War of Independence hero’s ashes come home to Cork

The ashes of a War of Independence leader have been returned from the US and interred in the Republican Plot in Cork’s landmark St Finbarr’s Cemetery almost 40 years after his death.

War of Independence hero’s ashes come home to Cork

The family of James O’Beirne, who was a prominent IRA leader in Cork during the War of Independence, and who died in 1979, said they were deeply moved and honoured that Cork City Council had consented to the ceremony as part of the city’s Easter Rising commemorations.

The ceremony was attended by family members, including his daughter, Elizabeth O’Beirne Ranelagh, and son, John O’Beirne Ranelagh, and by Lord Mayor Chris O’Leary and other councillors.

Ms Ranelagh, an artist based in Los Angeles, described it as “a fitting homecoming” given that her father devoted his life to Ireland and loved Cork. Mr Ranelagh said they were very honoured that the Lord Mayor had attended.

Mr O’Beirne was attached to the No 1 Cork Brigade of the IRA under Sean O’Hegarty during the War of Independence.

His 1902 date of birth means he would have been just 14 when he was in Dublin for the Easter Rising, even though he looks much older in arrest photographs taken at the time.

However, he moved to the US after taking the republican side during the Civil War, during which he was shot and wounded by Free State troops, and left to die in a ditch. He was found and nursed back to health by Travellers over a 14-month period.

Reference is also made in James Gleason’s book Bloody Sunday to O’Beirne’s decision to spare two Auxiliaries who had been captured. Having spent several days watching over them, he defied orders to execute them, and allowed them to walk free.

The book recalls how O’Beirne was later stopped at an Auxiliaries checkpoint in Dublin while carrying a pistol, which meant almost certain death. However, in a remarkable twist of fate, he was recognised by one of the Auxiliaries whose life he had spared, and that British soldier returned the favour — subjecting O’Beirne to a beating only, before telling him they were even.

It is believed that O’Beirne assumed his younger brother’s identity afterwards and fled to the US — the date of birth on the plaque at St Finbarr’s is his brother’s, given that his family believe that he was actually born in 1898.

O’Beirne also fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, was captured and faced death, but was rescued by the Blue Shirts.

He married American folklorist Elaine Lambert Lewis in 1946 and they moved to Ireland in 1954 with their four children. He died in Cambridge on May 2, 1979, and his remains were cremated.

His ashes were interred in the Republican Plot on Saturday alongside the remains of his former comrades, including former Lords Mayor Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney.

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