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
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

Shipwrecks Around Ballymacoda #1 – The Tadorna

With the amount of coastline around the Ballymacoda area, it is not surprising that there have been quite a few shipwrecks over the years. In the first article in this series, we’ll be looking at the Tadorna, which was wrecked near Ballycrenane in 1911.

The Tadorna in 1911. From the Horgan brothers collection, the brothers owned a photographic studio in Youghal.

The Tadorna was a 1,643-ton steel hulled cargo steamship owned and operated by the Cork Steamship Co. Ltd. It was built in 1910 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson at their Low Walker shipyard on the River Tyne, first launched for sea trials on 9th June that year. It was handed off to the Cork Steamship Co. Ltd in August, as reported in The Times of London on 24th August.

Report in The Times of London mentioning delivery of the Tadorna to the Cork Steamship Company by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson

Evidence would suggest that this was the second steamship to be built for Cork Steamship Co. Ltd to be given the name Tadorna, with the original being built in 1896 and remaining in service until 1910, so the new Tadorna looks like a direct replacement for that vessel.

Just over a year after being delivered, in the very early morning of Wednesday 15th November 1911, the Tadorna was approximately 5 miles from Ballycotton, off Ballycrenane. She was on route from Rotterdam to Cork, and was laden with general cargo. On board were Master Henry H. Gregory along with 20 crewmembers. There was a strong South-East gale blowing and very heavy seas. At about 2am, signals of distress were observed from the ship from Ballycotton, and the RNLI lifeboat based there, the T. P. Hearne, was launched with three crew members on board, one being the local priest.

On reaching the Tadorna, the lifeboat crew found it impossible to board due to the darkness and the heavy seas. As the light of dawn approached, the lifeboat crew were able to rescue 9 crew members, making their way with great difficulty in very heavy seas back to Ballycotton. The remainder of the crew were rescued by ‘rocket apparatus‘, a rudimentary but successful life saving apparatus of the time. The operation of the apparatus is described in the Journal of Research on Irish Maritime History:

The apparatus consisted of a tripod rocket launching apparatus, line carrying rockets and a huge quantity of ropes of various thickness. A light line attached to the rocket would be fired to the ship in distress to become entangled in the rigging. The crew would haul a heavy line and a further light line into their ship using this first line. Block and tackle, instructions and a breeches buoy were hauled out to the distressed ship. The victims would be hauled ashore one by one sitting in the breeches buoy, finally a cutting apparatus would be sent out to the ship end of the line to cut away the rope for recovery and reuse.

Description of the usage of the ‘rocket apparatus’ of the type used by the RNLI and coastguard to rescue some of the crew members from the Tadorna.
The Tadorna stranded on the rocks. Original photograph enhanced by John Finn and kindly reproduced with permission

Each of the crewmembers of the RNLI lifeboat from Ballycotton were recognized for their efforts in the rescue of the crew of the Tadorna. The following letter of thanks from the Master of the Tadorna also appeared in the local press a few days later:

Sir,—On behalf of the entire crew of the SS Tadorna, it affords me the greatest pleasure to return our heartfelt thanks for the invaluable and prompt action taken both by the Ballycotton Life-boat crew and the Coastguardsmen with the rocket apparatus, in rescuing us from our perilous position on Wednesday morning last.

The brave and gallant manner in which they rendered these services under most trying conditions is beyond all praise. The officers and myself would also like to thank Mrs. Pomphrett, of Ballycrenane, for the great kindness shown to us, and the hospitable manner in which we were treated by her on our arrival on shore.
Yours truly, Henry H. Gregory, Master

Appreciation letter from the master of the Tadorna

Attempts were made by the Ensor Salvage Company to salvage the Tadorna, which had become stranded on the rocks, but these efforts were unsuccessful and the ship broke in two a few days later.

Remains of the Tadorna today. Photograph credit to John Finn and kindly reproduced with permission

References & Further Information

The Times of London, 24th August 1910

Coastguard Lifesaving Carts, Journal of Research on Irish Maritime History

The Lifeboat, Journal of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Volume XXI, Number 244, 1st May 1912

William Hennessy, the ‘Candy King’ of Cambridge & Boston

This is the story of yet another famous emigrant from Ballymacoda who ended up becoming a multi-millionaire in his destination of the town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Like Thomas Ahern whom we discussed previously, who made his fortune on the other side of the world in Western Australia, William Hennessy left Ballymacoda and Ireland with nothing, and ended up amassing a sizeable fortune from his empire of candy manufacturing and real estate.

William Hennessy

William Hennessy was born in Ballymakeigh, Ballymacoda in 1876. Parish records show that he was baptized on the 13th February of that year. He was the son of Thomas (1838-1898) and Julia Hennessy née O’Keeffe (1848-1910). William was educated with the Christian Brothers in Youghal, and had two younger brothers – John (1881-1917) and Richard (1889-1958).

Baptismal record for William Hennessy from parish records, February 13th 1876

According to his inputs to the 1900 United States Federal Census, William arrived in the US in 1893 at the age of 17. His Commonwealth of Massachusetts naturalization application confirms this, listing his arrival location as New York, on August 15th, 1893. The same 1900 census record shows the then 24 year old William living as a lodger in the Kelso household at 137 Washington Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his occupation being recorded as ‘Candy Maker‘. Naturalization records show that he became a naturalized US citizen two years later on the 8th October, 1902 at the third district court in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

William worked as a candy maker in Chicoine’s candy shop on Norfolk Street in Cambridge for a number of years before deciding to open his own store, believing he could make superior candies for a similar price.

On Saturday 23rd July 1910, the Hennessy candy store opened to the public for the first time, located at 493 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The store became successful very quickly, notable due to the high quality of the candies on sale. Perhaps an indicator of the early and sustained success of his store, is that William Hennessy was able to purchase the entire building at 493 Massachusetts Avenue just over 3 years later, as reported in the Cambridge Tribune.

Excerpt from the Cambridge Tribune, 7th Feb 1914.

In 1915, he made the bold decision to expand. The wooden buildings at 493 Massachusetts Avenue were demolished, and a new four story brick building was constructed. Part of the building was leased to a furniture company, Henry W. Berry Furniture Co., while the rest of the building housed the production of the Hennessy candies. Around this time of expansion, he also opened a second candy store at 17 Winter Street in Boston, which, as with the existing store in Cambridge, was successful from the very beginning.

