Volunteer Michael Ahern

 

Volunteer Michael Ahern (aged about 34) of Ballyrichard More, Carrigtwohill (west end of Carrigtwohill)

Date of incident: night of 14-15 May 1921 (death recorded 15 May 1921)

Sources: Death Certificate (Midleton District 2, Union of Midleton), 15 May 1921; CE, 16, 17, 24 May, 24 June 1921; FJ, 28 May; CWN, 4 June 1921; Irish Bulletin, 5:5 (7 June 1921); MSP34/REF30738 and MSPC/RO/3 (Military Archives); Lieutenant-Colonel John M. McCarthy’s WS 883, Appendix, 11-12 (BMH); Patrick J. Whelan’s WS 1449, 25-26 (BMH); John Kelleher’s WS 1456, 27 (BMH); Francis Healy’s WS 1694, 5, 17-21 (BMH); Roll of Honour, Cork No. 1 Brigade (Cork Public Museum, Fitzgerald Park, Cork); Rebel Cork’s FS, 197; Last Post (1976), 87; McCarthy (2008), 135-36; ‘Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 147; Midleton IRA Memorial, Main Street, Midleton; John Ryan and Michael Ahern Memorial, Carrigtwohill; http://midletonheritage.com/2015/12/11/few-families-suffered-as-we-did-war-of-independence-pension-files-associated-with-midleton/ (accessed 13 March 2016).   

 

Note: Four men (three of them claimed as Volunteers) were taken from their homes at night and shot; their bodies were left some miles from their homes. See CE, 16 May 1921. Michael Ahern’s death certificate indicates that he died at the west end of Carrigtwohill on 15 May 1921 from shock and haemorrhage caused by gunshot wounds, and without mention as to the source of the gunshots. See Death Certificate (District of Midleton 2, Union of Midleton), 15 May 1921.

 

A later court of military inquiry found that Michael Ahern, John Ryan, and Richard Barry had all been killed (and Barry’s son wounded) on 14 May 1921 ‘by crown forces in the exercise of their duty, and that no blame attached to any member of the crown forces concerned’. Ryan and Ahern had allegedly been shot while trying to escape from a military escort. Barry had allegedly been shot while running out the back door of his house by a military party that had been sent to arrest him and that had allegedly been fired on from his house. Barry’s son had been wounded when he reputedly tried to escape along with Ryan and Ahern. See CE, 24 June 1921.

 

The IRA account of what had happened was quite different. The killings of Ahern, Barry, Flynn, and Ryan were said to have been reprisals for the murder of five members of the crown forces [an exaggerated number] on 14 May 1921 in Midleton. After the Clonmult disaster the members of the IRA, and specifically the 4th Battalion of Cork No. 1 Brigade, had been given the not unwelcome order to ‘shoot at sight’, and they soon acted upon it. They went into Midleton and reportedly killed two Black and Tans, two Royal Marines, and one RIC sergeant. ‘The I.R.A. marched through the main street of the town, calling on the British forces to “come out and fight”, a challenge that was not accepted’—not at once.

But in the early hours of the following morning (15 May), members of the Cameron Highlanders hunted down Michael Ahern of Ballyrichard, brother of Volunteer Jack Ahern; Richard Barry of Knockgriffin; and John Ryan of Woodstock, Carrigtwohill. ‘Later, their bullet-riddled bodies were found in the district.’ See Rebel Cork’s FS, 197.

 

According to former Carrigtwohill Volunteer Francis Healy, the killings of Ahern, Barry, Flynn, and Ryan by members of the Cameron Highlanders were reprisals for the IRA execution of alleged spy Michael O’Keefe on 30 April 1921. See Francis Healy’s WS 1694, 5, 17-21 (BMH).

