Digital project profiles 528 who died in Cork during War of Independence

A new history project is the first to attempt to identify and detail every individual killed in County Cork during the Irish War of Independence, writes Professor Emeritus James S. Donnelly, Jr.

LAUNCHED this week “Cork’s War of Independence Fatality Register” records the details of 528 individuals who died as a result of the conflict from the beginning of 1919 to the truce of July 1921. 

The findings are available as the latest reosurce in an ever growing resource collection available at theirishrevolution.ie, a collaboration between the Irish Examiner and University College Cork.

Author Dr Andy Bielenberg of UCC and myself have based the ‘Cork Fatality Register’ on extensive archival research.

We have written an individual profile for each fatality, providing the victim’s date and place of death, and other relevant details about the case.

A general index allows visitors to search for individuals by name, place, or date of death.

Additional sections discuss the research findings and sources cited.

This period in Irish history remains controversial among scholars and commentators.

Intense debates have created the need for a reliable record of violent death throughout Cork in the years 1919-21.

The circumstances of many of these events remain murky nearly a century later, and some entries include differing and even contradictory accounts from contemporary sources.

The Cork Fatality Register highlights hundreds of violent deaths that occurred in county Cork during 31 months of armed conflict.

It records victims of different political loyalties, including IRA Volunteers, British soldiers, Royal Irish Constabulary constables, and unaffiliated civilians.

Most of those listed in the Fatality Register can be called forgotten victims, especially civilians who were often caught in the cross-fire.

A few examples give a flavour of the cross section of individuals:

* RIC Constable Edward Bolger, a 47-year-old native of County Kilkenny, was shot dead on 14 December 1919 by the IRA as he returned to the Kilbrittain RIC barracks from his residence. He had been stationed in Kilbrittain for more than fifteen years, and was unpopular among local IRA Volunteers for his hyperactivity in conducting raids and arresting local republicans. His daughter found his body in the road minutes after the shooting.

* IRA member Jeremiah Delany of Dublin Hill, Cork was shot dead in his bed by crown forces on the same night (11-12 December 1920) they burned sections of the Cork city centre; they also killed his brother, Volunteer Cornelius Delany, in the same attack. The brothers were buried in St Finbarr's Cemetery.

* The 58-year-old civilian Alfred Charles Reilly was shot dead by the IRA very near his home in Douglas on 9 February 1921. He was the managing director of H. H. Thompson and Sons, a large bakery and restaurant concern in Cork city. His IRA killer claimed Reilly was active in a pro-British civilian intelligence group linked to Freemasonry and operating out of the Cork city YMCA. However, Reilly appears to have been neither a Freemason nor a YMCA member.

* The 45-year-old civilian Bridget Noble, a resident of Ardgroom Inward in the Castletownbere district, was abducted by the IRA on 4 March 1921, tried on 13 March, and executed two days later. Her disappearance embarrassed IRA GHQ in Dublin, as it broke an unwritten IRA rule against killing women. The reasons for her execution were outlined in an IRA report dated 21 October 1921. It detailed her numerous conversations with policemen in the local RIC barracks and in a private house, as witnessed by members of “C” Company of the Castletownbere Battalion.

* The 20-year-old British Lieutenant Geoffrey Turner Hotblack, a prominent officer of the Essex Regiment who served under Major A. E. Percival in the Bandon area. He was fatally wounded while leading a pincer movement during the IRA ambush at Crossbarry on 19 March 1921. Hotblack died of his injuries three days later in the Cork Military Hospital.

* The 4-year-old boy Cornelius Francis Fitzpatrick was mortally wounded in a bomb explosion in front of Rosscarbery RIC barracks the day following the IRA’s capture of this post on 31 March 1921. He died of peritonitis at the Mercy Hospital in Cork city on 2 April. His death was reportedly the third attributed to a bomb explosion following the Rosscarbery barrack attack.

* The 19-year-old civilian Josephine Scannell was working at a sewing machine inside the window of her residence at 12 French’s Quay in Cork city on 23 June 1921, when “a bullet passed through the window and mortally wounded her.” She was shot through the heart during a round of “general shooting” by the IRA and crown forces. A large cortege followed her remains to St Joseph’s Cemetery.

Altogether, Dr Bielenberg and myself have been able to document the 528 known fatalities in more granular ways than ever before.

A map of our findings shows the distribution of known fatalities in Cork city and across the county.

Cork was an epicentre of the 1919-21conflict, like Dublin and Belfast. However, the map demonstrates that deaths were much more intensely dispersed across county Cork, compared with the hinterland of the two larger cities.

The Fatality Register also charts fatalities on a monthly basis for the first time.

Monthly figures show a fluctuating intensity of the conflict in County Cork. Relatively few fatalities took place in 1919 and early 1920.

The conflict intensified in the summer of 1920 and reached a new high in November of that year, when 44 persons were killed. Death levels steadied in December 1920 and January 1921, but peaked in February, when 93 persons were killed across the county.

A British offensive that month escalated significantly, with the Crown forces killing 38 IRA Volunteers and suffering 22 fatalities in return. (This was the only month of the entire conflict in which IRA losses dramatically exceeded those of the crown forces.)

February also saw a heightened IRA campaign against suspected civilian informers. Overall, the three months between February and May 1921 account for almost 48% of fatalities for the entire conflict.

The Cork Fatality Register reveals much new information about civilian deaths at the hands of both the IRA and Crown forces.

Civilian losses have drawn far less attention than combatant deaths, as seen in public memorials and published research on Crown force fatalities.

Overall, during the conflict the IRA intentionally killed 83 Cork civilians, surpassing Crown force civilian killings, which numbered 66. However, historians have paid less attention to civilians killed by the Crown than those who died at the hands of the IRA.

Another striking feature of the War of Independence in County Cork was the small scale of most attacks. A majority of killing episodes involved just one victim. Episodes that resulted in more than 10 deaths could be counted on one hand. Roughly 72 percent of total fatalities took place in incidents where three people or less were killed.

The Cork Fatality Register also identified numerous cases where victims were killed and buried by the IRA in secret.

County Cork accounted for a far higher number of documented disappearances than any other county, with most occurring within the Cork No. 1 Brigade area (Mid-Cork and Cork city).

The Register documents 49 disappearances in the county. A significant finding is the sizeable minority of victims who were members of the Crown forces. Among civilians who disappeared, a large number were ex-soldiers. This underlines the prevalence of Crown force networks among those targeted for secret execution by the IRA.

* James S. Donnelly, Jr. is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Note: Profs Donnelly and Bielenberg have made strenuous efforts in compiling the Cork Fatalities Register. However, they remain fully conscious that some conflict-related deaths during the War of Independence in County Cork may have eluded them. They appeal to readers to contact them with any new information about conflict-related deaths within the 1919-21 period. Owing to the mass of detailed evidence presented by this project, some mistakes are inevitable. The authors, therefore, welcome corrections with gratitude and enthusiasm.

Visit the registry HERE

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