Civilian William B. (also James) Purcell


Civilian William B. (also James) Purcell (aged about 35) of 7 Charlotte Quay, Cork (Turner’s Cross, near Tory Top Lane, Cork)

Date of incident: 6 May 1921 (ex-soldier killed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CE, 9, 10 May 1921; CWN, 14 May 1921; RIC County Inspector’s     Monthly Report, Cork City and East Riding, May 1921 (CO 904/115, TNA); Military Inquests, WO 35/157A/78 and WO 35/162 (TNA); Michael Murphy’s WS 1547, 42 (BMH); Borgonovo (2007), 68, 76, 78; Murphy (2010), 41.


Note: Purcell was abducted on 6 May and his dead body was found the next day in a field near Turner’s Cross, not far from Tory Top Lane, where other IRA executions had taken place. His face ‘was disfigured—he had been shot through the head’. See CE, 9 May 1921. He was an ex-soldier who had served with the Royal Munster Fusiliers. He had worked as a cattle trader, but he had been jobless for several weeks at the time of his death. He had recently been living in a lodging house at 7 Charlotte Quay while seeking work; he had stayed at that address ‘from time to time for the last five years’. He had previously resided at Holy Cross in County Tipperary and at Dromcolliher in County Limerick. According to Michael Murphy, O/C of the Second Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, Purcell ‘was shot for spying. He was traced through letters captured by our lads in the mails.’ See Michael Murphy’s WS 1547, 42 (BMH). Testimony given at the inquest indicated that it was believed that Purcell was suspected of having provided information against the IRA. See Military Inquests, WO 35/162 (TNA).


The Purcells were well-known cattle dealers living in 1901 and 1911 in Cashel, Co. Tipperary. In 1901 the cattle dealer James Purcell and his wife Johanna resided with four children at house 30 on Boherclogh Street in Cashel. Their eldest son James (aged 12 in 1901) was still in school but, like other members of this extended family, may have later followed the father’s profession. No doubt closely related to this Purcell family was the household of cattle dealer James Purcell and his wife Ellen at house 12 in Boherclough Street in 1901; their three co-resident sons (then aged 22, 19, and 17) were all described as cattle dealers. In 1911 James and Ellen Purcell appeared as the parents of twelve children, only four of whom were co-resident. Sons Richard, Patrick, and John were again listed as cattle dealers like their father James Purcell. It is likely that the suspected spy William B. or James Purcell came from one or the other of these two families of Cashel cattle dealers. Both Purcell families were entirely Catholics.

News & Events

University College Cork, Western Road, Cork, Ireland   |    +353(21) 480 2110   |   [email protected]
Copyright © UCC 2015/Irish Examiner 2015   |   Website by Doodle