 

The pension claim of Christina (or Dina) Ahern, a sister of the murdered Volunteer Michael Ahern and a member of Cumann na mBan, throws much light on the IRA role of members of her family and on the context of British reprisals against them. Their residence and farm at Ballyrichard near Mile Bush, situated halfway between Midleton and Carrigtwohill, provided the basis for their profitable market-gardening business in Cobh. Their farmstead was a haven for Volunteers and a clearinghouse for much IRA activity. There was an arms dump on the farm for the Midleton Company of the Cork No. 1 Brigade. The farmhouse was burned by British forces on 1 January 1921 as part of the first ‘official’ reprisals against republican activists and sympathisers in County Cork—in this instance in retaliation for a successful attack on an RIC patrol in Midleton just days earlier. In another ambush of an RIC patrol in Midleton in mid-May, her brother Jack Ahern (who died in 1923) was directly involved, while the arms used came from the Aherns’ arms dump. As a direct result, their rebuilt home was raided on the night of 14-15 May, and her older brother Michael was taken out and bayonetted to death on the roadside by the British army.

 

In her pension claim Christina Ahern maintained that her brother Michael was a member of the Volunteers. (He is commemorated on the IRA Memorial on Main Street, Midleton, and on the John Ryan and Michael Ahern Memorial in Carrigtwohill.) Christina also stated in her claim that her mother and an invalided sister had died shortly after the Truce, and she partly attributed their deaths to the consequences and strains of her family’s close association with the IRA; soon after the Truce as well, the farm was sold and the Cobh business lost. See MSP34/REF30738 (Military Archives).

 

The Midleton or B Company roll (Fourth Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade) records that one John Ahern of Mile Bush was deceased; he appears to have been Christina Ahern’s brother Jack or John. See MSPC/RO/31 (Military Archives). See also http://midletonheritage.com/2015/12/11/few-families-suffered-as-we-did-war-of-independence-pension-files-associated-with-midleton/ (accessed 13 March 2016).   

 

Michael Ahern was one of the twelve children of the Ballyrichard More farmer Roger Ahern and his wife Margret. Nine of these children, including Michael, their eldest son, were residing with them at the time of the 1911 census. Michael Ahern was first interred at Shanagarry. See CE, 17 May 1921. He was later reburied in the Republican Plot at Holy Rosary Cemetery in Midleton. As previously noted, his name appears on the Midleton IRA Memorial at the north end of Main Street in Midleton, but it does not appear on the Roll of Honour of the Cork No. 1 Brigade deposited in the Cork Public Museum in Fitzgerald Park in Cork city.

 

Cobh Volunteer officer Patrick J. Whelan discussed in his BMH witness statement the political attitudes of Michael Ahern in the aftermath of the successful IRA attack on Cloyne RIC barracks in May 1920. The Aherns were a farming family who resided at Ballyrichard, about 3 miles on the Carrigtwohill side of Midleton. Jack Ahern was a leading Volunteer who lived with his mother, two brothers, and two sisters. The eldest brother Michael ‘was the mainstay of the family and very industrious’. But although he ‘was of course sympathetic towards the Volunteers’, he was critical of the IRA campaign: ‘That Sunday [the night after the attack on Cloyne RIC barracks]’, recalled Whelan, ‘we told him of our escapade the previous night, and although he expressed admiration for us, he thought we were foolish. What chance had we, he said, against the might of the enemy, weren’t we only knocking our heads against a stone wall, and we would all be killed before it was over. We had different ideas and pointed to our successes at Carrigtwohill, Castlemartyr, and Cloyne. After a good hour’s argument Michael wound up by calling on God to give us sense.’

 

Whelan gave the following account of Michael Aherne’s death at British hands in mid-May 1921: ‘A few months later, and after the arrival of Black and Tans in both Cobh and Midleton, times began to get really tough. Jack Aherne was a marked man. There came a day when a party of Cameron Highlanders from Cobh arrived at Aherne’s house in the townland of Ballyrichard. Mrs Aherne, Michael, and the two girls were at home. The family got permission to remove some furniture and bedding before their house was burned to the ground. Michael was shot and bayonetted. His dead body was later found about a hundred yards from the house. Officially, according to the British, he was shot trying to escape.’ See Patrick J. Whelan’s WS 1449, 25-26 (BMH). Whelan was vice-commandant of the Fourth Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade. In his account there is thus the implication that Michael Ahern (in Whelan’s view not a Volunteer) was taken out and shot dead when in fact the Camerons were hunting for his prominent Volunteer brother Jack Ahern. But as previously noted, Christina Ahern, their sister, later indicated that Michael Ahern had been a Volunteer too.


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