The building at 493 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge in 1921, the Hennessy candy manufacturing headquarters

With a good cash flow from his existing business, William Hennessy was able to start engaging in real estate speculation, with his first purchase being a building on the western end of Central Square in Cambridge. He continued to buy up property, alone and in cooperation with other investors, including land in excellent locations with high strategic values, for example, the Holmes Building on Central Square. By this time, he was the owner of two of the four corners of Central Square, and part of a third.

In January 1923, the candy business was dealt a temporary blow when a fire broke out in his building on Massachusetts Avenue early in the morning. Starting in the basement and then engulfing the ground floor, the fire ended up causing $10,000 worth of damage to the building and stock, a sizeable sum at the time.

Advertisement for Hennessy Candies, 8th November 1924

There are multiple mentions in the Cambridge newspapers of the time about William Hennessy’s trips back to Ireland, including references to Ballymacoda itself. There are references to him having spent ‘many arduous hours on the farm getting back to earth in the vigorous two-fisted way of his youth‘, and mentions of him having lost a lot of weight due to the hard work on such a trip home. His love of farm work is evident from his questioning by a reporter from the Cambridge Sentinel on his return from such a trip in 1924.

William Hennessy on farm work after a trip to Ireland

Due to his position in the community in Cambridge, William Hennessy was frequently interviewed in local newspapers, and was always keen to offer opinion on the political situation at home in Ireland. From his regular trips back, he was in a position to contribute his thoughts on the issues of the day, and did so freely. When he returned from a trip in 1920, he was quick to opine on the situation of Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, who at that time was on hunger strike in Brixton prison in England, having been arrested by the British on charges of sedition.

William Hennessy on Terence MacSwiney, Cambridge Chronicle, 18th September 1920. MacSwiney died just over a month later on 25th October

In an interview with the Cambridge Sentinel in 1924, he also spoke to the importance of the business relationships between England and Ireland, which was insightful for that time in my opinion, given that the Irish Free State was only a few years old.

William Hennessy on Ireland’s business relationship with England, 1924

The 1930 United States Federal Census records show William living at Brookline, Norfolk, Massachusetts with his wife Annie (née Condon), also an Irish emigrant. They had married in her hometown of Youghal, on 24th January 1925 when William was 49 and Annie was 19. Annie, born on April 15th 1905, was the daughter of Justin and Annie Condon (née Jones) from Youghal, and also emigrated to the US that same year of 1925, arriving in New York on 24th February 1925, via Cherbourg in France, presumably where she and William had honeymooned.

William Hennessy, Bill to those who knew him well, as a person seemed to be well respected and liked by all in the community, business persons and others. The Cambridge Sentinel summed him up as “Silent for an Irishman, yet as observant, plain, and friendly as if he didn’t have a dime“. He faced serious illness in 1936, but made a full recovery, with the Sentinel publishing a short note congratulating him on his recovery, showing how well liked he really was.

Excerpt from Cambridge Sentinel, 5th December 1936

William Hennessy died in 1942 at the age of 66, still living in Cambridge, but having crossed the Atlantic to his home at least 80 times (as reported in the Cambridge Sentinel in June 1935) during this time living there. The Sentinel published a gushing obituary to him on 6th June, 1942.

Excerpt from the obituary published in the Cambridge Sentinel, 6th June 1942

Annie Hennessy later remarried an Englishman, Charles Peter Peters, and settled in Oxford, England where she lived until her passing away at the age of 92 on October 27th 1997. I have found no record of Annie ever having any children with either William Hennessy or her second husband Charles.

Regarding the Hennessy business empire, and assets such as the real estate in Cambridge and Boston, despite extensive research, I have been unable to find out what became of them. Presumably Annie would have sold everything before her move to England, but I have been unable to find any evidence to confirm that. The former Hennessy candy headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge survives to this day.

Former Hennessy Building at 493 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge today

Regardless of what became of the fruits of William Hennessy’s life in business, I once again stand in amazement of what a son of Ballymacoda achieved, and the high regard in which he was held during his lifetime.

References & Further Information

Ireland, Civil Registration Marriages Index, 1845-1958

Cambridge Tribune, Volume XXXVI, Number 50, 7th February 1914

Cambridge Chronicle, 18th September 1920

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XVIII, Number 44, 31st December 1921

Cambridge Tribune, Volume XLV, Number 47, 13th January 1923

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XX, Number 32, 6th September 1924

Cambridge Chronicle, 8th November 1924

1900 United States Federal Census, Paid Records from

1930 United States Federal Census, Paid Records from

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XXX, Number 29, 20th July 1935

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XXXI, Number 49, 5th December 1936

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XXXVII, Number 23, 6th June 1942

Cambridge Sentinel, Volume XL, Number 24, 16th June, 1945

Massachusetts, U.S., State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950, Paid Records from

Hennessy Family Plot, Hill Cemetery, Ballymacoda

Liam Hoare: Oration by Florrie O’Donoghue

This coming Thursday, April 8th 2021, is the 100th anniversary of the killing of Captain Liam Hoare of the I.R.A by British forces in Ballymacoda.

Following on from the last post detailing the events around the killing, below is the text of the oration given by Florrie O’Donoghue at the dedication of the monument to Liam Hoare in Ballymacoda churchyard on Sunday August 4th, 1946. O’Donoghue was head of intelligence for the Cork No. 1 Brigade of the IRA during the war of independence, and later a historian who published a biography of General Liam Lynch.

A little over 25 years ago Liam Hoare, Captain of the Gortroe Company, 4th Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade, Irish Republican Army, was laid to rest in this place after he had been shot down and killed by the Black and Tans. He was a soldier in arms, a member of an organization then waging lawful warfare against these last and most despicable representatives of the long line of mercenaries whose services England had used for many centuries to hold this nation in subjection. He was an officer in a well-organized and disciplined force. Part of that force he had himself organized and trained – the Gortroe company of the I.R.A.

To the I.R.A., the government of the Irish Republic, elected by an overwhelming majority of the Irish people, had delegated the honor and the duty of its defense. In that service Liam Hoare served faithfully; in that service he met a soldiers death. He died at 24, with the summer of his life still before him, but the nation and the manner of his death have assured his memory has a permanent a place in the hearts of his people as the memories of these patriots of another time, whose names today are linked with his, patriot soldiers like Thomas Bowler Cullinane and Peter O’Neill Crowley.

