The Ballymacoda Company, Cork No. 1 Brigade, 4th Battalion

During the Irish War of Independence, the Ballymacoda company of the I.R.A. was part of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, 4th Battalion – designated as company ‘O‘.

Rough map of the operational area for the Cork No. 1 Brigade, 4th Battalion (from the Military Archives of Ireland)

The records available from the ‘Military Service Pensions Collection‘ for the Cork No. 1 Brigade, 4th Battalion indicate that the commander of the Ballymacoda brigade was Captain John Ahern, with Lieutenant Matt Walsh as second in command. Note that these were likely the last officers in charge of the company when the records were compiled after the War of Independence. There is evidence of previous commanders contained in the witness statements taken by the Bureau of Military History. For example, the witness statement of Joseph Aherne, captain of the Midleton company, makes reference to Pat Gumbleton being commander of the Ballymacoda company at one point. The company was 60-strong – comparatively larger than other similar areas, for example the Ladysbridge (‘I’ company) and Killeagh (‘J1’ company) groups each had 35 members, and Carrigtwohill (‘D’ company) had 32.

There is some evidence to be found of the activities of the Ballymacoda company in the witness statements of the Bureau of Military History. The statement of Patrick J. Whelan, who was Vice Commandant of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, 4th Battalion, provides evidence that the Ballymacoda company was involved in the attack on the R.I.C. barracks in Cloyne on May 8th 1920. The objective of this raid was to obtain arms, and it was successful, with the R.I.C. surrendering the barracks and their guns being secured. However, based on the account of Whelan the men from Ballymacoda got a bit over excited in the aftermath of the raid:

We fell in on the Main Street and sang the “Soldiers song”, with great gusto. The boys from Ballymacoda were in great form. but were foolish enough to identify their presence by shouting, “Up Ballymacoda”, until ordered to stop by Mick Leahy.

From Patrick Whelan’s account of the attack on the R.I.C. barracks in Cloyne, May 1920

There is also evidence, from the witness statement of Edmond O’Brien who was a member of ‘C’ company (Shanagarry), that members from the Ballymacoda company participated in a failed attack on a lorry travelling between Youghal and Ballycotton, at Ballylanguane, Shanagarry in August 1920, with the plan being to dig a trench across the road, capture the lorry with minimal damage, switch uniforms with the occupants, and drive to Ballycotton in disguise in an attempt to capture the R.I.C. barracks there. However, this plan ultimately failed when the lorry arrived sooner than expected and was able to drive over the half completed trench with just a few shots being fired by the attackers.

O’Brien’s witness statement also describes the building of a ‘dug out’ (for concealing arms and ammunition) at Shanagarry in late 1920. In order to make the dug out waterproof, specific materials would be required which were not easily available at the time. O’Brien describes the successful raid on a partially built and sparsely guarded aerodrome at Ballyquirk, Killeagh where members of the Shanagarry company, assisted by members of the Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge companies overpowered the guards and secured cement and corrugated iron for the purpose of waterproofing the dug out.

Perhaps the most famous member of the Ballymacoda company was Richard (Dick) Hegarty of Moanroe, Garryvoe, and his story has been told many times in much better words than I can express here. In September/October 1920, a flying column was organized within the 4th battalion. The flying column was to be composed of men already on the run, or men in imminent danger of arrest, and Richard Hegarty was a member from its formation. In the worst loss of life suffered by the I.R.A. during the War of Independence, the flying column was to be decimated in February 1921 at Clonmult, when the farmhouse they were billeted in was surrounded by British forces.

So, there is plenty evidence available of the activities of the Ballymacoda company and their involvement in key operations and events in East Cork during the War of Independence, but what of the members themselves? The following is a list of the 60 recorded members of the Ballymacoda company. This list is compiled from the pension records available from the Military Service Pensions Collection. Please see the notes below.

Notes

  • This data is transcribed from a very old (1930s), handwritten document, so it may contain transcription errors.
  • Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy of the names presented by searching the closest reference point – the 1911 Census of Ireland – the data in the Address column is compiled from these Census records.
  • Where the Census records returned multiple matches, e.g. a person of the same name and appropriate age living in a different townland in the locality, all results are included.
  • As names are transcribed from a handwritten document, 4 entries are only partially legible – these are captured at the end of the table for completeness.
  • Except for the illegible entries, the names appear in the same order as in the pension records.
NameAddress
Pat ManningGarryvoe
Peter HegartyGarryvoe
Richard HegartyGarryvoe
John FinnBallypherode
Pat MorriseyGarryvoe
Pat DonoghueBallymacoda
John HennessyBallymakeagh, Monagoul, Mountcotton or Shanakiel
William HennessyMountcotton or Shanakiel
Pat MurphyGlenawilling, Shanavagoon, Ballymacoda or Ballydaniel
John LeahyBohillane
Tom LeahyBohillane
Pat LeahyBohillane
William LeahyUnknown
Pat AhernBarnfield
Martin WalshBarnfield or Knockadoon
William WigmoreBallymacoda
Pat WigmoreBallymacoda
James RussellBallyfleming
Pat GumbletonBallymacoda
John SlocumUnknown
James JoyceGarryvoe
John AhernBarnfield
Mick ShanahanUnknown
Pat ShanahanKnockadoon or Ring
Maurice ShanahanUnknown
John CondonBallyskibbole or Ballymacoda
Michael FoleyKnockadoon
James Walsh SnrUnknown
James Walsh JnrUnknown
Tom WalshUnknown
William HydeGlenawilling
Charlie HydeGlenawilling
James CondonGlenawilling
Richard CondonRing or Ballyskibbole
William KinieryBallykinealy
William FinnBallypherode
Tom HigginsBallypherode
Tom QuinnMountcotton
Pat QuinnMountcotton
John O’BrienMountcotton
Richard O’BrienMountcotton
Pat O’NeillWarren
Tom O’NeillWarren
Jeremiah O’NeillGarryvoe
John HegartyGarryvoe
William WalshKnockadoon or Shanakill
Tom CurtinUnknown
Pat WalshUnknown
Michael CullinaneLoughane
David CashmanKilcredan
Richard CashmanBallycrenane
Maurice PowerGlenawilling
Tom ConnorsUnknown
Michael PowerUnknown
Pat PowerGlenawilling
William ConnorsUnknown
<illegible> Leahy
David <illegible>
David <illegible>
Pat <illegible>

