Civilian Seán O’Brien

 

Civilian Seán O’Brien (aged about 37) of Main Street, Charleville (Charleville)

Date of incident: 1 March 1921

Sources: CE, 3, 4, 5 March, 19 April 1921; CCE, 5 March 1921; FJ, 5 March 1921; II, 10 March 1921; Iris Oifigiúil, 18 May 1923; Military Inquests, WO 35/156/44 (TNA); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15); Malicious Injury Claims, Box 16/65, Cork County Secretary Files (CCCA); Michael Geary and Richard Smith’s WS 754, 22 (BMH); Michael Sheehy’s WS 989, 7-8 (BMH); O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 137-38.

 

Note: Maddened by a Volunteer attack earlier that day on an RIC patrol in Charleville, ‘the Tans came into the town . . . looking for blood’ that night. ‘They went to the home of Seán O’Brien, who was a well-known Gaelic Leaguer and Irish Irelander—he had never served with the Volunteers. The Tans knocked at his door, and Seán, without opening the door, enquired what they wanted, and the Tans’ reply was to fire several volleys through the door and [they] also threw some grenades through the fan-light. Poor Seán died almost immediately. [He died on 2 March, seven and a half hours after being shot.] Seán was chairman of the [Charleville] U.D.C. and also president of the Gaelic League branch. He had been raided several times before, and, following the shooting of Constable Quinn in the morning [the shots missed him], had been advised by Mick Geary [O/C of the Charleville Company of Volunteers] and some others to clear out of town until the excitement subsided. However, Seán’s wife was an extremely nervous type, and he did not like to leave her on her own. It was an extremely brutal murder, for his body was ripped asunder. The principal instigators of this murder were Constables Spain and Spellman.’ See Michael Geary and Richard Smith’s WS 754, 22 (BMH). A later IRA attempt ‘to capture or shoot’ Spain and Spellman miscarried.

 

O’Brien was a well-known and widely admired resident of Charleville. He was said to have enjoyed ‘the respect and esteem of all classes in the town, including those who did not coincide with his political views. He was a young man of progressive ideas and took an active interest in all matters appertaining to the welfare of the town, while he was an ardent supporter of the republican policy. He was elected last June [1920] as a member of the Charleville Rural District Council on the Sinn Fein ticket and was subsequently the unanimous choice of that body for the position of chairman in succession to Mr John Cronin. He was also a member of the Cork County Council, the Cork County Committee of Agriculture, and the Kilmallock Board of Guardians. . . . He laboured incessantly to promote peace and goodwill in the town and was always ready to volunteer his services in the adjustment of labour disputes. Since 1918 he was identified with the Gaelic League, and as president of the local branch, he was a staunch supporter of the movement and a keen student of the vernacular.’ See CE, 4 March 1921.

 

In 1911 Seán O’Brien’s father John (then aged 60) was the manager of a provisions store at 5 Main Street in Charleville, where he lived with his wife, two daughters, and son John or Seán (then aged 27). Altogether, the senior O’Briens had six living children (eight born). To judge from a later claim for compensation made by Seán O’Brien’s wife Deborah, her husband had inherited or taken over the provisions store from his father.  

 

O’Brien’s funeral prompted an ugly scene. During his funeral procession on 4 March 1921 ‘two military officers approached the clergy, who were in front, and asked them were they not aware of the fact that the republican flag which covered the coffin was not permitted in accordance with official regulations. One of the priests pointed out that the ensign was wrapped around the remains and secured to the lid, and that the coffin should be opened if they insisted on having the flag removed. After some controversy the military officers decided not to interfere further. . . .’ See CE, 5 March 1921. Mrs Deborah O’Brien, his widow, claimed £10,000 for the loss of her husband; she also sought £500 for shop damage and loss of his stock-in-trade. See CE, 19 April 1921. She and another relative were awarded £4,000 and costs by the Recorder of Cork early in February 1922. See Iris Oifigiúil, 18 May 1923.

 


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