Murder of Six Volunteers at Clogheen

(Irish War of Independence - First Cork Brigade)

Early on the morning of April 23rd. 1921, six members of 'C' Company, First Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade were massacred by a party of Black and Tans and RIC at a farm at Ballycannon, Clogheen, just outside Cork city.

Cornelius O'Keefe farmed 105 acres at Ballycannon, on the road leading from Clogheen to Tower. He lived there with his wife, their three young children, his mother and a servant girl, Nelly Mulcahy. Their house was a known 'safe house' where volunteers could shelter when it was unsafe for them to sleep at home. On the farm there were secure hiding places for the guns and explosives with which they carried out their missions.

At four in the morning of Wednesday, April 23rd., O’Keefe was wakened by a furious knocking on the front door of his house. On looking out he saw a large force of police in the half light. As he struggled to put on some clothes the door was broken in by the blows of rifle butts. The family was ordered back to the bedrooms and the house was thoroughly searched. The attention of the raiders then switched to the farmyard, where six volunteers were discovered asleep in a barn.

A local schoolteacher whose house overlooked the two fields outside the barn was awakened by the sound of shots at about half four, while it was still quite dark. He watched the lights moving around the farmyard. He heard one voice scream out and another shout "run for it". He could barely see a man breaking away and run across the field. A volley of shots rang out and the man fell. Another man with a light walked towards the body. After ten minutes there were more shots but this time they saw no body fall. Later he saw another man fleeing and more shots rang out. As the light increased he identified the men with guns as police. Later he watched as the police brought down bodies in blankets and laid them outside the house in the boreen, which led from the O'Keeffe farmyard to the public road. At six in the morning they were placed in lorries which then drove away.

Meanwhile Cornelius O'Keeffe had been brought across the field where he saw five bodies laid out in blankets. He watched as they were placed in the lorries. In his sworn deposition he stated that a sixth man was then brought out blindfolded, still alive, and was also put in the lorry.

O’Keefe was put in a third lorry, which followed the other two to Victoria Barracks. There the first two lorries sped off and he lost sight of them. He was imprisoned in a cell in the Barracks and kept there until on April 17"1, he was finally released without charge.

The six members of the I.R.A. who were killed were;

  • Daniel Crowley, aged 23. occupation plasterer, second son of Patrick and Elizabeth Crowley of 171 Blarney Street, survived by parents, brothers and sisters.
  • William Deasy, aged 20, second son of William Deasy, Mount Desert, Blarney Road, survived by parents and brothers.
  • Thomas Dennehy, aged 21, sixth son of Kate and the late Patrick Dennehy of 104 Blarney Street, survived by his mother, brothers and sister.
  • Daniel Murphy, aged 24. occupation pig buyer, second son of the late Edward Murphy, Orrery Hill, off Blarney Street, survived by brothers and sisters.
  • Jeremiah O'Mullane, aged 23, eldest son of Jeremiah and Nora O'Mullane, 237 Blarney Street, survived by parents, brother and sisters.
  • Michael O'Sullivan, aged 20. eldest son of Stephen and Margaret O'Sullivan, 281 Blarney Street, survived by parents, brothers and sisters.

The area around Blarney Street, from where the men all came, was staunchly republican and many families had more than one member involved in the struggle. With so many suspected of IRA involvement, there were constant raids on their homes by the British, which made it extremely unsafe for them to live at home. Many were forced to go on the run and rest in the network of safe houses, like O'Keeffes, which operated in rural areas close to the city. 

Blarney Street, on the north side of Cork city.

Others joined full time active service units. When a Brigade Flying Column was formed in early 1921 both Jerh. O'Mullane and William Deasy joined and took part in the training camp held at Ballyvourney in West Cork. So also did a neighbour of theirs, Patrick "Cruxty" Connors from Clogheen, an ex-soldier who had been awarded the Croix de Guerre during World War I. Following the training camp an ambush was prepared at Coolavokig on the main Cork to Killarney road. Connors was entrusted with one of the column's machine guns set up in a position where it could pour a murderous hail of fire on any vehicles entering the ambush site. However, he never used the gun during the ambush, thereby greatly reducing the effectivness of the operation.