References & Further Information

Military Service Pensions Collection, Cork No. Brigade, 4th Battalion, Military Archives of Ireland

Bureau of Military History, Witness Statement 1449, Commandant Patrick J. Whelan

Bureau of Military History, Witness Statement 1367, Joseph Aherne

Bureau of Military History, Witness Statement 623, Edmond O’Brien

The Ballymacoda and Knockadoon Gin Craze in 1851

This is a guest post by Midleton-based historian and Cork County Council’s inaugural Historian in Residence, Tony Harpur. It was first published in Tony’s ‘Historical Tales’ column in the East Cork News & Advertiser in May 2021.

Have you noticed how gin has come back into fashion? There is a fine gin being produced in small quantities from milk at Ballyvolane House near Castlelyons (it’s called Bertha’s Revenge, from the name of a favourite cow!) and there is a fine new distillery at Ballyduff in in County Waterford situated on the banks of the River Blackwater between Fermoy and Lismore which is producing some lovely ‘Blackwater Gin.’

Gin is a spirit which has a somewhat unfortunate history in…. London anyway. Its origins lie in the monasteries around Salerno in southern Italy, the site of a famous medical school. Salerno was surrounded by hills blanketed in juniper trees and, by the 1100s, local monks had learned how to add the juniper berries to wine and a grain alcohol to produce a medicinal drink. In the following century monks and herbalists in the Low Countries began to produce a grain based medicinal drink which included juniper berries. By the 16th century (1500s) this had become a drink called jenever, which is the Dutch and Flemish word for juniper, giving us what the English called ‘gin.’ By that time, the Dutch were already adding additional ‘botanics,’ or herbs and flavoursome fruits and berries to the distilled alcohol. Dutch jenever has a softer and sweeter flavour to most British and Irish gins – you only have to go to a proflokaar (gin pub) in Amsterdam to see that. Jenever is served in small shot glasses which are filled to the brim – a useful way of finding out if you are inebriated.

England began to import this Dutch gin in the early 1600s but it wasn’t until William of Orange became King in 1688 that the English consumption of gin took off. This was in part because it was considered to be a ‘Protestant drink’ and also it was a reaction to the wars with the French at the time. Brandy and French wine were boycotted, or proved too difficult to import because of the war, so people turned to either Portuguese or Spanish wines (Madeira, port and sherry), or to grain based spirits like gin. Even more extraordinary was the fact that the English government allowed the operation of unlicensed gin distilleries at a time when its wartime expenses were rapidly increasing. This meant that gin could be produced cheaply from poor quality barley (the type of barley that was unsuitable for brewing beer). Naturally this was welcomed by farmers who soon began to grow larger quantities of this low quality barley, given that the market for gin was increasing so rapidly, and not just among the rich. The poor found that gin was cheaper and more readily available and so consumption continued to increase leading to the Gin Craze. Excluding the coffee shops and hot chocolate shops, of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London by 1735, half were gin shops!

The levels of public inebriation and outright drunkenness this produced worried social commentators at the time, including Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) and the artist William Hogarth, who produced the most famous anti-drink publication, the print ‘Gin Alley’ with its graphic illustration of the social ills of the demon gin. Indeed, the population of London stopped growing for a while as alcohol poisoning took its toll on the populace.

In 1736, the Westminster parliament passed the Gin Act to impose prohibitive taxes on gin. There were riots in the streets as a result and the government backed down gradually reducing the tax on gin until it was abolished in 1742. A new Gin Act was reintroduced in 1751 (remember the date!) and it proved to be more successful because the tax was lower and the distillers were forced to sell only to licensed public houses and local gin shops were placed under the jurisdiction of the local magistrates for licensing. Later in the 19th century, the British would add tonic water, which contained anti-malarial quinine, to their gin when consuming it in the tropics to give us Gin and Tonic. Some modern producers are making a flavoured tonic water with herbs and ‘botanicals’ similar to those used in making gin – this produces a pretty expensive water! The production of better quality beer, and porter, pushed gin into a minority drink by the early 1800s, although it was still produced in large quantities by local distilleries.

