Anti-Treaty Soldier Denis Coffey


Anti-Treaty Soldier Denis Coffey (aged 29) of Cashel Beg (Desertserges) near Enniskeen (near Kinsale)

Date of incident: ca. 8 Aug. 1922

Sources: MSPC/1D12, 1D13, and 1D14 (Military Archives); Hart (1998), 187-201; Keane (2017), 292, 416.


Note: The killing of Denis Coffey of the anti-Treaty IRA was mired in controversy. His father John Coffey Sr submitted a pension application to the Army Pensions Board in December 1923 claiming oddly that his son Denis had been killed in the famous Crossbarry ambush of ‘7 March 1921’. [The Crossbarry ambush took place on 19 March 1921.]

The father’s claim was repudiated by Captain D. J. Collins, Acting National Army Command Intelligence Officer in Collins Barracks in Cork city. Collins pointed out in February 1924 that not only was it false to maintain that Denis Coffey had been killed at Crossbarry, but also that (as was notorious) on an unspecified date during the Truce period Denis Coffey had been tied to the gates of St Patrick’s church at Bandon after having been found guilty of larceny by the IRA and of breaking into the premises of the Messrs Good of Main Street, Bandon. Subsequently, Denis Coffey had served with the anti-Treaty IRA in Bandon until August 1922 (when National Army troops entered the town); his father actually reported in an interview having seen his son alive on 8 August 1922, after which he was presumed dead. According to Captain Collins, it was stated ‘on the best authority that having left Bandon with the Irregulars, Denis Coffey developed an inclination to join the National Army, which fact coming to the ears of the Irregular leaders, brought him under suspicion, and somewhere in the vicinity of Kinsale, he was shot by the Irregulars’. His body was then secretly buried. Captain Collins also stated that anti-Treaty IRA stalwart Bob Hales of Ballinadee had informed John Coffey Sr that his son Denis had been killed in an ambush—apparently a cover story. See Captain D. J. Collins to D.A.A.G., Cork Command, 8 Feb. 1924, MSPC/1D13 (Military Archives).

Denis Coffey had previously served in the British army during the Great War and received a weekly pension of  £1 7s. 6d. (as a wounded veteran) that he contributed to the support of his parents. Two other sons of John Coffey Sr had also allegedly lost their lives during the War of Independence, and pension applications were pending in their cases. Denis Coffey had been a member of the Bandon Battalion column of the Cork No. 3 Brigade under Sean Hales during the War of Independence; he had gained notoriety for his service, having been known as ‘Gunner Coffey’ for his expert use of ‘a Lewis gun for the I.R.A. during the Black and Tan regime’. See Captain D. J. Collins to D.A.A.G., Cork Command, 8 Feb. 1924, MSPC/1D13 (Military Archives).

The pension claims lodged by John Coffey Sr for the alleged deaths of his other sons John Coffey Jr (aged about 23) and Daniel Coffey (aged about 21) were both rejected for lack of evidence that they had been killed before or after the Truce. Their father asserted that John Coffey Jr had been killed early in 1921 by British forces between Timoleague and Kilbrittain, and that his killers had thrown his body into the sea. But in a report of 8 February 1924 Captain D. J. Collins indicated that it was generally believed that John Coffey Jr ‘was still alive and had emigrated to the United States of America in 1921 after having been on the run for a period of time’. See MSPC/1D12 (for quotation) and MSPC/1D14 (Military Archives). 

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