The column withdrew following the arrival of auxiliaries from Macroom. O'Mullane and Deasy made their way back to the city and rejoined their companions at O'Keeffe's farm on that fateful night. 

In the aftermath of the murders the British government spin doctors swiftly produced a statement which was given to the press. It is true to say that the first casualty in war is truth and this was not going to be an exception. According to the statement, the six were killed in a hand-to-hand light with police. The police had been searching for three known murderers who were hiding on the farm. They were found with three others and immediately opened tire with revolvers. It also falsely stated that the police had discovered bombs and dum-dum bullets there.

On the following morning a reporter from the Cork Examiner newspaper visited the farm. Having described the layout of the farm and the outbuildings, he then proceeded to give the following grisly account:

'The outhouses or stables face a field with a sharp decline and pacing 20 to 50 paces one meets the places in which they fell dead, riddled with bullets. All the spots are marked with blood pools, and nearby the turf is cut up with the sharp defiles of bullets. There are two such spots close together; a third a little away to the right towards the division of the fields, and a fourth is a large pool in which there lies pieces of flesh, and stuck on to the stone fence, near at hand, is a piece of human tongue'.

On the afternoon of the same day, which was Holy Thursday. Diarmuid Deasy, a brother of William, traveled to Victoria (now Collins) Barracks where he identified the bodies of his brother and his friends and neighbours in the mortuary there. He claimed the bodies on behalf of the families and at eight o'clock they were removed to the mortuary chapel of the North Cathedral. Thousands of people stood bare headed in silence along the route as the coffins were borne in six hearses.

At the request ofthe families, a post-mortem was carried out on the corpses as they lay overnight in the Cathedral. All had been killed by bullet wounds. Some had been shot repeatedly and half the face of one had been blown away. One had been shot at close range through the forehead. The hand of one had been broken.

Intimidation by British soldiers (on left) and Black and Tans (in car on right) during the funeral of the six victims is evident in this photograph.

The funeral was held on Easter Sunday. Throughout the weekend, thousands stood in line to file past the coffins in a show of solidarity and support. Early on the Sunday morning seven lorries filled with troops and two armoured cars took up positions around the Cathedral. As the coffins were being shouldered from the Cathedral, soldiers moved in behind the last one, that of Michael O'Sullivan. to prevent the mourners from forming up in rows. The funeral procession had to follow along the footpaths. The coffins were shouldered all the way from the Cathedral to the Republican Plot in St. Finbarr's Cemetery where, despite the military presence, the traditional salute was rendered over the grave. 

The loss of six volunteers was of great concern to the Brigade officers and enquiries were immediately made as to how the raiders had obtained their information. Suspicion began to fall on Patrick 'Cruxty' Connors, the ex-soldier who had been given charge of the machine gun at the Coolavokig ambush. Connors had in fact been in the pay of British intelligence for a period, but later had joined the IRA. Shortly after Coolavokig he returned to Cork where he was arrested by the R.I.C. and found to be in possession of a revolver. During interrigation at Victoria Barracks he claimed to be a secret service agent and gave the name of the intelligence officer he was supposed to be working for. However the officer denied having any connection with Connors who was then threatened with court martial and summary execution. Following lengthy questioning he broke down and revealed the location of the safe haven of his comrades at Ballycannon.

Over the following days he gave further information on the dumps and hiding places. As a result an arms dump at Killeens was raided and a large amount of guns and ammunition seized. To ensure his safety Connors was kept in custody but word soon leaked out as to his whereabouts. A number of efforts were made to silence him forever. On one occasion a Cumann na mBan girl attempted to bring him food which had been poisoned, but he had in the meantime been moved elsewhere.

When it was discovered that he was to be transferred by rail to Dublin a party of twelve IRA men waited at Blarney Station to board the train but he had instead been sent to London on board a destroyer. Connors later moved to New York, where he worked as a book keeper in Altman's department store. An IRA squad was sent out to extract retribution. On the evening of April 14, 1922, almost a year to the day from the Ballycannon slaughter, Connors was shot four times at the corner of Central Park West and 84'" Street. The wounds, however, did not prove to be fatal.

Patrick Connors is still remembered in Cork as "Connors the Spy" or "Shafter Connors", the man who betrayed his fellow countrymen and caused the death of six young Irish volunteers.