The memories which a nation keeps in its heart are a spiritual defence against annihilation. That they are sufficient to save the nations soul even when its material defence has been destroyed, has been proved in our own history. One of the most cherished and sacred memories of the Irish people is the remembrance of the soldiers who died in battle before the firing squad, by the hangman’s ropes or in the prison cell, in the cause of Irish liberty. Ireland has always honored her patriot dead; for her soldiers she has reserved the highest place of honor and of love and that is a true instinct – an indication of adherence to something fundamental and indestructible in the national character.

In coming together to mark on an enduring stone of the last resting place of Liam Hoare the people of East Cork have borne testimony to their own faith that the memory of his life and of his death will live to sustain and inspire future generations. They have borne testimony, too, to the honor in which his memory is held in his native place. I would like to be permitted to join in paying a tribute to the committee who worked so energetically and so well for this worthy project, and to all those whose assistance made possible the erection of this fine memorial. Time has thinned the ranks of those who were his comrades in the last fight, but time has not dimmed, nor will it ever dim, the place his memory holds in the hearts of his people.

East Cork and particularly this neighborhood has intimate association with the Fenians. But the fight which they had planned in ’67 ended, as so many previous efforts had ended, in failure, in despair and apathy, in the crumbling of a high spirited but poorly armed organization when the leaders had been killed as Peter O’Neill Crowley was, or doomed to living death in prison or in exile as were John O’Leary, Thomas Clarke Luby, Jeremiah Donovan Rossa, John Devoy, Charles Kickham, Brian Dillon and many others.

Between the Fenians and the Irish Volunteers a generation of young men had failed to rise in arms against the tyranny of foreign rule. Pearse said of that failure: “There was nothing more terrible in Irish history”. And we can see more truly today perhaps how terrible a thing it was, how neatly it brought us to final extinction as a separate nation. For the first time the mass of the people turned for a whole generation to other and less worthy methods; for the first time the subtle effects of the policy of ‘purchasing the one half of us and intimidating the other’, had our apparent acquiescence; for the first time we had come perilously close to losing contact with the tradition of the soldier, with the soldiers fortitude and fidelity with his high conception of service to the nation, with his wholesome unselfish patriotism, with his loyal and steadfast spirit. The nation sickened and was dying.

But a few remained faithful to the old ideals and from the spark they nursed through those bitter years came the conflagration of 1916. There never was any hope of freedom unless the nation in arms fought for it. The Volunteers believed, with O’Donovan Rossa, that there were enough young men in Ireland to wrest her freedom from England by their own unaided efforts if they fought; that there always would be enough of them; that they needed only unity and arms and the determination to fight.

Here in the South, as for the most of the country, the testing time for the Volunteers came in the years after 1916. That the Volunteers organization after the failure of 1916 – for it was a military failure – did not crumble or run into the sand, as did the Fenian organization after the failure of ’67, is due, under God, to the young men all over the country who, like Liam Hoare, rebuilt, extended and maintained the organization, nursed and trained and hammered and hardened it, gave it vision and coherence, discipline and fighting spirit. They did not worry or grow faint hearted, at a time when public opinion had not yet braced itself to resist the shock of terrorism – terrorism against the civil population with which their enemies answered the tactics of the IRA – at a time when their own shortage of arms and of all the means of warfare were almost desperate as were those of the Fenian’s in ’67. Had these soldiers wavered then, had they remined inactive, had they thought only of themselves and their own interests, 1916 would have been just another glorious failure added to 1798, 1803, 1848, and 1867. We would still be an occupied country today, possibly a country devastated by the ruin of war.

Time had but served to emphasize that the men of the I.R.A. were not only good soldiers and good patriots in forcing the resumption of the fight in 1919, 1920 and 1921, but also that they had recaptured that clarity of vision as to means and objective, had certainty of what was right and brave and honorable, of what was truest in the national interests, which had been the guiding star of the patriot soldiers, who were their predecessors. Nowhere was that vision clearer; nowhere was that determination to fight on at all costs until victory was won more firm than in this county of Cork; nowhere were there better leaders or better soldiers as County Cork was in the van of the fight, so East Cork, the 4th Battalion to which Liam Hoare belonged, but the valor and initiative of its officer and men gained and held a high and honored place amounts the best battalions in the county. To its arms fell the honor of capturing the first police barracks to be taken in Ireland after 1916 – Carrigtwohill – on 2nd January 1920. In Diarmiud Hurley, who died on active service, the battalion had a commander who was a fearless soldier a capable leader and a patriotic Irishman.

Liam Hoare was typical of the men of the IRA at a time when the Army had attracted to its ranks all that was brave and virile, all that was chivalrous, unselfish and high-spirited in the best of the young manhood of the nation. He had to contend with the same difficulties, the same sufferings as most of his comrades in arms. He had to toil and plan, to leave his home and work, to sacrifice his worldly prospects, to suffer the vicissitudes of a fugitive, to risk his life so that he may serve full the cause and the calling which were nearest to his heart. Much – much more – was demanded of men like him than is demanded of the soldier in normal times of defence of his country; more – much more – was given and given generously. Like his comrades he realized that freedom’s sacrifice demands sacrifice. He had will to make it, and did make it to the full measure of his young life. For this we honor his memory as we honor the memories of all those who died in every age in the cause of our freedom. For this we mark their graves and make them a place of pilgrimage.

The objective for which they worked and for which they died – a free and sovereign Republic for the whole of Ireland – has not yet been attained. Each generation has its own problems and has its own contribution to make to the achievement of that ideal. Each generation must first find the road of service for itself as Liam Hoare’s generation sought and found it. The young men of the generation which has grown up since 1920 will be heartened in that service and understanding of the service given by men like him by an appreciation not alone of what they strove to do, but also of the obstacles that they had to overcome; they will be hearted by the knowledge that they men of the Irish Republican Army, though their work is incomplete, did lay the secure foundations which immutably determined the future destiny of the Irish nation.

Liam Hoare had a worthy part in that service. Because of it he has joined the ranks of those of whom it may truly be said:

“They shall be spoken of among their people; The generations shall remember them and call them blessed.”

The Killing of Captain Liam Hoare in Ballymacoda, April 8th 1921

On April 8th, it will be the 100th anniversary of the killing of Captain Liam Hoare. The world is a very different place from the afternoon of Friday April 8th 1921 when the 24 year old was killed in Ballymacoda, another brutality to be attributed to the forces of the crown in Ireland at that time.

William (Liam) Hoare had come to live with his Aunt and Uncle, Michael and Margaret Cunningham, at Beanfield in Clonpriest near Youghal a few years earlier. The 1911 Census of Ireland records show only one William Hoare in the entirety of the country who would be the right age at that time (14) as the William Hoare who was killed in Ballymacoda 10 years later. He is recorded as living in Kilbarraree, a townland in the parish of Cloyne, where he had lived before moving to Beanfield.

