Civilian dead remembered among over 500 Cork revolution fatalities

The first comprehensive detailing of 528 people killed in Cork during the War of Independence shines a light beyond the better-known deaths of IRA fighters and British Crown Forces.

Funeral of IRA Volunteer Jeremiah Delany, shot dead on night of the December 1920 Burning of Cork (Irish Examiner photographic archive)

In the latest collaboration between the Irish Examiner and University College Cork to highlight the history of the period, Cork’s War of Independence Fatality Register gives the circumstances of each episode, including the stories behind 166 civilian killings between 1919 and 1921.

It is the latest addition to the free historical resources available on The Irish Revolution website set up last year by the newspaper and university. The database was compiled by UCC school of history senior lecturer Andy Bielenberg and University of Wisconsin-Madison emeritus professor of history James S Donnelly Jr.

Cork's significance in the War of Independence has long been established, with at least one-fifth of all violent deaths happening in the county. This latest research also offers analysis of the trends and timelines around different types of fatal incidents.

But Bielenberg and Donnelly have gone beyond the comprehensive work of other historians on Cork’s violent deaths almost a century ago, like the controversial late Peter Hart, to enumerate War of Independence deaths. The register uses official death registrations to expand on previous research.

Cork IRA commander and Lord Mayor Tomás MacCurtain with his family, soon before he was shot dead by police at his Blackpool home in March 1920. Picture: Irish Examiner photographic archive

The descriptions of each episode take account of the likely exaggerations in, for example, republican accounts of Crown Forces losses. The register also offers objective findings, after considering the likely biases or contradictory perspectives of different official and unofficial reports, whether they were produced in the weeks immediately following the events or decades later.

The names are listed chronologically, beginning with the death of 35-year-old former Cork GAA County Board member James Down after an assault by four ex-soldiers on St Patrick’s Street in February 1919. The final entries give details of two young suspected spies, abducted and killed by the IRA on the day of the Truce in July 1921.

But visitors to the research collection can also group deaths by category, or search the files for names, locations or organisations.

A novel aspect of the project is that it brings together details in one place for the first time of all known civilian deaths, often overlooked or given little attention by comparison to the more famous episodes in which Irish revolutionaries killed police or military targets, or were killed themselves.

In February 1921, for example, the 93 deaths recorded made it the worst month of the conflict for deaths. But the 39 IRA deaths were almost matched by 30 civilians who died, including eight killed on February 15 in the IRA’s disastrous Upton train ambush.

Upton train station in west Cork, where three IRA volunteers and eight civilians were killed on February 15, 1921. Picture: Irish Examiner photographic archive

“It’s one of the most egregious examples of commemoration, where three IRA volunteers who were killed are regularly remembered. Eight civilians died when the train carrying British personnel was attacked, but hardly anything is ever mentioned of that,” said Mr Bielenberg.

Up to July 1921, civilians were more likely to be killed by the IRA than by British police or military forces. This controversial aspect of the Irish revolution has already been well explored by the work of Bielenberg and Donnelly in the Cork Spy Files, an examination of known or alleged informers killed by the IRA and published last year on The Irish Revolution website.

Cork’s War of Independence Fatality Register is online at theirishrevolution.ie.

Andy Bielenberg will give a free public lecture on the project at UCC’s civil engineering building this Wednesday, May 17, at 6pm


© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

Email Updates

Receive our lunchtime briefing straight to your inbox

Related Articles

State to honour Rising leader Thomas Ashe

Bishop Colton: Some Cork protestants anticipate Civil War commemorations with dread

Ireland’s revolutionary years captured in ’Atlas of the Irish Revolution’

Latest: President lays wreath at GPO to commemorate Easter Rising

More in this Section

Farming survey: Farmers want a minister for Brexit

Champion ploughman dies in farm accident

Motorist forced to emigrate after wrongful conviction and driving ban

Government pledge to pass laws amid ‘hamstrung Dáil’ claims


Breaking Stories

Mum says autistic son now homeless in hospital, calls on HSE to provide solution

Roscommon woman wins €500,000 on scratch card just one month after winning €25,000

Skeletal remains found washed up on Co Clare shore

Witness heard child scream on night father and 3-year-old son drowned in Dublin tragedy

Lifestyle

The A-listers of Zeminar equipping Generation Z with the tools to deal with life’s challenges

Decoding craftsmanship at Cork event

Cork a Safe Harbour for a superb festival

Made in Cork: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor talks playing IRA man in Maze film

More From The Irish Examiner