Volunteer Jeremiah O’Neill Jr (aged about 20) of Knoppoge near Kilbrittain (Crushnalanive Cross, 7 miles from Bandon)
Date of incident: 16 Feb. 1921
Sources: CE, 18 Feb., 22 March 1921; CCE, 19 Feb. 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/154/1 (TNA); Mary Walsh’s WS 556, 5-6 (BMH); WS 560 of James O’Mahony et al., 18 (BMH); Denis Collins’s WS 827, 27-29 (BMH); Richard Russell’s WS 1591, 18 (BMH); MSPC/1D214; Michael J. Crowley’s WS 1603, 14 (BMH); Charles O’Donoghue’s WS 1607, 9 (BMH); Deasy (1973), 220-24; Rebel Cork’s FS, 207; Last Post (1976), 80; ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 143; Sheehan (2011), 137; Kilbrittain Republican Monument.
Note: An agricultural labourer in civilian life, O’Neill was cornered and killed along with three other Volunteers by a night patrol of the Essex Regiment on 16 February 1921 at Crois na Leanbh (Crushnalanive), located about midway between the villages of Ballinadee and Kilbrittain. Liam Deasy’s account of this incident indicates that there were four Volunteer deaths when British forces on patrol in the Kilbrittain-Bandon-Ballinadee area completely surrounded and surprised two squads of Kilbrittain Volunteers who ‘were digging trenches on intersecting roads within a few hundred yards of Crushnalanive Cross’. The four dead Volunteers were Jeremiah O’Neill (Knoppoge), Timothy Connolly, Jack McGrath, and Con McCarthy.
Deasy records the grief that swept over the Kilbrittain district: ‘The shock caused by these deaths to the people of the Kilbrittain area was exceptionally severe. Parents, relatives, and friends were deeply affected by what was considered the biggest calamity that had befallen the district within living memory. Within four weeks a total of six men from the small parish had lost their lives in the struggle.’ This tragedy might have undermined the willingness of Kilbrittain’s inhabitants to continue the struggle, but the contrary proved true, as these people ‘intensified’ their efforts in the months ahead. See Deasy (1973), 220-24.
Jeremiah O’Neill was in 1911 one of the six children (three sons and three daughters) of the Knoppoge agricultural labourer Jeremiah O’Neill Sr and his wife Mary. The children then ranged in age from 2 to 13, and the family may have been larger at the time of young Jeremiah’s death in February 1921. Volunteer Jeremiah O’Neill was a member of the Kilbrittain Company of the 1st (Bandon) Battalion of the Cork No. 3 Brigade. He was interred in the Republican Plot in Kilbrittain Churchyard. His father Jeremiah O’Neill Sr received a gratuity of merely £40 under the Army Pensions Acts, later increased to £80. A letter dated 14 February 1924 (in support of his father’s application) from Free State Colonel Murphy to the Free State Adjutant General noted that while O’Neill and three other Volunteers had been carrying out orders to obstruct a road near Kilbrittain, they had been shot and killed by members of the crown forces known as ‘Percival’s Gang’, after the local commander of the Essex Regiment—Major Arthur Ernest Percival. See MSPC/1D214 (Military Archives).
Mary Walsh of the Kilbrittain Cumann na mBan took charge of making the funeral arrangements for the Crushnalanive victims: ‘The same day [16 February 1921] a scout girl came to me with word that four men had lost their lives at Crois na Leanbh, all from Kilbrittain Company, being surrounded while trenching a road. The [local IRA] quartermaster asked that I see to the arranging of burial. (Previous to this I had been instructed what to do in such a case.) I cycled to the house of Mr N. Crowley, to where the bodies were taken. We were in touch with the O.C. all the time. We spent the night at this house, and at dawn I went to Bandon and ordered coffins, which were got at Mr O’Reilly’s, and he had them sent out in time for the burial that evening. In the course of the day [Major] Percival called at the house but took no action. . . . During the Truce the bodies of those four [Volunteers] were re-interred in the parish church yard by permission of the bishop—Rev. Dr Cohalan of Cork. Soon after, my brother Mick [also a Volunteer] was laid to rest beside them, R.I.P.’ See Mary Walsh’s WS 556, 5-6 (BMH).
The IRA came to believe that a certain informer had provided the crown forces with notice of the road-trenching work by the four dead Kilbrittain Volunteers. When a prisoner in Cork Military Detention Barracks, Volunteer Denis Collins of the Ballinspittle Company learned from another Volunteer prisoner of the conduct of John Madden, a section commander in the Ballinspittle Company, who had spent his nights while being held in Kinsale Military Barracks drinking in the guardroom with an RIC man named Guiry. Collins came to believe that information from Madden explained why as many as eighteen Volunteers belonging to the Ballinspittle Company had been apprehended by British forces. Collins later became convinced that Madden was also the source of the information that had allowed the British to kill the four Volunteers at Crushnalanive Cross on 16 February 1921. Collins recalled that ‘years afterwards a man informed me of overhearing a conversation between two ex-R.I.C. men in a public-house in Kinsale, when one was telling the other of a letter handed in to himself when on duty in the police barracks there during the pre-Truce times. The letter was given in by the wife of the R.I.C. man named Guiry (he who used [to] take Madden to the soldiers’ canteen in the military barracks). The letter was from Madden, and it was to inform the British authorities of the presence of the [Bandon] battalion column in billets around Croisnaleanb [Crushnalanive], a crossroads between Ballinadee and Ballinspittal. The conversation in the pub continued with the information that that very night a large party of military from Kinsale closed in on the section of the column that was at Croisnaleanb. It was a surprise, and in the fight that followed, four Volunteers lost their lives. The ex-R.I.C. man told his friend definitely that Madden was the informer.’ Madden sold his farm and left the district after the Truce, thus escaping any retribution for his alleged treachery. See Denis Collins’s WS 827, 27-29 (BMH).