William (Liam) Hoare captured in the 1911 census records

Captain Liam Hoare was a member of the Ballymacoda company (‘O‘ company) of the 4th Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade of the IRA. There are a couple of versions of the story of how Hoare came to meet his end in Ballymacoda.

One story goes that at approximately 13:45, Constable Harold Thompson of the RIC who was driving the leading vehicle in a convoy, spotted Hoare leaving his bicycle against a hedge in Ballymacoda village. Constable Thompson stopped, and ran towards Hoare causing him to run into Gumbleton’s house at the bottom of the village. Allegedly, the RIC only fired after Hoare did first, firing four shots in their direction, but that is impossible to verify, and highly unlikely to be true. Hoare was killed, and allegedly a Mauser automatic pistol and revolver were found to be in his possession.

A further account, given by a Constable Connaughton, says that when Hoare spotted the convey, he had immediately jumped from his bicycle and ran. When ordered to stop by Constable Thompson, he failed to comply and was shot and killed.

There is an interesting side note here that I’ve not seen mentioned anywhere before relating to Constable Harold Thompson, involved in both versions of events as outlined above. As well as being the constable who spotted the young Captain Hoare in Ballymacoda that afternoon, he also had a connection to the Battle of Clonmult. Constable Thompson, who was an Australian, was killed just over a month later on May 14th in Midleton along with two other RIC members. This was seen as a reprisal for the killing of two IRA prisoners taken at the Clonmult ambush in February 1921.

The IRA version of the killing of Captain Liam Hoare, as mentioned in the book “Cork’s Revolutionary Dead” is very different, as recalled by Kevin Murphy from Cobh, a member of Fianna Éireann, in a witness statement:

I was arrested and taken to the military camp at The Hutments, Belmont, Cobh, where I was put into the guardroom. Here two soldiers stood in front of me, loading and unloading their rifles and all the time threatening to shoot me if I failed to give information regarding the IRA. After half an hour or so of this sort of business, and failing to make me give them any information, I was put into a cell adjoining the guardroom and left there for the night without a bed of any kind on which I could lie. In the morning I noticed what appeared to be clotted blood on the floor of the cell, and after a while the soldiers brought me a bucket of water, a scrubbing brush and cloths to clean up the floor. I refused point blank to do this. I learned later that an IRA prisoner named Hoare from East Cork who had been shot by the Cameron Highlanders, tied with ropes to a military lorry and dragged for miles along the road, had been thrown into the cell which I now occupied. This accounted for the clotted blood on the floor which I was ordered to wash.

Kevin Murphy, Bureau of Military History, Witness Statement 1629

Liam Hoare’s remains were brought to St Ita’s Church at Gortroe on the evening of Saturday April 9th, with the coffin draped in the republican flag. The funeral mass took place on April 12th, with huge crowds reported as being in attendance. The funeral procession from Gortroe to Ballymacoda was reported to have taken over 2 hours, where Liam Hoare was laid to rest in the churchyard near Fenian leader Peter O’Neill Crowley, and his comrade Richard Hegarty, killed at the Battle of Clonmult earlier that year. He was survived by his Aunt and Uncle, and two younger sisters, with his parents being already dead. Interestingly, in the Military Service Pensions Collection archive it is noted that an application was made by Liam Hoare’s sister for a service medal which was approved, but it is unclear from the file if the medal was ever issued to his surviving family.

In 1946, on the 25th anniversary of his death, a monument was unveiled to Captain Liam Hoare in the churchyard at Ballymacoda. Orations were given by Florrie O’Donoghue and Sean O’Hegarty.

O’Donoghue, who was intelligence officer of the Cork No. 1 brigade said of Hoare in his oration:

“Hoare was typical of the men of the IRA at a time when the Army had attracted to its ranks all that was brave and virile, all that was chivalrous, unselfish and high-spirited,” presenting “the best of the young manhood of the nation.”

The book “Historical Remains of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge” lists the memorial committee members as Michael Shanahan (chairman), Patrick Lawton (honorary secretary), J. Hegarty (treasurer), and John O’Keefe and W. Wigmore (committee members).

The monument to Captain Liam Hoare in Ballymacoda Churchyard

References & Further Information

The Irish Revolution, Volunteer Liam Hoare

The National Archives of Ireland, 1911 Census Records

The Dead of the Irish Revolution, Eunan O’Halpin, Daithi O Corrain, Yale University Press, October 2020

Cork’s Revolutionary Dead by Barry Keane

Bureau of Military History, Witness Statement 1629, Kevin Murphy

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

Irish Military Archives, Military Service Pensions Collection

The Story of Pat Hennessy

An edited version of this article also appeared in the Cork Holly Bough Christmas 2021 Edition.

In Kingfisher County, near the center of the US state of Oklahoma lies the town of Hennessey. With a population of approximately 2,000, Hennessey lies to the north of Kingfisher County along the historic Chisholm Trail, which was used for decades following the US Civil War for driving cattle from Texas to Kansas.

Location of Hennessey, in the US State of Oklahoma

It is fascinating to consider that this town in Oklahoma was named after a man born in Ballymacoda, Pat Hennessy, albeit with the town name adding an extra ‘e‘ at the end of its name for which no explanation is obvious.

Pat Hennessy

Patrick Hennessy was born in Ballymakeigh, Ballymacoda on March 10th 1837, the son of John and Honora (Norry) Hennessy. According to the Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge Catholic Parish Register, he was baptized two days later.

Barely legible baptismal record for Pat Hennessy, March 12th, 1837

John & Norry Hennessy had six other children in addition to Pat. Next in line after Pat were his brothers Martin (born 1839), and John (born 1841). Next was sister Margaret (born 1843), followed by another sister Johanna (born 1847), followed by brother Maurice (born 1849), and finally Thomas (born 1851).

After school, and a brief stint at St. Colman’s College in Fermoy during which Pat considered joining the priesthood, he emigrated to Canada in 1860. By 1862, he was in the United States. Pat saw action in the American Civil War, enlisting in the Union Army, and serving in the 22nd Regiment, Illinois Infantry. After the war ended, Pat became a freight hauler. In an age before the railroads were built, most freight was hauled across long distances by wagon trains. The job of a ‘muleskinner‘ as those who worked on the wagon trains pulled by mules were called, was to drive the wagon and guard the freight. This was not an easy life, with the average muleskinner making a paltry $25 per month.

