RIC Sergeant Cornelius Crean (aged 48) from Annascaul, Co. Kerry (Ballinspittle)
Date of incident: 25 April 1920
Sources: CE, 26, 27 April 1920; CWN, 1 May 1920; Weekly Summary of Outrages against the Police, April 1920 (CO 904/148-50, TNA); Frank Neville’s WS 443, 3 (BMH); McDonnell (1972), 144; WS 560 of James O’Mahony et al., 8 (BMH); Richard Russell’s WS 1591, 4 (BMH); Michael J. Crowley’s WS 1603, 5 (BMH); Cornelius O’Sullivan’s WS 1740, 4-5 (BMH); Abbott (2000), 73; Kingston (2013), 71; Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Ó Ruairc (2015), 70-71; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014).
Note: The IRA gunmen from the Crosspound Volunteer Company under the command of Charlie Hurley (Vice O/C, Bandon Battalion) who killed Sergeant Crean in an ambush at Ballinspittle, six miles from Bandon, also killed Constable Patrick McGoldrick. (A third member of this three-man RIC patrol—Constable Power—escaped serious injury.) They had left the RIC barracks at Innishannon, passed through Upton, and were ambushed as they reached Ballinspittle. As soon as McGoldrick fell, Crean shouted, ‘Oh God. Oh God, run, Power, for cover.’ See CE, 27 April 1920. The blast of a shotgun blew away half of McGoldrick’s head; Crean was shot dead as he and Power sought cover from the attack. Crean had been stationed in Ballinspittle for only about six weeks, and Power for about the same amount of time, whereas McGoldrick had been there for as long as twenty-three years.
The Bandon-area republican activist Kathleen Keyes McDonnell reported: ‘Crean had long figured on the “Black List” as the arch-culprit in the area. A man of great brain and resource, he knew every inch of the country and had a hold on the people.’ His brother was the famous explorer of Antartica, Tom Crean (1877-1938), of Annascaul, Co. Kerry, who had served in the Royal Navy from 1915 to 1920. See McDonnell (1972), 144.
Frank Neville, quartermaster of the Knockavilla [Knockaveale] Company of the First (Bandon) Battalion of the West Cork Brigade, later recalled the motive for this ambush and its results: ‘In view of the marked hostility and activity by local R.I.C., the decision came down from [the] brigade that in future they should be ambushed whenever possible. . . . A second ambush was prepared [after the first one had proved abortive] near Upton, with five men lying in wait and two as scouts. This was successful. Three R.I.C. were ambushed. A sergeant and a constable were killed and their revolvers and ammunition taken. A third constable escaped with his arms.’ See Frank Neville’s WS 443, 3 (BMH).
Constable Crean was noted for his quiet effectiveness. Volunteer Jack Fitzgerald of the Kilbrittain Company later told Ernie O’Malley: ‘We would only be allowed to shoot a bad RIC man, and then he might not be the real source of information. Take the case of Sergeant Cornelius Crean, who was the most diplomatic man that ever walked. Yet he was one of their head intelligence men. He would say, “God bless you”, and “God bless the work”, as he passed by, or he’d stop to chat lightly and easily. “Were you in such a place last night?” would maybe be his next question. He was shot in an ambush in Inishannon.’ See Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Ó Ruairc (2015), 70-71.
Constable Creen had served with the RIC for twenty-eight of his forty-eight years. He came from a farming background in the Annascaul district of Kerry. He was a well-known sportsman, was a member of a famous tug-of-war team, and had played for the Cork Constitution rugby team. See Abbott (2000), 73; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014).