Civilian William Levingston Cooke, J.P.


Civilian William Levingston Cooke, J.P. (aged 57), of Rocklodge, Old Blackrock Road, Cork (Old Blackrock Road, Cork city)

Date of incident: 22 Aug. 1922

Sources: Death Certificate, 22 Aug. 1922; CE, 23, 24 Aug., 1 Sept., 19 Oct. 1922; SS, 26 Aug. 1922; Application of Elizabeth Darkey Cooke (widow) to the Irish Grants Committee, 30 Nov. 1926 (CO 762/59/1/file 901); Borgonovo (2007), 29-33; Murphy (2010), 200-202, 204-6, 209-10, 240-41, 296-97, Appendix 2, 338; Boyne (2015), 175; Keane (2017), 297, 416; http://www.irishmedals.ie/Civilians-Killed-Civil-War.php (accessed 8 Aug. 2017).


Note: Just before 10 p.m. on 22 August 1922 ‘a parthttp://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/y of armed men’—six of them and described as well dressed—visited Cooke’s house on Old Blackrock Road in Cork city. They asked Mrs Cooke for ‘a subscription to a hurling club’; she replied that she ‘had no change at the moment’ and went to tell her husband William about the callers. He was initially inclined to refuse any contribution, saying that ‘such calls were becoming altogether too frequent’, but then he went to the front door to offer half-a-crown. See CE, 24 Aug. 1922. His wife had encouraged him: ‘Do give them something. . . . They look quite respectable, and isn’t it better that they should be collecting for a hurling club than going around shooting people’. See CE, 1 Sept. 1922.

The visitors fired six or seven shots at Cooke at almost point-blank range; he died within ten minutes of a doctor’s arrival at Rocklodge. He left behind a wife and six children. Cooke was the owner of ‘the well-known firm of Messrs B. Cooke and Son,” cycle agents and plumbers, at 32 Grand Parade and 14 Tuckey Street, Cork. He had carried on the cycle-agency business for many years, ‘giving every satisfaction to a large number of customers throughout Cork and the south of Ireland generally’. He was also ‘a prominent member of the Church of Ireland Young Men’s Society’ [i.e., the Cork YMCA]. See CE, 23 Aug. 1922. Members of the Cork city YMCA had been repeated IRA targets as suspected spies during the War of Independence. Cooke was in fact ‘the next-door neighbour’ of James and Frederick Blemens, who had been kidnapped and executed as suspected informers by the IRA in November 1920. See Borgonovo (2007), 29-33; Keane (2017), 297. 

Cooke had also served as ‘registrar of the Order of the Temple, Grand Priority of the Freemasons of Ireland; in other words, he was the senior Freemason in Cork’. See Murphy (2010), 200-202, 204-6, 209-10, 240-41, 296-97. As Murphy concludes, ‘there appear to have been many reasons for the shooting of Cooke: his role as a magistrate, his engagement with ex-soldiers at his work place, and his connection with the Masons and the YMCA’ (201). Cooke’s wife attributed the IRA’s hostility towards him to his absolute refusal in spite of threats to resign as a J.P. and to the fact that he ‘was constantly availed of by the ex-British soldiers, who called at his office to obtain his signature by way of certifying their identity’. See Application of Elizabeth Darkey Cooke (widow) to Irish Grants Committee (IGC), 30 Nov. 1926 (CO 762/59/1/file 901).

Initially, the victim’s widow and children were awarded combined compensation of £8,000 for the death of William Cooke by the Recorder of Cork on 18 October 1922. This sum included £2,000 for Mrs Elizabeth Cooke and £1,000 for each of the couple’s six children. For the four children who were ‘under age’, the court ordered that the amounts ‘be lodged in court, and when paid, invested for their benefit’. Events overtook these proposed arrangements. The Compensation Commission established by the government of the Free State, meeting in August 1923, reduced the total award from £8,000 to £4,500. Under the new arrangements the bulk of this latter sum (or £2,900) was designated for the three minor children (three sons). The eldest son (not a minor) got nothing, and Mrs Cooke was awarded only £100; two adult daughters were granted £700 and £800 respectively. Still other and different arrangements for the three minor children were made later under the so-called Johnston Commission. Mrs Cooke left Cork city in September 1923 and emigrated with her children to New Zealand. See Mrs Cooke to IGC, 30 Nov. 1926 (CO 762/59/1).

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