Purported photograph of Pat Hennessy’s freight wagon, from the US Army Artillery and Missile Museum, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

On July 4th, 1874 Pat Hennessy was travelling with George Fand, Thomas Caloway and Ed Cook, hauling coffee and sugar south from Wichita, Kansas, to the Darlington Indian Agency. After stopping at Buffalo Springs, a popular stage station and rest stop along the Chisolm Trail, Pat and his company were warned of Indian activity in the area, and advised not to proceed along their planned route. Ignoring this advice, sometime later Pat and his men were moving in a three-wagon train down the Chisholm Trail when they were attacked. Hopelessly outnumbered, Pat and his men fought back but ultimately all four were killed in the battle.

Reports indicated that all four men were scalped, and Pat Hennessy was found tied to a wagon wheel with his body badly burnt. There was also a report of the attack being witnessed by a man on horseback travelling behind the convey of wagons. This man purportedly rode back to Buffalo Springs to report the attack, with a group from there being first on the scene to witness the horrific outcome. The body of Pat Hennessy was buried nearby, but later moved to a park in the town founded in 1889 which was named after him.

Plaque commemorating the massacre, located in Memorial Park on the north side of the town of Hennessey.

The mainly accepted story is that the convoy was attacked by Cheyanne Indians, but there is disagreement between historians on this, with some suggesting that the attack was carried out by a group of white outlaws posing as Indian warriors.

Pat Hennessy was only 37 when he died, having never made it back to Ballymacoda. Interestingly, a May 2013 article carried in the ‘Hennessey Clipper‘ reported that Noel Hennessy from Ballycotton, a great-great-great nephew of Pat Hennessy, stopped to visit the town of Hennessey whilst on a tour of Route 66.

Whatever the true story of the events that led to the demise of Pat Hennessy on Independence Day 1874, the man from Ballymacoda is forever immortalized by the town in Oklahoma that bears his name.

Pat Hennessy Park in the town of Hennessey, there is some dispute as to where his body actually lays
Pat Hennessy Memorial Garden located in Hennessey

References & Further Information

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

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, 100th Anniversary of the Pat Hennessy Massacre, July 4th 1974

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, Great Nephew Stops to Visit Hennessy Namesake, May 9th 2013

The Hennessey Clipper Archives, Pat Hennessy Celebration Starts Tonight, August 27th 1981

Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915

Civil War Soldier Details, US National Park Service

Old West Teamsters and Freighters

The Murder of Patrick Hanlon

The events leading up to the death of Patrick Hanlon in Youghal on March 8th 1887 are complex and require some background. The outcome though is clear: Patrick Hanlon, a 30 year old fisherman from Ballymacoda was bayoneted to death by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) during a riot.

Death Record of Patrick Hanlon, listing cause of death as ‘wound inflicted by sword bayonet

There are contemporary sources listing Patrick Hanlon as being a native of Ballymacoda, such as the ‘The Little Book of Youghal‘ (2016) by Kieran Groeger, and sources from the time such as The United Irishman.

However, his birth year of 1857 makes that difficult to find evidence of. Census fragments survive for 1821-51, which is too early to record Patrick, and the 1901 and 1911 census records are of no use as they occurred after his death. Consulting the available Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge Parish Baptismal records also yielded no Patrick Hanlon baptized in 1857, at least in the entries which are still legible.

A few possibilities exist here. One is that Patrick Hanlon was born or baptized outside the parish. The 1901 census records show two distinct families with the surname Hanlon living in Knockadoon and Ballyskibbole (but both record a living Patrick Hanlon in each household). Another possibility is that the records have been lost over time. Leaving aside the fact that there is not much evidence that can be found of Patrick Hanlon in Ballymacoda, nonetheless he came to be in Youghal on March 8th 1887 and was brutally murdered.

The so-called ‘Plan of Campaign‘ had been devised in 1886 by the Irish National League. This was founded by Charles Stewart Parnell to succeed the Land League after that had been suppressed. Simply put, the main aim of the plan was to protect tenant farmers, especially if there was a poor harvest which impacted the tenants’ ability to pay the rent on the land they were farming. In the case of a poor harvest, the tenant would offer the landlord a reduced amount of rent, and if the landlord refused, the money would be put into the care of a trustee, generally a trusted member of the community. This money would then be used to help evicted tenants.

The ‘Plan of Campaign‘ measures were to be put in place on 203 estates across Ireland, and the estate of Charles Talbot Ponsonby at Park in Youghal became one of the first to be targeted with the new measures. This estate was on the outskirts of Youghal town, and when substantially reduced rent was offered, Ponsonby refused, and started to evict tenants. As directed by the Plan of Campaign, the reduced amount of rent was then paid by the tenants to the trustee.

Park House, the home of Charles Talbot Ponsonby in Youghal

The curate in Youghal at that time was Father Daniel Keller. Authorities strongly believed Keller was a secret trustee of the Plan of Campaign fund, and in early March 1887 he was called to Dublin to testify about his involvement in the fund. When Keller failed to appear, a warrant was issued for his arrest. This issuing of a warrant for the arrest of Fr. Keller caused outrage in Youghal, and street protests and a riot ensued. During the riot, the RIC charged the crowd with fixed bayonets, and Patrick Hanlon was killed.

Fr. Daniel Keller (1839-1922)

The coroner in Youghal recorded a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ in the death of Patrick Hanlon, and the news was reported widely, as far away as New Zealand.

Excerpt from the Ashburton Guardian, March 25th 1887

Based on the verdict, Constable Garrett Ward and District Inspector Somerville were arrested for the murder of Patrick Hanlon, and taken to prison in Cork. There was significant pressure for both to face justice. The events at Youghal were mentioned in the House of Commons many times in the following weeks, and on March 24th 1887 MP for Cork East William Lane asked Arthur Balfour, Chief Secretary for Ireland (and future British PM) if justice would be served:

Whether, as the inquest at Youghal terminated in a verdict of wilful murder against District Inspector Somerville and Constable Ward, he will take measures to have these prisoners brought to trial at the next Cork Assizes.

Question from Mr. William Lane, MP for Cork East to Chief Secretary for Ireland, Arthur Balfour, Thursday March 24 1887.

Balfour’s response indicated that both Ward and Somerville would be dealt with in the same fashion as anyone else accused of a crime.

I am advised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland that the case of the prisoners referred to will be dealt with in the ordinary and usual course.

Arther Balfour’s response, which in time was proven to be false.

