn fein murder gang’. Carroll maintained that he had observed one of the ‘gentleman spies’ (a principal founder of ‘the anti-sinn fein murder gang’) talking with British forces and pointing out the houses of IRA men to be searched and burned. Four members of this alleged gang, claimed Carroll, had been executed by the IRA in his area in January and February 1921, but the other members did not become known to him or the IRA ‘until later’—apparently during the Truce period. When their identities did become known, however, five more suspected spies were executed and about a dozen others fled the country. The last group of suspected spies mentioned by Carroll may well have included some of the Protestant civilians killed by the IRA in the Bandon Valley slayings of 26-29 April 1922. See Statement of Patrick Carroll, undated, MSP34/REF26441 (Military Archives). 

Carroll’s mention of a ‘gentleman spy’ who had been a principal founder of what Carroll called ‘the anti-Sinn Fein murder gang’ was likely a reference to the civilian Lieutenant-Colonel (retired) Warren John Richard Peacocke of Skevanish House in Innishannon. Peacocke had been shot by the IRA as a major suspected spy outside his mansion on 31 May 1921; his wounds had been fatal and he had died shortly thereafter. Carroll referred specifically to Warren Peacocke as well as to Alfred James Cotter of Ballineen in his pension claim. See MSP34/REF26441 (Military Archives). See also Cork’s War of Independence Fatality Register, ./1921-276/ (accessed 15 March 2018).          

In 1911 the farmer John Buttimer and his wife Frances (Fannie) resided at house 10 in the townland of Caher in the parish of Kinneigh near Ballineen. They were the parents of one son named William G. Buttimer (then aged 11). Two other children had apparently died in infancy. The Buttimers then employed a male farm servant named James Greenfield and a female domestic servant named Julia Warren (then aged 15). The three Buttimers and their two servants were all adherents of the Church of Ireland.   

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