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National Army Soldier John O’Leary


National Army Soldier John O’Leary (aged 21) of Cashloura, Carriganimmy, near Macroom (Gurteenroe/Codrum Cross near Macroom)

Date of incident: 2 Sept. 1922

Sources: Death Certificate (Macroom District, Union of Macroom), 2 Sept. 1922; CE, 4, 7 Sept. 1922, 1 Sept. 1923; SS, 9 Sept. 1922; II, 9 Sept. 1922; Irish Times, 9 Spet. 1922; MSPC/2D88 (Military Archives); O’Farrell, Who’s Who, 210; Boyne (2015), 178; Keane (2017), 301-2, 417; An t-Óglách, ‘War Special’, ‘Day by Day’, 9 Sept. 1922, p. 2, (accessed 6 July 2017).


Note: Private John O’Leary was killed in action at Gurteenroe and very near Codrum Cross ‘when the town of Macroom was attacked by a large force of Irregulars’ on 2 September 1922. See CE, 7 Sept. 1922. According to a report from Command Headquarters of the National Army for the Southern Area in Cork city, ‘Three hundred Irregulars, using 10 machine guns, 2 armoured cars, and 1 trench mortar, made a concentrated attack upon Macroom at 5 a.m. on Saturday, 2nd inst[ant]. The attack lasted until 1:30 p.m., when the attackers were driven off in disorder. . . . We suffered four casualties, two dead and two wounded. Enemy casualties [were] observed to have been heavy. They were seen removing their dead by horse transport.’ See CE, 4 Sept. 1922.

A report in the Southern Star makes clear that earlier on the morning of the attack by Irregulars on Macroom, Commandant Peadar O’Conlon had led a detachment of National troops from Macroom to Clondrohid ‘to engage a body of Irregulars reported to be concentrated there’. Having become aware that the Irregulars were attacking Macroom, O’Conlon and his men began their return to Macroom but encountered barricades, which ‘were removed with all possible dispatach, although the fire of three machine-guns and about 60 rifles played directly on them. Confronted with this withering fire, the men fought their way gallantly into the town. . . .’ But in the return from Clondrohid to Macroom the National troops suffered two men killed and two wounded. The two fatalities were Private John O’Leary and Sergeant Major Francis Neary. O’Leary, a Macroom resident, reportedly had a brother who was fighting with the Irregulars. See SS, 9 Sept. 1922.   

Commandant O’Conlon gave a detailed account of how the deaths of Private O’Leary and Sergeant Major Neary occurred to a correspondent of the Cork Examiner shortly afterwards: ‘We were coming along the open stretch of road from the Clondrohid side [of Macroom] to Codrum Cross under heavy machine-gun fire, and incidentally I may add that in all my experience I have never seen a body of men to advance under machine-gun fire, with all its demoralising effects, as did the 30 men I brought down there that morning. . . . A machine gun was playing on us from the trees at the rere of Leahy’s publichouse, and two snipers were firing from the same point. . . . Just as I was getting the men up [the road towards Macroom], I looked round once more to view the situation and saw O’Leary on the broad of his back, behind the wall near the cross roads. I do not believe he was shot from the front; he must have got a bullet from the other side, where snipers and machine gunners were also operating. We were about 200 yards from the houses in the town at this time.’ See CE, 7 Sept. 1922.    

There was an impressive funeral on Monday, 4 September, with ‘the fullest military honours’ when Private John O’Leary’s remains were carried from Macroom to the family burial place at Clondrohid. ‘The funeral cortege was headed by the men of the Volunteer Reserve Corps to which the deceased was attached. The firing party were in charge of 2nd-Lieut. Leonard, while the guard of honour, marching on each side of the coffin, with arms reversed, were under [the] command of Comdt. Cronin. The entire arrangements, which were very elaborate, were supervised by Comdt. Peadar O’Conlon, Commanding Officer. The public in large numbers followed the remains, and it would be difficult to fathom the depth of sorrow and commiseration with the bereaved parents and their children which the people of the town and district [of Macroom] entertained. . . .’ See CE, 7 Sept. 1922. 

John O’Leary was in 1911 one of the eleven living children (twelve born) of the Cashloura caretaker Cornelius O’Leary and his wife Kate. All of these children (six sons and five daughters) co-resided with their parents at Cashloura (or the variant spelling Cusloura) in that year. The children ranged in age from 2 to 16. Their fourth son John was then 10 years old. At the time of his burial at Clondrohid on 4 September 1922, however, John O’Leary was reportedly ‘the fourth of a family of seven brothers and seven sisters’. See CE, 7 Sept. 1922.

Private John O’Leary was said in his pension file to have been shot in the head during an ambush at Gurteenroe near Macroom on 2 September 1922 and to have died instantly. In civilian life he had been a farm labourer. Prior to his Civil War service with the Volunteer Reserve Corps of the National Army, O’Leary had been a member of the Seventh (Macroom) Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade under Daniel Corkery’s command during the War of Independence. Two of O’Leary’s brothers had also served with the IRA during that conflict. But they took the anti-Treaty side in 1922 and became Irregulars (inactive ones since the arrival of National troops in Macroom). Their father Cornelius O’Leary was a ‘dairyman’ with a rented holding providing pasture for milch cattle, but he had fallen into arrears by March 1924 and was deprived of the cows he had formerly fed on the holding. In May of that year he was awarded a gratuity of £30 in consideration of the death of his son John. Cornelius O’Leary’s life was shortened by his son John’s death; he developed what his wife Kate called ‘mental trouble’ because of it (so she asserted) and died in the Cork Mental Hospital in May 1930, leaving a nearly destitute widow and two young children. See MSPC/2D88 (Military Archives).

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