Cork Executions - 10 Jul 1921

The four soldiers were kidnapped and executed in a field in Cork by the IRA, the commanding officer of Henry Morris wrote to his next of kin, in the letter he stated “I regret very much to have to inform you that your son, Private H. Morris, was killed by the Irish rebels on Sunday July 10, at about 10.30pm. He was out on pass at the time with another friend in the regiment and with two men of the Royal Engineers. They were kidnapped, and although the tragedy is difficult to visualise, I feel that you would prefer to know what happened. As far as could be found out, your son and his friends were shot together. From what I saw myself when they were brought to the barracks, I am convinced that they could not have suffered, but died instantly. Your son was blindfolded and taken to a field about two to three miles from where he had been walking with his friends.”

An Irish account gives:- Having wandered up the Western Road, they entered a shop on the Bandon Road at around 10.30pm. Just then crowds began to spill out from nearby Father O'Leary Hall where a function had taken place. Amongst them were four members of the local IRA brigade. The soldiers were taken by surprise and were frog-marched in the direction of the Lough district. Although some of the crowd which had gathered called for the release of the prisoners, the arrested men were led into Ellis' Quarry as darkness closed in. They were blindfolded and executed. All the shootings were carried out by one of the four IRA men.

The Hall in 2017 - photo from Michael Holland

The Hall has ended up re-used as a façade of an accommodation facility - note the recent name on the façade just below the original plaque form 1900.

Connie Neenan, the officer commanding the volunteers involved in the shooting, wrote of the event as follows:- 'The night before the Truce, on July 10th . . . my mother brought me news about midnight that 4 young British soldiers had just been taken prisoner by our fellows. I felt alarmed. They were, I suppose, out for the first time in months with their guard down. One of them had gone into a shop to buy sweets. I gathered a group and we searched the fields from here to Togher. Around 2 am we met some of our lads who told us the news was bad. I was astounded. Surely no one would shoot anyone at a time like this? I crept into a house, exhausted and filled with remorse. We could not sleep. We just hung out there until noon the next day. The Truce had come'.

It has been alleged that Neenan was in the hall that night and that four ordinary volunteers would not assume so great a responsibility without some nod of approval from a higher authority. There was widespread condemnation, but also attempts to justify the shootings on the grounds that it was a tit-for-tat reprisal by men who had suffered a great deal of British harassment over a number of years and who could not be expected to lay aside feelings of revenge so quickly. There had been a number of brutal killings by the Staffordshire Regiment about a year earlier. City walls then carried graffiti which read; 'Murdered by Stafford Regt. - Will be revenged tonight.' The killing of four young men at Ellis's Quarry was, in some ways, a tragedy waiting to happen.

The Mulcahy papers have the weekly IRA reports for individual companies of Cork no1 Brigade. H Coy on 10th July had 7 men patrolling the Western Road from Donovan's Bridge westwards. They were looking for a "spotter" but could not find him. They report that did find 4 soldiers (2 Engineers and 2 Staffs) , searched them for arms, did not find any, took them into a field and executed them before 9pm.

Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc sent me a copy of his article in History Ireland in which he identifies with evidence that Dan Hallinan, and not Connie Neenan, was the man who ordered the killing of the 4 British soldiers

Word soon reached Connie Neenan, an IRA officer in the 2nd Battalion, Cork City Brigade that four soldiers had been abducted and were facing execution. Neenan and a small group of his comrades set out in search of the soldiers in the hope of securing their release: 'About 1.30am we gave up and shortly after met some men ... [who] had been told that the soldiers had been shot. ... I just could not believe it … our efforts had been in vain, the soldiers had been executed and we had been unable to prevent it.' .....Claims that the soldiers were mere 'teenagers' are false - all four soldiers were aged in their twenties. Nor were the soldiers particularly naive or inexperienced 'raw recruits'. One of the four Henry Morris, was a labourer before joining the British Army in 1914. He was a veteran of the First World War and had served on the Western Front, where he was wounded twice and survived a gas attack....

The verifiable facts are that the soldiers left the British Army post at Cork Jail. They were travelling on foot and were unarmed. At 8 pm they were captured by a patrol of seven IRA volunteers who had been searching an area from Donovan’s Bridge along the Western Road in search of a suspected civilian informer. The only surviving account of the executions by an IRA participant is the official report sent to the IRA GHQ which gave no indication as to the grounds on which the execution was carried out. It simply reads: ‘We held up four soldiers (2 Royal Engineers, 2 Staffordshires) and searched them but found no arms. We took them to a field in our area where they were executed before 9 p.m.’ The author of this report, the Captain of H Company, 1st Battalion, Cork City Brigade, had led the operation and ordered the executions. However, like most contemporary IRA reports, it was signed with his rank, not his name which made it practically impossible to identify him. The recent release of the IRA Organisation and Membership Files by the Military Archives enables us for the first time to identify those who held rank in IRA at the time of the Truce.

The Captain of H Company who wrote this report and ordered the executions was Dan Hallinan a 36 year old, plasterer from Bishopstown, Cork. Not only does the identification of Hallinan exonerate Neenan, it also suggests a definite motive for the Ellis Quarry killings. The night before the Ellis Quarry killings, British soldiers captured IRA Volunteer Denis Spriggs at his family home in Strawberry Hill, Cork. Spriggs, a 20 year old plasterer, was asleep in bed when the raiders struck at midnight. He was unarmed and on being confronted by the British soldiers he immediately surrendered without offering resistance. Spriggs was placed on a lorry with an armed guard and was driven a short distance to Blarney Street where he was shot dead. The official British military version of events is that Spriggs had been shot dead 'while attempting to escape'.

However the officer who led the raid, Lieutenant d’Ydewalle, had a history of involvement in the killings of unarmed prisoners and the likelihood is that Spriggs' killing was a premeditated and deliberate act. The British soldiers who had killed Spriggs were members of the South Staffordshire Regiment. Two of the British soldiers killed at Ellis quarry the following night, Daker and Morris were also South Staffordshires. Hallinan who ordered their execution appears to have known Denis Spriggs personally. As well as being members of the same IRA Battalion, both Hallinan and Spriggs worked as plasterers and were involved in the Cork Plasterers’ Union. All of the previous multiple shootings of off-duty British soldiers in Cork had been reprisals to avenge local IRA Volunteers killed while prisoners in British custody. These facts suggest that, far from being a pointless and unprovoked mass murderer the Ellis Quarry killings were a reprisal for the killing of Spriggs.

I would agree with Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc on the verifiable facts, and that Dan Hallinan ordered the killings of the 4 British soldiers. What I do disagree with is his conclusion that These facts suggest that, far from being a pointless and unprovoked mass murderer the Ellis Quarry killings were a reprisal for the killing of Spriggs. The killings were, I would agree, probably a reprisal for the shooting by Spriggs by the British, but they are still a pointless mass murder.

The difficultly I have with reprisals is that both sides in any war feel they are justified in carrying out reprisals, because they have been "provoked", but they are quick to condemn when the other side do the same sort of thing. For example in Dec 1920, Vernon Hart a Section Leader in the ADRIC murdered Canon Magner and Timothy Crowley following the Dillon Cross ambush in which Hart's friend Spencer Chapman was killed. Neither Canon Magner's murder nor the murder of these 4 soldiers in Cork is justifiable in my opinion, both are murders, and should have been prevented by the command structure and discipline under which the troops on both sides were operating. They were all pointless murders

British Soldiers died in Ireland