In 1838, Fr Theobald Mathew, a Capuchin friar in Cork, began a campaign to persuade the people of the city to give up consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. His temperance campaign took off at a time of economic difficulty as the trade barriers which had existed between Ireland and Britain before the Act of Union were gradually abolished. Cheap British imports flooded the Irish market putting many local businesses out of operation and increasing unemployment. By 1845, Fr Mathew had some 3 million adults enrolled in his campaign – about half the population of Ireland! Fr Mathew’s achievement in persuading so many Irish people to foreswear drink was such a phenomenon that he was feted in Britain, Europe and even in the US. His movement was especially popular in Midleton, a town that in 1837 boasted two distilleries and two commercial breweries (Dwyer’s and Coppinger’s). By 1845, only Hackett’s distillery was still (barely) operational and Murphy’s distillery (now the Jameson Experience) was still holding its own. Five years later only Murphy’s distillery was still commercially viable and its success would take off again by 1860. The irony is that Fr Mathew was a cousin of the Murphy brothers who ran the Midleton distillery! They found it hard to forgive him for his campaign against the demon drink.

The Famine ended Fr Mathew’s anti-drink crusade as rapidly as it began. By 1851, the Temperance campaign was a thing of the past in a nation that was traumatized by the horrors of the famine. It was an appallingly stressful time for people who lived on the breadline because they simply didn’t know if they would have enough food to last through the coming year. By 1850 the famine was over in most of the country although local crop failures and local instances of blight were still feared. Which brings us to Ballymacoda and its neighborhood in 1851.

You may recall that a couple of issues ago we covered the topic of the four lighthouses (Roches Point, Ballycotton, Youghal and Mine Head) on the East Cork/West Waterford coast. In that article we noted that there was a plan to build a lighthouse on Capel Island just off Knockadoon Head but, following the wreck of the SS Sirius in February 1847, that was capped and left incomplete when only partially built and a new lighthouse was built on the taller of the two islands off Ballycotton, which was lit in 1851. Naturally this didn’t stop ships, especially those powered by sail, from being wrecked off the East Cork coast. Indeed, several merchant vessels were wrecked between Ballycroneen and Ballybranagan in the 19th and early 20th centuries: the Ibis, Helga, Celestina, the Upupa, the Argo, and the Tadorna. The schooner Helen was wrecked on Knockadoon Head in 1858 and the Eugenie was wrecked in 1865 losing her cargo of thread overboard. For years afterwards the thread washed ashore and local women made seine nets for the fishermen of the district. Even the old Daunt Rock lightship, Puffin, was wrecked on this coast in 1896.

In 1851, the Celestina was wrecked on the shore and the crew was saved by the local inhabitants. No doubt they were grateful that the community rallied around, but that’s when the trouble started. Either a crewman said something, or the ship’s captain had asked for the nearest Revenue Police, or perhaps one of the locals decided to invoke the ‘custom of the sea’ and inspect the vessel for anything to…let’s say, ‘salvage,’ but soon it was voiced about the neighborhood that the ship carried a most valuable cargo indeed.

The Celestina carried a cargo of….gin! That’s right, she was loaded to the gunwales with gin. In a community still traumatized from the horrors of the Famine and only just recovering, and with little money available, this was too much temptation for the inhabitants.

You don’t have to imagine what happened next. The Celestina was stripped of its cargo, which soon disappeared into every possible hiding place in the neighborhood. When the constabulary, the Revenue Police and the Excise officers arrived they found the ship entirely empty. Added to this, all the local inhabitants seemed to be…inebriated. Some of them were very seriously drunk indeed. The police and excise officers commenced a search of the area but failed to turn up more than a handful of bottles. The government was out of pocket to the tune of several thousand pounds! And the inhabitants of Ballymacoda, Knockadoon and Ballycrenane grew less sober by the day. So, clearly these poor people had access to large amounts of alcohol but it wasn’t to be found anywhere. Sadly, the consumption of vast amounts of gin had some sad side effects – work in the fields was frequently neglected, and accidents happened too often.

Then, tragedy struck, as it was bound to. A local man dropped dead and on examination it seems that his stomach was full of undigested alcohol, to be precise, gin. He had died of alcohol poisoning. This prompted the police to approach the parish priest who was clearly worried by the widespread drunkenness in his parish. ‘Leave it to me’ he told them.

The following Sunday, the church in Ballymacoda thundered to the promise of hellfire and brimstone for anyone who kept stolen property and who were constantly so drunk that they could not even work in the fields or in their fishing boats.

Monday saw an unusual scene in the neighborhood. Small caches of gin began to appear at different points on the roadsides and corners. The revenue men were delighted to gather these up and they kept at it for a number of days until the supplies dried up. They didn’t get the entire cargo and perhaps not even more than half of the shipment was recovered. No doubt some was kept back for wakes and other social occasions but when the supply of gin dried up, the revenue men felt it was time to leave the Ballymacoda district to slumber in peace.

This happened a century after the Gin Act of 1751 became law in England and Scotland (but not in Ireland), and, bizarrely, almost a century later, in 1949, Ealing Studios in London produced a black and white movie called Whisky Galore! This was based on Compton Mackenzie’s 1947 book of the same name. Mackenzie based his book on an infamous incident during World War II when a ship with a cargo of whiskey was wrecked on Erisay Island in the Hebridies and the locals ‘liberated’ much of the cargo for home consumption. Even today, the islanders are turning up bottles of whiskey buried in their fields and under paths.

One wonders if the inhabitants of Ballymacoda, Knockadoon and Ballycrenane, or even Ladysbridge, still dig up any old bottles of 1851 gin today?

Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane: An Exile’s Return

In the last post, we looked at the events surrounding the 1867 Fenian rebellion in Ballymacoda, in particular the successful raid on the coastguard station at Knockadoon, led by John McClure and Peter O’Neill Crowley, and O’Neill Crowley’s subsequent death at the hands of the crown forces at Kilclooney wood. Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane was a member of the party that raided the coastguard station, this is the story of his exile after the rising and his later return to Ballymacoda.

After the rising of March 5th, Cullinane was tried along with McClure, Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly and David Joyce, on the charge of high treason in front of a Special Commission in Cork. At the trial, presided over by Lord Chief Justice Monahan, Mr. Justice Keogh, and Mr. Justice George, all four were initially sentenced to death at the conclusion of the proceedings on May 24th 1867. The sentence passed down by Lord Chief Justice Monahan was for each of the men to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This medieval punishment had been the statutory penalty for anyone convicted of the crime of high treason against the English crown from 1352 onwards, and was not abolished until 1870.

It only now remains with me to pass the awful sentence of the law upon you, and that sentence is that you and each of you be taken hence from this place from whence you came, and that you shall be from thence drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and there be hanged by the neck until each of you be dead, that afterwards your heads be severed from your bodies and that your bodies be divided into four parts, and that those parts be disposed of as her Majesty or her successors shall think fit. This sentence shall be carried into execution on Wednesday, the 19th of June.

The sentence handed down to McClure, Cullinane, Kelly and Joyce by Chief Justice Monahan, on May 25th 1867 at the Special Commission sitting in Cork.

After lobbying efforts by a group of prominent citizens and large protests across Ireland against the execution of the Fenian rebels, the death sentences handed down to many of those involved in the Fenian rising, including McClure, Cullinane, Kelly and Joyce, were commuted to life imprisonment.

Entry in the Irish Prison Register for Thomas Cullinane, listing his crime of high treason

Cullinane was first imprisoned in England, at Millbank Prison in Westminster, London. In October 1867, records show that he was transported to Australia, departing from London on October 12th aboard the prison ship Hougoumont under master William Cozens. The voyage lasted 89 days, with the vessel arriving in Western Australia on January 10th 1868, and was of particular historical significance in that it was the last convict ship to carry Irish prisoners to Australia. David Joyce and Edward Kelly were aboard the same ship, as well as another Ballymacoda native, Jeremiah (Jerry) Aher, who had received a 7 year sentence for his part in the raid of the coastguard station at Knockadoon.

The Fenian prisoners, approximately 62 of the 289 convicts that arrived aboard Hougoumont, were taken to Fremantle Prison. After being allowed a few days rest, the prisoners were taken in groups to commence the hard labor of road building in searing temperatures outside Fremantle. The Fenian workgroups were segregated from general prison population. At times the men were lodged in road camps and required to stay close to the site of their work away from the prison. Patrick Wall, another Fenian who was transported on the Hougoumont described the conditions in a letter to his parents. Thomas Cullinane was very likely in one of these working groups, as there were only six Fenians assigned to permanent duties in the prison which required them to stay at Fremantle, and he was not one of that group.

On last Saturday evening we were marched five miles with bed and bedding on our backs, to our rude habitation, which consists of four miserable twig huts and a tent. I sleep with twelve others in the tent. We are sure of nocturnal visits from mosquitoes, and a species of very small lively insect which takes the greatest delight in playing with you until morning, waiting for the next night’s entertainment to renew the sport. We work pretty hard all day under a burning sun; the only comfort the place affords us is that we are near the sea shore, where we bathe after our day’s labor.

Description of the conditions in a Fenian workgroup, described by Patrick Wall in a letter to his parents, quoted in newspaper ‘The Irishman’ in April 1868.

The convict records available for Fremantle Prison record Thomas Cullinane as ‘Thomas Bowler‘, prisoner number 9671. His record also mentions as a note, ‘character bad‘, and records ‘mutinous conduct‘ in February 1869 for which he was sentenced to 7 days bread and water. In early May 1869, Cullinane and other Fenian prisoners were granted an official pardon, signed by the Home Secretary, Henry Austin Bruce. This was mainly due to the sustained campaign for a Fenian amnesty at home in Ireland. Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane was mentioned specifically in the text of the pardon.

I have the honor to inform you that Her Majesty’s Govt. have decided upon granting a Remission to Thomas Cullinane or Bowler and the other prisoners named in the accompanying Warrant under the Royal Sign Manual, who were convicted of Treason or Treason Felony in Ireland and who are now under sentence of Penal Servitude in Western Australia.

Partial text of the pardon of the Fenian exiles, a link to the full text is available in the references below.

Upon his release, records show that Cullinane first travelled to Sydney in New South Wales aboard the ship Rangatira on September 21st 1869, then to London aboard the Suffolk on October 26th.

Excerpt from The Freeman’s Journal, February 1870 mentioning the return of Fenian prisoners, including Thomas Cullinane

Some time after his release, Cullinane travelled to America where he was to remain until returning to Ballymacoda in 1910. I have found little trace of his activities in America. There are three main reasons as to why the records are difficult to trace. Firstly, Cullinane was known to use the alias ‘Bowler’, which he may also have used in America. Secondly, records of the day use many alternative spellings of his last name e.g. ‘Cullinan’. Finally, it is very difficult to conclusively determine a birth year due to conflicting references, which would be useful for filtering US naturalization records etc. for Cullinane:

  • His headstone says he died in March 1928, aged 84 (giving a birth year 1843 or 1844).
  • His convict record from Australia lists his birth year as 1844.
  • His death record from ‘Civil Registration Deaths Index, 1864-1958‘ lists his age at death as 88 (giving a birth date of 1839 or 1840).
  • Newspaper sources mentioning his return to Ireland from June 1910 give his age as 72 (giving a birth year of 1837 or 1838).
  • The Irish prison register entry for June 1867 lists his age as 22 (giving a birth year of 1844 or 1845).
  • The 1911 Census of Ireland taken in early April lists his age as 73 (giving a birth year of 1837 or 1838).
  • Searching the Ballymacoda & Ladysbridge Parish baptismal records for Thomas Cullinane yielded no matches, however some records are barely legible given the age of the documents.

