Volunteer Captain Seán or John Allen


Volunteer Captain Seán or John Allen (aged 27) of Bank Place, Tipperary town (Cork Military Detention Barracks)

Date of incident: 28 Feb. 1921 (executed by crown forces)

Sources: FJ, 28 Feb., 1 March 1921; II, 28 Feb., 1, 15 March 1921; CE, 1 March 1921; CCE, 5 March 1921; Connaught Telegraph, 5 March 1921; Kerryman, 5 March 1921; Ulster Herald, 5 March 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/155B/1 (TNA); Denis Collins’s WS 827, 18 (BMH); Macardle (1937, 1968), 912; Last Post (1976), 81; O’Farrell (1997), 3; www.irishwarmemorials.ie; http://irishvolunteers.org/cork-county-gaol-ira-volunteers-executed-memorial/ (accessed 3 Nov. 2015); UCC IRA Memorial.


Note: An officer of the Third Tipperary Brigade, Allen was arrested earlier in February 1921 at Kilross in South Tipperary for possession of arms and documents ‘prejudicial to the restoration of order in Ireland’. See Connaught Telegraph, 5 March 1921. The ‘documents’ included a book entitled Night Fighting. See CCE, 5 March 1921. After an unsuccessful attempt by Timothy M. Healy to secure a writ of habeas corpus, Allen was executed along with the five Dripsey prisoners by firing squad on 28 February at Victoria Military Detention Barracks in Cork city. Seán Allen was in 1911 the eldest of the five sons of the bootmaker and shoemaker William Allen and his wife Bridget of 40 Nelson Street in Tipperary town; he had a sister who was a year older.


Born in January 1894 on St Michael’s Street in Tipperary town, Seán Allen was educated at Tipperary National School and then followed his father’s occupation. Like so many other young men of his generation, he was an enthusiast of the Irish-Ireland movement in its various manifestations. He became a member of the Irish Volunteers at their inception in November 1913. His leadership abilities led to his appointment as captain of A Company of the Fourth Battalion of the Tipperary No. 3 Brigade. During the War of Independence he was a closely connected with the main leaders of the IRA in County Tipperary—Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, and Denny Lacy. See www.irishwarmemorials.ie; http://irishvolunteers.org/cork-county-gaol-ira-volunteers-executed-memorial/ (accessed 3 Nov. 2015). Like the so-called ‘Dripsey prisoners’ executed on the same day, Volunteer Allen was buried in the grounds of the Cork County Gaol.


Reflecting the nearly universal nationalist sympathy for the condemned prisoners were the size of the crowds on St Patrick’s Hill and the precautions of the British military authorities on the morning of 28 February: ‘Monday morning broke dark and cold, but nevertheless there was a fairly large crowd in the vicinity of Victoria Barracks from seven o’clock onward. Shortly before eight the crowd was considerably augmented, and there was much tension as the fateful moment drew near. A tank moved up and down and kept the crowd back from the gates.’ See CCE, 5 March 1921.


The scheduled execution of Seán Allen and the other five Volunteers of course constituted national news (prompting nationwide prayers), with tensions heightened by incorrect reports that Catholic chaplains would not be allowed to attend the six condemned men, and by false expectations that they would be reprieved at the last minute. Instead, the law—British military law—took its course: ‘“They were like schoolboys going on a holiday, and they marched firmly to their doom.” This was the first information obtained regarding the executions and was given by the Very Rev. Canon [Michael] O’Sullivan [Administrator of St Mary’s Cathedral, Cork] as he emerged from the barracks.’


The Canon said: “The six men were shot in twos at intervals of about 15 minutes. Father O’Brien and myself attended them to the last.” At the conclusion of the Mass [prior to the executions], Canon O’Sullivan added, the prisoners received the Viaticum, and the Rosary and Stations of the Cross were recited. Shortly before 8 a.m. a fully-armed military guard appeared. The first two prisoners were informed that the moment had come. With absolute calmness they rose to their feet and took leave of their companions and solemnly blessed each other. Then, accompanied by the two priests and surrounded by the guard, they were marched slowly from the jail into the barracks, where the last dread phase of the tragedy was consummated. When the shots were fired and the bodies fell, the priests moved towards the prone figures and administered Extreme Unction. They then returned some minutes later to the cell and accompanied the second batch to face the firing squad and again tendered the last spiritual aid. When the last two had been shot, the priests read the full burial service. . . . The scenes outside the barrack walls on Monday morning were memorable for many reasons, but especially for the impressive manifestation of prayerful sympathy and Catholc faith, and for the fortitude and dignity with which the sorrowing relatives endured the dreadful ordeal. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and in one case the fiancée of one of the victims, accompanied by friends, were assembled outside the grey walls of the barracks at 7:30 a.m.” Many of those present held ‘lighted candles as they knelt around a small temporary altar’. See Connaught Telegraph, 5 March 1921. The IRA response was to shoot sixteen British soldiers on the streets of Cork city, killing six and wounding at least ten more.         


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