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 watchedthe 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
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
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, MountDesert, Blarney Road, survived by parents and brothers.
Dennehy, aged 21, sixth son of Kate and the late Patrick
Dennehy of 104 Blarney Street, survived by his mother, brothers
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.