Regardless of his life in America, which as mentioned above is difficult to piece together, there are numerous sources that confirm Thomas Cullinane returned to Ballymacoda in 1910. He was unmarried, and planned to spend the rest of his days living with his sister Johanna (O’Brien) in Ballymakeigh. Newspaper sources from the time indicate that there was a homecoming event for Cullinane in Ballymacoda, with this description being published:

Though he had been a long time away, his heart always reverted to the land for which he strove so nobly, and lately he returned to his native district of Ballymacoda. To signalize the homecoming and to give him a welcome worthy of his patriotic record a meeting was held in Ballymacoda last week. A platform, over which Stars and Stripes floated, was erected for the proceedings, which were marked with the greatest enthusiasm.

Description of the homecoming of Thomas Cullinane, published widely at the time (this instance from ‘The Courier-Journal’, Louisville, Kentucky, June 26th, 1910).
Excerpt from The Irish Standard, July 2nd 1910 mentioning the return of Thomas Cullinane

The 1911 Census of Ireland confirms Thomas as living with his sister Johanna at Ballymakeigh.

1911 Census of Ireland record showing Thomas Cullinane

Thomas Cullinane died on March 18th 1928 and is buried in the Hill Cemetery in Ballymacoda.

The grave of Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane, at the Hill Cemetery, Ballymacoda

References & Further Information

The Gaelic American – Vol. III No. 24 June 16, 1906, Whole Number 144, Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library

Claim a Convict, details for the ship Hougoumont (1868)

Fremantle Prison Convict Database

A Gerringong Fenian, The Story of John O’Neil Goulding and the 1867 Kerry Uprising by John Graham, Published 1999

The Great Amnesty Campaign of 1869, Irish History Podcast

Convict Records available on UNE, the repository for research outputs of the University of New England at Armidale, NSW Australia

Ancestry.com. Ireland, Prison Registers, 1790-1924 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA:

Historic Graves, Thomas Bowler Cullinane

The Freeman’s Journal, published in Dublin, February 2nd, 1870

The Irish Standard, Saturday July 2nd, 1910

Full text of the Royal pardon granted to Thomas Cullinane and other Irish convicts under sentence of penal servitude in Western Australia

Amos, K., The Fenians in Australia, 1865-1880, Sydney, 1988

Peter O’Neill Crowley and the 1867 Fenian Rising

The Fenian rising of March 1867 was yet another attempt to remove the shackles of foreign oppression. After the 1798, 1803, and 1848 rebellions, it was the fourth failed rebellion in 70 years. In this post, we’ll focus on the events of 1867 as they relate to Ballymacoda, and one of its most famous sons – the Fenian leader and Irish patriot Peter O’Neill Crowley.

Peter O’Neill Crowley was born in Ballymacoda on May 23rd, 1832 into a respectable farming family. Through his mother, he was a grand-nephew of Fr. Peter O’Neill, the Ballymacoda parish priest flogged at Youghal in 1798 and later deported to Botany Bay. After his father died when he was still quite young, Peter O’Neill Crowley came under the influence of his grand-uncle, and acknowledged later in life that his involvement with the Fenian’s was inspired by his grand-uncle. The young O’Neill Crowley was well known and respected in Fenian circles, and was known to be a man of principle and a strict pioneer. In time, he became the leader of the reportedly 100-strong group of Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) members in the Ballymacoda area.

On Tuesday March 5th, the day of the rebellion, O’Neill Crowley and John McClure, an American born veteran of the Civil War, led a party to raid the coastguard station at Knockadoon, with the objective being to secure the cache of weapons located there. Among the raiding party were Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane, Jerry Aher, David Joyce and Thomas Walsh. The raid was successful, with the weapons being secured and the coastguards disarmed without a single shot being fired. Taking the coastguards hostage, the group then marched towards Killeagh with the prisoners, expecting to join up with other units from Youghal and Midleton. However, this didn’t materialize as planned, with only a handful of men being present at the meeting place when the party from Ballymacoda arrived. The group of rebels from Midleton had earlier been involved in a battle with the police in Castlemartyr while attempting to raid the barracks there, where the leader of the group, Timothy Daly had been shot and killed.

McClure made the decision to disband all unarmed men, and march with the remaining men and prisoners towards Castlemartyr, where the prisoners were released. Having observed a large group of crown forces at Mogeely about to commence a search of the area, O’Neill Crowley, McClure and others decided to march north in an attempt to merge with other pockets of fighters in the Munster region. While the raid on the coastguard station at Knockadoon was successful – John Devoy called it ‘the neatest job done by the Fenians in the Rising‘ – the wider rising was a failure, and soon the party from Ballymacoda was on the run, eventually reaching Kilclooney wood near Mitchelstown. The group spent a few weeks taking refuge in the wood until being engaged by the British on the morning of Sunday March 31st, 1867, three weeks after the rising. The British had reportedly received information that the group was hiding there, and that same problem that always plagued rebellions and rebel groups throughout Irish history – informers – was to cause the death of O’Neill Crowley.