Both Constable Ward and Inspector Somerville were eventually acquitted, with the crown entering a nolle prosequi in the case, essentially meaning they were unwilling to pursue any charges against the defendants.

Father Keller, having been arrested on March 18th 1887 and brought to Dublin, continued to refuse to cooperate with the authorities and was jailed for 2 months in Kilmainham jail, until an appeal in May 1887 found no legal grounds for his continued detention. After his release, he continued to support tenants on the Talbot Ponsonby estate, where the plan of campaign survived until 1892. Keller remained the parish priest of Youghal until his death on November 8th 1922.

Patrick Hanlon was buried in the Hill Cemetery in Ballymacoda. The Morning News on Friday 11th March 1887 carried a description of the funeral.

The Morning News, Belfast, Friday 11th March 1887

The United Irishman, the newspaper owned and edited by Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, published in New York for the week ending April 20th 1889 (over two years after the events), carried a story about a monument to Patrick Hanlon being unveiled in Ballymacoda. The article as written suggests that the monument was in the churchyard at Ballymacoda, but could well have been in the Hill Cemetery based on that being where Patrick Hanlon was interred.

The United Irishman, Week Ending April 20th 1889

If any readers are aware of such a monument to Patrick Hanlon, I would love to update this post with the details. If for reasons of time that such a monument existed, but has been forgotten, it is surely something that should be addressed so this tragic event in the history of Ireland and Ballymacoda is never forgotten.

References and Further Information

Dictionary of Irish Biography, Entry for Daniel Keller

The Little Book of Youghal, by Kieran Groeger

Historic Graves, St. Peter In Chains Church Ballymacoda

Papers Past, The Ashburton Guardian, March 25th 1887

Law And Justice—Riots At Youghal—District Inspector Somerville And Constable Ward Ireland, Civil Registration Deaths Index, 1864-1958, Death Record of Patrick Hanlon

The Morning News, Belfast, 11th March 1887, Paid Records

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s Visit to Ballymacoda

The name Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa should need no introduction. A lifelong Fenian born in West Cork in 1831, and a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), O’Donovan Rossa was arrested in 1865 due to his involvement with the Fenian newspaper ‘The Irish People‘. He was sentenced to penal servitude for life, taking into account his previous convictions such as his arrest in 1858. He served his time in a few different English prisons such as Pentonville, Portland, Millbank, and Chatham. As part of the Fenian Amnesty of 1871, he was released. As a condition of this, he was forced to emigrate, and he chose to take up residence in New York. He was also required to give a commitment never to return to Ireland.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

However, he was allowed to visit Ireland in 1894, and again in 1904. During the 1894 visit, he conducted a lecture tour of towns and villages across the country. Arriving in Queenstown (Cobh) on May 19th, he was met by large crowds, including armed IRB volunteers in the event the authorities tried to arrest him.

On June 19th 1894, O’Donovan Rossa visited Ballymacoda. The following text comprises the welcome address on his visit to the grave of Ballymacoda patriot Peter O’Neill Crowley at the churchyard in Ballymacoda village. This was published in ‘The United Irishman‘ in New York, on July 7th 1894. This newspaper was published and edited by O’Donovan Rossa between 1881 and 1910, with his wife Mary Jane taking over the responsibilities as he toured Ireland.

The United Irishman, July 7th 1894

Address of the welcome to J. O’Donovan Rossa, Esq., on his visit to the grave of O’Neill Crowley, June 19th, 1894.

Illustrious exile of Erin – we, on behalf of the Reception Committee, and the people of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge, welcome you with a hearty ‘cead mille failte’ to historic Ballymacoda – to the parish where O’Neill Crowley was born – where he spent his boyhood in Christian piety, and his manhood in disseminating the principles of true Nationality; and wherein is laid his mortal remains, over which a grateful people erected a noble Celtic Cross – an emblem of Faith and Fatherland – to testify their admiration of the heroic man, who in compliance with the principles he himself inculcated, met the hereditary enemies of this country face to face, with his rifle in his hand, on that bleak morning of the 31st March 1867 in Kilclooney wood, and fell fighting for the independence of his native land.

What finer epitaph can possibly be engraved to perpetuate the memory of anyone, be he king, lord, or peasant, that is inscribed on the O’Neil Crowley monument, describing the manner of his death: ‘Tra do bhi se ag troideadh go trunmhar son a thire’ – ‘At a time when he was fighting bravely for his country’s cause’.

In this same parish was born Michael O’Brien, one of the Manchester Martyrs, to whose memory, as well as to his compatriots, will shortly be erected, with God’s blessing, a memorial to show future generations that the men who dared to suffer and to die for the fatherland were not forgotten. Neither is the name of O’Donovan Rossa forgotten – a name that has been as a talisman in true Nationality, and as a household word for thirty years past amongst the peasantry of Munster.

We have not forgotten the indignities which you were subjected and the imprisonment meted out to you, and the enforced exile for thirty years which you were compelled to submit to for the crime of daring to love your country – the crime for which Michael O’Brien expiated his life on the scaffold, with the cry of ‘God Save Ireland’ on his lips, and for which O’Neill Crowley shed his blood on the battlefield, with his face to the foe.

We remember you also as a lover of the grand old tongue of the Gaodhal, as it is on record that more than thirty years ago you caused to be placed over your door in Gaelic characters your name – Diarmaid O’Donn-o-bhain Rossa – and defied the authorities of the day.

We recognize in you from that circumstance a specially true patriot, as any man who loves his country’s language as he does his country cannot be otherwise a true patriot.

All who have died or suffered for the sacred cause of Nationality shall never be forgotten by the Irish people, and their names handed down to future ages; but among them shall no name be more conspicuous that the name of ‘Rossa’.

This address cannot be more appropriately concluded than in the words of the poet, when he says:

Go la deighionach dubhach a saoghal,
Beigh glas-cuimhu’ ag clanna Goadhal

I have been unable to find any sources of local information on the visit of O’Donovan Rossa to Ballymacoda in 1894. The background of the visit may be the source of a future post here, if I can find suitable sources of information. I have been unable to determine the members of the reception committee, or who gave the welcome address, or indeed what O’Donovan Rossa himself said on the day. I am sure that there are some very interesting stories to be told here.

Peter O’Neill Crowley and Michael O’Brien will also be topics for future posts, no history of the locality would be complete without their inclusion.

References and Further Information

Speech at the official opening of the O’Donovan Rossa Memorial Park, President of Ireland, June 11th 2015

Houses of the Oireachtas, Library and Research Service, The United Irishman: New York, week ending July 7, 1894, Page 3

The Coast Watching Service in Ballymacoda

An edited version of this article also appeared in the Cork Holly Bough Christmas 2021 Edition.