On the morning of the 31st, Kilclooney wood was surrounded by an estimated 120+ British soldiers, made up of members of the Sixth Carbineers, two companies of the Sixth Warwickshire infantry and a company of Royal Engineers. The men were commanded by Major Bell. A gun battle ensued, with the Fenian group hopelessly outnumbered. O’Neill Crowley was initially badly wounded when he was hit by a bullet which broke a finger on one hand. A group of soldiers began to advance towards the wood, while the rest kept it surrounded from all sides to prevent escape of the group of rebels. McClure and O’Neill Crowley were captured together, attempting to cross a river, O’Neill Crowley was shot and fatally wounded as he attempted to cross. He was attended to by an army surgeon, and a priest was sent for to administer last rites before he died. He was aged just 34, a few months shy of 35.

The priest who administered the last rites, Rev. T. O’Connell, at the time curate in nearby Kildorrery, described the scene he witnessed that morning in 1867 in The Irish Standard 20 years later:

A few particulars in connection with the last moments of Peter O’Neill Crowley may not be uninteresting to your numerous readers at the present moment. I can well recall the memorable morning in March, ’67, when I was hastily summoned to administer to the patriot the last rites of that church which he loved so well. On my arrival at Kilclooney Wood, I found Dr. Segrave, surgeon to the flying column, busily engaged in staunching the wound with one hand, whilst from a prayer book in the other he read aloud – at the young man’s request – the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus. I was greatly touched by the scene, and especially by the exclamation – ‘Thank God – all is right now’, and then turning to the doctor he said ‘Thank you very much, the priest is come, leave me to him’. I saw at once the critical condition of the brave soul, whose heart’s blood was ebbing fast away. I saw that there was no time to lose, and having made him as comfortable as circumstances would permit, by means of the soldiers knapsacks, I then and there, surrounded by the military and police, administered the last sacraments. The fervor and devotion for which he prepared for death – though suffering very much – were most striking, and made on me an indelible impression. His lively faith and firm hope coupled with, if I might so write, his true heroism, so affected me that I could have wished myself in his place. It was whilst kneeling by his side and whispering to him words of consolation that he gave expression with his dying lips to that noble sentiment – one well worthy of Saint Lawrence O’Toole – ‘Father, I have two loves in my heart – one for my religion, the other for my country. I am dying today for the fatherland. I could die as cheerfully for faith’.

Rev. T. O’Connell, by then P.P. in Castlemartyr, describes administering the last rites to O’Neill Crowley, The Irish Standard, May 28th 1887
Depiction of the death of O’Neill Crowley, from the monument in Kilclooney

Peter O’Neill Crowley’s body was removed to a workhouse in nearby Mitchelstown, and a short inquest followed which found ‘The deceased was shot by troops whilst in the execution of their duty‘. His body was released to his sister, and brought to Ballymacoda for burial beside his grand-uncle Fr. Peter O’Neill in the churchyard. His funeral cortege was reported to be comprised of thousands of mourners, but it is impossible to get accurate figures. Numerous sources also indicate that his coffin was shouldered all the way from Mitchelstown to Ballymacoda, stopping overnight to rest in Killeagh.

O’Neill Crowley’s Grave in the churchyard in Ballymacoda, marked by a large Celtic Cross

Over the years numerous commemorations have taken place at Kilclooney, notably in 1898 when a memorial was erected (re-erected in 1960), at the 100 anniversary of the battle in 1967 and in the year 2000 when Derek Warfield, historian and ex-leader of the Wolfe Tones group was the guest speaker. A new viewing station was unveiled at Kilclooney Wood in 2013, in advance of the commemoration held in 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary. Peter O’Neill Crowley is also commemorated in numerous parts of Cork and further afield:

  • O’Neill Crowley Terraces in Ballymacoda, in Castlemartyr, and in Mitchelstown.
  • Peter O’Neill Crowley Bridge (formerly George IV Bridge) on the Carrigrohane road in Cork city.
  • O’Neill Crowley statue at the National Monument on Grand Parade in Cork city, erected to commemorate the Irish patriots who died during the period 1798 – 1867.
  • O’Neill Crowley Street in Youghal.
  • O’Neill Crowley Quay in Fermoy.
  • Peter O’Neill Crowley Gaelic Athletic Club formed in the Clonard area of Belfast in 1902 – they went on to win two Antrim Senior Hurling titles in 1903 and 1907.
Plaque at the viewing station in Kilclooney, erected 2013

The memory of O’Neill Crowley is also captured in the folk songs ‘Erin’s Lovely Lee‘, and ‘Peter Crowley‘, recordings of which are available in the collection of the Clare County Library (see references for links).

Peter O’Neill Crowley memorial on the National Monument on Grand Parade.

The Fenian leader John Devoy said of O’Neill Crowley: “Peter O’Neill Crowley was one of the best men in the Fenian Movement, and Ireland never gave birth to a truer or more devoted son. His devotion to the cause of Irish liberty was sublime and his courage dauntless“. It would be difficult to disagree with this opinion.

Peter O’Neill Crowley’s Gaelic Athletic Club, Belfast 1902

In a future post, we’ll look at the aftermath of the 1867 rebellion, in particular what became of the other protagonists from the Ballymacoda area who took part in the rebellion.

References and Further Information

Historical Remains of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge, Ballymacoda / Ladysbridge Community Council Historical Society

Fenian Heroes & Martyrs, John Savage, Published by Patrick Donahoe, 1868

The Irish Standard, May 28th 1887

Recollections of an Irish Rebel, A Personal Narrative, By John Devoy.

Erin’s Lovely Lee, recording captured in the Carroll Mackenzie Collection at Clare County Library collection

Peter Crowley, recording captured in the Carroll Mackenzie Collection at Clare County Library collection

Kilclooney Wood and Peter O’Neill-Crowley, Micheál Ó’h0Aonghusa, 2012

Fr. Peter O’Neill

Fr. Peter O’Neill is perhaps the best known link to Ballymacoda and the Society of United Irishmen and the events of 1798. Arrested for his alleged knowledge of the murder of an informer in Ballymacoda, he suffered a brutal interrogation and torture, and spent a number of years in a prison colony in Australia. In this post, we delve into the life of Fr. Peter O’Neill, the events leading to his deportation, and his life afterwards.

Fr. Peter O’Neill

It is interesting to note that Fr. O’Neill was not born in Ballymacoda, but born in the parish of Conna, on June 29th 1747. He was educated first at a hedge school at Inch, with schools and education being banned for Catholics at the time. Later he attended a school at Kilworth, learning classics and mathematics. Following his education in Kilworth, he was sent to be trained for the priesthood at the College of the Lombards in Paris.

After his ordination in 1781, Fr. O’Neill returned to Ireland. For the next five years, he filled many vacant posts in the diocese of Cloyne & Ross, before being appointed Parish Priest of Ballymacoda by Bishop MacKenna in November 1786. His letter of appointment from the Bishop, dated 8th November 1786 seems to indicate that he had done a more than satisfactory job in his other parishes up to that point.

Being answerable to the great God for the choice I make to fill vacant parishes with proper pastors, as the district of Ballymacoda is now vacant, and certainly wants a pastor conspicuous for good sense, prudence, discretion, zeal, and talents for instruction, we hereby assign and appoint you as pastor, whom we well know to possess those qualifications, and charge in conscience to labour strenuously in reforming and instructing said flock, as you have done in all places you have served hitherto, and charge said flock by virtue of the obedience they owe to you their pastor, and to me their superior, to show you due obedience and respect, and charge Rev. Mr. Dinahy to induct you properly.

Letter appointing Fr. O’Neill P.P of Ballymacoda from Bishop Matthew MacKenna.

At that time, Shanagarry was part of the parish of Ballymacoda & Ladysbridge, and Fr. O’Neill first presented himself at the church there. As told in the Memoir of Rev. Peter O’Neill (Rice, 1900), he found the doors to the chapel locked and no one there to welcome him. After striking up a conversation with a blacksmith, he managed to convince him to open the church doors, and requested that those in the locality at least permit him to say a mass, which was accepted. Fr. Peter won over his parishioners, and this was the beginning of his ministry in the parish of Ballymacoda. Sources indicate that he was a very hard working priest, arising at 4am each morning and working many hours hearing confessions, saying mass, and visiting the sick. He was also involved in the building of schools in the parish, and a new church in Ballymacoda in 1796.

Stone at the entrance to St. Peter in Chains Church, Ballymacoda

Memoir of Rev. Peter O’Neill (Rice, 1900) discusses Patrick Murphy arriving in Ballymacoda, his wife possibly being a native of the area or having relations there. Murphy was an ex-sergeant and had been convicted of attempting to convince fellow officers to join the United Irishmen. He was sentenced to 500 lashes and to be deported for life to a prison colony, but this sentence was commuted on his agreement to become an informer for the authorities, and report on activities of the United Irishmen.

The leader of the United Irishmen in Ballymacoda at this time was Thomas O’Neill (no relation to Fr. Peter O’Neill). There is evidence that Thomas O’Neill and Fr. Peter O’Neill had previously had conflict, specifically relating to a disagreement regarding the proposed site of the new chapel in Ballymacoda.

Patrick Murphy integrated locally, but was at the same time passing information to Lords Shannon and Boyle regarding the membership and activities of the United Irishmen in Ballymacoda. A meeting of Murphy and the Lords was observed, and this information was passed to members of the United Irishmen in Ballymacoda. A meeting was held, to which Murphy was invited. He was arrested, and charged with being a spy, to which he admitted. It was claimed that the United Irishmen sent two members from this meeting to Fr. O’Neill to consult him on the course of action, however it seems that he didn’t give a response. The two returned to the meeting, where they concluded after much deliberation that Murphy should be shot. There is reference to the shooting happening in Ring, but it is likely impossible to pinpoint the location. Where exactly the body of Patrick Murphy was disposed of is also unclear – some sources list it as being buried in the sand in Knockadoon and others as having been thrown into the River Fanisk and covered over in a pile of stones.

Over the next number of weeks, noticing the absence of Murphy and the information which he was providing, the authorities arrested many people in the area for interrogation. It seems that Thomas O’Neill, under questioning, was the one who brought Fr. O’Neill into the fold – indicating that if he had done his duty, nobody would have been shot.