From 1939 to 1945, manned look-out points dotted around the island of Ireland kept watch, noting down and reporting all activity in the sea and the sky around the coastline to Irish military intelligence, known as G2, which had formed secret agreements with the Allied intelligence services to share information.

These Look Out Posts, or LOP’s, were of critical importance due to the neutrality of Ireland. Firstly, Ireland as a neutral country had legal obligations to fulfill as part of the Hague Convention of 1907, which mandated clearly the responsibilities of neutral countries during a war – the principle one being surveillance of its coastal waters, and ensuring that belligerent countries were not using these to their advantage. Secondly, there was the threat and fear of Nazi Germany using Ireland as a stepping-stone to an invasion of Britain. Unternehmen Grün (Operation Green) was the official Nazi Germany plan developed to invade Ireland in support of Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sea Lion), the planned invasion of the UK mainland, which never transpired after the Luftwaffe’s decisive loss in the aerial engagements known collectively as the ‘Battle of Britain‘. As recently as 2020, a BBC documentary claimed evidence of a German plot to use Ireland as a backdoor for an invasion of the UK. There is of course also much literature suggesting a level of support in some Irish Republican circles for a Nazi invasion of Ireland, but that is another story.

With the threat of war across Europe looking increasingly likely, it was decided in February 1939 to form a coast watching service to monitor Irish coastal waters and meet the required obligations. The first LOP’s started to be put in place by August 1939. These were under the administration of the ‘Marine and Coastwatching Service‘, part of which evolved to become the contemporary Irish Naval Service. These posts were manned around the clock, beginning a six year period of continuous watches around the Irish coast. In all there were 83 LOP’s, and LOP 21 was based at Knockadoon Head in Ballymacoda, between LOP 20 based at Ram Head in Ardmore, and LOP 22 based in Ballycotton.

Look-out Post 21 in the foreground at Knockadoon Head

LOP 21 was staffed by ten men from the locality:

John Slocum (NCO), Davy Connolly (NCO), Michael Cotter, John Cronin, Patrick Cronin, D. Fitzgerald, Thady O’Shea, C. Seward, Richie Shanahan and Mossy Smiddy.

Basic training was given to the coast watchers. One thing that was deemed of critical importance was the post log book. It is evident looking at the log books available from LOP 21 at Knockadoon that this was taken very seriously. The log books from the LOP’s survive and thankfully many have been digitized and made available online by the Irish Military Archives.

As well as recording shift changes and visits from officers, the main purpose of the log book was of course to note down all sightings at sea and in the air within visibility of the post. Each sighting was given a unique serial number (e.g. 64 in the left-most column in the below example). The date and time was noted along with a description of the sighting, and the action that was taken, which was always to report sightings to intelligence officers in Cork. In some entries, as below, the weather conditions were also noted.

Example of the sighting of a trawler in 1940 from the Knockadoon log book

Other elements deemed essential for the coast watchers and included as part of basic training were first aid, signaling techniques, maritime practices and how to identify different ships and aircraft. Initially, most LOP’s didn’t have any communication equipment, and it was not until 1941 that every post was equipped with a telephone. Some accounts show that the men were instructed in their telephone manner, which makes sense when you think about how uncommon the telephone was in homes at that time. According to accounts from LOP 20 in Ardmore, the men were told to be ‘as incisive and distinct‘ as possible when speaking on the telephone.

In 1943, the word ‘Eire‘ and the individual LOP number were painted next to each of the posts in large letters visible from the air. These had a dual purpose – to alert German bombers that they were above Ireland (not the UK), and also to be used for navigation purposes by Allied aircraft. In recent times, the LOP marking at Knockadoon has been restored. The Eire Markings project has also uncovered at least 30 of these markings across the country that survive, or have been restored, and are still visible today.

The restored Eire marking at LOP 21 in Knockadoon

Due to the look out posts having to be manned around-the-clock, the men worked in eight hour shifts in teams of two. Here we can see an example of a shift change in 1940 from the log book kept at Knockadoon:

Example of a shift change recorded in the LOP 21 log book

Relationships between LOP 21 at Knockadoon and nearby look out posts were good, and friendships developed between the men. Thady O’Shea from Knockadoon often entertained the men on duty at LOP 20 in Ardmore by playing tunes on the melodeon over the telephone. Willie Whelan from the Ram Head look out post in Ardmore tells the story of arranging to meet Thady on May Sunday in Killeagh, and being at a loss for how to identify him, having never met him in person. Thady told him “the tallest fellow in Tattan’s pub, that will be me“. Willie tells of being able to immediately identify Thady based on that description. John Cronin told the story of often contacting Ardmore to enquire about the cigarette situation, a very rare commodity at that time. While a volunteer in Ardmore spoke jokingly of being able to make out cigarette smoke in Knockadoon through his binoculars, ‘the lads over in Knockadoon are smoking Woodbines today. There must be cigarettes in Ballymacoda.

Outside of the relationships with other LOP’s, I was curious as to what the relationship between the coast watchers and the other branches of the defense forces may have been like. Were these non-career soldiers who answered the call during ‘The Emergency‘ well thought of? I have been able to find little information on this, but a May 1942 article in ‘An Cosantóir’ seems to indicate that these men were held in high regard. This is the magazine of the Irish defense forces, and the article in question, ‘I praise the Coastwatcher‘ was republished in the March 1996 issue:

This, then, is why I praise the unsung Coastwatcher. Because he performs a dull and necessary task with resolution and efficiency. Because with only the immediate supervision of a corporal, he carries out his task as thoroughly as if his Look-Out Post were a large and well-staffed Military Post. Because his tour of duty is frequently performed under conditions which the ordinary sentry cannot even imagine. I praise him because he is unknown; I praise him because he, truly, is our first line of defense.

On the 9th of October 1945, with the war in Europe at an end since May after Hitler’s suicide in Berlin on April 30th, discharges were offered to all Coast Watching Service personnel. Each of the men who served were awarded a service medal known as ‘An Bonn Seirḃíse Éigeandála‘, or ‘The Emergency Service Medal‘. The men based at LOP 21 in Knockadoon were no exception, and I have the medal which my maternal grandfather (John Cronin) was presented with, pictured below.

Front of ‘An Bonn Seirḃíse Éigeandála‘ Medal

Back of ‘An Bonn Seirḃíse Éigeandála‘ Medal

In more recent years, a memorial was unveiled at LOP 21 at Knockadoon listing the men who served and providing passers-by on the nearby cliff walk with an indication of the historical importance of where they stand.

Commemorative sign, now present at LOP 21 in Knockadoon

I would love to publish more stories about the local coast watchers, if anyone is interested in contributing to such content, please reach out to me via the Contact page.

References and Further Information

The Nazi who planned a UK invasion via the Donegal Gaeltacht

Irish Military Archives: Look Out Posts Log Books Collection

Journal of Research on Irish Maritime History – G2, the coast-watching service and the Battle of the Atlantic

Ardmore Memory and Story – Troubled Times

An Cosantóir, The Defense Forces Magazine, December 1996

Medals of the Irish Defense Forces

The Naval Forces of the Irish State, 1922-1977 – Padhraic Ó Confhaola – PhD Thesis

The Story of Thomas Ahern

This is the story of an emigrant from Ballymacoda, Thomas Ahern, who ended up founding a famous department store chain, which became an institution in Western Australia.

Thomas Ahern was born in Ballymacoda on 23rd December 1884, the son of Patrick Ahern (1849-1910), a native of Ballymacoda, and his wife Mary, née McGrath (1853-1946) from nearby Killeagh.

Thomas had six siblings. Two sisters – Ellen (1886-1897) and Catherine (Katie) (1887-1900), and four brothers – John (1888-1962), Simon (1890-1978), Patrick (1892-1944) and Michael (1894-1957).

Searching the 1901 census records available online when Thomas would have been 17 years old doesn’t yield any results that are a match for him specifically in the Ballymacoda area. The census records do indicate a household in Ballymacoda where his parents names, Patrick and Mary, and his brothers names John, Patrick and Michael match, as do their ages.

1901 Census Record Showing Likely Household of Thomas Ahern in Ballymacoda Village – link

The absence of Thomas here likely means that he was in another household on the day of the census, as a record would be added for each person in the household, family or otherwise, when the census form was being completed. A wider search of the census records for Cork at that time show a few matches for someone that would be Thomas’s age, such as the record below from a house in nearby Midleton, where there is a Thomas Ahern listed as a ‘Servant‘ as was common for workers listed in census forms at the time.

1901 Census Record Showing Thomas Ahern in House in Midleton – link

So, no direct matches for Thomas Ahern in the 1901 census records in the Ballymacoda area that seem to match. But, we do know that Thomas was apprenticed to a draper in Midleton at this time, due to the farm in Ballymacoda not being able to support everyone in the family. Therefore, the above census record for a household in Midleton is very likely referring to the Thomas Ahern whom we are interested in.

Thomas’s father Patrick died in October 1910, before he left for Australia. Records kept at the time, specifically the ‘Calendar of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1920‘, indicate that Patrick left the sum of ‘£333 18s. 4d.’ and that his wife Mary was sole beneficiary.

Will details of Patrick Ahern, Thomas’s Father from the Calendar of Wills and Administrations

Thomas was employed in Tipperary and later Dublin, and in 1911 was living on Usher’s Quay in the city. In 1910, Thomas had applied for assisted passage to Australia, in place of a colleague who couldn’t make the trip. Thomas arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia in February 1911. Records available online, specifically ‘Fremantle, Western Australia, Passenger Lists, 1897-1963‘ indicate that Thomas arrived from Bremen, Germany aboard the vessel ‘Grosser Kurfürst‘ at that time.

Thomas initially worked at Brennan’s drapery in the town of Boulder. He married his fiancée Nora McGrath (coincidentally with the same maiden name as his own mother) in Perth on 19th June 1912, and subsequently started working as a departmental manager for clothing retailer Bon Marche. The 1916 electoral role for the division of Fremantle in the state of Western Australia shows a record for Thomas and Nora, living at Shenton Road in Claremont, with Thomas listed as a draper and Nora’s occupation listed as ‘home duties’:

1916 Electoral Role for Fremantle, Western Australia (image quality impacted by age of document)

In 1918, Thomas became the manager of the Brennan’s store in Perth.

The first Archbishop of Perth, Patrick Clune, himself an Irishman from County Clare, had a hand in advising the family of P. F. Quinlan to invite Thomas Ahern to manage their drapery and furniture store in Perth. Thomas insisted, were he to take on the role, on a controlling partnership and thus was the beginning of Aherns Department Store in Western Australia on 15th May 1922. Later electoral records show Thomas and Nora living at Airlie street in Cottesloe, with Thomas still listed as a draper:

1931 Electoral Role for Fremantle, Western Australia

Aherns Department Store started out with 50 employees and grew to over 500 quickly under the astute management of Thomas, across 5 different stores in Western Australia. Over time, Thomas bought out all the remaining shares in the business and become sole owner of the now thriving business.

Ahern’s Department Store in Perth in 1938

As he grew older, Thomas maintained an active role in his business until his death in Perth on 22nd May 1970. He was survived by three sons and two daughters, with Nora having passed away in 1959. He was buried in Karrakatta cemetery, of which he had previously been a trustee from 1938-1942.

Ahern’s in Perth in the 1980s

Ahern’s department store chain continued as a functioning business until 1999, a time when it employed 1,500 people, when it was sold to rival department store David Jones for $29 million, an amazing end to the legacy of a man that had been born on a farm in a small village in the south of Ireland. I have found no evidence that Thomas ever returned to his native Ballymacoda, that would certainly be interesting to know. There are multiple travel records that indicate he left Australia many times to travel to the UK, so there is certainly a likelihood that he returned to Ballymacoda during his lifetime.

Portrait of Thomas Ahern

A further history of Thomas Ahern and the department store chain he founded is captured in the book ‘Ballymacoda to Binduli: the story of Aherns W.A‘ by William Mahoney (a descendant of Thomas Ahern), published in Australia in 1997.

Ballymacoda to Binduli

In 2013, Thomas Ahern was named one of the 100 most influential Western Australian businesspeople.

References & More Information

Note: Links provided where available.

National Archives: Census of Ireland

Calendar of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1920

Western Australia – Shipping and Passenger Records

Fremantle, Western Australia, Passenger Lists, 1897-1963

Fremantle, Western Australia, Electoral Role, 1916, 1931

Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, Government of Western Australia, Bio of Thomas Ahern

Thomas Ahern on Wikipedia

Google Books: Ballymacoda to Binduli: The Story of Aherns W.A.

The West Australian, 100 Most Influential Business Leaders, 1829-2013