Fr O’Neill was arrested and brought to Youghal, where he was to suffer greatly. In his remonstrance in 1803, Fr. Peter O’Neill gave a first hand account of his punishment. He had ‘made up his mind not to utter even a single groan‘, as he knew that this would give satisfaction to his tormentors. The brave priest kept silent as lash upon lash was landed on his body. Lord William Loftus (1752-1831) was at the time Commander in Chief of the British forces based in Munster, and presided over the flogging of Fr. O’Neill. He was not pleased that the punishment was seemingly not having the desired effect, and indicated that he would ‘make the popish rebel groan‘. He ordered that jagged strips of tin and lead be knotted to the lashes of the whip. Fr O’Neill endured 275 lashes, and was thrown in a cell in the Clock Gate prison. Under great pressure throughout this ordeal to reveal the names of United Irishmen members in Ballymacoda, he didn’t reveal a single piece of information.

From Youghal, he was sent to Duncannon, and later put on board the transport ‘Princess Charlotte‘ in Waterford. Later taken to Cobh, he was transferred to a larger vessel bound for Botany Bay, the ‘Annie‘, where he remained for the next 10 months before being deported in 1800. While awaiting transport to Botany Bay on the ‘Annie‘, a court of inquiry was underway in Youghal, ordered by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Fr O’Neill was in no way involved in the inquiry, stating:

I was not brought nor any friend of mine summoned to speak for me. It was even a subject of sarcastic remark in the prison ship, that whilst I stood there among the sailors my trial as it was termed, was going on in Youghal. With the proceedings of that Court I am to this day unacquainted.

Fr. Peter O’Neill on his trial at Youghal, where he had no involvement, from Remonstrance to the Nobility and Gentry of County Cork, 1803

The inquiry ordered Fr. O’Neill to be removed from the transport ship, and imprisoned while the investigations were ongoing, but by the time the letter reached Cork, the ship on which Fr O’Neill was imprisoned had already set sail for Botany Bay.

Dublin Castle, 30th June, 1800.
Sir, —I have the honour to receive and to lay before my
Lord Lieutenant, your letter of the 28th instant, with its enclosure, and am directed to acquaint you, this his Excellency’s commands have been this day conveyed to Major General Myers, to take the Rev. Peter O’Neill from on board the Anne Botany Bay ship, in Cork Harbour, and to cause him to be imprisoned until further orders, but not to treat him with harshness or severity.
I have the honour, etc.,
E. B. Littlehales.

Letter ordering the removal of Fr O’Neill from the transport ship ‘Annie’. The ship had already sailed by the time this letter arrived.

In exile, the most of which he spent on Norfolk Island, Fr. O’Neill was allowed to continue his ministry. At home efforts by friends and family continued to lobby the government for his release and return to Ireland. These eventually succeeded and a recall was issued for the return of Fr. O’Neill to Ireland. Seeing the good he was doing in the colony, the governor there delayed telling Fr. O’Neill of his recall, with him first hearing of this being in a letter from a friend at home. Confronting the governor with this, the governor admitted his recall had come and that he had delayed telling him. He also offered Fr. O’Neill a yearly salary of £200 to stay on in the colony and continue his ministry there. Fr. O’Neill refused, but did promise to return later with more priests. His letter of pardon is dated 15th January 1803.

I do hereby certify that Mr. O’Neil has permission from his
Excellency, Governor King, to leave this Island, and to return to
Ireland.
Norfolk Island, 15th January, 1803

The content of Fr O’Neill’s letter of pardon, January 1803

When Fr. O’Neill arrived back in Ireland in 1803, he was reinstated as P.P. of Ballymacoda. While he was away, another priest, a Fr. O’Brien had been appointed P.P., but the bishop as a mark of respect for the suffering he had endured, reinstated him. Fr. O’Brien was later appointed P.P. in Doneraile.

In 1803, Fr. O’Neill published Remonstrance to the Nobility and Gentry of County Cork, in which he challenged the charges which were brought against him, showed that there was never any evidence, and challenged his accusers to produce any evidence against him.

Thomas O’Neill was sentenced to death for his part in the murder of Patrick Murphy in Ballymacoda, and was hanged in Cork on 13th June 1798. His ‘final confession’ is held in the National Library of Ireland, and is interesting from the perspective that he claims he was under duress to participate in the murder, and also that he had no knowledge of any involvement by Fr. Peter O’Neill, since he was previously the principal accuser of Fr. O’Neill.

From ‘The final confession of Thomas O’Neill’, National Library of Ireland

Two other local men, Patrick Shanahan and Robert Walsh, were also implicated in the murder of Patrick Murphy and hanged in Cork on 6th October 1798. A memorial was unveiled to all three at the Ballalley in Ballymacoda in 1998 on the 200th anniversary of the events of 1798.

Monument to Thomas O’Neill, Patrick Shanahan and Robert Walsh at the Ballalley in Ballymacoda

Fr Peter O’Neill died in June 1835, at the age of 88, working right up to the day he died. As per his wishes, he was buried in the churchyard at Ballymacoda. His grandnephew, the revered Fenian leader Peter O’Neill Crowley is buried at his side, but that’s another story.

The grave of Fr. Peter O’Neill in Ballymacoda churchyard

In 1906, a further memorial to Fr. O’Neill was unveiled in the 1798 memorial park in Youghal.

Fr. Peter O’Neill memorial, 1798 memorial park in Youghal

References and Further Information

Memoir of Rev. Peter O’Neill, by Rev. William Rice, Published by Eagle Works, South Mall, Cork, 1900

National Library of Ireland, The Final Confession of Thomas Neil

Historical Remains of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge, Ballymacoda / Ladysbridge Community Council Historical Society